The Mind and Heart Should Get Married (Not Divorced)

The Western world has an unfortunate habit of splitting things into opposing dichotomies: the mind/body, masculine/feminine, rational/emotional, etc.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the source of wisdom and a similarly ineffective dichotomy between whether people believe that external education or intuition reigns.

In general, I tend to find the favor towards external information residing in the rational camp. Atheists, scientists, and people who value masculine-ish traits often express a value for that which comes from outside oneself. Decisions are made from logical criteria. Knowledge consists of what is testable and provable.

On the other hand, the emotional camp tends to value intuition. This is where I tend to find the spiritual, some types of philosophical/psychological thinkers, and those who value feminine-ish traits expressing appreciation for knowledge coming from within. Decisions are made based on gut instincts. Knowledge consists of introspection and is often individual and ambiguous.

As a typical Gemini, I find myself gravitating to a certain extent to both sides but chafing at the idea of having to choose one. I have come to trust my intuition. I’ve made some of my most important life decisions based on intuitive knowledge. Yet, I see the importance of gathering information, weighing the pros and cons, and seeking evidence.

I don’t necessarily think being a Gemini makes me unique in using both my intuition and my intellect as a source of wisdom. I just think perhaps I’m more likely to recognize that I use both and value both.

In fact, they have to work together to be strongest.

Babette Rothschild was the first person who planted this seed in my head with her book The Body Remembers. At one point, she mentioned that there is evidence to suggest that people can’t think rationally without emotions. The thought struck a deep chord within me.

Fred Kofman writes a fairly simple explanation of how this works over here, explaining that without the emotional undertones, people have a hard time developing enough of a preference or emotional charge to actually make their choices. Looking at the pros and cons, even as a “rational” model of decision-making, is endless and worthless without emotional input.

On a similar level, I would suggest that if a person divorces their own emotions and intuition from the decision-making process, they have no internal compass. Part of the ways that I’ve come to understand how cults work—how they can convince people to do unhealthy, bizarre, or illegal things—comes from the way they divorce the individual from what Robert Lifton deems their “reality testing” abilities through methods such as confusion, emotional manipulation, loading the language, etc (check out his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism for more information about this).

On the emotional/intuitive end, a similar thing is true. As Kofman points out in the article linked above, strong emotions can overwhelm to the point of losing reason. We’re all probably familiar with a person who has made a horrible decision because of their emotions clouding out their ability to think.

But on a deeper level, it’s important to recognize that intuition is as much experience-based as it is biological or subconscious. Without input from the outside world, the inner world is devoid. An intuitive choice is heavily influenced by experience from the past, knowledge acquired previously, and current input that one may not be entirely conscious of at the moment.

In other words, intuition is only as strong as the experiences and knowledge that have built it up. I can trust my intuition about whether I would be happy and successful in a job (even though the pros/cons list might seem in favor of a different choice) because I’ve had enough previous experience to know what a bad fit feels like and have gathered enough conscious and subconscious information about the current option.

I’ve also taken the time to get to know my intuition and what my pitfalls might be. I know that I’m more likely to trust people I shouldn’t trust if I make a connection with them when I’m tipsy. I know that even well-intentioned people can set off my internal alarm if they touch my arm without permission.

But my intuition is still growing. It grows the more that I exercise it. It grows when I make a mistake and learn through failure. It grows when I gather new intellectual information and practice allowing it to work with my left brain.

I have come to believe that the true key to wisdom is recognizing that both emotions and logic have an important role to play—that gathering external information and testing hypotheses is just as important as listening to your own internal guidance and learning from introspection.

Too much rationality, and you get someone devoid of making a healthy decision because they either can’t gauge their own relationship with the choice or can’t understand the impact it might have on others. The loss of empathy is often also a loss of connection to one’s own emotions.

Too much emotionality, on the other hand, and you get a person buffeted about by whims and impulses of the moment, unable to think long-term, or overwhelmed beyond reason.

It is in the balance of the two that you find wisdom and true knowledge.

Intentional Belief, Not Unbelief, is the Antidote to Blind Belief

I spent the last eight days conducting a complicated tarot reading. It was a pretty strong deviation from the way I usually read tarot because this spread, adapted from Karen Engerlman’s book The Stockholm Octavo, was designed to be predictive, revealing eight people who will be significant in my life over the next few years.

I love tarot for its ability to draw out my intuition and deepen my introspection, but I have a healthy doubt about whether it actually accesses something greater.

That being said, I’ve had enough experiences to have a healthy doubt that it doesn’t.

I remain in that delightful (or infuriating, depending on your perspective) space of ambiguity, which is where I like to stay when it comes to spirituality and metaphysics.

However, as I’ve been playing with my cards, trying to divine whom they represent and whether they even refer to real, live people in my life or only archetypes and energetic forces, I’ve been thinking more and more about the capacity to believe.

Children have it, this we know very well.

Adults have it, though they are much more jaded, cautious, and skeptical than any five-year-old.

Depending on to whom you talk (or which movie you watch or book you read), the childlike capacity to believe is either something that we should be glad to lose as we get older (because it’s all nonsense) or something we should mourn (because the pure faith of a child is so powerful).

The ability to believe is a sacred thing. Despite having my belief used against me for twenty some years, I treasure the fact that I do have the ability to believe. Without the ability to believe, hope would be impossible.

Belief in…in what?

That’s the beautiful part. The ability to believe, embraced consciously, comes with a choice. Thus I can play with my tarot cards, trusting that I will find something of value in them. I can write a letter to Santa, suspending my disbelief in the ability of a jolly fat man to fly around the world and slide down my non-existent chimney. More importantly, I can believe in the power of love and the promise of hope.

As The Hogfather illustrates so beautifully in the following clip, the human ability to believe is tantamount to our greatest ideals and values—the means by which we make life meaningful.

That being said, I also find blind belief to be one of the greatest crimes of the human spirit. Because I had my ability to believe abused for twenty some years, I’m very wary of its power and how others want to use that for their own ends.

The ability to believe comes with it the responsibility to believe with conscious intention. Irresponsible belief has been at the root of most of history’s atrocities, from child abuse to crusades, as people harm others in the name of God, science, nationality, or just plain selfishness.

I’ve seen memes suggesting that if religion had not existed, 9/11 would never have happened. I wish world peace were as simple as removing a certain kind of belief, but I also know that even in the absence of religion blind belief can still drive people to horrible ends. Few are aware that Jim Jones was an atheist at the time that he convinced an entire colony to drink poison. And look at the history of science, where people have horrifically experimented on slaves, inmates, children, disabled, and mentally ill, not to mention animals, all in the name of reason and knowledge.

Perhaps it comes down to semantics more than anything, but I don’t think we need to believe less.

I think we need to believe better.

In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to not believe. We will always believe in something, whether it be in the good-hearted saint giving out presents or the cold-heartedness of humanity. We can’t help the believing—just what we choose to believe.

Which is where reason comes in.

Belief and reason, faith and logic—they’re not meant to be opponents. They’re meant to be allies. Belief gives us the ability to live out things we cannot hope to see or prove (or perhaps even constructs we create ourselves). Reason gives us the ability to be discerning in how we believe.

It’s tragic to never teach a child to doubt what his or her authorities say. But it’s equally tragic to never teach a child how to be conscious of belief and in belief. Those who have never recognized their choice in believing, be they religious or atheist, are in a dangerous position, at risk of having their ability to believe become a weapon against themselves and others.

That doesn’t mean that responsible, conscious (even skeptical) belief would eliminate cruelty. There will always be those who are heartless.

But if we focused more on creating a consciousness of our belief mechanism, it would largely eliminate cruelty from ignorance, manipulation, or blind obedience.

However, that would require us as a society to embrace belief as the sacred yet powerful tool that it is. Just as any tool or skill needs to be developed and taught, our ability to believe with reason needs to be fostered and the consciousness of it awakened.

I hope that in the new year we can see this shift to create intention behind our beliefs.