Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spiritual Exercises

"The first time is in the morning..."
St. Ignatius of Loyola

I'm no saint. But it occurs to me that I do have a system for "for perceiving and knowing in some manner the different movements which are caused in the soul". In particular, I believe that writing allows us to see what we think. It articulates what we know, makes our minds visible to us. Disciplined academic writers have better access to the parts of their souls that know about their area of expertise. This greater articulateness also provides a natural corrigibility, i.e., the ability to discard erroneous beliefs and to replace them with accurate ones.

How can you develop this articulateness? Well, in general, by forming your thoughts into coherent prose paragraphs. Write a sentence that you know to be true. Then write five or six sentences that support the claim that this sentence makes. A paragraph should be written within 30 minutes. For the purpose of the "exercises", it should be written in exactly 30 minutes, including some light revision, reading out loud, and a break (stand up, stretch, walk around a bit).

But what should you write about?

The general rule is to write what you know. You know a great deal, of course, and when doing the exercises you should not be trying to push the boundaries of your knowledge. You are building your core strength. Use the writing as a way to improve your manner of speaking, your style, not your awareness of what is true or false. If you are a PhD student, of course, you have a great deal to learn. The exercises will help you chart your progress.

This week I'm going to be suggesting a number of different exercises to construct, first, a key sentence (an expression of the claim of a particular paragraph) and, second, the rest of the paragraph (which provides support for the claim). Both the claim and its support can always be articulated in different ways and the combinations can be suggested in simple terms. Also, all claims to know, at least in the social sciences, are shaped by theory and grounded in method. This means that particular exercises can be suggested to articulate the context and basis of your claim, the source of its meaning and its truth.

The serious student, and the serious scholar, observes these exercises in one way or another, sometimes more explicitly than others. If you are worried about "the state of your soul", it can be a good idea to practice them very consciously.

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