Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Life of the Mind

I have an entire bookshelf devoted to my non-fiction books, most of which I gathered during college and graduate school. Which basically means they have been gathering dust for years.

Dusty relics of an earlier time
Last year when I cleaned my room, I found a few old papers and tests from graduate school days. I sat on my floor and flipped through them. I recognized my handwriting on the tests, identified my name on the papers, but could not for the life of me remember ever being able to pen such thoughts, to string together such complex ideas, to write in such sophistication. It was a bit of an out-of-body experience.

In those old days I studied, and received, a Masters degree in Theology. Pretty heady stuff. I lived a Life of the Mind. During those days, my work consisted of reading, meditating, writing, participating in heady discussions with my peers, contemplation, and prayer. 3/4ths of my time was spent in the Life of the Mind.

When I got married and started having children, I knew the Life of the Mind could no longer be my sole work. In fact, I knew it must be put off for a season or two. I determined to continue intellectual and spiritual reading, even for just 10 minutes a day.

10 minutes a day becomes a token 10 minutes when you have three children under 5 years old. There are multiple diapers to change, minds to grow, games to play, tantrums to quell, and life to live. When they are older, I thought.

Now they are older (not to mention #4 came along). And now my days are consumed with educating them, driving them, cooking for them, cleaning, and all the other million mundane things that make up the life of a wife and mother (add in the  usually part-time job to work and volunteer stuff to do). I know all about the "Domestic Monastery", and it is beautiful; but it is a stern taskmaster.

Earlier this year, I realized I was withering away in my mind. I never - never - had more than 10 or 15 minutes to spend reading something meaty or thinking or contemplating or praying. And this has been my way of life for 16 years.

Not that I am complaining - I willingly and freely chose my life. I love being a mother - it is the absolute best part of me. But for someone who enjoys thinking and learning and studying, it is hard to be separated from those things for so long.

I did some writing several years back. I published some magazine articles, one booklet, and many web articles. But, like everything else concerned with the Life of the Mind, I had to make the decision to put that aside, as well. It was taking up so much of my time. I had boys to teach and a house to run.

Earlier this year, I had a mini-epiphany - I need the Life of the Mind again. For me, this is important. It may only be a small part of my day, but it needs to become part of my day again. With no time to really think about things, to read and meditate, to learn and contemplate, I have been like a car with its engine revving for years. My mind is going 24/7, but with small things.

Right now I am working on lesson plans for my new Tolkien/Lord of the Rings class. This subject is one of my favorites. It is the third time I am teaching it. This time, I have several repeat students, so I am doing new lesson plans - a part two, if you will. In order to prepare for this, I do a lot of reading. I currently have ten books, 2 binders with supplemental papers, two spiral notebooks with notes, and a computer on my table - all of which I am using. I have spent several weeks just reading. Reading and thinking. And taking notes.

All Tolkien; All the time.

No - it will not all go to my class. This is the way I educate myself; the way I continue learning, so I can teach, so I can share, so I can have something to give.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day on one handout. It took that long to read, to fact-check, to organize my thoughts, to finish. Writing takes time. Even this blog has taken up a great deal of my morning. Of course, I stop to answer the phone, to take care of email business, to talk to the middle boys about robots, and to readjust the Ninja's face mask. All in a day's work.

How can I mind stopping for this????

And I love it all. I love my mundane life - I love taking care of my family (at least, in theory!), I love teaching, I love my little jobs outside the house, I love the business of family life. But, I also used to love the Life of the Mind. And I am ready to fall in love with it all over again.

Oh, the irony.