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.