Monday, October 24, 2011

The Human Mind

"...the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God." 
- Joseph Smith Jr.
The development and capacity of the human mind has been on my mind (no pun) as of late. It seems the process of deepening thought, sharpening focus and extending one's attention span involves more than simply the brain.

We often hear the chain: "sow a thought, reap and idea; sow an idea, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character trait; sow a character trait, reap an eternal destiny". Thus controlling one's thoughts ultimately determines one's eternal status. According to this philosophy, determining an eternal state is a simple as controlling one's thoughts.

However, it may not be that simple.

Consider what Elder Oaks said in the most recent April Conference:
"Let us remember that desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. In addition, it is our actions and our desires that cause us to become something, whether a true friend, a gifted teacher, or one who has qualified for eternal life."
And so it seems that desires dictate more than thoughts do. But how do desires (of the heart) and thoughts (of the mind) cooperate? I have an idea of how they do. I refer to it as the "turning lone and dreary worlds into gardens of Eden" pattern - an analogy I'm borrowing from an institute teacher wiser than I.

Consider the following talk I had with my boss, Dr. Heng Ban, just two days ago... He taught me that many graduate students fall into the depressive thesis trap where they lack motivation to do anything productive. They're stuck, per se. But they have a deadline. So they're compelled to be productive. If a student merely meets the goal and finishes without ever gaining motivation - he receives only a sheet of paper. But if a student synthesizes as he focuses, he will develop a liking to the task at hand. What was once his burden is now his joy. He has turned a "lone and dreary world" into a "garden of Eden". And how did he do it? He kept his mind focused until his heart followed. Thus the desire developed from a steady mind. Desires and thoughts support each other when accompanied by patience and diligence.

Consistent focus can develop desire - which is supported by 3 Nephi 19 - where the consistent focus is in the form of prayer. If such desires can be dialed in and brought inline with the plan of happiness, then a person has the ability to choose their happiness. It evolves from second-guessing/excessively-worrying-about a good choice, to accepting that choice, to loving that choice. The mind's perspective changes and the heart is filled with desire. The person truly lives. And their life is enjoyable. They have reached a state of happiness in the one decision that was made with the mind - and the heart followed because of the faith they put in during the initial stages of living through that decision.

Too often we second-guess ourselves out of good decisions, exercise no faith, and wonder why we're unhappy. If we would just learn to "pick and stick" to a good decision - we would soon learn that we have the ability (through our faith) to turn that decision into an excellent one. As we "stick it out" with faith, we abide in the truth and our souls absorb the ever-present light of Christ. Our lives are fulfilled in this manner, we grow within our sphere, and we rejoice in tracking our own progression. Such is the pattern of godliness. We increase our faculties through faith. To keep things symmetric, another quote by the boy prophet will conclude this post:
"We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same."

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