Sharon Salzberg

When we feel conflicted about a particular decision or action, our bodies often hold the answer – if we take the time to stop and tune in. Our minds tend to race ahead into the future or replay the past, but our bodies are always in the present moment. A tightness in the chest or a squeamish sensation in the gut may signal harm, even when reason may suggest that a given choice is perfectly ethical. A feeling of calm or a sense of expansiveness throughout the body sends us a very different message.’

I don’t remember where I picked this quote up from, but I dug it out again recently as part of a teaching on intentions. Interestingly, the same day I read an article in the New Yorker about decision making. As often is the case, I appreciated the ideas put forward while at the same time feeling frustrated about the terms of the discussion. There was some emphasis on decisions based on personal values (which holds pretty strongly for me); I enjoyed the exposition around aspirations (which reminded me of way-seeking mind), and that the person who lives with a decision (that of becoming a parent was one of the prime examples in the article) cannot be the same as the person who makes the decision (which I would also suggest helps us to think about death – I remember realising while I was at Tassajara that the present me who was scared of death was not the person who would have to face it in the future), but it seemed that everything was, and should be, underpinned by rationality, which, in the case one of the authors whose work was cited, led, perhaps inevitably, to large blindspots:

‘Still, Johnson writes, decision science has lessons for us as individuals. Late in “Farsighted,” he recounts his own use of decision-scientific strategies to persuade his wife to move, with their two children, from New York City to the Bay Area. Johnson starts with intuitions—redwoods are beautiful; the tech scene is cool—but quickly moves beyond them. He conducts a “full-spectrum analysis,” arriving at various conclusions about what moving might mean financially, psychologically (will moving to a new city make him feel younger?), and existentially (will he want to have been “the kind of person who lived in one place for most of his adult life”?). Johnson summarizes his findings in a PowerPoint deck, then shows it to his wife, who raises objections that he hasn’t foreseen (all her friends live in Brooklyn). ‘

Not that listening to the body is infallible, as our capacities for self-delusion are pretty far-reaching, but I usually think it would help, not least in reaching a compassionate decision. And there is also the place of not-knowing, which we invoke often in our practice. Wondering if I had told this story before, it turns out I was talking about intentions again…

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