Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Labyrinthine thinking

The labyrinth is a potent little piece of metaphor. 

I first came across it in childhood, reading stories of Greek myth, playing computer games, taking some strange comfort in the clean encircling lines of spirals. Later, as an adult attending Unitarian services, I heard interfaith minister Danielle Wilson discuss labyrinths as a meditative technique and spiritual practice, and my interest in the topic renewed.

For me, the labyrinth is how you take the measure of an idea, whether in your head or on the page. You trace its pathways, explore it from all sides and angles, find data, take new turnings, adopt new perspectives, always in the illusory hope that you'll reach the centre of the maze, understand the idea in its totality.

Of course, you can't reach the centre. You can't have a perfect understanding of any idea, and you certainly can't make it a prerequisite of action. As a recovering policy analyst and risk fiend, who still shows occasional 'mad planner' tendencies, I know the dangers of going too far down the rabbit hole.

Enjoyable as it can be, the secret to labyrinthine thinking is knowing how far to take it, and to accept it's OK to not have all the answers. To not reach the heart of things, but to know that where you have got to suffices.

And then when to abandon it and strike out with your imperfect knowledge in an imperfect world. 

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