The Paradox of Counter-intuition

Over the last week I have been in Colorado and I have a nasty habit of always looking at the mountains. You see, I live in Orlando…the land of Mickey, not mountains. And I can’t keep my eyes off them. We flew into Colorado Springs and I could see the Garden of the Gods in the distance. It reminded me of several days when I explored them violently, and from every angle, morning and night.


Photography, back in the film age, was much more experimental and risky. I loved taking slide film and processing it as print film…a process called cross-processing. Certain films were better at exploiting the variance that processing it the opposite way it should have been. I don’t remember the film I used but it blew out the blues and oranges so beautifully, and added an attractive layer of film grain. I didn’t know how the images would turn out since I didn’t have the immediate replay of images I do now with digital cameras.

It was risky, and expensive, and not very normal. The guys at the film processing place would always say, “Here comes Mr. Cross Process,” because it seemed like I was the only one trying this counterintuitive approach to photography.

Counterintuitive photography yielded great results on this day in particular. Some days not so much. But sometimes, the counterintuitive proved to have the better result than the normal, regular, standard approach.

Above is an image of the Garden of the Gods with regular slide film. Attractive, nice colors, great detail out of the film. Below is a cross-processed image that exaggerates the color spectrum, increasing the blue of the sky, orange of the rocks and infusing purple into the shadows.


I find the definition of counter-intuition fascinating: contrary to common-sense expectation (but often nevertheless true). Common sense would say why ruin and waste a roll of film by doing something to it that it wasn’t meant to do. But, when you start becoming familiar with what turns out when you shoot images in expected ways, you start to see an increased frequency of delight in the counterintuitive process (i.e. more photos turn out as expected).

Changing gears: I love pondering a counterintuitive spiritual concept: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) Jesus spoke this and it always smacks me counterintuitively. Lose your life and you will find it? What on earth does that mean? That does not seem to make sense.

It is a paradoxical statement to say the least. There are many of these paradoxes to found in the teachings of Jesus, and they all seem counterintuitive. It doesn’t make sense to take these paradoxes seriously.

But let’s consider this one that I mention. When I think of “whoever wants to save their life” I think of controlling, protecting and preserving the things in life so that I won’t lose out on anything. I also think of Lennie Small in “Of Mice and Men” who so wants to hold, love and control soft, furry animals that he ends up strangling them. I notice when I try to control things they end up dying. 

Common sense says try to figure everything out, try to gain control over the situations, learn to manage all the aspects of life, then everything will be alright. But why does everything never seem to be alright?

So when I lose my life I will find it? Huh? Definitely contrary to common sense expectation! Perhaps in letting go of trying to control every aspect and managing every detail there could possibly be some other result. Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” If every time I work so hard to try have all my ducks in a row and it always results in all my plates falling to the floor, shouldn’t I consider trying a different approach? (Sorry for the mixed metaphor.)

Common sense says control everything, but this paradox says let go. So I have to reframe this in my mind to make sense of it. It’s not “losing” my life, it’s giving it back. It’s not controlling, it’s yielding authority. It’s not trying to find all the answers, but acknowledging I can’t figure it all out. All of that is counterintuitive and contrary to common sense expectation.

The beauty of this paradox comes into view when we do yield authority and let go of controlling. We give our life back in order to gain so much more. For me, it is giving my Father (God) the controls and letting him drive the ship. I have to recognize I don’t know all the details of my own ship and how to sail it properly. When I fail to recognize and grab at the controls, that’s when life hits the rocks and grounds to a halt. My Father knows the ships and the cartographic map. 

This paradox challenges me to get my eyes off of myself and look to the Captain.

I’m no captain of my own ship, I love the look of the open seas when my Father is the navigator. I’m no expert, but I have had seasons when I have taken this counterintuitive approach more to heart. When I do, I become familiar with what it looks like when I’m not trying to control everything. There is a freedom that I feel, there is a joy in not having it all figured out, there is a tangible sweetness to life that I can’t always explain. There is a rest and an assurance that all is well, even when there are storms. I don’t always find that assurance when I go with my own common sense, personal solutions. 

Like with cross-processed photography, I started to find an increased frequency of delight when I take this counterintuitive approach. Won’t you join me?

How about you?
In what ways do you find yourself repeating the same mistakes?
Have you ever considered the counterintuitive approach of letting go instead of trying to control everything in life?
What would it take for you to consider that there is a Captain who knows your ships better?

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