Today’s quote comes from Leonardo Da Vinci:
“Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”
Da Vinci was one of the most accomplished men in history, excelling in many fields of endeavor, both artistic and scientific. He contributed in painting, sculpture, literature, music, anatomy, astronomy, botany, geology, mathematics, history, cartography, and engineering, inventing all kinds of interesting things. (Imagine how hard it would have been to be his kid brother.) Inaction doesn’t seem to have been a problem for him.
I’ve been asking myself about what Da Vinci could have meant with this statement (or its equivalent in the Italian of the late 15th century). Having no way of knowing, I’ll just forge ahead, laying out various ways the statement might be understood.
Given research on the mental benefits of physical exercise, one alternative is that sitting around makes our mental processes sluggish, in much the same way that sitting immobile for an extended length of time causes our joints to stiffen up.
After physical inaction, we can consider mental inaction. Maybe Da Vinci references a failure to make decisions, something most definitely vigor-sapping. Or what about when we think our minds are moving, that we’re proceeding from one thought to the next, but our train of thought is perpetually running along the same bit of track, every day. There’s not much to distinguish such a mental course from inaction.
Mental movement like this masks the fact that there’s no new ground being covered, no insights happening. Da Vinci could never have made progress in the many areas of endeavor that he explored if his thoughts routinely followed a cautious, prescribed course.
I’m reminded of the saying that the opposite of a great truth is another great truth (we’ve seen pairs of opposite proverbs before). Da Vinci identifies the perils of inaction, but activity that has nothing else to recommend it is just busyness, and busyness is a mess that calls for stillness in response. More on that in a future post. In the meantime, do you have a favorite way to guard against the sapping of your mind’s vigor?
[Image: Peter K Burian, Wikipedia]