Jul 21, 2009

The false choice

I was looking for something to watch on TV the other day. I have digital cable with more than 168 channels, and there was nothing on. Yet I kept flipping from channel to channel for a couple of hours to see if there was something that looked interesting to me. Yes, I have 168 channels to choose from, but nothing that I wanted. To me there really was nothing to choose from.

On the other hand, I went to the fabric store to get some fabric to make a handbag. There were rows upon rows of beautiful fabric. I spent an hour and a half there and ultimately left with nothing because I was so overwhelmed that I could not choose a fabric.

When I was in Kyoto to pick out fabric for my first kimono and obi, I became so sensory overloaded that I just wanted to pick things out at random. There were other women with me who looked at all of the choices and asked the shop owner to bring even more fabrics and obi from the store room to look at. I had to leave temporarily and take a walk around the block. Fortunately, the kimono shop owner recommended three colors and fabrics with obi to match. I made my choice from the of the three combinations and it is still my favorite kimono and obi.

With all of the abundance of choice in these three instances, I could not make a choice. Why is that? There is almost too much to choose from that often leads to paralysis. Is it the right choice? How do we know what we want? What if we don't know? Can we go back and choose again if it isn't right?

As for choosing, there is so much potential. The point of choosing is a powerful position to be in. All the possibilities open for you. But what if we make the wrong choice? Once the choice is made, we have excluded all the possibilities except the choice we have made. It may lead to buyer's remorse or regretting the choice already made.

We are almost too rich with choice. I tend to get overwhelmed if I have too much to choose from. If I limit my choices, it is much easier for me to make a decision without regrets. And once I make a choice, I try not to think about what could have been had I made another choice. If things don't work out, it helps to look at it as if I had another choice to make rather than go back and make a different choice.

How does this relate to chado? On the surface of tea, it seems like there is very little choice in how to do it or what to do. For some people it looks overly restrictive and very rigid. In fact, as we are learning, there are restrictions. But that is because tea is so wide and so deep, that the beginning student can easily become overwhelmed. As we learn the way of tea, even within the restrictions, there is so much potential for creativity. By limiting and simplifying the choices a student makes and revealing the depth of the few choices he can make, he can see the whole in a different light and the choices become more meaningful. In fact, when it comes to choice less is more.


  1. This is a beautiful, and thought-provoking post. Thank you!

    (As an aside, I am considering a move to the Portland area and very much enjoy your blog, and the possibilities of this community.)

  2. Steph,
    Thank you for reading the blog and for commenting. It is somewhat of a dilemma of having all the choices, yet having nothing to choose. Please contact me if you come to visit Portland.