Synchronicity: The THC Book Club

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Book Club selection this time around – David Brooks’, “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.” 
Yeah, I like it a lot. 
But writing about what I’m reading? Not so much. No, not so much. It’s a tad overwhelming, that’s what it is. It’s a whole lot of factual information coming from the worlds of neuro-science, anthropology, sociology, psychology and a whole bunch of other ‘ologies,’ and there are times when it feels like I’m trying to drink from a fire hose. So, I missed last week’s go-round. And I almost missed this week’s, too. It’s called procrastination and it’s my middle name. So far, there hasn’t been a study to explain why some of us do this so very well, but there really should be. Sometimes it feels like a real, textbook disease!
So to make up for this lapse in my notoriously short-circuiting attention span, I am going to attempt the impossible tonight: I’m going to write about SIX chapters instead of the usual weekly three. How’s that for crazy??
Using his central characters Harold and Erica to help illustrate the information he has gathered, Brooks looks at the following topics over the course of these 100 pages: Intelligence (which includes other factors besides IQ), Choice Architecture (basically, a chapter on marketing psychology), Freedom & Commitment (a brief glimpse into how we grow our most intimate relationships), Limerance (where the kind of happiness that results from ‘falling in love’ leads to a repeating rhythm of ‘difficulty to harmony’ rather than any kind of a ‘golden mean’), The Grand Narrative (how the basic human tendency toward overconfidence can lead to the spectacular failure of a system or a business), and Métis (a French word meaning a ‘mental map,’ which allows a person to ‘know,’ both rationally and intuitively, how to proceed in any given situation.)

As I read through these chapters, I found myself becoming increasingly excited to discover that so much of what Brooks’ research has led him to conclude is in remarkable synch with a whole lot of other reading I’ve been doing in the last few years. Specifically, I am finding a lot of synchronicity with the work I am doing both to learn about and to practice the discipline and art of Spiritual Direction. So much of what I’ve learned – and am also beginning to experience  – of spirituality in the 2nd half of life is centered around the interaction between our conscious and unconscious selves. Growing deeper spiritually necessarily involves letting go of a lot of ideas and behaviors learned in the first half of life. Richard Rohr, Gerald May, Margaret Guenther, Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, my own spiritual director and his teaching team at the Charismatic School for Spiritual Direction where I am enrolled – all of them talk, write and teach about the search for wholeness, the integration of the self, the fine-tuning of our spiritual eyes and ears to catch glimpses of the work that is going on underneath the surface.

And woven all the way through these chapters – peaking with the last one – I found many of the same ideas. The terminology used is much more academic (Level 1 and Level 2 thinking, British vs. French Enlightenment, Epistemological Modesty), but the resonance is there. These two quotes could have come directly from some of my other reading, without missing a beat:

“Our hypothesis leads us to the radical suggestion that the critical difference between the thinking of humans and of lower animals lies not in the existence of consciousness but in the capacity for complex processes outside of it.”

“Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. Epistemological modesty is the knowledge of how little we know and can know. Epistemological modesty is an attitude toward life…built on the awareness that we don’t know ourselves. Most of what we think and believe is unavailable to conscious review. We are our own deepest mystery…And yet this humble attitude doesn’t necessarily produce passivity. Epistemological modesty is a disposition for action. The people with this disposition believe that wisdom begins with an awareness of our own ignorance…that there is no one method of solving problems…most of what [we] know accumulates through a long and arduous process of wandering…the wanderer endures uncertainty…possessing what John Keats called negative capability, the ability to be in ‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'”  quotes taken from pages 245-248

Learning to balance these different kinds of knowing – the knowing that comes from fine-tuning our conscious mind’s ability to use logic and rationality AND the knowing that lies submerged at the level of the unconscious, things we don’t even know that we know – this is where I believe the work of the Holy Spirit is most powerfully revealed. And this is what each of these chapters, in its own unique way, underscores by means of research data engagingly presented. 
Please understand that this is most definitely NOT a book about human spirituality. Brooks is writing for the popular, mainstream culture; he is not writing about the work of the Holy Spirit. But what I see as I read is heavily influenced by what I am learning elsewhere, by what I have experienced through my own integrative process. (Which is, by the way, far from complete.) As a person who has wandered many years now, who has learned to be more and more at peace with the many uncertainties of this life and to relish a good mystery on occasion, I found these chapters affirming, encouraging and captivating. I don’t know where he’s going with these characters of his (they seem to have gotten shoved to the background behind all the data in these pages), but I am looking forward to seeing how it all ends up, that’s for sure. And for me, that is a sure sign of a ‘good read.’
Please hop on over to The High Calling and check out our leader, Laura Boggess’s take on the book thus far. 
The High Calling is one of the finest websites out there for thinking Christians. Check out their other resources while you’re over there.

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  1. Diana, you do an amazing job pulling this together! Isn’t this exciting? The connection between the conscious and unconscious? When I read your word here, I realize…this is much of why Centering Prayer is so effective. I would love to talk to you some time about you experience with the Charismatic School for Spiritual Direction. Sounds fascinating. And now, guess what? Your just in time for three more chapters 🙂

  2. I would have said I was “a thinking Christian”, but I’m going to have to re-read your post before I can comment intelligently on it! There’s a lot to take in!

    One thing that jumped out at me, just as a word, not anything to do with what you’re saying, was Métis, because here it refers to one of the aboriginal people of Canada… i.e., First Nations, Inuit and Métis. It is indeed a French word, but variations appear in several other languages, all of which are ultimately derived from Latin mixtus, meaning “mixed”, in our case a mix of racial backgrounds. I’ve never heard it described as a “mental map”. Interesting.

    I’ll be back when I have time to re-read and digest your post. That sounds like quite the book!