The Owl's Wisdom
The Barred Owl spread its wings, lifting up from the ground to my left and landing on a tree branch directly in front of me. It rotated its head away, and then all the way back towards me, as though letting me know how important it is to include this wide perspective if we are to be wise in the world. The owl is often considered an ominous totem, but I have come to see it more as a kind warning to pay attention, especially to our shadow.
The Owl kept its steady gaze upon me, inviting me to remember what I had been thinking about before it startled me. I was considering an article I read called “Healing Thinking”, written by Rolf Sattler, in which he condenses the work of other philosophers before him into four levels of logic. It turns out, our most recent Yoga Community discussions generated a similar thought process for managing our current environment of division and strained relationships as a result of COVID and the election year. Our shared wisdom included taking a pause, asking questions to clarify our understanding, and being non-attached to the outcome of our conversations and actions in the world.
I will paraphrase my understanding of Sattler’s four levels of logic, which begin with the dualistic or “black and white” thinking (i.e. fear and control) so prevalent in our world right now. The second level of logic occurs when we are able to consider another person’s perspective, or “be in someone else’s shoes”. I am eternally grateful to my Mother for her consistent efforts to deeply explore how someone else must have been feeling, or what might have motivated an otherwise incomprehensible act. She truly taught me how to “pause, and keep an opening for more truth to come in”.
With this second level of “both/and” logic, we are able to see how anything “bad” also has some good, and how anything “good” also has some bad. My favorite example is how we all have a unique skill or attribute that makes us exceptional, and that same trait has a dark side, and vice versa. My daughter is not able to easily make sense out of letters and numbers, which has caused her abilities to become more highly developed in relational awareness, emotional intelligence, intuition, and singing.
The third type of logic, found in Yoga and Buddhism, is called “neither/nor” thinking. In the Yoga Sutras it is referred to as “neti-neti” or “neither this nor that”. Yoga also calls this “neutral thinking”. For example, rather than thinking the rain is bad (negative thinking) or good (positive thinking) we simply think, “It is raining”. This step can be quite difficult, and also very liberating with practice. Like the Zen meditation practice of contemplating a koan such as “one hand clapping” the effect is to stump the mind, thereby opening us to that which is beyond the mind.
The fourth level of logic is traced back to Jainism in ancient India, and invites us to add to any of the first three levels of logic the phrase, “In some ways” or “from this perspective”. This truly makes me laugh, as it reminds me of a quality I’ve noticed in the Yoga Scriptures, such as the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads. The Sage in the story offers wisdom to the student, who struggles to understand. The Sage tries another approach, and another, and another, until the student understands. It is fundamentally forgiving and compassionate, recognizing not only the complexity of reality, but the difficulty in being human.
This is essentially what the Owl was saying. "Life is complicated. Turn your head this way and that to open to a fuller perspective. Steady your gaze upon your Wise Heart. Be quiet. Be patient. Be gentle."
With great Love,
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How to be discerning with our mental energy - Video track - 1:36 minutes (click on the photo)