I’m currently listening to a fascinating lecture series on “the psychological significance of the Biblical stories” by clinical psychologist and professor Dr. Jordan B Peterson and it is making for a very eye-opening commute to and from work! If you are a person with any interest in psychology, theology, philosophy, evolutionary theories, history, mythology, or just plain humanity, this is a wonderfully rich and detailed analysis by a super smart dude. It’s fairly mind-blowing, though, so fair warning that it’s hard to take lightly. If you listen on your commute like I do, be sure to wear your seat belt.
One of the themes he’s developed thus far is the innate and uniquely human need to make order out of chaos (the foundational idea of God and story of Creation). This was covered in great detail and is very complex so I’m not even going to try and summarize from his analysis (it’s seriously fascinating so if you are feeling geeky give this stuff a listen!), BUT what I am going to do is make it personal here. And I’m not even going to go into the spiritual aspect of this, but that’s probably an even bigger deal but much tougher to wrap my thoughts around. Anyway, his main takeaway from this theme was that humans are at their best, or maybe “in the zone” when they are riding that line between chaos/unknown and order/known. We know what we know and are functioning within those boundaries, but continuously stretching those boundaries and experiencing the unknown and bringing it to order. This is our potential, our groove, our “best-self”. This is balance, and the times when we are living this way intentionally, we are happiest, and there’s a bunch of biochemical reasons why that is the result. This concept hit home in several ways for me that brought clarity to a lot of things I do that I’ve wondered why I do them and why they bring me joy. So here goes.
Overthinking – I’ve often considered this a fault of mine as it tends to cause more stress, but I can now recognize this as perhaps a highly developed evolutionary trait that just needs a little coaching, rather than an annoying habit where I attempt to make order out of way more things than I need to make order out of at any given moment. It is actually a useful talent that helps me get around this world, and as long as it’s not interfering with other things in life, I actually enjoy it.
Art – Whether it’s drawing or writing, the act of doing these things is making something known out of the unknown. Whatever thought fragments have been swimming incoherently in my mind are often turned into sensible, meaningful words through the simple process of writing, whether on this blog or in a journal. And I’m dabbling in the visual arts again – challenging myself to draw, paint, and try other techniques. The things that I make did not exist before I brought them forth in whatever medium I chose, but there is a mystical satisfaction I get once I’ve begun a new sketch or project, even if it’s a meaningless still life sketch that lives in my sketchbook. Creating is crazy addicting and I feel so much positive energy with the whole process. I get an idea and I can’t stop thinking about it until I get going on it, and when I’m done I feel a rush but also a sense of peaceful relief. When I’m in my creative mindset I see everything differently – I notice the shine on chrome objects and patterns of lines on window blinds and everything plain and simple just has new significance. I think without really thinking could I recreate the essence of that object and make it look interesting with graphite or paint? It sounds dumb but it’s a much more fun way to walk through the world.
Exercise – Huh? What does exercise have to do with chaos and order and creating and joy? Well this is something I’m figuring out right now but now it’s just like DUH! There are a few different layers to this. At the most very basic, weightlifting (my preferred method of exercise) is the process of tearing down muscle fibers and rebuilding them and creating new ones in the process to make muscles stronger. There we go creating again! On another level similar to that one, there is the concept of creating the physique that I desire, and if you want to go deeper on that level, the desired physique is obtained by shedding the extra fat that creeped in due to the chaos of life over the last couple years when I struggled for any sense of balance. There is a lot to be said about healthy body image, which is not the intent of this post but an important tangent for me is that I’ve realized the shape of my body and how I feel in my own skin follows the pattern of the amount of balance or chaos in my life. So it isn’t a superficial goal for me but more a symbolic and tangible effect of being able to find some balance in the chaos of life. There’s also the physical feeling of stress relief – if I’ve been overthinking something and having some anxiety, a good sweat session expends that energy and calms my brain (more chaos into order). And finally the last and most fun layer of this little analysis is that with weightlifting, when I am doing it to gain strength (and not just “get toned”), I am consistently facing the unknown. Can I lift this amount of weight that I’ve never lifted before? How many times can I do that? How much more can I lift a month from now? Weightlifting with goals to improve is a fun and healthy way to continually press into the unknown and expand the boundaries. And it’s crazy satisfying when it happens!
Hiking – The whole concept is exploring the unknown, and while I hike a lot of the same trails locally so they are becoming familiar, there is still a feeling of awe and uncertainty when I step away from civilization even a few hundred yards and surround myself in the mystique of nature. It’s also a place for my mind to race freely and without interruption as I try to make sense of whatever is going on in life at the moment. Then, on the extreme side of this, I see that challenge of summiting Quandary Peak last September as another clear example of the desire and resulting joy in venturing into the unknown – it was unknown terrain, unknown physical exertion/stamina/oxygen capacity, and an unknown perspective of the world. And once at the top, I KNEW it, and it was exhilarating.
I’ll close with this beautiful quote from Rene Daumal that just sums all this up perfectly:
“What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up.”