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The Fight for an Open Mind

“What prevents people from learning... is not the subject itself—the human mind has limitless capabilities—but rather certain learning disabilities that tend to fester and grow in our minds as we get older. These include a sense of smugness and superiority whenever we encounter something alien to our ways, as well as rigid ideas about what is real or true, often indoctrinated in us by schooling or family. If we feel like we know something, our minds close off to other possibilities. We see reflections of the truth we have already assumed. Such feelings of superiority are often unconscious and stem from a fear of what is different or unknown. We are rarely aware of this, and often imagine ourselves to be paragons of impartiality” – Robert Greene, Mastery

My quest for an open, more aware mind bumps into smugness. I’ve run into this demon before. We so easily spot smugness in others but rarely detect it in ourselves. It appears as artificial confidence and a sense of superiority and are the tools of a closed mind. As such they ought to be snuffed out at all costs. But the mind buries them defensively, knowing your game, and you perceive yourself as open in your comfortable world until that world is challenged once again.

I see it in myself by the things I’m offended by. A cache of grudges based on perceived slights, which usually betrays something about your relationship with that person, culture or perspective. This cache, like the one on your PC, occupies space that might otherwise be used for stretching the mind in new directions. And isn’t that the real goal? Opening the mind, becoming aware, delighting in the world around us – if these are truly the objective then we have no room for walls built of resentment, fear and superiority.

“Around us, life bursts with miracles–a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

What are we missing while we wrap our minds are distracted by our own narrative? What miracles are happening around us even as we dwell on the past? These are the stakes. We must hunt and kill our smugness to open the mind for awareness, empathy and a deeper understanding of the world around us. To see at last what we’ve been missing all along. And in pursuing it to finally understand ourselves.

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