Mindfulness Meditation

I am (Not) Rational

When I was in sales (17 years, the first 9 in territories, the last 8 in management) I came to the conclusion that the decisions my customers made whether to buy a product or not were not predictable.  I always made my sales quotas, but I had a terrible track record predicting which accounts would close and when they would place their orders.  I became adept at giving my superiors sales forecasts that came true, but only on the bottom line.  I could generally guess how much income my territory would generate, but your guess was as good as mine concerning which prospects would account for the revenue.

I am not embarrassed to make this observation.  It has been my experience that people make decisions based much more on how they feel about the choices they have than what is the most logical action to take.  Years ago I came to the conclusion that one could divide the world into two camps.  First, there are the people who make decisions quickly but can apply rational thought to the issue after the fact so they can amend or alter that decision, as they see fit.  The other group of people are the ones who paid for my kids‘ college education:  quick deciders, with no after the fact rational process.  I really liked selling to that second crowd; once they’re on your side they won’t budge (conversely, of course, if they’re not on your side at first…).  But in the long run the better customers were the first lot, who were able to backfill their feeling-driven decision with solid logic and rational thought.  The second group may have led to a lot of good commissions, but the first group were the repeat customers that helped pay the bills month after month.

Our minds have many processes occurring simultaneously, most of them remaining hidden from our active, day to day awareness.  The process we notice most easily is discursive thought.  It has the feel of intentionality, is usually goal directed, and seems like the final word on how we live each moment of our lives.  But in our mindfulness practices we begin to notice that there’s much more going on underneath the radar of our awareness than discursive thought.  There are emotions arising, urges and desires, bodily sensations, memories in images and sounds and other sensations, feelings of boredom, and the inevitable need to go to the bathroom.  I think the sub rosa processes that are the most interesting to me are the urges and desires, which take on the aura of a command.  Sometimes those urges are a command to move, or stop meditating, or to think about some problem or make plans for the tasks to come later in the day.  My desires may command me to focus on some pleasant memory or person or event.  The urge may be as mundane as the command to scratch an itch, and I never ceased to be amazed at how many there are.

This non-rational part of your mind truly commands many of the actions you engage in during the course of a normal day.  Sometimes you might call it your intuition, sometimes you may say “I just felt like it,” and sometimes you might wonder “why did I do THAT?!”  But the bottom line, it seems to me, is that the non-rational processes in my mind dictate much of what I say and do and I want to become better acquainted with them.

When you sit in mindfulness meditation pay attention to the coursing of the mind.  Like a stream meandering through the wilderness, its twists and turns come as a surprise, but when viewed through a rear view mirror they may seem logical and even inevitable.  Your mind will seem, ironically, to have a “mind of its own,” though that idea raises some existential dread!  But as you become more closely aware of your non-rational mind, approach it with this intention: “you cannot make the irrational rational, you can only experience it.”  That is a quote from Neil Genzlinger, the New York Times book reviewer and theater and television critic, from his article (in the Sunday Times Travel section on 11/10/13) about the first time he ran in a Ragnar, an insanely fun way to run an extraordinary distance in relay with friends over the course of several days.  Here’s the link to the article; it’s well worth reading:

And, as always, may your life be filled with the blessings of living mindfully, with the intention to accept life as it emerges, considering every possibility, questioning nothing.