Tag Archives: brain

The Head vs. The Gut: Who Do You Trust?

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Hello friend,

My wife officially announced this week that she is quitting her job in one month. This is the job that has kept us fed, sheltered, and health-insured for the last 15 years. Does she have another job lined up? She does not.

Meanwhile, I have yet to find that perfect opportunity I have been looking for to make my return to gainful, “real world” employment.

We have two kids, a mortgage, car payments, utilities, and all of the other bills and obligations that make up life in modern America.

Reason dictates that I should be freaking out right now. My stress level should be through the roof. I should have insomnia, high blood pressure, and panic attacks. I should be wetting myself in sheer terror at the great unknown before us. I should be fretting nonstop about the future. I should be pleading with my wife to stay in her safe, solid, insurance-covering job until we both have new ones lined up. I should be reminding her about all of those bills and painting vivid images of worst case scenarios: us homeless, penniless, and forever saddled with “pre-existing conditions”. I should be getting her to freak out with me. I really ought to be blowing my top.

I’m just not.

I wish I could say that the reason that I am not panicking is because I am the flaky, flighty artist type, never in touch with the reality of things like payment deadlines and lapsed coverage. I wish I could tell you I am not freaking because we have done so well at investing over the years that we really don’t need to work; we just do it for social reasons. I wish I could say that I am so elevated spiritually at this point that money does not matter to me.

Any of those reasons might provide me with a logical explanation of why I feel not only unstressed about our family’s financial future but also downright excited and utterly optimistic. Those explanations would give me a rational way to unpack this unbridled confidence I feel bubbling up from some unknown source deep inside of me, causing me to feel an almost uncontrollable eagerness to learn what is coming up next for us.

But those are not the explanations. Sure, I definitely have some flaky artist in me, but I can be as practical and responsible as my parents taught me to be when financial obligations are involved. And, sad to say, we were not one of the early investors in Apple or Microsoft, so that nest-egg explanation doesn’t suit the situation, either. Finally, as spiritually evolved as I like to think I am on my best days, there is no world that I have yet found in which money is not important.

No, if the answer to my serenity and confidence in the face of this potential catastrophe were a logical, rational thing, I would be there already, secure in my understanding.

But there is nothing logical about this.

A rational guy would be outwardly supportive of his wife when she tells him she is quitting her bread-winning job without securing a new one, but inside he would be having a coronary. A logical guy might say, “Well, I’ve been waiting for the perfect job description to fall into my lap for a long time without success, so I am just going to be practical and find whatever will put food on the table.” A rational guy would sense the urgency of the situation and figure out a solution immediately to avoid risking a financial disaster for his family.

Try as I might to summon my most rational, practical self, my system is not letting it in. The panic, the terror, the desperation: I am trying to conjure them, but they are just not coming. They should be here, though. It just makes sense. What gives???

It’s my gut. Call it what you will—instinct, intuition, sixth sense, the still small voice, a feeling—but mine is telling me that everything is going to work out fine. And not just fine, but amazingly well. My intuition tells me that we are on the verge of something even better than we have ever had. Something that keeps those bill collectors off our backs while filling our lives with meaning and inspiration. Yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, my gut assures me that good things are on the way.

So……..is that cool, then? Is that really an acceptable answer? Just trust my intuition and act accordingly. Really???

I know that sounds perfectly courageous and correct in the New Age-y, “Leap and the net will appear” kind of way that we are all supposed to arrive at when we become enlightened, but I have to admit that I have wondered more than once: What if my gut is fooling me?

Seriously, what if all this wonderfully calming news from my gut is really just Denial? What if the truth is that I am not tough enough to face the harsh reality of our situation, so my Subconscious or Unconscious mind has decided to disguise itself as my Intuition delivering this pacifying news?

And of course I am buying it! Because it feels good to believe that this is not the crisis a rational person would recognize it as. In fact, it’s the opposite of a crisis; it’s a fountain of good fortune for all involved. That is so much more pleasant to believe! Denial is slippery that way.

As much as I appreciate the sweetly narcotic effects of Denial, however, in the end, what I really want is the Truth.  

Is my intuition right: Are we really on the verge of our greatest thing yet? Or, is the rational bystander in my brain correct: Are we in dire straits and in need of desperate, immediate action?

Is there any way to know which is correct but to pick a course and commit to it, knowing only that the answer will be revealed later? If that is the case, I have to review the evidence. My intuition has been screaming at me every day lately after my brain has spelled out our impending doom in my journal. The instinct has been consistently firing back with feelings of hope, optimism, and belief, as well as an extra little tickle in my heart that gives me the impression that there will be something extra-special involved. I absolutely LOVE that feeling!

That’s it: I’m going with the gut. I trust it!

How about you? Are you more inclined to trust your brain or your intuition? Open up your journal and think back through your toughest decisions and most difficult periods. Which part of you did you trust to lead the way? Are you more inclined to trust your reason and careful analysis? If so, do you make Pros & Cons Lists? Do those lists ever make room for emotion or intuition? Do you think careful consideration and logic are the only way to determine the best course of action? Does it depend upon the type of situation (i.e. maybe the intellect is better for financial decisions but the intuition is better for relationships, or vice versa)? Does trusting your intuition over your rational view of your circumstances really just amount to a denial of reality? At what point is that unhealthy? How often does your head overrule your instinct? Is it possible to overthink it, though, and neglect what your gut is shouting out to you? How about the other way: ignoring reason and doing what your instinct nudges you to do? Is there any way to know ahead of time which part of yourself to trust, or do you have to wait and see how it plays out before you know if it was the right call? Which type of people do you gravitate toward, the analyzers or the intuiters (yes, it’s a new word)? If you had to give yourself a percentage rating (e.g. 70% Head/30% Gut), what would it be? How has that changed, if at all, through the course of your lifetime? Do you wish your rating were different? In which direction? Try to think of the most pressing issue in your life now or in the foreseeable future. Which part of yourself will you lean more upon? How well will you trust your decision? Leave me a reply and let me know: In the battle for your trust, do you go with the head or the gut?

Believe in your gifts,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you—whether intellectually or instinctually–please pass it on. Trust yourself!

A Precious Memory

DSC_0497“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

I was shaken this week by a note from one of my dear friends. I have since been unable to let go of the demons it released in me. The note simply said that my friend—who is in her mid-50s—has been experiencing memory loss, both short-term and long-term. It has been going on for a couple of years but increasing to an alarming degree recently. She can do every step in a procedure if it is written down, but if you ask her a few minutes later if she did the thing or how, she hasn’t the foggiest idea. Memories from her past are being lost as well. She is losing contact with the path from which she came.

If you know me at all, you know that the very thought of this completely freaks me out. Of course, my very first reaction to the note was to feel absolutely awful for my friend. I cannot even begin to imagine the sort of terror that must strike her when an episode occurs–when her connection to the past is cut–much less how she has come to live with the reality of that disconnection in her daily existence. And that is exactly what freaks me out.

My brain and the life of my mind have always meant so much to me. Perhaps too much, even. I have always felt extremely grateful to be relatively intelligent, as I have seen the ways it has given me advantages in the world. I have definitely had my moments when I have been an intellectual snob, somewhat looking down my smarty-pants nose when dealing with people who don’t seem to me to be understanding the situation very well, especially if they are arguing against me. I have a way of using the science of Logic to win any argument, even if I am the only one using my scoring system. I am sure it is mostly annoying to the people around me.   I try to not make it about my ego, but I also get some satisfaction in my ability to pick any issue apart in my mind and see it rationally. And because I am over-sensitive, I have played every argument I have ever had over and over in my head a thousand times (so I know who was right!).

The other reason—aside from simple intelligence—that I have so valued the life of my mind is that I have spent so much time there, my mind as my best friend. I think of all the years I lived in cities far away from home, where I hardly knew anyone at all. Then I think of the months I spent wandering around Europe alone, both not knowing anyone and often not speaking the same language as anyone. I also think of the years I spent living in a way that others described “as a hermit,” basically holed up with my books and journals. My primary company was myself, and I relied upon my mind to sustain me. I am so grateful that those years of solitude were indescribably blissful for me. I have always thanked the power of the mind for that.

This is exactly why my friend’s note threw me for a loop. Although I have spent a lot of thought on cancer and its potential devastation on my family, the disease that truly frightens me the most is Alzheimer’s. I simply cannot bear the prospect of being betrayed by my precious mind. Basically every aspect of the disease sounds like my worst nightmare: memory loss, disorientation, misinterpreting spatial relationships, having trouble finding the right words in speaking and writing, difficulty with concentration and reasoning, poor judgment and decision-making skills, struggling with the routine of basic activities, and personality changes. All of those seem absolutely dreadful to me, but the first and most obvious Alzheimer’s symptom—memory loss—really strikes fear deep into my heart. I could not bear to lose the memories that seem to make up the substance of my beautiful life.

I am a personal historian by nature. I love to chronicle my life and that of my family. It would be a dream come true for me to have my parents and all of my aunts and uncles come together and allow me to film them in group and individual interviews about their lives growing up and what they know of my ancestors. In lieu of that, I chronicle my own life. I take thousands of photos every year and keep them well-sorted. And of course, I journal. Although I have never thought that the reason why I journal is to have accurate memories of my life—I do it to maintain clarity about who I am—I must admit that it is a wonderful treat to be able to look back on the 50 or so volumes I have filled to see what I have been doing all these years. Reading through them for “The Journal Project,” I had so many moments when I laughed and said to myself, “I totally forgot about that!” It is fun to have a record of it all to jog my memory.

Now the memories I am trying to create—and document—are of my kids. I try to spend every possible moment with them. I seriously do not want to miss a single thing. I cherish them all, from the giggly moments wrestling on the playroom floor, to the quietly appreciative ones, when I just sit back at a distance on my hammock and watch them spin each other around in the swing in the backyard. In those quiet moments, I am fully aware of just how blessed I am to share a life with them, and I try to burn those memories deeply into my brain so I can hearken back to them as they grow up and I grow old. When the moment allows it, I try to capture them with the lens of my camera, as I do love to sit at my computer and watch slideshows of them from our favorite days. However, I am beginning to see that the best way to fully take them into my heart is to engage with them. To put down that camera and jump into the fray while they still want me to. The magic is in the connection with them, a connection that can only be made when I am fully engaged, fully present.

In fact, what I am learning now is that it isn’t the memories that make up the substance of this life. It is the present moment. This is what we have! This is the only tense where we get to exercise any sort of control. This eternal moment of NOW is where we get to decide, in every moment, who we are going to be. NOW is where we feel Joy. Now is where Peace exists. NOW is when we forgive. NOW is the time we get to choose our attitude and our actions. NOW is when we connect with those we love. The world will always deliver us into new circumstances—with or without money, near or far from loved ones, cursed or applauded, sharp as a tack or being betrayed by your brain with Alzheimer’s—and all we can control is our attitude in the present moment. The precious present.

This is my lesson from this week of fret and concern about losing my mind and my memories. When I look at the other things that have haunted me in recent years—fears of cancer, of losing my parents, of my wife dying young—it seems that the remedy is exactly the same. Stay in the moment, and make the most of every one. If my parents or my wife dies–or if my body gets eaten by cancer or my mind by Alzheimer’s—the only thing that will save me from regret is if I know I gave myself completely when we were together, that we made the most of our time. And that we were present. Completely present in this most precious tense. This is the one silver lining I see for my dear friend who is losing her memory: at least she has the present. She can still find Joy and Peace and Love in every moment, even if she doesn’t remember the specifics of it later. Maybe that is enough. I hope it is.

How about you? What ailments or afflictions do you dread the most? Open up your journal and explore the possibilities. What makes your stomach turn when you think of the possibility of getting it? Is it an injury, perhaps something that does not allow you to be mobile or athletic anymore? I know it would drive me crazy not to be able to exercise or chase my kids around. What about paralysis or infirmity, where you require someone’s help to do even the basics of life, like eating or using the toilet? Do you fear that type of dependence? How about cancer? That one scares the daylights out of me, because I have seen it ravage both the body and the mind. What have you witnessed, and what effect has that had on your fears and on your appreciation for life and for living in the present? On a scale of one to ten, how badly do you dread the prospect of Alzheimer’s or another disease of the mind? Does it make you want to take more photos or videos, or journal more? Or rather, does it just make you want to be better at soaking up each moment you have? Is presence the best answer? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you make peace with your biggest fears?

Be your best right now,

William