Sunday, September 7, 2014

What if the Detour Sign is Illogical?

September 7, 2014

Dear Friends,

Physically, I am sitting at my computer scowling at the screen, no fault of the computer. No trouble with the machinery at this point—I am grappling with a decision about content.

I can continue to think with you about forgiveness (a current teaching project). The alternative is to think with you about the discipleship-life-management paradigm I am seeking to create (current writing project).

The former (forgiveness materials) would be helpful. Forgiveness may be an everyday challenge, but familiarity does not make the process easy or simple to practice for any of us. 

However, the second, the life-management process, is the point at which my energy has become focused this week. Material that emerges out of this on-going process of living will be less organized and less logical than the forgiveness curriculum, but I think that, none-the-less, it has a good potential. I have learned to trust that sharing what I am learning can be as helpful as sharing what I have learned. 

So—decision made. On with this week’s challenge to learn to hear  myself and respond, a crucial skill in effective life-management.

Details are irrelevant; the bottom line incorporated a decision NOT to continue down a path I had started. The life dilemma: how do we know when NOT to do something? I have come to think of this skill as negative discernment: the ability to hear—and heed—that inner voice when it says, “This path you are on is NOT the right path at this time. Do NOT walk here.”

As grandchildren of the Enlightenment, when that inner voice becomes so loud it cannot be ignored, we initiate immediate civil war with ourselves. The opening shot comes as an appeal to logic.

“Why not?” we ask, presupposing that the cortex, those brain centers of language, logic, and analysis, sits as the Supreme Court of Life Management. 

In this instance, logic was clearly against termination of the project. The project was intellectually stimulating, relationally a source of productive collaboration with others, and, potentially, a tool to enable people to manage the difficult process of living more effectively. Why discontinue work with possible benefit to the common good?

Inwardly, no words: just that insistent inner blinking red light.

The cortex then moved to self-criticism.

Look at your problem in time management skills, logic insisted. Look at the undisciplined open door you have given to a whole herd of competing demands. Acknowledge that this chorus of conflicting interests is chaos of your own construction. Reorganize. Restructure. Reframe.

Again, no words: just that insistent inner blinking red light—blinking, you understand—not steady red, but that blinking signal that indicates danger—stop and proceed only with caution. 

The cortex tries reason once again. 

Stop? Well, let’s think about this. Stop? Well, yes—stop the sloppy time management. Stop trying to do it all. Stop assuming that creativity occurs without resistance. Stopping is not the logical solution. Here is the solution. Get scheduled. Eliminate the competing demands. Recognize and embrace the discipline of creativity and its associated dissonance. Stop the dithering around and get on with the task at hand.

But still: no words—just that repetitive, illogical blasted blinking red light—well, actually, not a light, nothing so tangible as a light—just a wordless insistent sense of stop—don’t go here.

David Siegel, an expert in neurobiological research, argues that the limbic centers of the brain communicate information vital to effective life management, but that the information comes without the language, context of time, and logical sequence that characterizes the information processes of the cortex. Because of the privileged position the Enlightenment gave this type of logical thinking, the culture has taught us to ignore and to deny non-verbal input from these deep inner sources. In the paradigm within which I am working,  I view this as an example of the crucial point in the life-management process in which the cortex attempts to hi-jack the inner wisdom that rises from other brain centers that speak without words.

Challenging this culturally approved hierarchy has consequences.

If I honor my wordless, non-analytical  inner sense above the voice of logic, the response of others to my decision will be courteous and acquiescent. However, their response will likely carry an undertone of bewilderment. I doubt that anyone will say aloud what they sense: Gay has made an illogical decision, one that she herself cannot logically explain. This is confusing, and somewhat troublesome.  What is happening here? 

In my high school days, juke boxes played a song by Paul Westmoreland titled, “Detour: There’s a Muddy Road Ahead.”  Typical of the country music of the time (1945), the song records the disastrous results of the singer’s failure to heed the detour sign. As I remember it, the song was sung as a real twanger with full accompaniment of nose tones.

The chorus ran:

Detour—there’s a muddy road ahead.
Detour—paid no mind to what it said.
Detour—oh, these bitter things I find.
Should have read that detour sign.

But today (seventy years later) sitting here at my computer, I think of those lyrics not as country western at its best—or worst. I have a question, not about the results but about the cause. Why did the singer disregard the sign?

What if the detour sign about which Paul Westmoreland wrote was not logical? What if it was  a limbic system signal—a wordless sense of stop with no logical reason attached?

Thinking with you that learning to listen to oneself is no small chore, and deciding what to do with that non-logical sense of things is even more difficult.

Watch for the detour signs.

See you next week.


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