Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
March 2009 - Volume 09, No. 3
Coin Toss Divination
I’m talking here about making decisions. Something we do every day - and most of the time it’s not a problem. But I’m interested in when it is a problem, when we apparently need (outside) help.
One peculiarity about being human is that we tend to think in polarities - as far as I can tell, we’re the only species who thinks this way, in a sense, perhaps the only species who “thinks” at all. Others seem to have a way of knowing that is independent of the ‘this or that,’ ‘yes or no’ struggles we undergo. The Old Testament story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden reflects this particularity - they somehow “chose” (or whatever ‘temptation’ means here) to eat of the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil.” Mythically, the world is forever afterward divided for us.
Many years ago I was given a useful model for decision making - involving three distinct steps: The first is “research” - which can take awhile (minutes or hours, possibly months or years). Here one studies the alternatives, asks for advice, mulls it over, weighs the evidence, etc. It’s very useful to keep this separate from the second step - actually making the decision. When the time is right (or necessity dictates) then one actually decides. And it’s usually a polarity decision - shall I or shall I not do X? - shall I do this or that? The third step is to never second-guess the decision made in step two. Consider this the next time you read a restaurant menu.
Here I want to speak about the second step - actually making the decision. And especially about the times when we “just don’t know” what to decide.
I believe it’s our human nature to get mired (i.e. stuck) in the polarities of life - we easily get confused or lost. There are so many influences that work to divide our thinking world into ‘right’ and ‘wrong - but in truth, most of our daily life resides within the grey areas of life. It’s harder to just ‘know’ what is ‘right’ to do. “Just decide! D**m it, I haven’t got all day!”
Here’s where I’ll make use of the proverbial coin toss.
When it’s simply an arbitrary decision - when the value of the choice really doesn’t much matter (like carrots or green beans) - I’ll simply take a coin, state specifically (silently or out loud) which face of the coin means which answer. Then toss it. I’ll flip it up with my right hand, catch it with my left, then immediately flop it onto the back of my right hand - and uncover the results.
However, many years ago, I began to notice something quite peculiar. I’d notice that at the very moment of the toss results, I’d get a feeling about whether the coin’s decision was what I really wanted or knew somehow was the right answer. At that moment, the real answer could more easily emerge from the ooze of my polarity induced indecision. It’s as if what I really knew all along finally slipped through, “under the radar” of my habitual “right and wrong” decision struggle.
More recently, I’ve made an ‘improvement’ on this technique, which is especially useful when I’m doing this by myself. I’ll make the coin itself imaginary - which in essence makes the process even more amenable to the processes of my unconscious (and often wiser) ‘mind’. And it’s true for me - I ‘toss’ the coin with my right hand, ‘catch’ it with my left, then ‘flop’ it onto the back of my right hand, and take a look. At that moment, I easily see the results - results of which my conscious mind has had no awareness until that moment. And then, extending the process beyond just an arbitrary decision, I check my feelings about that result - which reveals the real decision to me.
There are times when I’ll do this for another person in the throes of a decision struggle. I’ll flip my imaginary coin, read the result, then offer him or her that decision. And, true to form, at that moment they will know what is the really right decision for them.
I can only conjecture what actual forces are involved here - which is why I just call it “divination” - one of the ancient spiritual arts of determining the unknown (or the future). It means knowing beyond our knowing - which for me is that ‘under the radar’ quality of this process. It frees us from the thinking-too-much that bogs us down and especially frustrates those others who want us to be decisive.
I’ve learned this from paying attention - and commend it to you for the same purpose.