How not to make decisions.
“Should I follow my head or heart?” is a common question. We are always looking at ways to make the right decisions. Whether at work or relationships. Whether small day to day decisions — what to eat, what to wear — or big life altering decisions — what to do, who to marry. Having spent a lifetime making all kinds of decisions, here is what I have learnt.
The most common way to make decisions is from the head — logical and rational. If we want to decide on a career path, we will assess the various options and see which one seems most promising for us. That’s what I did while choosing to be a Chartered Accountant. Not so much to assess various careers but I simply followed what others around me were doing. The logic was simple — do what others are doing.
Similarly when it comes to relationships, after the initial attraction, the head kicks in. Where is this going? Will this last? Is this the right person for me? The mind goes in a tizzy trying to figure out what is the best thing to do. How to secure the future from unnecessary hurt and pain. It draws plans of how to proceed further.
The problem with the head is, it lacks heart. Don’t get me wrong, logic and rationality are extraordinary tools. They are the sole reason the human race has evolved from being cave dwellers to smartphone users. Logic is a useful tool for practical matters. How to get from Mumbai to Houston, how to bake a carrot cake or how to develop the next version of the iPhone. But when it comes to personal choices the head more often than not misguides us.
Personal choices could range from which flavor of ice cream to eat today or what work to do for a lifetime. Rationality tends to rely on outside information — what careers are promising, where will I get more money or what others are doing. Rationality assesses information for maximum future gain, with minimum exposure to risk. This is the way the mind functions.
When we base choices on gain and loss we become transactional. No matter how business oriented or financial savvy we become, at the end of the day we are human beings. We want to feel inspired, motivated, loved and fulfilled. And for this we have to rely on what we feel, not what we think. Do we feel loved when we are with someone? Does a particular work inspire us? The only way to know this, is to check within and ask ourself — “What am I feeling?”
The other fallacy of the head is that it creates an illusion of security. We feel when we have weighed all the pros and cons, and charted out a plan for the future our life will be perfect, just as we want it to be. Unfortunately life has no interest in our plans, it moves to its own rhythm. While it may be good to have vision based on our values, to know what we value, we first need to know what we feel.
Heart symbolizes emotions. This is tricky terrain. Today I feel this, tomorrow I could be feeling something else. Can feelings be trusted? But then who said we are supposed to feel the same feeling for a lifetime? Our mind associates security with certainty and wants to make a choice based on something that will remain certain forever. This is a fantasy.
Nothing in life is certain. The only thing that is certain is what we are experiencing right now. What we are feeling right now. But often what we feel is not a feeling, but a theeling.
Theeling is a word that I have coined.
A sensation that comes from thought is a theeling.
Our social conditioning and past experiences transform feelings into theelings. These theelings are emotional reactions. They are not true guides to our naturalness.
If I have been hurt in past relationships, then I fear being hurt again, is a theeling. When I feel low and lonely and I feel like eating junk food and binge watch, is a theeling. When I feel excited at the prospect of getting a job that pays me well, with little regard for the work I will do, is a theeling.
Theelings stem from desire and fear. The desire to get something or the fear of losing something. Most of our feelings are theelings, hence we are confused and unsure of ourself.
Feelings on the other hand are core to our being. The ‘roseness’ of a rose is intrinsic to a rose. The ‘sunness’ of the sun is intrinsic to the sun. They do not have an identity crisis of their natural self-expression or who they are. Similarly each human being has a natural self-expression. A unique essence. This can be discovered only when we pay attention to our feelings.
Our true feelings are wholesome. They are the song of our soul. Each soul has its unique self-expression. Its unique needs. And until we discover, express and fulfil those needs we will feel restless.
What I do now as a mindfulness and meditation teacher is spontaneous and effortless. A far cry from being a miserable chartered accountant. It has been a long journey to unpeel layers of social conditioning, desires and fears to find my natural self-expression. Every time something dropped or didn’t feel right, it was an indication that it wasn’t my core.
Feelings are sensations that guide us towards what feels right for us. They are not born from desire or fear. They are a natural response to life situations, people and things. When a certain work feels right, one simply knows. When a relationship feels right, one simply knows. When a place feel right, one simply knows. Just as one knows when something doesn’t.
The key to getting in touch with feelings is letting go. Which means dropping the need to control or direct life. Or having any belief of who I am and what I should do. All of this is the activity of the conditioned mind. One moment it wants this and another moment it wants something else.
Feelings need not always be loving, kind and inspirational. Sometimes there can be feelings of sadness and hurt. But unlike theelings, there is no story associated with them. No one is a villain or victim. There is no one to blame. One simply acknowledges the feeling, without indulging or resisting it. Surrendering to the natural intelligence of life one allows life to unfold as it is meant to.
When we see all occurrences as the Universe expressing itself, then there is no one to blame and nothing to regret. Every occurrence is an expression of the Divine Will. The ultimate realization is, I am not making the decisions, they are being made. Like ripples emerging from the Source. This realization leads to contentment and trust.
So what must one do to make good decisions?
Allow life to unfold without any agenda of your own. The only thing one can do, if at all, is to be aware of one’s feelings in the moment without second guessing oneself. The more we trust our naturalness, the more it will guide us towards what is wholesome for us.
And when we move towards what is wholesome, we move closer to the Whole.