Today’s Daily Prompt invites me to “Tell us about a time you’d been trying to solve a knotty problem — maybe it was an interpersonal problem, a life problem, a big ol’ problem — and you had a moment of clarity when the solution appeared to you, as though you were struck by lightening.” Once in a while a Daily Prompt comes along that irks me so much that I have to deconstruct it. Let’s start with spelling. I don’t think the phrase “struck by lightening” was meant to evoke mental images of armies of rogue hairstylists attacking their unsuspecting victims with forced highlights and bleach jobs, but seriously WordPress, the word is lightning. Without the e. Now that I have that rant off my chest…
I suppose a blog with the tag line “Seeking clarity in the meandering muck” ought to have something to say on the topic of clarity. Certainly there have been times when I have had that “aha moment” where suddenly the solution to a thorny problem seems to present itself to me intact–like Athena springing fully formed from the head of Zeus. Athena is, among other things, the Greek goddess of wisdom, inspiration, strategy and skill. So she is a fitting symbol for solving problems, isn’t she?
Except that that’s not how I generally solve problems. There’s a lot more “meandering” and “muck” in my problem solving process than there are armed warrior princesses springing into instantaneous action.
Ideas don’t pop up out of nowhere. They germinate down in the river-muck of our minds and we meander along, day after day, not knowing how we are ever going to tackle that problem, until one morning the barest slip of a green sprout breaks through. It may seem as though the answer has come from nowhere, but in reality you have been growing that answer in the fertile soil of your subconscious for some time before it makes its appearance. Sometimes I think what we take for a “new” idea is just a sudden willingness to see for what it is a truth that we have been staring at for ages. Often when I have come up with a solution to a particularly tenacious problem, I have realized that the solution has been there all along. The “aha” part was simply my recognition that no one but me was actually going to put that solution into action.
Saying that a solution comes to you “as if you were struck by lightning” is actually more meaningful if you know something about lightning. When lightning strikes something on the ground, the flash that we see is actually travelling upwards. In other words, if you happen to be the unfortunate object of a real lightning strike, the electrical flash we see is lightning is jumping from you into the clouds. If you don’t believe me, read this.
In other words, you are the origin of the lightning strike. Even the solution that seems to have come from out of the blue, has actually come from you. It just looks like it came from somewhere else and hit you.
I find this infinitely comforting. I would much rather believe that the solution to my problems lies within me, than to wait passively for some sort of divine but fickle inspiration.
Maybe the Daily Prompt’s spelling mistake was a fortunate accident. Maybe we are really talking about lightening after all– in the sense of “bringing light to” a situation. The lightning strike isn’t the source of the clarity after all. It just illuminates the problem long enough for us to see that we have it in our power to be the author of our own solutions.