Decisions, Choices & Control Exercises
Palm Flipping Exercise
1. Hold a hand in front of you; palm turned down.
2. Now turn the palm up. And down…and up and so on.
Watch like a hawk.
Don’t go to thoughts – examine your direct experience. Do this as many times as you like, and each time inquire:-
How is the movement controlled?
Does a thought control it?
Can a ‘controller’ of any description be located?
How is the decision made to turn the hand over? Track any decision point when a thought MADE THE DECISION to turn the hand over and the hand turns over immediately.
Who or what chose which hand – the left or right hand for the exercise?
Can you find a separate individual or anything that is choosing when to turn the palm up or down?
Raising Hand Exercise
1. Place both hands on a table in front of you, palms down.
2. When you have done that, rest for a moment and then raise one hand in the air but not the other.
Don’t go to thoughts, examine your direct experience. Do this as many times as you like, and each time inquire:-
What is it exactly that is choosing which hand to raise?
Can you find a separate individual or anything that is doing the choosing? What is it that is controlling the hand?
Can a ‘controller’ of any description be located?
Can anything be found that makes the hand move?
How is the decision made?
Imagine for a moment a scene, one of a little mountain stream which is tumbling down a hillside gully, not far from its source. It has been raining and so the level is quite high. Consider in your mind’s eye, if you can, how it flows to the right over a little rock (where, had the level been lower, it would probably have gone around the rock), then the flow goes to the left over a tree bow, and then slows a little in a broader place, before splashing over a small cascade into a pool, and so on down the mountain side. Does it choose any of its directions? Is it even really a separate entity different from the water deposited in it, the rocks, the depressions in the ground etc? Is it even the same entity moment by moment, or more the product of weather conditions and water, like an ever-changing pattern?
1. Can you find anywhere where ‘insert name’ autonomously intervenes into life, choosing something that is not the product of all the elements; that is not a part of the overall flow?
2. Now please consider a regular decision made eg; what to wear in the morning, or what to eat for lunch, and describe to me what happens. There are environmental factors, there are colour preferences (but where did those come from – any autonomous intervention there perhaps?), practical issues (such as what is available), available time for preparation, purpose (eg; need to fill up for the day, or to look hip and cool for that person!) etc. Where in there is an autonomous entity intervening in the flow of life? Can you find someone somewhere?
3. Can anything be found for which ‘insert name’ is responsible – if so responsible to what and for what?
The aim of the following exercise is to discover whether the function of choice can really be found or confirmed in actual experience. The idea of making ‘choices‘ is a very clear example of a function that we wrongly identify as the basis of our identity.
Here’s what’s needed – a chair, a table and two different drinks. Any two drinks you like are okay for this: coffee, tea, milk, water, juices, smoothies, beer, wine, etc.
Preparation – Place the two drinks side by side on the table in front of you, sit comfortably on the chair and mentally label them as drink A and drink B.
Experiment – Finding the function of choice
Sit for a few moments, take a few relaxed breaths and let the dust settle. When you feel ready:
1. Look at drink A and at drink B. Think about their respective qualities, the things you like about them, compare and weigh the pros and cons of each. See if a preference is manifesting for one or the other.
2. Count to 5.
3. Choose one of the drinks. Pick it up and take a sip.
Remember that we’re looking for some kind of function, a something, an ‘I’ which is doing the ‘choosing’.
In step 1 when thinking about their respective qualities, did you ‘choose’ the qualities? Or did they kind of appear by themselves? If some preferences manifested, did you ‘choose’ these preferences? Or did they just pop up by themselves?
In step 2 when you counted to 5, if the preferences took the back seat while the numbers took the front seat, did you ‘choose’ this sequence of event? Did you ‘choose’ to shut down the preferences to give way to the counting? Did you directly experience a mental function or faculty doing the ‘choosing’? Have you seen this function in action?
In step 3 where you made a choice, did you actually witness or directly experience a mental function or faculty doing the ‘choosing’? Did anything arise that announced, ‘I am the chooser’? If so, what does this function look like?
Sometimes we describe this sense of choosing as a ‘feeling’: It feels like ‘I’ did the ‘choosing’. But the question is, can a feeling ‘choose’? Is it in the nature of a feeling to ‘choose’?
So taking a closer look, is it that these voices (thoughts) are controlling these behaviours in any way? Try this out.
Get two foods you like, one that is a ‘bad’ food, like a piece of chocolate and the other a ‘good food,’ like a piece of apple. Thoughts might come up while looking at them saying stuff about eating one or the other. Eventually one of them will get eaten first.
Look carefully for any evidence in direct experience to see if those thoughts controlled the behaviour; rather than just guessing and commentating what might happen.
Simple Individual Exercises
1. Can you see a self making you leave the bed?
Where does the “decision”, the “command” to get up come from? What makes the body get up? Does a ‘you’ or a thought command the body?
It’s always interesting to see the difference between thought content and what really happens.
“Can you see a self making the body leave the bed?”
2. ‘On a count of 5, raise either your left or right arm, or not.’ Dead simple.
3. Can you choose to fall asleep? Can you find the moment / point / spot or realm where you choose to fall asleep?
4. Can you choose the very content of the next thought? Can you choose willingly the next thought that will arise?
5. Can you choose the very quality (tightness, openness, vibration, hardness, contraction etc) of the physical sensation, that will arise next?
6. Can you choose the next emotion, mind state, attitude that will arise? Sit and look at what is happening. Can you find any choice – point where you willingly chose any emotion that appeared in response to a stimulus?
7. Think of a number between 1 and 20. Try to notice the exact point when the choice is made. Did you know what number would be chosen before it appeared?
9. Close your eyes and sit quietly for 10-15 minutes. Watch what focus does. Focus on focussing, watch attention itself. Do you move it? Or it moves by itself? Hold focus on
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Ask the client to go to another room, pick a random object and bring it back to the
computer. Ask questions to why they decided to choose that object.
breath. See how it moves to thoughts, sensations, feelings, sounds. Is this something you control?
What moves attention? Is thinking in control of attention? Describe what you see.
Although you see that there is no noticer/observer/witness, there may still be the feeling of identification of being the ‘doer’. That it still ‘feels’ like there is a self that is the ‘chooser’. So let’s have a look at this as it has to do with the sense of seeing.
Take a few relaxed breaths to let the dust settle for a while, and then: Look on your right.
Then look on your left.
Finally, bring your head back to centre, close your eyes and look in front.
Okay, so when you look on the right, the view on the right is seen (whatever that is).
When you look on the left, the view on the left is seen (whatever that is).
And then, when you look in front of you with eyes closed, the view in front is seen (ie ‘black space’).
So, when the view on the right is seen, do you have the ‘choice’ not to see? I’m not asking can you ‘choose’ to see something else like another view or ‘black space’ if you close your eyes. The question is; can you turn seeing off? Can you NOT see what is seen?
Same thing with the view on the left, can you NOT see the view on the left?
Same thing with the view in front with closed eyes, can you NOT see the ‘black space’? Can you turn off seeing?
What did the ‘chooser’ choose? Did a ‘self’ choose something?
If you are unable to choose what you’re aware of, then what else is there to choose?