There are certain subjects that keep bubbling up in our thoughts—when we’re taking a walk, cooking dinner, taking a shower, riding the subway to work. Our figurative language for these subjects is well-developed: Certain stones we keep turning over, pebbles we rub smooth in our hands. Questions that eat at us: whether we made the right purchase, whether we’ll get an offer from the company, whether our comment at dinner last night was out of line.
I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.
The therapeutic stance on these subjects is that they need—that they are actively demanding—processing. There is an authority and wisdom in this perpetual surfacing up of the problem: the subject ought to be thought through and dealt with. Not abandoning the line of thought, but following it to its ends.
To the more skeptical, this surfacing is a nervous stimulus, a lack of comfort with the unknowable-ambiguous, an unproductive desire to resolve every indeterminacy. A waste of bandwidth on irresolvable questions, an impatience. If the obsessive pebble-rubber wishes to make progress on a problem, settle the ambivalence one way or the other, they ought wait for (or actively seek out) new information, because right now, there’s not enough to know.
I think there’s a reconciliation of these views that says: At the object-level, you are probably caught in quicksand, and struggling only pulls you further down. Even if you resolved the indeterminacy, it’s often unclear what productively can be pulled from a question like “Did I annoy Marsha last night over lambchop?” BUT, real value can, nonetheless be found in such problems—either by going up a level, by asking Why does this particular ambiguity bother me so bad?, or by generally re-focusing the inquiry along defendably productive avenues.