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Monday, December 10, 2007

Celebrate the Mind

Living is a form of celebration, and there are ways to celebrate the mind, body, and soul that will bring great benefits to our daily existence.

Life can be dynamic and fun when we know how to keep the mind focused, the body healthy and our consciousness expanded. Yet more than this, by aligning our physical and spiritual selves correctly we get to touch the divinity within us. We'll realise the miracle of being alive, and will consciously move to raise our standard of living.

To achieve this, some of us will first move to train the musculature and physical stamina of our bodies, while some of us will take a more deeper path and connect with our spirit. However, before those two journeys are taken, first we must embrace and celebrate the mind.

Embrace the Mind

The mind that is the root of production and wealth in human historyIt's true when they say a mind is a terrible thing to waste. We discover in celebrating the mind that it's the root of production and wealth in human history.

The importance of knowledge in our development is a metaphysical fact of human nature. Our mind is our tool of survival and the source of our material advancement throughout the ages, from the harnessing of fire, to the invention of the plough, to the discovery of electricity, or to the invention of the latest medicine.

A culture thrives to the extent that it is governed by reason and science, and stagnates to the extent that it is governed by brute force. But the importance of the mind in human progress has been evaded by most of humanity's recent intellectuals. When I was studying George Orwell's novel 1984 for 'A' Level English Literature, for example, it always struck me as strange how he depicts a totalitarian state that still, somehow, is a fully advanced technological society. It was a point I frequently argued with my tutor. Orwell projects the impossible: technology without the minds to produce it.

A totalitarian regime can force some men to perform muscular labour; it cannot force a genius to create, nor force a businessman to make rational decisions. A slave owner can force a man to pick cotton; only under freedom would a person discover ways to increase crop yields.

In much the same way, we cannot get the benefits of celebrating life by forcing ourselves to go through certain motions people have said will be good for us, unless we first unlock the source of our own productivity, our mind, and believe that what we are doing is right for us.

Define Your Mind Set

My grandmother used to tell me that God wants us to celebrate life every chance we can get, because celebrating life is the best way to pray. She would tap me on the forehead and tell me that the best and foremost church where God resides is in our heads, and if he wasn't there, going to mass or praying five times a day wasn't going to do you any good.

What I realised she was trying to tell me, years later, was that in whatever we do, we need the correct mind set. This is the framework in which we view life, and which colour our actions. We can celebrate all we like, but if we're not aware, if we don't take our mind along for the ride, than we'll have learnt nothing on the journey taken.

Whatever we do with the body or soul, be it eat, exercise or make love, we should do it with the mind. And once we have embraced our mind, how do we celebrate it? This can be done by using it to its fullest capacity, in the two main ways I describe below.

1. Celebrate the Open Mind

Simply put, I celebrate my mind by keeping it open, and to show tolerance as best I can to the views of others.

Most people may find it hard to link the two, but I admire the mind set of the Christian Quakers and some of those that follow the mystical branch of Islam known as Sufism. Both sects are seen by their major denominations as outside of their branch, while they regard themselves as members of a universal religion that, for historical reasons, has many Christian or Islamic elements.

I've mentioned some well-known Sufis before whom I see as my mentors, such as Mevlana Rumi and Yunus Emre, but I want to summarily mention the Quakers here, to explain my own mind set, and the awareness with which I like to approach my celebration of life.

Quakers believe that there is something of God in everybody and that each human being is of unique worth. All people are valued equally, and oppose anything that may harm or threaten them. Great reliance is based on conscience as the basis of morality, and religious truth isn't shackled to dogma, but comes from their own direct inner experiences. They believe God can be found in the middle of everyday life and human relationships. Tolerance is part of the Quaker approach to life, so Quakers are willing to learn from all other faiths and churches, and their main aim to is make the earth a better world. Redemption comes not in the afterlife, but in this one.

Among other criteria, these are the guiding rail-lines to which I place my thoughts to run and take hold. However, this particular station of mind will not be right for everyone. We all need to find what suits us best. A mind set doesn't have to be religious or spiritual, it could be completely agnostic or atheist. We all must choose our own belief system. Though one thing we must all strive for, and an important factor in keeping an open mind, is to keep our minds young.

2. Celebrate the Child-Like Mind

Look on any map and you will discover all straight lines indicate that people have altered nature. We need to think in harmony with our true nature, to try and think outside of the box, as they say, and not always force our thinking into a rigidity that effectively handicaps it from working. We need to celebrate our immaturity, and in nurturing a child-like mind we should strive to be playful, open minded and unrestrained by the inner voice of reason, collective cynicism, or fear of failure.

A key conclusion made in Alison Gopnik’s Scientist in the Crib was that, "Babies are just plain smarter than we are, at least if being smart means being able to learn something new... They think, draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations and even do experiments... In fact, scientists are successful precisely because they emulate what children do naturally."

One method, which I use to keep my mind young, is to read my favourite childhood stories from time to time. This isn't succumbing to nostalgia and getting stuck in the past, it's about getting the brain to remember the stories that spoke to it as a child. I remember the oral Turkish folk tales my grandmother would recount, works not from any book but handed down through the generations by word of mouth, and the stories in text I discovered for myself like "The Happy Prince" and "The Velveteen Rabbit". Every time I read them, and get lost in the tales of the toy rabbit that wants to be real, and the generous statue of happy prince with his saintly swallow bird, I learn something new.

These are the stories I hope to read my children one day (whom will also help me to keep a young mind), but more importantly as they embrace their minds and choose their own stories that speak to them, I'll discover new tales, too. Self-discovery is a key element. So is embracing lifelong learning, and striving to do something new to push the brain. Exercise is always energising, but while physical exercise can be repetitive; mental exercise is eclectic. It will unshackle us so that we can improve our lives unhindered from bias or fear of failure and strengthen our dialogue with life.

It is no cliché to state that if we embrace knowledge, it shall set us free.

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