It isn’t uncommon that ideas come to me unexpectedly from out of the clear blue. Not unexpected in terms of being taken aback - as though some kind of new and wholly profound experience has fallen upon me, but rather in terms of the unpredictability of such epiphanies. Although I still can’t easily pull them out of nowhere, these inspired moments of enlightenment occur frequently, albeit irregularly. And there does not seem to be any set of common factors surrounding these special moments - they apparently appear at will and sometimes just as spontaneously disappear.
One such thought re-occurred to me while driving home from work today. Often these themes will expire when not acted upon and this particular one has done so more than once. In fact, that it has revisited me is the exception, not the rule. Indeed, the inspiration nearly slipped away again today - it took a great deal of effort to conjure it back up again as I did not take note when it originally hit me. Ironically, it has to do with the way thought is processed.
Until just a few months ago, I had the opportunity to receive some of the wisdom acquired by someone who had walked a path I would soon be traveling. He was something of a mentor… a guide to help navigate what would be a journey of the body, mind and spirit. When communicating in such abstract terms, often the means of communication is more critical than what is actually said. To help me to understand, my mentor explained to me how he assembled ideas in his head. He explained how he thought.
“When I think, I think in pictures,” he said. “It’s like a series of snapshots and sometimes moving pictures in my head.” He went on to explain how relaying what he was thinking in his head was an exercise in describing what he “saw.” It helped me to understand what he was trying to teach me; it helped that I knew how he thought. It helped even though I don’t think that way. And that might be why it helped, and I think he knew that.
I think in words and concepts. I think in English. I think in numbers. Even memories I have are primarily stored in words and recalled that way. The image attached to a thought or memory is usually only a secondary frame of reference; a “see also” addendum that would not necessarily be independently visualized, but rather a reference to a linguistic stimulus. I learn more and faster by reading, listening and writing than by seeing. And that is perhaps why knowing under what thought process my guide operated made it possible to understand better what he was trying to say.
By working back from what he said and knowing from where it came, I was able to assemble a working model of the concept he was relaying to me. Although I didn’t appreciate it at first, I was dealing with a profoundly wise man. He must have known how to get me on the same page; he couldn’t have been that lucky. He knew I would use the analytical thought process I was bound to and use it to complete the idea he was describing from his pictures. And it worked like a charm.
It occurred to me that this idea of thought processes is not a binary phenomenon. It isn’t either words or pictures. It is likely a combination - no one is exclusively one way or the other. Furthermore, like abstract dimensions beyond the three physical spatial dimensions (four if time is included), there are quite likely other mechanisms in which thoughts are assimilated and expressed that are not within my ability to understand - yet I accept that they exist. Furthermore, I believe it is within my power to not only understand others, but to be able to explain myself as well. Just like my mentor did for me.