A mind stretched by a new idea can never go back to its original dimensions.

A new friend shared this classic Oliver Wendell Holmes quote with me this morning during a meeting at a Panera Bread. I’m sure I’ve heard it before, but it resonated with particular power for me because of the “stretching” I’ve undertaken for the past several years. It made perfect sense to me because it is true; once the cognitive wineskin has been reshaped or even torn, it can no longer be repaired to snugly fit the same individual’s head.

One of the most dangerous and disheartening dynamics to come across each day is the purposeful or unintentional closing of this same mind. I will be blogging much more deeply about this subject in the near future, but I’ll say in a nutshell for now that the root-cause culprit of intentional or unconscious mind atrophy is institutionalization.

What do I mean by this loaded word? I am referring specifically to the behavior exhibited when corporations; religious entities; governmental bodies; educational establishments; neighborhoods; and social cliques or organizations perpetuate themselves through incessant expectations, rule-enforcement and relentless marketing via numerous formats–disregarding heartfelt desires and leaving the critically-thinking individual to contend with the triple-play downer of fear, negative peer pressure and alienation.

This perpetuation often comes at the expense of truth, justice and compassion, because the “brand” must be protected and expanded at nearly all costs. It births a significant cluster of stressed-out people who are intellectually “in the closet” because they fear retribution should they be honest and dare to synthesize rather than compartmentalize their work, intellect, spirituality, emotions and relationships.

The person who has begun the process of enlightenment starts to see the dark side of institutionalization, and daily grows more uneasy with serving its cause. He or she increasingly swims against the tide, finding comfort and strength when splashing alongside others who also taste the truthful flavor of Holmes’s words. They literally cannot turn around and go with the established current, for the swimmer who once left the shore no longer exists. The synthesis is too life-affirming, too profoundly reverberating with truth down to the core of their being.