Now is the Time: Do the Next, Right Thing

We will make only one choice.

Throughout our lives, we do only one thing. Again and again, moment by moment, year after year. It is how we live our days, how we shape our lives.

Our choice is this: What is the next, right thing for us to do? Where, in this moment, will we place our time, our care, our attention? Do we remain as we are, do we move? do we speak or keep silent, attend to this person, or that task, or turn away, in this direction, or that?

Each new moment demands a fresh choice.

after every decision, there is yet another to be made. And another. Ours are not so often obviously dramatic choices. We are rarely called upon to know the time to change careers, the day to get married, the hour to leave the city of our birth. Most choices are small, quiet, intimate things that flow from us as a breath, as water exhaled from a mountain spring. Endless, simple, one by one thimbles of water tumble into the next, creating the smallest trickles playing this way and that. Still. Over time, with neither map nor plan - through surprising twists, curving around unforeseen obstacles-mere droplets of water will always invariably find their way down, down, through the valley, completing their pilgrimage at last to become one, an ancient and familiar melting, into the sea, from which it came.

At every point of resistance, any threat of change, our tiny stream makes a choice: To go right or left? Over or around? Or it may just stop, right where it is. Without moving, our stream becomes a shallow pool, creates a slowly growing fullness, waiting. Waiting for that singularly perfect moment when the only possible next thing is to spill itself out and over, stumbling and rushing everywhere along its way.

The stream knows nothing of what lies ahead. It is not conscious of planning for any possible future. It is simply following the path of least resistance, motivated by gravity. Still, how does the water "decide" to go right, or left, when approaching a boulder, a fallen tree? And yet, a choice is made. Inch by inch, the water does the next, right thing, perhaps encountering tiny rivulets or flowing creeks along the way. By the end of the journey, if we look back, we witness the gradual, evolving birth of what we now realize has, drop by drop, choice by choice, become a stream.

A stream is little more than an ongoing fidelity, a consecrated relationship. A never-ending conversation between water, gravity, earth, overcoming obstacles, in a relationship born over time, which gives birth to this astonishing miracle we then call, "stream." This ancient, elemental rhythm between water and earth creates all the streams that saturate all the seas that cover all the world.

So it is with our lives. The only choice we ever make is one called out from us by a similarly vital inner gravity, an invisible thread that carries our life forward, until our life - this one wild and precious life, meets the world. In all its wonder and promise, in all its ferocity and confusion. Just as it is.

So. We must prepare. We will make choices. If fortune smiles upon us we will make good, honorable, strong choices. But every decision we make, no matter how small, shapes the ground of our being. Each choice helps form the foundation upon which we stand, and live, and act.

This is our field of battle: Here, who we are meets what is in the world. This essential, heroic relationship, this intimate communion between the quiet wisdom of our hearts, and the ways the world emerges, moment by moment, right before our eyes becomes our most reliable tool, our most potent weapon, our true north, a lifelong practice of deep and holy listening for that very next, right thing we will - make no mistake - absolutely, and sooner than we imagine, be required to choose.

Our lives hang in the balance. Surely, goodness and mercy will follow us all.

Wayne Muller is leading a retreat at Ghost Ranch on "Sabbath as Refuge from the Trance of Ordinary Life" Feb. 22-26. 505-685-1000