This is really a note on aging; if you are young, come back as you’re approaching eighty. The notion today is that as we become ever more aware of a life of the mind the more keenly I feel and sharply see the ridiculous side of physical life.
By “ridiculous side” I mean my own body and its ingestions and excretions, its dirt, smell, fatigue; its aches and pains—not what I’d call “nature,” thus its trees and birds and sky and grass. These days I feel directly a kind of general disgust my Mother expressed when she was the same age as I am now. I understood her at the intellectual level; now I actually feel what she must have felt then.
The life of the mind is also difficult to characterize fully. It is mistaken for intellectual pursuits. Those certainly play a role but are by far not identical. The life of the mind is simply an awareness or a feeling and oddly, also, a place that is not really a place in the sense of a spot you can define by using coordinates; it is a country but not one on any map of the word. It is a state of consciousness. It is a quite active state but not in the sense that that word has when local TV talks of Action News.
In this dimension everything is linked to matter not least the life of the mind. That life is closely tired to what I’d call natural activities like taking walks and engaging in handicrafts or chores, chores of a quiet type, thus sweeping but not vacuuming. The work may be quite complex like gardening or carpentry or writing or cooking—provided that it is routine and neither willfulness nor anxiety are present in the chest. Reading may be a part of it but not all reading; the subject matter and the tone are highly relevant.
The more absent certain aspects of the physical life are, the more the life of the mind comes to the fore. And here I note that, curiously, the physical as such may be quite potently present in it as, for instance, grime and effort are present in gardening. The physical, therefore, has two aspects: the “natural” and the “social”; by social I mean the collective activity of humanity. And it is the latter that needs to be muted to a maximum extent to experience the life of the mind as fully as we are able.
The thought occurs that life’s course is designed to enable us to experience the life of the mind, the inner life. And in that process minimizing involvement in the hurly burly of collective life may be of great value at any age.