WHILE TRAVELLING during the month of September I made a conscious decision not to read emails, blog posts, text messages or news. In that time, I experienced a heightened level of disconnection from all methods of communication and that suited me just fine. It was only upon my return home in October that I faced countless emails and the blogs to which I subscribe. Seeing all these notifications cascade down my screen, waiting to be opened and read, I suddenly felt overwhelmed. My first impulse was to simply press the delete button and pretend that September never happened.
As freeing as that act of erasure would be, instead I spent the month of October going through each email and blog post. I lie. Most of these posts are saved and waiting for a day when I can read them. The trouble is that I came back home with a virus I did not know I had. It’s a soul virus the ancient monastics called Acedia; when nothing speaks life into the soul and everything is like a dry desert. In the simplest terms it means to stop caring for anything, finding boredom in all things one used to enjoy. It’s a strong word, full of complex meanings and perhaps I exaggerate or misuse the word as it might apply to my current state of soul. (I highly recommend the book Acedia & me by Kathleen Norris for a modern soul’s journey of living with acedia.)
I suspect Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the popular 19th Century Roman Catholic Saint, knew all too well, the state of acedia – in so far as reading was concerned. In her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, Thérèse wrote how she could only read the gospels and the 15th century classic by Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, for spiritual nourishment. Everything else left her dry.
As much as I try (and want) to find nourishment and solace in books, each one I pick up and start to read, I soon abandon. I am left cold and arid, the words fading from the page, leaving me bored and uninterested. I am not connecting to or finding joy in reading – even my favourite authors. I am not despairing of this state of mind as I know it will eventually pass.
In the meantime, I know my situation is not totally bleak because, like Thérèse, I am still able to find comfort in, at least, one writer. I pay him homage by spelling his name in the lower-case (as he has recently taken to spelling his name): p. r. cunha writes in Portuguese with elegant, thoughtful, meditations on life, literature, philosophy. He blogs from Brazil and his words come to my in-box almost daily. During the months of September and October alone he posted thirty-seven reflections! I have been opening them, one at a time, chronologically, with anticipation, as an antidote to my current state of mind and soul.
I read cunha while on long subway rides into the city. Sitting around me in crowded trains, people chatter away in loud voices. It’s a cacophony of languages – a soundtrack of Chinese, Urdu, English among other languages heard daily in the public spaces of Toronto – all distracting me from the Portuguese words I read on my phone’s screen. I try to block off the languages around me and concentrate on p. r. cunha’s words. His writing is all I can digest, for now.
Dearest Emanuel, Thank God for p. r. cunha!! Do not despair. Be fully in this time: experience this desert of the soul and be assured that refreshing rains will soak your spirit and bring nourishment. Joy will return. With my love, Carol
Sent from my iPhone
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Yes. Joy will return. If we only have the patience to wait for it, it will inevitably come. Emanuel
Beautifully said Carol. Social media and email can be overwhelming. Wishing you peace Emmanuel.
Dear Valerie, thank you for your good wishes. Emanuel
Acedia. I didn’t know there was a name for the thing. The description is apt. This feeling is familiar. Admittedly I though it was just exhaustion from the dissonance of modern life and all the electronic ways it bathes you in its oft toxic radiation. But it seems it is more than just that. A friend of mine spent a week in silence at a retreat recently. At first I thought of it as just another spa treatment. Now I think I see the value in getting the noise out of your head for a period of time. When you told me you were getting a smartphone, I had mixed feelings. With this device the noise is with you always….and you had resisted for so long. It heartens me you still have the sense to disconnect.