On the same day that I was thinking about confusion and how often I feel plagued by it–on the exact same day–I read this following passage. It’s from a book I’m using for a creativity class I’m teaching this semester. “‘Confusion endurance’ is the most distinctive trait of highly creative people, and Leonardo probably possessed more of that trait than anyone who has ever lived. Principle number four–Sfumato [Italian for “nuance”]–guides you to be more at home with the unknown, to make friends with paradox” (Michael J. Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, 10-11).
I don’t really get confused by large life unknowns, but small things confuse me more and more, and I’m worried that it’s a sign of deteriorating mental capacity. The irony of this is that I am becoming more physically fit than I’ve ever been in my life, and I have very fast reflexes. But I sometimes forget how to spell words like
peave peeve. The other day, I had to read the word “speach” three or four times before I was completely sure that it was spelled incorrectly. Maybe you only get one or the other–you can be mentally sharp and physically sluggish, or confused and athletic. I don’t know, and I’ll probably forget that I wondered about it by the time I finish writing this sentence.
Below, random observations on the issue of confusion:
- If you are confused by your own skin care regime, something has to go.
- Many people often do not know the date.
- Perhaps you can remember EITHER your child’s principal name OR that she buys her shoes at Talbots, not both.
- I’m never sure which set of lights will come on when I press the light switches in the kitchen.
- It’s okay to respond “I don’t know” to your child’s question, even if you do know but lack the mental stamina to answer.
- My kids and I continue to go to the Baskin Robbins “drive-thru” even though they never get our order right. Ever.
I understand the value of embracing ambiguity and paradox. In fact, I appreciate it and find it very liberating. But not when it has to do with forgetting where I stored my $700 anti-teeth-grinding device.
Is it aging? Hormones? Stress? A brain tumor? Something I thought about this morning on my way from the car to my office but can’t think of now? Do other people experience the sensation of your brain being about a nanosecond behind the rest of your body?
It would be so kind of you to let me know if you do. But if you don’t, and really think this is the sign of a brain tumor, please don’t write to me.
The poet Rumi understood confusion, which is fine if you are a Sufi mystic who twirls around in circles reciting poems, but not so great if you are a middle-aged woman trying to remember the location of your son’s track meet. But, as Rumi reminds us, on the other side of uncertainty is kindness, tenderness, compassion. And also, I would assume, remembering Michael Gelb’s quotation, creativity. Potential. “So, it’s okay, my poor overtaxed brain. I’ll try hard to love you anyway. Just please remember to pay the mortgage because that really sucked last month when you didn’t.”
What confuses you?
Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.