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Posts Tagged ‘tunnel vision

Look in the light?

I’m sure you all know the story about the man who was looking for something under a street-light.  A passer-by stopped to help and asked what he was looking for.  “A sixpence,” the first man said.  “I dropped a sixpence.”  “Where did you drop it?” asked the second man.  “Over there”, the first man said, pointing outwards into the dark.  “Why are you looking for it here, then?”, said the newcomer.  “Because here is where the light is”, answered the first.

So many of us run our lives on that principle.  We know we need light.  So we head towards the light.  But so has everyone else.  And in business-terms, that patch is “over-traded”. In social terms, the “in-crowd” is there.

Look beyond the light

It is good to be there too.  But who is being excluded?  And why?

In many countries, we are approaching the Christmas festival and many of us will be packing up preparing to criss-cross the globe to rejoin family.  We are heading towards the light and warmth of the family hearth.

In the Christian tradition, it is also a time to think about those who are not included around a family hearth.  It is a gesture of kindness and compassion to reach out.

It is also in our self-interest.  Poets remind us that it is in the dark, the place where we generally do not look or listen, where the value of our lives might be.  Paying attention to the dark might bring value to the hearth.

Poetry about looking beyond the light

Here is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke on making friends with the dark.  Maybe that should be the New Year’s Resolution for 2010.  To spend a moment each day looking beyond the circle of light into the dark beyond?

You, darkness

You, darkness, that I come from

I love you more than all the fires

that fence in the world,

for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone

and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything-

shapes and fires, animals and myself,

how easily it gathers them!

– powers and people-

and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Yikes, our psychology is old fashioned

Here we are close to 2010, wrestling with philosophy and physics that was well documented half a century ago.

Let’s look at what most of us think of as science.

If I throw a stone, in theory, I can predict where it will land.   I like that. It is certain. I like that I know exactly what is going to happen.

But, of course, I don’t know where it will land.

  • I am no good at throwing stones.  It could go anywhere.
  • My ability to calculate the physics of the trajectory is limited (I’ve forgotten and can’t do it in my head in real time).
  • And other factors kick in such as the wind.

All in all, that stone becomes unpredictable. Oh, I don’t like that.

I don’t like the idea that what I thought was certain is not. It’s as if the earth shook under my feet.

Let’s look at what we think of as weakness of character

I hate it even more when I become unpredictable.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking a project was hopeless.  By the evening, I was so excited about the exact same project that I could not sleep.  My judgement should not swing about like that ~ at least if I am a person of substance, or so we are brought up to believe.

The truth is that nothing is predictable.  Least of all us.

So why do we persist in believing the world is under our control?

This is how it works. We have is a few factors under our control.  When we focus on those factors, we feel calm.  We feel efficacious.  And therefore we persist in whatever we are doing.

It doesn’t mean that we are effective.  It just means that we are willing to persist.  We pay attention. We are more likely to do what we are thinking about than what we are not thinking about. So we get done what we are thinking about.

In a circular fashion, we think we will succeed, we feel in control, so we persist and therefore we try, and sometimes we do succeed.

There is still a huge factor of chance involved though.  There is  so much else happening around us that can affect an outcome.   We’ve simply narrowed the range of outcomes by paying attention.

Is it a good thing to control our attention?

It’s interesting that in the western world that we put such a high premium on predicting results.  We really want to feel in control, of course.  Not be in control, feel in control.

We aren’t really in control. We are just ignoring what is out of our control. We are just writing a story of us in control. It is the story of being in control that we love! Take that away, and we really feel helpless!

You don’t believe  that we just like to think we are in control?

Let’s look at the west. It is more successful than the rest of the world. It is richer.

Yes, it is. And dirtier. Where do the emissions come from? How much energy is used to make this life style?

We are richer because we consume. That’s what wealth means in this sense. We have learned to consume a lot.

And if that is a marvellous thing, then aren’t we are being silly ~ we are destroying the world’s ability to sustain the thing that we say is so important.

Aren’t we just behaving like a person who barges to the front of the queue? It is true we get there. But at the expense of becoming very unpopular.

The point is that we barged to the front of the queue, not because being in the front was important, but because we wanted to feel in control. Now we are in the front, do we feel in control? No we don’t. All those people behind us will get their own back at the first opportunity! We’ve reduced our control.

High control needs

Now I am an in control type of person. Anyone who knows me, knows that. I like being in control. I look for ways to understand the world. I think we do more when we understand the world

But I shouldn’t mistake

  • My desire to be in control
  • The mechanisms that explain the behaviour of plants, animals, things and other people
  • My ability to control all these things

These are three different parts of the system.

Paradoxically, to be in control, I must give up control and join a system in which many mechanisms interrelate.

Oh, I can carry on being me. Enthusiastic, energetic, zestful. But that is just me being exuberant. Exuberant people are part of the universe. Take us into account in your calculations!

But my wish to control does not make things controllable. It means I will spend a lot of time researching what is controllable. I will not stop trying to make things controllable. But that does not make things controllable. I must distinguish my urge from reality.

The truth is that all the forces of the world exist because other forces exist and interplay with each other. I can learn what is humanly possible. I can learn as much as I can of the considerable knowledge of the world that there we have at our disposal. I can try to use the knowledge.

But I should never confuse my need to control with the ability to control. Indeed if I want to be effective, I should stand back a bit and not confuse the tunnel vision of will with the mindfulness when we pay attention to the world around us.

When we enjoy the world, when we celebrate everything around us, we get a lot more done.

Am I making any sense? This is hard to get.

BROCKWORTH, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Contestants in ...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

There is a reason why most religions tell us to take a day off a week. And have the occasional holiday.

It seems to be this.

We humans are creatures of action.   Or, activity, rather.  There is nothing that we like more than scurrying around – looking for our cheese like a mouse in a maze.

But we get so focused that we stop noticing the maze.  And we don’t notice signs warning us the cheese is about to finish – or be moved by some scurrilous self-serving mouse-licious mouse who has always hated us – well you know what I mean.  We get maze-vision.

So we need to take time out regularly to keep our perspective, to keep sight of alternatives, to remember what we truly value.

Did you take Sunday off?

And if Sunday, is not your day off, have you taken a full day off during the last week – not to shop but to relax, to let your mind wander, to remember the good things in life, to celebrate, to find renewed purpose?

To keep your eyes on the horizon, to feel the earth beneath your feet, to touch and feel what is around you, to smile at your companions.

If you didn’t, reform your busy ways.  Become a lot more idle.

You’ll get a lot more done and be nicer to be with too!

And for the lazy psychologists popping-in here, can we get theoretical for a moment?

I have three unresolved ‘issues’ with the theory of action.

I begin by asking: what is the ontology of humankind? Cognito ergo sum. I think therefore I am?  Or I am busy, therefore I am?  Your thoughts?

And why is action so inimical to good judgment?   I have a sneaky feeling that the tension between the tunnel vision of action and the lateral thinking of creativity and wisdom is a tension we have created somehow.  But I don’t know the answer to that.

So for now, I resolve that dilemma by zig-zagging along.

I find clients whose life is in disarray won’t take holidays.  They work 24/7.  I include young people in that group.  We think of them as fooling around a lot.  Actually they are working hard at being young.  Taking a break is hard for them.  It seems they are anxious about their goals.

I haven’t resolved this dilemma either.

If you have answers to any of my predicaments, I would love to hear from you.

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