For me, learning from my tangible and measurable body is much easier than understanding my often inexplicable mind. My brain never forgets (the things my husband wishes I would) and yet can't recall (what I need at any given moment). My body is pretty straight forward. When I push my body it grows stronger. Likewise, when I pause it atrophies. It is very apparent to my aging body when my rate of muscle deterioration outpaces muscles growth. Kicks it to the curb and keeps on moving. My jeans don't button. My body aches. My posture slackens. Simple tasks are met with an unnecessarily increased heart rate. This inevitable relationship between growth and deterioration gives me pause. First, how do I avoid it? Second, can this pattern in the body be a window into the hidden and inexplicable mechanism of the mind?
The principle of growth versus decay is universal: Use it or lose it. It's clear to me and my body what happens when it's not used. And far too quickly. Luscious muffin tops coupled with scintillating sedentary desire. I understand that the level of effort I put into my body has a direct relationship to how I feel. Energy, waistline and muscle tone. Could there also be a relationship between our intellectual mobility and the effort we give to it? Just as a fit body requires training, work and dedication, would not a flourishing mind require development, focus and exercise? I believe that the mind has a parallel connection between synthesis and breakdown. When I push my body to new physical limits it responds in kind: energy, lean muscle and increased agility. Climb a mountain, run increased distances, flex and strengthen the body. When I push my mind, I am surprised by the response. It works. Thought, memory and creativity flourish. Challenge the intellect and it thrives, ignore and it slows. After binge watching reality my brain feels like I just ate a dozen donuts. Our mind seemingly grows or shrinks depending on its use or disuse. Creativity, intellectual thought and emotional fortitude are the muscles, building or slacking, of the mind.
There is a simple and universal formula to manage growth and decay: fuel, exercise and rest. These are fundamental ingredients for body and mind. How we utilize these varies widely from person to person. Strong or feeble? Energized or lethargic? Or something in between? In the body, fuel, exercise and rest look like food, movement and sleep, and within the mind they are information, thought and synthesis.
Fuel: What we consume and burn. For the mind, fuel is not only the food we eat but also the information we give it. Fostering curiosity will feed the mind and expand ideas. It is an active path of learning and ongoing exploration. Fuel your mind as you:
• Read provocative and thoughtful words
• Pick a book and read it (I'm reading this right now)
• Question previously held ideas
• Acquire new ideas and perspective
• Discover passions and interest
• Dive into an interesting subject matter
Exercise: What we do in movement, thought and action. No one wants a sedentary mind. To avoid this dangerous intellectual plateau, each of us must exercise our mind. Mental fitness and agility are found in the pursuit of new ideas, activities and passions. Mental exercise can take us out of the physical mind and into our intelligent body. It opens possibility and keeps life interesting. Exercise your mind as you:
• Be creative
• Learn a new skill
• Plan an adventure
• Take a risk
• Embrace change
• Apply information and ideas
Rest: How we synthesize and metabolize all other activities. For the mind rest is not only sleep, but is also wakeful quiet. Mindful rest occurs through deep connection to self. In yoga it is during the restful shavasana that all of the benefits are absorbed. In rest we receive. It is in stillness that our mind can truly process all that it knows. It is the act of mental metabolism, burning and utilizing fuel and movement. Rest your mind as you:
• Take a walk
• Sit outside
• Disconnect from technology
• Discover physical and mental quiet
• Wander in body and mind
• Change the pacing (faster or slower) of a day or week
Don't get me wrong, nourishing mind and body may be simple but it is not necessarily easy. For many years my brain was moving and flowing. I read. Rode the wake of youth and college. I was an active learner. Then I had my second child and all of it came to a crashing halt. The monthly subscription to the Economist and Atlantic Monthly lapsed. And even my Facebook feed was too much for me to process. My brain and body worked hard, but it wasn't exactly of the intellectual vein. For many years I was convinced my attention span was comparable to my youngest child, somewhere around a 3 year-old. Meanwhile, my mind waited patiently and sometimes not so patiently for a bit of mental sustenance. With proper fuel, exercise and rest the mind will remember. This is where it's plasticity can work in our favor. I see it this way: the body is the motor and the intellect the ignition for all we are and do. They ebb and flow. Flourish and fold. Learn and forget. Now is the moment to take the wheel. Determine destination. Push against the tide of forgetting. Try this simple formula: fuel, exercise, and rest. If feeling stuck, simplify. If you feel overwhelmed break it down into a smaller activity. Everything is something. Nourish today and apply tomorrow.
About Maran Whiting Hanley: As a writer life is my artist muse. I love to watch and apply. I believe a writer's job is to tell a story. To fit disparate and incongruent pieces into one great whole. I am an enthusiast of health and wellness. I am passionate about self-care, whole foods and movement. I am a mother. I love to travel. I am an artist. A collector. A lover of art. Above all I am human -- by trial and error trying to learn how to live and love.