One key feature of Western culture is the preference for rationalism as a worldview/belief system.
Calling rationalism a belief system is a noodle-fryer because rationalism is defined as decidedly NOT a belief system, but rather based in ‘reason’ and ‘knowledge’ as opposed to ‘beliefs’ or ‘feelings’.
However, this itself is based on a belief system about the nature of reality and perception that is not shared by all cultures.
Rationalism is weaponised by Western culture to deauthorise and dominate other belief systems about the nature of reality and perception by insisting that a rational world view is the only right and real worldview, and that other ways of thinking about and perceiving reality are wrong, primitive, magical/delusional.
Which of course, actually makes a purely rational worldview the most delusional. Oh the irony.
One of the ways I see this play out in individual psychological processes is how people make decisions about their life, and what they’re going to do.
Western culture is a bit obsessed with constant doing and puts a lot of pressure on us to do life in productive, efficient, and status-oriented ways (which leads to a whole other topic about getting vs doing vs being but I’m going to leave that aside for now and stick mostly with doing).
Having the freedom to think about and chose what we’re going to do with our time, our lives etc is of course a huge privilege that not everyone experiences. If you have that privilege, don’t hold back from using it.
The domination of rationalism in Western cultures teaches us to make decisions about what to do based on rational thinking alone. It marginalises other forms and modes of discernment and knowledge, including intuition, feelings, ritual, contemplation, connection to place, altered states, dreams, body symptoms, synchronicity, chance etc.
One way to think about it is as a battle of the brains – left versus right.
The dense but excellent The Mastery and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist (Google for summary versions, this one’s not bad) outlines in A LOT of detail the author’s thesis that whilst the brain is supposed to work as an integrated whole, the left brain (more rational let’s say) lacks the awareness that is only part of a system and therefore represents its position as complete, whereby the right brain, (more intuitive let’s say) is more integrative and is aware that it, and the left brain, are together part of a system that works best in collaboration. (This ‘brain-function’ way of thinking about this topic is of course, also pretty Western, but I find it useful anyways).
Lacking the awareness that one is part of a system could really be the motto of Western culture.
When we shut down the right-brain, intuitive contribution to decision-making, we potentially replicated harmful Western cultural patterns of domination in the world and in ourselves. Almost every client I’ve ever seen who has labelled their experience as anxiety, depression or suicidality, has been marginalising the deeper dreaming process happening in their lives; excluding psycho-spiritual, intuitive, and place-based sources of knowledge. They’ve been doing life in a way that makes rational sense but that actually goes against their deeper process.
As someone raised in Western culture, I do it too and so far, I’ve experienced it as an ongoing process of reclaiming the validity of the not-rational in the ongoing barrage of narratives that only validate the rational, not something I can just ace one day and never have to work on again.
For many of us with psychological patterns most influenced by Western culture, we’ve been trained to make decisions about what to do in life based on rationality, which we often think of as being strategic. When this is applied to cultural repair work, the decision-making process about how/what to do, can sound like:
- What are the biggest issues in the world that need to be worked on?
- How can I have the biggest impact on these?
- What am I good at doing that I can contribute?
In the background frequently sits a narrative something like:
“I have ABC privileges and XYZ skills, therefore I should leverage them strategically to work to make the biggest impact possible for LMN cause whether I like that kind of work or not because my well-being and my enjoyment of life are not as important as saving the world/paying for my privileges”.
Painful right? Patterns of repair must be different to the patterns of rupture. Not caring for the body and the spirit replicates cultural harm.
Contemplative questions that validate the non-rational, that are rooted in a deep honouring of diversity, might instead ask:
- What brings me to life?
- What issues am I deeply moved by/passionate about?
- What’s the kind of world I want to create and how can I live more like that now?
- How do I want to feel in my life – what kind of doing creates those feelings?
- What does the world call me to do?
- What are my deepest values and beliefs – how well does my doing life align with those?
My Simple Three-Step Process (yes, read that a bit tongue-in-cheek)
My current version of an approach that integrates both intuitive and rational ways of knowing is not as linear as I’m about to present it, but goes something along the lines of:
STEP 1 – Park rationality and strategy (sit down for a moment left brain) and remember, there is actually no decision to make, rather I just have to discern what the next step or two is on my path of heart (the whole path is rarely clear but the first few steps can be).
STEP 2 – Use intuitive, right-brain methods to find that path (I know, I know, what the hell does that look like? Let’s make a list in the comments).
STEP 3 – Once I’m clear on the direction of doing, left brain gets invited back in to support implementation.
It’s that easy. And of course, not easy at all. Learning to trust intuitive knowledge is hard. Re-learning how to access it can take a lot of work – there’re lots of red herrings and shiny objects when trying to discern one’s deeper process. But the more we work on it, the easier it gets to discern what’s what.
One last tip
Sometimes we do things we don’t want to do because we don’t know what we do want to do and feel pressure to at least be doing something. Learning how to do nothing until you know what you really do want to do is an important part of being able to find and follow intuitive knowledge. One way I practice this on a very small scale is on weekends when I don’t know what I want to do with myself. First I do a thorough run-through of my mental list of usual weekend activities and feel if there is any aliveness in me for them. If there isn’t, I literally sit on the couch and wait until I feel moved in a particular direction, then I crack into it. It’s a small intervention, but it breaks a significant cultural pattern of being mindlessly busy that I think is really important, and makes for an excellent weekend.
What techniques do you use to access intuitive knowledge? There’s so many ways…walking in nature…studying your dreams…inner feeling states…pop your techniques in the comments below so we can share ideas between us.
Hi Liz, thanks for putting into words so much I’ve thought about but couldn’t articulate 🙂
My list so far (it’s evolving ):
– Lots of sleep
– Meditation and mindfulness – usually only have time for 10 minutes but that’s still incredibly sustaining. – I especially like lovingkindness and the turning towards/focusing meditation – turning towards emotions (gently) and learning to sit with them and feel into them. That’s helping unpack what’s behind particular thoughts and figuring out whether they are based on rational (often fear driven) cultural ‘shoulds’ as opposed to heart centered.
– Morning walks when everything is fresh. Bonus if it’s sunrise
– Walking next to water and sitting with it. The world is so vast and we’re all part of it.
– Beach time
– When I make a decision, I see how it sits in my body for a while before finally committing. If my tummy is nauseous and throat tight it’s not right, no matter how rational it might seem.
– Singing with friends and family
Great list GiGi – thanks for sharing it. I love particularly that you name time – that even 10 minutes can be sustaining. Finding time for contemplative states doesn’t have to equate with long retreats away from everyday life.
looking at the stars
being present/grateful for the small things
being the passenger rather than the driver
Oh lovely, yes. I love looking at the stars too, and the moon. Do you every use binoculars for it – I’m surprised by how much detail I can of the moon with just regular binoculars – fills me with awe every time!