What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Insecurity is a beast. Not really, of course – it just feels like it can wrap you around its finger like a professional wrestler and twist your insides into a pretzel. Like all other feelings, insecurity is made up of thought in the moment – in my case most commonly “what if?” scenarios as I drive myself crazy trying to solve problems I don’t yet (and may never) have.

As I began to see the inside-out nature of our personal reality more clearly, I noticed my insecure thinking ran the show inside my head less often. It became more of a “featured player”, coming in to do a dance number from time to time but no longer the star attraction. I relaxed inside to a level I’d rarely felt before.

When I tried to articulate what had shifted inside me, a phrase came to mind that still has great meaning to me:

I know what to do when I don’t know what to do.

There is always a risk that in articulating an insight, people will gorge themselves on the fruit of that insight without ever allowing the seed it grew from to take root inside them. But by the same token, sometimes it’s only after tasting the fruit that one can truly recognize the value of the seed. So here’s what I know to do when I don’t know what to do. There’s not much to it, but I hope you’ll find it helpful…

1. Settle down

Were you ever told to “count to 10” before speaking when you get angry or upset?

Or to take a few deep breaths to gather yourself and regain your bearings before trying to solve a problem or resolve a conflict?

The reason these bits of advice are so common anywhere in the world is that they are rooted in a simple truth It’s the same truth behind why people have their best ideas in the shower or while out for a walk or on holiday, and why no matter how smart we are at our best, we all behave like idiots from time to time.

There is an ever-present responsive intelligence inside us – an impersonal property of what we might call “the universal Mind”. All human beings have ready access to this common sense, but it can become obscured when our thinking runs amok. The moment our personal thinking settles down, we can more easily see and hear the wisdom within.

Think of the mind like the ocean – continually changing on the surface, hidden currents underneath the surface, and absolute stillness underneath that. The wisdom that will guide us forward is already there underneath the waves of our personal thinking; the wisdom that will take us deeper is already there in the stillness and depths of our soul.

Which is why the most powerful way I know how to use the mind is this…

2. Listen

One of my mentors recently pointed out that with all the time I spend reading books, I have no time left to “read consciousness”. What I saw in that metaphoric observation was that at some level, I still value the articulation of insight in others more than the unfolding of wisdom inside myself.

Whenever I take the time to get quiet and just listen, it’s amazing what comes through. I don’t even need to ask a question – I just let my thoughts settle as best I can and new ideas and insights bubble up into the space within.

This receptive capacity of the mind tends to be undervalued in our culture, but throughout history, the greatest thinkers and leaders have been the ones willing to do what researcher Cal Newport calls “deep work” – escaping the constant noise of the world around them to reflect more deeply on the emergent wisdom within them.

When we are willing to put down what we already think we know and let something new come through, we begin to live insightfully. Instead of chewing on the cud of our own knowledge, we dine instead on the fresh green grass of our deeper wisdom. And what we are able to produce on a steady diet of healthy insight is really quite remarkable.

I’ll finish with a piece of advice from Syd Banks, the enlightened Scottish welder who I reference so often in these blogs. When asked for the “ultimate answer” to all of life’s questions, he responded with these words:

“What you’re searching for is a silent mind – a state of no-thought…What you do is you get a silent mind, then you go inside – you have a realization of this wisdom that lies within… then bingo, you get it. And when you get it, it enhances your life. If you just enjoy yourself, stop looking for any more, you silence your mind to a state of no-thought. Then divine thought comes in… and you have the answer.”

May you rest in peace in the silence of your mind and may the wisdom within you illuminate the world around you.

With all my love,