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Soulful Sundays: Just Enough Brain

“To think too much is a disease.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.” – Mark Twain

The other day I was speaking to someone about Chinese medicine. We were discussing the organ system called the Spleen and how it is injured by excessive worry. The Spleen is the primary organ of digestion as well as metabolism, both of which are negatively affected by overthinking. At some point in the conversation I suggested that "we ought to use just enough of our brain to choose the right path and then go walk it." What was just a throwaway comment at the time, is worth further exploration.

"When you rest, rest. When you climb, climb."

Arno Ilgner, author of The Rock Warrior's Way, was a huge influence on my early twenties, a time when I was deeply ensconced in rock climbing culture. The quote above is part of his much larger philosophy of life and climbing, which he created by pulling from Stoicism, Buddhism, Native American warrior/wisdom traditions, and much more. Even though I no longer climb, I still glean insights from his weekly newsletters.

The essence of his philosophy is as follows: 1) Take responsibility for your actions and your attention; 2) Accept stress as a necessary discomfort for growth; 3) Clearly separate planning from acting. The last point is what I meant when I said "only use enough brain." For the majority of us it is common to try to think through every possible scenario before we engage in something stressful. This is normal and healthy. We need to plan and deliberate in order to make wise choices, but too much thinking spells disaster.

The first temptation is to remain in deliberation too long. The second temptation is to return to deliberation while we are in motion. Both rob us of effective action. In rock climbing terms, you plan what you want to do while you are still and safe, and then once you begin moving you trust in the plan and trust your body to make the appropriate adjustments where necessary. What you don't do is try to plan while you are under stress and need to execute instead.

We see these two temptations manifest quite often in daily life. We all have friends who want to make the next big step in their lives, (careers, family, whatever) but they never do. The way they speak about their dream future is actually more reminiscent of how one might remember a deceased loved one--with longing and grief. The other friend that we all have is the person who is right in the middle of something meaningful but doesn't trust that it's right for him or her. This is the person who never fully commits to work, partnership, etc. and is unconsciously looking for ways to self-sabotage.

If you don't know of any friends like this, consider your own life. In what areas might you think a little too much? Where might you benefit from doing instead of thinking? What excuses have you been making for yourself? What is actually holding you back? These are deeply personal and transformative questions, some of which you may know the answers to already and some that might require help.

The best thing I ever did for my rock climbing was seek the help of Arno. The best thing I ever did for my new physical passion was find a weightlifting coach. The most successful and humble people rely on the guidance of mentors and coaches. This doesn't make their work any easier but it does allow them to outsource their thinking and conserve resources for what they (and only they) can do. If you are trapped in your own head, consider asking for help. Our own blind spots are just that--our own.

Only use enough brain to choose the right path and then go walk it.

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