I mentioned recently how I had embarked on studies back at university - a doctorate to be precise. It's been a positive experience in the sense the doctorate programme I joined was really well-designed and well-supported. I also briefly met some great colleagues and fellow-researchers. I also enjoyed the content... it was technical, challenging, mind-bending even - but nothing to fear.
But I am now admittedly talking about this adventure in the past tense rather than present or future. This is because I have faced a growing 'reality check' regarding how much workload, in terms of hours of the day, that I can take on. This is in the full light of my day job and family life - and the need for good mental health.
To reach this difficult decision - this acceptance I cannot practically do something I really wanted to do - I have sought the advice of a few trusted people in my life. In particular, I have spoken with one person I consider to be a soul friend, over a chinese buffet meal funnily enough.
I also consulted 'Imitation of Christ' by Thomas Aquinas - or, arguably, it consulted at me in that I flicked through it casually one day and arrived at a section that seemed to speak directly to me and rebuke me in one fair swoop. The passage reads as follows - with the most cutting bits highlighted:
"COUNSELS ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
'HE who follows Me shall not walk in darkness,' says Our Lord. (John 8:2)
In these words Christ counsels us to follow His life and way if we desire true enlightenment and freedom from all blindness of heart (Mark 3:5). Let the life of Jesus Christ, then, be our first consideration.
The teaching of Jesus far transcends all the teachings of the Saints, and whosoever has His spirit will discover concealed in it heavenly manna (Rev. 2: 17) But many people, although they often hear the Gospel, feel little desire to follow it, because they lack the spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9). Whoever desires to understand and take delight in the words of Christ must strive to conform his whole life to Him.
Of what use is it to discourse learnedly on the Trinity, if you lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? Lofty words do not make a man just or holy; but a good life makes him dear to God. I would far rather feel contrition than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible by heart, and all the teachings of the philosophers, how would this help you without the grace and love of God? `Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity,'(Eccles. I: 2) except to love God and serve Him alone (Deut. 6:13). And this is supreme wisdom - to despise the world, and draw daily nearer the kingdom of heaven.
It is vanity to solicit honors, or to raise oneself to high station. It is vanity to be a slave to bodily desires,'(Gal.5:16) and to crave for things which bring certain retribution. It is vanity to wish for long life, if you care little for a good life. It is vanity to give thought only to this present life, and to care nothing for the life to come. It is vanity to love things that so swiftly pass away, and not to hasten onwards to that place where everlasting joy abides.
Keep constantly in mind the saying, `The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. '(Eccles. 1:8). Strive to withdraw your heart from the love of visible things, and direct your affections to things invisible. For those who follow only their natural inclinations defile their conscience, and lose the grace of God."
On Personal Humility
Everyone naturally desires knowledge, (Aristotle, Metaphysics I,1.) but of what use is knowledge itself without the fear of God? A humble countryman who serves God is more pleasing to Him than a conceited intellectual who knows the course of the stars, but neglects his own soul (Ecclus.19:22). A man who truly knows himself realizes his own worthlessness, and takes no pleasure in the praises of men. Did I possess all knowledge in the world, but had no loves how would this help me before God, who will judge me by my deeds?
Restrain an inordinate desire for knowledge, in which is found much anxiety and deception. Learned men always wish to appear so, and desire recognition of their wisdom. But there are many matters, knowledge of which brings little or no advantage to the soul. Indeed, a man is unwise if he occupies himself with any things save those that further his salvation. A spate of words does nothing to satisfy the soul, but a good life refreshes the mind, and a clean conscience (I Tim 3:9), brings great confidence in God.
The more complete and excellent your knowledge, the more severe will be God's judgement on you, unless your life be the more holy. Therefore, do not be conceited of any skill or knowledge you may possess, but respect the knowledge that is entrusted to you. If it seems to you that you know a great deal and have wide experience in many fields, yet remember that there are many matters of which you are ignorant. So do not be conceited,(Rom 11:20) but confess your ignorance. Why do you wish to esteem yourself above others, when there are many who are wiser and more perfect in the Law of God? If you desire to know or learn anything to your advantage, then take delight in being unknown and unregarded.
A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always to think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself."
Funnily enough, I had this inclination of heading along the wrong path, having read Ernest Hemingway's 'The Old Man and The Sea' (which I wrote about this summer) - the image of the fisherman returning with a worthless carcass after a gigantic struggle, his life-force arguably misspent, has hung with me these past few months. But perhaps I needed more than a metaphor and that's where 'Old Tom' stepped in!
I could go into a long-winded analysis about this chapter of my life - my various motivations for it in particular. But there is no need really - I have no regrets about embarking on this short-lived journey and maybe one day I will return to it.