i recently immersed myself in the book Three Faces of Mind by Elaine de Beauport with Aura Sofia Diaz. in the section on the different intelligences of the neocortex, the “human” brain, i found a really helpful explanation of one of the ways of thinking i really struggle with.
as an Enneagram Type One, one of the ways my ego feels safe is to quickly discern what is right/wrong, good/bad, etc. i notice whether things are done well, put in the right place, or expressed clearly. i notice if people follow-through, act with integrity, speak the truth… i notice this in others and even more in myself.
i know it might seem like it, but this is not just me being picky or judgmental. it is an attempt by my ego personality to always know how to align with the Good, the Right. this not only makes me feel safe in the world, but keeps a sense of myself, my identity going.
unfortunately, it also separates me from myself and from others. when i am discerning, if there is any hint of “i’m better” or that i’m standing on higher moral ground, then what i’m really doing is judging, not simply discerning the differences between things. and people feel this.
Elaine talks about this way of thinking as a less healthy version of Rational Intelligence. we most definitely need the capacity to discern, to think linearly and rationally (left brain), but when it becomes about judging, it is a hindrance rather than a support.
she suggests developing Associative Intelligence to be more whole (right brain). associate thinking is about receiving life as it arrives without judging or even discerning. it is about taking in the fullness of the experience—be that a person, something in nature, a situation, and in this openness to life, to discover something new. it is about connecting as opposed to separating. (there is less healthy associative thinking, too—like getting overwhelmed and lost in the amount of life coming in.)
this is a helpful way for me to understand the practices that i have felt called to take on.
one of the big ones these days has been this RECEIVING of life. when Dave walks into my office to share something or check-in, instead of going into my personality habit of feeling interrupted in my rational working process, i turn away from my computer and toward him. i breathe him in. i listen, i look, i feel into him as much as i can while staying grounded in my body and heart. (this invites my heart online, too.) i receive his presence in the moment instead of blocking it to stay focused on my linear task.
this feels much better to me, and is resulting in deeper connection and communication between us. and i can still use my left brain to limit how long of a break i take, while showing up completely, openly, softly for the time that he is here.
i’m not always very good at this, though! (my rationally intelligent left brain discerns and judges this, too. 🙂 ) i’ve been going through a rough work transition lately, and i’ve found that my rational mind’s conclusion that the other side is wrong, acting out of integrity, and untrustworthy can really keep me from engaging in associative intelligence. i recently had the opportunity to try to connect with the other side, and i was too loaded up with the conclusion that i’m being wronged to allow associative intelligence in.
so, i work with it after the fact in the hopes that i will have more choice next time.
what could associative thinking have looked like?
- i could have breathed into my feet and belly and up my spine, connecting with my own grounded strength first.
- i could have breathed down the front of my body, softening to receive the other person.
- i could have focused softly on including the other person’s experience.
- i could have listened without immediately jumping in to respond.
- i could have found something i could connect with in the other person—some glimpse, some feeling, some energy.
how could this have supported me? perhaps i would have learned something new about the other side of the situation. perhaps they would have been more open to listening to me. perhaps i could have spoken a deeper truth from that place of deeper connection.
there are many benefits to practicing skillful associative thinking:
- it can re-awaken interest in someone you think you know through and through.
- it can open you up to appreciating something you would have overlooked.
- it can help you make your own meaning by sensing how something is affecting you.
- it can build a deeper relationship with your body and heart, as well as with other people.
- it can open you up to new non-linear creative insights.
how do you practice Associative Intelligence?
does it come naturally to you? i think it is definitely easier for certain Enneagram types as it supports their self-image and basic needs more than Rational Intelligence.
in my holistic life coaching, we explore how to draw on a more whole way of living, using both rational and associative ways of being. we definitely need the healthy version of both!
if you would like some support in practicing presence to feel more at home in your body and at ease & resilient in your life, i’d be happy to offer you a free Discovery Session to explore my coaching program.
p.s. do you have friends who would like to feel more mindful? i’d love it if you would share this post with them on Facebook!