Confusion is so often thought to be a negative feeling, one that is hard to tolerate. In our culture, it’s a feeling we are most frequently averse towards. Today, let’s take a look at confusion as a feeling and how we can support ourselves in changing our attitude, response, and understanding of it. We can also learn how to make it an ally in our life, rather than simply viewing it as a disturbance.
This counter-instinctual response is one that can be learned through life experience by seeing that it hurts us to avoid what we’re confused about. When we look closely, we will recognize that if we’re confused about something, it’s because it matters. We aren’t confused about things that we think are irrelevant. Often our confusion is around the most vital areas of our life, so the stakes are high. Once you try looking at the feeling closely, you might be guided to see confusion as a vital necessity to wake yourself up. The goal is to reduce how much we resist it (compared to the past) and, hopefully, stop resisting it in time.
It is very helpful to see innocence in confusion — we aren’t being confused on purpose. Instead, it’s a sign of wanting to be able to go deeper into what’s important and relevant to our lives. But confusion indicates that we haven’t found a way to do that yet. Holding our confusion with increasing reverence can lead to a natural curiosity that can guide us to an ongoing series of sincere questions that guides us on how to take care of ourselves.
We can come to realize that confusion is a sign of depth and that the easiest way not to be confused is to stay on a more superficial level. When we see this clearly, we’d instead allow ourselves to be at our depth — no matter the price. This is because it involves increasing the chances of discovering how to take care of what is important to us.
In nearly fifty years of my counseling practice, I’ve virtually never had a session with clients whose confusion wasn’t an element of going deeper. So I congratulate my clients for facing and honoring the confusion, which at first seems like it is undesirable and later seems perfectly natural and even wise.
We then need to sincerely persevere with a caring interest in discovering, experimenting, and seeking help from others as required. We also need to try to use practices that support us like inquiry, prayer, therapy, and teachings, to name a few. Communicating with others, and seeking out and investigating ways to discover new ways of learning and support are all part of caring for ourselves.
Let me illustrate how confusion can be a sign of depth and potential for fulfillment in a few scenarios. These are situations from my own life and the lives of my clients, friends, and other loved ones. It might show you how confusion can be transformed into supporting well-being.
Balancing needs — yours and someone else’s
You are confused about how much time you want to spend with a friend who is hurt. Why? It’s because you haven’t wanted to spend the same amount of time with them that they want to spend with you. You can ask yourself, “How much time do I genuinely want to spend with this person? What amount of time do I think will give us the best chance of staying on a positive track with each other?” This may take a substantial amount of repetition and contemplation as well as being on the lookout for helplessness or impatience that may lead you to give up at the early signs of not-knowing. The key is to persevere and again recognize this depth of ongoing inquiry as a sign of developing a greater capacity for wisdom and simple beneficial guiding directions.
As you can see — and I can’t emphasize it enough — you are just looking for the optimal fulfillment and closeness in your friendship that works for both of you. As you try to sort this and find the right balance, you ask yourself whether you are the type of person who gives yourself away too freely or if you tend to be too restrictive. As this question brings clarity, you look more carefully at the way and amount of time — no matter how little or plentiful it is — that you want to spend respectfully and caringly with your friend.
A free day ahead — what should you do?
You are confused about how to support yourself so that you can make the most out of an unusual free day where you have no demands. For example, you may ask, “What is the number one thing I’d like to do tomorrow? How could I feel some new possible enjoyment, inspiration, creativity, peace, or intimacy [or whatever specific quality/feeling you’re drawn toward]?”
Or you may ask, “If I can’t figure out what to do with parts of my day, what attitude, specifically will be most supportive while I’m in this confusion?”
It might also be helpful to remind yourself that this contemplative part of the day, the part where you ask how to support yourself, will be beneficial in the long run. Once you get the hang of it, inquiring to support yourself is also an expansive way of spending time taking care of yourself. Learning this new skill is the key to guiding your life, and there are no easy shortcuts.
How to use confusion to find out what you need
Sometimes, when we’re confused about what we feel and dig deeper, we will realize that we’re also confused about what we need. This often happens for the people that have awareness as a critical part of their lives — it’s a near-daily occurrence. Tolerance for the confusion about what you feel and need is the key to gaining awareness of how to guide yourself in life.
Let yourself sense times in the recent past you haven’t been able to identify confusion clearly. Or perhaps, you may not have been able to identify it at all. Whether it came through in repeated feelings and emotions or feeling like you didn’t understand how to support yourself — you just didn’t feel good and left it at that. When you develop a receptivity for this kind of confusion, it can be a turning point for an hour, a day, or even a lifetime.
Start by letting yourself know: I clearly have an interest in knowing what I feel and need and am willing to go through the required respect for confusion. At the same time, it is the inspiration for living and creating a life of inquiry — learning how to ask questions when something feels important but just isn’t clear.
It is one of the keys to being a good communicator. It also indicates being capable of another level of intimacy beyond what is thought of as ‘normal.’ For those who have difficulties identifying feelings and needs (which is most of us), I highly encourage you to check our free Introspective Guides. They have 75 of the most challenging feelings and emotions and 75 of the most universally essential needs. It will help you gain a clearer understanding of the specific emotions and feelings that you’re experiencing and the needs will most likely to take care of you.
To make confusion your ally, literacy of your feelings and emotions is essential. It will come in handy when you need to ask questions to discover what you feel and need and how you can give yourself the best chance of taking care of your needs.
This could result in asking something like, “Given that I feel ___ and can see that I need ____, what thoughts, actions, and attitudes would be most helpful to support my need?” This can be an ongoing part of every day and, in my experience, is a key part of living a fulfilling life. Ask yourself if you are receptive yet to value this confusion and the sincere seeking of how to be clearer inside yourself. If we can change our negative attitude and bring reverence for confusion, it can become one of the great practices in life.
Take some time to look directly at yourself to see how much there is a ‘yes.’ How gravitated are you toward wanting to play life safer and live more superficially by staying only where you are clear? Remember again and again that depth brings confusion, and accepting and exploring that depth dignifies life and is a sign of a mature soul. Instinctively it’s natural to feel uncomfortable, and it is an art and maturity that supports us to move into it instead of away from it.
You are confused about why you have a habit of procrastinating about important things you know are good for you and will create relief or peace. So you ask yourself, “ What is stopping me from taking the action I need?”
When you don’t receive a response that leads to an insight, you might say, “Even though I can’t see what’s needed yet, I can hear the wiser side of me reminding me that this is difficult to see: It’s encouraging perseverance.”
As you read this article, take a moment to apply what you’re learning to your personal emotions, feelings, and situations. Here are some common areas of confusion for you to consider what you identify with: financial issues, relationships, family impasses or conflicts, health issues or concerns, issues to do with the country and the world, politics, and any difficult emotions.
See if you can remember when one or more of these areas left you befuddled? Or are you presently dealing with one of these areas that you might be confused about? Then, see what question(s) you might ask to give yourself the best chance for support, greater peace, and clarity. In these times of great conflict in our country and world, it is of great importance that we revere our confusion to learn how we can support our lives and those around us.
What can we do that will let us be at greater peace? How can we make even the smallest contribution to issues that seem unsolvable on a grander scale? What are you most confused about that affects just you?
These questions are pregnant with the potential to live a more meaningful, fulfilling, and inspiring life outside the box of what our culture has prepared us for. There is great dignity and wisdom in valuing our confusion, and it requires reminding ourselves regularly to stay open at these times. It might take time, but it’s helpful to learn how to look more deeply into the most important questions that affect us personally.
I hope you’ll be interested enough to read some of the articles on inquiry from the heart and listen to some of the free guided meditations that will help you become aware of your confusion, depth, and potential. Whether you choose to use these resources or develop in any other kind of way, the most important stepping stone is to regard confusion as a doorway to a deeper, more informed life with benefits not only to yourself but very likely to the greater world around you. The more depth we can create at this very vulnerable time in our world the more likely it is to benefit you and those around you.