I wish Howard could be more open-minded. He is an 18-year-old student, and is in the same situation as many young people living away from home for the first time. I am concerned for him because he is not one to readily take up new opportunities for meeting new people, and for engaging in new activities. And so I feel he is missing the boat. I notice that he allows himself to be monopolised by one new friend who is also reluctant to spread his wings. This other fellow strikes me as pretty conventional and traditional in his outlook. Howard says that he wants to avoid some social occasions because of the prevalent drinking and cigarette smoking culture of the students union of which he disapproves. However, I think also he is uneasy around people of his own age due to a lack of dating skills and experience with girls. He does remind me of several people I know who have a narrow range of interests and seem more comfortable with familiar routine.
Learning to be more open-minded
Open-minded individuals are not only interested in seeking out new experiences, but also evaluating their own ideas in the light of what others think. I must admit that there have been times in my life when I could have been more receptive to new ideas. I was employed in the health service where multi-professional working was all the rage. And so I was obliged to join various clinical and other task groups where I had to listen to what individuals with a different academic background and training had to say: this meant having to give their ideas due consideration even when they seemed to be wrongheaded or impractical at first hearing.
I like to think that this experience stimulated my curiosity concerning other viewpoints, which had been beyond my horizon. I came to the conclusion that understanding how other people think can reveals useful knowledge, and even if you don’t always agree with them, it helps you to evaluate your own perspective and teaches you how to communicate more effectively. In my writing, I aspire to a more fluid style of thinking that would allow me to make useful associations between ideas that are not obviously connected.
Being extremely open-minded
The stereotype of the extreme open-minded person is someone with very liberal political views and if religious is characterised as being open to a wide range of spiritual ideas and willingness to identify with more than one religious denomination. On the other hand the stereotype of the extreme close-minded person is someone who may endorse authoritarian, ethnocentric and prejudiced views, and if religious belong to a fundamentalist group.
I’m not saying that an open-minded attitude is always a good thing. For example I’m wary of taking on board anything just because it is a new idea. And I wouldn’t want to have a relationship with anyone just because they are a new person in my life. However, I think most of us would prefer to see ourselves as open-minded rather than close-minded.
Having a sensible open-minded scientific orientation for example, is a willingness to consider alternative theories, generate new hypotheses and design new experiments to test them. In other words not to be closed to the possibility that what science currently knows is the limit of its knowledge.
An open-minded spiritual orientation
So what is an opened-minded spiritual orientation? I would suggest this attitude is not rejecting spiritual ideas out of hand for example :
- The idea of honouring one’s physical body and also the world of nature as things held by us in sacred trust
- The view that there is a creative source of life that has purpose and design
- The notion that there is individual consciousness that goes beyond death
- The possibility of supernatural phenomena such as extra-sensory perception
How can one make oneself more open-minded
One way is to learn to better tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. If one has a rigid answer to a problem, one can file it away and stop troubling oneself with further examination. This is the close-minded approach. But unfortunately life isn’t that straightforward. When we are alert to this rigid frame of mind, we can remember the potential value of keeping more than one answer in our head at a time.
Another reason for closed-mindedness is a natural bias towards information supporting our own views. Perhaps we need to sometimes read a newspaper coming from the opposite side of the political spectrum from our own. Usually there is more than one side to a story. The trouble is we want what we believe to prevail. The ego wants to be right. I would like to suggest that an egoistic identification with ideas is narrow and ultimately self-defeating. Does it not turn off others and is it not limited by a self-centred orientation which fails to see the broader picture? An open mind is one which is not too proud to learn new things. In other words I am suggesting humility is an essential element for enlightenment.
As youngsters we relied on the authority of what were told. But should we continue to rely on what parents, teachers, religious or political leaders have happened to pronounce as true? Have we as adults not got a rational mind to use not only to ask meaningful questions but find new spiritual answers that make inner good sense?
Having an open mind to receive the Divine light
Finally, I would like to share my spiritual belief that inner illumination of what is deeply true comes from our Higher Self which is the presence of the Divine within the light of heaven and is a kind of internal sight that depends on our personal choice to open ourselves to its influence.
“The human mind … is a receptacle of divine influx; but the divine flows in only as far as a man prepares the way, or opens the door.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)
“I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (The Book of Revelation)
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems