Avoiding Mental Rigidity

When I was a child, I didn’t want to grow up to be an adult. Obviously there was nothing I could do about that, but as I got older, I realized that what I disliked about so many of the ‘adults’ in my life only correlated with their age, and was not caused by it. What I was really afraid of was mental rigidity.

tcw-the-gatheringThere’s a saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This is, in some ways, true; our capacity for learning and adaptation (also known as neuroplasticity) is at its highest as children and throughout puberty. However people often accidentally take that a step further. They begin to think that being an adult means you no longer have to learn, or interrogate your beliefs. That you know something concrete about the world, something you can use as a foundation for other beliefs and ideas that fit your world-view. This way of thinking is comfortable, but dangerous.

The Jedi Code says “There is no Ignorance, there is Knowledge,” so you’d think Jedi would be pretty good at retaining mental flexibility. However it is too easy to fall into bad habits, making assumptions instead of doing research, not updating your facts and ideas with new information, thinking that once you’ve learned something it must be true forever, and building your beliefs off of unreliable sources, or worse, copying them verbatim from people you like or trust. A Jedi must be constantly questioning the world around them, but more importantly, they must be constantly questioning themselves. What do I think? Why do I think that? Where did this belief or idea come from? Does it need to be changed, updated, or destroyed? How do my ideas make my own bias transparent? Where are the places I am becoming complacent and rigid mentally, and how can I change that?

In Attack of the Clones, Yoda remarks upon some outside-the-box thinking by a youngling, saying, “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” Whether we are younglings or masters, padawans or knights, beginners or veterans on the path, we must constantly cultivate that childlike mind of mental flexibility, seeking the truth and accepting it when it conflicts with even our most strongly held biases.

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