Thomas’s spiritual journey is almost mystically detailed—intangible, internal, and difficult-to-describe.
Time Out of Mind is Jo Thomas’s story of her journey through trauma to spiritual self-discovery. The account begins in 1949, when Thomas first sees her future husband and has “a curious encounter with [her] own mind. It was like another person speaking from a great depth inside.” That was the beginning of the otherworldly awareness that would eventually change the course of her life.
Thomas details the unfolding of their romance in the wake of World War II, the early years of their marriage, and their happy, rural home and family life. After this lengthy, warm, and idyllic introduction, everything changes: her husband dies suddenly, leaving her with four young children.
Thomas painfully recounts the early days of being a grieving mother. Then she has “a stream of thoughts and mind pictures” that weave physical reality with symbolic visions—by the end she is sure her own death is imminent. Upon sharing her experience with a friend and a doctor, she begins her struggles through mental health care, much of which would now be deemed primitive, including electroshock therapy.
Over the years to come she has a variety of religious and metaphysical experiences that she cannot explain. They’re often comforting and positive for her in the moment, but unnerving for others around her—and certainly for those reading the book who’ve never experienced something similar. She struggles to make sense of her identity.
The most compelling part of the book is the painstaking sharing of Thomas’s process of putting her life back together. She finds healing and wholeness on her own terms, and a deeper understanding of herself, humanity, and the place of people in the greater spiritual reality. Self-awareness, meditation, and a transition from Catholicism to Baha’i all figure into her transformation.
The book begins slowly until the main action starts, and then the pace modulates along with the events of the story, becoming fairly quick toward the end. Narration is strong, particularly during romantic scenes, but at times lapses into summation as events and years go by. At times during Thomas’s visions and self-realization, experiences are so singular and intangible that they’re hard to express, and harder still for others to fully grasp.
Thomas’s reflections include free verse poetry written during the course of her life. For her, poems were a vehicle for self-reflection; in the larger book, the poems convey the tenor of her experiences. Similar to other content, poems are unclear at times, but are also indicative of the intangible, internal, and difficult-to-describe nature of her experiences.
While Thomas’s experiences are unique to her, her struggles with mental illness and grief, as well as her deep need for healing, will be relatable for many people. Those who have had comparable journeys of spiritual discovery will connect best to her story.
Time Out of Mind is a fascinating, at times bewildering, look at a life taken apart and then put back together.
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.