During the week I listened to a discussion about acedia on the Radio National program “Soul Search.” For those who don’t know what acedia is it’s perhaps best explained as being in a state of listlessness, lack of care or concern, apathy, boredom, weariness, numbness and a general malaise. It’s a Greek word adopted by the early Christian monks, specifically by John Cassian in 460 AD to describe the malaise in the spiritual life of monks. Cassian came from what today is Romania but ended his years in a monastery in the south of France.
Today in lockdown many people report that they are weary so I thought acedia was a wonderful and appropriate word to resurrect for our time. I know that acedia has from time to time been applicable to my attitude to day-to-day activities or lack thereof. It reflects what some people feel at points during their meditation journey; those times when meditation becomes a “ho-hum’ experience, those times when we are tempted to give it away.
Acedia can be purifying in the same way that our lockdown can be purifying helping us see the beauty of simplicity as many of the things that have constituted the good life for us, e.g. travel, evaporate before our eyes. When we conquer acedia our resolve to persevere with regular meditation becomes stronger.
“Soul Search” also dealt with loneliness providing us with a valuable distinction. “When loneliness becomes internalised it becomes a negative emotion because it is emotional isolation which is different from chosen solitude where you choose to be alone in order to enrich your life.”
So with acedia out of the way and our acceptance of isolation we should all be better equipped to meditate well.
And now let us meditate in the fashion that we are accustomed to. You might like to dedicate your meditation to those that are affected by Covid-19 virus either through illness, bereavement or unemployment or some special intention of your own. (Meditate for up to 20 minutes.) Originally acedia was seen as some kind of sin but today we would not be so harsh on ourselves.