“Yes, we have that but not today”
The first time I heard the phrase, it came with a big smile. I was in a café in Ethiopia and had ordered a cappuccino. I was a bit taken back and inquiring, was told, “Today we have no milk.” Right… “I’ll have an iced tea, then.” This was a big come-down for me, as Ethiopian coffee is one of my favs.
My friend Sarah and I looked over the several-paged menu and made our choices. Sarah ordered a salad. We received the same response. “We have that, but not today.”
“Well, what do you have?”
“We have fish.”
“Okay then, we’ll have fish.”
“That was easy,” Sarah said, and we quickly moved on to enjoying the view and discussing our afternoon plans.
Again and again, I saw how the Ethiopians dance with what life brings, seldom missing a beat. They live from what looks to me to be an ethic of being present to and curious as life unfolds before their very eyes.
In the West, I believe part of our low-level suffering (negative mood) or subtle dissatisfaction stems from too many choices, coupled with the expectation of many choices. It seems there is a media channel or show for every 10,000 people. “How can I choose!!??” “What if I don’t like my choice?”
A recent study examined the consequence of too many choices. Paralysis can happen: “I just can’t decide.” Or with many options, “I am overwhelmed! How can I choose?” Apathy can be another consequence, asking, “What’s the point?” — as if the choice will certainly be wrong.
A major warehouse retailer has what seems to be acres of merchandise. When looking closely, only two choices are offered — their brand and a name brand. Two choices. Not five or eight — two. The choice is simple, the shopper chooses and quickly moves on, just as Sarah and I did when ordering our lunch in Ethiopia. Limited choices suit their business model.
During my time in Ethiopia, I was reminded of the ease of few choices. The people “blend” with what is and move on from there. There is no disappointment in having just a few choices. Instead, they are natural adapters. In a mood of acceptance and resolving, they invent with skills of resourcefulness and collaboration. And, given their history, they have been practicing this for hundreds of years.
In many Western cultures, life looks routine and abundant. Our job is to take and to consume. We work hard to control our lives (and that of others), becoming angry or resentful when expectations aren’t met.
But life is unpredictable and unconcerned with what we think about it. Life is authentic and represents itself with no agenda. What if we practiced observing how we automatically relate to life? What if we practiced moving toward life, not away?
Working hard to shift or control life and others seems to produce only negative moods. When I find myself frustrated or not satisfied, I practice pausing long enough to ask, “What is the expectation that is not being met, and how does my expectation differ from what is so right now?”
To support myself, I bring my attention to my breath, allowing it to drop lower into my belly. Once settled and having dropped into my belly center, I can then generate (make requests, promises and offers) from what I care about (housed in your belly center). Then I am able to better take care of what matters to me.
While I may have found myself in a situation, through re-centering and language, I can place myself into situations. I am better equipped to blend, reflect and design a future with others where we both are satisfied. For me, this is moving with life, not against life. What are your thoughts?
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Great lessons learned and practiced!!
and you’ve been to Ethiopia
you globe trotter
tell me more about the Ethiopians!!!
I have enjoyed both Ethiopia and Tanzania. Both countries are very different for many reasons. The people that I have met are all engaging and curious. In many ways, they are also quite routine and traditional. We both have the good fortune to know one of Ethiopia’s finest, Tes, who Aikido trains with us.
I loved your blog, Merle! You are very insightful, and I appreciated how you identified that the effects of having too many choices can be detrimental. More importantly, I love the concept of accepting what we do have available to us and embracing it (fish, no salad) rather than getting angry or being disappointed about what is missing. Let’s celebrate what is being given to us.
I equate numerous tangible choices with too much consumption, materialism, waste (in that all of those choices had to be manufactured, which adversely affects our planet and health). Having too many ‘actionable’ choices (as in which job offer to accept, which business to start up, which dog to adopt, can be like a straightjacket–too much effort and time is wasted comparing all of the options and ‘trying to decide’, when often there are no clear answers, just the need to make a damn decision!
I find myself in this exact predicament as I type. So your blog was very timely, and helpful to me.
Thanks for sharing your insights!
Hi, I am very pleased to know that you appreciated this and found it timely. Thank you for taking a moment to comment.
Great story! Having less choices for needless items (even an over abundance of food choices) would leave my brain free of mindless worry about making the “wrong” choice. I hope for a simpler life. Keep up the inspiring posts.
A perfect story for me these days. I have been disappointed lately and I am not just facing what is and surrendering to that. this was good for me to see in print.