Thursday, May 8, 2008

How I Think

A few years ago, when I was in a training session to be a teaching assistant, we were all given pieces of paper with a head-shaped outline and instructed to draw a picture of how our brain works. I drew a rolodex. I thought of my brain as a set of cards with discrete amounts of information on each, loosely grouped into categories. If I thought about an issue long enough, I could usually locate the answer in my rolodex mind, though some times it took longer to retrieve the information. This is a very useful way to think in law school, where everything is divided into answerable questions and the ability to memorize and apply specific definitions and rules is the best way to get good grades. It is not as useful for life outside of law school.

Recently, I have been thinking about new ways to describe my brain. One inspiration for the change is Thomas R. Kelley's suggestion in A Testament of Devotion that we order our mental lives so that "on one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings." This is not easy to do, but I am trying to be patient with myself.

At any given time, I am working on issues related to God, family, friends, work, and myself (though this order is aspirational, usually it is the exact opposite order). At the moment, I am actively thinking about whether I should stay on another year at my job, moving to a new apartment, locations for the next Quaker Women's Theology Conference, upcoming trips to Oregon and Alaska, my siblings' graduations next week, and so on. But I am trying to remember to keep on praying throughout and to be open to nudges from God.

My new analogy for how my brain works is that it is like I have various pots cooking on a stove. I love to cook and I think it is fun to try to organize a meal so that everything is ready at the same time, but I know how easy it can be to get distracted in the kitchen. Some of dishes require immediate attention while other simmer in the background. Instead of trying to solve each problem in order, I am doing my best to learn when I need to add ingredients, stir things up, turn up the heat, or take a pot off the stove.

This new way of thinking has definitely made me see more of the overlap in the various areas of my life. Sometimes a solution to a problem will come from a very unexpected source. It has also reminded me that I need to focus on what I am doing at any given time. I have always been a clock watcher, but I think that keeps me from being fully present. I am trying to let go of my need to fix everything immediately, and let things work themselves out in God's time instead of mine.


  1. Hey Ashley, thanks for the link to your blog! I've often thought of my mind as a filing cabinet. Somewhat similar to a rolodex I guess.
    But it does have the image of a somewhat passive mind, just receiving info and filing it away. I like the imagery of a kitchen at full throttle - lots of things cooking and simmering and in process. =)

    I'm glad you quoted Thomas Kelley - one of my all time favorite Quaker authors!

  2. Hi Aimee, I'm glad you like the blog! How's life in the Midwest? I hope you two are settling in well.

    To answer your earlier question, yes, I did see Jesus Camp and it was eerily familiar. It made me remember how bummed I was when I couldn't speak in tongues like everyone else at my Sunday school. And although the military overtones at the camp were disturbing, I really appreciated the way that the documentary makers portrayed the purity of the children's faith. It would have been easy to make fun of the campers, and I was glad they chose not to do that.


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