We adore logic. For many of us, we enter our spiritual practice with the fervor of a crime investigator trying to solve the mysteries of our lives, especially our past and wounds. This may be the default setting for most people in their spiritual practice. Many become brilliant scholars of the spiritual path and make fantastic inroads to enlightenment through the faculties of the mind.
However, the great masters teach that reason and analysis are the enemies of a deep spiritual practice. Reason limits us from seeing possibilities, grasping cosmic paradox and understanding mystical truth. At some point along the way each of us realizes that just because our mind can’t make sense of something, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. In fact, if we can’t grasp it with our mind, it probably is true. We are lead to explore the idea of surrendering the mind through meditation and prayer. We let go altogether. We get lost. At the very least, we lose touch with mundane reality.
As with all things, going to one extreme or another can causes an imbalance.
I suggest that it is important for you to weigh and understand the benefits and detriments of employing problem solving in your spiritual practice. This way, you’ll be able to notice your preference, or default setting, and be sure not to overextend yourself in one direction. A good majority of the self-help and self-empowerment books and systems available today very much emphasize the benefits of being “in control” of any number of things. These systems can steer us towards mastering our thoughts to better work with the law of attraction or unveiling our shadow so we stop sabotaging ourselves. You are likely very familiar with these benefits, so I am just going to touch on them briefly as a reminder.
Benefits to Problem Solving
- Brings the Shadow Into the Light: Using analysis in our spiritual practice helps bring awareness of how we self-sabotage. Analytical thinking is empowering because it helps us realize the role we play in our suffering and take ownership of it. We stop playing the victim.
- Offers Hope: We can avoid the frustration of not “understanding” something when we employ rational thinking to find an answer. Problem solving invites in hope that there is a process and that we are going to come through the other side. It gives us a sense of purpose.
- Fosters Creativity: With logical thinking we can creatively find alternatives to the way we do things and have a chance to choose to do things differently. Logic helps reveal to you things you may not have noticed because you look at the situation from all angles.
Really, we’ve made brilliant strides in the consciousness movement through applying our mind to our spiritual practice. It is no mistake that this field has ballooned into a huge industry. However, as many people are discovering, the mind can only bring us so far into matters of spirit. There is so much that we cannot attain through normal thought.
Problems of Approaching Spirituality with the Mind
Thomas Moore understands the calamity of inviting the mind into our contemplative practices and he shares about this in his book, Care of the Soul:
“If we deprive sacred stories of their mystery, we are left with the brittle shell of fact, the literalism of a single meaning. But when we allow a story its soul, we can discover our own depths through it… The intellect wants a summary meaning – all well and good for the purposeful nature of the mind. But the soul craves depth of reflection, many layers of meaning, nuances without end, references and allusions and prefigurations. All these enrich the texture of an image or story and please the soul by giving it much food for rumination… The soul is more interested in particulars than in generalities.”
When we work with our mind in matters of the soul, we tend to seek a single meaning. This reduces the situation or problem to a generality and de-animates it, the particulars are missing. Logic can suck the air from the room of the soul. Leaving us feeling lifeless. This may feel good at first to be free of the charge and apparently relieved of the pain and suffering the problem has caused us, but soon we begin to miss a sense of meaning in our lives and in ourselves. We become married to the single meaning which leads to fundamentalism and closed-mindedness.
We may think we have the answer and stop too soon. How many times have you thought to yourself, “haven’t I been through this already?” It is probably because you solved the situation with your reasoning ability and “found” the answer way before your soul was complete with the process. You were premature in believing you had found the solution.
With problem solving, we can torture ourselves looking for reasons and get caught up in drama, stories and judgement. So rather than exiting the situation, we become mired deeper into it. The way out becomes obscured. Just as creative thinking can help us out of a problem, it can block other sources of creative inspiration. The soul speaks to us through many channels including our bodies, our friends, our daily encounters, our dreams, and more. When we rely solely on the creative capacity of our mind, we are handicapped and we can find ourselves in a perpetual loop of restating the problem.
So many times the way out of suffering is not logical. If we are overdependent on our mind, we won’t trust guidance that doesn’t make sense.
One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with employing rational thinking in a spiritual practice is the habit of seeing problems everywhere. If problem solving becomes our spiritual practice, then we are not practicing unless we have problems.
What happens on the day when you wake up and are done with the problems? You’ve had enough. You realize that the problems are between you and living a sacred life. No problem is worth that. You would like the problems out of the way. This is when your spiritual life starts to be about your relationship with the Divine and stops being about your problems.
Do you prefer to use analysis in your spiritual practice or do you shun it? When encountering a mystery within yourself how do you approach it? What is a mystery within you that you are sitting with right now?
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a Spiritual Director. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the matters of the soul easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More About Spiritual Direction.