Choosing our lives from infinite possibility


In Jose Luis Borges’ exquisite story The Garden of Forking Paths he beautifully evokes the many different paths that our lives could take.

Every day we make choices small and large that lead our lives down a particular path, collapsing the infinite possible directions into the one reality we actually live.

It is completely natural to look back at the actions that shaped those forks and wonder how our lives would have turned out if we had done something different.

Yet regrets, wishing we had acted in another way, serves no purpose. We cannot change the past. What we can and must do is learn from what we have done, so we can act more usefully in the present and future.

I am blessed – or cursed? – by continually see extraordinary, compelling possibilities. Of course the challenge – and my frequent downfall – is trying to contain my attention to a few of them.

A friend of mind once told me how when she was at school all the students were asked what they wanted to become, resulting in many of the usual answers such as fireman, astronaut, and doctor. However she didn’t know how to respond, because she wanted to do everything, not just one job. I am absolutely of the same mind, but unfortunately we cannot do and be everything in a single lifetime.

The first step for us all is to perceive possibility, to recognize the extraordinary range of paths our lives could take. Of course in our highly unequal world some have more immediate and obvious opportunities than others, but we all have choices, there are many, many lives we could lead.

I have always grappled with the sheer scope of opportunity and possibility of being alive, knowing that however much I exert myself I will only live and achieve the tiniest fraction of who I could be.

Yet living even that microscopic sliver of what could be is extraordinarily enticing and rewarding, as much as is possible in our single universe, it is the staggering gift of being alive.

What it does mean is that all our choices and actions count enormously, they do make a difference, they shape our entire lives, they result in that single thread of life crystallizing from the infinite forking paths open to us.

Be aware of the fullest possible scope of possibility open to you. Choose carefully. And live your life to the fullest, whichever path you take.