This section was long and what I am going to write here will definitely not be a summary, but rather some thoughts on a few points.
“Intellectual activity used always to be considered a privileged sphere, and from the standpoint of the manual worker especially, appeared to be a sphere in which one did not need to work.”
I have this attitude now. It’s why, when I am trying to avoid unnecessary work on Sundays, I save intellectual activity for then. I don’t consider it work. It’s fun. It’s relaxing and it does feel like a privilege. Sometimes, I try to squeeze a little of it in during the week too.
“Only those arts are called liberal or free which are concerned with knowledge; those which are concerned with utilitarian ends that are attained through activity, however, are called servile.”
I went to a liberal arts college. I changed my major a number of times. I was a foreign languages major, an English major, a math major… I was indecisive. I remember talking with my parents when I was considering majoring in art history, and it was not encouraged. What was I going to do with that? They suggested accounting. I could get a job right away. The world always needed accountants. True, but I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day.
I think I was majoring in philosophy when I dropped out of college and became a factory worker. I worked nights. The good thing about it was that there were not a lot of people around, so it was quiet. I fondly remember the hum of the injection mold machines. It was a good atmosphere for thinking, and I could read books one sentence at a time in between doing my work. Or I could read on my breaks. So, for me, there has always been a distinction between work and intellectual activity. I wonder if that would have been different if I had been paid to read, think, or study.
“We are not simply to devote ourselves to politics and economics or to making a living, however valid these are in their own spheres. Pieper is quite aware of these things as elements in human life. But he recognizes that when everything human is defined in terms of utility or pleasure, the enterprise of knowing what we are loses its centrality in our lives.”
(James V. Schall, S.J., 11)
I included this quote from the foreword because I think it summarizes for me what Pieper is aiming at in this section. He seems very concerned with our world of “total work” and especially that the once privileged “liberal arts” are being called “intellectual work.” He goes into detail about how we acquire knowledge. He says that Kant claimed it’s from our effort alone. My own experience leads me to agree with Pieper and the ancients, that sometimes knowledge can be received without effort. He goes further to say that without this belief, we’d be ruling out things inspired and given to us. Knowledge would be the fruit of our own unaided activity. AS IF!!!
“… can a full human existence be contained within an exclusively workaday existence?”
Or can a man be a worker and nothing else? To be continued…
I’ll admit I chose this book because I thought it would give arguments for ideas with which I already agree. I thought it would convince me of how important it is that I make time for leisure. I’m talking about leisure in the Greek sense. Making it a priority to appreciate things of beauty, to contemplate… Not being a busy little bee all the time – full of ceaseless activity. My motivation in reading this book was to increase my knowledge, awareness, and conviction… and to hopefully act in accordance with these beliefs. After reading section I, my new hope is that it will not be too difficult to understand.
This book contains two parts: “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” and “The Philosophical Act.” According to the writer of the foreword, these were essays given by Josef Pieper in 1947.
This is my super-simplified synopsis of section I of the first essay:
People nowadays have very different values from people in the past. Also, the meanings of words have changed. On the surface it looks like today’s concepts of work and leisure are very different from the Greeks, the Romans, the people in the Middle Ages, and even the people living in 1947; but there is a deeper (not so obvious) change that I’m sure will be discussed in later sections. It is a changing view of our nature and the meaning of human existence.
Whoa! Hang on… I wasn’t expecting all of THAT! I guess I was kind of distracted when I started reading this in the summer.
So rather than getting “Ten Tips of How to Make Sunday a Day of Rest,” (Yes, I am too hooked on YouTube.) I may be diving into the deep end. (Picture me tapping my temple with my index finger à la Pooh Bear, saying… Think, Think, Think…)
“We are unleisurely in order to have leisure.” (20)
This is what Aristotle said. And to the Greeks, leisure was something much more than it means today. It wasn’t simply a little free time from the work that takes up most of your life. The author states that it is closely linked to the Christian and Western conception of the contemplative life. And he points out that the distinction between the “liberal arts” and “servile work” came from this notion of leisure. I found it interesting that he was certain that everyone was familiar with “servile work” at least, because they speak of it as unsuitable on Sundays and holidays. Not in 2023!
One last point: if we are to uncover what brought about this big change, looking at it only historically isn’t gonna cut it. We’re gonna get to the root of the problem. I’ll be interested to see where and how this goes.
When I first started reading Things That Matter, I said I was going to “study” it. I have a friend who was also planning to read it. A month has come and gone, and my friend and I have not connected. Maybe we’ll discuss these ideas at a later time, but I finished the book last night, and I don’t think I have too much to say about it here. Overall, the book resonated with me. I agree with the ideas the author proposes. The chapters in which I frequently underlined sentences are the ones about the distractions I struggle with most – possessions and technology. Here are some of the highlights:
“Who can go gung-ho after a challenging goal if they’re constantly buying and taking care of a bunch of stuff? Who can invest in things that matter if they’re too busy organizing the garage? We’re drowning in possessions, and all too often our dreams are drowning with us.” (110)
“Look around your home. All that clutter used to be money and time.” (117)
“Minimizing takes effort, but on the other side of that effort is the ongoing payoff of greater freedom to accomplish the things we want.” (119)
“Just imagine what life would look like if you were content with what you had.” (121)
“Do these things promote my purpose?” (125)
“One of the most common excuses for not pursuing one’s goals in life is ‘I don’t have time.’ And every one of the distractions we’ve looked at in this book is a time stealer…. Cut back on your screen time, and you will have taken the single most effective step to opening up more time for meaningful pursuits.” (170)
One night when I was looking at one of my time-stealers (YouTube) in bed, I found videos by a woman named Nena Lavonne that really interested me. I’m testing out some of her practical suggestions. I’ll post about my thoughts on these soon.
It’s time for another book study. I didn’t think too much about this book choice. I received an email from Joshua Becker, author of Becoming Minimalist and The Minimalist Home, offering me a free six week online course if I purchased the book that day. The words “Overcoming Distraction to Pursue a More Meaningful Life” made the impulse purchase sound like a good idea.
The first chapter is about living life without regrets. He asks, “If you were to die today, what one thing (or few things) would you be most disappointed that you weren’t able to complete?” My first thoughts were: If I die today, then it would be God’s will, so the things I wasn’t able to complete were not supposed to be completed by me. But I see the ideas behind the question. What might I regret? What things are most important to me right now? Well… I would like to continue to homeschool Mary, and to be a wife to Bobby, mother to my children, daughter to my parents, sister, friend, etc. I might wish I learned to trust God more, worry less, and stop wasting time on those stinkin’ distractions.
He also asks, “Do you know your purpose? Or purposes?” Yes, I know mine. The Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises is a favorite answer to this question.
I could also answer more specifically with my vocation and the works that go along with it, and the sharing of my life experiences with those going through what I’ve been through. Thinking that I know my purposes fairly well, this is the quote from Chapter 1 that caught my attention:
“Why aren’t we focusing on our purposes, which would give us joy and fulfillment day by day, leading to a sense of satisfaction at the end of life?” And the answer is “distractions”. I’m sure we’ll dig into this in later chapters.
For people who don’t know their purpose(s), there is an exercise in the back of the book. I did it anyway because I’m funny like that. I listed my passions and abilities. I have loads of them, but I’ll admit they are not very exciting. (Except to me, of course!) They include reading, writing, studying, simplifying, pondering, cleaning, organizing, and more.
I listed some characteristics of the ISTJ personality. Definitely mine: practical, logical, reliable, honest, loyal, responsible, calm, ordered. You can see why “boring” has been used to stereotype ISTJ’s in one word.
I listed others’ needs that I find myself especially touched by, and experiences in my past that give me empathy for others in the same situation. I like how the author recognizes how comforting others gives meaning to suffering and can be a purpose in life.
Lastly, there’s a Venn Diagram made of three overlapping circles for passions, abilities and others’ needs, with the space in the center for your purposes. And there’s a place to list your top three meaningful activities. I expected my purposes to be the ones I currently spend much of my time on, (faith, family, and service work) but I felt led to add another to my list. It’s what I call The Intellectual Life – reading, writing, and studying. I have no idea if I have time for this, or what it might lead me to in the future, but I added it anyway. It’s an activity that I do not spend much time doing currently, but I imagine I could if I am able to remove many of the distractions in my life and have a greater focus on it. I also hope to focus on better fulfilling the first three purposes I mentioned.
I have one more point to share. It’s the idea that our self-focused pursuits might be lesser than our others-focused pursuits. I know there needs to be balance here. It’s good for me to do things alone and just for fun, but it can be overdone; and I don’t want to swing over to the all-work-no-play side either. However, I might regret it on my deathbed if I spend too many hours doing crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles and binging shows when there are activities that would benefit others (and myself as well) to pursue.
No, my tree is not still up. I took that picture in December and I like it.
I love this book! I had no idea so much could be said about St. Ignatius’s rules of discernment. Now I realize that the practical examples are endless. I made myself some old-fashioned index card notes from this book. They are full of ideas I hope to remember. I imagine they will be quick reminders for me as I attempt to put these rules into practice.
So, instead of typing out a blog post, I am going to share with you photos of my notecards.
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.”
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:
: to show hesitation or lack of decisiveness or resolution
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chapter 6 is titled “The Spirit of Work”. In this post, I will be concentrating on Part II. Concentration.
“Nothing is so disastrous as to keep turning one’s attention this way and that.” (127)
I may be guilty of this. After all, it has been six months since my last post on this book. I have most recently turned my attention to discernment of spirits. It’s my idea du jour. I thought about doing a series of posts on it and realized that I should first finish what I’ve already started. In my defense, I don’t actually flit daily from one thing to the next. I can focus for months on something.
“… let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.” (127)
I just spent the month of March watching four seasons of the TV Series Heroes. Three-fourths of my daughters are into Milo Ventimiglia. They love him as Jess Mariano of Gilmore Girls, we all love him as Jack Pearson of This Is Us, and now we know him as Peter Petrelli, argueably the most virtuous character of Heroes. I don’t recommend the show – full of violence, gore and bad moral decisions – but I hung in there because I enjoyed the Heroes group chat with Bobby and my two older daughters. We posted theories, predictions, memes, etc. And we had a lot of laughs together. My point is that I can focus my attention.
“Make an orderly series of your different studies, so as to throw yourself into them completely. Let each task take entire hold of you, as if it were the only one.” (127)
I’ve been kind of doing this since my last Book Notes post. There was listening to media while Bobby and I worked out in the basement, a big Christmas movies binge, Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and John Wick marathons, the bathroom and kitchen remodels, the laundry room closet remodel, and the St. Joseph consecration. I’ve thrown myself into these, they’re just not studies.
One noticeable difference is that these are activities that involve my family members. I wonder if I have trouble committing to studying because it is an activity that I do on my own. Do I not think it’s important? I wonder why I am able to break a house project down into tasks, prioritize them, and plug away at them until it is finished. But when it comes to studies, I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly.
“We must allow each thing its separate place, do it in its own time, provide all the conditions necessary for the work, devote to it the fullest resources at our disposal, and once it has been brought to a successful issue, pass on quietly to something else. It is incredible what results one accumulates in that way without wearing oneself out in fussy agitation.” (128)
A. G. Sertillanges states that, of course, we may have several undertakings going on at once. And we concentrate on one at a time. When the turn of one comes, we put the other aside. There is one last quote from this section on concentration that I underlined.
“To dig and dig into the same hole is the way to get down deep and to surprise the secrets of the earth.” (129)
I am so motivated now to concentrate on my studies in an more orderly fashion. I want to allow myself the time it takes to go deeper into topics I feel led to explore.