Think Higher: Listening to Ourselves
by Jennifer Paros
Think higher, feel deeper.
-- Eli Wiesel
In a journal writing class years ago, I was taught to look more closely at any and all aspects of my experience through dialoguing. So, if I had a headache, I’d talk to it. If I were stuck in my work, I’d ask it pointed questions. If I were chronically angry, I’d take it to the page, opening conversation with a person, event, or the emotion itself. I was, of course, playing all the roles, but that was okay because I was hoping to learn more about my own internal state.
As a writer, it was great practice. Every time I asked a question, I listened for the answer inwardly. I was learning to allow myself to open to the possibility of new thought coming, to allow for surprise, to think irregularly and perhaps gain insight.
Regular thoughts are those I’ve thought before. They are thoughts I’ve seen, heard, written, repeated. They form around subjects but also around emotions, clustered together in nests, like hives, all over my inner landscape. There’s nothing new about them; they’re familiar. Creative production out of these involves a synthesis of what already exists. It’s much like the relationship Craft has to Art. Craft and Art are each valuable and serve differently. Traditionally, Art has been viewed as striving for higher thought, a deeper relationship to life, whereas Craft often creates and builds from a functional angle - though usually with aesthetic consideration as well.
My regular thoughts speak to the idea of Craft. I build with them daily for various purposes. They’re as familiar as my morning routine, my favorite things to eat, or tying my shoes. I’ve got them down. Although I may recombine them in varying ways, breakthroughs and revelations tend not to occur during this process.
My irregular thoughts land in the realm of Art. These thoughts don’t fit. They are unlinked to my personal history and story. They’re individualists; they’re not “joiners.” They’re not products of reactive thinking or emotional triggers and when they come I recognize them, not because I’ve seen them before (like regular thoughts) but because I feel different, clearer, and elevated in thinking them. They open my heart, they speak in the language of hope, and I see a bigger picture than I do when crafting with my regular thoughts.
I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.
-- Albert Einstein
Recently I was talking to a family member about getting my youngest son his own computer. There were money and other practical considerations. A particular choice was suggested about which I was uncertain, and I was asked for my initial thoughts. I realized then that I didn’t actually care what my first thoughts were; I sensed the first ones out would be those I’d conceived before. Not wanting to run on the hamster wheel of regular thought, I opted to “sit with it.”
And so I did. I sat with it, but this time I didn’t talk to it, fuss over it, ask it questions, or try to solve it. My brain was attentive but not busy. The next day, late in the afternoon, after a series of related experiences and interactions unfolded, my son himself declared, “I am not ready for my own computer!” This came after almost a year of him demanding one. In one moment, without grinding through my usual thoughts, trying repeatedly to reconfigure them into something helpful, an irregular thought popped through – and it popped through the best person. And the issue unexpectedly resolved.
In Einstein’s Thought Experiments, in which he took a question into the realm of imagination and allowed it to play out, he opened the gateway to higher thinking, loosening his grip on his usual thoughts and allowing new thought through.
Breakthrough or irregular thought is always available. It coexists with regular thinking much like a neglected alternative route on a map. We’re just so used to focusing on and traveling familiar thought patterns, we hardly notice or trust the other.
Though the process of dialoguing can help open the door to insight, I understand now that it isn’t the talking part that is helpful; it is the listening. It is our attentive passivity, an internal inactivity that enables higher thinking to emerge. It is the fact that in the spaces between our regular thoughts, we manage to wait - to stop crafting. And through those cracks comes higher thinking and with it, a deeper feeling relationship to life, to the world, to ourselves, and to our work.