Diffuse Mode Learning | Transcript for SS #58

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Brandy: You’re listening to Scholé Sisters episode number 58.

Welcome to Scholé Sisters, the podcast for the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow. Scholé Sisters is a casual conversation about topics that matter to those of us in the trenches of classical homeschooling who yearn for something more than just checking boxes and getting it all done. I’m your host, Brandy Vencel. You can find me at Afterthoughts—that’s my main blog, and also Teaching Reading with Bob Books, which is where I keep my line of printable phonics lessons. You can hear more from me on my other podcast, AfterCast. My co-host today is Mystie Winckler. Mystie is a second-generation homeschooler with five kids and too many projects. Through her blog, podcast, and membership, she spurs homemakers to further diligence and delight in their work at home. Find her over at SimplyConvivial.com.

Our guest today is Ashley Woleben. Ashley is a military wife and homeschooling mother to five. She obtained a BA concentrating on the fields of anthropology and classical studies and has completed her MA in humanities with a focus on Medieval theology and global literature. Focusing on philosophical anthropology, she is currently co-hosting The Classical Homeschool Podcast and blogging at Between the Linens.com.

If you’re listening to this episode the day it comes, then the Scholé Sisters fall retreat is one week from tomorrow, September 21st! We’re so excited! If you want to plan a local retreat for your group, it’ll be last minute but technically, it’s still not too late. Go to scholesisters.com/local to get more information.

In today’s episode, we discuss so many good things — what scholé is and how it relates to what the book A Mind for Numbers calls “diffuse mode learning,” plus how to make scholé a part of your life. Ashley is always a very interesting person to talk to and I know you’ll love this episode. And so, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Diffuse mode

[00:02:24] Scholé Everyday

Brandy: Let’s start off with our Scholé Everyday. Mystie, you want to lead the way?

Mystie: I am currently reading Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness & Beauty by Steven Turley, PhD. It’s in the Classical Academic Press series where all the books look the same.

Ashley: It’s one of my favorite books, though.

Brandy: It is a good book, that’s true.

Mystie: I have to admit that I picked this one up a few years ago and read the introduction when I was already cranky for some reason, and tired (I picked it up late at night), and wanted to throw it across the room because of how much he used big words unnecessarily. [Laughter]

Ashley: I heard him talk on YouTube and I’m afraid he just doesn’t understand what normal vocabulary is.

Brandy: Is he related to your child, Ashley?

Ashley: He might be. He reminds me of Leo. I’m going to have to say, “Leo, you sound stuffy.”

Mystie: So I really love it; I just finished chapter two, so I only just started this one, but I have lots of passages marked and I really am enjoying it, except for the fact that he is definitely an academic and doesn’t know how to turn that off. I was thinking, Norms and Nobility is also academic, but it was his thesis, so it makes sense the style and all of that, but this one is supposed to be written for a layperson/an average reader. This series is supposed to be.

Brandy: And the other ones are, I think.

Mystie: You’ve read, I think, more in the series than I have but the others are, and he’s the editor of the whole series. And I just don’t think he does a good job of translating his ideas. Like what? Oh, man. I’ve got to find I was just …

Brandy: Still a good book though, right?

Mystie: It is a good book.

Brandy: I’m going to make you say it.

Mystie: It is a good book. Okay, but you know, I think it’s CS Lewis, also was quoting Augustine where it says teaching (it’s the Ordo Amoris quote) “We need to teach students to love what ought to be loved and to hate what ought to be hated.” He says the same thing:

“The educational project of Paideia involves teaching students to repudiate what deserves repudiation.”


Brandy: I see what he means though, it’s not not true.

Mystie: Yeah, it’s just feels like when I am giving feedback to my writing students and I say, “You just used the thesaurus—you copied and pasted and used a thesaurus there, didn’t ya?”

Brandy: See, Ashley’s saying he is a thesaurus so this is different.

Mystie: Yeah. You can tell that he can’t help himself.

Ashley: He can’t. I think he’s also used to writing things that are not just watered down. I mean, he basically took two semesters of a philosophy class and put it in a book.

Brandy: Right. You know, I think that actually is to some extent the responsibility of the editor. If the editor wants to market something to …

Ashley: He’s the editor!

Mystie: He’s the editor! [Laughter]

Brandy: Oh, he is the editor? Oh that’s funny, so it still comes back to him. I’m trying really hard, guys.

Mystie: But you know what’s a great exercise with a book like this that has really worthy ideas but it’s a little bit stretching and you really have to then take what he says and say, “Well, what does he mean?” The style forces you to do that basically. But that’s actually a good reading exercise.

Brandy: That’s true.

Mystie: And helps you really make it your own—if you read it and you’re like, ‘What?’ and then rephrase it like a normal person. So I feel like this would be a great book to paraphrase.

Ashley: It’s a great book to practice stage four reading for more [**inaudible**].

Brandy: Hmm, that’s a good point.

Ashley: Connection read. It’s there to fill in some basic gaps and then connect more things for you with certain vocabulary.

Brandy: For sure.

Ashley: Dawn made Venn diagrams from that book.

Mystie: Oh, that’s right. I remember that.

Brandy: I forgot about that. Makes you dig one up for the show notes.

Ashley: We should. I think I have one in a little notebook somewhere. That book is in Venn diagrams.

Brandy: “This is A. This is B. This is A and B.” Good. Well, should I go next or Ashley?

Mystie: Brandy, it looks like you’re cheating.

Brandy: Well, not only am I cheating, but after I saw the title of your book and Ashley’s book, I was like maybe I should just go hide in a hole and skip it this time. [Laughter] So I am kind of cheating but it’s because well, I already used the book I’ve been reading while I’m sitting in the waiting room for the chiropractor and I have not been switching it up as much so I don’t have a different one that I’m really enthusiastic about right now. But I was thinking about this, that while I have narrowed my reading, which always happens when I’m planning a high school year and I got the gift of an unexpected high school year, so I’m planning two high school years. Not panicking, but a little bitter, anyway, mommy book clubs are what I was going to put in. So, these can be called scholé sisters groups or they’re not formally called that but they are those or whatever, but they really do keep you reading when you would not otherwise read. So I am still reading because I am still going to the chiropractor and sitting there so I’m reading but I was keeping one book in my purse. I’m reading the same book over and over again. I usually try to read more broadly than that and I was realizing, ‘Oh what’s rescuing me and keeping me from not reading only one thinker is that I have this book club that I’m going to that I have to read for and so that’s ensuring that I’m reading.’ I just was thinking about the scholé benefits of mommy book clubs.

Ashley: Oh definitely.

Brandy: They keep me reading when I wouldn’t read but they also are helping be this time around like reading more broadly when I would read way too narrowly on my own. So anyway, that was just my little pitch for joining a group somewhere online, locally, whatever, but I think they’re helpful.

Mystie: A little accountability, a little motivation.

Brandy: Yes, for sure. When I got thrown for a loop and ended up having to plan a senior year and a freshman year I really was like, maybe I’ll just, you know, lay down and quit. Pretty sure I was going to go bury myself at the local cemetery. So anyway.

Ashley: I’ll bring flowers.

Brandy: Thank you, please beautify my corpse. [Laughter] So Ashley, speaking of books with large words …

Ashley: Anchoritic Spirituality—I’m exploring the stay-at-home mom as an Anchorist from the Middle Ages. It’s basically a translation of Ancrene Wisse which is a 12th century manuscript that was kind of a rule of life for these three sisters that were anchorites, which means they are permanently shut up in (usually behind the altars of) churches in the Middle Ages and actually continued over to the United States and Canada until like the 1700s, this practice, and so I’m comparing a stay-at-home moms life with their lives. And so I’m reading this beautiful work of spirituality, but I can’t read it in Old English, so I have to buy the translation. Not a skill I possess anymore. I used to be okay, but now I can’t get through it, so I’ve got to buy the translations.

Brandy: Well, if it’s any comfort I was never okay. [Laughter]

Ashley: I got frustrated in high school that I couldn’t read the Old English so I started teaching myself via books through the library.

Mystie: That’s cool that your library had those books.

Brandy: Really.

Ashley: I read my high school and middle school library in completion, so I got to find all kinds of things.

Brandy: Oh my goodness. I was just thinking it was great you had a library!

Ashley: It was a small library though. I mean, they only had three thousand books. It was a small one. But we had lots of reference material. I guess they were donated. I don’t know why.

Brandy: That’s cool.

Mystie: Yeah, really cool.

Brandy: I didn’t know what an anchorite was until I was a grown up.

Ashley: Well, it’s not popular. I mean, it’s not anyone’s like, “I’m just gonna be an anchorite.” And everyone’s like, “Yeah, let’s wall you up in a room.”

Brandy: I guess by definition people wouldn’t know that you were one.

Ashley: Right. You know, it’s funny because in England they were so popular, they’re like rock stars of their day and then they just kind of phased out at some point. It’s weird.

Brandy: That is weird.

Ashley: But you wanted an anchorite for your town—that was the thing. I don’t know. There were just really excited.

Brandy: Like, we could have a mayor, we could have an anchorite.

Ashley: They would leave the quest to these women to keep them going to be fed and because they didn’t have anything in the room, so whatever they got was just either communion or whatever was at the gift of somebody else.

Brandy: Wow.

Ashley: I know. It’s like, really got to love Jesus, huh?

Brandy: So tell me here, I mean, I do find it fascinating that you’re trying to apply this to the life of the home school mom, so I want to know what are some of the connections you’ve made? I mean, I know that we can’t do a whole episode on this but like tell us one. Give us something.

Ashley: I think a connection is isolation, but for a greater purpose. It’s the same reason why you’ll see Carthusians leave. We say leaving the world, but they’re not. They’re participating in a different, in a transcendent way, and so is motherhood. To do that you have to be isolated by definition. You have to focus on something that’s bigger than yourself. You have to empty yourself. It’s the opposite of what’s being pumped in right now with self-love and all this other ridiculous love bucket crap that people keep talking about. The actual opposite is true. It’s about discipline and these women had immense emotional discipline. I mean, to be able to lay down your emotionally ego and just be at the absolute mercy of the situation—that’s exactly what motherhood is.

Mystie: If there’s anything that’s not hip right now it’s emotional discipline.

Ashley: Exactly. Don’t tell it to all the MLMers that tell me that I need to do 30 minutes of body beach thing. [Laughter] “What do you do for yourself?” Not that!

Brandy: Something’s squishy and soft.

Ashley: I don’t think I really fit the definition of what you’re looking for.

Brandy: Oh man.

Ashley: But you know, it’s the idea that we don’t have to live a life we hate. We can choose to consciously stop the subconscious patterns. We can heal the generational wounds and make lives that we don’t have to escape from.

Brandy: Amen.

Ashley: And I think that’s what the anchorites were doing. They were taking control of their lives in a time when women really couldn’t.

Brandy: That’s interesting. I remember throwing a little bit of a hissy fit on the internet, like 12 years ago or something, but it was just the thing at the time to tell everybody that you have to have a date night and you have to have it every week and you have to—all these different—not that I’m against date nights or whatever, but the implication was like, “or your marriage is going to crumble up and die.” And I just remember thinking, ‘Well, what about all the millions of people who have never had a date night because, you know, not everybody lives in America, and then, not everybody lives in, you know, post 1920-America. So, it was just an interesting thing. But I remember coming back to there was this sort of idea that the life was such that the marriage needed to escape from it in order to survive.

Ashley: Yes.

Brandy: Just like vacationing. You’ll hear that in the summer—you have to take a vacation and I’m again not against vacations, but again, this idea that life is such that I have to vacate. I have to get away from it because it’s so … whatever. Anyway, I remember thinking, ‘Okay, so I can’t afford a date night (at least not according to these people’s definitions of what a date night is), so maybe I should try to build a livable life instead.’

Ashley: Yes. I’m with you on that one. Consistency and sustainability override experiential fun.

Brandy: Right.

Mystie: Yeah.

Ashley: If you can do that that’s great but you can’t let everything else go to the wayside because you want an escape. I mean, I don’t even know what else you call it.

Brandy: Right. I mean, I do think at the time I would have liked an escape from cooking dinner.

Ashley: And sometimes it’s warranted. It fits everything and when that all comes together, that’s great, but you have to be able to say, “Oh it can’t happen so I have to survive.”

Brandy: Right.

Ashley: I’ll still be okay. It’s just passion. It’s great if it’s there, it’s great if it’s not there.

Brandy: Right. Well, and, I don’t know about you, but I actually feel like … okay, so if I feel like (which I have actually felt this way this week), I need to escape from my life because you can feel the pressure building, I tend to not enjoy the time away as much because I’m putting all this pressure on the time away. Now this time away with my husband or by myself or whatever it like needs to do all these things for me. Like I’m very demanding of it versus …

Ashley: It has to be the perfect experience for you to get what you need out of it.

Brandy: Right. Versus, if I have a livable life and then we go have a date night, usually those are the more fun ones, because nobody’s making it all about them. Nobody named Brandy is making it all about them.

Ashley: I think that’s a great point. I think that’s what scholé does for the intellect. It lets your ego die.

Brandy: Right.

Mystie: Well, and when you grab those times as escape, usually what we do is actually just distracting, and so it doesn’t refresh us or build us back up or make us ready. We grab at something that’s easy and that is distraction and that doesn’t actually help us feel better at all.

Ashley: Right. And I think that’s how you define words. Like refreshment isn’t about feeling better physically or emotionally it’s about where your soul is and your relationship with God. And so when you have that centralized and you’ve internalized that you get to let go of entitlement, you get to let go of deserving; it’s no longer about how you’re pushing what God wants; you are surrendering in the stillness of what He wants.

Brandy: I love that. And what a perfect transition to our topical discussion.

Ashley: It is.

[00:17:35] Topical Discussion

Brandy: Okay, so we are going to transition. We’re going to do it right now. We are really jumping off of some of the ideas and the book A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley, a book that I bought many years ago, Ashley, because you mentioned it. And then as is my want I started it with at least 20 other books in a certain year and so I did not finish it until this year. Great book and I actually am very much thinking about having my oldest read it before he leaves for college. He has generally I would think this is a great study skills kind of book and he already has great study skills, except that with him, I think he gets really caught up in the work side of it and the idea of if I just put in more effort than I will come to an understanding and so, “if I don’t understand it, what I need to do is work harder” and he doesn’t really have that diffuse mode category, which is what we’re talking about today. And so for him, the whole reason why I would give the book to him, is the exact topic that we’re talking about today, which is this concept of diffuse mode thinking so …

Mystie: I can add a story.

Brandy: Go for it, please do.

Mystie: I bought this book because you said you bought the book and then I didn’t even touch it, so you did better than me. But my oldest son did pick it up and he read it and he said it was fine, he said it was good. So it wasn’t until you said we were going to record on it that I picked it up and started like, ‘Oh, this has an index, good. Okay. I can just read the bits.’ I realized that one thing that my oldest son had started doing a few years ago, which personally I took credit for I probably realized now I can’t take credit for that, he probably started doing it because he read this book not because I told him it was a good idea. He used to get stressed out about his math, you know, when he was like first learning algebra, kind of thing. And I would tell him, “No, you’re not going to get farther; your brain is shut off because you’re stressed out about this. Go take a walk and then come back.” Or if he started arguing, I’d say, “Go run laps and come back.” And we did that a lot for about a year and the next school year he would take a break like halfway through his math page and go take a walk and then come back and finish and he just set up that pattern. I was like, yes, it worked! And then it was like a recommendation in this book. I’m like, oh, he’s gonna think that’s where he got it, not me.

Brandy: It’s the way it works with males in my life—my good ideas aren’t great ideas until they become their good ideas.

Mystie: Yep. That’s good, got to let it go.

Ashley: Exactly.

Brandy: Hey, you bought the book. Take credit for it that way.

Ashley: Yeah, you know, I’m sure Leo will tell you I heard this great idea. And I’m like, “I don’t want to hear from you.” [Laughter] He thought he came up with something the other day. I was like, “That’s been around since Samaria. Be quiet. You don’t know everything just most things.”

Brandy: Okay. So our listeners who possibly, some of them at least, have not read the book, understand what we’re talking about, the book presents a lot of different ideas for learning and surviving and college specifically that kind of thing, but she talks about two modes of thinking or learning. So she talks about focus mode and diffuse mode. And so I just thought I’d start us off by introducing those really quickly just so we’re all on the same page. So, she says that you are constantly, really, switching back and forth between these. So focused mode is like deep work mode—this is where we’re actually putting in the effort. We’re reading the book or we’re working the problems in our math or we’re doing the research in our science, or whatever. But then (what I appreciate about her was her talking about exactly what you’re saying, Mystie, with the shifting of gears) that there is this other mode that she calls diffuse mode thinking which is where so many of our when we think of inventors or something solving this problem in a random way. They’re like in the bathtub or on a walk or whatever. This idea of your brain still kind of working on everything in the background when you’re doing something else, especially when you’re doing sort of brainless repetitive activities. So, we don’t necessarily have to just work hard, work hard, work hard, work hard, work hard. We can actually learn to leverage this diffuse mode thinking and learn to take a break at the right time. So I realized in reading this I had mastered some of this in college and I didn’t know, I don’t have words for it. I used to annoy people because I would like read a huge hard chapter and then I would go to bed and everybody else was staying up studying but I found that if I just read it really hard and went straight to bed that then when I woke up in the morning, I could pass the test or whatever I needed to do. No, I’m not saying I remember everything really well. Like I’m not recommending this, but it did work. [Laughter]

Ashley: I’m not saying it will work for you but it worked for me so you should probably try it.

Brandy: It worked amazing.

Mystie: That’s not narration immediately after reading, so Brandy cannot endorse this. [Laughter]

[00:23:10] Diffuse Mode and Scholé

Brandy: Exactly, exactly. This is not Charlotte Mason approved behavior. But, what we’re talking about today really, at least what I want to talk about, is the connection between this diffuse mode thinking because really what she’s ultimately saying is there’s this whole side of learning that is effortless, that is not even necessarily conscious that’s happening. And that’s a lot of what we talk about in relationship to the concept of scholé is that there is this side of it that’s outside of us or not completely under our control, anyway, so that’s kind of my jumping off point here is let’s start talking about this relationship between the diffuse mode and what we talk about as scholé.

Ashley: Pieper, I think, is actually pretty clear about it, but I think we have to define some terms. I think when you are talking about diffuse mode you’re talking about an innate ability to reconcile things across neurological patterns. You’re talking about creating new neuro pathways. You are looking for connections. Whereas in focus mode, you are in the process of gathering knowledge to make connections. So you can actually do one without the other. I think with ends, intuitives, I think you typically have more of a diffuse mode attitude, you’re looking for connections already so that big picture gets filled in so the details just as they come you just apply them easier. Whereas I think with someone who’s more sensory oriented you’re looking for the trees of the forest first and so they’re looking for gathering lots of information in order to make their big picture combine. And so, knowing which one you kind of lean towards is really important, but if you look at Pieper, he says scholé is both, you need both for scholé. You need to have a time to gather and you need a time to rest because if you look at creation in Genesis, that’s what happened, right? God made all these things then He rested not because He needed to rest because we need that model. And so when we are looking at scholé, scholé is not a destination. It’s an experience in a relationship. Scholé is about unity with God. It’s about understanding where you are as a broken human being, without your defenses, and where you need to be in the relationship.

Brandy: That’s interesting because I was re-reading Pieper last night and I think I only read the first maybe three chapters of Leisure, The Basis of Culture because I only had about an hour—I’ve read it before so I’m not saying everyone should read it in an hour, I was re-reading as we talked about and what are the things that struck me was (I don’t know why I’ve never made this connection before) but the connection between scholé and maturity. I mean, I think I always saw it as a seeking of truth, but I hadn’t really connected that to our as we come into right relationship with truth and to understanding of truth then there are these things that are born out in our life in terms of how we live and what kind of person we are. And so the way that scholé changes us and turns us into better people that basically is part of the sanctification process, it was a connection I hadn’t made before, so hearing what you’re saying I don’t think I would have been ready to hear that like two days ago. [Laughter]

Ashley: Scholé for Greeks, it’s a theological concept. It’s never not been the highest queen which is theology, even for the Greeks. It may have called it something different. They called it paideia, but you have to understand scholé especially with what Pieper is talking about in terms of medieval theology. You can’t take it away from that. You can’t agendize it because it’s not about an agenda. It’s literally the opposite. Scholé is about being in a place where your ego and defenses no longer exist. It’s about being receptive to the voice of God. It’s a reconciliation of creation to creator. The only way to understand the symbols that God then placed in our worlds because as classical educators we have to be realists, we have to at some point agree with neoplatonism or else you really can’t go any farther with it. There’s no point to it then. So, the seven liberal arts are giving you God’s vocabulary in order to understand the world He’s created for you. And He did create the world for us. He literally made us a home. And so He’s embedded this home with symbology and what that means and we see that in the seven liberal arts, we see that in the sciences, you know the book by Ravi Jain. And is it Kevin Clark?

Brandy: Oh yeah.

Mystie: The Liberal Arts Tradition.

Brandy: The Liberal Arts Tradition, yes.

Ashley: Yes, thank you. I think they could have a really good idea. And if you don’t understand how that progression goes, you can’t really understand scholé. So, scholé is about this gathering and this rest at the same time. It’s about making our lives centered around becoming whole beings and we can only do that, we can only really use diffuse mode if we’re relaxed and that’s why I think you see the repetitive tasks being so important because you’re slowly letting down your defenses. You’re ready to hear God, you’re emptying yourself of what you’ve created and letting Him see what He has created and speaking to that instead of speaking to your defenses, if that makes sense.

Mystie: I think that ties back to what we were talking about earlier too, with basically self-care, which is when people think that they need rest they go to those practices that are self-centered, their own agenda, for what they think that they want, and it tends to be distraction.

Ashley: Yes.

Mystie: And so diffuse mode is completely different from distraction.

Ashley: Right, because diffuse mode has no agenda. It only offers a simple, well, as Pieper would say it’s most likely towards the intellects, the simple vision to which truth offers itself like a landscape to the eye. It’s a passive understanding. You’re waiting for grace to infuse your knowledge.

Mystie: So I was reviewing the book, Deep Work by Cal Newport and he actually includes both focus and diffuse mode (without using that terminology) but when he says deep work, he is talking about both of those together and basically shutting off distraction. So if there are three categories: focused work, diffuse mode, and distraction mode or multitasking, you can’t have focus or diffuse mode if there are distractions.

Ashley: Right. I think that’s exactly what Pieper means when he’s saying that we only do what we need to to have leisure because scholé is the concept of both focus mode or ratio, which I think you could argue that, and diffuse mode which is intellectus. And so scholé you need both.

Mystie: I like that.

Ashley: Okay, and honestly, deep work is a theological concept. He’s just taking it out of the theological realm.

Brandy: Oh totally.

Mystie: Yes.

Ashley: This is something that Augustine has talked about. This is something that Origin talked about. It is something that Symeon the Stylite has talked about. Calvin has talked about and this is not a new concept. We’re just using new vocabulary words to fit our world.

Mystie: And we’re going to understand it better and be able to do it better if we fit into its proper context, the actual creation, and not try to secularize it.

Ashley: Definitely, because then you don’t have an agenda. You don’t want to come into scholé with an idea of what you already know because the truth is you don’t know God. You can’t know God. No one on earth can know God—your mind would explode. There’s no way to process a creation without a Creator. He’s just always existed. That alone could blow your mind, yet alone, to think that he made your nervous system without googling what a nervous system was. There’s very few things human beings can really actually create without having an example. We tend to build off of things we’ve already seen but He literally came into creation mode without having anything. There’s no way we can put an agenda on truth. So if you’re looking for that or you’re looking for validation, scholé can’t be for you because that’s an ego thing. You’re looking to validate what you have consciously chosen and so much of our programming is subconscious we don’t even realize we’re not as conscious or intentional as we think. And scholé is there to redirect us and to show us repentance. It’s there for that reason. It’s there to take all of these different parts of your knowledge and integrate them into your heart center, which would be in Christian theology (especially in the Middle Ages both on Eastern and Western Christianity) with the heart of the center of the body. We would call this the mind now. That’s why they say, you know, hardened Pharaoh’s heart. So we still hear that in the east more than the west. So scholé is the integration of everything, if that makes sense.

Brandy: It does. I just … I love it. Okay. I’m going to read you guys, really briefly, a part of Leisure: The Basis of Culture. So, he says:

“The medievals distinguished between the intellect as ratio and the intellect as intellectus.”

So he says,

“Ratio is the power of discursive thought of searching and researching, abstracting, refining and concluding. Whereas intellectus refers to the ability of simply looking, to which the truth presents itself as a landscape presents itself to the eye.”

And then he says,

“all-knowing involves both.”

But my question to you guys is do you think that ratio and intellectus are focus mode and diffuse mode? Are both of these books talking about the exact same thing?

Mystie: Yes, it’s what it sounds like.

Ashley: If you are to be a medieval, yes. If you were talking about a modern American, probably not.

Mystie: Because you’re shutting off part of that definition.

Ashley: And we’re looking for semantics. So this is a funny thing about the early church they were not looking for uniformity. They were looking for a unity of belief as a very different concept. Nowadays, everyone wants to be the same. That’s how we know we’re unified. The medieval’s were looking for the same dogma and doctrine but different expressions. The church was highly localized. I mean it was localized up until the fall of Rome and then even some. It’s only in the 1900s that we’re talking about the church in any form has been uniform like in belief. And even then, in the east, we’re not. The Eastern Catholics everyone’s got their own different martyrology and local Saints and in the west you have a much more higher drive for scholasticism and this idea that we have to put on a good front but that makes sense because when you look at the culture of Rome falling in the west, they had to be a group in order to survive. They had to have a commonality they had to fight for things. Whereas in the East it didn’t fall till like the late 1400s so they didn’t have to fight as much. They could be a little bit more expressive. So I think in the modern time, we are really integrated, especially in western culture, this idea that we have to all be the same. So we want to fight over the semantics and, push comes to shove, it just doesn’t matter because you’re not God. You don’t know what His details are. And you have to let some things go and follow your own ability to discern.

Brandy: Right.

Ashley: So we can all join that. You know, we’re all the body of Christ. And so you have a choice. You can take correction and come in, or you can continue being your own person and then risk harming that unity of diversity.

[00:35:10] Diffuse Mode / Intellectus

Brandy: I think one of the things I was wondering about with the concept of diffuse mode in a Mind for Numbers versus Pieper’s presentation of intellectus was. So I’m reading this and I’m thinking these are the same thing; like it was very remarkable to me because I had actually forgotten about that entire distinction until I picked the book back up (Leisure: The Basis of Culture, I mean), but as I was reading it, I was thinking that I feel like Pieper’s definition of intellectus is more spiritual, I guess is the best way of putting it, it is grace to us, right? So if I’m, let’s say, trying to sort out a math problem and I just can’t get it and I go to bed like some mathematicians have done throughout history and I wake up in the middle of the night and I know the answer I don’t define that the way this modern American diffuse mode definition, even though they’re the same thing, I think. I wouldn’t define it the same way because I wouldn’t define it as like, oh, well my amazing brain just kept working while I was sleeping because I’m so amazing and complex. It was a gift of God. It was grace.

Mystie: Even your complex brain was a gift.

Brandy: Okay, that’s a good point.

Mystie: Yeah.

Brandy: So I guess what I’m saying is when I was reading the two I was like, they’re the same and yet …

Mystie: Well, it’s that modern tendency, or I mean it’s what modernity does it does not acknowledge any actual spirituality, spiritual aspect to the world, and then because they can see (with neuroscience or whatever) because they can see a quote unquote scientific explanation, therefore, it isn’t spiritual and that’s just not actually true.

Ashley: You know, I think you have to remember this book that she wrote is not for spirituality.

Brandy: No, it’s not.

Ashley: And so the great thing about that is, and I actually prefer secular things over spiritual things more times than not because you can then make your own connections, there isn’t really as much of an agenda against certain theological principles in her book. It’s just presenting you with “this is what’s happening in the body; that you were created.” And so I think you can really take that and say okay I see the connection to Pieper and what does that really say about language? What does that say about my faith and where I am and all of God? Because I mean, literally, if you think about the nervous system and you want to define it with a subconscious brain function, how was that created? I mean the fact that God could create that basically of a cloud in your head that connects you to other Believers and the reality of Christ, which is insane. It’s the most beautiful thing—if Christ has created it there’s beauty in it. And so I think that you can’t ignore that there’s grace but sometimes it doesn’t matter if you acknowledge it because some people don’t even know what grace is or maybe they don’t even know they’re consciously experiencing it but that doesn’t mean that you can’t define it that way or that you can’t apply that to yourself and I think that if God wants to give you grace you’re either going to accept it or not and how you name it sometimes just doesn’t matter. If that makes sense.

Brandy: Yeah, it does.

Ashley: And I think it then ask the question, how much do we rely on language without realizing how imperfect it is and how much it limits our communication with God?

Mystie: And with each other.

Ashley: Exactly. We need to use language that blesses our neighbors, that’s what rhetoric teaches us, that’s what rhetoric is about it. Scholé is a Greek word and it expresses a universal concept. So if you want to call it diffuse mode, fabulous—that’s proper for this time period. It’s not inappropriate because you have the ability to say everything is either from God or not. If it’s not from God then how could it exist? I mean the devil can’t create …

Brandy: Amen.

Ashley: That really speaks to where you are as a person, sometimes (I have to be careful) because you want to integrate everything. I mean science isn’t apart from God, much as the enlightenment wants us to believe it is it’s not. We can do both—we can save the appearances and have a hypothesis, as long as you recognize the limitations of what we’re doing and make sure it doesn’t overshadow that spirituality. But if you’re doing scholé it can’t because you’re open to those revelations of grace.

Brandy: Okay, so if we’re saying whether we say “focus mode” “diffuse mode” or whether we say adopt Pieper’s language and say ratio or if I was Dr. …

Mystie: Perrin.

Brandy: Perrin. He says, ratio.

Mystie: I can’t roll a T.

Ashley: I can’t roll a T either.

Brandy: If I was Dr. Perrin I would say “ratio” and “intellectus”.

Ashley: He’s so fancy.

[00:39:50] Focused mode / Ratio

Brandy: He really is. He really is, so we want the fancy words, we want the casual words. One of the things I was thinking in this is that as far as scholé sisters goes, I think we’ve actually put the emphasis, like when we say things like scholé everyday, we’ve put the emphasis on the ratio or focused mode side of it because when we’re talking about scholé everyday, we’re actually talking about the filling up, like the active part of this. So we’re saying things like, “we’re challenging you to read every day and be exposed to truth everyday,” but we never really talked about the other side of it, the intellectus side of it. And I mean, for me, that often happens like taking a shower and folded  my laundry, and now that my kids are older making dinner because lots of times they’re not home when I’m making dinner and so I’m doing it, you know, I talked about repetitive tasks, I’m doing the repetitive tasks, but I’m wondering do you think that homeschool mom’s need to carve out time for intellectus or do you think just avoiding distraction would result in this diffuse mode.

Ashley: You can’t do any you can’t accomplish anything whether it’s from God or not if you don’t make it a priority. You can only have three to five priorities a day. And God has to be your first priority—I think we can all agree on that, no matter across denomination and even across religions, I think that’s kind of a big deal. It’s one of the universals, you know, God is first and then your vocation, which obviously has different terminology in protestants (you guys will have to give me some grace on this) or your marriage or holy orders or whatever you’re doing and then you come in but the thing is that your needs aren’t last, what happens is how do you love God? First. Then how do you love your family? And then how do you need to be taken care of? Maybe getting a pedicure something at the end, that’s less important than something like intellectus and ratio. Intellectus, Pieper goes onto describe it as celestial knowledge. It’s the fulfillment of the highest promise in man and this is something that classical education has to be steeped in. This has to be a way of life. If you are not making time for silence, for solitude and stillness, you’re never going to accomplish scholé. Even monks have their day laid out in order to do this. Benedict has his role, and I highly suggest going through and looking at monastic life because monastic life is built on this idea. It’s situated in this idea of scholé whether they are Catholic monks, Orthodox monks, even Buddhist monks. You can really find this everywhere. If you don’t have a place where your mind can rest in Christ and be still there’s no way for you to be able to recognize the grace or his voice. You have to be open and your ego has to be down and it’s not during ratio because ratio, we’re still controlling the process, right? We still want certain ends. We still have certain agendas. We want validation. There’s all these things that make us human that we all have to fight through but that’s not what intellectus is, it’s not a human concept. It’s a supernatural concept. It’s is knowledge that is above us. It is taking our human knowledge, our bare minimum knowledge of the Seven Liberal Arts and the world around us and transcending it. Chaucer talks about this in Dream Poetry. This is why dreams are so important in the Middle Ages and why you had to form a certain way because you didn’t want your mind to lower it. You didn’t want your knowledge to be base, you wanted it to be Transcendent. So you do have to leave aside other priorities. You have to ask yourself. Am I going to love God the way he wants to be loved or the way I feel I need to love God? And you can’t love God if you don’t know God, if you don’t spend time with God, you know, in the east we call the sobornost; it’s this theological concept—talks about the mystery of union between not only person and person and peoples and peoples but between God and people so where are you not …

Brandy: You’ll have to spell that for me?

Ashley: Sobornost. And I highly suggest reading Catherine Doherty’s work. She is, I think, the most easy person because she writes very much like she talks so you can read it and you’ll understand the concept because it’s a mystery. So you have to have someone else’s experience to kind of guide you through and I think when you’re talking about scholé that’s what you’re entering into, the stillness, this quietness—it’s a pilgrimage of faith. It’s where you are in scholé is where your relationship with God is. You can’t pray until you can hear His voice—prayer is a conversation. Your life is a conversation.

[00:44:29] To the Mom Who Says, “But, I’m so busy …”

Brandy: What do you say to the mom who’s like, “But I’m so busy and I have all these little kids” (which I know you have all these little kids)?

Ashley: I do.

Brandy: So, what do you say to the mom who says that back to you?

Ashley: I say, what are your priorities? Do you or do you not want to know God? That’ll let you know what your priorities are. If it is, you’re going to find a boundary and make it work. You’re the only one that keeps yourself from not doing stuff. You can have your children habit train—that’s a thing in Charlotte Mason. So you have your 15-20 minutes a day or whatever you need, or maybe it’s about disciplining re-parenting yourself so that you get up earlier, maybe it’s about emotionally working on who you are in the future. Some people I know have a future self-journal. I know that’s a big deal right now. I’ve really enjoyed that—where it keeps me in the future, but also in the present. What are some ways that you are not caring for yourself holistically? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating? What is your priority for your family? Because children don’t learn by being forced to do things. They learn by being modeled to. So either you’re going to model a relationship with God or you’re not and you have to take radical honesty and responsibility for that. There is no pact for life, there is no practicality. Everything is going to be different. I can only give people the ability to form opinions and create systems for themselves because not everybody can be accounted for in any one system. That’s the beauty of sainthood. That’s the beauty of the example of God’s greatest with so much diversity.

Mystie: We want the system that just does the work for us without having to be the one.

Ashley: Yeah!

Mystie: And you’re just living it out.

Ashley: Yeah, you can’t come to God like that. God’s not going to do any work for you. He already did His work. Now you have—I mean, that’s not quite theological—He’s not going to sit there …

Brandy: That’s okay, heresy is fine on this show.

Ashley: … and pay your bills for you. He gave you the ability to pay them. That’s what He already gave.

Brandy: I know. I know what you’re saying because, really what you’re saying is faith without works is dead.

Ashley: Yeah, you have to be in the relationship and I think we all know from our own date night conversations that you do have to date God. You have to be ready and willing to accept what He has to give you. In order to do that you do have to carve out time and maybe that means that your children cry a little bit outside the door, they’ll be fine. Give them a hug and move on. You don’t have to be a martyr. You don’t have to be a doormat. Have boundaries and say, “Mommy is doing this right now, you know, Mama doesn’t want you in the room. Sorry. Go play.”

Brandy: But their fingers are under the door, Ashley.

Ashley: The cat’s fingers are under the door half the time, because I just have to sit in the room he wants to eat in.

Brandy: I got frustrated with my kids today because I was like trying to do school planning and it really was true that about part way through I realized all of this is happening because I’m allowing it. So I’m mad—I was getting mad at everyone, realizing I actually never told them to stop. I was just annoyed by their behavior that I couldn’t complete a thought without an interruption which is hard when you’re trying to plan something but I never just took the time to pause and say, “Mommy is working because you have to have school next year, which means I have to plan it. So go do something else.” I never did it. And so I’m sitting there blaming them in my mind, but I’m thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, I am the adult in the room.’

Ashley: And boundaries. If you have well-intentioned, well-formed boundaries, that’s all you can really give your children. I mean that’s an emotional care right there. I think that’s actually the ultimate self-care is boundaries, knowing what you need and what you want, knowing how to express what you need and what you want is very important and you definitely, as a human being who is a Christian, need time with God. That’s a non-negotiable. That should be one of your three top priorities for the day. If you’re a home school mom, you can’t do everything. You have to pick your battles and what hill are you going to die on and if a relationship with God is not one of those then you have to re-question how you’re prioritizing your family culture. And it’s not going to be perfect. So maybe it’s 10 minutes of just the same prayer over and over again. That’s not a lost cause.

Mystie: No, that’s a little drop.

Ashley: Exactly. And sometimes that’s all God’s asking from you for Him to talk to you. It’s just that moment of softening of your heart not being in defense mode, of not being worried about everything because it’s all going to work out the way it is, whether it’s good or bad, it just at some point doesn’t matter because you either believe it’s God’s hand or it’s not.

[00:49:15] What Does This Mean in the Everyday Experience?

Mystie: So I think one way to bring this to just the everyday experience that I think we can all relate to is saying, okay, so Brandy’s already said, you know laundry, cooking, these are times that can be used for intellectus, but it’s not just a distraction like phone distraction that prevents (or kid distraction) that prevents us from using that time that way, it’s also not the default if your kids aren’t there and if you don’t have your phone, that doesn’t automatically make it…

Ashley: There’s a concept in Catholicism that I’m sure will branch anything—it’s a universal concept of creating a cell inside your heart and Paul talks about it. You need to create a monastery in your heart that you can retreat to talk to God at any time.

Mystie: Right. That’s what I was going to say. So the way to latch on to this idea is to say use that time for prayer because if your heart and your mind goes to worry, discontent, just thinking about all the things, that’s your own inner distraction, that’s not diffuse. Just because you’re alone with your thoughts doesn’t make it diffuse mode. Diffuse mode is this self-forgetfulness prayerful, open, receptive mindset that does take practice getting into and I think it’s the baby step way but it’s also the deep way is prayer. We can all identify with that practice and that attitude and taking that as an attitude that you can mentally retreat to almost in a way.

Ashley: It is. There’s a story about a monk and he was just so dense he couldn’t memorize all these prayers. He just could not do all one hundred fifty Psalms. So his Abbot goes, “Fine, here, read through these prayers. Tell me your favorite one.” So he reads through all these prayers, finds his favorite one, and it’s all he said his entire life. That’s all he prayed was this one prayer for like sixty years and they said the grace he received from God was so much more than someone who was massively focused on everything else. This man had learned how to train and discipline his emotions and his reactions and his heart to hear God in this prayer. And this was his form of communication. And so there’s always something that we can start. There’s always a small prayer or affirmation or “Lord. Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner.” I mean, that was in my favorites that I do a lot especially when I don’t want to clean up the mess that just happened with the baby, the kinetic sand explosion or whatever.

Brandy: Oh No.

Ashley: Diffuse mode isn’t about getting anything out of it. You’re just really trying to train yourself to hear the voice of God in order to understand what you are studying. It’s a larger context for everything.

Brandy: I do think that starts though with the avoiding of distraction. I’m just thinking because …

Ashley: Oh, definitely.

Brandy: My original tendency was to do more focused mode, like to turn on a podcast or turn on a lecture or something and just do more of filling up of even just other people’s ideas. It took a while for me to realize I need that quiet time really to keep me sane long-term, but I was creating this – I mean, no one would have known it was noisy because it’s like in my earbuds, but I was creating this really noisy world for myself.

Mystie: Right. I go through that cycle too with just like my walks. I’ll get steps at their morning or just sometimes in between teaching kids and if I have Voxer or a podcast or an audio book on all the time whenever I’m out getting steps or whenever I’m in the car, it’s a guaranteed, why do I feel like my thoughts are disjointed and like I can’t put sentences together? It’s because I haven’t allowed any space for just thinking.

Ashley: Right. You have to create this idea. It’s called the three S’s. Cardinal Sarah kind of talks about it in his book The Power of Silence and I would suggest reading that for anyone whether they—there’s nothing too Catholic in it, it’s really about enjoying silence and knowing what distraction is and what it’s not. He writes it like bullet points, so I mean you could read it even just really quickly.

Mystie: I love bullet points.

Ashley: I do too. I’m like, “Dude, everyone needs to write like this” because this is so much easier to when I’m like, okay, I’m on bullet 170. I can just close the book now.

Brandy: So have you contacted the Awakening Wonder guy?

Ashley: Steve Turley is not my fan. We don’t always meet in the middle on our politics there. But he talks about stillness, he talks about solitude, and he talks about silence. And I would ask myself as a starting point if I wanted to change my culture of my home where are we standing still to me God? Because sometimes we have to stop pushing. We have to just be here. And then sometimes we have to be silent. And other times we have to have solitude and what do those things mean? How are we embracing those and how are we modeling those to our children? Because that’s probably the most efficient (and I hate to use that word) but the most efficient way to do this is to really see yourself as needing a rule of life. Whether that is monastically Catholic or Buddhist, whatever, if you just look across the world there is this idea through all cultures: people need to rest mentally, emotionally. It’s not wrong to say, I’m going to be still and wait for God to move things, or maybe He’ll move me. Maybe I just need to not listen to other people’s ideas and see where I am, as where are my core beliefs? How are they being challenged? Solitude is maybe going on a silent retreat and maybe that’s finding out that that’s not for you. You know, you have to try things. You have to be ready to fail because I think that’s where God really is found is in the failure. It’s in that moment where your feet are the most cut up, you know, I think CS Lewis does it best when you read that one book that Jennifer and I read, Till We Have Faces. In the end where they are naked cut and bleeding and Orual has to admit to herself everything that’s happened is because she couldn’t be still, she couldn’t hear his voice. She had literally clouded her own vision and she has sold herself a completely different narrative. And so I always think about scholé as Abraham with Isaac coming to the rock. What are we willing to put on the rock? Or what are we not? Are we scared for God to steady our hand? Well, that’s probably where we need the most work. We’re probably not dispassionate right there. We’re afraid to sacrifice it, we need to sacrifice it. Or either God will sacrifice or he’ll save your hand. I mean that you have to be willing to give and take with God—just my little thoughts.

Brandy: Well, we’ve been going at this for a while, but I really don’t want us to end without talking a little bit about applying these categories to our children because they’re persons too. You already talked about modeling, Ashley. I’m thinking like, for example, when we’re doing school lessons, we are in focused mode, right?

Ashley: Definitely.

Brandy: Like that’s what we’re doing. We’re filling it all up and we’re giving them things to think about but you know, we’re talking about this busy intense world and it’s not just busy and intense for us as moms, it’s busy and intense for them. So, how do we set them up or how do we set up our home or I’m just thinking generally from the two of you, can I get some practical examples of, at least, I mean we can’t ultimately determine whether our kids enter this diffuse mode, but we can at least predispose them to it or give them opportunity for it. So, what does that look like?

Ashley: You have to start with knowing your children. And I know that sounds silly but knowing. You know, I have one daughter, My INTP daughter, who really naturally does this, but she doesn’t want to take time to do it because she doesn’t like being apart from the group. So for her, I need to make sure that I send her upstairs with a craft or something away from the children who are screaming about kinetic sand. My older son, you know, he needs a little bit of extraverted thinking to get him started on that and then I could send him downstairs with an audiobook and Legos and then he comes up and he’s ready to re-correct. I think it’s the same thing as a mom. How are you going to relax? Where are your children going to be less defensive? That’s when you need to put them for success.

Mystie: Yeah, and noticing when that tension or stress in the focus mode builds up.

Ashley: Yeah.

Mystie: That’s our job as a parent to notice and help them find something else to do or even help them to notice what’s going on and say, you know, I tell my daughter that drama mode shuts her brain down. So if she goes into drama mode we have to do something. I take away the math page or the whatever it is. Like you’re not allowed to have this until you until you go take a walk, go have a cry, get a drink of water. But until, this is just interesting and something we’re going to tackle we can’t, it’s going to do damage not help.

Ashley: Right. And that is our job as parents. That’s part of the modeling is to know where your boundaries are and then respect your child’s boundaries because everyone has natural emotional boundaries. And part of it is, I think, with parenting it’s very hard to admit to ourselves that our children are not ours, they’re God’s. And that how they choose to use their free will and how they choose to use the education we give them is not a reflection on us and once we recognize that we stop putting the expectation or caring about being judged. So we’re less likely to push against their boundaries and create power struggles.

Mystie: That’s true. There’s one story that I remember hearing when I had all little kids but Andrew Pudewa was telling a story about when his kids were little and they were homeschooling. It was like 10:00 am on a home school day. So, you know, everyone’s supposed to be working on something right? And his daughter was just sitting on the couch, you know, staring into space and so he got on her, like, “What are you doing?” And her answer was that she said, “I was thinking.” She said, “Things just started connecting up in my brain.” They do need that time, that connecting up in the brain, this diffuse mode is scholé. It takes space apart from the conscious study and work of things.

Ashley: Definitely, it does.

Mystie: And sometimes just letting our kids have some spit (and it’s hard to find that balance between letting them have time and space and also making sure they aren’t dawdling on their work) but a lot of dawdling really is being distracted, but we should let them have some kind of balance and they’ll experiment and will help them experiment in a kind of balance and figuring that out which experiment means it’s not going to be always the right choice but taking a walk, taking a bike ride, drop my kids off and draw and I think that’s when they are having mental space.

Ashley: It’s just like a monster. You’re going to build in moments for them to relax. Not everything has to be done every day. This is where boundaries and priorities come in. You have to prioritize the ability for everyone to relax. This is something I love about monastic life: it’s about what God wants you to complete in that day. It’s not about your list. It’s not about your child’s list. That’s why we start with prayer every morning, right? I mean that’s the morning offering, its (I don’t know the Protestant equivalent, sorry, what that would be) but you know, I think we can all say, “Jesus, what do you want me to accomplish today?” and then you’re taking the pressure off of yourself to do something that God doesn’t even expect you to do. And that is super important to have that.

Mystie: That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Elisabeth Elliott:

“One reason we are so harried and hurried is that we make yesterday and tomorrow our business, when all that legitimately concerns us is today. If we really have too much to do, there are items on the agenda which God did not put there. Let us submit the list to Him and ask Him to indicate which items we must delete. There is always time to do the will of God. If we are too busy to do that, we are too busy.”

Ashley: Exactly. I mean that that sums up exactly why classical education has been so successful because it’s not about getting anything done. It’s about becoming human beings first and foremost and the only way we do that is by serving God.

Mystie: Amen.

Brandy: I just want to leave it right there because that is the perfect ending to this. I don’t want to mess it up. I loved that. Ashley, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Ashley: Thank you for letting me talk about this.

Brandy: It’s incredible. And I can tell you could go for another hour.

Ashley: I can talk about this until I’m blue in the face and die.

Mystie: Well, I think we should do another episode on some aspect of scholé again because I think that is a topic that we need to visit regularly.

Brandy: Well, let’s get Ashley back on next season then.

Mystie: Yeah.

Ashley: That sounds great.

Brandy: We’ll figure out something and then we’ll just bring our soap box and we’ll let you stand on it and then you’ll be fine.

Ashley: Oh my goodness.

Brandy: Well, okay we’ll do the traditional wrapping up. Thank you so much for coming.

Ashley: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Brandy: That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening and being a part of the Sisterhood of the podcast. As always, we’d appreciate it if you spread the word about the podcast to your friends. Remember to go to scholesisters.com/laugh to register for the fall retreat. Mystie, Pam, Cindy Rollins, and I are planning some very special talks for you. Next episode, Mystie, Pam, and I will be chatting about Pam’s local Scholé salon and what they’ve been up to over the past year. Plus, we’ll chat about various challenges facing Scholé sisters groups. Until then, we want to remind you once again that homeschooling isn’t a marathon you needn’t run alone, so open up your eyes, and look around you, find your sisters.

[01:04:25] Outtakes

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