I’ve always enjoyed the familiar fable that begins with “For want of a nail the shoe was lost” and ends, after the horse is lost for want of a shoe, and the rider is lost for want of a horse, and the battle is lost for want of a rider, with the loss of a whole damn kingdom.
Nail. Kingdom. One so slight, the other so tremendous. What sort of connection could exist between them that causes a single small horseshoe nail to have the power to overthrow a vast kingdom?
Science would call it chaos theory or non-linear relationships, the ability of tiny causes to result in gigantic effects. You know, the butterfly flaps its wings here and a hurricane develops there. Religion or mysticism would call it karma, fate, destiny, god’s will. I suspect science and religion are pointing at the same truth with different fingers.
I’m fascinated with how this principle of “a little leads to a lot” works in everyday life. A woman buys a $1 lottery ticket, wins $60 million, and her life is changed forever. A man takes his eye off the road for an instant to check his cell phone, a child runs into the street, and two lives are changed forever.
My own less dramatic example yesterday started as I stood by our front door after making an eight foot bridge out of a couple of pressure-treated 2 x 6s. I needed Laurel to help me carry the bridge down to a seasonally water-filled gully on our newly-acquired five acres.
I was wearing an old fleece jacket without any zippers on the pockets. I was holding the dog training collar controller in my hand, for I was going to take Serena for a walk around the lake after installing the bridge. (The dog-shocker is needed for those rare occasions when the not-always-obedient family pet threatens to run onto a neighboring property whose owners have threatened dire consequences for even an innocent deer-chasing incursion).
I think about putting the controller in a zipperless pocket. Nah, too likely to fall out. A small still voice inside of me says, “You should put on another jacket.” But a louder and lazier voice bursts in: “Too much trouble. Just clip the controller on your belt.” Which I did.
So Laurel and I pick up the bridge, haul it down to the gully, and test it out. I then take Serena on our usual one-mile walk around Spring Lake and back to our property. I reach to unclip the training collar controller. It’s not on my belt. Shit! It’s almost dark. Double-shit!! I go into the house to tell Laurel what I’ve lost and she says, “The controller isn’t water-proof and it might rain.” Triple-shit!!!
It takes me almost an hour to slowly retrace my steps with a flashlight. I can’t find the controller. Luckily it doesn’t rain overnight. I get up early and start searching in the daylight. And there, just over a log that I had to step over on the way to the gully, it is. I feel as great as I can feel after having wasted an hour searching for something I never would have lost if I had just taken fifteen seconds to put on a jacket that had a pocket with a zipper.
This may sound like a meaningless tale. But I’ve learned something from it. For I can distinctly recall that immediate intuition—“you need to wear a different jacket”—which would have saved me a lot of time and trouble if I had listened to it. I spent today trying to listen more to that still small voice inside my head, and less to the active puffed-up blabber that usually tends to occupy my mind.
I’m going to experiment with turning up the volume on the one, and turning down the volume on the other. So far, I like what I hear.
My suspicion is the mind has an intuitive faculty capable of pretty accurately predicting a whole complex chain of causation. Our rational faculty doesn’t have this capacity. Or, at least, most of us aren’t able to use it properly.
Standing by the door, I could have thought: “I’m clipping the controller on the right side of my belt so I can easily grab it with my right hand if the dog runs away. I’m probably going to carry the bridge on the right side of my body. I’m going to have to step over a log on the way to the gully, which means I’ll have to lift the bridge up and over the log. This could dislodge the controller. I’d better change my jacket and put the controller in a pocket with a zipper.”
But that’s too much thinking. Too many things to keep in mind and try to figure out. Who is willing to pause before every action and ponder the branching possibilities of “if this, then that”? Anyway, if we trust in our intuitive faculty, perhaps we can get a glimpse of a likely future easily in a flash rather than with difficulty over time.
Lots is going on in the brain outside of our conscious awareness. I have no problem believing that some sort of unconscious Intelligence Processor is whirring away continuously, popping up frequent Alert Messages in the form of what we like to call “gut feelings.” “Brian, do this rather than that…go here rather than there…proceed cautiously…now, full speed ahead.”
It wasn’t fun losing an hour for want of a zipper. Yet I may end up gaining a lot more than I lost if this experience motivates me to learn how to tune in an inner advisor who makes a lot more sense than the one I normally listen to.