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The Richest Cream May Not Be On Top

    What comes off the top first is not always the richest cream.

    Back in the days before milk was homogenized, the cream use to rise to the top. Before we knew about the dangers of cholesterol this was regarded as the best part of the milk, and would often be carefully poured from the bottle into a container where it would be kept separate from the milk and used appreciatively. Now we know that, delicious as the cream is, it is not what we are looking for as far as nourishment is concerned.

    For some reason, I am reminded of this when I think about the art of getting to ideas. Regardless of whether one is trying to find out more about how someone else thinks and what their dreams are, digging deeper into one's own self- understanding, or seeking creative ideas for a project, it is not usually what comes "off the top of the head" that is the best, the most important, the most meaningful. In fact, what we think of first is often superficial and obvious, conveying little new information.

    Ask someone what they would do if they suddenly found themselves making a great deal more money, or winning the lottery, and they will usually start with a new car, perhaps a new house, perhaps a boat. This tells you very little about them. True, you can dig, as sales people are sometimes taught to do. You can jump in there, show that you are interested in the person's dreams, "What kind of a car? What color? Two-door or four-door" and so on to bring the image into more vivid detail.

    But if, instead, you can wait just a little bit longer, just bite your tongue and wait, then, THEN the deeper stuff starts coming out. A chance to live in a peaceful place far from the city, a way to lighten people's pain, time to write a book... these may be the deeper dreams that are a part of the individual's vision of life and that provide the more powerful drivers for change and progress. They really surface as the first answers to such questions.

    Again, if you, or you and someone else, are working on finding your motivations for something... an over-reaction, a fear, some response that does not seem particularly reasonable, what will come first is most probably NOT the real reason. First will come the rationalizations... "She offended me," "They're jealous and they'd like to get me fired," something that puts the responsibility outside of oneself. If you accept these explanations and start to respond to them, the self-searching process will end right there. If you can just wait, just keep the silence, while perhaps nodding encouragingly, the answers that come next will be deeper, more self-revealing, truer.

    Of course, if the self-searcher is yourself, then the listening is just as important. While we read and hear more about the importance of listening now than a few years ago, most of the emphasis is on listening to others. Learning to listen to oneself, to just be quiet and listen, is in fact one of the more important lessons of self-development. There is far more to you than what comes "off the top of your head."

    For partners, spouses, and parents, listening beyond the initial (and often trivial) responses to "How did your day go?" can bring families closer together and contribute to understanding that might never come if the first response is made to be the last. The need to respond quickly can be the death of real conversation.

    The skill of listening for what comes from the depths is also vital for the creative individual. Whether what bubbles up is in the form of images, ideas, words, actions, solutions, you can usually (though not always) be sure that the best will not be the first to present themselves. This is one reason why thousands of writers make a practice of writing their "morning pages." This is a technique used in The Artist's Way to prime the pump of thought, to get rid of the obvious stuff that sits at the top of our mental stack, and access what is deeper and less easily accessible.

    Whether accessing your own thoughts or those of others, just waiting in silence so as to get through the initial trivia is a powerful skill that can open up new dimensions of understanding, and lead to greater success in almost any field.

    (One exception to all of this may occur when looking for specific answers to something, perhaps intuitively. In such cases it often happens that the correct answer comes first, only to be superseded by our attempts at reasoning and rationalizing.)


    � 2005 by Diana Robinson, Ph.D.
    Choices Success Strategies Coaching
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