Hurricane Irma is approaching Florida
as I write this. Having lived in Florida, I have seen some powerful storms, but none like this. It’s sheer power is something from which I haven’t been able to avert my eyes. There is no amount of comfort one individual can muster for those in its path that feels sufficient.
Fortunately, the heart is an infinite space (at least I fully believe it is), and there is space enough in it to find compassion for those victims of Harvey even as we hold compassion for the victims of Irma and soon Hurricane Jose. I am trying to spend this weekend making that space. If you have family or friends in the path of the storm, my heart is with them and with you as it is with my family and friends working hard to find and make safety for themselves and others.
As I watched the numerous announcements from Florida’s governor and read through the news reports warning those in Irma’s path to evacuate. I was struck with this question of how people make choices. How do they choose to stay or go. Even as the warnings became more dire and the hurricane’s path shifted, so many people took as a choice what, to me, would be anything but. There were those who chose to stay and others who, by the time they were confronted with a choice were also confronted with overwhelming obstacles to success — gas shortages, supply shortages and booked hotel rooms and crowded shelters at every safe destination. Those in this latter group effectively had the choice taken from them.
In my search of information about choice making, I came across this piece in Nautilus from Tom Vanderbilt
on “how to choose wisely”. So much of what we believe is in our control is governed by randomness. The simple act of choosing the “right” sweater, for example, comes down to the activity in a few neurons. As Vanderbilt writes:
"Choosing the “right” sweater is mostly a fait accompli—that you have chosen it makes it right. If it does not end up making you happy, you can blame it on a case of biological randomness gone wrong.”
In some cases, those choices revolve around the people we love. I came across this piece by Eli Finkel for The New York Times
in which, Finkel describes how spouses have now taken on the added responsibility of not only being a life partner but also a life coach. The decision of how to handle this evolving role, can be a fraught one.
"In the face of this truth — that the modern ideal of marriage is, though alluring, highly demanding — we have two options. The first is that we ask our partner to play only one of the two roles: either making us feel loved and valued for the person we currently are or making us feel motivated to grow into the person we can potentially become.”
Meanwhile, beyond that choice, as Ali Shultz describes in her piece for On Being
, is a big world of experiences and opportunities that swirls constantly — and in that swirling beyond is the big love we all deeply desire. This is a love we largely miss as we hide away in the house of cards we create for ourselves. This is a house built with our “busy”, our choices of how to relate with our spouse, and even the sweaters we’ve decided to wear:
"We try to be as resourceful as we can to make a life, to make sense of life and ourselves in it. We busy ourselves in the well-worn paths, hallways, and structures that feel part of who we are. We figure things, we feel things and rationalize them away, we compose the story that weaves all of our various fragments together into some sense of a whole sense of self, yet that map of the world is flat. All the while, there’s a lot happening outside our known maps of survival and identity."
Eventually, I came across choice at a cosmic level
— that between emergence and reductionism. The piece invites the lay person (which I am) to play with the ideas of the cosmically large and the infinitesimally small. The piece starts with a walk through one of my favorite films (next to Sagan’s “Cosmos”): Powers of Ten by Charles & Ray Eames. (Speaking of choice, Ray Eames is the person I most often choose as my favorite designer). Here is Wired author Robert Dijkgraaf:
"Both the largest and the smallest structures of the universe are astonishingly simple. It is here that we find the two “standard models,” of particle physics and cosmology.”
If you really want to go well beyond the cosmic, check out this piece from Wired by Robert Wright
on whether mindfulness is a capitalist tool or a path to enlightenment. In it, he described the concept of “no self”, which I found both terrifying and liberating at the same time.
“...according to the logic of Buddhism, if you follow this pragmatic, therapeutic—even, you might say, self-serving—logic far enough via meditative practice, you can get to the point where it feels as if there is no self at all. And a big reason for this apprehension is that everything in your field of experience—feelings, thoughts, perceptions, everything—can be seen, on close inspection, to not really be under the control of some “inner you.” It’s just stuff happening. Stuff you don’t have to identify with.”
Finally, before I leave you this week, I wanted to be sure I shared this from Matthew Santone on how we might use design to navigate anxiety
. If you’re like me, you’ve likely spent years training to see all sides of a problem and all of the potential ways a solution might not
work. This can be a persistent and annoying trigger for anxiety. His recommendations — from listening to your body and knowing your boundaries to applying “trench mentality” and being okay with “good enough” — are real gold. I find myself applying many of these in my daily work. Strangely enough, I also navigate the sliding scale between emergence and reductionism, focusing on the big picture only long enough to reset my focus on the smaller elements of my problem landscape. Remaining agile with that power of ten in my own work is a not so well-kept secret to how I operate.
With that, I’ll leave you for the weekend. May the choices you and your loved ones make fall squarely in the arms of safety, love and good care.