Experiment #4: Quiet Time

Yesterday was the last day of school for Rachel, my daughter who goes to high school, and Hannah and Mary, who were homeschooling with me. We are now officially on summer break. I spent this morning on a “Mother’s Sabbath”, a term I added to my vocabulary after reading A Mother‘s Rule of Life. I don’t know its exact definition. (Though I enjoyed the book, I gave it away.) I think it means getting out of your house and doing things that renew your spirit. When I take one, it usually includes Mass, the Rosary, Confession, Panera, reading, writing and Adoration. It can be a time of recollection and of getting my priorities straight.

Today, I thought of something that was a part of my daily schedule when my children were young. I called it Quiet Time. It was usually after lunch. It was when everyone went into separate rooms to do something quiet for an hour. It might be playing with toys, napping, reading, drawing… as long as it was quiet. My Quiet Time was often “interrupted” by babies. And sometimes I would blow it myself by going on a computer. This was back in the days before iphones and ipads. This morning I realized I want to spend the first week of summer break slowing down.

From my journal:

Slow Down Week – Like a Sunday. Do what’s necessary, but enjoy life. Spend the week with you, Lord. In prayer and meditation, adoration… quiet. No news, no videos. Resting – Nature – Art – Music (not quiet) Remember Quiet TIme? Unplug.

So that was how I remembered Quiet Time. I think I need to be more disciplined if I want the life that I desire. To be closer to God, I cannot crowd Him out with noise and ceaseless activity. So, I’ll try this for one week and report the results.

Experiment #4:

Slow down for one week. Do only necessary work. Be as quiet as possible. Do not initiate any movie nights or put on any music. Stay away from social media and news. Spend lots of time ouside, and rest.

Book Notes: The Intellectual Life, Wrap Up

I finished reading this book three weeks ago. I really want to dive right into The Discernment of Spirits, but I’m making myself write a final post to fulfill my “duty of bringing to completion” (227) what I started. Part IV of Chapter 8 is titled Doing Things Well and Finishing Everything. OK, A.G., I’ll take your advice. I’ll be constant, patient, and I will persevere. I would not want this unfinished work to “be a reproach” to me. (229)

“I see a cause of moral decadence in abandoning a project or an undertaking. One grows used to giving-up; one resigns oneself to disorder, to an uncomfortable conscience; one gets a habit of shilly-shallying. Thence comes a loss of dignity that can have no favorable effect on one’s progress.”

(229)

Sounds serious. Shilly-shally is my new favorite word. Shilly-shallying is why I want to learn how to practice the discernment of spirits. It means:

  1. : to show hesitation or lack of decisiveness or resolution
  2. : DAWDLE

I do this frequently. I am unsure. How does God want me to spend the time I have been given? More questions arose when I read this part of the book. Do I finish what I start? Do I reflect (count the cost) before starting on a piece of work? (228) A quick list eased my mind. I usually complete projects I start. I also have many commitments that have been ongoing for years, and although they don’t end, I have not given up on them. What I often neglect are books, home studies, and writing, the very things for which The Intellectual Life offers help. The end of Chapter 8 sums up what conditions are needed for success in work: to reflect at the start, to begin at the beginning, to proceed methodically, to advance slowly, to give out all one’s strength. (233)

So now I have come to the final chapter, for which I hand wrote four pages of quotes and notes while my four daughters were getting haircuts at a local salon. To limit the length of this post, I’m going to focus on just two ideas. I’ll call them: living and resting.

LIVING (Chapter 9, I. Keeping Contact With Life)

Living in society requires us to take part in many practical activities. (For me, it’s picking Rachel up from school and dropping her off at tennis practice, folding clothes, visiting my mother, painting a bathroom, taking kids shopping for bathing suits, going for a bike ride, etc.)

“It is hard to settle on exactly the measure of all these things.”

(236)

The author seems to understand the uncertainty I mentioned earlier of how to spend my time, but he says he has confidence that I will be able to decide, and that I’ll appreciate the relative value of things. (236) He addresses a concern that the intellectual will get so into his work that he’ll neglect the practical activities, or he’ll turn his back on the worthwhile things of life. Think scholé! I have an opposite concern. I may overdo the practical activities, neglect my intellectual or spiritual life, and also turn my back on scholé. Sertillanges advises: “Give up nothing of what belongs to man. Preserve a balance…” (241)

The beauty of this section inspires me. I see his message in other places, but the way he writes it makes me long for it.

“Nature renews everything, refreshes every well-formed mind, opens up new vistas and suggests surveys that abstract thinking knows nothing of. The tree is a teacher; the field teems with ideas as with anemones or daisies; the clouds and stars in the revolving sky bring fresh inspiration; the mountains steady our thoughts with their mass; and the course of the running streams starts the mind on lofty meditations…

Yet you let your mind get cramped and your heart grow dry, and you imagine that it is loss of time to follow the course of the torrents or to wander among the stars. The universe fills man with its glory, and you do not know it. The star of evening set against the darkening sky is lonely, it wants a place in your thought, and you refuse to admit it. You write, you compute, you string propositions together, you elaborate your theses, [you stare at your iphone] and you do not look.”

(238-239)

“Music has this precious quality for the intellectual that as it conveys no precise ideas, it interferes with none. It awakens states of soul, from which each one in his particular task will draw what he wills.”

(239)

He speaks of the connections between thought and the manifestations of creative power. (238) And the manifestations (a sunset, a visit to the Louvre, an evening at the symphony, a walk about Versailles under the autumn trees, and so on…) are dreamy. Homeschoolers may have heard of the British educator Charlotte Mason’s “Education is the science of relations.” Or her other famous motto: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” This came to mind when I read this quote:

“One is a poor thing all by oneself in one’s study! It is true one can bring the universe into it and people it with God; but that divine inhabitation is effective only after long experience, of which the elements are everywhere about us. Should I write under the impression of nature and of universal beauty, if great scenery, the peaceful countryside, the vision of the achievements of art, had not previously educated me?”

(240)

What a great reminder to me, that atmosphere is important not only for a parent to provide for her homeschooled child, but for anyone, for life… We are all born persons. It also reminded me of the idea of an integrated curriculum. And how you can separate subjects into time slots in your day, but they will always overlap. They are all parts of one big story. Let’s allow no compartments! (241)

And speaking of being born persons… Theology of the Body came to mind when I read this next quote:

“Refuse to be a brain detached from its body, and a human being who has cut out his soul.”

(241)

Lastly, I shall paraphase a description of Sertillanges’ intellectual – to envision for myself: She has varied knowledge that goes well with her special studies. She loves the arts and natural beauty; her mind is one in everyday activities and in meditation. She is the same woman in the presence of God, with her family, and with acquaintances. She has a world of ideas and feelings that she writes about, shares in conversations with others, and by which she lives. (241)

RESTING (Chapter 9, II. Knowing How to Relax)

“Nothing must be in excess. Work, precisely because it is a duty, requires limits which maintain it in full vigor, make it lasting, and enable it to yield in the course of life the greatest total effect of which it is capable.”

(242)

That’s what I always say.

I like to relax; so reading arguments on why it’s necessary, makes my logical heart flutter. Let it be known that:

“Relaxation is a duty… to refuse to rest is implicitly to refuse an effort that rest would render possible.”

(243)

“When one does not make room for rest, the rest one does not take takes itself: it steals into the work, under the form of distractions, of sleepiness, of necessary things that demand attention, not having been foreseen at the right time.

… If I omitted these preparations because of some nominal work, some inferior occupation that I was bent on through lack of self-control, there is a double disaster; I arrive at this result: no real rest, no real work. Disorder reigns.”

(245-246)

The rest of this section goes on to describe true rest,

“St. Thomas explains that the true rest of the soul is joy, some activity in which we delight. Games, familiar conversation, friendship, family life, pleasant reading such as we have spoken of, communion with nature, some art accessible to us, some not tiring manual work, an intelligent stroll about town, theatrical performances that are not too exacting or too exciting, sport in moderation; these are our means of relaxation.”

(246)

how we must have a proper balance between work and rest,

“To work too long is to get worn-out; to stop too soon is to fail in giving one’s measure. In the same way, to rest too long is to destroy the momentum acquired; to rest too little is to fail in renewing one’s strength.”

(246)

and he gives another plug for being in nature.

“Ah, if one could work in the heart of nature, one’s window open on a fair landscape, so placed that when one was tired one could enjoy a few minutes in the green country; or, if one’s thought was at a standstill ask a suggestion from the mountains, from the company of trees and clouds, from the passing animals, instead of painfully enduring one’s dull mood -I am sure that the work produced would be doubled, and that it would be far more attractive, far more human.”

(247)

IN CONCLUSION

The Intellectual Life by A. G. Sertillanges, O.P., has given me conviction and clarity. I see how necessary it is for me to make time for scholé in my life. Scrolling through the Table of Contents (or past posts) reminds me of the methods suggested, and I feel so inspired. A confidence rises up inside me. I can do this! Clearly, I will just: feel a sense of duty, discipline my body, simplify my life, make solitude a priority, limit and be choosy about my reading, quiet my evenings, be focused and methodical, be sure what I start is worthwhile, finish what I start, and produce results! Woo Hoo!

Book Notes: The Intellectual Life, Chapter 8

I said at the beginning of this series that I wasn’t going to summarize the chapters. I’d just post stuff I’d write in a commonplace book, such as favorite quotes that inspired me, thoughts I had…

Well… this chapter, “Creative Work”, has been the most thought provoking, inspiring one yet! I began reading this book because I thought it would help me find more time for scholé. I enjoyed hearing about it on Christopher Perrin’s podcast. Now, I want to write! This could be blog-changing.

When I was a kid in the early eighties, I played Barbies with my brother, and when he outgrew them, my sister. I was likely the one who came up with our systems of separating the furniture and accessories. I think for awhile, we’d line everything up and take turns picking what we wanted. Then, it later changed to someone mixing up the stuff while the “picker”, back turned so as not to see the items, chose a number from one, to the number of items there were. And that’s the item they would get. Picking continued until everything was fairly sorted. After that time-consuming raffle-type experience, we’d set up the houses. I remember one day, (likely too old to be playing with Barbie dolls) that I had the thought: I enjoy getting ready to play, more than I enjoying playing.

I instantly saw this memory when I read the first two lines of this chapter:

You have come now to the moment of producing results. One cannot be forever learning and forever getting ready.

(Page 199)

How true. I have seen this pattern in my life. I have enjoyed homeschool planning, sometimes more than implementation. I enjoy getting the house in order, and messing it up by cooking or crafting, I tend to avoid. Or how about gardening? The preparing the soil and planting seeds is something I like. And I don’t mind weeding. But I’ve finally admitted to myself that watering and harvesting are not how I’d like to spend my time.

I see two things about myself here. One is that I prefer to participate in activities that are not messy. And the other is that I want to play it safe. Are these related?

When I am preparing to do something, it’s beautiful in my mind. We are going to have a homeschool year (or day) that is filled with discussing fascinating subjects, appreciating fine art, music, and nature, and consistently improving skills. It never works out the way I envision it. There is a wide range of other realities from a lack of enthusiasm to tears.

How many times have I gotten excited about trying a good-looking recipe, confident that following the instructions exactly and putting in the work would yield a wonderful meal? And then I’ve been disppointed by too much pink inside the chicken or the burnt whatever. You can probably imagine how a garden could let me down.

All of this to say that I might be a perfectionist. I might be immature. Maybe I think of things not going as I planned as mistakes. That is my initial response. But I when I slow down and take a long look, I see that everything that has happened is good. I can accept that I don’t love cooking, but it is something I do to take care of myself and my family. I can have compassion for myself and my children as we homeschool imperfectly. I can see the garden beds as a lesson learned and move on. And I know I love to write. This chapter has inspired me to do it imperfectly.

An organ that is used grows and gets strong; a strong organ can be used more effectively. You must write throughout the whole of your intellectual life.

(Page 199)

I realize that I’ve been playing it safe. I pour my heart out in my private, black leather notebook. But here I write about decluttering, capsule wardrobes, and give room tours. I share quotes I like. I read, learn, pray, meditate… “forever getting ready.”

If you produce nothing you get a habit of passivity; timidity grows continually and the fear caused by pride; you hesitate, waste your powers in waiting, become as unproductive as a knotted tree-bud.

(Page 201)

I certainly don’t want to be described as knotted. It’s spring. Time to open up. I want to fully live.

If you want fully to exist from the intellectual point of view, you must know how to think aloud, to think explicitly, that is to shape both within you and for the outside world the word which is the expression of your mind.

(Page 201)

Beautiful.

So this is the plan now. This is not to say that I won’t post room before and after pictures. I just don’t want to hold back anymore. If you are a writer or a wannabe, and want inspiration, get a hold of this book and read chapter 8, part I. Writing. Yes, there are other parts to this chapter. Four more in fact. So, there may be a sequel.

Book Notes: The Intellectual Life, Chapter 7

This chapter, “Preparation for Work”, is long and full of information. I made a list of questions derived from this chapter to put it into a useful format for my future self.

AN EXAMEN ON PREPARATION FOR WORK

Reading

  • Do I have an uncontrolled habit of reading? (146)
  • Do I read intelligently, seeing to my well-being? (147)
  • Do I dull my mind, not feed it, by inordinate reading? (147)
  • Do I read to escape from self? (147)
  • Do I overstrain my eyes and the membranes of my brain? (147)
  • Do I read only what I want to retain, and retain only what will be useful? (148)
  • Do I manage my brain prudently, and not abuse it by cramming it absurdly? (148)
  • Do I go out of doors, breathe fresh air, relax? (148)
  • Have I cut down on the less solid and serious kind of reading (novels)? (148)
  • Do I read the news during working hours? (149)
  • Do I read more news than a weekly or bi-monthly chronicle in review? (149)
  • Am I reading (except in moments of recreation) only what concerns the purpose I am pursuing? (149)
  • Am I reading little, so as not to eat up my interior silence? (149)
  • Am I discerning what things I feed my mind and are to be the seed of my thoughts? (149)
  • Am I choosing (in my books) to associate only with first-rate thinkers? (150)
  • Do I turn away from badly written books, which are probably poor in thought also? (150)
  • Do I love the eternal books that express eternal truths? (151)
  • Do I choose guides whom I will trust when reading for formation? (153)
  • Do I watch myself, note what readings help me, and go to those for inspiration when needed? (155)
  • Do I read for recreation/rest something that I like, that does not excite me too much and divert me from my path? (156)
  • Do I choose books to rest my mind that will also be useful otherwise? (157)
  • Do I have an attitude of respect and realize the privilege of being in contact with great minds? (157)
  • Do I reflect that we are all of the same race, and that at the source of all inspiration, there is “God, the first and supreme author of all one writes.”? (159) (quote from Victor Hugo)
  • Am I looking for truths and what is lasting in an author’s work? (164)
  • Or do I have a fault finding attitude when reading the work of a great mind? (166)
  • Do I react to what I read so as to make it my own and by means of it to form my soul? (166)
  • Am I putting in my own effort? (167)
  • Do I realize the source of knowledge is not in books, but in reality, and in my thought? (169)
  • Am I comprehending what I am reading and thinking for myself? (170)
  • Is the object of my education to acquire truths and formulas or to develop wisdom? (170)
  • Am I being myself? Is my reading enabling me to be free, and bringing about my own thoughts? (172)

Memory

  • Am I wanting to remember only what is useful? (176)
  • Do I try to keep in the forefront of my mind what forms the basis of my work? (177)
  • Is my mind well-ordered? (178)
  • Do I relieve my mind of useless burdens, so it can devote itself to its work with all its strength, and go straight to its purpose and not waste time? (180)
  • When I read or listen am I fully present? (183)
  • Do I repeat what I am trying to remember? And reflect on it often? (183)
  • Do I live a peaceful life? (184)
  • Do I cultivate a sense of the newness of things? (184)

Notes

  • Do I think and let some time lapse before taking notes? (188)
  • Do I take notes in moderation? (188)
  • Do I take them according to my personal needs? (189)
  • Do they have something of myself in them? (189)
  • Do they correspond to what I am aiming at? (189)
  • Do I write down what I think after contact with someone else, more than that other person’s thought? (190)
  • Am I careful not to get crazy collecting notes? (194)
  • Do I indulge in accumulating notes? (194)
  • Do I keep notes on slips? (195)

Vacate Clutter Day 9

Look what’s left! Not too much. Really… just the basement, garage, and Bobby’s clothing. I’m thinking of checking off Joseph’s bedroom and clothing. One reason is that he’s working a lot, and he’s not going to want to declutter on his days off. Another reason is that we just went through his stuff when he switched bedrooms with Hannah and Mary. I can’t remember when that was, but I think it was after Christmas. Reasons #3 and #4: He’s twenty. He owns mostly Legos and books. He’ll want to keep them all. And the fifth reason is that his stuff is in his room. I rarely see it and it’s never strewn around the house. Bobby’s clothing, however, affects me. I do his laundry and benefit everyday from a tidy arrangement. I don’t want to be wrestling with sweaters, trying to squish them into his armoire.

So today I started with my van. You can see in the photo a pile to relocate on the left and a trash pile on the right. I didn’t vacuum the van interior, but it looks greatly improved. Very satisfying.

I emptied the linen closet. Sorted into yes, no, and not sure. The girls agreed to let go of some blankets. I’m getting rid of the extra tiles from the old bathroom floor. Unfortunately, I think there are some sheets and blankets in the basement. Some people made a fort under the stairs weeks ago.

I finished the school room, and the girls’ bedrooms. Tomorrow will be a day of rest.

Vacate Clutter Day 8

I started by dropping off three bags of clothing at a donation center this morning. I also got 2 black garbage bags full of cans out of the garage. That’s not really clutter though. It’s trash that’s worth money.

I hung up these hammocks in the girls’ closet today. I haven’t decluttered their room yet, but I checked with Mary and she wanted to keep all of her stuffed animals and dolls. These are the ones she doesn’t keep on her bed.

I went through the “family room” part of the school room. Mary was willing to part with many items that she doesn’t play with very often. She also didn’t care if I got rid of books. She just loves her stuffed animals.

I had a lump in my throat this afternoon from spending too much time in the school room. I pulled out more books to give away. Mostly early readers and books someone gave me last year. I ditched lots of paper. I decluttered the sentimental items. I added to my future projects list: scan photos and finish scrapbooks. I’m purging picture frames, including this one.

Matthew’s going to take it. It was his cute little hand I traced.

The most exciting news of the day is that while Bob was busting on the elliptical machine and the recumbent bike, I was holding up items from his bins and drawers, and he was telling me where they go. The study, the garage, the bathroom, the trash…

Master Bedroom and Mudroom… check!!

Edited to add: Controversy ensued as to whose hand was actually traced in the above picture. After research, I have concluded that it was mostly likely Rachel’s hand.

Vacate Clutter Day 7

Master Bathroom, check! Bobby sorted his toiletries into keep or trash. (A big deposit into the emotional bank account.)

I asked Mary, who is nine, what she wanted to keep in the mudroom and I bagged up the rest.

Foyer, check! There was nothing to get rid of in the closet. We use the iron and ironing board, vacuum cleaner, wrapping paper and gift bags (sometimes). We haven’t used the hangers much because we haven’t been having parties, but someday, right? And the jigsaw puzzle collection is staying.

I started to sort the homeschool curriculum before I left to go to a wake in Connecticut. Some items were easy to part with, but there are many “not sures”. We have decided to send Hannah to eighth grade at our local Catholic school this September. We haven’t made a decision about whether or not to send Mary (the youngest and last homeschooler in our family). As of now, she is on a waiting list for the fifth grade. So just being in the school room is emotional for me. That’s a story for another post.

As you can see in the picture above, I have a lot left to do. I checked off Sarah’s bedroom and clothing because she is going to do them on her own when the spring semester is finished. She usually does her own decluttering now. She’s the most minimalist of the family. I told Bobby, who’s into fitness, that our house is losing weight. It really does feel lighter to me already!

Vacate Clutter Day 6

Clothing. I recently let go of more of my own. I’m now down to just what I actually use. Today I parted with the light bluish-purplish windbreaker that I think I bought before I got married. That puts it at 24 years old. I have fond memories of baby Matthew sucking on the hood strings during Sunday Masses, and wearing the jacket in places like NYC and the Holy Land. But I haven’t worn it in about two years, so it’s out the door. I think it makes me look like an old lady now that I’m getting closer to being one.

I started the mudroom purge. I couldn’t finish because I still need Bob and Mary to go through their stuff. But I packed away the snow boots, scarves, gloves, etc. Packed the winter coats of the family members willing to wear sweatshirts and jean jackets even if it gets cold again. I brought up the summer totes, flip flops, slides, etc. Then I organized the holiday decorations. We didn’t part with any. We use what we own. I think I tossed some St. Patrick’s Day items yesterday. We are not Irish. But we do often celebrate by drinking Shamrock shakes.

I finished by sorting through Rachel and Hannah’s clothing with them. We got rid of two white kitchen bags of mostly hand-me-downs that don’t fit them or that they wouldn’t wear. The picture above shows the decoration and clothing bins we keep in the basement.

The jacket (May 2002)

Vacate Clutter Day 5

How did these make it through so many kitchen purges? Not today!

I did not follow my plan of resting after lunch. In the morning I worked on the kitchen cabinets and drawers, an extra kitchen closet, and part of the pantry. Then my mom came over for a visit and lunch.

After she left, I couldn’t leave the pantry unfinished. It was tedious looking at all of those teeny expiration dates with my fifty-one year old eyes. The room is not well lit and my eyes were never great anyway. I got glasses when I was three and hard contact lenses when I was eight. When I was three-fourths of the way through, I started writing the month and year on the box/can with a Sharpie marker. If those items are still there on my next pass through the pantry, the dates should be easy to read.

I was on a roll, so I did the dining room, an Easter decorations bin that was in the dining room, and my kitchen desk. Though I go through my desk cabinets and drawers regularly, there were still so many items to file, throw away, relocate, ask Bob about, and “to do” at a later time. I’m also taking notes of items to purchase (such as coffee for guests) and future projects to work on (such as updating checklists or organizing our power outage supplies).

After dinner, I started sorting items in the basement. I did this the whole time Bob was working out down there. He guesses it was one hour and twenty minutes. I now have a list of basement categories to deal with this week. Time to rest and eat popcorn.

Vacate Clutter Days 3 & 4

Day 3

Sunday was a light day because I try to rest on Sundays. I only sorted a pile of books someone gave me last summer. There were some interesting ones that I haven’t decided about yet, and I have a box to go out the door.

Day 4

Today I started with my portion of the Master Bathroom. Bobby’s things are all out on the counter and the floor. I think he’ll go through them soon.

Cleaning drawers is very satisfying, and thinking about reorganization is tempting. After spending too much time on that, I realized that I need to focus on just decluttering or there is no way I’ll get through my checklist during vacation. My daughter Sarah already called my plan “ambitious”, which is code for “I don’t think you’ll finish that much in one week.”

Next up was the Utility Closet. I didn’t think of taking a before photo. Here is the stuff that was in it, and an after photo.

My method was: 1. Empty closet. 2. Relocate items. (I decided to move extra boxes of facial tissues to the bathrooms, car cleaners and shoe/boot sprays to the laundry room cabinets, and hand sanitizer – I do not know where yet.) 3. Throw away trash. 4. Put the keepers back in the closet neatly.

I also decluttered my Laundry Room/Half Bath and the Upstairs (Kids) Bathroom. These were recently remodeled so I didn’t take pictures. I’ll do Room Tours posts on them when I have time. But not this week because I am focused!