Practicing Thinking for Myself

I’ve often said to people with whom I have regular thinking partnerships that it’s important to me they know they can think about the same topic over and over again.

For a start, being a thinking partner is an agreement to listen, with genuine interest and without interruption or judgement to the thinker’s content, whatever it is. If it is content you have “heard before” (there’s an obvious impossibility of it being an “again” thing, if you actually think about that), so what?

There are reasons why this matters to me. It’s essential for independent thinking to occur, I believe, for the thinker to release any requirement to impress or entertain the listener. If we all knew this to be true, we would never be concerned about thinking about “this” again.

But more than this, I have come to think that there are certain topics / issues that we each have that may be on our list of “what I would like to think about” forever and a day.

These topics likely make up parts of our identity. They likely come as soundtracks to our lives. They may very likely be linked to wounds.

If we are growing and developing ourselves, the presence of these unresolved and repetitive issues can start to create a disturbance. The narratives shift from being sound when viewed from the requirement of surviving a particular (possibly painful) experience, to being threatening to our ability to thrive. And, as Arnold Mindell recognised in his seminal work on “edges”, on the other side of the disturbance is a longing for a new narrative: a life with a different soundtrack.

And so there may be things we need to keep facing. And each time we think about the same issue, we engage with a different facet of the topic. We unearth yet another untrue limiting assumption lived as true. We root it out, we replace it with a more liberating assumption and we leave the thinking session with new work to do, which, if we do it propels us in the direction calling to us, attracting us, pulling us over the edge.

I’ve noticed it can be hard for my thinking partners, to give themselves this permission to face “that old chestnut” once again. I struggle with that myself. We live in a world motivated by results and the resolution of things. We are encouraged, perpetually, to be growing, achieving more, to (get a) move on. But getting to the other side of something can be a messy process, a winding road, and it may be many times we have to face something before we can fully dissolve it’s hard-wiring.

And, I’ve been wondering, maybe there are some issues where that may never happen, fully and completely?

So I’ve been asking myself the question: what does it take to keep facing those issues that we feel we may never get to the bottom of?

It seems to me that the journey in answer to this question may have a perennial travelling companion, called shame. If the topic is something you carry shame about, that puts you into an internal conflict.

Learning to move towards that which we feel ashamed about, to lean in to it, to sit down next to it and befriend it has got to be, in my book, a very high order of courage.

Shame has driven me to behave in ways that reinforce the pattern, and cause me to want to do the opposite of facing: to want to hide.

In the last few weeks I’ve had an abundance of thinking sessions, 2, sometimes 3 a week. It never ceases to amaze me how, when I have the courage to go at it “again”, a thinking session can provide me with access to a real shift, an outright liberation, slap bang in the middle of one of those forever issues.

Thinking partners won’t comment. They won’t judge. They won’t interrupt or interfere. In fact, through the combined and symbiotic nature of the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment, they will want, more than anything, for you to go to the cutting edge of even the most unpopular and unattractive (to you) aspects of your thinking, if that’s what it takes.

What they will do, however, is to witness.

Lately I’ve come to think that this might be one of the most profound, glorious and moving acts of service we have to offer each other. Witnessing requires the astonishing paradox of connected detachment: where I am receiving all of who you are with pure and unadulterated attention, moving alongside you with every move you make, and, at the same time, I have absolutely no attachment to your outcome. I am free to trust your intelligence. I trust you. You trust me.
This seems to me to be a living expression of what I think might be at the heart of peace, and of being at peace in this world: having no need to approve of you or be approved of by you.

And, that what we have chosen to do with this opportunity of equality and connection, instead, is to promise to listen without interruption and to promise to think for ourselves.

And maybe that serves to provide you, or me, when I am the thinker, with the courage needed to go to that edge and cross over, into a new narrative, accepting the past – without exception, and generating new ideas, trajectories, journeys and adventures for the future.

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