The cross is the intersect of horizontal and vertical. The horizontal dimension represents the here and now, the expanse of our lives in space and time. The vertical is the line of our aspiration. Reaching beyond ourselves toward the heavens and the azure blue of transcendence, our aspiration draws us upward toward wisdom and peace. I experimented with these lines as an artist. I reflected on them from a psychological and philosophical vantage point.
Our lives are lived out at the intersect of these two planes of being. Our aspiration on the one hand, and our physical, creaturely aspect on the other. Each moment we have the opportunity to adjudicate the forces of horizontal and vertical in our lives. When we face decision, and even when we avoid it, we are casting our vote.
It is a striking feature of human consciousness that we must make decisions. Sartre rightly pointed out, if with a dour attitude, that man is condemned to freedom, and must make decisions with limited knowledge and time. We do this daily. Yet, looking closely, perhaps we can use decision making as a spiritual opportunity.
It is necessary to cultivate inner strength to face the difficult, if beautiful, truths of life. Turning away from truth and weakening oneself in the hundred distractions whittles away your chance. Your chance is your birthright. Your chance is the chance to deepen your awareness, see the mystery of your life and life itself. It is also the chance to attain, through a succession of insights, another order of human reality.
Man is afforded a finite number of opportunities in which to act. The act I refer to is the ability to choose. He has no control over the fact of his limitation as a mortal, physical being. He will never attain complete knowledge. He has little influence over his fellow man, and seemingly only variable success with self-control. He does, however, have the opportunity to make decisions.
To make a decision is an act of will. Several attainments must be achieved in order for an act of will to qualify as decision that is also spiritual practice. I think that first it is necessary to be deeply and fully honest about the matter at hand. You must not turn away or hedge your bets when an opportunity arises. Your goal is to cultivate inner strength as much as it is to make a decision. It will be through your decision making that you will become who you are to become. Honesty means to take a full measure of yourself and your circumstances and the others whose concerns pertain to the occasion of your potential decision. You must not exaggerate nor diminish the facts available to you, including the facts pertaining to yourself. This is not the time for rose colored glasses, although that does not mean that you must cast aside optimism. It may be part of your decision; you may choose to affirm the possibility of success even when success is remote.
An act is only possible when the individual sustains the full awareness of limitation and opportunity. He must bear in himself the horizontal and vertical of his moment in time as he makes this decision. Here the cross takes on a new meaning, new beauty. It is the spirit shining courageously. Facing the contradictions involved in the desire to be infinite when we are finite, sustaining aspiration when we see fully that we are humble- this is the chance that we have been granted. It is a fiery experience. Being honest here means fully facing the costs of any unanticipated outcome to your decision. You may fail. You can make a good decision which turns out badly. You can make a bad decision.
It is necessary that you attain the ability to sustain your decision through time. If you actually made the decision, you will do this. It is possible for an individual to mistake intent for decision. You might, for example, have the intent to change your diet, but when the dismissed food appears, you falter. This is because you didn’t really make the decision. What you did was consider making a decision without affirming that decision to the core of your being. The appearance of the food doesn’t matter. If you made a decision, you already rejected the option of the unhealthy food. There are a hundred reasons to fail in the moment, all of which may have superficial merit. My experience with decision is if you made the decision on a deep enough level, the options are gone.
A third attainment, along with honesty and the ability to sustain your decision through time, is the ability to understand the window of opportunity available to you. Certain decisions must be made within a certain time frame in order to have any meaning. You must decide whether or not to get the surgery, or where to move to when your lease is up. Other decisions are developmental. It may be time to move out of your parents' home, or end a relationship. With these decisions it may not seem so easy to know the exact moment to act. At some point you may become aware that you have avoided making a decision. You waited too long. The window of opportunity, which is not merely circumstantial, is closing. You can’t always see when this happens to yourself, but sometimes you can see when it happens to someone else. This is true in the world of time and space, of moments and things. It is also true inwardly. In language learning it is often said that there is a period of time in a person’s life when learning a second or third language is relatively easy. All capacities are aligned; the brain is at the right moment in development; the social confidence is strong enough. Waiting to learn the language until later in life will be much more difficult, and most likely the person will never develop a native’s accent.
The inward critical timing is harder to describe since we are speaking not about a particular decision but only about decision per se. It seems clear that you can wait too long. The moment for decision can pass. Recognizing this moment involves another sort of personal power. If you fall asleep you will miss your chance.
The final attainment necessary to make a decision is the ability to accept the limitation implicit in the decision you make. You may fail. You don’t want to underestimate this possibility. Don’t use the prospect of failure to weaken your decision. Rather, bear it as truth. While the cross of decision is a cross of opportunity, it remains a cross.
Most of these considerations seem to rest in the horizontal of life. The spiritual dimension, the vertical, is your desire to wake up. When you make your decision, you can make a decision that will help you wake up. By asking yourself, "Will this action help me wake up?" you may find an answer arises to your awareness easily and clearly.
It is a paradoxical question. How can you know what will help you wake up? You don’t know what it is to be awake, and therefore you don’t know what you are trying to wake up from. If you are alert, you are aware that you are suffering. Nevertheless, as we learned from Sartre, we do not have the privilege not to act. We must make or refuse decision. We are forced to consider our circumstances, our intent and then seek an answer with our highest intuition.
When you decide, take the direction you have decided on as fearlessly as possible. Affirm your own gesture by committing yourself to your act. It is through successive efforts of this sort during your lifetime that you gain personal power. Refusing decision does the opposite. It weakens the spirit. For me, making decision is like hearing music from afar. It is a beautiful sound and I want to hear more of it, but I know I will only reach it through a leap of faith.