IN A WORLD OF ACCESS where we can literally procure information in a blink and a bite, James Schall proposes an unlikely antidote, one that requires time as its principal ingredient. Schall advocates a process of internal and external discovery that seems at cross purposes to reason or emotion. Dependent upon time and awareness, these moments of discovery then can reveal more of who we are and help us to see how to live.
Our society is completely dependent upon not only technology, but also the quickness and ease with which we get what we want either in the form of information or material things. The natural consequence and response within most of us is a pervasive impatience and even quickness of movement that detracts from truly experiencing life. To counter this way of life, Schall suggests walking and its companion effects, for then we see the realness of places, wandering about those same places again and again (94). This, of course, is dependent on time, and without the freedom to use time, we can easily succumb to being controlled by it. Part of weaning ourselves from this dependence is becoming aware of what we experience and how we experience day-to-day life—“We have here another way of seeing . . . we discover a way of looking about while we walk, and a way of walking that takes us to the knowledge of what is” (92). This means that it is already there (97), that we simply had no knowledge of it before. Walking allows us to rest our minds, to contemplate, to be aware.
Having awareness is seeing the “realness” around us. Schall cites British writer Hillaire Belloc, who says that we must “see and handle” actual things that are a part of mankind, his history, his future (98). To know ourselves as individuals then, we must embrace our broader humanity, to look at ourselves and past ourselves. Schall also points out that part of awareness is to know what is not (95). Knowing what we are not enables us to know more of ourselves—”We are set free to know, in fact, by almost anything that is not ourselves” (95). In a sense, it is a way of defining ourselves by narrowing and excising what we know is no longer relevant.
Yet this awareness is more than a “knowing” because it is also “something beyond ourselves” (98). Belloc describes it as a “call” or “restlessness” outside of us. In Belloc’s account of a veteran sailor singularly seeking an unknown port, he describes the ideal of an “ultimate harbor,” a place of “original joy” (100-101). In response to this adventurer, Belloc understands that the harbor he sought was “not of this world” (101). Some would say this is a sort of transcendence, but Schall would acknowledge it as our eternal soul, a soul that longs for its Maker (95). It is this consciousness of who we are as children of God that is paramount to who we are as humans. This awareness, whether conscious or not, can help us contend with the influences of our time-driven culture.
James V. Schall, S.J. The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2006.