Introduction course – lesson 4a

Zen and Clarity: Making Choices and Taking Decisions

In the second week we spoke of attention or mindfulness as the central theme of this course, and of Zen in general. Living mindfully means to make increasingly clear what the situation in the here and now really is, and what it requires from you. One of the last advices the Buddha gave in his life is: be a light unto yourself. This is asking you to increase the clarity inside yourself.

One place where you can use clarity is in the process of making choices, or the related process of taking decisions. During your day, you continuously make choices and take decisions. It is a good practice to try to increase your awareness of these choices and decisions.

A choice is only a problem if there is somehow an internal conflict in you. Multiple levels of your consciousness may have different opinions. Bubbles may interfere (often creating emotions), and color your perception.
In case of decisions there may be the additional problem of not seeing any alternative at all.

If there are strong emotions involved, if at all possible, wait for these to subside. Then, after clearing up the situation and alternatives with some logical thinking, it is often best to let your intuition decide. This can be done by picturing alternatives, and feeling how you react to them. Use your “gut feeling”. This may not work immediately, the result may be unclear to you for a while. Sometimes it is better to give the process some time. Not by continuously reworking the problem in your thoughts, just try to let it go for a while. The unconscious levels will continue to work on it without any effort. You can come back to “tasting” solutions after some time. Also, new alternatives may come up in your mind spontaneously. A period of meditation may help too. Sometimes answers come up during, or shortly after meditation, because we create “space” for them. During meditation we create the silence which allows us to hear our intuition more clearly. We are all equipped with a built-in Zen master! The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh phrases this as: “If you find something difficult or hard, withdraw yourself and let the Buddha take your place”.

Be careful with “programs”, repeated behavior. Don’t just do things automatically, because you have always done them in this way. Be aware of your programs, and question them. Why are you doing things in this way? Zen master Shunryu Suzuki phrases this as “Zen mind, beginner’s mind”. Always try to see things afresh.
Take your own decisions; don’t be guided too much by rules and conventions.

Many of us lead busy lives and constantly face the decision: which of the many things I still need to do, do I work on next? Apart from the remarks above

Whatever you do, try to do it well and with your full attention. This implies single-tasking as much as possible. This will make working on the task much more pleasant, and the result likely much better.
It is better to do fewer things well than many things poorly.
If your to-do list is too long, think about removing items.

Once you make a choice / take a decision, try not to have any expectations about the outcome. This will prevent the creation of new bubbles!