Jamie KreinerMar 8, 2023
The Wandering Mind
What Medieval Monks Tell Us About Distraction
The Wandering Mind: What Medieval Monks Tell Us About Distraction (Liveright, 2023) by Dr. Jamie Kreiner presents a revelatory account of how Christian monks identified distraction as a fundamental challenge—and how their efforts to defeat it can inform ours, more than a millennium later.
Although we think of early monks as master concentrators, a life of mindfulness did not, in fact, come to them easily. Delving into the experiences of early Christian monks living in the Middle East, around the Mediterranean, and throughout Europe from 300 to 900 CE, Dr. Kreiner shows that these men and women were obsessed with distraction in ways that seem remarkably modern. At the same time, she suggests that our own obsession is remarkably medieval. Ancient Greek and Roman intellectuals had sometimes complained about distraction, but it was early Christian monks who waged an all-out war against it. The stakes could not have been higher: they saw distraction as a matter of life and death.
Drawing on a trove of sources that the monks left behind, Dr. Kreiner reconstructs the techniques they devised in their lifelong quest to master their minds—from regimented work schedules and elaborative metacognitive exercises to physical regimens for hygiene, sleep, sex, and diet. Blending history and psychology, The Wandering Mind is a witty, illuminating account of human fallibility and ingenuity that bridges a distant era and our own.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.