The Most Fertile Soil

“Untilled soil, however fertile it may be, will bear thistles and thorns; and so it is with man’s mind.”
~Teresa of Avila

When the sum total of a human’s experience is viewed from the subatomic perspective, it amounts to very little. Each of us exists as a few trillion atoms brought together like grains of sand to a mad disco. The atomic dancers vibrate at wildly different beats. Electrons get swapped in dirty bathroom stalls. Revelers come and go so frequently it’s never the same party. And in the end it’s mostly empty space.

Atomically speaking, nothing matters. Ethics, good and evil, enlightenment, justice and barbarism, super bowl trophies, and job promotions; these things affect the movement and collision of matter not at all. Electromagnetism, gravity, strong and weak forces alike care not for right and wrong.

Similarly, from a cosmological perspective, nothing matters. The obliteration of desolate planets when a star goes super nova has a greater impact cosmologically than the sum total of all the suffering of every human who has ever lived or ever will. Even within our own solar system, the planets whirl about the sun utterly indifferent to the moral aims of the inhabitants on this third planet out.

This thought experiment can be performed in the 4th dimension, time, as well. To consider one’s station in the course of human history is to almost disappear. Then, when you factor in Earth’s history, you shrink ten million times smaller still. To even partially contemplate the scale of cosmological eternity is a terrifyingly humbling act.

Finally, within the context of a single instance, a subatomic second, once again nothing matters. A death row inmate can sleep as serenely as a Hindu cow if he could direct his entire focus on his breath, on the rough fabric of his prison uniform, on the smell of metal bars, on his hands clasped behind his head as he lies on his cot. His imminent execution does not exist in the hours, minutes, or seconds before its occurrence. The vast majority of individual human moments do not intrinsically contain all the heavy importance with which we view them. It is humans that add the meaning, positive or negative. It is humans that bring the cathexis.

This should come across as an incredibly empowering idea.

Cathexis: noun – the investment of emotional significance in an activity, object, or idea.

Cathexis is the soil of our minds. It is what covers our genetic foundation with hills and riverbeds. Its surplus makes valleys fertile. Its paucity makes deserts hostile. Cathexis is what allows enormous trees to grow to tremendous heights, and it’s what restricts such growth. The jungles, forests, swamps, marshes, tundras and prairies of our minds are grown atop the cathexes we harbor.

As children, our cathexis is manufactured and distributed almost entirely by our parents. This includes the amount we harbor and where it’s invested. The importance of everything from manners, to proper nutrition, to athletic achievement, to musical and artistic talent, to academic success, to religious reverence, and even to Santa Claus are stressed or neglected by those who raise us. Even personality traits like kindness, confidence, generosity, aggression, humor, amicability, and sharing is learned by a child through the observation of its parents. That which is stressed augments in the nascent consciousness of a child.

As we grow older and begin school, teachers begin to play a role in determining what we deem important. The influence of society leaks in through the approved curriculum they lecture on. This societal influence is further expanded by television and other forms of media we are exposed to. School piles cathexis onto scientific and mathematical concepts. It builds hills of it surrounding history, reading, and writing. Unfortunately, so many responds only with aversion and repugnance to these topics. The forced cathexis melts into swamps and bogs, still teeming with life, but of a detestable quality.

To some extent the budding cathexis of our peers also influences us. As we import our personalities, learned from our parents, to the classroom, so do all our peers. The clash of this blend is what underpins the social interactions of children.

Natural athleticism, for example, is a genetic foundation, the cognitive bedrock, the tectonic plates of the mind, on which cathexis is built. The pressure of parents on their child to pursue sports is a cathectic force. The later is deliberately induced significance. Over zealous parents who push their non-athletic child into sports are building hills made of sand. It’s artificial, easily eroded by the rains of life, and limited in size and brilliance by its own composition.

Virtually every sort of talent or skill can be thought of this way. We each have a bedrock of genetic dispositions that determine the shape of our mental landscape. Upon this bedrock we grow the flora of talent. The musical and artistic regions of my mind are currently sparse. They resemble deserts. The winding path of my life simply hasn’t steered me towards these pursuits. The lush landscapes of my mind exist in physical endeavors. But it’s never too late to pick up an instrument and begin irrigating and cultivating a healthy ecosystem on this mental land.

The great difficulty in reaching adolescence is partly caused by the sprouting ability to control what we invest our emotional significance in. At this age we begin to form our own opinions about the course of our lives, so we begin to till new soil. Teenage rebellion is an act of developing cathexis in regions our parents wouldn’t.

It’s not until we reach full maturity that we are capable of fully mastering the landscapes of our mind. The great tragedy is that the plants grown over our lifetimes are often so deeply rooted by then that change seems impossibly daunting. People resign to their cathectic dispositions as inherent, and live their remaining days resenting their parents, or despising themselves, for how they are. That is a fate none of us has to suffer.

What we invest our emotional energy in changes constantly throughout our lives. Cathectic erosion happens all the time. Children are highly cathectic about Santa Claus, but that fades quickly with the inevitable disillusionment. Oppositely, cathectic accretion is a constant occurence. There was a time I was vaguely aware of travel. Now it’s one of the most important facets of my life.

And like any other personal quality, cathexis is susceptible to external influence. Recognizing the coming and going of these emotional ties will enable their deliberate manipulation, and can prevent unwanted ties from strengthening beyond hope for regulation.

Introspection is the act of surveying your mental landscape. Through this practice we can identify damaging habits, poisonous flora, and begin the process of rooting them out. Once you remove the emotional flora you can redistribute the freed soil to other areas. You are no longer bound to the emotional tension that that mental thistle once caused. You are freer.

Combing the landscape of your mind regularly, identifying and removing the pernicious vines, and redirecting the unlocked mulch where you see fit is the road to mastering yourself. It is the route to becoming the person you want to be. And ultimately it is the path to a fate of your own design.

Thank you for reading.


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