Intuition v Preparation: Trusting the Elephant

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Intuition v Preparation: Trusting the Elephant

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Surreal grasshopper and elephant.

A while back I had a client whose case was fixed for a day of continued trial in the Syariah courts for a hadhanah (custody) application. We acted for the mother who was claiming custody of her children. The father opposed her claim and counterclaimed to remove her right of custody or for disruptive visitation rights.

The hadhanah application began a few years back. The continued trial was to address the father’s counterclaim. I was to begin cross-examining him, but the previous date was disrupted over the admissibility of fresh documents and videos the father tendered just before my cross.

I usually refresh myself on the cause papers the night before, letting my subconscious work on it while I sleep, which often gives me clarity the next day. I have this belief that my subconsciousness is like the elves and my consciousness the shoemaker in one of my favourite Brothers Grimm’s story The Elves and the Shoemaker (Tale 1).

My consciousness buys, cuts and then lays out the leather for my subconsciousness to arrange, stitch and fashion into beautiful leather shoes while I am sleeping, unconscious. I think that goes for my thought process too. Reading and comprehending is buying; discerning appreciation is cutting; sleeping lays out the materials for the subconscious to work its magic.

I had the weekend to revise the cause papers, notes, and materials. But I didn’t. Based on my previous prep, I was confident. But I lacked the sense of comfort and security I can procure only from going over the cause papers the night before. I assured myself I needed only a half-hour to prepare, which invited procrastination. Why attend to it now when I can leave it for Sunday night? Be the grasshopper! We don’t have winter in Malaysia.

Sunday evening came and went. Despite the stars shining encouragingly above, I could not rouse myself to look at the cause papers. An overwhelming inertia overruled my usual need to review them. The inertia seemed to whisper assuredly, Don’t waste your time. Your efforts will be in vain. Trust me. It’s family time. Carry on chillin’. Don’t worry about it. After wrestling with myself, inertia won out. In truth it wasn’t much of a fight. I called it a night with the defiant thought, I will wake up early tomorrow and review the cause papers. Definitely.

I woke up early the next day. I could sense inertia waiting for me in my study. I was surprised. It usually comes for me in the evening after the day is done, and weekends, especially. The moment my arse hit the chair, I felt it hit me squarely in the chest. Boom. If I were not fitter, I may have passed out from the sheer force of it. Don’t miss out on your cardio, people.

To calm myself, I reached for the book I was reading and set my eyes on it. Before I knew it, it was time to head to the office. The case was fixed at close to noon. I still had time to review the papers at the office. No worries.

At the office, I asked my colleague if she had checked with the court about our continued trial. She confirmed we were on. I gave her a thumbs up, went to my room, and got sucked into a vortex of emails, almost forgetting about the trial.

With five minutes before we had to leave, I finally tore myself away from the screen to look at cause papers. I skimmed through my insightful but indecipherable scribblings, prepared series of questions, gave a quick glance at the document bundle, gathered my colleague, and we headed to the Syariah courts. I timed it to arrive at the parking lot fifteen minutes before our time, ensuring we had at least five minutes to spare.

Just after we passed the court compound gates, my colleague turned to me.

‘Uhm, boss.’


‘Today’s trial is adjourned.’

‘What? I thought you said you checked this morning.’

‘I did. I confirmed with them twice like I told you this morning. But I just got this message from them. See.’ She held up her phone.

‘Sokay. Haish. Did they say why? I didn’t see.’

‘The judge was admitted to hospital.’

‘Alamak. Hope he is okay. Any news about him?’

‘Apparently, he was admitted last Friday. They said he is okay. He is supposed to be discharged tomorrow.’

‘Alhamdulillah, that is good to know. But last Friday? Why couldn’t they tell us earlier?’


‘Mmph. So, what about our case?’

‘It’s before the registrar. I will go and sort it out, boss. Why don’t you go and have a drink at the canteen? I will look for you there when done.’

I had mixed feelings about the unsought for adjournment. Part of me was annoyed. The morning was wasted Why can’t we told early about these things? Why do we only have to learn about it on the day itself? Another part was pleased the judge was alright and hope he recovered well. Another part was pleased I did not waste my time preparing for a hearing that did not go on and calling it right. Another was frustrated how much more delay the case would face and it was a situation no one could be blamed for (except the late notification). It was what it was.

That was not the first time it happened: when my habit and mind clashed with my body, and my body called it right. It doesn’t happen all the time, of course. Most of the time, my body does as my habit (except exercise) instils and the directions of my mind, like a rider on a well-behaved elephant. But there are times the elephant just doesn’t budge and ignores me. And it turns out it was right to do so.

These moments are uncommon, but it has happened enough times for me to take notice of it. And whenever it happened, the elephant called it right. Gooo elephant! It is not to say there was no anxiousness or concern at the time. There’s a half-heartedness, a reluctance, like going down a dark cavern with only a flickering torch.

I am not saying I have suddenly cultivated this ‘elephant-powered-foresight’ powers about sensing adjournments. I have vigorously rejected the notion there is some kind of force of justice that permeates our reality, and I like some justice jedi can ‘feel’ the adjournment coming through the force. (Puts away lightsaber.) It’s just that recently it happened enough times for me to notice the unsual frequency of its occurrence. I doubt if this is some senior lawyer sense that we are suddenly imbued with by virtue of being in the game that long.

I feel the deeper message for me is to listen closely to what my body tells me through its reluctance or compliance.

The brain in our skull does not have exclusivity over neurons. The gut has between 100 – 600 million neurons, comparable to that of a fruit bat. In the Stanford University article I linked, an eminent gastroenterologist say it is ‘like’ our second brain. It is extensive and can operate independently of the brain in our skulls, which contain approximately 86 billion neurons.

I am not saying the gut can think. The neurons are there to mainly regulate our sophisticated gut. But that’s what the science says for now. All I would posit is the body knows things that sometimes the brains doesn’t and cannot understand. And science does not have the monopoly on possibilities.

The elephant knows some things but cannot speak English. The rider cannot trumpet, and more importantly, doesn’t know everything, though he thinks he does. The point is:

Don’t be a grasshopper and trust the elephant.

That’s what the fantastic, magical thinking part of me is compellingly saying. When I look at incidents this way, life becomes a dash and splash more interesting and entertaining.

But then my logical side weighs in. Even as I was typing the earlier passages, it was jostling to have its say and running a word-by-word commentary rubbishing what I was writing even before I completed typing the sentence. I have summarised and cleaned up the language of that commentary as below:

There have been many, many times when I was fully prepared only to be adjourned. There were many times when I was hungry to get on with it only to be adjourned just before. There have been occasions I didn’t and it went on. The ones I have picked out are exceptional circumstances, those planets aligned moments. That view relies on confirmation bias (accepting only incidents that support our desired view and rejects anything that contradicts it), apophenia (seeing patterns where none exist) and hindsight bias (that ‘I knew that all along’ sense about things). A few handfuls of experiences over a twenty year practice doesn’t justify the existence of such a phenomena. My sample size is too small. I am anecdotal. I did not meticulously document each experience and keep records of it. I am not an objective observer of this phenomena. Social scientists should be documenting this. Do not confuse correlation with causation.

It was an entirely random occurrence. My body did not ‘sense’ that adjournment would be forthcoming. I was just plain lucky. There was no meaning to it.

There is no grasshopper. There is no elephant.

I do not deny the logical force and weight of evidence as pointed out by my logical side. It is on point. I concede.

I also concede to how dull, meaningless and incrementally demoralising to look at things only through the lens of logic and science. If everything are simply random events that have no narrative latticework for us to make sense of it, it is unable to hold meaning for us.

Which brings me to how we want to look back on our life: as a mechanistic logical act of survival or one with logic liberally sprinkled with a touch of the fantastic and magical which abound with grasshoppers and elephants? I am all for the latter, of course.

However, I am mindful that while these elements of the fantastic and magical add richness to life, they should be enjoyed with a sense of balance, appreciating both the logic and the magic that coexist in our experiences.

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