When the intellect gets in the way
The detail would have escaped anyone else’s notice. From the vantage point of my deck, it was a beautiful summer evening, complete with a little cloud cover to keep the temperature at a comfortable 80 degrees. The humidity was low, the air was still and a lukewarm breeze caressed my face. Yet, my eyes continued to return to the same spot, over and over: three yellow leaves on one of the trees.
Within a few moments of noticing those little leaves, my heart sank. Instantly, my mood was transformed into molasses, sinking heaver and heavier into the patio chair beneath me. There was nothing you could do to convince me to the contrary—summer was over.
To others, summer isn’t over on Aug. 6, not by a long shot. In this case, I was being subjected to the harsh and sometimes unrelenting view of the intellect. The intellect is that piece of the personality that helps make sense of the world. It sorts, classifies and categorizes information from the senses to help build a personalized view of the world. It uses memories to form opinions. It works with the imagination to then project those opinions into the future.
Like the ego, however, the intellect doesn’t have access to all of the information available. The intellect generally works as more of a “surface dweller,” taking things it sees on face value. Its relationship to memories and the physical world help it form what it thinks should be happening and what it thinks will happen in the future. The intellect is always operating but in a lot of cases, it’s operating under false pretenses.
When the intellect develops a line of thinking around a pretense (false or true), it works in a rather straightforward manner, like a horse with blinders on. When the intellect makes up its mind, it literally becomes obsessed with finding information to support its claim and it will ignore information to the contrary.
For example, my yellow leaves. When I looked out at the lush greenery of my back yard, all I could spot were those three yellow leaves. I didn’t notice the pot of pink, red and purple flowers right in front of me. I skipped right over the purple butterfly bush and yellow flowers in the garden below. Instead, I noticed that it was starting to get dark earlier than just a few weeks prior. I noticed that it was a little colder that evening than in evenings past. In that moment, I was hooked into the intellect’s power play and I was losing.
I love summer. I adore summer. Or, I should say, I adore and love early summer. There is a romantic quality when the earth starts to thaw and new life begins to sprout. Late summer, by contrast, has always been a bit depressing to me because it means fall is right around the corner. School will start again and the leaves will drop.
Soon after that, the snow will come and I’ll be holed up in the house until May. When I examine my beliefs about it, I realize that I believe summer is in short supply. There simply is not enough of it to satisfy my soul. Forget about the present moment, forget about the four months of summer, in my belief structure, true summer lasts between May and July.
So that’s what my intellect honed in on. And when it did, it directed my thoughts in such a way that I started to become depressed. I started to think about all the things I hadn’t accomplished and became worried about the things that would soon pile up in September. The intellect was pushing me out of the present moment and keeping me from enjoying a beautiful summer evening.
The intellect is extremely susceptible to your beliefs and will filter reality around those beliefs. If supporting evidence fits with those beliefs (in my case—summer ends in July), the intellect will work with your faculties to help quantify those beliefs (like noticing the leaves or the earlier nightfall). It will also ignore or downplay other information that may be valuable, like the thousands of green leaves, the warm temperature or the singing crickets and cicadas that I had missed earlier in the evening. When the intellect internalizes beliefs, when it accepts those beliefs as its own, it focuses thinking along a thin line with little room for erroneous information.
You’re too smart for your own good
Working with the intellect can be as tricky as working with the ego. Both of these parts of the personality believe they are helping and protecting us by showing us a world that fits our beliefs. Sometimes, however, we want to see the world in new and different ways and when we do, it’s important to change our perceptions accordingly.
A great deal of data that we receive on a day-to-day basis comes to us from sources other than the intellect. The ego works with the physical senses to bring us information on temperature, taste, smell, sights and sounds. Our intuitions tap into unspoken language as well as the vast universal mind, allowing us to perceive things that can’t be explained otherwise.
The intellect needs this intuitional data—any other source of data—to help operate efficiently. When it shuts out those other data, the intellect feels responsible for running the show and can stress the body and mind. This is the normal operating procedure for most us: trying to think our way out of any problem or challenge we’re faced with.
The way to get these other kinds of data through to the conscious mind is by changing focus. Like an awakening, you must catch yourself in the act of thinking and evaluate what you see, think and feel. As you do this, the intellect still tries to operate, continually trying to classify the information you just identified and make sense of it all.
On the deck, I had to consciously choose to examine other pieces of data in my field of perception. I focused on wearing shorts at 11:00 p.m. I tuned my hearing to the crickets and cicadas that were chirping loudly and I consciously reminded myself that there were still several weeks of warm weather ahead.
Intuitionally, I know that yellow leaves may be a sign of things to come, but I had to reassure my intellect that fall is not descending on the earth now. I had to use my willpower to focus on the present moment and return my feelings to comfort and joy.
Should I stay or should I go?
This “catching the intellect in the act” is especially important when you’re trying to solve problems. A friend of mine recently had to decide whether to take a new job out of state. And as part of that process, he tried to collect supporting evidence both for and against the move. But when both lists started to compare evenly, he was stymied.
Again, the intellect doesn’t have all information available. It only has a small taste. In problems and challenges such as this, it takes a look inside the mind and body to help the intellect make good decisions. For my friend, that meant examining how he felt about the move, how he would feel if he stayed, how he would feel if he moved and then determine if one decision “felt” better than the others.
The intuitive capabilities of the personality are in direct communication with the universal mind. They are able to travel the earth and look through many probabilities that exist and send back pulses of information to the conscious mind. Those pulses—we like to think of them as ‘impulses’ or ‘urgings’—can then be used by the intellect to help shape decisions.
Taking a conscious look at your thoughts, looking inside for intuitive information and using your intellect together can help bring about the best decisions: big or small. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to prune back a few leaves in my tree and enjoy the rest of my summer.