The Head and the Heart
I have always felt two kinds of pull at me, my intellectual curiosity and my emotional hunger for—something—I don’t know; call it love or spirit. It can’t really be named. As far back as I can remember, I’ve taken things apart to see how they work. As I grew older, I did the same thing with ideas. Even philosophical and religious concepts have been the focus of my analytical explorations. Occasionally at the same time but usually in between these intellectual efforts, I’ve sought a feeling of connection with people, with life, and with the universe. I suppose most people, at some point in their lives, search for meaning in these two seemingly different directions. Some apparently give up one or the other in their effort to understand the world. It seems clear to me that neither one alone holds the answer to my questions.
Recently I came across a book by Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. A Barnes & Noble review describes the book this way:
While I recognized something in that description that fits with my own experience, I balked at what felt like a rather Philistine approach. "Seven steps to genius" implies a shortcut, like learning to play the piano in twenty minutes. First, I’m skeptical that one can learn to "be a genius," whatever that is. Second, the idea that a person like Da Vinci could be broken down into seven elemental characteristics seems preposterous. It’s the Big Mac approach to philosophical development. Maybe I’m misjudging the book. I haven’t read it. On the other hand, what it does seem to do is identify some aspects of a truly civilized mind.
Personally I value each of these things. Why do I doubt that Michael Gelb can give them all to me? I think it’s just too big a promise, a kind of "extreme makeover."
As a vivid contrast in presentation, I’m reminded of Ken Wilber, who applies his extraordinary intellect to a similar (if much more difficult) effort at integration. Wilber certainly doesn’t make the process sound easy or quick.
"The integral approach is dedicated to an all-level, all-quadrant program, honoring the entire spectrum of consciousness, not just in the I-domain, but also in the we and the it domains, thus integrating art, morals, and science; self, ethics, and environment; consciousness, culture, and nature; Buddha, Sangha, and Dharma; the beautiful and the good and the true." (From The Eye of Spirit, page 135)
Wilber doesn’t try to describe his Integral Approach in one book. He’s been writing prolifically for twenty years, and he’s not finished yet. Still, I suspect that he would not quarrel with those principles addressed by Michael Gelb.
Both writers have similar visions, a kind of quantum leap in the evolution of humankind, the realization of a potential in all of us to be more than we seem capable of right now. Not to be geniuses, but to be whole.
I get it. The intellectual part of me agrees with their proposals. I find no flaw in their logic that looks toward that goal. The other part of me, however, needs more. Beyond "how to do it" books, I also need a sense of what it will mean to me. I need to want it.
This emotional response is as necessary as the analytical. In Western society, at least, we’ve been brought up with a respect for evidence and a willingness to consider alternatives. (Not that these values are at all universally held.) Mainstream culture more or less accepts that "objective proof" is a reason to buy into an approach to a problem. For example, with a proliferation of patent medicines on the market, all being touted as magic bullets in our growing contest with age, we expect that experimental demonstrations will separate the effective drugs from the snake oil remedies. Even so, most of us depend—even if the process is largely unconscious—upon our "gut feeling" to make a personal decision on any particular medication. That, naturally, is what advertising is all about. Even if the television commercial cites "evidence" of effectiveness, the real message is mostly emotional. Or we depend upon the advice of our physician—whom, not incidentally, we chose in the first place on the basis of our emotional response more than on her or his professional credentials. We go to whom we trust.
It’s interesting to me that I tend to read authors who reinforce my prior biases. When I try to read things that express or suggest a point of view that is contrary to my own, I am mentally fighting them every step of the way. And then I feel smug at having "considered the alternatives" because that also is a carefully protected value of mine. It has taken life-altering crises for me to suddenly see the light of new paradigms.
I bought into the explanations of "how things really are" by Ken Wilber only after something in my life pointed out the inadequacy of my current thinking. Once I began to see the reasonableness of his way of breaking down reality into manageable thoughts, and once I had passed the excitement phase of this new discovery of mine, I wanted something more, some reason (that is not a reason, at all, but an emotional comfort) to support my continuing pursuit along that path.
Somewhere in my reading, I copied down a paragraph from one of Wilber’s books that seemed to express something of that comfort (or at least the promise of that comfort). It strikes me as powerful and as satisfying as any of the Psalms, or even John 3:16. It speaks of (and to) the encompassing values of all humankind: the Good, the True and the Beautiful.
"And who knows, we might, you and I just might, in the upper reaches of the spectrum of consciousness itself, directly intuit the mind of some eternal Spirit—a Spirit that shines forth in every I and every we and every it, a Spirit that sings as the rain and dances as the wind, a Spirit of which every conversation is the sincerest worship, a Spirit that speaks with your tongue and looks out from your eyes, that touches with these hands and cries out with this voice—and a Spirit that has always whispered lovingly in our ears: Never forget the Good, and never forget the True, and never forget the Beautiful."
Donald Skiff, June 5, 2004