A central question that often comes up in many people’s lives is, “Should I trust and follow what my inner guidance, my impulses, and my instincts urge me to do, or should I instead do what I ‘should’ – what the rules and my rational thinking mind tells me to do?” We can all probably remember examples, looking back over our life history, where doing one or the other proved to be the best choice. So, for a general guiding principle – which one is it? Mindfulness and meditation can help us with this question.
It can be helpful to think of three levels of the human mind: the pre-rational, the rational, and the trans-rational.
On the first level, the “pre-rational”, a person follows their impulses, and the results are destructive. For example, perhaps a person gives in to their compulsive urge to get drunk, or mindlessly eat another giant bag of potato chips while watching TV, after promising themselves they would stop. A person might unthinkingly yell abuse at, or accept abuse from, a loved one. Perhaps a person might miss their daughter’s soccer game to stay home and watch Netflix all day because that’s what they most feel like, or avoids a difficult but necessary conversation. Following one’s impulses here, we could say, may be simply acting from unconscious, unreflected force of habit, like a child or animal might.
On the second level, a person’s actions are guided by what is rational, orderly, scientific, and what the standard universal guidelines and rules are. They do what they “should”.
On the third level, the trans(beyond)-rational, a person acts on instinct, impulse, and gut feel, but the results are beautiful, positive, and healthy. Perhaps a person heeds an inner calling to take some time off to start a new creative pursuit, take an adventurous journey, do something different and more fulfilling with their career, or any other take bold action that year later the person is glad that they did. A person may creatively come up with and suggest a new and better way of doing things. A person may spontaneously tell others that they love them, or they may heed an instinct to take a rest when that’s what their mind and body needs. When we are acting on this level, something deep, alive, creative, and positive lives through us; in its pure form, these are the inner-directed actions of a visionary, a great artist, a saint, or some other inspiring figure.
The first and third levels have similarities, in that one follows and trusts one’s inner instincts rather than any rational guideline or standard conventional cookie-cutter social rules. So, since they are similar, there are two errors to watch out for – mistaking the animalistic for the inspired, or mistaking the inspired for the animalistic.
Meditation can help us in two ways with this equation.
Mindfulness meditation helps us to understand ourselves and listen to wisdom within ourselves that is deeper than our normal surface level mind. The more we closely observe ourselves and get to know ourselves on an intimate, deep, aware, and accepting level, the more we are able to tell whether our inner impulses are more pre-rational, and to be overcome and ignored, or more trans-rational, and to be trusted and acted on.
Mindfulness meditation can also help us to evolve and grow. Doing it regularly can make the parts of our mind that are pre-rational more rational, and help us stop being led around compulsively by our more destructive impulses. As meditation helps us to untangle, deepen, and integrate, it can also help the parts of us that are rational move into the beyond-rational, and assist us to in cultivating and expressing trustworthy inner impulses that are unexpected but end up creating positivity, love, and good.