By Suma Varughese
Because it is ego-driven, head thinking can often be delusory. Heart thinking is focused on reality and therefore unlikely to go too wrong
When Carl Jung, the great psychoanalyst, went to Taos Peublo in New Mexico in 1925, he met the chief of the native people, Ochwiay Biano. Biano told Jung that according to his people, the Whites were ‘mad’-uneasy, restless, always wanting something.
Jung asked him why he thought they were mad, and the chief replied that it was because they thought with their heads, a sure sign of mental illness among his tribe. Jung asked him how he thought and he pointed to his heart. The response plunged Jung into a deep introspection that enabled him to see his race from outside himself and realise how much of the race’s character was within him.
Ever since I read this fascinating excerpt I have been pondering over the difference between heart thinking and head thinking. Most gurus and spiritual teachings exhort us to make this very transition-from head to heart. But what does it actually mean? For most head thinkers this appears to be an inferior state of mind.
They fear that they are being asked to surrender their reason and descend to some level of gibbering infantilism, where they are expected to accept anything told to them without a whimper. Naturally, they clutch at their minds with renewed determination.
However, heart thinking is at a level higher than reason, not lower. And it is not opposed to reason. The difference is that it does not allow reason the star role it plays in head thinking. Heart thinking arrives at conclusions through faculties other than the mind, but it will use the mind to articulate these conclusions, and even validate them. So what are these faculties?
Most of us would call it intuition-a knowing that seems to come from the very depth of our being, from every cell in our body. Unlike the logic-driven processes of the mind, this knowledge seeps into our being and the certainty of knowing is utterly indisputable. The conclusions that the head arrives at can never give us that level of deep-rooted certainty, particularly in matters of ethics, values, decision-making and behavioral choices.
For instance, many of us who penetrate the spiritual dimension of life make dramatic job changes which make no sense from the point of view of the head. I just met a young man who left his lucrative software job in the US to work for a spiritual organization. I know of IIT graduates who have renounced plush mainstream jobs in order to devote themselves to the betterment of villages.
What about people who make decisions to become monks and renunciate against their familial and social pressure? What gives them the courage to throw everything to the wind? It is the courage that comes from following the dictates of heart. So what are the main differences between head and heart thinking?
One of the most fundamental differences, I believe, is that head thinking is fractured and separatist, while heart thinking is holistic. I have been doing some research for the forthcoming LP Plus issue on Gandhi and what is obvious is that Gandhian thinking can only be accessed by those who have moved from the head to the heart.
For head thinkers he comes across as an anti-progressive crank. Heart thinkers, on the other hand, worship him as a fount of wisdom, whose solutions to the country’s problems at the social, environmental, economic and political levels were pragmatic, down-to-earth and in the best interests of society and the environment.
The radical difference in the two perceptions arise from the fact that Gandhian thinking is holistic, which means that it emerges from one root and radiates in all directions, somewhat like the spokes of a wheel.
Gandhi’s advocacy of khadi, his focus on economic and political self-reliance for the village, his repudiation of western civilization, the political weapons of Satyagraha, his focus on ahimsa, his preference for frugality and simplicity, all have an internal consistency not accessible to those who try and understand it from the head.
Head thinking is fractured. It will look at one aspect of a situation at a time and draw conclusions based on that, while ignoring others. Modern civilization is a perfect example of head thinking, for all its systems are based on separatism.
Modern-day economics is a striking example of the limitations of separatist thinking. Capitalism, for instance, is motivated primarily by the profit factor, which means that many of its decisions can be and are unethical, unprincipled and even inhuman. In this scheme of things, the best way to improve the bottomline is to sack the employee.
But this decision does not take into consideration the psychological and emotional cost to the individual, nor of its larger repercussions on society. It follows that heart thinking is balanced while head thinking is not. Because the former keeps the whole in mind, its approach is measured and pragmatic, unlikely to damage any aspect of life.
Head thinking is given to drama, to extreme measures. Violent revolutions such as those that took place in France and later in Russia were dictated by head thinking and not heart thinking. Because heart thinking is holistic, it is also down-to-earth, here and now. It is not focused on abstract theories and formulas, it looks at each situation as it is and arrives at solutions. It is simple.
Head thinking, on the other hand, gives rise to endless complexities, for it is unable to see things as they are. Hence there will be contingency plans for everything, uniform rules and regulations for all situations no matter how dissimilar (such as, for instance, insisting that your 16-year-old returns home after a party at the same time as she did when she was 12) and extremely complicated procedures.
Try and make sense of any of our modern systems-political, economic or scientific-without being an expert. The mind simply boggles. Why? Because of head thinking. Can you imagine that at one time, life was actually comprehensible to the average man? Today, most us, if not all, find it impossible to understand modern life. This is the unnecessary complexity of head thinking.
At the head level, one arrives at truths through logic and reason, such as understanding that two and two makes four. But the truths of the heart, which are really the truths about life, are resonated to. When you encounter such a truth, your whole being reverberates in response. I remember participating in a psychoanalytical group for a while.
The facilitator was a brilliant man; we particularly admired the facile way he rounded up the discussions by pointing how one subject had led to another, and how it all added up to a particular picture. And yet, I never could figure how he arrived at the conclusions he did. Later, we were taught by a writer.
Everything she said seemed to me wise and true. I could resonate with everything that she said in contrast to the bafflement I felt in the case of our analyst. I then came to realize that the analyst was drawing pretty pictures in his head, without too much concern with whether they correlated to reality. Because it is ego-driven, head thinking can often be delusory.
Heart thinking is focused on reality and therefore unlikely to go too wrong. There are probably far more profound differences between heart and head thinking, for I feel I am still scratching at the surface. If you can think of any, write in. Let’s have a dialogue on the matter.
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