Tag Archives: the mind

Radioactive fallout in an arable field.

by Maurice Goth

When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced.

-Salmon Rushdie

Addendum from Vicky’s comment below, which helpfully develops Rushdie’s thought for those who want to deliberately cultivate “certain crops”:

Beautiful… as well as quite the vivid warning.

Matthew 6:22-23
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Commentary from the Orthodox Study Bible:
“The mind (Gr. nous) is the spiritual eye of the soul; it illuminates the inner man and governs the will. Keeping the mind wholesome and pure is fundamental to the Christian life.“

Where the breath condenses.


I am my own
geology, strata on strata
of the imagination, tufa
dreams, the limestone mind
honeycombed by the running away
of too much thought. Examine
me, tap with your words’
hammer, awaken memories
of fire. It is so long
since I cooled. Inside me,
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It
is where I think.

-R.S. Thomas

I began to read a biography of R.S. Thomas a while back. Its tone was unsympathetic, and as with many biographies of writers, it didn’t facilitate my relationship with the poet. With Thomas, if you want to be any kind of friend, you have to accept his particular “geology,” which is full of rocks and stones and cold clouds, all waiting for that day when the sun will shine fully on the landscape, burn off the fog, and never set again. I am content to wait with him, and not to try to “figure him out” in this life.

Where I grew up our winters frequently featured cold fog. Foggy days such as I actually enjoy on the beach nearest me, when the thermometer stays above 50, are way different from the 27-degree tule fog of my youth, which can hang on and chill the spirit all day.

Thomas seems to be saying that those few people who stumble into his inside, where he thinks, will not find a comfortable  place to rest. It’s a place without location, somehow. Whatever can be felt with the senses, it’s cold and cramped. There is little solace in abstract truth.

Even the request, “Examine me… tap… awaken memories of fire” refers to something of the mind: memories. But if this is a prayer, the real God who is not a memory or an idea, but is the only one who has Being in Himself, might come and be present in the present. Not just to revive memories of past events, but to create actual warmth and spaciousness in the soul. He has been called a consuming fire, and the Sun of Righteousness. He is definitely what the wintry and frozen soul needs.

“But for you who revere my name,
the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.
And you will go out and leap like calves
released from the stall.”

Malachi 4:2

Books for bedtime.

In that bedtime span between climbing under the blankets and being fully asleep, the mind needs somehow to go from a state of being actively engaged with conscious thoughts, to being turned off to all of that, on its way to dreamland. I haven’t studied the science of this except as a participant in and observer of own experiments, which have led me to theories and conclusions.

Ivy and Fred

It appears that my own mind has been trained to need a certain routine in order to make that transition, which is the activity of reading. I guess it’s not surprising, since most of my life I have enjoyed a book or magazine before bed, or in bed before sleep. I used to keep at it for hours sometimes, but in recent years it may only take five minutes before I begin to drift off, or one paragraph.

Nights when I was dead tired and not anxious about anything, I thought surely I could bypass this mental step and just conk out. But I tried that more than once, and would lie there for an hour, praying, counting sheep, thinking of beautiful places — but never sleeping, until I would turn on the light again and read a few lines. Then, in two minutes the nodding off would begin.

The sort of book I want has narrowed to a genre of its own: Bedtime Books. Requirements: Not too demanding, but well written, not too dark or exciting, and not so long that it makes a book that is large and heavy. The print is the one aspect that can’t be small! It can’t be on Audible because I’m trying to keep my phone in the other room at night. Smallish paperbacks are ideal, so I visited the local paperback store last week for the first time in many years, to browse the shelves; I was looking for the smaller, “trade paperbacks,” and found quite a few possibilities. (I traded in $31 worth of books that I was glad to let go of.)

Afterward I stopped at the library to pick up two cookbooks on hold, and I remembered that the local branch has a used bookstore, so I found as many more small books there. Here is the stack of all that I came home with, which I hope might last me for years.

Because when I have a chance to listen to Audible books, or read philosophy or theology or Great Novels, at any other time of day, I won’t be making progress in these smaller reads. It’s good to be so tired when one drops into bed that only a few paragraphs get read.

I think I’ve only read one of these before, but I bet my readers know many of them well. I’ve read other books by Natsume Soseki, Walls, George, Lowry and Doig, so I knew those authors were worth another try, but several of these titles are brand new to me, and I hope I will find them worth finishing. I don’t want to fall asleep out of boredom!

By Max Liebermann