It took me days to pack my bags. I weighed and re-weighed each suitcase, shuffling the heavy things, narrowing down what could actually make the final cut. I took great care in planning out what travel would look like, how and when I’d say the dreaded goodbyes, and did my best to stay on top of logistics of what life would look like when my plane touched down in the city that would become my new home.
Those days of preparing for an overseas departure are nothing short of exhausting. There are so many things to consider, both in the home you’re leaving and the home you’ll be arriving in. We care for logistics so we can ease our physical weight and questions, set plans for how to tend to our emotional health, and emphasize habits that can guide us spiritually during a jolting shift in place.
But I found it was easy to neglect one aspect of my being, one very important aspect.
I felt its neglect within the first few weeks in my new home. Initially, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew that I felt a stirring. Finally, some words emerged on it, and I was able to name it.
I needed intellectual stimulation.
Oh believe me, language learning was stimulating, but it wasn’t soothing a longing deep within me as the work of a good book, or class, or sermon.
I needed to tend to my mind. You need to tend yours as well.
So today, I’m going to share a few top tips with you, things I learned in my own need to cultivate the garden of my mind.
1.Join a book club. The internet is our friend in this area, and there are plenty of great options, including our very own Velvet Ashes book club (yay!) which meets on Tuesdays. Good literature has always been a balm for me, and I found it to be an anchor in the midst of transition. I also joined a book club centered on spiritual formations put out by the good people at https://renovare.org/. Joining a community kept me accountable to keep my head in the books, and introduced me to many voices who held my hand as I transitioned.
2. Find the podcasts. There are countless, so it’s weeding through and finding the gold you’re needing that will be the challenge. I’ll share a few that have been especially grounding for me: “Fight Hustle, End Hurry” is a one-season podcast that can give you so much food for thought as you stand at the cusp of remaking your life. As a single woman, I found Annie F. Downs, the host of “That Sounds Fun” to be highly relatable and to give me courage. Emily P. Freeman’s “The Next Right Thing” podcast was my sure companion as I faced seemingly countless decisions each passing day.
3. Do your mind work. Does writing help you process? Then buy a new pen. Does creating help you sort things? Create, my friend. Does cooking a good meal settle you enough to think deeply? Get out the frying pan. For me, it was two things: writing and stitching. I’ve always loved to write, but it was more needed than ever before. I even submitted a guest post to Velvet Ashes which eventually opened the door for me to join the writing team. Stitching simple embroidery patterns settled me and helped me think more clearly. Somehow it was the hand-mind connection that I needed.
4. Read prayers. If I’m honest, transition does not do wonderful things to my prayer life. I became more grateful than ever for a Holy Spirit who can intercede for us with “wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). In times like those, I need someone else to lead me in prayer, to say the words my soul feels but cannot express. Three books I love in this category are Every Moment Holy by Douglass McKelvey, To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donahue, and Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth by Walter Brueggemann.
5. Find a kindred. Be intentional about cultivating a friendship that will stimulate you to grow. In my situation, I was fortunate enough to find a friend living in a neighbouring town who I could meet for coffee twice a month. Our conversations kept me sharp and stimulated and spurred me on to good things. For you, it might be a friend via FaceTime or e-mail, but whatever it may be, do the work of making those meetings happen and let friendship do its perfect work.
For me, each of these five areas added a lot of depth to my life in a desperate time. I know we’re all wired differently, and possibly these things won’t speak to you as well as they did to me, but I encourage you to look for ways to tend your mind as your body finds a new home, or even as it settles into a new season.
I’m pretty sure you’ll look in the rearview mirror and be glad you did.
What are some ways you keep yourself stimulated intellectually?