“By two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the out-door world…The only friend to walk with is one…who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared. The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four.” –C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
In my last post, I noted that the foundation of Lewis’s proposed scholarly schedule is extended periods of contemplative, individual study.
But Lewis indicates that academic contemplation alone is not enough for the scholar. Lewis also insists that the daily routine involve a walk–and a very long one by today’s standards: two hours! He furthermore insists that this walk, in most cases, be a solitary one, because walking with another person turns the experience into a social affair, which upends the purpose of the walk. The daily walk, according to Lewis, is a time for reveling in the beauty of nature and for refreshing the mind with quiet stimulation, rather than with boisterous or forced conversation.
For Lewis, the natural world provides a key component to the scholarly life: an opportunity for the rejuvenation of the mind and spirit. Our brains of course need a break after long periods of learning and absorbing. But the physical body needs a change too–physical movement increases oxygen flow to the brain, which helps us think better, and our eyes tire after long periods of reading. Allowing the mind and eyes to relax, and getting the body moving at about mid-day will help make that afternoon study time much more productive.
I think it’s worth noting that Lewis finds the natural world particularly suited to this kind of refreshment. A break to watch cartoons or to play a game on a screen will not have the same effect because these activities are simply modern day replacements for the kind of bombardment that Lewis specifically wants to avoid. A walk taken while listening to music or to a podcast via earbuds also provides more bombardment than true mental rejuvenation. Even an activity like playing tag with the siblings outside doesn’t accomplish exactly the purpose of the solitary nature walk. Outdoor games certainly have their place in home education and family culture, but they aren’t what Lewis is talking about here because they don’t allow the mind to subconsciously digest what the student has been learning during study time against the quiet backdrop of the natural world.
Deep Work author Cal Newport is in agreement with Lewis about the usefulness of walking for the scholar. In his book, Newport recalls that the days on which he walked to work were his most productive, because he used that walking time to digest and think over the mathematical proofs he had been working on the day before. Because the student is outside, there is no burden to continue to absorb and learn new information, so the mind is free to mull over what it has already taken in. Paired with light physical activity, a period of quiet, solitary contemplation can provide real rejuvenation.
True rejuvenation from scholarly activity means giving the mind time to debrief, and letting the body move. Now that spring is here in full, Lewis’s suggestion to do this against the backdrop of nature is one that we stand a good chance of following, in one form or another! Of course, you might not be able to spare two full hours at a time, but even fifteen or twenty minutes climbing a tree, biking around the neighborhood, or walking the dog could have the desired effect, if that time is solitary rather than interactive. (In other words, look for opportunities to give your students these little rejuvenating moments to enjoy away from their siblings.)
This won’t be possible every day, but whenever weather permits, and whenever it’s logistically realistic to give your students (especially logic stage and older) time to themselves outdoors following a long period of study, take advantage of that opportunity for your student to be rejuvenated.
Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.