A few weeks ago, I wrote about meditation's power to transform, and its ability to help us realize that our inner and outer lives are the same thing. The forces that push down on us daily are meant to shape us, help us master our inner life, and the other way around. Through deep concentration or any activity where a larger perspective is gained, we are better able to relate to the parts of the outer world we've neglected while looking inward.
A good example of this can be found, oddly enough, in Ebenezer Scrooge's visits to Christmases past, present, and future in A Christmas Carol. It's not hard to imagine that the visions Scrooge had were the result of a desperately needed psychedelic experience, and that the ghosts shepherding him on his journey were actually his own guardian angels, emanating from within himself.
Those angels peeled back his own life and revealed to him the reality he'd missed while blinded by material ambition. In doing so, they changed his entire conception of what being alive was truly about, and immediately established within him a new clarity he'd previously lacked. Basically, his own deeper intellectual and emotional powers showed him how different his years on earth would've been had he made the many decisions he'd come to over his lifetime armed with compassion and empathy. If he could've just seen what his actions and decisions were doing to those around him, he could've given more consideration to their weight and taken a different path.
Some of the biggest decisions we make in our lives are rooted firmly in pure emotion, which, if we're not careful, can be dangerous.
Most of the choices we make—whether or not to hit snooze on the alarm, chocolate or vanilla—don't require much in the way of reflection or deep thought. This makes sense. If we gave equal consideration to all the choices heaped upon us on a daily basis, we'd never get anything done. But when it comes to the big, life-changing decisions, we tap into different parts of the self to help guide us, often for better, but sometimes for worse.
Some of the biggest decisions we make in our lives are rooted firmly in pure emotion, which, if we're not careful, can be dangerous. When giving in to these emotional instincts, we can make decisions based on extreme anger and hate. We can form beliefs based on jealousy, prejudice, and our lowest and most irrational impulses—situations that in calmer moments we would see more clearly, seem threatening and menacing.
On the flip side are big decisions made from a place of reasoned intellect. When the mind is able to quiet our compulsions and moods enough to access a richer intelligence, we can make better decisions. Playing a central role in those choices we make thoughtfully is our conscience.
Greater than pure intellect alone, the conscience speaks directly to us, rather than searching for an answer. This is the most advanced or deepest level from which to make decisions, and also the most elusive. Our conscience does not yell out to us—instead, it is the gentle yet persistent voice urging us to rise to our best selves.
With a bit of effort, we can connect to this deepest and highest insight more frequently and shorten the gap between hearing its directives and summoning the strength to carry them out. This is the voice that's pleading with us to be more patient, considerate, thoughtful, and empathetic—real human beings. The conscience is the instinct that compels us to strive to be better, and the small but powerful inner voice that's most disappointed when we make a decision based in greed or selfishness.
Ultimately, when making big decisions, we must tap into our conscience, and profoundly consider how our choices affect others. This is often the easiest thing to overlook. We are all bound up in this life together, and that thought can be quite overwhelming. It's why some choose to live as though it's not true, or create a version of life, like Scrooge before his awakening, where that fact can be conveniently ignored.
Just because you close your eyes doesn't mean the world ceases to exist.
Next week many of us will make what is perhaps the biggest decision of our lifetime, one that is the culmination of more than a year of chaos, noise, distraction, arguing, and anger. It would serve us well to listen to our conscience, and think of those who will be most affected before we do.