AuthorTopic: Advice From Medieval Monks - Keep Focus, Reduce Digtal Distractions  (Read 942 times)

Offline azozeo

  • Master Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 9741
    • View Profile



They came up with some pretty quirky tricks to stay focused, but they may have been on to something.

Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

Sometimes they accused demons of making their minds wander. Sometimes they blamed the body’s base instincts. But the mind was the root problem: it is an inherently jumpy thing. John Cassian, whose thoughts about thinking influenced centuries of monks, knew this problem all too well. He complained that the mind ‘seems driven by random incursions’. It ‘wanders around like it were drunk’. It would think about something else while it prayed and sang. It would meander into its future plans or past regrets in the middle of its reading. It couldn’t even stay focused on its own entertainment – let alone the difficult ideas that called for serious concentration.

That was in the late 420s. If John Cassian had seen a smartphone, he’d have forecasted our cognitive crisis in a heartbeat.

But, instead, his mind lay elsewhere. Cassian was writing at a time when Christian monastic communities were beginning to boom in Europe and the Mediterranean. A century earlier, ascetics had mostly lived in isolation. And the new enthusiasm for communal enterprises resulted in a new enthusiasm for monastic planning. These innovative social spaces were assumed to function most optimally when monks had guidelines about how to do their jobs.

Their job, more than anything else, was to focus on divine communication: to read, to pray and sing, and to work to understand God, in order to improve the health of their souls and the souls of the people who supported them. For these monks, the meditating mind wasn’t supposed to be at ease. It was supposed to be energised. Their favourite words for describing concentration stemmed from the Latin tenere, to hold tight to something. The ideal was a mens intentus, a mind that was always and actively reaching out to its target. And doing that successfully meant taking the weaknesses of their bodies and brains seriously, and to work hard at making them behave.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/how-to-reduce-digital-distractions-advice-from-medieval-monks?utm_source=pocket-newtab





I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world.
You don’t know what it is but its there, like a splinter in your mind

 

Related Topics

  Subject / Started by Replies Last post
1 Replies
2675 Views
Last post August 23, 2014, 08:41:44 AM
by g
0 Replies
314 Views
Last post February 23, 2015, 12:08:36 PM
by Eddie
4 Replies
802 Views
Last post June 18, 2015, 02:19:31 PM
by knarf