Recently, I’ve noticed that a part of me really loves to try and “figure things out.” When I have a problem, a challenging situation, or something that’s not working for me, etc., I often get the intense urge be alone somewhere so “I can hear myself think.”
I think hard, long and deep.
I’m a world class thinker.
Thinking is important. (Okay, duh). We all know what happens when we do things “without thinking” (whoops!) or when someone’s thinking seems off (“what the hell was he thinking?!”). We need our thinking abilities, and we need them intact. It’s super important to have time to think.
But. But there’s a but.
Right now, I’m in a situation (I’ll spare you the details) that I can’t quite seem to think my way out of. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s a world class think-a-thon over here. It doesn’t seem to matter how many angles I come at it from or how hard I think, like a fish caught in a net that gets more tangled as it tries to wiggle free, the more I think the more ensnared I become. There are just too many variables, too many what-ifs, too many opposing forces. My brain might explode.
After many days of struggling, this afternoon I went on a walk so I that could, wait for it – hear myself think!
Anyway, as I walked and thought and thought and walked, I suddenly realized that I was not ever, ever, going to be able to think my way out of this one.
Why not? Because some things are meant to thought through and then decided on with the thinking mind. Like math problems, or what to make for dinner with the ingredients in the fridge because there is no way in hell I’m going to store tonight. But there are other things that have to be decided from a different place inside.
Every ancient wisdom tradition that I know of tells us that we all have multiple kinds of intelligences within us. We have the intelligence of the thinking mind, sure, but we also have the incredible, ineffable, intelligence of our hearts, our intuition, and our body-based, gut instincts.
However, modern, western culture really, really likes the thinking mind. As such, many of us have learned to place our consciousness there – to create a kind of “home” for ourselves in our minds.
Traditionally, the heart was considered the place that was meant to be “home” and our other sources of intelligence were meant to be like the grocery store; sure, you go there to get what you need – hopefully the lines aren’t too long, and then you can come home (to your heart) again.
I am learning, slowly, to re-orient my sense of home to my heart. Did I mention it’s slow? Good grief! But it is happening, and I am grateful.
One of the ways that I practice re-homing myself is to notice when I am super-stuck in my thinking self (like on my walk this afternoon). Once I notice, I can remember that I don’t have to source all of my wisdom from one place (thank goodness!) and then reconnect with these other ways of knowing.
Actually, the mind isn’t supposed to know everything. I have to remind myself of this a lot, but it’s really true! Sometimes we get the sense that it could, or should, know everything, but that’s an illusion. When I am able to remember this, it really takes the pressure off; I can just give my mind permission to not know what it doesn’t know! Phew! This is actually an old spiritual practice; the Buddhists call it “bowing to the “don’t know” mind” – this phrase is alluding to the fact that there’s something really powerful that happens when we allow ourselves not to know what we don’t know. We can stop trying to “figure it out.”
When we’re stuck trying to figure something out with our minds, there can be a lot of gripping, pushing, twisting and grasping. It’s a lot of work! When I get stuck in this place I notice that there really isn’t a lot of space in my mind (or even in my body, which tends to grip and grasp as well (as the body is so often expressing the mind)).
So a lot of this, for me at least, comes back to letting go in order to create a little bit of room. I can practice letting go of the need to “figure it out” and allow myself not to know what I don’t know. When I do this, whether it’s in mediation or in a yoga practice or on a walk or at the grocery store, suddenly there is a whole lot more space.
Space is really a magical thing. One of my favorite yoga teachers says the only way to receive the grace of God, which is always available to us, is to make space. When we make space, grace comes in to fill that space. This grace can help us to connect with the wisdom of our hearts and our bodies and the intelligence of our intuitive knowing.
Of course, sometimes these other kinds of wisdom are not as clear to us as the wisdom of the thinking mind, even when we are able to make space and connect with them. Especially if they are not familiar to us; When we begin to connect with these places it might feel at first as if we are visiting a foreign land. It can be hard to understand the language or the customs. We might feel out of place, or wonder if we are doing things right, or if maybe we should just go back home to our minds where it all “makes sense”. However, if we can commit to hanging out in these foreign places, even just a little bit, over time they become less foreign and we start to feel more comfortable. We begin to understand and even speak a little bit of the language. Over time we create a much more integrated self, with lots of different ways of knowing, (and not knowing). All of these different ways of knowing are valuable, and if we have access to all of them, we ultimately have more power, more freedom and an opportunity to show up much more authentically in our lives.
I want to mention that it takes real courage to do this; It takes courage to allow ourselves not to know, courage to let go and make space, courage to hang out in foreign territory and courage to listen deeply, and to honor the information that comes through. I’ll even go as for to say that, in our hyper-rational culture, it’s not only courageous but a revolutionary act to practice these things.
Our hearts, bodies and intuitions have access to untold stores of wisdom and information. Sadly, our culture teaches us that these sources of intelligence are somehow less valuable than the wisdom of our thinking minds. Nothing could be further from the truth. The intelligence of the mind, while vast, amazing and super, super important, is only a fraction of the wellspring of deep knowing that lives within each of us.