Wednesday, 15 April 2020


As our life under quasi-lockdown continues, it's impossible to avoid the question 'how long?' How long will we have to live like this? How long before things return to normal?

It's a futile kind of question since, as numerous commentators have pointed out, no one knows 'how long'. We are waiting to see how the 'curve' goes, waiting for a treatment or vaccine, waiting till it seems 'safe enough' to emerge.

In the meantime, it has gone on long enough already for many of us to suffer symptoms of what the early monastic tradition called 'acedia', 'one of the eight great pressures on the soul' (Rowan Williams, Silence and Honeycakes, p.83).

Acedia is what happens when you are stuck in your monastic cell, bored and restless, frustrated, lacking motivation and so inclined to displace 'stresses and difficulties from the inner to the outer world'. In the case of the desert monastics, the prime temptation of acedia was the temptation to move, to leave where you were, to cure the intolerable sense of boredom, frustration and restlessness by changing your circumstances or finding something to distract you. And according to the wisdom of the desert, the only cure for acedia is stillness - staying put, embracing here and now, doing the next ordinary thing. For if you run away from these difficult feelings, if you cannot learn to be peaceably with the circumstances you are in, nothing in the end can be transformed. 'If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is there ahead of you'.

This morning, I was able to spend time in stillness by one of the ponds at John Knight Park, at Lake Ginninderra. I haven't exactly been suffering from acedia - too busy over Easter for that!! But I did feel a level of agitation, tiredness, some anxiety about coming commitments - and as ever, the pressure with such feelings is to be driven by them, to get busier and busier, to try to make them go away by addressing the ostensible cause.

But that brought me back (yet again) to the experience that the only cure for agitation is stillness, the kind of deep stillness of the natural world. Which day after day, does what it does:

the trees rooted in place,

the birds pottering about looking for insects

drying their wings

and an enormous gratitude for the is-ness of things.

I'm wondering about your experiences of 'acedia' ... boredom, restless agitation, the compulsion to move. What are you learning about how you suffer it in these days? What are you learning about responding to it?


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