Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jaws of Clarity

I wrote the following post last October. Seems the same stuff has come around again. You never step in the same river twice, but water is water no matter what river you step into.

"Seek movement and there's no movement,
Seek rest and no rest comes instead.

When rest and no rest cease to be,
then even oneness disappears."

Sengcan "Xinxinming"

I'm a clarity junky. I love being clear, and being able to demonstrate to others that I have that clarity. A confession? Yes. One with a swamp of guilt and shame attached to it? No.

Clarity in life is a beautiful thing. when someone can see through the wild muck of a situation and clearly declare its truth in words and/or actions, much suffering can be alleviated. However, this same skill can become an addition, and lately, I have seen how this is the case in my own life. I've wanted to have an answer about my career future so badly that there's no space for anything new to arrive. And at the same time, I have desired a break from the very same chase for answers so strongly that my actual "rest" (i.e. sleep and free time) has been anything but restful.

The opposite of clarity is cloudiness, or being unclear. Preferring one over the other is just as much trouble as preferring any other member of a binary (Gain or loss, Praise or Blame, etc.). Being clear and decisive, however, seems to be a preference for all of us humans. I've met very few people who actually enjoy living in the mud of not being clear. Sure, many of us are attracted to altering our minds with drugs of various kinds, and like the "cloudy high" that comes from drugging ourselves. But just hanging with the mud that comes up on its own in our lives without any monkeying around? That's not something we humans seem to like much because it's such a strong reminder of how little we control in this life.

How often are you in the jaws of clarity?


Petteri Sulonen said...

"How often are you in the jaws of clarity?"

Since you asked, very rarely.

I dislike absolute truths, categorical imperatives, forceful decisions, clear situations. I thrive on the ambiguous, complex, chaotic, and fuzzy. The great decisions in my life have happened more or less by themselves, in sudden, unexpected flashes where I momentarily just knew what had to be done. I can probably count these moments of clarity in my life with the fingers of one hand (at least if I use binary).

Certainties are a prison. There's freedom in uncertainty, and I would chafe without it. There are always many ways to solve a problem. Some people think their way through them. Others feel their way through them. I design my way through them. Design is fuzzy, chaotic, intuitive, uncertain, and there are usually many possible designs that would do the job. (Sometimes not so many, but the process is the same.)

Reality is incredibly complex, which means that clarity is almost always a false sense of clarity. I just find it better to embrace the chaotic, murky, ambiguous, uncertain complexity of it all, and just swim in it. That doesn't mean not thinking about it, naturally—it just means thinking in terms of possibilities, probabilities, degrees of certainty, situational changes, and so on. You can't control it, any more than you can control a raging torrent—but you may be able to keep your little raft afloat and from hitting the rocks in it.

Nathan said...

"Reality is incredibly complex, which means that clarity is almost always a false sense of clarity."

Yeah, I agree with this. I also agree that certainties tend to be prisons because they are ideas, and not what's real, but people cling to them all the same.

It's funny: I think I'm still resisting the "freedom of uncertainty" as you put it to some degree. I'm not so willing to jump off the hundred foot pole, to use that old Zen image yet again.

Hmm, thanks for your comment.

Petteri Sulonen said...

If you're holding onto the pole, you're already way ahead of me. I'm still looking for it. What I said has nothing to do with Zen; it's just the way I roll, and have, at least my adult life.

Those flashes of clarity are way cool when I get them, and I have yet to regret a decision made in such a flash, but they're very very rare. The rest of the time, I just muddle along, but I'm generally not too anxious about it.

I think it's a matter of temperament, and I certainly don't think this way is the best or only way. But, well, you asked. :-)

Anonymous said...

I like Petteri's comments.

It a temptation to over-think things with analysis paralysis.

Action removes the doubt that theory cannot solve.

spldbch said...

We humans are very uncomfortable with uncertainty (which seems to me to be the same as or at least similar to having a lack of clarity). With uncertainty comes anxiety, yet are we ever really "certain" about what the future holds?

Great post!