sherlock holmes and mindfulness

A couple weeks ago, as I was walking with my son and SO to his ball field, I noticed a new playground area created for bodyweight exercises.  “Look! The city put in a new playground!  When did they do that?”  Both laughed.  “Mom, that’s been there for a long time,” my son said.  “It has?” Later that evening, SO pointed out that I had noticed the playground the very day that I submitted the remainder of my obligations for the semester, for the department at which I worked, and to the school.  He didn’t think it was coincidence.

I began reading Maria Konnikova’s book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, and I was struck by how her descriptions of the process of memory requiring a meditation, in-the-moment type state of mind.  From Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet:

A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.  Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.

Konnikova writes that Sherlock’s thinking is admirable because he is able to focus on the moment and to follow a single train of thought with utmost focus.  She says, “he has taught his instant judgments to follow the train of thought of a far more reflective approach” (23).  She then cites Sherlock again: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.”

I was immediately struck by this.  Imagine all that goes into that tiny attic space and becomes trapped in there, sucking up room that I’d love to put to better use!  Do I really need to know which celebs broke up?  Nope!  A thousand life hacks for removing stems and such from fruit.  Nope!  I want to store memories of my children experiencing new things, the sight of seeing Yellowstone’s mud pots for the first time as an adult, the smell of the ocean, and the image of the sun rising over the Gulf of Mexico.  That’s not to say that I never want to watch TV shows or read the news; instead of reading and watching mindlessly, I should be mindful of what I am consuming.  For instance, I sometimes stream a show just to have background noise, and that leads to my mindlessly watching thing that I am not remotely interested in.

Since reading Konnikova’s description of the mind as “a space in your head, specifically fashioned for storing the most disparate of objects,” I’ve been a bit more mindful of what those disparate objects are.  What will I remember?  Konnikova says that the memory is the basis of our thoughts.  “Out memory is in large part the starting point for how we think, how our preferences form, and how we make decisions” (29).  If our memory leads to our decisions, then it also leads to our actions.  This lends credence to the saying “What you think, you become.”

(For those who want to read more, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life similarly suggests a positive thinking and a meditation-like process as a means of becoming a more organized thinker.)

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