So much time, so little focus… Acedia – Our collective state of listlessness

“Acedia is sorrow so complete that the flesh prevails completely over the spirit. You don’t just turn your back on the world, you turn your back on God.”

Thomas Aquinas

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I sit staring at a blank page …  a blank screen with a blinking cursor. 

I’ve got nothing but time, but I can’t write.

I’ve spoken to so many people who have said similar things … with all this time, you’d think I could paint; with all this time, you’d think I’d have an amazing garden; with all this time, you’d think I could meditate, you’d think I could exercise …  there seems to be a collective state of listlessness.

Looking at the blank screen, and feeling an overwhelming need to not write … I did the next best thing, I searched to find out what this listless feeling might be. 

And lo and behold, I found it:

Acedia – the lost emotion we are feeling right now – a bodily listlessness and yawning hunger

In the midst of a pandemic, with movement and connection restricted, and with general anxiety heightened, the excitement of making sourdough bread has soured; Zoom ‘parties’ have lost their novelty  (although I am so grateful for this technology to keep me connected to family and friends that I cannot travel to see); Netflix can only release so many new series, (I find myself continuously asking my sons for recommendations for new things to watch). The news gets worse every day, yet I compulsively scroll through it, attracted to the evil that is trump, like craning my neck to see a train wreck. I desperately want to write, and yet I spend hours reading distressing articles about horrible politicians.

I open my laptop to write, but social media distracts me, scrolling through conspiracy theories and chaos; I have a pile of books that I really do want to read, and yet I pick up my phone and play Sudoku. I want to meditate more, but cannot stay focused; I am bored, listless, afraid and uncertain.

John Cassian, a monk and theologian, wrote in the early 5th century about an ancient Greek emotion called acedia. A mind “seized” by this emotion is “horrified at where he is, disgusted with his room … It does not allow him to stay still in his cell or to devote any effort to reading”. He feels ”such bodily listlessness and yawning hunger as though he were worn by a long journey or a prolonged fast … Next he glances about and sighs that no one is coming to see him. Constantly in and out of his cell, he looks at the sun as if it were too slow in setting.”

In Ancient Greece acedia originally meant indifference or carelessness along the lines of lack of care; although in modern times, when it is used, it tends to be more connected with depression.

But it was Mishka Shubaly, described as a bestselling author, cult songwriter, storyteller, and general smartass, who described it in a way that really resonated with me; and it made sense that I resonated so strongly with Shubaly’s description, he is a recovering addict and he spoke my language.

Searching for a better description of this rotting sadness, I came upon the concept of acedia. In Christian theology, it’s an antecedent to sloth, the least sexy of the seven deadly sins. Thomas Aquinas winnowed it down for me: acedia is sorrow so complete that the flesh prevails completely over the spirit. You don’t just turn your back on the world, you turn your back on God. You don’t care, and you don’t care that you don’t care.

You don’t care, and you don’t care that you don’t care … that just about summed it up for me.  So although I have not added any words to my book today, I have expanded my vocabulary with the word acedia; and I have acquainted myself with another inspiring recovering addict, so today has not been a loss … Now where is my phone, I think I have earned myself another game of Sudoku.

For those of you looking to find … perhaps not focus to cure the listlessness, but at least some calm amidst this chaos, I’ll leave you with this lovely video posted on PBS:

Transforming Health: Finding Calm in the Chaos

And if you still are looking for something else to do to try to overcome that listlessness, I will close with one of my favorite TED talks:

Anne Lamott tells us about the 12 truths she learned from life and writing. I’ve watched it several times recently, hoping to find inspiration to put words on a page…

I’d love to hear how you are dealing with this acedia. And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

A Tale of Two Countries

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, 

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, 

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, 

it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, 

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

— Charles Dickens

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I’m not unbiased. I would never claim to be. I have made my views clear on every occasion. And with dual citizenship in The US and New Zealand, I believe that I have a right to make a comparison between these two countries. And in the middle of Covid-19, the differences between the two are stark. I think it is obvious that the main reason behind how these countries are emerging from the pandemic is the difference between the two leaders …

‘The age of wisdom, the age of foolishness… The spring of hope, the winter of despair.’

I sought information from as many different sources as possible:

News sources from the US, from NZ and internationally…

And almost unanimously, from mainstream, established, internationally respected news sources, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has done a stellar job in handling this crisis; whereas the President of The United States, Donald Trump, has done a dismal job.

… Although for the sake of transparency, I did not go to Fox News where an alternate reality exists… As I said, I never claimed to be unbiased.

In terms of handling the outbreak, Jacinda has been direct and most importantly, empathetic. She did a great job at getting New Zealanders on board:

Jacinda Ardern Sold a Drastic Lockdown With Straight Talk and Mom Jokes

Leading New Zealand from isolation, Ms. Ardern coaxed her “team of five million” into accepting extreme restrictions. But the lessons of her success go beyond personality or charm…

Whereas Trump has shown little leadership, and when he has spoken up, many feel that he is more interested in himself than the people he supposedly leads:

Trump sees the coronavirus as a threat to his self-interest – not to people.

Trump has made it clear he sees this pandemic chiefly as a threat to the market and wealthy people’s interests (and relatedly, his political future)

Jacinda has been described as empathetic and caring, yet strong.

Whereas it has been stated that Trump is incapable of empathy. And Trump has been described as self-serving and authoritarian.

New Zealand has had one or two new cases of Covid-19 in the past several days, all from people coming in from overseas, and all in isolation. Their containment of the virus has been described as observing ‘good science’ and being well-communicated.

Trump’s handling of the virus has been described as ‘dismal!’ And it has been said that US could see 100,000 coronavirus daily cases in the near future.

And because of the better handling of this crisis, New Zealand is in a much better position economically at this point. “The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to leave a lasting scar on the world’s economies but New Zealand is likely to fare better than most.”

Whereas the US economy is far from healthy; as a matter of fact, CNBC stated thatNearly half the U.S. population is without a job, showing how far the labor recovery has to goThe employment-population ratio — the number of employed people as a percentage of the U.S. adult population — plunged to 52.8% in May, meaning 47.2% of Americans are jobless.

Now I know, it isn’t fair to compare the US to NZ in many ways. New Zealand is a small country, only five million people; it’s located at the bottom of the world, a fair distance from any other countries; and it is easy to close the borders of an island nation. It is much easier to keep New Zealand safe from this virus than it is to keep a much bigger country that shares its borders.

However a comparison of these two countries does give a strong message. Good communication and empathic and caring, yet strong leadership helps a country through a crisis. A recent article in The New York Times argued that women led countries are doing much better in this crisis. ‘A new leadership style offers promise for a new era of global threats.’

Ultimately, I think it is fair to say that Jacinda Ardern is the Anti-Trump.

Vogue coined the phrase:

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, Is Young, Forward-Looking, and Unabashedly Liberal—Call Her the Anti-Trump

 

I’d like to close with what has become Jacinda’s iconic Facebook Live post as New Zealand prepared to go into lockdown. Her empathy, caring and just plain humanness is evident.

 

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these two leaders and their leadership styles.   And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.