I’ve been thinking a great deal about the concept of “insight”. Many people have described me as being “insightful” and although I am quite sure that each one who bestowed this quality upon me meant it in a slightly different and unique way, in general, I think that many people see this quality in parts of me. I like thinking about myself this way too. Being insightful is not easy because it means being open to potentially unexplored options in any given moment. It is also difficult to negotiate because I am generally a very positive person and I tend to see potential in situations where others might skillfully walk (or RUN) away considering the whole relationship or situation a complete wash. I have found in my life that I see open windows when all that others see is a broken down building–but maybe this is what insight requires? Maybe being insightful involves the ability to imagine, dream and find space where others do not?
I recently checked out a book from the New Non-Fiction shelf at the library written by a cognitive therapist, Gary Klein, titled Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights. One of the most interesting parts of this book for me is the section titled “Stupidity in Action” because it talks about how we are always making connections and having insights, but we generally fail to give ourselves credit for them. Then, when we fail to make an insightful connection, we notice immediately and are quick to blame ourselves for being “stupid”. This is not a yoga book or a self-help book, it’s really about the way that we make and fail to make connections that we then label as insights or coincidences. Very interesting.
I think that the addition, for those of us who are interested in mindfulness and the development of skills such as awareness and compassion is the intersection of mindfulness and cognitive skills. I would suggest that in the examples that Klein provides of “stupidity”, he is illuminating the effects of exhaustion and the simple fact that we pretend we can multi-task, but this is generally not possible. In the first example that he gives, he is on a vacation with his daughters and during the trip his youngest daughter gets an ear infection. For anyone who has traveled with a child that develops an ear infection during a trip that involves air travel, you know that this matter of fact statement actually reveals an incredibly stressful experience that generally includes: ruined vacation, a screaming child, feeling terrible for your child in pain, needing to find urgent medical care in a different city, unexpected expenses of childcare and medication, dealing with calls to insurance companies and any number of sleepless nights. To make a long story short, this example ends with Klein forgetting to bring his car keys with him when he picks up his car at the airport. Is this really “stupidity”? Or, does it show that insight and drawing connections is impossible or made more difficult by the presence of stress and exhaustion?
In the second example, a professional colleague gets home, picks up her mail and stashes her mail on the bottom of her stairs when she runs upstairs to run an errand and then check her e-mail and then comes running down the stairs when it is dark hours later because it is time for dinner and ends up with a compound leg fracture that requires 16-weeks in bed in traction. Ooops! Sure, she feels so stupid! She feels stupid for not putting the mail in a safer place, in forgetting that the mail was there, for not turning on a light, for running down the stairs, etc. What I see is someone pretending that she can multi-task and leave multiple tasks in a semi-completed state when, in fact, she is setting her mind up for chaos.
Klein makes an effort to “…understand what interferes with our ability to gain insights. Stupidity might be one reason, but there are others. Upon hearing of Darwin’s theory of evolution, T.H. Huxley commented, ‘How extremely stupid not to have thought of that.'”. While Klein explores the question from a cognitive and psychological perspective, this very same question can also be approached from a different lens. Deepak Chopra does that in one of my favorite of his books titled The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire and, to a more esoteric extent in The Book of Secrets. Deepak Chopra is more interested in helping us access insights and learn how to purposefully use the power of coincidence.
Here are the things that I do know:
1. You can’t do more than one thing at a time. You may pretend that you can do more than one thing at a time, but it is an illusion. At some point, you are simply compensating and performing multi-tasking. If you trick yourself for too long, you’ll trip up and experience “stupidity” as Klein illustrates in his examples.
2. When you are physically or spiritually or emotionally exhausted, you lose touch with the power of coincidence and insight—precisely when you might need to benefit the most. Chopra suggests that there is a difference between self-help and getting help for depression, illness or identifiable problems that have solutions and the increase of awareness and insight—a spiritual seeking. Your spiritual quest should not be a self-improvement project. “To the extent that you feel any deep conflict inside yourself, a large hurdle stands before you on the path. The wise thing is to seek help at the level where the problem exists (Chopra, Book of Secrets, 51).”
3. You can learn mindfulness and meditation techniques that can help you access insights even when you are sick, tired or anxious and depressed. “If you strip away all the distractions of life, something yet remains that is you. This version of yourself doesn’t have to think or dream; it doesn’t need sleep to feel rested. There is real joy in finding this version of yourself because it is already at home. It lives above the fray, totally untouched by the war of opposites (Chopra, Book of Secrets, 53).”
This is really a process of a blog post—I’ll continue to think about insights and coincidences and stay in touch with you dear reader about what comes up for me and what I find. In the meantime, the books I am reading are not only interesting, but the Chopra books offer great exercises for gaining greater insight and opening to the power of coincidence that you can use right now.
The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Power of Coincidence. 2003
The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life. 2004
Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights. 2013
Post written by Sharon Fennimore, a rogue anthropologist, mind-body coach, yoga and meditation instructor and a birth and family support wizard. Based in Pittsburgh, I travel to you wherever you are through the power of the internet. Join me and I’ll send you free things! Really.