counselling, psychotherapy, life coaching, supervision

On not knowing what to do

Buridan’s Ass and Wilbur

In one of his numerous books, Irving Yalom tells the old tale of ‘Buridan’s Ass’. This poor undecided creature starved to death when it found itself equidistant between two equally tempting and delicious bales of hay. It could choose which to taste first and that freedom was it’s problem, since there was no compelling reason to pick one bale over the other. It was stuck, a martyr to its own free choice.

Wilbur could have helped Buridan’ poor ass. Wilbur was a high-ranking member of my father’s medical corps team during the second world war. For a while they were stationed in Paris -an unbelievable place to find yourself if you had grown up in a small rural Indiana town as he had. But no one on this team knew very much about Paris, so when they had some time on their hands, no one had much of an idea where to go. When this situation arose, Wilbur took over the command: One of the team was blindfolded and given the task of throwing Wilbur at the map of Paris on their wall. Wilbur, being a dart (with a face), would stick somewhere on the map. Where he stuck, the team would obediently go  … so they explored Paris instead of instead of staying stuck to their quarters.

Isn’t a principle illustrated here? : Sometimes it’s better to move than to stay frozen to the spot wondering what to do…

..and a sub-principle: Motionless, we’re restricted by the information and experience we already have; in movement, who’s to say what new experience might come our way?

…and a sub-sub principle: Feeling ‘stuck’ -that we or our life is ‘not moving’- is a wake-up call, a call to action. It is very likely that something needs doing or changing. We need to come into motion, one way or another, and physical movement can provoke some welcome inner change.