Don’t think. Look.

“Don’t think, but look.”

A quote by Ludwig Wittegenstein, my Dad’s favorite philosopher. I recognize that not everyone’s Dad has a favorite philosopher, but mine did. Dad was a philosophy student as an undergrad at Dartmouth, despite the ribbing he got from the electricians he worked with over the summers who asked if he was going to open a philosophy store. My father went on to Yale seminary where he got to study more philosophy before he left in favor of employment that would better provide for his growing family.

bible-old-bible-historically-christianity-159688When I brought my now husband (and current seminarian – yes I see the echoes and prefer not think about it too much) to meet my Dad, they quickly discovered their common undergraduate pursuit and began the “who’s your favorite philosopher” conversation. I quickly went from being nervous about the meeting to being a little annoyed that they were getting along so well and everyone had lost interest in me, because it is all about me after all.

At any rate, the point isn’t that moment, although I appreciate your indulging me in sharing it. It is one of my favorite memories of the two of them. All of this to say that when I hear the name Wittgenstein, my antenna are up. I am listening, which ironically is exactly what I think Wittgenstein would want. I stop thinking about whether or not I have a favorite philosopher, and pay attention.

Not many philosophers start with: “Don’t think,” but this is where Wittgenstein starts.

And having grown up as I did, in a household where rationality was very highly prized, the command to not think makes me uneasy. The irony of my Dad favoring this particular philosopher is startling to me. In times where the world and the people on it seem to need some serious attention, the command to not think feels almost irresponsible, until you consider the rest of the quote.

Look.

It’s not just don’t think. It is LOOK.

I can’t say that I know what Wittgenstein was trying to say because I was NOT a philosophy student, but here’s what I’m picking up from what he was laying down, my life coach spin on the whole idea.

When we think first, we rely on everything we already know, everything we assume, all of the decisions, suppositions, and assumptions we’ve already made. What this does is that it narrows our vision.

Because this is how the brain works friends. Our brains prefer efficiency. There is SO MUCH information available to us. Our brains have had to develop ways to filter all of that information. It’s a lot like the internet, right? I occasionally remind my husband when he is deeply engrossed online in a way that promises to last into the wee hours that he is not going to get to the end of the internet. There is no way to see it all.

Social media sites know that there’s no way to even see everything all of our friends and acquaintances post, so they filter it for us. They develop algorithms (formulas) to filter what we see. These are based on our preferences, the information they have about us. And this is exactly how our brains work.

We think, we have an idea about something. And then our brains, when faced with all of the information in the world, filter that information based on our idea. We don’t SEE everything. We see the things that support what we already believe, what we assume, what we know. It doesn’t matter whether we’re right or not. We see evidence that helps us be sure that we are. This is called confirmation bias. It’s a real thing. Google it if you don’t believe me. When faced with a situation, when we think first (and bring in all of our old thoughts and assumptions), what we see is limited.

girl-sea-binoculars-vacation-160514The suggestion not to think is not a suggestion to stop thinking for all time, but to prevent that filtering from happening and look. Look to see what is in the world. Notice what is happening. See it with fresh eyes and take in the facts. See the situation as others might see it. See the situation the way nobody has seen it yet because everyone is burdened by the ideas they showed up with.

And THEN, after you’ve seen, after you’ve given the situation fresh eyes, THEN you think again. You use that new information. You access new feelings based on what you saw. And then you think about all of that. You make adjustments. You chart a course. You make demands. You act based on what is actually happening rather than a limited view of reality based on your brain’s attempts to make life easier for you.

Don’t think, but look.

Who knows what you will see?

Whose Battle Are You Fighting?

There have been a lot of hard things lately.

The news has become excruciating.

Some of our relationships are strained by p

olitics.

We’ve got problems and we can’t seem to even agree on what those problems are.

Our thoughts create problems

And that’s just the big stuff.

That doesn’t even get down to the every day hard, the busyness, the job, the elusive work-life balance.

It doesn’t even cover our romantic (or not romantic) relationships and our parenting.

It doesn’t even cover our chronic illnesses and hurts.

Things seem really hard.

And saying that there are difficult circumstances doesn’t begin to account for how difficult they can become due to the way we think about them.

 

How We Make Things Harder

During the last few months my husband and I have been attempting to renegotiate the division of domestic duties. Let me give you a little background. 10 years ago I decided to stay home with our twins and the I made that choice, I assumed most of the domestic responsibilities (because raising twins was clearly not enough). My husband became the breadwinner and I became the bread maker. We plugged along like that for some time. And he got busier, adding a side hustle (out of love) and eventually adding grad school (also out of love). I also added work (out of love) and eventually he whittled his way down to two occupations (side hustle moving forefront and grad school). As I began to nurture my practice and continued being the everything to all people, we felt the need to redistribute the burden.

Our acknowledgement of that need, however, didn’t make it easy to do.

We stalled.

We delayed (him I think because it was not top of mind for him and me perhaps because it seemed easier to just do things than to have a hard conversation about them).

We bickered about the bits that were falling through the cracks.

And I felt resentment growing, like an invasive weed.

And as my resentment grew, I thought of my mother and the women of her generation, so many of whom nurtured a garden of invasive resentment weeds because they felt that they had no choice. I thought of how much my position FELT like that. I thought about how things SHOULD be. And I fumed, growled, and cried, and left things undone out of spite. I grew short with him and with the kids. And I buried all of that in getting busy doing all of the things that poor me HAD to do. No time to be polite. No time to really engage. No time to have a real conversation.

And the a friend said just the thing I needed to hear. Actually 3 friends said similar things on the same day, which even I must concede sounds a little like divine intervention stepping in. All of these wise women asked me to reflect on my husband’ nature. “Is he an old-fashioned guy?” “Does he think you should have to do everything?” “Is he so swamped that he can’t even see what’s happening?”

Leaving the Story Behind

Arguments about HouseworkTheir wise questions pushed me to step out of the argument that I had created and to step back into a conversation with my reality, not my mother’s reality, not women’s reality, not a previous generation’s reality. I suddenly realized that a big part of what was making this so hard was me. I was turning a problem, a challenge, into a full-on ideological issue. I was defending women everywhere.

There was no need for me to do that in THIS particular case.

And when I stopped arguing for everybody’s reality, we were able to have a conversation, a real conversation. I was clear. I was heard. I was acknowledged, and now there’s a plan. When I stopped dragging all of these other people into the issue, when I stopped thinking it was bigger than it really was, when I adjusted my story to account for the reality of who my husband is, who I am, and how we operate, I was able to articulate my needs and my feelings and they were met with exactly the kind of reaction that I would have hoped for. It turns out I didn’t have to fight the power this time.

Why does that matter? Am I suggesting we all stop fighting for the big ideological issues? Absolutely not. Anybody who know me knows better than that.

What I am suggesting is that some problems, some challenges, some issues are just not that complicated or that hard. We get it all tangled up together. We come to the problem with our politics, our feelings, our baggage (and usually a few other people’s baggage as well) and we make it so complicated. Some problems just aren’t that hard.

Rest Into The Problem

I got a little e-mail from one of my mentors, Martha Beck, earlier this week that suggested that when you are stuck and things seem difficult, maybe it’s time to rest into the problem, to stop pushing so hard. And this feels like THAT to me. “Renegotiating” our domestic division of labor was something that I was pushing very hard on, not just because I wanted it done, but because there were principles at stake.

When I rest into the problem, when I get quiet, when I quiet the clamor of ideology, culture wars, activism and outrage, I see things differently. I don’t become a Stepford wife. I become the me who KNOWS how committed my husband is to equality. I become the me who KNOWS how hard it is to take on domestic tasks when you’re out of practice. I become the me who honors the scope of the work I’ve done for these 10 years by not imagining someone could just scoop half of it up and do it efficiently at the drop of the hat. I become the me that KNOWS that we, individually and together, are okay.

Rest can bring truth
When things get hard, what can we do? Rest into it. Get quiet. Reduce the clamor from the outside world. And from THAT space, learn what to do next. Learn what feels like ease and clarity and love and freedom. Learn what feels like truth that is only YOURS.