Writing Challenge Day 12: Keeping an Active Mind

The December Writing Challenge is coordinated by Leon, and he constructs the schema for the entire month. He provides the Thought Seeds for all essays. They are meant to carry the theme through the month, and each of us authors, or writers (if I dare use that word), gets to choose the seed we wish to plant. It’s my hope that it’s stimulating and sprouts into thought-provoking conversations. The Thought Seed I chose this year was Keeping an Active Mind.

What does Keeping an Active Mind mean? I think it depends on what the two words active and mind mean to you. At a basic level, if MIND = BRAIN, then technically, it only stops being active when we have shuffled off this mortal coil. The brain controls the Central, Somatic, and Autonomic nervous systems. Then there’s the Enteric nervous system, but only if you trust your gut! Hence, there isn’t much you consciously need do for your mind/brain to keep minimally active.

However, if you detach the mind from the physical elements, you can enter the realms of philosophy—examining the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. Or, you may enter the realms of ideologies to examine ways of being in this world, as individuals and as groups. This exploration has been going on for thousands of years, and hopefully, will continue for many more. Well, what does it mean for us currently? I have no answers, just observations and questions.

The Buddhist monk Shunryu Suzuki Roshi wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” My basic understanding of his premise is when one starts a practice or study, there are seemly infinite paths laid out before you. Your inexperience means there are no limits, because you don’t know the boundaries yet. Each step along the way is excitingly new, because your mind is actively taking in all that is around you. You are an amateur.

Permit me a slight diversion here. The word “amateur” has its roots in the Latin amare—to love. When you think about being an amateur, in most new endeavors, you are exploring it for the love of the thing. You might even bring a passion or excitement to it, as one does with a new love!

In Roshi’s perspective: Once you become an expert, a person of comprehensive and authoritative knowledge, it becomes easy to think you know everything. One can think there is little to nothing more to know about a practice. The trap is: what you know restricts the possibilities! Your mind can become lazy or inactive. Conversely, even an expert can keep an active, passionate mind to see the wider possibilities. Experts’ knowledge need not constrain future dreams and ideas if they keep an active mind and maintain their passion.

Living through our pandemic is an awakening opportunity for humanity! It’s unique in scope and scale, as it appears to be hitting everywhere and everyone at once—a dreadful consequence of our highly mobile world, for both people and goods? Humans are forced to examine what’s important in their lives; what and who they may have taken for granted. The pandemic is exposing the flaws in our systems, and institutions, that so many depend upon. Many have reached points in their lives where they think they’re experts at living. Heck, they’ve made it thus far and are doing fine! The American psyche tricks us into believing this success is solely due to our own efforts. What we know has gotten us this far, it must be the past that is worth maintaining. Let us all return to a safe “normal”—something known. So maybe something safe? Not the future dreams to be made reality. That is the question.

The opportunity of our pandemic is that it is so disruptive, we’re all forced to change in many ways. Even those who don’t want to believe this is real must go out into a world that mostly does believe this is real. The unbelievers must be bolder and more visible in their defiance. Even unbelievers’ behavior has changed, and how they’re perceived by their community is changing as well. My point here is this is a turning point! Change is happening, and if we keep an active mind about the opportunities presented by our pandemic: Who knows how human societies might improve and change given this opportunity?

What does it mean to keep an active mind?
Watching the movies and TV shows,
Who killed J.R.? Nobody knows.
When you’re stuck in quarantine,
Did I forget to wash those tangerines?
I memorized a new vocabulary list,
To understand the epidemiologists!
What does it mean to keep an active mind?
With your thoughts all running around,
When your whole body just wants to lie down.
Yet in this time of SARS-Cov-2,
We are all having to learn something new.
So, reading the Lancet and watching the W.H.O.
To find out the things we’re supposed to do.
Wash your hands, wear a mask, and stay home if you’re sick.
Be patient and kind, but especially don’t be a _______!
When the food banks are empty from high demand,
And a tsunami of evictions looms over the land,
Yet records are set on the stock exchanges,
Perhaps we should consider some societal changes?
What does it mean to keep an active mind?
When the thoughts in your head keep swirling around,
But your whole body just wants to lie down.
-              Lie Down? by Tom Iannelli


“The trick of the future is that it’s empty,
A cup before you pour the water. The future
Is a waiting cup, and for all it knows, you’ll fill it
with milk instead. You’re thirsty.”
—from the poem Future by Maggie Smith




Top Comments

  • My sister has been expanding her cooking skills.  She added Lemoncello to her skills.


  • I too would love to have the resources to be a full time student. Although I would find it hard to pick a topic. In my undergraduate education our instructors - with one notable exception - taught us being a really good engineer was not about knowing all the answers it was about understanding the problem space and knowing where to find the information to get to the answers. I don't have to remember the differential equations that solve for fluid flow. Or that they take the same for as processes related to electrical generation. I recall that this is so and can go look those formulas up.

  • As soon as I entered college I realized I'd LOVE to become a professional student.  I imagined taking most every class offered in all curricula, perhaps graduating with a B.A. in Elective Studies.

    After four years of classes ranging through all ranges of Electronics, Geology, Philosophy, Auto Shop, Orchestra, Choir, Marketing, Business Law, Cost Accounting for Engineers, Greek History, Weight Training, Archery, First Aid, Industrial Safety, OSHA, Calculus, Astronomy, Chemistry . . .

    I realized I was right:  I'd LOVE to become a professional student!  And little did I realize that a good life requires a good brain that's exercised and kept in shape by learning and problem solving.  I honestly can't recall the last day I didn't learn something new.  It's what keeps me alive and engaged.

    I worry about retiring and becoming one of those people who seem to be just waiting to die.  Afraid to spend money, keeping a dark house, never traveling.  Perhaps they want to provide an inheritance for their kids or grand children.  Or maybe give a surprise grant to their high school for $2M or more (I've read about that happening in my community more than once!).  

    As for me, staying active in Thwack, in the back yard, in the boat, in my professional life, in campgrounds and wilderness, and in the lives of my children--keeping that mental stimulation going will most likely keep me going mentally until I'm unable to progress physically.  And who knows?  Maybe at that time there'll be even more mental stimulation through physical hardware that hooks a brain up to the Internet!  Heaven help us for the viruses and hackers.  And heaven help the hackers & virus writers once we have the ability--and incentives--to better identify and deal with them.

    Swift packets, All!

    Rick Schroeder

    In the Little Red House

    In the Saginaw Wood

  • Great Job.    

    I think keeping an active mind is so important.   I hope I keep mine.   I know its not all up to me but if i have a say, I want to keep it, and keep it active.  

  • I miss the conversations around the office that would help me keep an active mind. I would walk by someone's desk or hear over the cube wall something that is of interest. That would spark up a conversation and I would most likely learn something new or have a great technical discussion. My wife is all but technical, great at English though so helps with me writing non technical emails to the company. With that said though I have been missing those technical conversations around the office. I try to keep meetings to a minimum since our days have become full with virtual meetings, trying to find time for this random discussions have been proven difficult in these new times, finding another source has become a necessity. Blogs here I come, when I have time I just search for random things to keep fresh and an active mind.

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C