On critical thinking, creative thinking, experiencing storms without losing yourself, and knees

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

A recent (and completely mundane) exchange has got me thinking about how various people engage with their realities, and those of others, and in general with a certain degree of deficit in what I will refer to as cognitive (or even ego) flexibility. By flexibility in this case, I mean literal nimbleness. I once taught a yoga class (read: once. I was not allowed back) and was amazed by the lack of flexibility that a number of the lacrosse players in the room had. I figured that athletes who spent their entire sporting careers running around and being swift and able to spin on hairpin turns to dodge their opponents would have some level of flexibility, but these dudes couldn’t lower their knees past their chests while sitting cross-legged, nevermind allow them to relax toward the floor. These were not body-builders whose muscle structure was just so big that such a posture would be an impossibility; they were just people whose whole exercise routine was focused in one narrow parameter with no mind for the greater or systemic whole.

But back to my recent exchange. I was asked to help brainstorm ideas to rearrange the furniture in a bedroom, without getting rid of, replacing, or adding any furniture. As this is a small bedroom with a lot of furniture (no open walls except under the one window, and the sliding closet), rearranging without changing what is in there has only limited options. However, the entire point of a brainstorming pursuit is to think outside of the narrow confines of the dread box, and be creative, which is to say, embrace or adapt in a short-term way to a more flexible mode of thought and process in order to allow different sorts of ideas to come through. Brainstorm is about hurricane winds and lightning strikes and flashfloods of cognition, most of which will not work and are not applicable to physical reality, but the objective is not to come up with a list of “things that will work and can happen”, but rather, to come up with a process of cognitive electrification that might leave in its wake a usable and implementable approach.

So we began brainstorming. Attach the bed to the ceiling with bungee cords, turn the closet into a bat-cave, and so forth, were amongst the early ideas. These were shot down coldly and with a certain aggressive volatility that took me aback: obviously I didn’t think beds from ceilings or secret lairs were the right critical direction for the room’s evolving identity configuration, but we weren’t doing critical planning at that stage, but creative brainstorming. That process is literally the process in which you remove all obstacles and narrowed thought schemas in order to allow new ideas to come through, some of which will just breeze by (batcave!) and others might find purchase and stay a while.

I was astounded by the lack of cognitive flexibility in the person — an old friend — to whom I was offering my creative process. Given that I am somewhat known for my abilities in arranging spaces in highly efficient ways, especially when they are small and overfull with fixtures, it made sense for this question to come to me. However, I did not anticipate the level of resistance to the creative process (e.g. change) that would come out, and so with the hostility entered the equation I bowed out. Because I don’t want to fight about the mechanics of creative process around a situation that doesn’t even remotely involve or hold consequences for me. I have better things (e.g. religious devotions, theological writings, crafting rituals and planning the new shrine space in my van) to concern myself with.

And the funny thing? My bowing out was met with even more aggression.

This is clearly a case of ego investment and a resistance to change — pretty much the definition of inflexibility of the mental variety — but it serves as a great example of issues that I see every day in every walk of life, not the least of which being religious, polytheistic and theological discourses.

How intolerant of new ideas and suspension of our own ideas (or our own egos and experiences) we must be.

There is a fear response that is triggered when we ask our egos to step aside and allow a more creative process to unfold. This is a normal human psychological response. We hold to our values and our experiences and beliefs in order to stay anchored in a reality that is pretty much the most wind-tossed and treacherous sea imaginable. The idea of suspending those values and experiences and beliefs and practices is terrifying to all humans, to one extent or another, because those are the things that we utilize in defining and identifying our selves, internally, as we relate to our own personhood-ness. When we are asked situationally to suspend our values and experiences and so forth, we are met with the silent and unasked question of how to engage with a version of ourselves not defined in such a concrete way, in other words to reach for an increased flexibility of self.

I am hardly somebody who could be accused of advocating for the removal of value systems or held-to experiences. But I am also not going to shy away from the enlightenment and understanding that can come from suspending those things in order to allow opening for newer things to fly through and take purchase. I have confidence in my values to know that this “brainstorm” will not dislodge anything that was firmly rooted enough in the first place (e.g. essential things) and that anything new that gets picked up may well be something that I needed to acquire, anyway.

It isn’t about ceiling-beds and batcaves (although maybe it should be!), but it is about making room for the chance that it might be, if only for an instant, if only to allow a related idea to come on through.

Humans have brains, which house minds. Minds are the environment of thought. Thoughts work via a web of interrelated associations. Brainstorms play on creative associations with critically structured idea patterns, and therefore lead to breakthroughs in innovation, process, practice or belief.

Gods use our brains in Their divine engagements with us. This is not to say that gods exist within our brains (anymore than the oak tree we just fell out of exists only in our brain, merely because it was our brain that processed its stimuli!) but rather than absent brains, we as incarnate humans cannot process experience of Them here in this world, while living within its physical and physiological confines. The gods and the spirits know how our brains work, mostly, and they utilize the systems of interrelated associations and cognitive patterning in Their process of engaging with us, in how They choose to present or reprimand or prophetically engulf us.

If we cling so desperately and inflexibly to certain cognitive patterns and idea structures in our brainmeats, we stand in the way not only of creative brainstorming — batcaves! — but also of divine inspiration and helpfully interpreted gnosis. Because it is possible to be wrong, in religious experience. It is possible to draw wrong conclusions, to jump to wrong assumptions, to infer wrongheadedly from the gods and spirits who engage with us…

Because brains and minds, as potent and brilliant and wonderful as they can be, are frequently just big mushy paperweights that leak out and get in the way like cats underfoot. Let’s see if we can breathe into our proverbial knees a little bit and find the flexibility of thought to stretch our theologically-engaging thoughtmuscles a little bit, contort our egos the fuck away for a moment, and try to get somewhere new. Unless where we are is perfect and done already, in which case, let’s stop talking about it. (Personally, I don’t feel done.)

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