As a qualifier, this is not so much a critique on de Becker or his book per se, but rather an expounding on a topic akin to a variation on a theme.
There are a couple of lines in a chapter of Gavin de Becker’s famous New York Times bestseller The Gift of Fear that really struck me as quite “spiritual” (in the esoteric way) that I wouldn’t have suspected in such a pragmatic “how-to” manual. Though that is not to say things of a spiritual nature are completely lofty.
After spending a few pages outlining the many “warning signs” of our intuition that we fail to recognize as humans, privileging logic over emotion, Gavin writes this:
“The truth is that every thought is preceded by a perception, every impulse is preceded by a thought, [and] every action is preceded by an impulse....”
I would find this statement particularly lucid even in the holiest of spiritual texts.
For one, it is very much a practical listing of the sequencing of our actions from the idea to the outcome.
At first, he states the “truth”, a well-reasoned deduction of what is versus mere speculation. Mere speculation of course is complete wishy-washy, waffling statements that wind up getting people nowhere fast.
“Every thought is preceded by a perception…”
One can wonder whether this is a chicken or egg scenario of what occurs first, the thought or the perception that comes before a thought. However much I like this statement, I am inclined to think that thoughts generally arrive in normal day-to-day life without much understanding of where they come from; quite literally out of nowhere. Of course, if you are in the midst of a particular action your thoughts will generally derive from whatever you’re doing; this is essentially the idea of “focus”.
However as most of us know who meditate; especially in the midst of meditation, the sometimes very wild and bizarre thoughts that come into our mind that are completely random. They have very little attachment if at all to what is happening now.
It is similar with our dreams. The physical body itself is cannot perceive at all, even mimicking a death-like state, though our minds are certainly active thinking wild and strange things.
“...every impulse is preceded by thought…”
Now here is the real meat and potatoes. This is what all the thought-manifesters talk about. All of our actions originate as a thought in the mind. Of course on the surface, and in a very general and elementary way looking at it, is correct. The lightbulbs that we freely screw into sockets was once an idea in Edison’s mind. The automobiles that fly off the assembly line are quite literally due to Ford’s forward thinking.
We must not however confuse directed drive with impulse. A true impulse is very much a move towards something with no conscious thought process to do it. If you lay your bare hand on a hot stove, the body has evolved such a subtle precision to bypass the brain altogether and quite literally jerk your hand away; all unbeknownst to the thought centers of the mind. The body itself knows that the “brain” can’t be trusted to act in all cases when it is necessary to do so.
Which brings us to the end of his statement,
“...every action is preceded by an impulse….”
Well certainly not “directed drive”. The great originators and innovators; the brilliant engineering and technical minds both in the realm of mechanics and in the realm of thought had a special quality that sets them apart from the huddled masses.
The painful self-flagellation of difficulty, mistake, failure, and beration is the fertile soil from which the world’s horn of plenty is filled overflowing the brim. Achievement is not for the faint of heart; blood, sweat, and tears have made the technology and the systems we use and live under day in and day out. There is no room for “impulsion”. Impulsion takes you away from the task at hand; the task of which the end in sight might be unseen, but nevertheless still feel driven to work. Impulsion is for the children that flit from one thing to the other in their innocent curiosity.
There is no time to be skipping through things aimlessly when you put away childish things and strive for goals, hold values dear, and create yourself into a being of integrity.