Clarity & Other Inconvenient Truths

"The truth is we do know, and we know that we know." Julia Cameron

I dare you to start a money jar in which you place a coin or a note every time you say one of the following: "Maybe, I'm not sure, I don't know, possibly, not right now," or any other favourite fence-sitting vocabulary you might have. I'm not talking here about eliminating the genuine humility of not knowing the answer to a question, or the need for a pause or a time-out to seek out an answer. I'm talking about non-committal responses of confusion to need to know questions without the genuine follow up of some sort of clarity seeking behaviour. So for example, ask me how plastic is made and I'll honestly tell you 'I don't know' and will most likely not Google it. Ask me what my creative aspirations are or how I'm feeling right now and an 'I'm not sure' response will earn me a contribution to the jar. Capiche?

So what's this all about? Well, I was recently introduced to the concept of compulsive vagueness and let me tell you, everything just got a whole lot of uncomfortable. Different from denial, a necessary aspect of our psyches that allows us to awaken piece meal without being taken out by a tsunami of truth, compulsive vagueness is the routine rejection of clarity and specificity as a way to protect ourselves from uncomfortable feelings of fear, scarcity, low self worth, shame, self doubt and lack of faith among other things.

Often we dress it up as not being a perfectionist, living in the day, being open, being flexible, being laid back, being low maintenance, being a free thinker, trusting the universe, being realistic, accepting what is, living a life free of expectations, all wonderful things unless they aren't true. If beneath all of those wonderful attributes you are secretly jealous, or fantasising about your current circumstances magically transforming, about your ship coming in one day in the shape of a financial or human holy grail, or any other kind of unidentified but miraculous future occurrence, then you could be living in a non-committal state of vagueness.

And it can take many forms. A perpetual state of uncertainty, self-depriving compromise or settling, fence-sitting, confusion, or just a general state of not being quite sure about things. And to be fair, we don't know until we know. If we have been taught to reject our clarity in favour of being 'realistic' or 'open-minded' then we may have come to label it as being the enemy, until it starts to create a graveyard of missed opportunities, abandoned dreams, decades of lost time, not to mention the self-centred use of many 'almost but not quite' people, places and things. Those trapped in this state are doomed to never quite do or truly connect to anything in particular, resulting in perpetual restlessness and dissatisfaction. Hence the money jar. Because as benign as being vague sounds, it is in fact a thief of the only thing that ever makes us feel authentically good about anything or even really alive. The truth. And specifically, our truth.

What makes it compulsive, rather than a healthy state of evolutionary unfolding is that we have literally become addicted to being 'asleep at the wheel.' In a healthy state of denial we are not being routinely presented with the truth and rejecting it, we are, because we are not ready for it, without knowledge. In a state of compulsive vagueness, clarity and truth are routinely rejected as being false or wrong or unnecessary because of the feelings they invoke. So we teach ourselves to call it the voice of craziness or greed or fantasy among other things. Because maybe we were told that it was. Or maybe we taught ourselves that it was, because it's just easier not to know. And our fear doesn't want us to know and eventually, if it is sufficiently fed, it won't allow us to know.

For most of us, the question, "What do you want?" or "What do you need?" followed by "I'm not sure, or I don't know," is rarely if ever true. The true response would be "I have buried the truth of what I want and need beneath my beliefs of scarcity and fear of abandonment among other things, plus I don't think it's ok to want it and I've lost the capacity to trust myself so that even when I do allow myself to know the answer, I'm pretty sure I or it is wrong somehow. So I'll just return to confused, foggy, non-committal vagueness, and then substitute the true want or need for something that isn't it but doesn't involve me facing or feeling any of the aforementioned stuff." Also the latter response is a lot less pithy. I mean really, who wants to hear that?

Remember Grima aka Wormtongue in Lord of The Rings, King Rohan's chief advisor who whispered flattery and lies into his ear slowly poisoning him almost to death? Vagueness operates just like this slithering, poisonous tongue. It tells you that you don't know or you don't need to know when you absolutely do. It tells you that you know when really you don't. It tells you you don't really know what your true vocation is. And it tells you it's absolutely impossible to change your circumstances because there are no solutions. And yet, if you just allowed yourself to be quiet and still for long enough, your heart would tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And while it may be inconvenient or scary or require you to take only a single step in faith, you will have an answer, because you do know.

Vagueness either empties your head until you feel like you're in the clouds, barely a resident of your own body, or it fills you with inane chatter about nothing, endless amounts of circular, repetitive information that leads nowhere. Flattery, un-winnable arguments, panic, unanswerable questions, empty bottomless pit types of feedback and information until your mind is exhausted and doesn't even care anymore. This is why we resist stillness and quiet, because in that place we begin to hear, and the more regularly we get still and quiet, the more we hear. And then things get really uncomfortable, so we invent a new project or a trip to plan, we dive back into Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, somebody else's dilemmas, the news, any kind of wormhole we can find so that we can stop the clarity from surfacing, quiet the answers, and go back to 'I don't know.'

Vagueness can also be used as a hook. Compulsive procrastinators love nothing more than to pin their lives to those who are compulsively vague. What a wonderful way to become a victim of not facing your fears. Any type of committed relationship will do. A romantic partner or a boss or business partner. You ask them about a raise or a need of any sort and they respond with, 'maybe,' or 'at some point,' or 'possibly one day,' or 'we'll see,' music to a procrastinator's ears. Because now you can go about your business, telling yourself you're trying to move forward, and at some point you will get a clear yes or no so that you can take that action. You've put the responsibility for clarity into somebody else's hands who you know will never give it to you. And they won't. Because those who use vagueness as a hook will never give you a yes or no. Somebody in compulsive vagueness can't even give themselves a straight yes or no, so they will never be able to give one to you. And of course you're counting on it, because if they did, you'd have to get clear, make a choice and take that step forward, the very thing you're avoiding doing. I have a wonderful friend who likes to translate those responses for me when I slip back, as I routinely do, into the seductive sedative that is vagueness. She tells me, 'You just got your answer, and the answer is no.' And she's right. Because unless it's yes, or I'll let you know by this day and time what my final answer is, it's no. Otherwise it's that pretty field of poppies that Dorothy just couldn't help but lie down in.

That addictive poisonous tongue tells you to keep your options endlessly open and wait. That it is not your job or within your power to know the truth, to make a choice, to live with clear intention. It tells you that clarity will arrive one day on a cloud with a flashing light saying 'this is it!' attached to it. There will be no self enquiry, no leap of faith, no discomfort of any kind. Oh and by the way that cloud, it's coming, always just around the next bend, in the future, always always in the future. Just keep waiting. Wait all the way to your grave.

Clarity and true sight is a beautiful thing. It is liberating and generates a lifetime of fulfilment, and yet rarely is it convenient. But do we have a choice? Because while there are lions and tigers and bears, poppy fields and flying monkeys, we all long for one thing more than anything; home, whatever that looks like for you. And there's only one road that will ever lead us there; the true path, the yellow brick road, whatever you want to call it, we were all born with an inbuilt compass, and we need only ever listen for the coordinates. And the road isn't supposed to be convenient, or a no-brainer, so the co-ordinates won't always be either. But really, how truly satisfying is convenient anyway?

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