Do You ‘Logic’ Your Way to Understanding?

How to make sense of big ideas.

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What’s Your Go-To Way of Making Sense?

If you like to ‘think’ your way to understanding, I totally get it. Me too. Or at least, me sometimes, and much less than before.

I have a background in economics and policy, and that can be a signal to certain clients that I understand the landscape they’re involved in, which I do-I love to play with the near and the far, the possibilities and the routes to get there. I don’t find myself limited by what’s at the end of the garden and it was exciting to be involved, every day, in things I thought would make the world better.

And, for the rest of us, even if we’re not immersed in the ‘big stuff’, we can be attempting to ‘make sense’ of the challenges and complexities around us.

But what made me successful in that world wasn’t always the analytical stuff. I came to see a long time ago that the leverage isn’t always where I think it is, and change happens in the least likely places with the smallest of shifts. It sent me on a whole new journey, but that’s a story for another day…

What I do know with these analytically-oriented clients, and in fact any client, is that I can most support them in developing their own navigational skills, and that’s sometimes in ways that they didn’t expect.

Understanding Abstraction

When I think about coaching, and what it is, I find myself resonating with this quote from Nietzsche,

The more abstract the truth you want to teach, the more you must seduce the senses to do it.

But why, and what does that mean?

We watched David Attenborough’s One Planet recently-his ‘witness statement’, as he calls it-and a seductive display for the eye if ever there was one, all that beauty in the natural world.

Although for how much longer…

In his gentle way, he revealed that we are likely at a tipping point, where unsustainable human takeover may already have moved us towards another mass extinction-and perhaps the end of our species. Or maybe we can regenerate? Ever the optimist, I think he believed in that possibility.

Of course, hubby and I came away asking ourselves what we can do, what ‘they’ should do, our governments and leaders, what ‘we’ should do as humans, and how we can shift an economic and political system that is premised on extraction and ever-expanding growth. We also asked ourselves what we can do on a micro-scale; we wanted answers to those big questions, and then we could heave a small sigh of relief knowing that was a problem ticked off.

Missing the Point?

What would happen, though, if I didn’t leap to conclude, leap to make sense of, and solve? What if Attenborough’s, or the producers, desire for answers and actions had caused us to lose sight of the abstraction and a greater ‘truth’?

We’d watched another, less polished, but more tantalising documentary a few days before, which left me feeling down-hearted about human impact, and yet also respectful of small actions taken in alignment with a deeper notion of time and impermanence.

It wasn’t a conclusion I could logic my way out of, I couldn’t ‘see’ a solution to either my feelings, or the paradox of life-maybe we are living in a world that is about to implode? How can I be OK with that, and also take action in a positive direction? And, in what is sometimes a more challenging question for recovering analysts, how do we know what actions we can place on the + side of my metaphorical piece of paper, versus the — side. How can I see, and change the future?

In order to even access those questions, I had to open up something in me that wasn’t stuck in making sense of a seeming paradox, because, as Richard Feynman said,

The ‘paradox’ is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ‘ought to be.’

I can attempt to Being stuck inside a paradox and attempting to calculate trade-offs and actions is a black hole of mental noise. It’s a world that cannot be resolved inside itself, and can only be experienced when we see that we have to step outside, and to step outside, we have to let go of intellectual reason, even for a moment.

To Live in Wonder

Any answers I might deliberate on from inside the problem will always be reductive, unless I catch a glimpse of the world beyond logic, a world, as Rumi said, beyond anything we might seek to subdue by trying to explain,

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.

Attenborough’s questions, it seemed to me, about how to live and to love without destroying the very ecology in which we exist, were ones that don’t, and perhaps shouldn’t have answers.

I remember when our oldest son was a toddler, taking him home from a friend’s house, and, in his sleepiness he looked into the wide Africa sky, pointed at the moon and said,

Look mummy, same moon our house!

We all believe our own perspective to be real until we see that it isn’t, and, for me, that’s a much more fascinating place to come from.

If we can’t live into the feeling of abstraction, experience the wonder, the joy and the deep sorrow of being alive, then I think our existence is so much smaller, and, I believe our logic is so very much weaker when we believe it is the thing that will secure our future.

With love,


Originally published at on October 13, 2020.

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