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Lions Roar : May 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2012 81 deconstructive approach is one of the things that makes Bud- dhism popular among those who want to understand the mind without believing things offensive to reason. WE ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS A disgusting image—the sight of a cockroach, the word “vomit”— will put you off your food. That’s priming and everyone knows about it. There are strange and subtle priming effects, though. If images of money are accidentally present (even subliminally) during a task, a person is less likely ask for help or to give help to others. There are many examples of priming, often hard to believe but true. One conclusion is this: what we think we are, we are not. What I think of as myself is enormously more a feature of the environment than I would suppose. The elevator speech about what we are goes like this: “We are actually a collection of devices—priming and endowment effects and plausible stories.” ENLIGHTENMENT AND THE LOSS OF THE EXPECTED One of Kahneman’s most charming features is that he likes to be surprised, to have his ideas disconfirmed. This is encouraging as well as endearing, since surprises are the core of learning. A day when you expect to be unhappy but your expectation isn’t met is a nice surprise. A moment of clarity during a hard day at work is a surprise. Happiness is a shocking failure of the expected. The inner dialogue of surprise can go like this: “I was thinking something and then I realized it wasn’t true.” Or, “I am not who I thought I was but something larger.” And that is a good discov- ery. So such a moment is a little dance step out of the pain of life, a miniature enlightenment: I was believing something and then I stopped. But wait: there is a problem well known to meditators and to everyone who has had a vacation—we have an experience of freedom and though we say we won’t, we forget. We step back into a subtle confinement. Someone walks out of a meditation retreat full of joy and then starts worrying, as if worry were as necessary as happiness. Why do we do this? Kahneman’s answer is loss aversion. It’s my red window again: potential losses loom larger in the mind than gains. He sees two kinds of thinking, two interior personalities. One is quick and full of assumptions, the other ponderous and analytic. The first enables you to catch a tennis ball without thought the way a dog does, but also to go with your gut feeling that Iraq has weap- ons of mass destruction when it doesn’t. This way of thinking just blindly avoids loss without assessing the issue. The second, slower way of thinking comes into play whenever we are con- fused, laboring to think our way through the problem. WHAT MEDITATION PRACTICE OFFERS There is another possibility. Perhaps you don’t have to go with your gut, or lumber along and ponder. Instead, you step for a moment out of your biases. “First thought, best thought,”