18 Sep 2007
A MindSet for Spiritual Regeneration
I love it when things in my life come together at the same time.
This time it was a sermon from Jim Cooper at Olivet New Church in Toronto. The sermon was about Jesus transforming the water into wine at the Cana wedding. And here’s the bit that tickled me:
Waterpots, being vessels which receive water, represents the mind which receives truth. Filling the water pots is, therefore, an image of learning.
The Lord Himself commands us to learn, to fill our vessels. Whether or not that water is turned into wine with us depends entirely upon our response. Do we approach learning half-heartedly? Do we fill the pots with only enough water to satisfy the master, to avoid getting into trouble, or do we learn with enthusiasm and interest, do we fill our vessels to the brim?
Our Liquid Brains
As you may (or may not) know, my speciality in psychology is the brain and, in particular, neurofeedback — a technology for teaching the brain about itself and thereby changing its patterns of activity and therefore how it performs.
But what is relevant here is that the brain operates largely through electrical activity — and electricity acts exactly like water in the way it functions!
So there’s the first connection that delighted me:
The means by which we learn is electrical — read “like water” — as is the spiritual correspondence. Nice direct link. I like it.
But that’s not where my connections of the day stopped.
We Are of Two Minds
The questions posed about how we approach learning, about our attitudes toward what and how we take in information and learning, are in line with an on-line course I have been creating based on a book I recently read called: Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck.
The primary research findings related to our mindsets suggest that we tend to carry one of two mindsets into our learning. (Caveat: Most of us mix these two, we aren’t entirely one or the other, but you’ll likely see yourself more in one than the other if you read the book or take the course.)
One is the “fixed” mindset — the idea that we (i.e., our abilities, our intelligence, our personality, our talents) are pretty much permanent — that our genetics and upbringing has pretty much determined who and how and what we are and there’s not much we can do about that beyond strive to succeed with what we’ve got. This leads to all sorts of attempts to hide our failings, to prove our worth, to avoid failure and play it safe. And this can be a subtle attitude — we learn and teach it when we say things like: “Aren’t you smart!”, “You’re good at ________!”, “That’s ok, maybe you’ll be better at [something else]”, “You solved that so fast!”
(Many years ago, I gave a talk on my idea that sin is actually a twisting of our longing to connect with the Divine and others due to the inherited tendency of our “emotional brain” to be self-protective and competitive for survival. This still fits with that notion and I still like it, but perhaps that’s another post. 😉
The other is the “growth mindset” — that we are always changing in every respect. That we can choose to get better at anything we try at, that the effort is more important than the outcome per se, that the critical change is in how we experience ourselves and not in how we compare with others, that challenges are what lead to growth. While the fixed mindset tends to produce self-protection and competition with others (to prove our value), the growth mindset tends to create openness, lack of judgmental attitudes, and a joy in “stretching” ourselves by learning, practicing, getting feedback.
I couldn’t help but think the sermon, especially the bits I quoted above, reflected exactly these two mindsets.
I was delighted to find this distinction so nicely researched and described in the book, since it is a critical component of brain training and spiritual growth — if we expect that “nothing can change for me”, “this is just the way I am (or s/he is)”, then not much CAN happen for us — we are choosing to stay stuck and stagnant. We literally are re-creating those pathways in our brain and preventing the emergence of new, more productive and adaptive pathways. And how nice to have the same notion reflected in the next sermon I see. 😉
But if we can choose growth — embrace our ability to be open to creating change in ourselves — we can transform into who we are really are becoming.