Going out of my head

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 2, 2014 – 12:00am

I know people who think a lot. They approach everything from a cerebral point of view. They are constantly mulling over something in their heads. I guess in many situations, having a cerebral approach may be good. You become more analytical. Logic rules your mind, not idiocy or irrationality or superstition.

People can depend on you to think things through and sort out all kinds of problems and to give clear advice.

That is generally good but I feel sometimes that some people can think too much so that their heads are in some sort of cloud. They seem clueless about what’s going on around them while they are deeply engrossed sorting things in their minds.

Then there are those who take pride in being ruthlessly sharp, logical thinkers. They can become cold, even calculating and are often alienated from their own feelings and intuition, and those of others.

Their response may be too rational and measured, and they seem uncomfortable in the world of emotions and do not generally trust the “logic” of intuition and gut-feel unless there is some sort of validation that is physically present.

I remember some math and physics teachers who seemed to never catch on with what is going on within the class outside of the lessons he/she taught us. That seems common in many schools and these may be considered as benign examples.

I have also met big company executives and politicians who look at people as mere commodities to serve their ends. They are quite egocentric, and every concern is looked through the prism of naked self-interest. They often leave me wondering if they ever grapple inside their consciences about the large problems and questions that plague their constituents, community, much less even think of finding real solutions that can lead to humanity’s overall well-being.

I am largely unimpressed with intellectual brilliance alone if I can’t find an equally present emotional intelligence attached to it.

In times of need, they may not be the people to approach readily. Sometimes, what a person in a bind needs initially is simply a sympathetic ear who offers more compassion than solutions, or someone who can simply listen and withhold judgment. The last person they want is someone who wishes to “straighten them out” with arguments, pontifications and scolding.

While such people do exist, I know that I have misread people many times. Looks can be deceiving. I also am aware that my own projections have put people in boxes. And so many times where I expected indifference or even a condemnation because I showed weakness, I experienced otherwise.

I remember a scientist I met in an artists’ workshop in California some 30 years ago who seemed to exude an intellectual superiority and an aloof demeanor. Or at least that’s what it seemed like to many of us participants. He gave a talk about the environment that was absolutely brilliant. But he hardly socialized with anyone. He took his meals alone.

In that workshop, artists who came from all over the world would perform every night as part of the evening activities. There was singing, laughing and a lot of camaraderie. The performances helped break the ice.

One night after a few singers had sung, we witnessed a very emotional performance by an Indonesian dancer and an avant garde Japanese koto player that had me crying as I watched. The performance must have hit me in the most primal way and it triggered a strong emotional reaction from me. For some reason it moved me to tears and I could feel my shoulders shaking uncontrollably. From behind me, I suddenly felt a warm comforting hug that was full of compassion and reassurance. To my surprise, it was the scientist. He asked me if I was alright. I was rather embarrassed as I replied that I was okay. Shyly, I thanked him.

To a young person with so much teen angst, it is so easy to be extra sensitive and yet secretive about one’s feelings. There was a time in my teen years when I felt my mom was too strict. She gave the impression that if her children behaved below her expectations, hell would break loose. I was afraid to express my feelings and show weakness to her in any way.

But the times that I did, I was so amazed and relieved that her reactions were not as I expected. Instead of hell breaking loose, I saw a great listener who showed a motherly love that made me less uptight about revealing my emotions. She would hug me and make me feel like her special son even as I cried embarrassingly.

This brings me to the point I am making. A person can be very developed in one way but undeveloped in other ways. He may be an intellectual giant and at the same time be a dwarf emotionally, or even morally. Some may be very spiritually developed but may be lacking in social skills.

Philosopher Ken Wilber likes to talk about integral development where all aspects of a person grows and develops fully. These include intellectual, spiritual, moral, physical, aesthetic growth among others. At least that is the aim.

What good is it to be cerebrally superior when you are incapable of emotionally connecting with others? There is so much evil done in the world when, say, CEOs build financial, business empires but ignore environmental or social issues. Think of the Exxon Valdes as an example.

Or talk about charismatic politicians or religious leaders who use their great gift to steal, plunder or sexually exploit the weak and the innocent. I can think of Pol Pot, Hitler and Auschwitz. And there also some holy men who abuse children. There is clearly a great imbalance here.

We must consciously aim to grow and develop the many aspects and facets of ourselves as best we can. Ken Wilber points out that, “Each succeeding stage involves an increase in perspectivism and thus an increase in the capacity for mutual care and compassion.”

Maybe we need less material progress and more growth in consciousness and spirituality. We definitely need more compassion than “smarts.”

In a world where many are confused and depressed, cleverness will not solve their problems. “You don’t think your way back to joy; you open to it,” says zen practitioner Donna Quesada. Consciousness is the opening.

If we aimed for more balance, the world may end up being a better place.