“So what do you think is the right thing to do?”
“So should I leave him?”
“Should I take the job?”
“So are you saying I should tell my mother this?
There is one, simple, correct therapeutic answer to all of these questions:
“What the hell do I know?
What am I? A fortune teller?”
It is true that over the past two decades I’ve had a chance to watch a lot of people make a lot of decisions and I have borne some witness to the outcomes.
There have been trends, there are some patterns that emerge. I do have a sense, an impulse about the kinds of decisions will lead to conflict and chaos, or those that may make life more stable and comfortable.
There are statistical truths. But no one can tell you where one individual’s choices will place them along the statistical spread.
And in my experience, the worst outcomes from bad decisions emerge when bad decisions become cumulative.
It is generally true, perhaps, that impulsive, drunken Las Vegas wedding-chapel marriages between strangers are generally not successful – and if you were consulting with me – and if you paused the evenings revelry long enough to place a long-distance call for an urgent phone session and I picked up the phone (this has never happened and would never happen) I would undoubtedly express my concerns. I would encourage you to slow down, sober up, and think about it tomorrow – remind you that it is a decision that doesn’t have to be made tonight, and I would try to understand what lurks behind the intense urgency.
But always with the same caveat:
What the hell do I know?
Perhaps you’ll be divorced in a month, perhaps they will take you for everything you own, or perhaps, you’ll be married happily and prosperously for 50 years.
Chances may be slim mind you, but its possible.
If your intuition is pressing you forward despite all reservations – you will likely go ahead no matter what I say and meet your fate on the road ahead.
Perhaps this is the best or the worst choice imaginable, and either way it could change your life forever. Maybe it is the very wrongness of it that makes it a necessity. Maybe you in fact need to experience the terrible and awesome intersection of fate and free-will in order to face your destiny.
Such fateful decisions and dangerous trials loom at the heart of every myth and fairy-tale:
“Hansel, since you asked: I think you need to proceed with caution if you are planning to nibble nibble on that candy housekin like a little mousekin. And, you should talk to your sister, Gretel about it as well. Of course you are starved and abandoned – but, in my experience such candy houses are generally built by cannibalistic witches who use them to fatten children up for dinner – so be prepared. You do have other, more prudent options: you can collect kindling and try to fish from the nearby brook.”
“But what the hell do I know? Perhaps by surviving this witch, and finding a way to recognize and protect yourself from the Dark, Toxic mother, the archetypal Sow Who Eats Her Own Piglets you will be able to at least hear the song bird of your own psyche leading you back home, to your loving father. You’ll have to make your own choice, and encounter your own destiny. I’ll be here to back you up whatever choice you make.”
Some of the greatest saints and heroes of myth and scripture headed down the wrong road.
And there was no stopping them:
Before he became Saint Paul, he was a political assassin known as Saul, who set off down the road to Damascus “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (King James Bible Acts 9)
And as he set off down the wrong road of murderous intent, Paul met his moment of grace:
“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (King James Bible Acts 9)
An instructor who introduced me to Jungian thought once advised me with regard to a “problematic” case:
“You have to be careful not to take anyone’s Road to Damascus away from them”
Oedipus, on the other hand, did everything he possibly could to mitigate his fate. He tried to make the safest, most self-and-other preserving choices imaginable:
In spite of his beloved parents’ denials and their attempts to protect his royal inheritance, Oedipus struggles with a persistent nagging suspicion that he has been adopted. He decides to seek the guidance of the Oracle at Delphi to uncover the truth.
The Oracle apparently ignores his question and tells him instead that he is destined to “Mate with [his] own mother, and shed/With [his] own hands the blood of [his] own sire.”
Desperate to avoid his foretold fate, Oedipus leaves Corinth, believing that Polybus and Merope are indeed his only parents and that, once away from them, he will never harm them.
On the road to Thebes, he unknowingly meets Laius, his biological father. Unaware of each other’s identities, they quarrel over whose chariot has right-of-way. King Laius moves to strike the insolent youth with his heavy scepter, but Oedipus throws him down from the chariot and kills him, thus fulfilling the first part of the oracle’s prophecy.
And we all know what happens after that… poor man.
Oedipus made the most loving decision possible based on the data at hand – (although perhaps ignoring his own intuition that insisted he was adopted, driving his consultation with the oracle in the first place)
And he too, met his fate on the road.
I have no way of knowing if you are setting off on the road to Damascus or the road to Thebes when you find yourself at the crossroads of a potentially fateful decision.
The blatantly obvious Good decision, the choice motivated by the best intentions can lead to hell.
And the wrong road can lead to an encounter with Grace.
Both possibilities and their opposites exist.
There is no telling.
Whatever “wisdom” I may have accrued, I make no predictions.
I cannot seal your fate. I am no Oracle.
I can listen with you for the “tells” that your own intuition sends out. I can voice my own intuitions and sensations about what may lie down either path. I can help you prepare for what you may encounter. I can stay by your side, and help you respond in alignment to who it is you mean to be.
But, such choices will always be your own.
And listen to this:
Perhaps it is the very process of trying to make the “right” decision – the judgements we create against or in favor of what we perceive as a “good” or a “bad” outcome – that causes our fear and suffering.
Suppose there no merely good or bad option.
Perhaps there is only:
A decision and the consequences, -anticipated and unanticipated – that flow from it.
Light and darkness are always mixed up together. Good and bad luck too.
Darkness can never be avoided. It is present, in some form, in every choice we will ever make.
The question is how will we respond when it emerges.
As therapists, it is easy to be seduced into wanting to protect the people in our care from their own choices. To watch someone making a complicating, challenging mess-making choice can make us yearn to redirect and intervene. We wish we could “stop” it, and help them to make “better choices”
But, sometimes the hard road is the only road where we will meet ourselves.
And we must always bear in mind that everyone simply chooses the road they need to choose. Most often, we make the only choice we know how to make.
One of my kids favorite folk tales is found nestled in a popular children’s book:
Zen Shorts by John J. Muth.
The Farmers Luck is an ancient Taoist tale in which a wise farmer encounters many twists of fate. His horse runs away and the neighbors cluck: “Such bad luck!” And the farmer responds: “Maybe…”
The horse returns with a wild herd, and the neighbors cheer: “Such good luck!” and the farmer responds: “Maybe…”
His son breaks his leg and the neighbors cluck.. and the farmer responds “Maybe…”
Officials come to draft his son into the army, and the broken leg exempts him. And the neighbors cheer…
There is no right road. There is no wrong road.
But what the hell do I know?
Maybe, our task at the crossroads is simply to tolerate the Maybe.
copyright © 2013
All rights reserved Martha Crawford