Reptiles of the Mind!

Whoa —-  I’ve heard of snakes in the grass, bats in the belfry, bees in the bonnet — but William Blake, prophetic 18th-century English poet, artist, and mystic, has added a new, and thought-provoking, creature to the catalog:

The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.





Which, when you think about it, appears both chilling — and true. Why do I so often stubbornly refuse to even consider changing my mind? Many reasons: inconsistency is frowned upon, changing directions is disapproved of, murmurs of disloyalty, of fickleness, of foolishness, oh! lots of reasons. And yet —

Here is how a Jesuit priest/Zen master friend expressed a very similar thought:  There is no need to seek enlightenment. Only give up cherishing opinions.

But he didn’t bring snakes into it. Blake makes me consider the matter, and shudder. If he’s right, what kind of creatures may be harboring in my mind? Maybe it’s time to let some fresh breezes of new ideas riffle any stagnant water, renew my spirit, and — maybe even kill off some lurking reptiles.

This entry was posted in Etcetera, Personal Essay, Quotes, Wisdom and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Reptiles of the Mind!

  1. Stef says:

    It’s interesting: “changing my mind” implies (to me) that at one point I made a decision on something in such a way that I was left no other options – I drew a line in the sand, formed a solid point of view, etc. No wonder I don’t like to make “final” decisions – what a limiting way to live. Instead, if I try and keep Beginner’s Mind, and recognize the reality that EVERY moment is a new one, then “changing my mind” is never a “bad” thing; indeed, it’s the only way to live that actually makes sense. If I live in a constant stream of change (as I would assert we all do), then to *not* live this way would be the folly, non? 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      What a useful comment! Reminds me that what you call Beginner’s Mind (and I first came to Zen knowing that concept) I have come to think of (from the Korean school of Seung Sunim) as Don’t Know Mind.
      Same thing, slightly different nuance.
      Anyway, I spent years wrestling first to see, then to free myself from, the notion that when I made a decision, it was immediately carved in stone, like the Tablets of the Law, and forever bound me to it. Or by it. But humans are often contradictory creatures. Even though I recognize and believe in Don’t Know Mind, sometimes I forget, or get lazy, and then I’ll get stuck again.
      Upcoming post will have more to say about this —


      • Stef says:

        Yes, I “know” Don’t Know Mind as well. And please don’t misunderstand – I forget about Beginner’s Mind/Don’t Know Mind rather frequently; but then blessedly, items like this come along in my life, and I get to remember again…


  2. pauline says:

    Change is one thing, to waffle another. I agree with Stef that we are in a constant state of change; I would argue that when one pays attention to what one is doing and why, change becomes not something to avoid but to embrace. I like Maya Angelou’s statement – “When you know better, you do better.”


  3. xties says:

    William Blake: a sharp-minded man, and a great way with words. His “reptiles of the mind” is one of his truly memorable turns of phrase.

    I was intrigued to read of the Jesuit priest / Zen master … the wise words you quote from him are part of a very shrewd tradition.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      And now I find the source on your blog: thanks for that!
      I thought I knew Blake pretty well, but that phrase was new to me. Ranks right up there with Emily Dickinson’s poem about the snake: Zero at the bone.

      Have to be on the qui vive with these Zen Jesuits —
      this one is Robert Kennedy


  4. Pingback: Do not seek the truth « cross-ties

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