The Question

Ask the question you really want to ask,
The question that leaves you completely vulnerable,
The question whose answer might be too terrifying to hear.
Ask the question that is truly in your heart
Rather than seeking answers that the mind thinks it needs to find,
And in that asking, you will discover your true self
And you will find the person who will answer you.

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Rational and Intuitive Thinking

As human beings, we have two amazing gifts – the ability to think rationally and the ability to think intuitively.  When I reflect on these two forms of thought, I come to the conclusion that rational and intuitive thinking are often in a state of conflict and are often misapplied.  I use my rational mind to solve problems that in reality only intuitive thinking can solve, and vice-versa, when rational thinking is better suited for the problem at hand, I often deny what the rational brain is telling me and grope instead for an intuitive solution that, while incorrect, assuages my soul, with the stark result that all I accomplish is “non-thinking.”  What really is the right place for both of these modalities of thought?

I find that rational thinking is most appropriate when a life situation has presented all the facts and there is a clear understanding of the consequences of a word or deed – there is no ambiguity or unknown.  The rational mind can clearly say “if A, then B.”  Because the world has a certain order and predictability, the rational mind can make reasoned decisions founded on the trust of this external order and predictability.   However, when faced with the unknowable, the rational mind refuses to let go–it struggles to “rationalize” an action by seeking more and more information that might help in making a decision based on the facts that it gathers, denying that the consequences of our action is, by definition of the circumstance, truly unknowable.

Intuitive thinking is most appropriate when the consequences of our words and actions are unknown—there is nothing that the rational mind can grasp hold of because the result of our actions is unknowable.  When faced with the unknown consequences of a decision, intuitive thinking must rely on feeling, feelings which are often scary, muddled, and confusing.   While the rational mind can come to a sound conclusion by “gathering the facts”–an external process–the intuitive mind must make an inner journey into the soul, must become vulnerable and open to insights whose conclusions rest on the foundation of an inner sense of trust.

Rational and intuitive thinking are often in conflict—I experience this very clearly in the poker game, where the rational mind can easily calculate whether making a bet, based on my cards, the amount of money in the pot, and the amount of my bet, is statistically, if it were played out a thousand times, a winning bet.  My intuitive thinking often likes to scream “oh, but I know I will be lucky!”  The difference between a gambler and a skilled poker player becomes one where the rational mind prevails, allowing the intuitive mind to have its say only in the broader scope of the entire game, not just the hand.  It becomes a balance—when the rational mind realizes that in order to survive the game, I must “make a move”, it can give the reigns over to the intuitive mind to determine when, against rational odds, to make that move.

We live comfortably in the world of rational thinking because trust is easy – there’s a guaranteed predictability that we can rely on.  Intuitive thinking, so necessary when faced with the unknown consequences of our actions, requires an inner trust, which in my experience we are ill-prepared for.  It seems to me that teaching our children and ourselves how to develop a sense of inner trust has been eroded by a culture that has, over the last 100 years, promoted technological / scientific solutions to almost every problem.  Without that sense of inner trust, we lack faith in ourselves.  Even worse, we place that faith in someone/something else, someone that says “if A then B” and allows the rational mind to take charge when, in reality, that someone or something that says “if A then B” is no more knowing of the consequences than we are.  And so, rather than saying “I don’t know, let’s figure this out intuitively” we, out of our self-distrust, miss opportunities for a deeper understanding.

Inner trust is a hard road, requiring time for contemplation, requiring the development of skills to even know how to contemplate, how to listen to ourselves, our bodies, our feelings and thus becoming open to listening to “something else.”  Becoming trusting of oneself is a process of developing a healthy relationship that balances our inner world with the outer world, and in my belief system, creating a balance, in me, between the physical and spiritual worlds.  This is hard work, it is lifelong work, but in the end, it yields a powerful tool that can appropriately guide the intuitive mind when the rational mind is effectively useless.  The result then becomes balanced thinking – the correct application of rational and intuitive thinking.

Of Budgets and Dream: Income Pooling

Working with the money and dreams, together, is an excellent opportunity to experience the material, physical world juxtaposed with our lofty and often spiritual ideas, hopes, and dreams.  It is not, in my experience, an easy thing to do.  Most of us, it seems, naturally gravitate away from full immersion into the material qualities of money and the mechanistic lifestyles we see around us that seems so necessary to adhere to in order to have a flow of this substance in our lives.  Ironically though, it seems we also avoid dreaming—why dream of something if it is beyond our financial grasp, seemingly unattainable?  Why dream of something when it succeeds only in creating a sense of longing and conflict – where I want to be is not where I am?  Why dream of something when all I have time for is to be engaged, like an automaton, in the daily grind of making money?  And so we fail.  We fail in the responsibilities of engaging in the physical world.  Or we fail in the responsibilities of engaging in our inner soul world to realize and to actualize our dreams.  Or we fail at both.  As a result, we fail at meeting in the middle and synthesizing a third, whole, alternative.

My experience of working with budgets is that it is a deadening experience.  My life, reduced to a dozen or so numbers.  It is the pinnacle of Ahrimanic accomplishment – I have become a machine that produces something that other people consume so that I myself can consume what others produce.  The sole purpose of my existence, my education, my actions, is to ensure that these dozen or so numbers are, for the most part, the same, month in, month out, year in, year out.  My budget is simply the input parameters of this specific machine called “Marc Clifton.”

My soul rebels!  As I look at these numbers, I dream about gazing at the Alps, or immersing myself in a country where everyone speaks like Crocodile Dundee, or sitting in a coffee house in Venice watching the gondolas float by while sipping some exotic coffee.   My soul is countering the numbers on the spreadsheet with the oppositional, Luciferic pinnacle of escapism and fantasy.  Ah, how sweet that nectar can be!  But this astral thinking is not the reality that I want to live, just as the purely physical construct represented by my budget is a representation of true reality.  Truth, for me at least, lies somewhere in the middle.

I spent a long time concurrently bemoaning and ignoring the plights of the world, the environment, its people.  How can human beings be so cruel to each other and to Mother Earth?  Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.  Sure, Supersize Me!  The problem with “waking up” is that one realizes that supersizing the drink, the car, the house, the MP3 collection, is not the road to mindfulness.  And as far as I can tell, mindfulness is the only road to true contentment.  Does this mean I have to do the opposite–I have to downsize my income, my house, my car, my diet?  No!    Do you disagree?  Does that seem like a radical, materialistic answer, to say “No!”?  It isn’t, because downsizing is not the road to mindfulness either.  I see a lot of examples around me that reflect a very strange idea, that downsizing is somehow equivalent to mindfulness.  It isn’t.  Choosing to live at or below the poverty income line is challenging, stressful, and often awkward, and yes those conditions lead to a degree of “in your face” mindfulness, but it also utterly fails at reaching the full potential of the human being, both as a person on a spiritual path of self-development and as a contributing, productive, member of a community that aims to promote the spiritual growth of its members.  Siddhartha Gautama realized this and thus discovered the Middle Way, the path of moderation from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.  The path of mindfulness.

Where does mindfulness start?  For me, besides the obvious answer that mindfulness starts with myself, I slowly came to the realization that, while I do not have the temperament to do something about the plights of the world, I do have the temperament and the interest to begin work at being mindful in a local way.  And this is the reason I am interested in Income Pooling.  It is another avenue in which I can practice mindfulness in a local context that speaks to my dream: the concept that a small, local change can ripple outward like a wave and touch other people.  This isn’t the Butterfly Effect (which is utter rubbish), it’s the Pay It Forward concept.  It’s working with the idea of Six Degrees of Separation (supposedly now it’s five), that I am connected to everyone else on the planet through six (or five) other people, and that my local actions can directly affect people I don’t even know.

Indulge me for a moment regarding the Butterfly Effect.  It’s rubbish because the molecules in the atmosphere interact with each other like tiny shock absorbers, dampening the effect of a disturbance over distance.  This is why hurricanes fizzle quickly when they encounter cold water or land – there is no energy being pumped into the system to sustain them.  People are a bit different, they can be like shock absorbers, attenuating the enthusiasm and activity of another person, or they can be amplifiers, adding energy to the activity of another person.  When this happens, Pay It Forward works.  I have been a shock absorber, a sad thing, and I have also experienced being an amplifier, which is a wondrous thing.  Which are you?

As I stare at my budget and experience my soul rebellion, I ask myself, what is the mindful thing to do here?  How do I counter the deadness of the monetary experience and simultaneously avoid the astrality of an escapist fantasy?  In the Anthroposophic circles, the answer to the Middle Way is through Christ, but that’s a bit too abstract for my tastes.  In concrete terms, I find the Middle Way to be place where a very magical activity occurs: play.  Mindful, presencing, joyous, play.  When I recently met Jens from the Quaker Intentional Community (right here in Canaan), one thing (among many) that stood out was a certain playfulness to Jens and how he approaches his work.  Play is both stimulating, breathing life into dead affairs like budgets, and grounding in its ability to simulate, in a safe way and real way, lofty ideas.  Play can bring me to a place of grounded enthusiasm, where I can, with joy, work with concrete ideals.  This is the space I want to live into when working with budgets and dreams.