The Nature of Thought and Problem Solving (#825)

I ran a couple of Shifting the Foundations coaching intensives in the past week, spending three days with each client looking deep into the heart of the inside-out understanding of life and the human experience. While they couldn’t have been more different from one another, there was one theme which emerged strongly for both of them – how a deeper understanding of the nature of Thought can transform the way we go about handling problems in our lives.

To better understand the power of Thought, consider an iceberg. While icebergs can appear anywhere from 1 foot to 551 feet above sea level (the height of a 55 story building), the visible part of the “ice mountain” is generally only 1/9 of the full size. That means that even the smallest iceberg penetrates 9 feet deep into the ocean, while the invisible portion of the largest recorded iceberg is nearly 4 times the size of the Empire State Building.

So far, this fits with most models of the mind as containing a conscious part, which can process up to 40 bits of information per second, and the sub or unconscious, which some scientists believe can process as many as 40 million bits of information per second. The argument is that since so much more is going on “underneath the surface” than we know, the most powerful thing we can do to change our lives is to find ways to access, program, and reprogram the unconscious.

But what is missed in this metaphor is that icebergs only exist in the middle of large bodies of water – and while they appear solid, they are actually made of the same water that surrounds them.  In our efforts to get past the “icebergs” in our minds, we fail to see that what is holding up our boat is made of the same stuff – Thought – as the thinking we are struggling to control or change.

We can see the same distinction at play when we consider the difference between a problem, which seems to need to be solved, and a logistic, which may or may not need to be taken into account depending on what it is we are trying to create in our lives.

What turns a logistic into a problem is the way that we are thinking about it. For example, if we think that not having enough money to buy something is a problem, we will fill our minds with thinking about how to make more money or how unfair it is that we are unable to do so. If we recognize that the amount of money we have access to in the moment is simply one factor in the process of creating what we want, we may or may not even address that factor depending on what other possibilities and resources occur to us.

Here’s another example:

Imagine you wake to hear your child screaming.  You run into their bedroom, relieved to see that there’s no immediate danger but concerned about what has them so frightened.  They tell you that there’s a monster at the end of the bed. To your surprise, when you turn to look there is indeed something which looks like a monster looming over them.

However, a second glance reveals that it’s only the shadow of a toy left on the windowsill, brought to life by the moonlight which streams through the window behind them.

To your child, who believes the monster is real, their only choices are to cower in fear or to run through a menu of problem solving strategies, ranging from hiding under the covers to seeing if they can outrun you and hoping that once the monster eats you, it will be full and leave them in peace.

But because you recognize the “monster” is only the shadow of a toy, you’re not inclined to do anything to make it go away. Because you understand something about the nature of light and shadow, you know that the moment the light changes, the monster will transform or even disappear completely.

When we think that our problems are real, we take the problem as a given and do our best to navigate around, over, or through it. The logical question to ask when faced with a “real” problem is this:

Given the reality of this problem, what are the best things I can do to either solve it or cope with it more effectively?

But to believe that a problem exists independent of the thinking which creates it is like believing that an iceberg can exist without the water that makes it up. It’s simply not the way things actually work.

And when we see that problems are made up of Thought, a new possibility emerges. In any moment, what seems like a solid and insoluble problem in your life could disappear back into the formless energy out of which it came. Which raises a different yet equally logical question:

Given that there is no “reality” to this problem, I wonder what new possibilities will appear to me once my thinking changes?

To me, one of the most beautiful things about Thought is that it is at the heart of everything we experience, from monsters to angels and from problems to possibilities. And since we have an infinite potential for new thought, we are only ever one moment and one new thought away from a completely different experience of being alive.

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,
Michael

 

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