I’ve sometimes likened mindfulness meditation to a CEO listening to feedback from frontline workers so that s/he is better able to run the company. In that analogy, it is my conscious mind that is the CEO. But the more I meditate (and remember what I have learned about neuroscience), the more I think that picture is inaccurate.
There is increasing evidence that our conscious minds are not our ultimate decision-maker, however much we like to flatter ourselves that we are in control. According to research, by the time I formulate an intention to pick up a pen, the neural pathways required to carry out that action have already started firing.
So while I continue to believe that meditation is a way of getting feedback, it’s not so that my conscious mind can run things better. It’s so my conscious mind has better information to pass onto the decision-making processes that lie beyond it.
This may well be wrong but it seems to make sense to me. Anyone who has ever tried to meditate will know how little control our conscious minds have over our thoughts. In fact, let’s face it: anyone whose brain has ceaselessly plagued them with “Wichita Lineman” for eight days in a row knows how little control we have over our thoughts. But with close attention, we can teach ourselves that certain ways of thinking or acting cause suffering; once our being fully grasps the link between the behaviour and the suffering, it becomes easier to relinquish the behaviour.