I finished reading How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, in which he illustrates his points by telling a few good stories packed with facts. It's fun interesting reading and reminds me of the old magazine Popular Science. The following excerpt from the book's conclusion begins to sound very similar to what Buddha taught about being self-aware and discovering the mindfulness that can come out of meditation.
“The emotional brain is especially useful at helping us make hard decisions. Its massive computational power—its ability to process millions of bits of data in parallel—ensures that you can analyze all the relevant information when assessing alternatives. Mysteries are broken down into manageable chunks, which are then translated into practical feelings. The reason these emotions are so intelligent is that they’ve managed to turn mistakes into educational events. …THINK ABOUT THINKING…The best way to make sure that you are using your brain properly is to study your brain at work, to listen to the argument in your head.”
So, if thoughts are where we have to look to...to make good decisions, then he is talking about mindfulness of thoughts. What better a way to examine your thoughts than meditation? And you don’t have to be Buddhist. Anyone can do this with practice… it’s just like riding a bike. You can make better decisions when you start to spend some time with your brain.
Sometimes people think the point of meditation is to stop thinking – to have a silent mind. This does happen occasionally, but it is not necessarily the point of meditation. Thoughts are an important part of life, and mindfulness practice is not supposed to be a struggle against them. We can benefit more by being friends with our thoughts than by regarding them as unfortunate distractions. In mindfulness, we are not stopping thoughts as much as overcoming any preoccupation we have with them.
However, mindfulness is not thinking about things, either. It is a non-discursive observation of our life in all its aspects. In those moments when thinking predominates, mindfulness is the clear and silent awareness that we are thinking. A piece of advice I found helpful and relaxing was when someone said, “For the purpose of meditation, nothing is particularly worth thinking about.” Thoughts can come and go as they wish, and the meditator does not need to become involved with them. We are not interested in engaging in the content of our thoughts. Mindfulness of thinking is simply recognizing that we are thinking.
—Gil Fronsdal, Mindfulness of Thoughts