Pentecost 102

Pentecost 102
My Psalm 102

The Problem with Cogitation

A recent conversation with a friend got me thinking. Is there something wrong with thinking? Can thinking be right or wrong or taken to extremes? Is that what happens to someone’s faith? Do they just overthink it? Is that what happens to so many marriages, especially in the countries with a great many conveniences and communication outlets? Do we overthink our relationships? In our overthinking, do we over-analyze ourselves out of being ourselves?

Thinking is defined in a number of ways but basically it is either using thoughts, rational thoughts, to form a judgment. It is also defined as using one’s mind to process information. I am not sure I am really comfortable with either of those definitions. Another way to define it is to say thinking is using the mind to produce ideas or decisions. I like that a little better but I really like my friend’s definition: “Thinking is really just questions.”

The problem I have with the commonly accepted definitions is that they are human-oriented. I share a house with some four-footed personalities known in the rational world as cats and dogs. Realistically, they are living beings that allow me to serve them and occasionally pet them and sometimes, if I am really lucky, sleep on my bed. Whenever I sit down to eat, thinking – in the form of questions – occurs in those four-footed roommates of mine. “Does it taste as good as it smells?” “Are they really going to eat something that looks and smells like that?” “What are the odds I can look pitiful enough to share that bite?” Their thinking is definitely a series of questions.

According to my friend, a wise person with both book learning and years of street smarts, thinking is both conscious and unconscious. “Conscious is you remembering an email address or creating the image of a four headed snake. Unconscious would be a process by which one shapes and makes sense of our world. Thinking is how we get from Point A to Point B.”

We also discussed whether thinking can be right or wrong. Certainly, there are a great many decisions we make that, either at the time or in hindsight, could be good ones or unfortunate ones. For me, though, I think putting a label on thinking as being right or wrong is like saying a person is not beautiful. Again, quoting my friend in addressing the idea of thinking: “It is a way to make connections; an internal conversation between different perspectives.” For me, that relates to beauty as well.

In addressing the concept of God, Charles Darwin made note that, while he could not prove or disprove the idea of a deity or whether or not man is hardwired to believe in such, he could confirm that there had been many races and cultures of people who existed and some of those believed in one or more deities. Of his own beliefs, having been brought up in the Anglican faith, Darwin said: ““I was very unwilling to give up my belief; I feel sure of this, for I can well remember often and often inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans, and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere, which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels.” For Darwin, he made the connection between archaeological history and the teachings of the history of his faith. The beauty of it played out in his daydreams. Science today has indeed found such items. WHile Darwin might have thought his thinking incorrect or frivolous at the time, it has become true.

What happens when thinking becomes dysfunctional, a detriment to the entire purpose? If thought is a series of patterns, then overthinking or over-analyzing is an anti-pattern. The concept of analysis paralysis is not really new. It exists in several of Aesop’s Fables and the moral is usually the same: “Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon”.

Technically, analysis paralysis is a situation in which the effort or cost of making a decision or going through the thought process exceeds any profit from the conclusion or decision that might be made. Sometimes the quantity of things to be analyzed, the volume of possibilities, overwhelms or over-burdens the thinking process which is then brought to a halt. In other words, it simply isn’t deemed worth the effort. Religion, especially with all its legalisms, can sometimes become that. The organization of religious doctrine becomes not its own salvation or defense but its own demise.

Personal self-worth can often become an analysis paralysis. The same pitfalls exist whether we are deliberating the existence of a deity, the need to upgrade a business process, or our appearance. In the process of our critical thinking, we forget that, like life, it is an evolution which can and should change as our life evolves and changes. Growth requires the acknowledgement of change; otherwise, it would be called stagnation or death. We forget in determining beauty to allow for such evolution.

My friend, a business owner, referred to the thinking necessary in his field this way: “In business we tend to do a lot of critical thinking. It is not negative, but we must analyze a situation before making a decision. We need to evaluate and make deductions. Should the same problem be addressed numerous times and continued as we put good money into it or is it better to bite the bullet and upgrade? Sometimes it is just a personal choice. We all have to live with the choices that we make, be it right or wrong. What we believe to be right today may not be what we think tomorrow; at least we have tried to do our best. I think that is all you can really expect of a person.”

There is the crux of the issue. All we can really expect is to do our best. We must be careful, in our thinking, not to stray so far from the original concept that we lose sight of it. Our purpose for being is to make the world a better place and in doing so, make ourselves better people. Our beauty comes from our thinking and then our doing. It is not enough to believe. We must live the faith. Then we will see the beauty of all creation.

My Psalm 102
To you, Great One, is the glory of the world.
In you I find the beauty of my being.
The complications are but annoyances.
To you we give praise for the life that is.
Without you we find fear for the life that is not.
Through your love and by your grace, living is possible.
All things are possible with faith.
The world is only beautiful when we come together, working for love.

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