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.