We can’t help ourselves. We rush into high gear to figure out or learn the answers to life’s questions, frustrating ourselves thinking, thinking, thinking, and taking on stress when we don’t know what to do. It’s hard for us to settle down into quiet reflection and accept that we DO know what to do, if we grasp the logic of insight and depend on discovery.
Do you know the puzzle called the “Nine Dot Box” in which you have to connect all the dots using only four lines without lifting your pen from the paper? To connect them all in four lines without leaving the paper, your line has to travel outside the perceived “box” created by the dots. Of course, first-timers often get trapped inside the “box” and can’t complete the puzzle, even though the instructions never mention any limitations on where you can take your line. The first time I saw it done, a corporate executive had an absolute fit when he saw the solution. “You didn’t give us complete instructions!” he shouted at the facilitator of the meeting. In the back of the room, one of his staff members giggled. The only way she could see to do it in four lines was to travel beyond the perceived boundaries. She was giggling because she had thought she was just too dumb to figure out how to solve it within the box. So she had been waiting to see how the “smart” people did it “right”. She was one of only three people in the room who connected all the dots. She was laughing at herself because she got it right and then immediately assumed she was wrong, just as caught up in her own perceived boundaries as those who couldn’t leave the box.
That exercise is a simple illustration of the need to keep our minds quietly open and accept creative solutions that occur to us. The people with the least at stake, who are just playing around with the puzzle, tend to catch on to it quickly. The people who get invested in being “right” and figuring it out, usually don’t see it until someone shows them how to let the line flow and ignore perceived boundaries. They see a box of dots, rather than seeing nine dots floating in open space, because they get caught in the familiar, what they should know, right away, and lose the touch with their capacity to see things fresh.
I’ve seen people use the experience of this puzzle to “brand” people, to conclude that some of us are creative thinkers and some of us are not. But that undermines the human spirit completely. All of us are creative thinkers, and sometimes all of us lose touch with that creativity. It depends on how we’re using the gift of thinking at any moment in time. Understanding how our minds work sets us free from getting “boxed in” by temporary limitations.
There’s a logic to it, principles that explain it all. We’re all vibrant with the dynamic energy of life itself. We use that energy to form thoughts, and we become conscious of the thoughts we have formed because they generate a sensory experience of the moment. It’s a constant inside-out flow from formless energy into the forms of our lives. The energy of Mind. The power of Thought. The awareness of Consciousness. Three principles that describe the creative process by which we understand life. To make the most of our experience, we have a simple guidance system: how it feels to us as it’s happening. When we’re thinking ourselves into negativity, distress, frustration, anxiety, upset, we realize that because we feel the psychobiospritual signals of discomfort, insecurity, dis-ease. When we’re thinking ourselves into a positive, creative, wise, insightful state of mind, we realize that because we feel the psychobiospiritual signals of comfort, security, ease. Everyone knows how they feel — whether they’re relaxed with a free and clear mind, or tense, with a racing and cluttered mind. Everyone knows when they’re at ease with the flow of life, and when they’re not.
Not everyone knows that they’re not stuck with any particular use of their thinking, that they can turn away from racing and cluttered thoughts and allow their minds to quiet down, like particles settling in a snow globe as soon as we stop shaking it. In the blink of an eye, their confusion and tension will dissipate and they will be at peace. When people have been in the habit of stressful thinking for a long time, they start to take it really seriously. It looks like all there is. They lose the freedom to let it go and let their heads clear and their discomfort pass. They lose their faith in joy, wonder, the exhilaration of knowing they are safe to navigate life through all its ups and downs and challenges and thrills.
What brings us all back is simple logic. Remembering that we’re making it up and seeing it as real. Remembering that we’re all the same; we create all kinds of thinking and take it more or less seriously. Remembering to heed the signals we get when we start to use our thinking against ourselves, the moodiness and urgency and bad will and self-absorbtion that characterize insecurity. Remembering to say “So what?” to our own insecurity, embrace it as part of life, and let it pass.
Every day brings us a nine-dot box of some sort, a question to which we don’t have an immediate answer. But every waking moment offers us a new possibility of connecting the dots.