I released this Reflection on March 10, 2019, the day the clocks went back for Daylight Savings Time. It was on this day that I decided to stop calling these things ‘essays’ and start calling them ‘reflections.’ So, behold - my first official Reflection.
When we go about discussing our insights about the world, which is arguably the topic of a great many of our social interactions, there is a tendency to break things up into two verbs: thinking and feeling. As the habit goes, we either relate what we think about a topic, or what we feel. Usually, these words are used interchangeably. But do they really mean the same thing?
‘Thinking’ is usually associated with the rational mind. When we think, we use reason to come to an understanding. It is reason that tells us how to solve a math problem. We can deduce things based on variables, and form arguments from the logical patterns that we tease apart from any number of different scenarios. When we think, we use our heads.
‘Feeling’ has to do with something that does not obeys the laws of rationality. We might say that something doesn’t feel right to us. We might say, ‘I can’t put my finger on what it is’ – in other words, I can’t describe it rationally. The flip side of this is when we say something feels correct. Again, we can’t say what it is that we like about it, but we certainly feel it. When we ‘trust our guts’ or ‘follow our hearts,’ we are using our feelings.
Rightly or wrongly, in our culture there is a tendency to ascribe a masculine / feminine divide between the two. Rationality and reason is associated with masculinity. Irrationality and intuition are associated with femininity. Why ever that is, it is the way that it is. But does that mean that men are not intuitive and women have no reason? To suggest so would demonstrate of a lack of understanding of human beings generally. As true as that is, it is not to say that our culture doesn’t have its own views on the topic.
It is trite to say that, in the Western world, we live in a patriarchal society. The masculine is in the ascendant, and has been for thousands of years. As a result, we tend to champion reason over intuition. In the ancient world, we relied on the feeling people - the shamans and medicine men and women - for their wisdom. Nowadays, we need hard evidence to maintain a position that is publicly tenable in this society, without falling into intellectual bankruptcy (unfortunately, there is a lot of that going on these days). When we argue, we do so using rationality and reason. As a rule, logically unsupportable feelings should not come into play in the way that we govern our affairs.
A line can be drawn from the Age of Reason (or the Age of Enlightenment) of 17th century Europe to present day, and this is where this tendency come from. It is said that the light of reason has banished the dark of ignorance forever (again, that might be overstating the case). Given that this is the nominally accepted mainstream consensus on the matter, to some degree, intuition is given a rather short shrift.
This is not to say that reason is not without its merits. In the West, we have science and religious freedom. We have separation of church and state. We have the end of the divine right of kings. These are all ideas born of philosophy that champions reason, to some degree. But we also have a system of life that is killing the planet, that promotes poor mental health, that results in massive wealth disparities. And there is no real movement away from it. Something most likely is going to have to break before we re-evaluate our system of doing things. But how does this relate to reason as opposed to intuition?
The thing about reason is that it requires a subject / object divide. With reason, there is a thinker and a thing thought about. There is a separation inherent in reason. Given that this is the case, it is no surprise that, from reason, we have ideas like capitalism, superiority of the individual, and reductionist science. And it makes perfect sense, in that separated paradigm, the one that is dictated to us by our sense organs. Intuition, on the other hand, does not require a subject / object divide. There is a unity, simply a feeling, and a choice of whether or not to pay that feeling any heed.
These two modes of being have been at war with one another since we developed self-awareness. What is paradoxical about the entire war between rationality and its opposite is that the thing that most sane human beings treasure the most is also the least rational.
I am talking, of course, about love.
When we think about love, most of us consider romantic love. Usually full of fire and passion, and great fodder for the dramas we like to relate to each other, no one can control who we fall in love with. It obeys no head, it only follows the heart. And romance is only one form of love. There is Platonic love, love between parent and child, love of one’s work, love of one’s life, love of life itself.
Love itself is the generating force of the universe – we do things out of love, at some stage in the process. Even those people who find themselves obliged to do things they do not want to do are doing so because either they or someone else has a love of something. To use a dark example as illustration, the slave master loves profit, which is why he might compel someone to work for free. The slave loves life and avoidance of pain, so he complies.
It seems to me that the source of one of the biggest problems we tend to encounter is that we frequently try to apply that thing that we are certain is the source of our liberation – reason – to parts of our life which do not bend to reason. We reason ourselves into relationships that look good on paper, but don’t feel right. We reason ourselves into jobs that have great earning potential, but don’t feel right. We reason ourselves into situations that simply don’t fit with our hearts, all because it is the ‘smart’ thing to do.
“The head is an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This is a quote that has come up over the ages in many different permutations, though I have found this one in particular to be attributed to David Foster Wallace. What is trying to be communicated here is that we are easily swayed from our intuition by reason. Fearful of the results of following our intuition, we can easily make the choice to follow our heads and state that we made the logical choice.
Quitting our dependable jobs at 45 to become painters? Crazy! Leaving our partner of 30 years because it no longer feels right? Insane (erm, maybe not so much any more)! Maintaining a system of economics that demands infinite growth from a finite environment? Well, you get the idea.
Make no mistake: following our hearts requires courage. It is much easier to do what we’ve always done than it is to try something new, particularly when our hearts tell us to break the mold. For example, if we are in a relationship that is killing us softly, sitting our partners down and telling them it’s over is one of the hardest things to do. It’s why so many have stories about people do it in a cowardly manner, by text message or by telephone (guilty of the latter in my more tender years). But, still, to actually do it, to say no to comfort and brace one’s self against the unknown: that does require courage.
What is great about this system is that the heart itself is the source of courage. We make courageous choices and making those choices becomes easier. When we do so, we open up ourselves to the possibility that we will no longer be ruled by fear. We step out of our comfort zones and we grow as human beings.
There is a caution here: sometimes we might be tricked by our minds. We might think we are following our intuitions and we are actually being hard done by our fearful rational faculties. Perhaps that dream to run away from our jobs is actually a fear of the responsibility required to take the bull by the horns at a vocation that will award us with some measure of peace. Maybe our dream about leaving our partners is based on a fear, born of a hidden yet festering wound we received when we were younger. Perhaps our rational minds, having learned to fear the pain of past experiences, are trying to keep us from feeling that suffering again.
Our hearts know that we are resilient, that we can experience pain and grow from an enhanced understanding of our positions in the world. They use intuition to guide us. Sometimes they are guiding our boats of self into a vortex of bleak distress and malaise. But our hearts know what’s best for us – we are usually happy for having gone through painful experiences when the result is growth. Through the pain, our hearts express love. Our minds, well, our minds exude the opposite of that.
So, there it is: the war that occurs within the hearts of human beings, the one of which all others are macrocosms. It is the battle between stagnation and growth, death and life, love and fear. Each wants to take the helm (and fear fights dirty), but it is our wills that allow us to choose.
I know who the captain is on this ship. How about you?