Mind: the Fourth Circle

Mind, the fourth circle of practice, tries to answer these questions:

  1. What am I interested in, or curious about?  What holds my attention?
  2. What is good, or true?  How can I increase my knowledge and understanding of the world?
  3. How can I appreciate or create what is beautiful?

Once we begin to find our answers to the questions of the spiritual domain, we naturally begin to raise these questions of the mind.  We want to spend our time, and find purpose and meaning in, those things that interest us, that pique our curiosity, and that fully engage our attention.

We want to pursue those things we perceive to be good, and believe those things we know to be true.  It brings pleasure to the mind to grow in knowledge and understanding.  It also gives opportunity to apply that knowledge and understanding in the world around us, from which come reputation, compensation, and power.

Beauty arrests our attention, whether by symmetry, or rhythm, harmony, or melody; whether visually, aurally, tactilely, or fragrantly.  In some respects it is subjective; in others objective.  We know it when we experience it.  It fills us with awe, with longing, with desire.  To appreciate it is to grow, like a plant toward the sun.  To create it is to bear fruit that blesses the world, like an apple that falls ripe from the tree.

When we can answer these questions with clarity and confidence, then we have marked out an intellectual path before us as plain as the yellow brick road.  To read about and apply those ideas which fully engage us, to grow in knowledge and understanding, to appreciate and create beauty, is to walk the Elysian Fields crowned with laurel.

Reading Books

There probably has never been a time when it has been so easy to read a book.

There are so many media by which a book may be “read,” and so many more contexts in which is possible to read, that I am truly amazed by how few people avail themselves of the opportunity.

According to wiki.answers.com:

  • less than 15% of Americans read books on any regular basis,
  • one third of American high school graduates never read another book in their lives,
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college,
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year,
  • 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years,
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion, and over half of those are not read past page 18.


I was not a great reader when I was young.  I caught the reading bug in college.  I had a friend who was making his way through the Russian writers, and I decided to follow example.  I loved them.

Then somehow I stumbled across Mortimer Adler, and How to Read a Book.  Mortimer inspired me to read with great enthusiasm, and filled me with the belief that books would change my life.

While in many ways I have not been a good student of Mortimer, seldom has a day gone by when I have not read a book, especially once I found audio books.  Whether I’m driving my car, taking a walk, washing dishes, or folding laundry, you will also find me listening to a book.

And what has all this reading availed me?  Well I feel I can talk with almost anybody about almost anything.  I’m interested in most things, and most things have been written about.  They have helped me to understand other people, and to understand myself.  And they have enriched me with the experience of a thousand lives.

How to Read Scripture

I think the most important thing to remember about reading scripture is to read it.  You can’t read scripture if you don’t read it.

With that in mind, and knowing how busy everyone is these days, choose to read something you are interested in, or enjoy reading.  Don’t start with Leviticus or Summa Theologica (the latter is great for insomnia), especially if you struggle to find time to read in the first place.

When you find a section of text that speaks to you, highlight it, and perhaps even make a note to yourself why you underlined it.

If you read something that just rocks your world, then write it down.  Memorize it.  Write about it.  Discuss it with those you trust and can be vulnerable with.

Set a reasonable goal for yourself: not so little that its accomplishment is trivial, and not so much that it becomes a burden.  Be gentle with yourself, but at the same time remember what you’re reading and why: these are the ideas you build your life with.

Maybe you’re beyond all this and are rolling your eyes at the lack of scholarship I’m advocating.  After all, there are folks out there who do word studies, syntopical research, comparative research, etc.

All those things are great.  I think generally speaking the deeper and more engaged you are in any activity, the greater will be the rewards you reap.

Just remember why you started your research.  Don’t let all that analysis make you deaf to the voice that spoke to your heart in the first place.

If you spend all your days dissecting corpses, it can be hard to remember they were once human beings.