On the right kind of brooding ~ why we shouldn’t fear ruminating
A week or two back, I sneaked out late at night to put down food for the hedgehogs. On the other side of the pond to the patio, I was being watched by beady duck eyes and I saw that Mrs Duck was observing me. She’d spread her wings out, to shelter all her ducklings. Now they’d been getting bigger by the day and would no longer fit under her tummy so she was trying to keep the cold night from her precious little fluffies by using her wings as an umbrella. I apologised for disturbing her and went in, brooding on, well, brooding.
The first thing that came to mind was the poem Peace by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
We’re used to the word BROOD being used in a negative manner. It implies fretting, chewing over an issue, worrying. The first use of it for a process of incubating thoughts or feelings in the mind came probably in the late sixteenth century, but the word originates with the way hens and other birds care for their hatchlings.
Observing that mother duck made me think about how reluctant we can be to sit with our thoughts, to nurture and develop them. Many systems of therapy decry what is often referred to as fruitless ruminating, that process of endlessly turning over a troubling topic in the mind, returning time and again to try and tease out answers. The implication is that it’s pointless and we need to step away and stop hashing it over in a bid to find resolution. The term ruminating is used but in a negative manner. To me, to ruminate is to imitate the digestive processes of certain kinds of multi-stomached animals who extract every ounce of goodness and nutrition out of their fodder. It’s a long process, full of gurgling and chewing of the cud. From the outside, an animal (or a person) engaged in ruminating may seem inactive and even lazy. But work is being done at a deep level.
To sit with a problem, to incubate it (both in a bird-brooding way and perhaps also in the manner of the ancients who would sleep and dream at a temple to seek an answer to their question) is something we may have forgotten how to do, in our goal-orientated society that rushes at things. Much modern psychotherapy seems geared towards easing troubled people away from this process rather than enabling them with better tools and techniques. Jung commented that often insoluble problems of the mind would stop being troublesome as the person reached greater maturity of psyche; the problem did not go away but its importance faded as the person continued to do their soul work (“I had always worked with the temperamental conviction that at bottom there were no insoluble problems, and experience justified me in so far as I have seen patients simply outgrow a problem that has destroyed others. This ‘outgrowing’ as I formerly called it proved on further investigation to be a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the patient’s horizon, and through this broadening of his outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency”- Commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower). He also wrote, “When we must deal with problems, we instinctively refuse to try the way that leads through darkness and obscurity. We wish to hear only unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about when we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness.” (MMSS p97) He also said, “”Go to bed. Think on your problems. See what you dream. Perhaps the 2,000,000 year old man will speak. Only in a cul-de-sac do you hear his voice.” (JS p359)
To really brood on what troubles you is to explore those dark places and find light and treasure and bring it back with you. The process of seeking often brings quite different results to those you thought you were looking for, which may also explain Jung’s observation that an insoluble problem was at times outgrown and ceased itself to have the same importance. I’m in a proper cul-de-sac, unable to move in any direction at present. Perhaps I must just wait and brood and see what emerges from the darkness beneath my wings.