Analysis paralysis is the state of over-analyzing or over-thinking a situation, so that a decision or action is never taken – in effect, paralyzing the outcome. The basic idea of analysis paralysis is expressed in this short poem entitled ‘The Centipede’s Dilemma.’ In psychology it is known as the centipede effect. This is when a normally automatic or unconscious activity is confused by too much reflection on it.
A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.
Attributed to Katherine Craster in Pinafore Poems
This poem pretty much sums up what too much analysis and doubt can do to us on the path. It can cause us to fall exhausted in the ditch of this world and put a stop to us running towards our goal.
At some point, we have all found ourselves in the crushing grip of this dreaded condition where we simply can’t make a decision. Do we over-analyze Sant Mat, causing dozens of seemingly unanswerable questions to swirl around our brain? – like: Is the Master a true Master? Will we ever experience the light and sound that the path talks about? Will the Master really be there when we die, or will we be faced with darkness, with nothingness? Such questions and feelings of unreadiness can cause us to squander precious time and lose our peace of mind.
The root cause of this problem is our own ego, which doesn’t like the unknown. It will plant all sorts of ridiculous scenarios in our head in order to keep us from acting. Its most fervent desire is to have us frozen in fear until the wonderful opportunity that this human birth offers us passes us by.
Spirituality is attained only through inner revelation. One cannot have an inkling of it until the intellect and senses are made still, because the faculty within us that comprehends this truth is far subtler than either the mind or the senses, and hence beyond their grasp. Trying to grasp God intellectually is impossible, for as Guru Nanak says in the Japji: “By pondering, man cannot have a conception of God, even though he may ponder over lakhs of time.”
But unfortunately, at our human level, we have only intellect at our disposal. We are free to think, and that is the heart of the problem. This thinking is out of control. Thinking has led only to more thinking and more questions. We seek to know the innermost forces which create the world and guide its course, but we conceive of this essence as outside of ourselves, not as a living thing, intrinsic to our own nature.
It was the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung who said: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” We need to move beyond thinking. Does all this thinking make us happier and more joyful, or does it disconnect us from a deeper and more meaningful experience of life that the path offers us?
We constantly try to occupy our mind by filling it with information. When we quietly contemplate, we might realize that there is more to life than our present reality, where we endlessly crave to know without any satisfaction. Eventually the mind will become exhausted trying to find an answer – like a dog chasing its own tail. It is only the ego that wants to find an answer. After all, our questions are created by the egoic mind. The truth lies not in more answers but in fewer questions.
Our notions about this mind-made physical world are always filtered through the senses, and therefore are always incomplete. Thinking is simply a tool – like our five senses. But we have elevated it to such a high status that we identify ourselves with our thoughts. We try to understand using the rational mind, but it was never thinking that connected us to God. We have always been connected. Thinking is what keeps us in the illusion of separateness and the experience of limitation. The more we align with thought, the more removed we become from the source.
We don’t want to keep Sant Mat easy – we want to understand everything, but our understanding is distorted and conditioned. By good luck, by mercy or by divine plan we are on the path. The only thing to do now is to walk on it. But at every step we have questions -how, why, where? Our intellect is so inadequate that we will never be able to find the answers we seek using reasoning. However, used constructively, the intellect is a great friend on the spiritual journey.
When true Masters come into this world, the negative power also becomes very awake and active to ensure that we get confused and confounded, with the result that we don’t reach our goal easily. So if the Master is not in front of us in the form of simran, contemplation or Shabd – then it is the negative power which is there. We need to cling fast to the Master and stop depending on our own cleverness and intellect. The moment we try to steer our own vehicle, we will be lost. With our limited vision and limited experience, we can’t do it. In Die to Live Maharaj Charan Singh Ji says:
Mind is the deadliest of foes, but the most useful of servants. When it turns wild and gets out of control, it heads for certain destruction. When properly awakened and controlled, there is no limit to what the mind can do.
Once we have been initiated we need to practise the process of controlling our mind, so that it becomes the servant and ally of our soul. There is no end to our desires, and we know how easy it is to be dominated by them! At the root of this problem lies the habit of giving free rein to our mind so that it goes wherever the senses lead it. If we learn to control our mind, we automatically gain control over our senses. Maharaj Sawan Singh says that while the mind derives its life-force and energy from the soul, at the same time it does everything possible to suffocate the soul.
With the habit of clear thinking the mind will look to our spiritual growth and spiritual well-being. Our uncontrolled thinking, on the other hand, fuels desires, makes the ego stronger and contradicts all efforts to put our soul in charge. Allowed to go its own way, not referring to its power of discrimination, the mind quickly becomes our downfall. Maharaj Jagat Singh says:
Satsangis should form the habit of ‘thinking’ – clear thinking.… Clear thinking is ninety percent abhyas (spiritual practice). Clear thinking is a blessing. It can easily be attained by a little practice.
The Science of the Soul
Wisdom is in our midst – hidden in plain view – but we are too preoccupied with our thoughts to recognize it. We need to drop all thinking and resistance. We need to turn our attention inwards and sacrifice our mind by following the four vows we take at the time of initiation – the commitments we make to our Master.
As the meditation practice stabilizes it becomes possible to see that our thoughts and emotions are just that: thoughts and emotions, personal mental projections or electrical impulses. Seeing these projections in a clear light, we release our grip. The resulting light-heartedness we experience enables us to go deeper into the meditation practice. The deeper we go the more clearly we understand the true nature of the mind.
Strengthened by meditation we are able to watch how the mind, in expressing itself, creates infinite scenarios and then dissolves them again. We see for ourselves how its reservoir is unlimited, how there is no end to its creations. We start to recognize that the source of our problems lies in the deceptive nature of our mental creations. We yearn for lasting solutions in an ever-changing world. Because we treat the world as permanent, we look to it for the lasting happiness we crave.
Clear thinking shows us that it is our distorted perception that leads us, again and again, to seek happiness in situations where the final outcome can only, by its nature, be frustration, separation and pain.
Clear thinking is attained by practice, and it is well worth cultivating it to help us avoid falling into our own mind traps.
Clear thinking takes us deeper in the practice of meditation. Once the thought waves are stilled, our soul experiences a higher reality through its faculty of direct perception. With our shifting mind anchored we perceive things and remain unaffected by them. Thus a two-way process is created: as we think clearly, it becomes easier to concentrate in meditation; and increased concentration, leading to the unperturbed receptivity of a heightened consciousness, allows the Shabd to be revealed.
In his poem ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, William Blake puts it this way:
If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.