Right Action

I am very familiar with the feeling of indecision. It has plagued me for as long as I remember. The way it plays out for me is that I get paralysed and sit in a place of no action. It is not a peaceful place to be. Because I am a keen observer of human behaviour, my curiosity leads me to wonder and notice what happens for others. Using two distinct polarities, there are people for whom action is immediate and there are people, like me, for whom caution before action is the habitual response. It is easy to judge both these states.

What is apparent as I deepen my investigation is the fact that it is not the action or inaction that matters, but the intention behind it. It appears that wisdom lies very close to discomfort. When the opportunity to act arises there will be a moment of choice. In choice there is always discomfort because we are giving up one thing in favour of another. There is a necessary letting go. Sometimes the choice may feel obvious and easy, at other times, less so. When it is less clear, it may mean that we need to spend a little longer in the space of discomfort before ‘right action’ emerges. It is easy to judge discomfort as bad and make a decision too quickly.

The idea of right action is one that captures my attention. It is easy to be busy in activity. It is less easy to be in the discomfort of waiting for the ‘right action’ to emerge. I am not talking about big decisions although these can be felt in exactly the same way. I am talking about simple everyday things. For example, if someone requests something of me that I am not willing to do I will feel a ‘no’ arise in my gut. However my personality has a very strong ‘keep the peace’ focus so I can almost as quickly override the initial ‘no’ and watch myself saying “yes”. My self-coaching practice has taught me to stop at this point and notice what is going on inside of me. What happens as a result of that curious pause is that I can start to acknowledge and anticipate the possibility of ‘No’. My responses take all kinds of shape. Initially I would find myself explaining the whole story of ‘No’. This still reflects my ‘keep the peace’ state; ‘if I tell you the whole story you can’t be cross with me’ type thinking.

These days I am able to sit even longer in the discomfort of feeling a ‘no’ while waiting for the way to communicate emerges. What I have found is that waiting in discomfort allows a clearer response. When I can get beneath my defences I find the truth, and my experience is, that when I am able to communicate the truth in me it lands so gently and easily that my original discomfort is gone. And most often it is well received by the listener.

The key to staying in discomfort is breathing; deep, long breaths that keep the shoulders down and the chest expanding. Discomfort tells us something needs to be different and breathing opens us up to new possibilities.

The words of Lao-Tzu in 500BC are still relevant today and summarise this idea beautifully:
“Do you have the patience to wait, till your mud settles and the water is clear
Can you remain unmoving until right action arises by itself?”