Stephen Cope, in his beautiful and inspiring book, The Great Work of Your Life, tells the story of the Hindu spiritual text the Bhagavad Gita. Cope describes the Gita as a tale of self-doubt and sets the scene for us. Arjuna, is a great warrior entering a battlefield. Upon arrival he realizes that his opponents are his cousins. He is faced with a difficult decision to kill his cousins or walk away and deny the values he stands for. He is paralyzed by doubt and indecision. The two choices before him are equally difficult. In his inability to make a decision, he collapses on his chariot floor and makes no decision. Arjuna chose the path of inaction, in effect, he said, “If I cannot decide, I will do nothing.”
But this decision does not settle his discontent. He recognizes that no decision does not resolve the dilemma. He understands that indecision does not bring relief. He realizes he cannot remain indecisive forever. Yet he is paralyzed with his own self-doubt.
This paralysis and self-doubt is familiar to many of us. If we make no decision, than we will be safe. If we make no decision, than we can avoid pain. If we make no decision, than we can avoid disappointing others. If we make no decision, than we can escape the fear of making a decision. So, we choose to do nothing. We take the path of inaction.
Krishna, the charioteer for Arjuna (who is also God in disguise) immediately points out the problem with this “do-nothing” strategy. This apparent path of inaction is full of action. Says Krishna, “No one exists for even an instant without performing action.” Arjuna’s inaction— our own inaction— on the floor of the chariot, is action motivated by fear, doubt, disorder and a desperate need to escape. Says Cope,
We can believe action and inaction are separate choices - they are one in the same. We can think that inaction will protect us from harm: if I avoid this I am safe. We can hope that inaction will miraculously resolve the dilemma: if I wait long enough things will change or someone will decide for me. Or we might believe our inaction will make the dilemma vanish: if I don’t acknowledge this situation, it will go away.
Action and inaction are necessary behaviors in life. When we take action from our deep inner knowing, even when the decision is difficult and the action is challenging, we are acting from inspiration. Fear prevents us from hearing the whisper of inspired action. Action that is motivated by fear is panic: we hope the decision will bring us quick relief from pain. Action that is motivated by fear is desperation: we believe we need something, and we are desperate to get it. Action that is motivated by fear is anxiety: we don't want something to happen, so we act hastily to avoid it.
But when our inaction is motivated by fear, we doubt. We doubt our ability to act. We doubt our ability to decide. We doubt ourselves. Doubt paints the situation before us as problematic and unsafe -- something that needs to be avoided or ignored to prevent discomfort. Stuck in indecision, we can no longer see that our thoughts about the situation are the source of our problem. The situation is not the problem. The situation may be difficult. The situation may be challenging. The situation may be scary. But the situation is not the problem.
Our doubt does not protect us, it simply postpones the inspired action that will set us free. The truth before us is that, “No one exists for even an instant without performing action.”
Where is your inaction taking you?
I avoid making decisions by…
I avoid action when...
I believe that inaction (making no choice) will protect me from...
When I doubt, I….
I cannot do _____, ______ or _______ because the choice is too difficult.
Where might your action take you?
Where do I want to end up?
What action is hard but necessary in getting me there?
If this action is hard, than it is necessary. What do I gain from postponing?
What might I gain from taking this action?
What might I learn about myself?
We always have the ability to choose, even when choice feels impossible. Our choice becomes the action that empowers our confidence and conviction.