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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Silence of the Mind

By now, dear readers, I'm sure you've realized the pattern that all the "silences" follow. Silence of the mind is about controlling our thoughts so that we can purge thoughts that aren't good for us and embrace and cultivate thoughts are are good for us. To some degree, thoughts are like words, in that they can come into our minds unbidden, and we don't always have the clarity to separate the good from the bad, or the discipline to embrace the good and let go of the bad. Again, I defer here to Fr. Lackner in Virtues for the Mission, he writes, "...we also become what we think and what we remember." (p. 15) And later, he writes, "...the point of this virtue is to develop a habit of acting in such a way that those memories that assist us to be the kind of person needed for the mission are to be treasured, and those that handicap us are to be silenced and released." (p. 17)

One of the central points to be made here is that much of what goes on in our minds is constructed from our everyday experiences (conversations, radio shows, TV, movies, magazines, books, the internet, etc.). To a large degree, the quality of my thoughts varies depending on the quality of these mind-engaging experiences. If I fill my day with intelligent conversation, beautiful radio, thought-provoking TV shows and articles, then my thoughts are going to tend toward those things; if, on the other hand, I am surrounded every day with hateful/angry speech, music and TV (images) that degrade others, and magazines and internet articles that tell me that I need to meet certain cultural norms to be considered "popular", "beautiful", or "worthy", then I'm likely to be trapped by thoughts that tear me down instead of building me up.

I can't emphasize this enough: the quality of our mental state is largely dependent upon what we put in there, what we expose ourselves to. There is so much crap out there, I have become convinced that an important 21st century skill is learning to curate the segment of culture and reality with which I interact. I intentionally limit my radio mostly to NPR and a classical radio station; I don't watch TV at all; I subscribe to "The Economist" and "WIRED" magazines and the New York Times; and my selection in books should be pretty evident to any regular reading of this blog.

The virtue of "silence of the mind" challenges us to be intentional about filling our minds with things that help us become better people (i.e. more Christ-like), and to let go of those things that hold us back. Fr. Lackner points out, "He [Jesus] is calling them [the disciples] to a new understanding, a new perception, a new way of seeing reality." (p. 15) It occurred to me that this is primarily what we do in the classroom as teachers. We try to help our students see the world from new perspectives and open their minds to new possibilities.

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