Four Ways the Counterintuitive Approach May be the Better Approach

“Believe me. The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

On the one hand, we all know that if we continue doing things the same way, we’re going to continue to get the same result. On the other hand, we are so accustomed to doing things a certain way it seems like too much of a chore to try something different. But this general disposition effects our lives more profoundly than we might think.

Sometimes it can be as simple as taking a step back and thinking to ourselves, “What if I try the opposite of what I usually do? What if, instead of living comfortably, I decided to live dangerously? Would I reap greater fruit and greater enjoyment out of life?” Perhaps. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Let’s begin with things that have a direct effect on our general disposition toward life and our perception of reality. Here are four ways in which the counterintuitive approach may be the better approach.

1) Don’t be certain, be skeptical

“That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.” ~ P.C. Hodgell

bulb2 Walk into any library, into any Barnes & Noble. The books on the shelves represent some of the greatest minds of human thought. When you open one, suddenly you’re standing on the shoulder of a giant. Every single book will give you a unique perspective on life, but, and here’s the rub, every single book was written by a human being.

And every single human since the dawn of mankind has been a fundamentally flawed, fallible, and imperfect being. This should go without saying, but it absolutely must be said, because people tend to be in denial about it. Not only in regards to their own fallibility but in regards to the giants who came before them, beaming like shiny beacons from golden bookshelves.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t stand on the shoulders of giants. Not at all. That’s one of my favorite pastimes. I’m saying be skeptical when you do. Written thoughts do not necessarily imply wise thoughts. Nor do wise thoughts necessarily imply Truth.

Whether it’s a holy book written 2,000 years ago by a bunch of Middle Eastern men who believed they had all the answers, or a scientific paper written by a patent clerk who thought he discovered the answer to the mysteries of energy and gravity, or anything between, be skeptical. Stand on the shoulders of giants, just don’t put all your eggs in their basket. Take it into consideration in order to expand upon what you’ve seen. Certainty is for amateurs. Skepticism is for masters.

Remember: when standing on the shoulders of giants, seek not certainty, even if the giant is certain. Seek uncertainty instead, even if doing so threatens to shatter the fragility of your faith. When a giant is established or resting in peace, their shoulders can be comforting, there can be no doubt. But that is not what a giants shoulder is for. Like Ursula K. Le Guin said, “The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.”

2) Don’t be invulnerable, be vulnerable

bulb3“Experience is the hardest teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Invulnerability is overrated. Weaponized hyper-security is overvalued. Manic comfort at the expense of comfort-zone-expanding adventures is valued to highly. Like Mary Oliver wisely put, “Your heart is beating, isn’t it? You’re not in chains, are you? There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”

Within the violent, militarized societies of today, it’s difficult to feel our way through the metallic armor that has been cast over us like a security blanket. But feel through it we must, if we wish to get back to the Desert of the Real and back to the wisdom of the source.

This means getting vulnerable even when others have all their walls up. This means getting vulnerable despite the invulnerable tank of the state. This means standing in front of that tank and staring it down with Tiananmen-like courage and naked bravery. This means having tough skin and a soft heart. This means staring into the abyss of the human condition and having enough humor to laugh at all the daunting demons.

Truly being vulnerable means being okay with getting tested first and learning the lesson afterward. It’s putting ourselves out there, raw but resolute with an insurmountable courage. It’s taking a leap of courage. It’s living dangerously rather than comfortably or safely. It’s walking up to that very same abyss and doing as Friedrich Nietzsche advised: “Throw roses into the abyss and say: ‘Here is my thanks to the monster who didn’t succeed in swallowing me alive.’”

3) Don’t overthink, overflow

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” ~ William Shakespeare

The age of information is upon us. The internet is an overwhelming ocean of interconnected thoughts. We are all lost in a sea of uncertain knowledge acting like it’s certain, awash with crushing waves of opinion and tsunamis of data. bulb4 But alas, wisdom eludes the majority of us. This is because, within the realm of thought, the majority of us have forgotten the two most important steps of wisdom: The first step is to question everything; the second step is to question the answers.

But it goes even deeper than this. We are overthinking in the first place. We are unable to let go, to breathe, to simply fall into the masterpiece. We too often have the cart of Thought in front of the horse of Flow. We’re a Jackson minus the Pollock, frozen over the pale-white canvas of our life. Twiddling our thumbs. Afraid to make a mark without thinking it through. Don’t be afraid. Don’t overthink, overflow. Let go. Dive headfirst into your art, whatever it is. Just remember to breathe.

Creativity is in communication with creativity. There’s a universe of creativity in which we are merely specks. But the creative urge within us remembers its connection with the universe. Even the tiniest speck has some degree of creativity in its link to the universe, which is unfathomable. But the way we fathom it is to be it.

To become the artistic process itself. To overflow. To allow the deep, aching chasm that is the emptied cup of our mind to be filled, not with thought, but with flow. Like Elizabeth Gilbert said, “The only thing that can fill an eternal hole is the eternal.” Let it go. Then let it in. Just remember to breathe.

4) Don’t cling to Love, let Love go

“Drop the idea that attachment and love is one thing. They are enemies. It is attachment that destroys all love. If you feed and nourish attachment, love will be destroyed; if you feed and nourish love, attachment will fall away by itself. They are not one; they are two separate entities, and antagonistic to each other.” ~ Osho
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Here’s the thing: everybody wants to be loved, and everybody wants to fall in love. Whether it’s with a person, with life, or with the moment. But here’s the other thing: everything changes. There is no permanence. People change, fall in and out of love, and die. Life changes, takes us through thick and thin, and then it ends. Each moment bleeds into a new moment and is lost forever. Even our memories are inexact and short-lived.

And yet, this is all the more reason to love. It’s because things end, that we cherish it while we can. It’s because the moment passes, that we appreciate it while we’re in it. It’s because love doesn’t last, that we love at all. Like Osho said, “Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.” Love is Time’s ultimate benchmark.

When we let love go, we’re allowing love to be free. We’re allowing it to go through the process of itself. When we let love go, we’re honoring the universe its vicissitudes. When we let love go, we’re breathing in and out. We’re more in love with the coming and going of love than we are with it either coming or going, stopping or starting, living or dying. When we let love go, we are practicing Buddhist non-attachment par excellence. We are Zenning. We are emptying our cup of appreciation so it can be filled over and over again.

Understand: when we let love go we are not letting go of Love itself – not at all. We are letting go of the ego’s need to possess love. We are letting go of the ego’s attachment to love: the need to cling, to smother, or even trap it. It’s not like we let go of love and then forget about it.

No, it’s more like we are honoring the love we had by allowing it to be free. Love is never abandoned, nor is it ever forgotten. Only the needy, codependent, addictive, ego-driven side of love – filled with unhealthy expectations and preprogrammed cultural dispositions about the way love should be, is abandoned. Indeed. True love, infinite love, enlightened love, is the uncommon ability to let love go.

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  • Gary Z McGee

    Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

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