• Shayna Sheinfeld, Ph.D.

Guest Post: What would your "Priorities Mansion"​ Look Like?

Image of Dr. Sara Parks
Guest Post by Dr. Sara Parks

Every January since the early 80s, when I first learned what a "resolution" was, I've been making them. As a natural goal-setter, list-maker, and Keeper of Mementoes, I still have a lot of mine from over the years. Looking at them in aggregate, it becomes extremely obvious that I have had the same cluster of priorities for a long time - since childhood! Yet, in this world of temporary jobs, where we humanities academics juggle at least two side gigs to get by, it's hard to find time to flourish. In reality, life gets so busy that we live in survival mode, barely making it to the weekend, where having the time to temporarily fall apart and then climb Laundry Mountain feels like a vacation, albeit a pathetic one.

During peak work times, when I look ahead to long stretches without enough sleep, these bright-eyed, sparkly January lists are abandoned. But when I do get time for moments of introspection, combined with something soul-nourishing (for me, silent time with trees, or alone-time with a nerdy podcast and a good coffee), these lifelong priorities come rushing sharply into focus again. They were right there all along.

This morning, in one such time of introspection - golden sunlight breaking through purple-dark rainclouds onto my neighbour's lindon tree, a particularly good coffee, and a BBC 4 episode on Josephus - I had a sort of vision, of a mansion. I imagined, pretty concretely, a sprawling house, where each room represented a deep priority of mine. In this house, nothing had to be stored away, to be dragged out cumbersomely when needed. Instead, there were so many rooms that each one could stay all set up for its purpose, all the time.

Here is how my mansion looks: there's an art room, with loads of natural light, where the paper, paint, and art supplies are always laid out and projects "on the go" are right there to be taken up. There is a room for spiritual practice, with a great view of the outdoors, meditation/prayer pillows, and sacred texts. There is a nerd room, where the academic library is housed, along with a writing station. There's another writing station in the literary room, where the poetry and literary library is kept. There's an exercise room, where the yoga mats stay rolled out and other fitness items are at the ready - not folded up in a basement corner. There's a correspondence room devoted to keeping up friendships and family ties; it has cards, wrapping paper, stationery, stamps, and a big screen for video chats. There's a place to sleep outdoors in hammocks. There's a jam room filled with musical instruments, always tuned and out of their cases, never under the bed. There's a guest room ready to make guests feel like they're at a cozy B&B. And there are also the rooms I have in real life: kitchen, living room, bedroom, kitty paradise playroom (don't ask), and bathroom.

I guess you can tell from my mansion that my priorities are: scholarship, literature, art, music, staying in touch with loved ones, being in tune with nature and spirit, and taking care of my body. This has always been my cluster of goals, in one way or another.

Now, I don't have the resources to build or buy a space like this, and, unless my life veers in a very unexpected direction, I never will. The question is: could I build my "Priorities Mansion" metaphorically?

Wood cabin in forest, covered in snow.
Photo credit: Sara Parks, cabin in rural Quebec, rented to work on PhD thesis, 2015]

Building A Non-Literal Priorities Mansion

The attraction of my Priorities Mansion is that the tools for each goal are always accessible and visually present. But without the physical space for doing this in real life, might there be a way I could do it mentally? Could I build a Priorities Mansion in my head? Could I keep each of these priorities present in balance throughout the week, like my own personal version of the Wellness Wheel? How would I do this? By rearranging the space I do have? By intentionally forming habits? By honing my time management skills much more sharply? By trimming away the "fat" in my schedule?

Canadians are great at saying "sorry" ... I'm sorry that this article ends with questions, but not answers! What would your Priorities Mansion look like? How do you think a non-literal Priorities Mansion could be built into our lives so that the tools for our highest goals are always within a few steps? Advice welcome.


Dr. Sara Parks is Assistant Professor in New Testament studies in the Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham.

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