By Dr. David Lake
“Consistency Is The Hobgoblin Of Small Minds” - Emerson
In the bustle of thinking there is always the need to come to a decisive conclusion—the mind loves doing this. But how can the complexity of some situations lend itself to that outcome? Sometimes the uncertainty causes anxiety and stress. Here are some reflections on the nature of that process, and how it might become more acceptable. In particular it’s an introduction to a little ‘trick’ that I find very useful.
The nature of thinking is really the problem, sometimes. Because the mind deals in polarities there is ‘black and white’ thinking, two sides to every question. This is close to right and wrong, good and bad. Which is quite easy, really, if you are a fundamentalist and have ready access to the correct answer to everything. Then you can be 100% assured of having the right answer to life’s problems. But for the rest of us, the ‘shades of grey’ (conflicting beliefs or ideas) are a bother. When it comes to personal and family problems they represent life itself: messy and chaotic. In psychological terms this is called “cognitive dissonance”.
Why is this a problem? Because the mind doesn’t like the lack of certainty, especially if strong emotions are also present in a charged situation. So, dealing with trauma, shock, disruption and disappointment in life is a massive conflict between what is and what should be. Are you going to go with the story of what you believe, or take a clear, cool look at what is the reality and truth (thanks to the work of Byron Katie for this distinction; particularly the book “Loving What Is” )?
Well, we do the best we can, given our training, conditioning and the degree of personal work we have endured. We can help ourselves to deal with the strong emotions using tapping. We can apply cognitive strategies to the thinking. But there is also room for anything that promotes more acceptance of complexities in a useful way. Acceptance, of course, being partly defined here as a willingness to allow all of the reality to be on the agenda.
Here is the useful trick. Thanks go to therapist Stephen Gilligan, I believe, who talked about this to one of his Sydney workshoppers, who told me. Just represent the other side of the issue in your thinking or speaking simultaneously.
This will give you the flavour of the concept:
I always manage to do the right thing—except when I don’t
I’m never wrong—except when I am
I don’t like dealing with difficulties—except when I do
Part of me wants to, and part of me doesn’t
This should never have happened—but it has
This is very helpful if the mind is being primitive and wants you to use the words always and never, which tend to back you into a mental corner and increase your tension in a situation. It is settling when you don’t have to mentally vote. Of course, with this approach you are allowing the duality of the situation to exist when in a better world you could just choose one or the other. But that duality does always exist (prior to enlightenment) so let’s not be too concerned right now. Such a balance of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ will always be present in some way while humans wander around wrestling with concepts.
Using the trick to maintain a healthy balance is a great way of defusing the critical mind and strengthening the creative aspects of thinking. It also can represent ‘time out’ from fretting for those who have obsessively thought themselves to a standstill. Best of all—it represents the truth of the situation!
What do you think? We would love to read your comments on this article.