November 9, 2009

"I think the internet encourages a kind of acedia...."

"... an increasingly listless wandering that can exacerbate a frenetic soul. Fasting from it, whether wholly or in a lurking state that calms our need to say something to everything, can be wonderfully re-centering."

On the occasion of vbspurs's reemergence in the comments — Paddy O. — tells us about an a sin we may not have heard of.


EDH said...

Once this has seized possession of a wretched mind it makes a person horrified at where he is, disgusted with his cell and also disdainful and contemptuous of the brothers who live with him or at a slight distance, as being careless and unspiritual. Likewise it renders him slothful and immobile in the face of all the work to be done within the walls of his dwelling: It does not allow him to stay still in his cell or to devote any effort to reading.

Alright, already. I'll get out of my pajamas, take a shower and clean my place.


traditionalguy said...

No comment.

William said...

Among the carbon based life forms, I am weary, sad, and growing old. I see no advantage to life in that world.

vbspurs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

Hehe, well that's certainly a way to chivvy me out from my foxhole of lurkdom, Ann. :)

I can say that this bit was especially interesting from Paddy O's link:

He complains and sighs, lamenting that he is bereft and void of all spiritual gain in that place inasmuch as, even though he is capable of directing others and of being useful to many, he is edifying no one and being of no help to anyone through his instruction and teaching.

As much as I protest that I am not a missionary ("missional", if you will, to use the term used in the post), that I have no special desire to convert anyone to my world view -- and I believe that with every fibre in my body to be true -- still...still one sometimes wishes that the thousands of words of our most pertinent thoughts about every topic imaginable, that somehow those words will reflect a moment one lives and mesh with it.

I suppose it was this lack of connectivity with the events that followed the election of President Barack Obama that evoked in me a need to retreat from the Blogosphere.

Spiritual retreats are as old as man. The most well-known are of the religious variety, which exist for a specific cleansing purpose of the soul. You can find hundreds of convents who offer that service, often for free. I almost went to one in France quite recently.

But I realised that the really difficult part is not living by yourself, like a hermit or the Unabomber. The difficult part is to exist in a world where the voices and text of others strike a note of dissonance so deep, that it throws one into emotional disarray. I wish it can be explained as depression, but for whatever blessed reason, I was given a buoyant, resilient personality that prizes upbeatness and I cannot recall being truly depressed in all this time.


Disillusionment is a far worse feeling than being depressed. I do not think there is a pill that can ever bring back a shattered ideal and there is no talking cure for it either.

When I was a wee child, I recall being in a corner of my home and trying to catch a shadow that suddenly appeared when the sun cast one in the room. I reached out with my baby hand to grasp it, but when the sun retreated, the shadow disappeared and I found that I couldn't catch the shadow.

That's how I felt for about a year.


Richard Dolan said...

"The difficult part is to exist in a world where the voices and text of others strike a note of dissonance so deep, that it throws one into emotional disarray."

Yes. Sometimes you need to get away for a while, but that's quite different from permanently withdrawing into oneself. Life is a feast we are all called to enjoy, but too much of a good thing isn't good. An occasional fast is essential to bring the feast into focus.

Welcome back, for however long you can stay.

vbspurs said...

Thanks very much, Richard. No matter what happens, the blog commenters on Althouse have a permanent place in my heart.


AST said...

I'm feeling a lot of this lately. I'm retired and unwell, but I used to listen to Dennis Miller every morning. Now, it's been months since I listened. Since Summer I've settled into a funk. I still read blogs, but I get a feeling of doom from the news. It's a Cassandra feeling, that I can see where we're headed, but nobody will believe me.

In my case, I think it has to do with my children going away to college and turning into liberals. That, and living too far from my three year old grandson.

vbspurs said...

The phrase, "hang in there, AST" pops to mind. Not just for your continued health, but because being a liberal often turns out to be a dalliance. My parents told me that a parent loses a child metaphorically between the ages 15-25. Then they come back to you. So take heart, AST.

Anonymous said...

"You always own the option of not haivng an opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or trouble your sould about things you can't control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone."

-- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Although it's always been interesting to me that this advice came from an Emperor of Rome.

AST said...

Thanks, VB. How kind!

I came back to this post because it occurred to me that acedia IS my experience of depression. Not worse. When your neurons aren't firing enough, you can't think, concentrate or feel any drive, ambition or initiative. Fortunately Cymbalta helps and I often forget to appreciate it. I think my current funk is mostly due to arrogance of our politicians who view their constituents as an obstacle to be avoided rather than the reason they have their jobs. If health care reform passes, it will be nearly impossible to repeal it. Our constitution is like a Chinese finger puzzle. It's easier to go one way than to go back.

blake said...

Yes! I remember acedia. We used to use it to describe how boring our professors who taught us about the bored monks were...

Nah, but wouldn't that have been perfect, though? Our Christian History profs were pretty fascinating.

Paddy O. said...

"The difficult part is to exist in a world where the voices and text of others strike a note of dissonance so deep, that it throws one into emotional disarray"

So true. And my experience as well. The "missional" part of that post was dealing with a different conversation, so I hope it doesn't distract. It was just the best post I had which connected the thoughts on acedia with online interactions.

The idea of an upbeatedness expression of it is which draws me to this concept as being maybe inclusive of depression but not really the same thing. Indeed, depression isn't itself a sin. Though, I think embracing it can be.

This is more than and more focused than depression because it strikes at the heart of our vocation--whatever that is. We think what we do doesn't matter. We push, and push, and push and see no movement so we get in a muddle, where our thinking itself is misaligned and while we're expressing and moving, there's no wholeness about it. It's not even us.

The response, for the monks at least, was to do manual labor. Get out and move the body, experience the real world, become in tune with the physical self and physical world.

I think I resonate with your situation, Victoria, because I was there for a number of years, and continue to see how I need to re-center myself. And during that time it wasn't at all about vocational or obvious, cultural success. It was stepping back from that so that I when I stepped back in I was more whole, more wise, less combustible.

This kind of stuff can drift into new agey sort of self-obsession, but that's sort of missing the point. It's about stepping back so that we can be more real, more whole, more still to the people who we are to be with.

Because what we do and say does matter. It may not be a big transformative splash, but if we are really in tune, if we are still and whole, we can communicate this to others and maybe help steer a community in a worthwhile direction.

Plus, it's so, so, so much nicer to feel an inner peace and have joy with this world--even in the face of conflicts and frustrations. It's not at all about withdrawing into yourself--or about being selfish at all. Someone stuck in acedia is frenzied or depressed, not able to encounter others as others--always using others as foils, or targets, or objects. If we fight this temptation we don't need others to give us fulfillment, we can then interact with others as they are, seeing them as genuine people to share with and learn from.

Sometimes stepping away from the interactions--not permanently--provides the space and perspective to find our way of being better for and with people without the burden of our own demons constantly screaming at us and them.

Kathleen Norris wrote a popular recent book on the topic, but I've honestly found that wee passage from Cassian more direct and helpful.

Because like all the deadly sins, they're not about a standard expression or list or whatever. They're general expressions of an always particular form of inner destruction that leads us into the shadows. And we each have our own sorts shadows and our own ways of finding ourselves there.

Paddy O. said...

Ann, I think your photography side of things here gives a sense of rest and peace.

Steers this blog itself from getting bogged down in certain frenzied themes (as Andrew Sullivan seems to do at times).

You give space for meditation between the missives.

Ann Althouse said...

@Paddy Thanks. AS does have his "mental health break." Now, that shows that he thinks the regular news is crazy-making. I don't get that feeling at all from the news. I'm pretty serene. I write edgy sometimes, but in real life, I'm pretty serene nearly all the time.

Seven Machos said...

I am so there with the fasting.

vbspurs said...

I write edgy sometimes, but in real life, I'm pretty serene nearly all the time.

You know, the funny thing is that with every doom-and-gloom headline about the economy and trajectory of the United States (which in other years I would've dismissed), I feel a very real danger that we are on a precipice historically. I never once felt this way since the end of the Cold War.

But having mentioned the Cold War, I remember as a child wondering how I would take a shower in front of my father, inside our theoretical bunker, after a nuclear explosion. I think I had just seen "The Day After" (which arrived later on British TV, than 1983 when it premiered in the US). This was a very real fear in my childhood, though always in the background.

It's exactly this "edginess" of the future that I am experiencing now.