Defocalization and Illumination

Have you ever been absolutely stuck on a problem, then recognize the solution as soon as you step into the shower or slip out from under the barbell? If so, you have experienced defocalization.

Scientific discovery and innovative ideas often originate from a combination of focalized and defocalized consciousness. You zoom in on your project, and then zoom out. A researcher typically spends months working on a problem in the lab, thoroughly considering all data, but then attains illumination while bathing, jogging, or daydreaming—while thinking about something else.

When we look at the objective data, we see the same things that everyone else viewing the data see. However, when we go for a walk, prepare a meal, or read a book we invite in a new perspective.

“The most characteristic circumstances of an intuition are a period of intense work on the problem accompanied by a desire for its solution, abandonment of the work perhaps with attention to something else, then the appearance of the idea with dramatic suddenness and often a sense of certainty. Often there is a feeling of exhilaration and perhaps surprise that the idea had not been thought of previously.”

–W.I.B., The Art of Scientific Investigation

The solution to many of life’s problems—and especially those that cannot be easily solved—does not necessary fall under control of the prefrontal cortex. Instead it seems to emerge from a more unconscious dimension, one that joins us to a larger field of awareness, in which actions unfold originally in response to the true nature of a situation.

We must recognize and remain cognizant that struggle is not the same as effort.

Have you ever been stuck on a problem, grappling for hours at the same question? Have you ever forbidden yourself from walking away from the problem, only to eventually give up? That stubborn persistence is a form of struggle, a resistant energy field that prevents both giving up on the problem and giving into the true solution.

I personally believe that we have access to the answers to every question we could ever ask. The catch, however, is that we must learn how to access that infinite wisdom. Does it require thousands of hours of meditation, a particularly profound loss, or the practice of authenticity; do you need to practice kindness, learn to ask for help, or finally leave that toxic situation? The truth is hidden in plain view, waiting to expose itself the moment we are deemed ready—the moment we take right action to prove readiness.

Oftentimes, by panning out and away from an issue we can let go of the details that may seem so significant. By releasing grip on the subtleties of the problem, we can view it on a broader scope, directing mental energy to peripheral tangents. Standing on the edge of the problem often releases any tension and anxiety surrounding the problem, allowing for a clearer perspective. And this clarity thereby leads to clarity of perception, reason, and knowledge.

When facing a challenging problem, defocalization is often the key which unlocks the door to illumination.

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