Decisions

Decisions
[Photo Copyright by Vimal Kumar via Flickr under Creaticve Commons Licence]

Are we the one who is in charge of our decisions?
If not, how are they produced in our mind and who put them there?

Let me start with a story told by Gil Fronsdal about an experience he had during a long meditation retreat. After weeks of nothing but meditating and only talking once a day to his teacher, he entered a room one day and saw a beautiful Buddha statue on an altar. He immediately felt the desire to own this wonderful piece of art. So far so good. Sounds familiar.
However, due to his long weeks of meditating and getting still, he was able to realize something that amazed him (and me when I heard the story). Apparently, before the desire to own the statue kicked in, there was a tiny moment – so small that in everyday experience he would have missed it completely – where there was nothing but just a pure appreciation for something beautiful. No wanting.

Somehow his brain was so used to jump from <seeing> to <wanting> that over time the process of just <appreciating> got smaller and smaller, until the mind just skipped it entirely.

Now, that society likes us to want more and more stuff for ourselves is not really new. That the underlying processes in our mind will at some point just ‘give in’ to the sheer force of external conditioning, which steamrolls our perception, is a bit disturbing to me.

As another small inspiration, please add to this an astonishing finding that scientists revealed in 2008. Using a fMRI study they were able to show that the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 seconds before (!) it enters awareness. [Soon CS et al. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nat Neurosci. 2008 May]

So, in summary, our brain skips crucial decision making processes without asking and then comes to a conclusion way ahead of us. Now that is just lovely.
Is that surprising? Well, if you ask the Buddha, it is really not. Because our mind is an untrained mind.
An untrained mind is a corrupted mind.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.

[Dhammapada verse 1&2, translated by Gil Fronsdal]

So, is meditation the solution? Does meditation fundamentally change the way our brain processes information?
Yes, of course it does. It might take a couple of life times to make that work, though.
It is also – counterintuitively – not the most important step.
Start at the beginning.

The important part is the realization, that we are not in charge.
The realization, that there is nothing to be in <charge> of.
The realization that there is no <we> to be in <charge> of anything.

Yes, I know, it’s confusing…

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