Sleep of reason

I have spent the past two days at a Diversity of Thought colloquium we hosted for our doctoral students and faculty. My department prides itself on breadth of thought and multiple ways of knowing, and several years of planning went into a very emergent two day experience with inspiring postmodernist scholars in residence. This wide perspective was a huge draw for me when I was on the academic job market. I am deeply grateful to be an academic in general, and to have found an academic home where terms like “hegemonic domination” and “socially constructed reality” are as much a part of the vernacular as “grant proposal” and “empirical results.” Yet, I admit, all the academic headiness also presents a certain struggle for me, which is probably why I found my attendance at the colloquium frequently interrupted by pragmatic requests to meet with students, resolve a concern with my community research partners, or best yet….to sprint across campus to pick up 100 journals (research incentives) that had been delivered to the wrong office. Oh yes, and my daughter was off from school for a teacher conference day, so I had her in the office as well. In short, it has become clear to me that I love the idea of living in the world of ideas, but I constantly fight a deeply seated, core belief: doing has to be more than sitting and thinking and talking. Grass cannot grow beneath my feet.

So, I have spent the last day thinking about this. Two images come to my mind. The first was presented by one of the symposium faculty, as we took in a piece of artwork by Goya, translatedThe Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.. This image sticks with me, and creeps into my waking and sleeping mind. I immediately quipped, half jokingly, to a doctoral student, “remind you of writing your dissertation?” But it reminds me of what happens to my core when I take up writing without pausing, stopping, reflecting. The product becomes all-consuming, and its intention is lost in the well reasoned details. It can generate self-deprivation, a workaholic sense of business (or “busy-ness”), a misplaced emphasis on how much I produce rather than quality of thought.

The second image it conjures up for me is biblical, the story of Jesus visiting the homes of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus is teaching, and Mary sits at his feet taking the words, sharing in the discourse. Martha is the one fixing dinner, tidying up, being the hostess. Martha gets chided for this role, while Mary is proclaimed the devoted one. This story has been so hard for me to take in over the years. I yearn to be Mary….sitting and taking in the words. But often, I am Martha…busy doing and keeping other people happy, fed. Attending to the other, rather than the work of the soul. But, Jesus tells her, there will be time for all of that. That is the crux of the story for me….taking the time to be present in the world of thought and knowing intuitively when we can be still, and when we must take action. It’s the ultimate work-life balance.

So, I sit on this Lenten day taken in the juxtaposition, the conundrum, the process of living and learning. What I can say is that rational thought without contemplation is empty. I am learning that lesson this season, and in my career. I don’t have this one resolved. But maybe, perhaps, the social construction distracts us from the process of deep self learning. I will think on that, in my carved out moments of solitude.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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