Adventures of the Mind
Odeon of Herodes
Every garden requires a medium in which to plant, usually this is soil. Soil is made up of three main components, sand, silt and clay. To enrich the soil the gardener may add organic matter like peat and humus. The varying amounts of these materials are a major factor in determining what plants will grow and flourish. Sandy soil does not retain water but warms quickly. Soil that is heavy with clay is hard to work but will retain water and nutrients, but soil also needs ventilation, air, which sand facilitates. However, for soil to become more productive it needs organic material like humus and peat. These the gardener introduces to the soil.
When we are born the virgin soil of our minds will also vary. Our minds come with capabilities and potential talents inherited from our parents. Some brains work more efficiently than others when storing and retrieving information; some have more acute senses. Others are quicker at learning language skills which particularly determine learning. These innate abilities, although they can be purposely improved and encouraged, we are nevertheless born with and so have little control over. What we can control is the enriching of the soil of our minds, the humus and peat. These components are our values and attitudes. Working these into the soil of our minds both before planting begins as well as when the garden, or your mind matures, will determine the variety of plants that will grow and therefore its beauty and diversity.
The Natural Order
All living things in a garden follow the natural order, those bio mechanisms inherent in every living thing that keep it alive, cause it to grow, multiply, age, die and decay, but are encouraged or restricted by the gardener. These complex processes can be seen simply as stimulus and response. A seed is planted and it responds to the soil in which it is embedded. The sun and rain assist in the process as the seed germinates sprouts, grows to maturity and perhaps tries to multiply before it dies. It is in our minds that we consciously experience the dynamics of life. In the workings of our minds, like in a garden, there are natural, in-built processes that respond to stimuli. These responses greatly determine our personalities and our character without us purposefully controlling them.
One category of natural responses to events and relationships are what we call emotions. By them we learn behaviour like who to trust, or what to fear. But without any rational control, rather than make our minds a beautiful garden, they can lead to disorder and paralysis.
Gardens of the Mind Part 1
'And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed... And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.'
The Garden of Eden, planted by God, required a man to ‘dress and keep it’. A garden as distinct from a wilderness is a place that is designed and created and where the growth of living things is controlled rather than left to their own determination.
The idea of comparing a garden to the mind intrigues me, so here goes.
C.S. Lewis in ‘The Four Loves’ analyses three instinctive natural loves that he defines as ‘affection’, ‘friendship’ and ‘Eros’, (i.e. being ‘in love’). These he maintains we experience through our natural instincts but are not self sustaining. He says that without the love Christians call ‘Charity’, none of them will last. Tending and caring for relationships with acts of unselfishness, which may seem small in comparison to the workings of nature, nevertheless keep those loves alive and well.
One other characteristic or natural mechanism of the mind is curiosity. This feature is the driving force that makes us seek and find, to explore, to ask questions and find their answers. As a baby, curiosity is very tactile. A baby will pick up unfamiliar objects that usually find their way from hand to mouth and discover whether they are edible or not.
Although there is the old adage, ‘curiosity killed the cat’, which implies there are dangers when we become curious, so long as we are cautious and methodical the more curious we are the more likely we are to have an interesting mind just like a variety of plants make for an interesting garden.
So to conclude, just like a garden that depends on inherent natural mechanisms for it to ever become a garden, so the mind has the same, which I believe are our emotional and curiosity responses to whatever stimuli comes to us. The gardener’s role is then to limit or encourage the effects of the natural order.
ATTITUDES and VALUES
But what are the values and attitudes that make a beautiful, flourishing mind possible? The first and foremost is an attitude or factor that more than any other will determine the destiny of your garden, your mind, your spirit or soul and that factor is called FAITH.
Without faith you will do nothing and so your soil will be forever barren and even if you are happy with a rock garden for your mind, sooner or later some organic intruders will come in and then you will require faith to remove them.
The attitude I would put next in importance to faith is HUMILITY. Life is about learning from our mistakes, recognising the greatest of all enemies to our minds which is pride. Humility is not the passive and submissive giving in to any theory, doctrine or creed. Humility helps us have an open mind that will overcome prejudice and dogmatism but still consider events and information in the light of our most precious values.
Next come three ‘ps’, PATIENCE, PERSEVERENCE and PERSISTENCE. A garden is not created in a day and there can be set backs, disappointments and most things just simply take time to grow. So do skills, ideas, understanding.
Whilst attitudes are the motive force, values will determine the quality and long term success of your garden or your mind. Values like HONESTY. A gardener has to decide what what methods are out of date, what is waste and what to do with it. Does he leave it, pile it up in a corner or throw it next door? Does he bury it or recycle it into compost? The mind can generate plenty of waste too. Waste like out of date knowledge that you will either replace or hang on to.
Values like OPENNESS. Is the garden for all to see or is it a secret garden? Is your mind one that is open to discussion and development through critical debate? REVERENCE and RESPECT are also important. A good gardener will care for every plant and respect its contribution to the garden. Likewise a mind that respects traditional as well as modern ideas and methods will find success and purpose.
Also, a healthy brain (the organ of our minds) is not just the result of genetic inheritance. These days science has linked the foods children eat with the health of the brain and levels of concentration. The amount of sugar intake in particular affects this. Although health trends are often fads we should not ignore them. The brain is a part of the body, the health of the body depends on food and exercise and so the brain can be looked after and its capabilities improved by healthy eating and exercise.
Learning is what equates to raising plants. Different plants require different care. How one mind learns too is often different from another. We each have preferred styles of learning. Some learn best through visual input, others through words, logic and reasoning. Some learn best on their own, others in a social group. Recognising our styles of learning can seriously help us to develop our minds to their full potential and is particularly helpful in overcoming inherent disabilities like dyslexia. Learning a skill like playing an instrument or driving a car requires different learning methods than when learning calculus. But perhaps we are straying from the ‘soil’ to ‘creating’ which we will come to later. The important thing is that we recognise the importance of knowing what our minds are good at, what kind of soil we have and that values and attitudes, the adding of enriching peat and humus, we can control.
E M O T I O N S