Offering Ourselves: An Excerpt

Professor Intellect is a busy man; his desk is covered with memos and folders, all reminding him of the many things he should be doing in the House of Mind. At the minute, however, he is feeling bored and confined, “unwilling to begin to think of anything but the small matters of everyday life.” He’s fed up to tears, bored to the teeth, and can’t even manage to keep his metaphors straight. Someone gives him an equation to work on, and “Intellect bestirs himself, strong and eager for his work…”; “yet the next time we come to the same fence, Intellect jibs and we have to spur him to the leap; then all goes well” (Ourselves, p. 45). And then again, and again.

Thinking that he might take on some extra research, he goes to see the head of his department; but that office has been taken over by new management from the Habit Corporation. Well, that explains that. We have described Habit as a good servant, particularly in the House of Body; but he can be more of a problem in the House of Mind.

It is when he is allowed to play the bad master and override Intellect that he spoils and narrows life. Under Habit, Intellect cannot be said to be slothful; he goes briskly enough, but he goes over the same ground, day after day, year in, year out. The course may be a good one and it may be quite necessary to follow it. (pp. 45-46)

What is the remedy for Professor Intellect’s autopilot status? He doesn’t like to be lazy, but it’s as if one part of him says “Get to work,” and the other says “Don’t bother, what’s the use?” His first thought is that he needs to gain more Self-Control. He calls up a colleague who, he has heard, went through much the same problem recently, and asks where or how Self-Control can be obtained. “It’s not something that you can just order online,” his friend says. “Before we can have Self-Control we must know a good deal about ourselves, that is, we must get Self-Knowledge.” And where does one get that?

“You are in a rut, my friend. Habit’s mistake is to keep you on the always on the same ground.”

”But I do enjoy my work in physics,” Intellect protests.

“It is possible for a person to go into any one of the great fields of thought, and to stay there with steady work and constant delight until he becomes incapable of finding his way into any other of these great fields. The happiness of the intellectual life comes of knowing and thinking, imagining and perceiving or rather, comes of the range of things which we know and think about, imagine and perceive.

“‘To search, to endeavour, and to feel our way to a foothold from point to point is also exhilarating; and every step that is gained is a resting-place and a house of ease for Mansoul.’ (p. 39) Therefore, the proper remedy for Intellect-on-autopilot is not so much a vacation as an adventure.”

Offering Ourselves: A Lenten Journey with Charlotte Mason is now available on, in print and Kindle editions.