The Happiness of Confusion
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Honor your confusion. Even though your bodymind feels restless, unstable. You make pros and cons lists. You teeter. You hedge, waffle, imagine and reimagine. You second guess yourself. You want this vague, cloudy, indecisive moment over and done with. You would give anything to feel assured, rested and reassured. But something holds you back: Confusion.
Confusion occurs when we experience a mixture of thoughts, emotions, and perhaps information which has not taken shape completely. Or it causes shapeshifting—one moment we think we will decide X, and that makes so much sense; but thought about from a different perspective Y makes more sense. But we love X and only moderately like Y.
Emotionally, humans experience greater complexity than other animals who, although they too have feelings and express them, tend to experience one feeling at a time and not a confusing co-occurrence of multiple feelings; feeling and thoughts that can do everything from collide, to wrestle with one another, to sit side-by-side like strangers. No wonder we have so much trouble sorting things out and making decisions—this job or that job? Get married or not? Tell someone of our unhappiness or keep it to ourselves? Go back to school or continue on our career path? Go to the party or stay home and read a book? Have a salad with salmon or a cupcake? Volunteer at the food pantry on Saturday or go to the beach with friends?
Honoring your confusion. It means you have ambivalence or ambiguity about the optimal path to follow. The stakes may be high regardless of what you choose. Or, even in a happy sense, you can identify more or less equal benefits that you would derive from any of the choices. Or, you lack enough information, including emotional information, to make a fully informed decision. Or your decision is hampered by internal interference like the fear of “making the wrong decision,” or anxiety about whether you can meet the expectations of a particular decision, or whether, later, you might find a reason to regret the path you chose, as if there is a perfect one, or the destined one if only you can intuit it correctly. Confusion may also plague you because you are good enough to consider the needs, wishes and welfare of other important people in your life, and you realize that your decision will affect them. Because you don’t want them to suffer, you try to calculate the costs and benefits, not only for yourself, but for your nearest and dearest as well.
From the cognitive standpoint, we can easily experience confusion when we do not have a framework to make a decision. In other words, we have not decided how we will decide something. Through which filter(s) will we compare the options? As a simple analogy, one cannot adequately compare those proverbial apples and oranges. The excellence of an apple, or of an orange, must be rated on, respectively, apple standards, and orange standards. We might ask how crisp versus mealy are these apples. We might compare how sweet and juicy one orange blooms compared to other oranges. Will job A be better than job B because of salary? Location relative to home? Future potential? Interest and challenge factor? Values around work/life balance? Do economic factors make one job more viable than another?
Committing to relationships proves complicated as well, not only in the moment, but because we all go through developmental stages throughout our lives. Young couples might rate being in love as so important that it blinds them to other considerations of “fit.” Whereas, middle aged couples want love and companionship but also have additional criteria that have to be met before a longer term commitment seems feasible: will the other person pull their own weight financially, can the other person deal well with children produced in a prior chapter, is there mutuality around chores or sharing time; how many interests are in common or distinct, and so forth.
We can feel happy with our confusion when we realize that it is not a trap, but an experience of our inner wisdom, a wisdom that lets us know that we still lack some information—internal or external–or some capability, or some readiness. When we can have faith in our process and trust in ourselves, we can proceed through all of the considerations necessary. Yes, it is possible to get stuck in confusion, as in anything. Generally “stuckness” is fueled by fear or fatigue or depression, if not by what seem like insurmountable economic or practical considerations. But confusion, when we accept it and honor it, does not necessarily hold our ankles in the muddy rut, but encourages us to expand our awareness of what is most important to us, and how we can envision ourselves, and those important others, thriving as we proceed down a path where many opportunities, as well as risks, await our choosing. The experience of confusion, while somewhat uncomfortable, also supplies us with a divinely restless energy and that is also motivating. We must hunt for an answer. We must trust our ability to see through the thickets and to steer by the stars until we have come to our next place of awakening.
To the extent you can, accept and relax into your confusion with gratitude. Honor your inner wisdom. Continue your quest. And ask yourself through which window of core considerations your future will appear most clearly.
About what do you feel confused right now? If you are experiencing confusion about something big and important, ask yourself if there is one certainty about yourself that is so important to your sense of self and/or wellbeing, that you must take it into consideration when making this decision. If you are confused about something little, ask yourself whether the blockage or resistance to making your decision has to do with anxiety, worrying about what others will think, fatigue, or just plain laziness (not that we can’t celebrate a lazy loll in the sun or a delicious nap, or just a break from do, do, do).
I posted my blog about confusion before I learned of the senseless violence that a murderer perpetrated on innocent people having a nice night out at a club called Pulse in the Orlando, Florida area. Whatever or whomever he hated, I do not know. I do know that he should have been confused, because confusion may stop us from taking action. Confusion is an honest experience. This evil individual bought guns, and premeditated his senseless attack. He had clear and deadly intentions and carried them out. Honest confusion, our own experience of confusion—both emotional and cognitive—serves us well when it slows down the freight train of terrible and terrifying decisions.
About an act of utter evil and or insanity, we might say, “That person was very confused.” But that would be our own judgment, and our own (good) failure to identify with someone who acted in evil clarity. We would project onto that person our own sense of confusion about what would drive someone to that kind of heinous and irreparable act.