Alternate route

A photo by Rosalind Chang.

I didn’t used to be a very good decision maker. I spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of different options, and somehow would still come away seeing how they all could work. What makes this especially ironic is that my job for over a decade was largely about making decisions, and to a certain degree, it still is. I rarely had a problem with those decisions, strangely, but would still find myself stuck in other areas. Then, over time, I became more familiar with mindfulness, and started to be able to connect better to what was going on inside me. You’d think this might just create more confusion, since internally I was full of uncertainty, but actually, it showed me something pretty amazing. 

The answers were already there. Deep down, I knew what I wanted. The uncertainty and indecision was in my head, but the answers were in my heart. If I could find some stillness or intentional movement (for me, yoga), and allow my breath to guide me for a few minutes, and if I could make this a habit as many days a week as possible, I was able to connect with surprising clarity to my intuition. The decisions were not actually a struggle. But, that doesn’t mean they were easy.

Funny thing about intuition: it can surprise you. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time in your head – planning, analyzing, calculating – you may be disappointed by your gut response to the decisions you’re facing. They may not be what you’re expecting, and even more so, they make not “make sense” in the way you’re used to. But my (fairly experienced) guess is that if you talk to some of the people whose lives and paths you admire, who seem to have carved out exactly the existence that aligns their hearts and minds, you’ll find they made some pretty scary choices along the way. They listened to their intuition. They took a hard left when the GPS said to go straight, and yes, maybe for a while they even got lost. But, eventually, they realized that was the only way.

Now, before you go and quit your job or cancel that interview or sell everything you own that doesn’t fit into a backpack, hear this: intuitive decisions are different from emotional decisions. One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it helps us to not only discern our thoughts from our awareness, but it also shows us our emotions as passing, mainly physical, experiences. Making a decision because you’re angry or bored or even blinded by enthusiasm won’t necessarily align with your intuition. In fact, your gut may be actively screaming at you to pump the breaks as you push the pedal to the floor. The only way to tell the difference is to learn to tell the difference, and that takes practice.

Take a minute. Find your breath. Check into the quiet, calm, steady center that you already have inside of you. Yes, really, I promise it’s there. Set your intention, which may be clarity, purpose, or joy, for example (which are notably different from “Tell me what to do!!!”). You may not get what you’re looking for right away, but keep coming back. It is a cumulative practice, and just like you wouldn’t be able to run a marathon after one round on a treadmill, you need to put in the effort to see this level of results. But trust me, it is possible, and if you commit to it, it can quite literally change your life.

Don’t believe me? Well, you wouldn’t be reading this right now if it wasn’t true.

“Leap, and the net will appear.” – Zen proverb

Photo credit: Rosalind Chang

8 thoughts on “Alternate route”

  1. I really like your distinction between decisions based on intuition and emotions. I’ve definitely noticed the difference between how my decisions feel when I’m in an emotional state versus when I’m feeling calm and present.

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