Panic and Confusion
For many people there is a kind of panic that arises when you feel confusion. You may be uncertain about an important choice, or have strongly mixed feelings about a relationship, or just plain don’t know what to do about something that really matters. The notion of failing or making the wrong choice feels catastrophic.
The more upset you are, the more impossible it is to think clearly. The harder you try to gain clarity, the more elusive it seems. It’s easy to work yourself into a state. Is there a better way?
I think there is. The first step is to calm down, which may involve reminding yourself that the sun will rise tomorrow, whether you figure out your dilemma or not. Slow, deep breathing can help. Taking a walk or talking with a friend can be useful, too.
Reframing Your Dilemma
There’s a further step, though, which has to do with becoming more comfortable with disorder, unfinished business, confusion, and ambivalence. Most people have mixed feelings about most things most of the time. Black and white thinking of absolute clarity and assurance is not the pinnacle of balance and mental health. Real life has real complexity. It is challenging for everyone.
Having patience with yourself as you sit with confusion allows your mind and your heart and your body to slowly develop a nuanced response to your dilemma. Remember how hard it is to recollect a phone number you’ve forgotten? And how it pops into your mind shortly after you give up your fruitless quest to force it out of its hiding place? Anxiety degrades your ability to think clearly. Relaxation enhances your ability to utilize all your resources.
Years ago I came across an interesting story. Near the end of his life, the frontiersman Daniel Boone was interviewed by a newspaperman. Boone was famous for blazing the trails that made it possible for early settlers to cross the Appalachian mountains into the Midwest. The journalist wanted to know if he had ever been lost in his years of exploring.
After some consideration, Boone replied “I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” The experienced woodsman had not panicked. He paid attention to his surroundings, noted the position of the sun, observed the lay of the land, the flow of the streams, the moss on the trees. He persevered and found his way.
I recommend bewilderment rather than panic the next time you are deeply confused. Let go of catastrophizing and predicting doom. Notice the scenery. Breathe. Over time a renewed sense of direction will come clear.