Book Notes: The Intellectual Life, Chapter 2

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Chapter 2 is all about virtues and their connection to knowledge.  I’m going to use the information in the fourth part of the chapter, which is about disciplining our bodies.  Since I consistently struggle with consistency in bodily discipline, I thought I’d take some of the author’s suggestions to make a list for my own benefit.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR KEEPING YOUR BODY IN GREAT SHAPE FOR THINKING

  1. Go outside! Live as much as possible in the open air. (37)
  2. Take walks every day. Walk before you study, after you study, and even while you are studying. (37)
  3. Breathe deeply.  Keep windows open, when possible.  Sit in a position that frees your lungs and doesn’t compress your other organs.  Take slow and deep breaths.  Try doing it while standing on tiptoes. (37)
  4. Stretch.  Reach your limbs in two or three rhythmic movements or movements that amplify your deep breathing exercises. (37)
  5. Exercise every day. “Those who do not find time to take exercise must find time to be ill.” If you cannot exercise outside, then do it inside.  It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise, as long as you do it! (37-38)
  6. Take vacations. At least once a year.  Maybe more.  This doesn’t mean you can’t do any work during them, but you should mostly rest, get fresh air, and exercise out-of-doors. (38)
  7. Watch what you eat. Stick with light food that is plain and simply cooked.  Do not overeat!  “A thinker does not spend his life in the processes of digestion.” (38)
  8. Get enough sleep.  This is very important. Both too much or too little can negatively affect you. Find out how much you need and make a firm resolution to keep it. (38)
  9. Have good hygiene. Wash, brush, floss, wear dry, clean clothes.
  10. Pay attention to your passions and vices. Are you overdoing anything?  Have you noticed behaviors that dull your mind? Or make you tired or anxious?  Are you doing them excessively?  Do you have habits that you know are not good for you?  “A lover of pleasure is an enemy of his body and therefore quickly becomes an enemy of his soul.  Mortification of the senses is necessary for thought, and can alone bring us to that state of clear vision…” (39)  Try fasting or abstinence.  Limit screen time. Stay away from Twizzlers.

A Summer Schedule

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Summer of 2020.  It’s starting out as usual in some ways… laps in my dad’s pool, movie nights, and eating ice cream; but in many ways it will be different.  My family’s annual Fourth of July party has been canceled. Birthday and graduation celebration plans are up in the air.  I’m wondering whether or not I should invite my adult son over to visit us, when I’ll see my friends in person again, and when it’ll be considered safe to hug my parents.

And, we are wearing masks.

Staying in the day, in the moment, without thinking about all the future unknowns helps me to enjoy my life.  It’s easy for me to worry or to get frustrated when I read news articles.  There are recommendations and mandates, postponed decisions, and perhaps, inconsistencies with the decisions being made.  There are things I don’t fully understand, having only partial information, and these same things are clearly out of my control.

So my priority for this summer (and always, but I get sidetracked), is prayer.  I want to find a balance of prayer, work and rest.  So here is the basic plan:

  • 7:00-8:15  Hygiene, chores, morning prayers, breakfast, spiritual reading and meditation
  • 8:15-9:30  Mass, rosary, start laundry
  • 9:30-11:30  Projects/food shopping/weekly cleaning
  • 11:30-12:00  Reading (fiction)
  • 12:00-1:00  Angelus, lunch, chores, finish laundry
  • 1:00-4:00  Driving lessons, French lessons/pool time, work out
  • 4:00-6:00  Shower, dinner prep & eat, chores
  • 6:00-10:00  Angelus, meeting/movie/blog post, family time
  • 10:00-11:00  Iron, hygiene, night prayers, reading (non-fiction)

I’ve been trying to follow this schedule for a couple of weeks now.  I’ve not been praying the rosary or the Angelus consistently yet.  Because it hasn’t been raining much, we’ve been swimming at the pool almost every day.  I also haven’t been consistent with my reading times. Projects, movies, hanging out with Bobby, and helping my mom (or the kids) seem to take over my time.

One benefit of following a schedule, that I noticed recently, is that it helps me to enjoy the present moment.  Doing the tasks that need to get done at a certain day/time each week, helps to get rid of the overwhelming feelings that I am behind, or forgetting things I need to do, that clutter up my mind and make me feel anxious.  For example, knowing that we are going to clean the house on Friday morning, or that I’m going to take Joseph driving after lunch, allows me to relax when I’m reading a book on the couch, or sitting at the pool with my family.  I don’t have the guilt that I should be doing something “more productive” at that time.

I can also see when I am avoiding doing something on my schedule.  Sometimes there may be a good reason for doing so, but other times I may be avoiding feelings, or maybe my priorities have gotten out of order.  So the schedule can also help with self-awareness and with being intentional as people often say nowadays. Most of all, I hope it will help to make God, rather than me, the center of my life.

 

Experiment #1: Downsizing Eyes

6BBC3B66-1EB1-4505-9FD3-E088D48A7849My step father passed away on December 27, 2019. He and my mother had lived together for thirty years.  They weren’t pack rats, and they were fairly organized and clean.  For the past few months I’ve watched (and sometimes helped) my mother give away and throw away their possessions in order to downsize.  I helped my mother buy a one bedroom condo, which is closer in proximity to my sister and me.  Then two weeks ago, we helped her move the possessions she wanted to keep into the new condo.  Last weekend, she decided she wanted to put her house on the market by the end of the week, and yesterday it was listed.

For five days we spring cleaned, painted, posted items on the “letgo” app, gave items to their new owners, and filled up a 15 yard dumpster.  Then on the sixth and seventh days, I rested.  Today, I’m thinking about the whole experience.

Letting go of a home you lived in for forty years as you are grieve the loss of your spouse is my mother’s story.  Saying good-bye to my childhood home and remembering my step father and my grandparents, who also have passed away, and who were a big part of my life back then, is my story; but not where I’m going with this today.  I’m pondering the downsizing of material possessions.

Those who know me well, know that this is a big topic of interest for me. Decluttering, purging stuff, minimalism, voluntary poverty, and downsizing… they are all related in my mind.  And now I have this fresh, first-hand experience (not my own) of answering the questions:  What do I want? What do I need? What am I willing to let go of?

It’s hard not to notice the fact that I will one day go through this downsizing myself, or if I die first, my family will be throwing out and giving away my possessions.  So why am I keeping things that I do not use on a regular basis?  It motivates me to do another pass through my home with the eyes of a downsizer.

Experiment #1:

Imagine you are moving into a tiny one bedroom home next week.  It has a small living room, kitchen, bathroom, and very little extra storage.  What would you take with you?  What are your favorite things?  What do you use all the time?  What is most important?

This will not help me to get rid of any of my husband’s or my children’s belongings.  And I will, of course, need to keep many extra articles of furniture and shared items in the common areas.  But let’s see how this experiment will affect my own stash of personal belongings.  Results will be the subject of a future post.

Room Tours: The Living Room

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This is the third entry in my Room Tours category.  Our living room was always one of the most used rooms in the house, but I think Covid 19 has pushed it into the number one spot. We are in here to watch morning Mass, do school subjects, read, play games, watch movies, binge shows on Netflix, sit and talk, nap, go on electronics, and more.

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Sarah plays the piano in here, and much of her sheet music is stored near her piano (the rest is stored in the dining room). A circle of fifths print is the wall hanging shown above. I like it because it’s practical and neutral colored. We keep headphones and chargers in the loveseat console. We store DVD’s and Wii U games and accessories in the TV cabinet.

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The rest of our DVD’s are stored on a bookshelf in the nearby foyer closet.

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The living room is open to the dining room.

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On movie nights, we turn the loveseat and the chairs to face the TV, and so everyone can recline with their legs up.  It’s super comfy!  I even moved a chair right in front of the TV when I watched Parasite, so I could read the subtitles more easily.

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We store remote controls and chargers in the end table on the left, and in the right one are kindles and guess what?  More chargers!

I think the “Order” print above the sofa is beautiful and I feel a sense of peace when I look at it.  My kids don’t agree, and Joseph continually teases me with ideas of things we could hang to replace it.

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The room doesn’t usually look like this, as you can imagine, but everything has a place in here, so it doesn’t take long to tidy it up.  Everyone just has pick up their own dishes, books, papers, socks, games, blankets, dolls, laptops, iPads, hair ties, and yes, chargers!

Book Notes: The Intellectual Life, Chapter 1

D7D291B9-7B7C-4F9D-BB1D-A5C0B1DE50F8I created a new category called “Book Notes” where I’ll post my thoughts on books I’m reading, as I said I would do in my last post.  I also created a tag for the name of the book. I think that will allow one to call up all posts about that particular book. My first notes in this new category will be about The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods by A. G. Sertillanges, O.P.  I think this is a great way to begin methodically reading my nonfiction books… by studying a classic book that teaches how to learn!

I don’t plan to summarize each chapter.  Maybe someone else has done that online.  I’ll just write about whatever I find interesting and would have written about by hand in a journal as I do sometimes. This category will be my electronic commonplace book.

“Christianized humanity is made up of various personalities, no one of which can refuse to function without impoverishing the group and without depriving the eternal Christ of a part of His kingdom. Christ reigns by unfolding Himself in men.  Every life of one of His members is a characteristic moment of His duration; every individual man and Christian is an instance, incommunicable, unique, and therefore necessary, of the extension of the ‘spiritual body.’  If you are designated as a light bearer, do not go and hide under the bushel the gleam or the flame expected from you in the house of the Father of all.”  (5)

What excited me about this passage is that it reminded me of something I heard at my Spiritual Exercises retreat last September.  I heard it during the Call of Christ meditation talk and it was something that I had never thought of before.  It was a new motivation.

Jesus is calling me to follow him, like a soldier following a good king into battle.  And it’s a battle that we are sure to win.  It’s a guaranteed victory.  There may be some suffering involved, but the king will be right there suffering with us too.  How am I going to respond? I know I should be generous.  I should have courage.  I should go above and beyond if I want to distinguish myself.  I should be committed.  But here’s what I didn’t ever think about before:  I should have a sense of responsibility.  I am necessary.  Essential.  God depends on me to bring the fire of His love to those around me.  My surrender will bring a unique benefit to the world.  I will leave a black hole in the universe if I do not offer myself as He expects. To me, this means my response is more than an expression of love and gratitude.  It’s my duty.  (And it took my ISTJ breath away.)

So I saw this idea repeated in the passage above, but in this case it’s referring to the vocation of intellectual work.  Or the hobby, for people like me who already have a full-time vocation.  I do think I am called to develop and deepen my mind (as a supplement to my regular work) because I do really enjoy reading and thinking about ideas and it seems to go along with the disposition God has given me.  My interpretation of the passage above is that the calling (whether part-time or full-time) is more than just an interest you may have, it’s something you should be doing. And not half-way, but give it your all!

So that’s one takeaway from the chapter. There are many others, but it’s time for me to cook dinner.

 

A Shutdown Schedule

EE35F5C8-03AF-47BD-8DF2-A3117CDAFCD4Here in Massachusetts, schools are teaching remotely for the rest of the year. Churches are closed, and we are still social distancing. I have about 2-3 hours of extra time each day now; time that I used to spend driving around in my van. I’ve been sitting on the couch, watching Gilmore Girls, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and loads of movies. (Especially during the last week, when we were on school vacation.) I’ve also been reading novels, listening to talks, doing puzzles, and I spent many hours helping my mother to (possibly) purchase a condo and to get her house ready to put on the market.

This week we are back to school.  I’m trying to set up routines for this new way of life, which may be drastically different for some families; but for us it is similar, in many ways, to how we’ve always lived. I’m currently homeschooling Hannah and Mary, and here is our schedule for school days during this shutdown:

  • 7:00-8:15  Morning Prayers & Meditation, Breakfast & Chores
  • 8:15-8:45  Daily Mass (in our living room)
  • 8:45-9:30  Miles Christi Covid-19 video, Religion, Art
  • 9:30-10:30  Grammar
  • 10:30-11:30  Science, History
  • 11:30-12:00  Silent Reading
  • 12:00-1:00  Lunch & Chores, Break
  • 1:00-3:00  Math, Spelling, Handwriting, Latin
  • 3:00-5:00
  • 5:00-6:00  Dinner & Chores
  • 6:00-Bedtime

Joseph, Sarah, and Rachel, who were attending local college, high school, and eighth grade, are also home with us, doing their schoolwork independently.   They usually join us for meals.  Bobby is still going into work every day. He leaves around 8 a.m. and comes home at different times each night.  Fortunately for me, he’s not traveling anymore.  He likes to eat something and work-out when he gets home. And he usually wants to watch a movie at night. Last night, we walked together on the bike trail, which was very nice.

I want to create some healthy routines for myself in those open time slots.  I’m trying to include a daily walk or other exercise, either after school or after dinner, depending on what else is planned for the day. On some days I clean, go food shopping, attend Zoom meetings, or Facetime or call family members or friends.

I also want to commit to reading more at night before bed. I hope to post here some of my thoughts about what I’m reading to help me with consistency and focus. I often grab one of the many non-fiction books I own and read some of it, then put it down. I am interested in reading the books I own one at a time, from start to finish. If I can stick to the one book at a time, and a little bit each night, I’ll be sure to finish some books this year.  And if this becomes a habit for me, then maybe I can work on another one.

Whenever I set up a new schedule, I’m really just tweaking the one that I’ve had for years. I find it helpful to see it in writing though. I’m really telling myself that these are the things that are important to me.  I know that things will come up to interrupt it. People will call or need help with something.  That’s fine.  But notice that I haven’t scheduled excessively scrolling on Facebook, or reading news articles.  Activities that waste my time or cause me anxiety are not my priority and are sometimes harmful, so when I find myself doing those, I’ll need to ask why.

 

 

Peace During the Pandemic

After at least a week of obsessively scrolling facebook, chuckling at toilet paper memes, and reading news articles; I am back to believing that God has a plan for my life.

So I got off the beam for awhile there. It’s hard not to panic when your food’s running out, there’s a rumor that everything will be shut down for two weeks, Walmart is packed with people who might be carrying the Coronavirus without symptoms (or worse, might cough on you) and every few aisles, you turn down one that is just about wiped out.  Add in the fact that most of the activities that keep me grounded are canceled indefinitely, and the unsettling feeling that I always have when I read sensational media.

I don’t want to feel like I’m reading propaganda.  I just want the facts. I don’t want to read that in a population of 300 million, the number of cases is “ballooning” to 48. I started out with my usual skepticism.  Aren’t we overreacting? Look at the numbers.  How can China’s cases be going down now with only 80,000 cases out of 1.4 billion people?  Are we going to destroy the economy and give up our freedoms for something less serious than the seasonal flu?  Why are people not questioning this?  I understand the argument for “flattening the curve”.  But the argument is only true if the premises are true.  And why is everyone assuming that hundreds of thousands of people are going to be infected, when many of the tests are coming back negative?  And why isn’t testing available for everyone who wants to be tested?

But on the other hand… I don’t want my mother or my father-in-law, who both have COPD to get sick.  And I don’t want my father to get sick, or my kids, or my husband, or me, or my next-door neighbors, or anyone… I’m social distancing.  I’m not letting my kids have their friends over.  I’m dropping groceries off at my mom’s door.  I’m attending ZOOM meetings, talking on the phone, texting, and counting or singing while scrubbing my hands with soap and water just like the rest of the world.  It was all so disturbing.

And it was all so distracting.  Until I decided to take a break one day.  No news, no facebook. I prayed and I journaled. I took these notes from this video.  It reminded me to be patient.

  1. This trial is God’s will. God has a plan for you.  Nothing is so bad that God can’t use it for your good.
  2. Stop thinking of the negative aspects of it.  Start thinking of the positive aspects of the trial.  Discover truths today and dwell on them.
  3. This won’t last forever.  Only eternity is forever.  Answer with faith and patience, not anger.  God has a loving plan for you, be patient.

I struggle with acceptance and surrender.  I think I know better.  But if I think I do, I’m already in a trap.  I have been distracted.  I forgot the truth – that God has a plan for my life.  I must make him the center of my life.  Not curiosity, or knowledge of what’s happening in the world, not seeking to control what is out of my control.  I do not know why this is happening right now, but I will use this time to grow closer to God.

Yesterday, I went to a drive up adoration at my parish.  I listened to a beautiful version of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in my van.  I felt so grateful to be across the street from the Blessed Sacrament.  This experience has opened my eyes to how much I took for granted.  We often had weekday Masses at 7:00, 7:15, 8:30, and 12:10 in different churches in my hometown, and sometimes I’d sleep in or get too busy to go to them.  There would be adoration on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and everyday in the next town over.  And now the church doors are locked.

But God has a plan for me. Today I have hope and I will trust him. I will let him guide me to where I should go, what I should do, and what I should say.  I don’t have to worry.   I can choose to, but I don’t have to.  I can have peace in any situation.

 

God Has a Plan for My Life

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It has taken me fifty years to really believe it. It would take a book to describe how it happened.  It’s been slow and steady.  And obviously, it is still unfolding.

Right now I see it as hundreds of seemingly unrelated events, situations, conversations, memories, and truths learned.  It’s taken thousands of prayers and much pain was endured (never alone).  I guess I wanted to be self-sufficient. Maybe I wanted things my own way.  But letting go of this illusion of control brings me hope.  Seeing that God has a plan that has been there all along, and trusting that His plan is going to be better than mine ever could have been, gives me peace.

I’ve Been All the Living Lost Creatures

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This is what I was thinking during Deacon Roger’s homily this morning. Today’s gospel reading was from Luke 15:1-32. (The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son)

I have heard these parables so many times before, that I wasn’t expecting to have a new perpective on them today. I’ve identified for many years with the prodigal son. I went away and wasted my life. I sought pleasure in sinful ways. I’ve experienced the loneliness, remorse, shame, desperation, and sorrow that I imagine he felt. I have known humility and the joy of God’s love and mercy.  (I have meditated on Rembrandt’s painting, shown above.)  He gave me a new life and I was grateful.  I wanted to serve Him and I stayed in close contact with Him.

But not perfectly. I’ve been the lost sheep. I wander off and at some point I find myself on my knees.  And He sees I’m lost and comes to get me.  And He picks me up and holds me close.  And I remember how much He loves me. And I thank Him for always being there for me.  (I have often meditated in churches on sheep paintings or mosaics.)

I could be the lost coin, but it’s hard for me to identify with an inanimate object. I’ve just never gone there.  No lost coin meditations. And I didn’t think I was the prodigal son’s brother either… until today.

When I used to hear the story, I would be happy that I was lost, but then found.  I was dead, but now alive. And I thought the brother was a jerk for not being happy for his brother’s return. Today, I realized that I’ve been the brother!

Somehow, over the years since my own return, I got lost again, right here at home. I started to believe that after all the sacrifices I have made for God, that he should do what I want. Of course, I didn’t realize I was thinking that way.  But I know as I came out of the fog, I’d hear myself say things like: I’ve worked so hard and let God lead me in so many areas of my life. So why do I have to do more? 

Maybe I thought that if I worked hard and didn’t complain (verbally) that I would be happy in Heaven someday.  I don’t know, but it only made me angry and resentful. I believe God wants obedience more than sacrifice, and that He wants me to obey him out of love for Him, not to get what I want.  The anger I didn’t know I had, kept me away from the closeness to Him that I could have been enjoying.

Now I see that the poor brother was lost too.  He tried so hard to please his Dad, but he had certain expectations and some selfish motives hidden from even himself. He was self-righteous and proud that he was the “good” son.  He was giving himself pats on the back and didn’t realize that he too had many faults.  He wasn’t humble.  He lacked compassion and had a hardness of heart that kept him from feeling His father’s love for him.  His father loved him SO much… not for all the good things he did, but because he was His beautiful son.  The brother needed to let go of his anger, forgive his prodigal brother, and have compassion for his brother and for himself as well.  He needed to surrender his own will, trust his father and feel His love.

Deacon Roger pointed out that the parable doesn’t say what happened to the brother.  But I know he can enjoy his life.  He can be emotionally close to his father.  He can be loving to all, even himself.  He can be grateful for what he has and for having such a generous, merciful and loving father.  His father is not a slave driver.  He really cares.  He wants what’s best for His children. And He knows what’s best for them, even though He lets them choose whether or not to trust Him.  And you know how I know?  I’ve been the brother!

 

 

A Big Bowl of Waiting, a Cup of Busyness, and a Dash of Surrender

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It’s been almost 2 weeks since I’ve written here.  Bobby and I have worked three days on trimming the arborvitae bushes at my father’s house, and I’ve brought five of us to seven medical appointments. There was a day spent in New York City, some college visits and a funeral. Life has been busy. But I don’t want to write about being busy. I want to write about waiting.

I had some time to reflect while I acted as Assistant to the Regional Manager. (I mean held the ladder, while Bobby trimmed.)  I thought about how while I’ve been busy these past two weeks, I’ve also been waiting, and how I’ve had many experiences with waiting.

This past Friday, I had hoped that a decision would be made and my waiting would be over.  I was feeling very anxious and expected to feel relief and maybe some peace when this waiting was over.  When it didn’t happen, I was really disappointed and also frustrated. I talked with a friend about it, (and vented and whined) and was reminded that here was an opportunity to let go of my will and trust God’s will.  While praying, I remembered a time when I was newly married and hoping to get pregnant.  After five months of waiting and disappointments, I finally let go of my wanting to have a baby.  I had the thought that maybe I might never get pregnant and suddenly I felt OK with it. Maybe Bobby and I would travel and golf and do service work. I wanted to do God’s will, not my own. I had surrendered.

This happens to me over and over, and it happened again on Friday night. I remembered that God wills my good. I don’t know what that is.  I tell myself that if such and such happens, then I’ll be at peace. Then I focus on it.  And I get anxious when it’s not happening, but the peace comes as soon as I surrender my will, accept God’s will, and trust that He is taking care of me at that very moment and always.

So whether it’s waiting for a baby, a house to sell, a test result, a decision to be made… whatever it is… I have found that what will give me peace is to truly desire to do God’s will, whatever that may be. And to ask Him for help and remember (with gratitude) how good He has been to me throughout my life.  Friday night, I was even moved to say “Thy will, not mine be done.”