I first experienced the importance of an open mind when I started to listen to music. Radio-pirates transmitted the music I preferred from their boats off the coast. With the little transistor I got for my birthday I was able to tune in on them.
But how did I know I preferred the ‘pirate’ music over classical music from the state sanctioned post-war distribution radio? Through my friends. They shared their excitement with me. And through the newspaper I read every morning.
Of course, I wanted to identify myself with my friends through the music they liked. I wanted to be part of our group. However, very early I noticed how important it is to keep an open mind. And not just for music. I will explain how I found out and learned to keep an open mind.
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I could not understand why people started to verbally fight with each other over their preferred music. I loved, and still love, soul and blues music. However, you could recognize the subsequent fans by their clothes and the way they behaved.
No love was ever shared between the two groups. Due to my split preference I was a traitor to both. Which made me rather sneaky, constantly trying to avoid clashes with either group.
My first lesson was that the rise of the popular culture might have ended some social, political, and religious restrictions. They were, however, quickly replaced by new ones. I didn’t like this back then and I don’t like it now.
An open mind, or not?
Moreover, the separation of identities was totally opposite to my idea that popular culture should free your mind. And that such an open mind was a widely shared ideal, not just a youthful matter. I thought all generations fell for the new freedoms.
I thought all generations were more understanding, more equal and always prepared to compromise. Indeed, research showed that over the past fifty years, decisions in the family gradually became more and more based on these principals.
What an amazing achievement. However, after a lot of culture clashes over music, TV-series and movies, I also concluded that an open mind was for many limited to their taste. So which is it, is our mind open or not?
A wonderful present
As life became more diverse for us, we also met other friends. Other friends with other ideas and choices. Once I received a wonderful present from a friend who I helped with his income tax: a ticket for the opera Satyagraha of Philip Glass. The opera is about Gandhi.
Never before had I heard of Philip Glass. Never before did I took the opportunity to listen to opera. The opera lasted three hours, with two intermissions. A third of the concertgoers was gone after the first break. After the second break another third.
How was that possible? Why did they left? I’ve been sitting straight up, at the utmost tip of my seat, totally consumed by the music and the performance, hating the breaks. From then on I was hooked on Glass, minimal music and opera. Without a second thought about my love for soul and blues.
How to keep an open mind?
The amazing thing is, after this experience my open mind for music and many other aspects of life, never left me again. I learned to love jazz music. Poetry is another lifetime love. Organic agriculture I more seriously picked up when we moved to Spain. When I think of it, in my mind there is still space for much more.
Never did I ponder much about the question, how I kept that open mind. For me it was just a fact of life. The moment my mind would close, my life would end. However, going back over all those years, I came up with some simple ‘rules of thumb’:
- Friends are key to an open mind. No matter how nice it is that your friends listen to you, once in a while you should shut up and listen to them. More in general ‘open ears’ are, as much as ‘open eyes’, a basic tool of an open mind.
- Another basic tool are questions. Ask questions, again and again. We make fun of our grandchildren when we explain them something and they keep on asking: ‘Why?’ Yet, they just train the use of one of the most fundamental rules for an open mind.
- Everyday, tune all your senses to lives’ experiences. Observe and learn. Reflect on what you see, hear, smell and feel when you walk in the streets. What do your senses tell you?
- A key tool for an open mind is a healthy set of emotions. Don’t be afraid of them, get to the bottom of them. Is that complicated? Of course not. What do you feel when your senses are tuned to life in the streets? Beautiful not?
- An open mind comes with open sources. For this we live in fortunate times with the Internet. However, when surfing on the net, don’t forget that there are four other rules of thumb for an open mind. Apply them.
The advantages of an open mind
Do these rules of thumb seem a little demanding to you? They actually are not. This is because when we practice them, they teach us that our individual lives only change very slowly. And this is so good, because this helps us to control our feelings of stress.
However, there are many more advantages:
- We better understand how we relate to other people and to our surrounding world. More than ever, we exert ambiguous feelings: our lives are okay, but in society things are not going well. Open your mind and you will be able to control your worries by energizing them to change society for the better.
- We get a clearer picture of the choices we want to make in life. Which choices will make us happy?
- We get more grip on our often, and simultaneously, opposing opinions and attitudes. When you open your mind to the fact that our ambiguous mindset is the best way to survive, you will see the beauty of this.
- An open mind gives perspective to your personal norms and values, ideals, preferences, principles and morality, and how they are influenced by public opinion and your friends.
- It also gives a better perspective on the conditions that we cannot determine. A perspective on how we can best adapt ourselves to these conditions.
We can change
Let’s reverse the challenge. Let’s assume that the choice is yours. What do you do? You go and stand in line? You wait and see? Or do you make the choice to set your mind free?
Remember that your mind is the most powerful part of your body. Let it control you, by training it to be open. Open to your wishes. Open to friends. Open to new experiences.
Change is possible. We humans have changed. We will change from now on and forever. An open mind is our best tool to enjoy such changes.