How to know if you’re clear or unclear
Part one: action replays and scenario planning
My friend Kumaran recently asked me “How can you tell if you’re clear or not?” So, I wrote this as an answer.
Some days you’re clear. You think “Oh — I need a sandwich” and you eat a sandwich and when you’ve eaten the sandwich you think, “I feel great. That was exactly what I needed.” And then you have an urge to go for a walk and you go and it feels good. And you see a nice pair of shoes for sale and you buy them and never regret buying them because they were totally the right pair of shoes.
Other days you’re not clear. You think “Oh — I need a sandwich” and then you eat a sandwich and when you’ve eaten it you think, “Oh — I feel awful. I wasn’t really hungry. I was just bored.” And then you go for a walk because you think you should, but as soon as you get outside you realise you’re way too tired for walking, but you persevere. You end up in a shoe shop and buy some boots that are too big for you but convince yourself they’ll be fine and take them home and never wear them and resent them every time you pass them in the hallway.
But what makes the difference between those days? Between clear days and unclear days? And is there anything you can do to recognise the signs of being unclear before you blow your paycheque on unsuitable footwear? And, if you realise you’re not clear, is there anything you can do to find your way back to being clear? And what does being clear mean anyway?
What being clear means
When we talk about being clear what we really mean is being able to see the world as it is. When we see the world as it is, we are working with what’s true. And when we’re working with what’s true, that means things behave in the ways we expect them to — and the things we do have the results we expect them to. (Even if sometimes the result is unpredictable — like predicting the weather or cooking a soufflé —we correctly identify it as unpredictable — and it’s all good.)
When we’re unclear, we don’t see the world as it is. We show up with bias. Or prejudice. Or expectations. We show up with a story about how we think the world is meant to be. Then we find ourselves living in that story — until reality breaks the spell and wakes us up.
How we end up being unclear
Our minds have two wonderful capacities that, when we use them wrongly, can lead us to be unclear. And the two wonderful capacities are scenario planning and action replay.
In scenario planning mode, the mind conjures up stories about what is going to happen. Maybe the best thing we want to happen. Or the worst thing we fear happening. Maybe a variety of possibilities along the spectrum from awesome to awful. And this is a wonderful trick, because it helps us to consider what we’re doing in the present moment in the context of what might be about to show up. So, we can take an umbrella because it might rain. We can invest money in a business because it might be a great success.
But there is a risk with scenario planning. And the risk is that you fall in love with what you see. And you think that that is the world. Or you fall in love with one thing you see and try to force it. “I have to be successful — because then the world will look like this.” “I mustn’t miss the train — or the world will look like that.” When we get *too* absorbed in the things we see in the scenarios are mind shows us, then we lose focus on where we are and what’s happening now. And that’s when we get unclear. We see what we want to see, not what’s there. Not what’s true.
In action replay mode, the mind gives us another chance to look at what has already happened. And that’s also a fine trick. Because often things happen too quickly for us to take everything in. Or, we take everything in, but we don’t have time to understand it all. We don’t have time to learn all we can learn about it. Especially if we weren’t really paying attention at the time, because we were absorbed in playing out some scenario about what might happen later on.
So, let’s say you’re about to go on stage to deliver a speech and the last time you delivered a speech it went really, really badly. Before you get to the stage, your body starts playing out what happened last time. Your palms get sweaty. Your legs ache. Your brain goes fuzzy. And that’s wonderful. Because it’s your mind giving you another chance to see what actually happened last time. Another chance to listen for what those sweaty palms were trying to draw your attention to. What those achy legs were trying to say. And because it’s ever so kind and considerate, your mind gives you the chance to replay all those things before you get on stage. It’s helping you be better prepared than last time.
But, again, there’s a trap in the action replay. You can accidentally think that it’s real. And rather than taking advantage of the power of playback, you can end up really thinking you’re back there. And you can end up losing touch with where you actually are. Worst of all you can get caught in a kind of battle with yourself and the achy legs and sweaty palms and spend your time trying to wish them away rather than listening to them.
These two wonderful capacities are *so* helpful — but they’re only helpful if we remember that they’re meant to augment our understanding of the present moment, not supplant it. And there’s an easy way to think about it. Rear view mirrors are useful and sat nav is useful, but you should still devote the real majority of your attention to looking out the windscreen.