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The Sensitivity Handbook: Training Materials for Developing Balanced Sensitivity

Alexander Berzin
July 1999
Revised February 2003

Part IV: Responding with Balanced Sensitivity

Exercise 18: Making Sensitive Decisions


1. Divest decision-making from feelings of dualism

  • Sit quietly without moving and, when the inevitable itch arises, note how you both feel like scratching it and want to do so
  • Decide not to scratch it and observe how your mind automatically creates a dualistic appearance of a tormented "me" and an unbearable itch and then tears the experience further apart by also creating a controller "me" who will not give in to this annoying itch and a weak "me" who wants to surrender and needs to be controlled
  • Deconstruct the experience by focusing on the itch that you have decided not to scratch and by noting that it is merely a physical sensation that your tactile consciousness is producing and perceiving
  • Note that an intention accompanies your perception of the itch – namely, to endure the sensation and not to end it by scratching
  • Observe that no controller is directing the incident and restraining your hand from scratching
  • Refraining from scratching the itch, focus on the experience as devoid of a solid "me"
  • Consciously change your mind and decide to scratch the itch
  • Examine what occurs as you slowly scratch and note that the only change is the intention that accompanies awareness of the itch
  • Focus on the fact that you are capable of making decisions without dualistic feelings

2. Relax to access the natural talents of your mind and heart

  • Relax your muscular tension
  • Quiet your mind of verbal thoughts, preconceptions, nonverbal judgments, projected roles, and expectations concerning yourself and the decision you need to make, by using the "letting-go" and "writing-on-water" methods
  • Imagine any nervousness or emotional tension that might be left quieting down like a wave on the ocean when the wind has stopped
  • Rest for a minute or two with clarity in a calm, open state of mind and heart, free from tension

Actual exercise

I. While focusing on a photo or on a thought of someone from your life about whom you need to make a difficult decision, such as someone with whom you have an unhealthy or unsatisfactory relationship
  • Deconstruct any dualistic feelings you may be projecting onto the relationship as a confrontation between a concrete "me" and a concrete "you," by imagining the balloon of this fantasy popping
  • Objectively check the facts, by taking into account your impression of the situation and the other person's perspective and comments
  • Consult an unbiased outside opinion
  • With introspection, determine
    • what you feel like doing
    • what your intuition says
    • what you want to do
    • what you need to do
  • List, on paper, the reasons behind what you feel like doing, such as
    • Habits
    • Preferences
    • Physical factors
    • Unconscious motivations
    • Contributing circumstances
    • Influence of others
  • List the reasons behind what your intuition says
    • Knowledge
    • Innate deep awareness or common sense
    • Understanding gained from experience
    • Hidden attitudes reinforcing your intuition
  • List the reasons behind what you want to do
    • Conscious motivations
    • Unconscious motivations
    • Contributing circumstances
    • Influence of others
  • List the reasons behind what you need to do
    • Short-term benefits to each person
    • Long-term benefits to each person
    • Physical necessity
    • Contributing circumstances
  • To determine whether to do anything at all, evaluate the positive and negative reasons for acting and for not acting, paying particular attention to the short-term and long-term advantages and drawbacks of each choice
  • Weigh all the factors to determine which choice has more valid reasons backing it
  • Resolve to follow that choice
  • To decide what to do if the choice is to act, reaffirm your motivation, adjust your ten mental factors, and apply the five types of deep awareness
    • With a motivated urge, focus on the person
    • With mirror-like awareness, distinguish and pay attention to various aspects of his or her behavior
    • With awareness of equalities and of individualities, distinguish the patterns and yet respect the individuality of each instance
    • With pleasant contacting awareness and a feeling of happiness at the prospect of resolving the problem, enhance your interest, mindfulness, and concentration
    • With accomplishing awareness, discriminate a course of action
    • With awareness of reality, evaluate the wisdom and effectiveness of this choice, making sure that it is ethically pure – neither destructive nor dishonest to the feelings of the people involved
    • If the choice seems to be the most reasonable one, set your intention to suggest it to the other person as you begin your discussion
  • To avoid insensitivity toward yourself, be clear about your limits, yet be prepared to say either yes or no as the discussion develops
  • Choose an appropriate moment to broach the matter, when both parties will be receptive
  • Imagine approaching the encounter calmly and gently, without preconceptions
  • Maintain awareness of reality throughout the discussion so as to give the person the room to change his or her ways, while realizing that no one changes instantly
  • Remain open to his or her viewpoint and suggestions
II. While focusing on someone in person

1. Repeat the procedure while sitting in a circle with a group and focusing on one of the members with whom you need to decide something

  • If you know any of them and have a dispute, work with that
  • If you have no quarrels or do not know anyone, deal with such issues as improving your relationship or establishing one
III. While focusing on yourself

1. Repeat the procedure while looking in a mirror, to make a difficult decision concerning your life

2. Repeat the procedure without a mirror

[ Corresponding Chapter 16 in Developing Balanced Sensitivity.]