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Marieke van Vugt

Making choices: think about "what is needed"

Making choices: think about "what is needed" http://what-buddha-said.net/
These days many people tend to be overwhelmed with choices, from the simple everyday what we should eat and what we should wear to the more consequential life choices about education, career, spiritual path or life partner. I feel that this is an area where my meditation practice has definitely helped me.

Roshi Joan Halifax often likes to say that the bodhisattva, the person who dedicates herself to practice and the well-being of others, does "whatever is needed." This stands in striking contrast with how we (at least I) usually make choices, which focuses on whatever we need, in essence. I find that by taking this stance of doing whatever is needed by the situation, by the other people, or the other sentient beings, I focus less on myself and my own confusion. For example, rather than worrying about what we should do as a vocation and what our passion is, we can instead focus on what we can bring to the world. What are the skills that we have that really help people? Because if something helps people, then it is useful, and then we can be sure that it makes us happy too. After all, there is some research that shows that nothing makes us more happy than helping others (see for example this study). So then there is no need to doubt and no need to worry. As a result, we can also be happier, because Sogyal Rinpoche for example says that our doubt is our greatest enemy.

But even in the more day-to-day decision examples, we can have our choices be guided by what is needed by the world at large, rather than by just us. If we take Ian's recent example about getting up: if we were to ask in the morning "what is needed?", then we might find that what is needed is really some meditation practice such that we can both be more sane ourselves and be more helpful to others. Similarly, if we are contemplating what to eat, we may go for foods that keep us healthy for the longer time rather than indulge in immediately pleasure that will soon leave us overly full, dull, or over-excited. Or you may choose not to eat meat because although that may feed you, it kills lots of other beings in the process. The trick is to remember to ask yourself what is needed by the world right now, and not just what you need.

In summary, I found that asking this simple question "what is needed?" many times over the course of the day really helps me to focus on what is most important. Even though it's very easy to forget, this question still another tool in the toolbox of being a more sane person in a complicated world.