Are Ideas Food for the Mind?
I first heard this idea about three years ago; it’s from British Philosopher Charlotte Mason’s theory of education. She was an educator who taught other teachers how to teach and she was particularly concerned with helping poor children gain a liberal (in the use of the broad meaning) education from excellent books, interaction with nature and useful endeavors and skills like handicrafts. She seems like a spicy lady with lots of opinions and everything I’ve heard quoted from her is fascinating. She was a thinker and had high ideals. Here’s one quote I wanted to share:
“Our fault, our exceeding great fault, is that we keep our own minds and the minds of our children shamefully underfed” (Vol. 6, p. 330)
What “feeds” our minds? Mason argued that enjoying and partaking in the “Great Conversation” between authors which spans thousands of years and cultures grants us the vision and vocabulary to truly think, which is to mean, to be healthy in mind. An underfed mind is hard pressed to exert the energy needed to form both powerful paradigms for personal growth and for helping anyone else do the same.
To make this so very applicable to my life (and maybe yours?) is that when I’m exhausted and worn down and my mind has just been going through the motions of thoughts needed to survive in the day and perform my basic duties but no more than that, the slow atrophy towards sluggishness is incredibly steady. I find all I have energy for is watching TV. And I found this to be true whether single, married without children, or with young children. I actually think that regardless of external circumstances a happy person will be feeding their mind with the best of literature, visual art and time in the fresh air. Those ideas contained within a slow walk in the winter snow or in the pages of that “hard read” because it’s written in 18th century English (and my mind speaks the 21st century kind) can fuel a person like nothing else.
At the beginning of 2018 I found myself purposefully turning my attention from Facebook scrolling (which had started taking up more space in my day than I wanted) and purposefully reading worthwhile literature for 30 minutes in the morning. At that time, I had a 2 and half year old and a 6 month old and though still very tired, I found a fabulous mental change from making this switch: during the day, after having consumed some pages of a literary masterpiece before breakfast, I would ruminate over what I’d read all day. I found it truly feeding my mind. Before that, I would often be thinking of what I had last seen on Facebook – what my brother had made for dinner for his family the night before or some political meme that I disagreed with – and those things, while fine for what they are, did not fill me with vigor and interest for life happening in front of me. (And my brother does make amazingly beautiful food…this is not to take away from that and other people's uses of Facebook.)
So what's been the big change for me as I’ve thought about Mason’s statement “Ideas for Food for the Mind” over the last year? I am more curious, more ready and more energetic for the tasks and conversations in front of me, today. A strong mind is not perfect but it is more able to address the challenges of life. And isn’t that what we want - to be more alive and more able?
It would be interesting to consider the statement Ideas Are Food for the Mind in more detail. In particular, I’m interested in the questions that comes up for me because of it:
“If ideas are food for my mind, are all ideas full of mental “nutrition”?
“What role does digestion play into my mental life? How important is “thinking” time after reading?”
“Can I binge on ideas? Is mental “overeating” hurtful?”
“What happens after I feed my mind? What do I notice about my physical, mental and emotional states?”
“When I see my children grumpy and tired, is the problem lack of sleep, lack of time outside, lack of connection and cuddling with me and their Daddy or lack of mental “food”?
Isn’t it exciting to have a good question to think about today? I love that hidden in her statement is exactly the truth of it…kind of a meta thing, if you think about it.