Overcoming Acedia

This is a partial repost with some additional thoughts. Scroll down if you just want to jump to the questions.

Catholic writer and poet Kathleen Norris:

“I was a bratty kid who didn’t want to make her bed.

“Why bother?” I would ask my mother in a witheringly superior tone. “I’ll just have to unmake it again at night.” To me, the act was stupid repetition; to my mother, it was a meaningful expression of hospitality to oneself, and a humble acknowledgment of our creaturly need to make and remake our daily environments…..

One of the first symptoms of both acedia and depression is the inability to address the body’s basic, daily needs. It is also a refusal of repetition. Showering, shampooing, brushing the teeth, takine a multivitamin, going for a daily walk, as unremarkable as they seem are acts of self-respect. But the notion of pleasure is alien to acedia, and one becomes weary thinking about doing anything at all. It is too much to ask, one decides, sinking back on the sofa. This indolence exacts a high price. (pp. 13-14)

When traveling somewhere, or when I take a wrong turn, of all things, I hate back-tracking, and I hate it so much I will go out of my way and take twice as long just to go a different route. And I had this exact conversation with my mother over making the bed as a child, and I still have it with myself as an adult- only now I can add to it that it hurts. Seriously- it is physically painful for me to make my bed. It hurts my back, it hurts my hands, and if I move just right (or just wrong), it hurts my broken and not very well healed ribs. I would like to blame the fact that I do not make my bed on this physical pain, which is not slight, but the fact is, I never made it before, either.

Laundry and dishes are so repetitive. Cooking is less so, because you can make something new and different or change how you do it every time, and it’s probably why cooking is my favorite of the household chores (except that now it, too, hurts).

Why bother?

A monk in the fourth century created a name for this condition- acedia. I have found much food for thought in the writings of those early monks. I suspect it is because they had much time and the inclination for deep, contemplative thought on the human condition- which is not so different today than it was in the fourth century.

-Kathleen Norris has written an entire book about acedia, the word used to delineate that sort of dreary, soul darkening, strength sapping deadness, which we often mask by frantic overactivity like the tasks dear to the Terrible Trivium in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Juster surely knew something about it in order to create a character like the Terrible Trivium, ‘demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit;’ the nasty little voice that prompts us to act as though we believe him when he whispers, “what could be more important than doing unimportant things? If you stop to do enough of them, you’ll never get to where you’re going.”

Here’s another description:

“The demon of acedia–also called the noonday demon–is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour and besieges the soul until the eighth hour. First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour [or lunchtime], to look this way and now that to see if perhaps [one of the brethren apppears from his cell]. Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred. This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself.”

That sounds like school, doesn’t it? And some other situations as well.

The longer description of that ‘noonday demon’ is by the fourth century desert monk Evagrius Ponticus, but taken from Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris

“Acedia is not a relic of the fourth century or a hang-up of some weird Christian monks,” Norris writes, but a modern force that “easily attaches to our hectic and overburdened schedules.

“We appear to be anything but slothful, yet that is exactly what we are, as we do more and care less, and feel pressured to do more still.”

Sloth is one of the Catholic Church’s seven deadly sins; acedia is defined as spiritual sloth. Unlike the grave illness of depression, acedia is a conscious choice, a moral choice; that’s what makes it a sin, Norris says.

More here, including a side-bar: with a sampling of Kathleen Norris’ collected compendium of woeful observations on acedia down through the ages.

So… on to the questions- Things I’ve been pondering and/or discussing with two or three friends (numbers are for ease of answering or discussion, not in order of importance):

1. What are the most important things to get done every day? IF you had to pick just five, what would they be?

2. How important is time and space for daily contemplation? What activities seem to foster contemplation? What things hinder it?

3. *How* do you make yourself do things that you *really* do not want to do? These things can be anything, btw- from making the bed to doing a math lesson to speaking to a stranger to befriending somebody you find simply tiresome to scrubbing the sink to balancing the checkbook to taking the time to call and price check something instead of just buying it because it’s quicker to taking a vitamin every day to taking a walk to going into a thrift shop where you know you will find excellent bargains but you just don’t like the smell, to getting up when the alarm goes off, to regular family devotions to cutting back on the length of your showers to putting tools away where they go instead of tossing them in the general direction, to ????

Whatever the ‘thing’ is, what does it take to break the inertia, to get you moving toward doing those things that you are most resistant to doing?

4a. For those who struggle with this, do you think it’s a question of being more weak of will than others, or is it a different weakness- that we have a longer list of things we just really don’t want to do?

4b.. Is the need just one of really just needing more self-discipline? Forcing yourself to do what you really do not want to do? Or is it changing your outlook and finding a way NOT to dislike those things so very, very, very much?

5. A reworking of 3- HOW?-
WARNING: The answer ‘just make yourself’ is not an answer to this question at all.

I was a young girl who didn’t want to eat her dinner. It wasn’t, in this case, because of stubborn, willful disobedience- I did not like what we were having for dinner even a little bit, it was something I hated, and I couldn’t make myself get it on the fork into my mouth and swallow it. I am reasonably certain that we were having that item for dinner because it was cheap and my mother was struggling mightily and against great setbacks to try to feed the family with no money. In tears I asked her for help, “How do you do it?” I asked, “how do you make yourself eat it when we have food you cannot stand?” She answered automatically without thinking it through, “I don’t fix foods I don’t like,” she said.

We did not have to eat our dinner, but were allowed crackers and peanut butter instead.

Sometimes I think that those who say “you just do it. It’s not that big of a deal” are like my mother in that regard- they can say it’s not that big of a deal because, to them, it isn’t, and they are unable to understand that to us, it IS that big of a deal. Our question then is really “How do you handle the things that ARE a really big stinking deal to you? And if there are no such issues for you, how did you get there? What is the secret in your life that made you the kind o”f person with no such insurmountable mountains in your life?”

And those people who have no such mountains will again shrug and say, “You just do it.” Those who struggle with these issues already know that the rest of the world ‘just does it’. What we do not know is HOW. How one motivates oneself, how one alters one’s outlook so the thought of doing those things is not so impossibly overwhelming to imagine, how one removes whatever mental, emotional, or spiritual block it is that is making something other people do so hard to manage. How?

“Just do it” is the end result, the goal- what we need is the small, practical, baby steps between HERE and THERE. People with high energy, high motivation, or low obstacles just don’t get it- it’s as though we ask them, “How do you get to the Jones’ house?” and they reply blankly, “You just get in the car and *drive.*

That is SO not helpful. and it’s obvious that it isn’t helpful. We would laugh at, scoff at, even, anybody who gave physical directions this way. Just think off all the important details they so nonchalantly would be leaving out: Drive where, which direction, how far, what landmarks to look for, where do you turn, which way do you turn, what, if any, hindrances are there along the way?

But people do give this kind of utterly useless and even insulting personal direction all the time, and when the recipient of this useless advice is frustrated or points out it doesn’t actually answer the question we are asking, the giver of the useless advice blames the receiver rather than considering just how unhelpful (even discouraging and further depressing) his advice is.

“It’s a sin not to” is also not useful. Depending on the issue this may or may not be true, for one thing. For another, what we’re looking for is prescriptions, not descriptions, a step by step map, not a tour guide of the delights of the final destination. We presume the final destination is indeed a worthy goal.

We don’t know how to get there.

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19 Comments

  1. harmonyl
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I spent twenty minutes trying to find this old post (I couldn’t remember the word acedia) because I’ve found myself in this rut again. It’s too bad there are no comments. Have you discovered any answers since you first posted this?

  2. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    No answers. Or rather, answers that are beyond me. The real answer is seemingly to have an internal mandate, but I don’t know how you get from A to B there. There are some ideas here:
    http://thecommonroomblog.com/2011/08/step-one-on-getting-organized.html

  3. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  4. T.J.
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Depending on what the task is, my husband would tell you that the answer is to pay someone else to do it (or barter, if you don’t have money). I do have this with some household tasks, but unfortunately the “tasks” I have the biggest mountains about are not ones that are possible to pass off to other people.

  5. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Whoot! A lot of comments were lost when I left Disqus, but somebody saved them and emailed them to me, and that enabled me to find more left in my inbox back in the day! Here we go:

    susanhumeston wrote:

    Basically, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Some days I just don’t do what I’m supposed to. I don’t cook so there are no dishes – or few dishes – to wash. When the house is a mess and I have to straighten it up for the umpteenth time (my husband and I are older, not retirement age yet, but no children at home) I sit and look at it and lament. Then I tell myself that once it’s all clean, I’ll relax and read a book I love and surround myself with the essence of my “stuff”, my belongings, my home. Most of the time, I clean and straighten and by the time I’m done – I’m in physical pain and exhausted. I DO relax with the heating pad and some Biofreeze, but when I try to read my favorite book, I often fall asleep in my comfy chair after a page or two, which frustrates me no end. I wasted all my energy on the dumb, repetitive task – and now I’m too tired to do what I REALLY want to do. On rare days, it works. I finish my duties and then embark on an internet frenzy, following rabbit trails that interest me complete with old photographs, obscure web sites dealing with Confederate history, and things like that.

    Bottom line? I can’t stand chaos. I can’t relax in chaos. I MUST restore order from chaos. I’m Martha, not Mary. I always have to restore order first, THEN do what I want. If I try to do what I want first, I can’t concentrate. All I can see are the unmade bed, the cat litter scattered on the floor, the messy countertops, the sun reflecting off kitty nose marks on the window……

    sallythomas wrote:

    1. Write, pray, love my children (includes care and education), make my bed, cook (which could be folded into loving my children, but also includes my husband)

    2. Very important. That’s not to say that I do it well. I have a hard time pulling out of my rut of busy-ness, and it’s actually much easier to go to church to pray and be apart. We spend Thursdays at church for services, classes, etc., and during the afternoon, when it’s quiet and empty, is the best time to go in and be quiet myself. The smells of recently-snuffed candle and lingering incense really help, because they’re out of the ordinary scheme of things.

    The Anchoress writes often of the oratory she’s made in her house — it’s a tempting idea, but those of us with acedia have a hard time getting around to doing things like that!

    3. I wish I knew the answer. I’m great at starting things, terrible at keeping them up. I’ll take a vitamin for a week, then forget all about it. Having my husband remind me helps some, though I’m not always a very charitable recipient of helpful reminders.

  6. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    sarahhopkins wrote:

    Kathleen’s book is on my TBR list for our Christmas break. I’ve been interested in it ever since you first posted about it. And no, I don’t think acedia is responsible for me not getting around to it. πŸ™‚

    The one thing I know to jolt me out of sloth is to visit the home of a very good friend who doesn’t seem to have an ounce of acedia in her body. I quickly agreed to babysit her children last week because just being in her home awakens a desire in me to do better. How selfish was that?

    Her home is small and tidy, she uses what she has in her hand, she has time to minister to all kinds of people (and she *does* minister to others), she rises early, she makes time to exercise even while in the fifth month of pregnancy…

    The thing is, I don’t really care how she does it (strange, because I’ve always been interested in the ‘how’ of motivated people). In this case, I purposely haven’t asked her because what I see is that she commits everything to the Lord. I think that comes off as sounding really simplistic, but it really seems to be her ‘key’ to doing what needs to be done. I’ve never met someone who is so tuned in to God’s will for her life or so obedient to do His will. (We’ve only been friends for about a year now.) This is the first time I’ve not wanted to hear whether a particular friend feels slothful (but oh how I’ve loved to have company in that department).

    When she and her husband got home from their date last week (they went and worked out together, then separately, then had a coffee), we discussed Christmas plans, devotions, etc. She commented that I seem to be able to pull all kinds of neat ideas from the Internet and that she really ought to use the Internet more. It struck me: “No, no you don’t need any excuse to be on the computer more.” I told her so. Emphatically. I thought to myself, “No. Your young children do not need you on the computer more. Your husband does not need you on the computer more, or your neighbors, or the hairdresser you encouraged to find a church home…”

    I think she has margin in her life and that seems to be another key factor. The more stuff I have going in my life, the less motivated I am to do anything at all. I really freeze up when I’m overwhelmed with commitments.

    I’ve got to get going, but those are just some thoughts off the top of my head…

    harmonyml (:0D) wrote:

    Ooh, I need help here! This is one of my great weaknesses. I am just awful at making myself do things I hate: getting up early, cleaning the house, making the bed , making my own lunch (I cook for JunkMale and enjoy it, but for my own lunches I usually end up eating convenience food), doing the dishes… the list goes on and on. They all seem so pointless. And I used that same logic on my parents for making my bed.

    As far as how to overcome it, I do have a few tricks I play on myself (and that’s always how I’ve been able to do it, by tricking myself into thinking it’s not so bad):

    1) Tell myself I don’t have to do it all, just ten minutes (or five minutes, or however much I think I can stand), and then I’ll quit. I set alarms.

    2) Leave the house early and do chores, etc, when I return. Somehow it always seems easier to accomplish things when I’ve been out of the house early.

    3) Turn on music and sing at the top of my lungs while doing it. Of course, this only works when I’ve already made the decision to do it, but it does help me last longer.

    Sharlene wrote:

    This article has been a big eye-opener for me. The list of things that I have not done for whatever reason is long. There are some things that I have done recently that I have avoided or told myself that I couldn’t do. I was able to do them because I prayed about them specifically. It has been a great joy to see the Lord answer those prayers. I have been impressed that the Lord has seen fit to give me such ease in doing them, that I have been ashamed that I hadn’t asked Him sooner. After reading this I think I need to pray about more things. Being a Christian, I see this acedia as a spiritual issue. I know that there are things that I have not done that the Lord would been pleased if I had done. For His pleasure I will strive to do them. For me the HOW would be please God.

    Site URL: http://harbourlightradio.org/

  7. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    susanhumeston wrote:

    By the way – reading others responses is very comforting. I’m not the only one!! I read so many blogs of very energetic women – and sometimes it’s discouraging. I notice I get lots more done when I’m NOT on the computer – go figure. Often, once I’ve completed a task I feel MUCH better – but the fact that the neatness doesn’t last long is sad. When I’m really unmotivated, I think about entropy and just give up. But, since I can’t stand chaos for long – that is my motivator – I get moving. I don’t think I ever actually create anything – mostly I just get everything back to step 1 – neat and clean.

    My craziest quirk is that I can’t work on things, create, study the Bible, etc. until all around me is at peace. So I have to whoosh everything into order – and by that time, as I said in my other post, I’m worn out. I’ve tried to save the worst for last, but I can’t really apply myself because a little voice in my head keeps pointing out the messy things that need my attention. Sheesh.

    shelbykat wrote:

    Oh, wow! I am so there on a couple of issues, one of which is private and I will not discuss. My husband and I were actually discussing the other one (my indecisiveness) the other day and, honestly, he was not at all helpful. He basically said “just decide”, but how? In fact, it seems he and others sometimes make it worse because they try to force me to be the decision-maker, and I just CAN’T DO IT!!! It seems so silly, and it is so frustrating to me, but there are times, sometimes more than others, where I am almost paralzyed by indecision, over things insignificant or of utmost importance. I pray for wisdom and clarity, and that often does not seem to help.

    Funny thing is, I don’t mind some of the more mundane takses, e.g. making my bed, vacuuming, etc., perhaps because there is no decisions to be made there . . . . πŸ˜‰

    Judy in TX wrote:

    I’m not going to attempt to answer the questions. Acedia? I am in a temporary season of life where I find it extremely difficult to do beyond the necessary, daily things. BUT in other times of life, I find the “love” of the others involved to be highly motivating. I love God, therefore, I read my Bible and pray, in order to spend time with Him. I love a friend, therefore, I do things I find difficult in order to alleviate, in some small way, her suffering. I love my family, therefore, I do laundry and iron (bleh).

    Right now, I struggle because I know there are those who are also suffering who would benefit from a handwritten note, a phone call, a visit. I don’t know if I’m excusing myself because of my own circumstances or not, but I feel almost incapable of doing those “extra” things. Even exercising on a regular basis seems to be beyond my ability–whereas in times past, I was able to do it because of the benefit in the present and future that I would enjoy. OTOH, I find myself quite able to fill my time with other things–reading (what a wonderful avoidance technique), cleaning, rearranging. Unimportant things but time fillers.

    It is some comfort, isn’t it, to remember that Paul suffered similarly? “I do not do the things I WANT and I do those things I would not” basically. (Romans 7:15 and what a rough paraphrase that was.) I know he was speaking in regard to sin but it is just so true of so many things in humanity.

    I understand the problem–now, if only I understood the solution.

    But, as I said, I find that love for others, for God, even for myself is a great motivator.

    OH, and I have to say that some repetitive things (making the bed for instance) are not necessary. Really. If my unmade bed doesn’t bother me or my husband, well, so be it. I don’t actually believe in doing things just because that’s how others think it should be done. πŸ˜‰ Teeth have to be brushed, dishes have to washed, meals have to be cooked. And a lot of times, just slogging through those things is good enough. But to be able to find a certain joy in doing those things adds greatly to our quality of life–and the quality of life of those we live with and love. I think that is the appeal of the monk life we read about or the Amish (thinking _Plain and Simple_)–that each small chore is worth doing for itself, sometimes in a contemplative, God-serving way.

    Lisa wrote:

    Personally, I have done this whole avoidance thing with mundane or emotionally charged tasks. I’ve realized that I do attach too much hidden emotion to things that don’t deserve that kind of energy. Something I’ve been learning about (and don’t sneer until you give it a chance) is self talk. We talk to ourselves all the time, whether we realize it or not. Telling yourself you’re hopelessly slothful is like telling your child they’re too stupid to memorize the multiplication tables. Same effect. It sounds absurd that just telling yourself, out loud and daily, that you are indeed a good homemaker, and you don’t hate your chores, and they are easy for you to do, makes a difference. I have used positive self talk since September to deal with this, as well as other anxiety issues, and have seen a huge improvement in the quality of my life and attitude.

    I’ve practiced, practiced, practiced thinking upon higher things, a la Charlotte Mason & Phil. 4:8, while doing a particular task. I began with taking out the trash, which I used to use precariously stack as high as need be until my husband came home to take it out. I would be brave and go to take it out. But by the time I made it to the can, it seemed too bothersome a thing to do, and I always waited to think about taking it out until it was stacked too high, and with potato peels and coffee grounds on top, so I knew it would make a mess when I pulled it out of the can, and the can outside stunk, and it was 101 degrees out, etc…. Really, the trash does not deserve that kind of attention.

    So I started by talking about something funny with my kids before I even walked over to the can. Then I would keep talking to them and make as little notice of what I was doing as possible, ignoring spilled coffee grounds. I even mentally talked to myself about other pleasant things, as I would do to cheer a friend, while carrying the leaking bag to the can. Then I would tell myself, “See, no big deal!” I kept this up and gradually found I don’t have the feelings or whiny excuses about it like I used to. Now I don’t even think, I just take it out. Sometimes I’ll have a little pang of feeling come up, but I just say, “Uh-uh. Not right now, I’m busy.” I have used this same technique to enable myself to fold socks, throw away mail, return phone calls, and more.

    Also, I wonder if we just have it too easy today. I reread your post on the Migrant Mother, which I just loved, btw. My grandfather was born in a tent, too, and he and his father went to work in odd and probably demeaning places, eating things I throw away. My grandmother’s grandmother, who kept her during some hard financial times, would pull her mattress out under the big trees in the summer because it would be too hot to sleep in their small house. Can you imagine??? We know a millionaire who does this, because he doesn’t want to invest in an AC unit, and because it brings back fond memories of his childhood.

    My grandparents had a sort of lean-to on some recreational property when I was a kid. Every time we went to camp there my grandmother meticulously swept the dirt. Years later, she insisted I and the other grandkids had to sweep the silt off the creek bottom every spring. My grandmother can’t keep things in order like she used to because of age and infirmity and this sometimes makes her irate. It’s not because she has some kind of brain disorder, it’s because she thinks that’s just the way it should be. Maybe being in dire circumstances for a long period of time helps people to really make the best out of what they have, value the small comforts they have, and take pride in their personal strengths.

  8. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    MFS wrote:

    Long before Acedia & Me, Norris explored the spiritual aspect of the quotidian. In order to “just do it,” she focused on the idea that repetitive, commonplace, everyday tasks like laundry and even grooming are forms of self-respect.

    >From The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work”:

    Our culture’s ideal self, especially the accomplished, professional self, rises above necessity, the humble, everyday, ordinary tasks that are best left to unskilled labor. The comfortable lies we tell ourselves regarding these “little things” — that they don’t matter, and that daily personal and household chores are of no significance to us spiritually — are exposed as falsehoods when we consider that reluctance to care for the body is one of the first symptoms of melancholia. Shampooing the hair, washing the body, brushing the teeth, drinking enough water, taking a daily vitamin, going for a walk, as simple as they seem, are acts of self-respect. They enhance one’s ability to take pleasure in oneself and in the world.

    As far as how *I* “just do it,” I think that last bit is key: The effect of completing (or surmounting) “little things” (i.e., making the beds shorting after rising, keeping the kitchen tidy, etc.) greatly enhance my ability to find joy in my work, my family, my life. Disorder may, in the short run, seem easy and comfortable, but the chaos that eventually ensues is soul-deadening to me.

    Now, in Acedia & Me, Norris prudently differentiates between between acedia and depression, but to many, the so-called noonday demon *IS* depression — perhaps not of the diagnosable variety, but still, depression. Back in 2005, I explored the idea of this sort of situational, everyday depression, maintaining in no uncertain terms that the little things (the quotidian, the laundry, the everydayness of each basic task — so, yes, we’re back to making beds) can also conspire to undo, even *bury*, me.

    Many folks think that only catastrophic events can undo them, but the rest of us know that it’s the accumulation of little things can crush the joy and promise out of our lives, right?

    It’s not so much that one gained weight during pregnancy, for example, but that this indignity was exacerbated by hair loss, mild acne, and the attendant loss of self-esteem.

    It’s not so much that the dishes piled up, but that, in addition to this, the cat puked, the dryer stopped working, and the house has taken on the sort of gray tinge it can get when you’re dissatisfied with it.

    It’s not that one child did poorly on a math test, but that the other still isn’t reading fluently, and that the other writes sloppily, and that the neighbor’s children seem to know that walking like an animal up the stairs of the library is a bad idea, so why don’t yours?

    Yeah, the little things can bury us.

    And that burial — that sort of “situational depression” or (back to Norris) acedia — is a slick, muddy slope. Once you start sliding, you have only two choices: Claw your way back to the top (one bed, dish, laundry basket after another) or sink into the mud (which for me is chaos).

    Annoyingly, I know, my mantra is “It’s. Just. Not. That. Hard.” But few people have ever truly understood that sometimes this can equivalent to saying, “It’s as hard as sh– that’s been baking in the California sun for twenty days, but I choose to ignore that particular aspect of the journey and focus on all of that less-hard stuff because, because… LIFE IS SHORT! And I’d rather celebrate and sing than spend my life acknowledging some of life’s inherent sh–iness, OKAY? Okay.”

    Heh, heh, heh. Maybe you and your readers get it, though, huh? Yes, let’s tell ourselves: It’s. Just. Not. That. Hard.

    And maybe tomorrow, or Friday, or next Tuesday, it won’t be.

    And if that doesn’t work, if, in fact, that proves as helpful as “Get in the car and drive. Duh!” then maybe we can all take a page from Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak:

    Embracing the mystery of depression does not mean passivity or resignation. It means moving into a field of forces that seems alien but is in fact one’s deepest self. It means waiting, watching, listening, suffering, and gathering whatever self-knowledge one can — and then making choices based on that knowledge, no matter how difficult. One begins the slow walk back to health by choosing each day things that enliven one’s selfhood and resisting things that do not.

    What all of this means, in practical terms, is simply this: I don’t want to make beds. I don’t want to put laundry away. I don’t want to do this or that or even that. I *choose* to do those things because order enlivens my sense of self. To me, choosing not to do those repetitive, often annoying, rarely gratifying tasks is, in the end, choosing chaos, which does not enliven my sense of selfhood one jot.

    Looking forward to reading the rest of the comments.

    Best regards,

    Melissa

  9. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Sophie wrote:

    1. Take a shower, do schoolwork, spend time with younger siblings (and later, husband and kids), pray, and do something creative (write, sew, read, etc.). These are in no particular order.

    2. It’s very important. Reminders help, and distractions like the internet and untidy houses hurt.

    3. Checklists, charts, tables, etc. Things where I have a visual overview of how well or badly I’m doing. If I forget to take my pills, they’re still in the box for Monday or Tuesday or whatever. If I haven’t done my reading for English, the box next to English is unchecked. I also put reminders on things I can be fairly sure I’ll do. For example, I have a reminder to say a prayer stuck on top of my pill box.

    4. I think everyone doesn’t like doing some things. Some people dislike doing things that need to be done every day, by them, so it’s harder for them. A woman who really dislikes checking her oil can ask her husband to do it–it doesn’t have to happen that often. A man who hates polishing shoes can ask his daughter. A woman who hates all cleaning is just stuck, unless she has money for a cleaning service.

    5. I’m confused as to what the difference between this question and 3 is.

    One final note: Perhaps this is just because I am acedic as well, but I still don’t really see why everyone has to make his or her bed. If you don’t wash your dishes, the food will mold, and ants will come, and you won’t have dishes to eat dinner off of. If you don’t practice your instrument, you won’t improve. If you don’t pray, you’ll start to unravel at the seams. If you don’t make your bed…your bed won’t be made. And if you don’t care, I honestly fail to see why this is such a problem.

  10. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    Joy wrote:

    1. Brush hair and teeth, cook meals, oversee school work, clean up kitchen, and make sure there are clean clothes. I have to make the bed every day–it automatically makes the room seem tidier which helps me organize my mind for the day.

    2. Time and space for contemplation is essential for keeping my mind on Christ and seeing the “big picture” every day so that I can continue to do the “little things”, which, by the way, I truly believe are often the biggest things of all. Getting up very early before the children gives me that time. Too many outside pressures/activities and/or busyness hinder me having that time.

    3. Honestly, it is usually a combination of a desire to do my duty for the Lord’s sake and giving myself little rewards for doing it–if I do XXX, then I can do read a book, do some knitting, bake a cake, etc. There are times, however, when nothing really works except prayer. Outside accountability is helpful many times as well. I started exercising regularly when I did it with a friend who called me if I didn’t show up. Also, I think Charlotte Mason’s ideas on habits are helpful.

    4. It is usually a little bit of both. If my outlook is one of wanting to please the Lord and I am going by “my life for yours” rather than what *I* want, then it is often easier to do things I dislike (like make a phone call to strangers–I hate it!).

    5. Prayer for daily grace and strength, accountability, a spirit of gratitude that I *can* do these things all help. I’m a single mother who has the amazing privilege of being home and homeschooling my children so whenever I don’t “feel” like teaching math or making the beds or tidying up after messy boys, etc., I remind myself that this is God’s grace to me to be home with them and that motivates me to do it. And then have a cup of tea. πŸ™‚

    Thanks for making me think this morning. And for all of the responses.

    carrotqueen wrote, in response to Sophie (unregistered):

    I’m probably going to muddle all the questions together here . . .

    Surely everyone has things they find distasteful. Some of them are more easily avoidable than others. Someone who hates public speaking can probably rather easily arrange their life to avoid it. I (who rather like public speaking) hate ensuring jackets, socks, shoes, and hats are all on the right appendages for five people, but unless I want to choose complete hermitage every winter, have no way out of it.

    The only thing I have found that helps is to visualize very clearly what it is that makes this task worthwhile. The energy boost I will receive from getting out of the house and beholding the sun is worth the agony of seeing that everyone gets dressed for it.

    It also helps if the proportion of loathsome tasks don’t overrun the entire day. One can only exercise so much willpower at a time.

    If I can’t perceive a clear benefit from what I am trying to do, then it’s probably not worth the trouble. Keeping a spotless house was worth my time when we were showing it, but it’s just not the rest of the time. It doesn’t provide enough benefit to us personally for the labor involved at this stage. I think of that as prioritization, not acedia.

    Coming out of a phase where nearly everything beyond bare survival has been impossible, I find myself tempted to feel as if everything in life is pointless, anyway. I could do more, now, but why bother? I think this is temporary and situational and still hope that I shall rediscover what the point of everything is.

    Site URL: http://carrotduchy.blogspot.com

    Brandy Afterthoughts wrote:

    I love MentalMultivitamin. Can I just say that?

    I don’t know how to do it in all situations. I don’t think I’m that great at this.

    But I do know something that helps me sometimes when I really think that there is something I *should* be doing and I’m finding it to be a battle: I sit and think about it. I figure if I think it is a necessary thing, there must be something to love about it. I try to figure out what is lovable about the task. I pray for wisdom, for my soul to expand and become capable of the love I am lacking.

    I suppose this is because my goal is not just to do things, but to learn to love better.

    Site URL: http://thoughtsaftergod.blogspot.com/

  11. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    B. Durbin wrote:

    I never made the bed as a kid until the day my mom moved my bed and piled all the stuff that had been underneath on top.

    That night was pretty itchy, and I learned that somebody who reads on her bed ought to make it so as to keep dirt out of it. Of course, it’s not that difficult for me since I’m a pretty strapping lass. It was a lot harder when I was shorter.

    As to repetitive tasks, I have a talent for daydreaming that works me through anything too boring. And I always always always break tasks down into tiny bits in my mind so I can feel accomplishment at each stage.

    About the only thing that’s really driven me nuts in past years was prepping senior photos for yearbook at the photography studio. The level of repetition at each stepβ€” select & crop (identically) 300+ photos, retouch, color-correct so they all matchβ€” was so bad that I found the only solution was an iPod.

    If I hadn’t had an iPod, I would have dug out my twenty-year-old Walkman and my likewise old mix tapes. It was bad enough that my musical choices of junior high would have been better.

    Anne-Marie wrote:

    1. The five things I *should* do every day, or the five things I am most likely actually to do every day? I am ashamed of how different the two lists are.

    2. The difference between days that include silent prayer and days that don’t is staggering. It’s enough to make a person pray just out of superstition. Silence is the most important aid for me.

    3. Here are some tricks I have found. One that has helped me a lot is to think about how little time the unwelcome task will actually take. I can take the compost pail out to the bin in less time time than it takes to call a child and send him to do it because I feel aggrieved.

    Another is to do something disliked along the way when I’m doing something else.

    Another (which I got from someone on an online homeschoolers’ forum) is to say to myself, “Boy, I really dislike doing X and now I’m going to do it.” (This is another form of the self-talk that Lisa wrote about, I suppose.)

    Probably the best, but for me also the hardest, because nowhere am I more prone to acedia than in my prayer life, is to do the task in a spirit of penitence, making my doing of it a sacrifice, especially one united to a particular prayer intention.

    4. Tough questions. I *think* that just as some people have more physical courage, some people have more moral (? psychological? spiritual?) courage. My mother-in-law, despite nearly constant physical pain, uncomplaningly does all kinds of tasks she finds boring and distateful.

    5. I take this question to be asking not just how do we make ourselves do the work, but how do we change our outlook, to make the disliked jobs be less disliked. I think the best answer is a combination of Steven Covey and St. Thomas Aquinas.

    Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.” I find that calling to mind the ends to which a boring job is the means helps to make the job itself more appealing.

    Thomas says that we don’t choose evil, but rather we choose some good other than the one we should choose. So if I stay up too late reading the Internet, for instance, it’s not because I seek the evils of lacking sleep and being crabby tomorrow; it’s because I seek the goods of information or discussion or entertainment. Looking at it this way allows me to acknowledge that I *will* lose something by doing the job I should do, that there is a cost to doing the job, but also helps to show me how small that bit of loss really is.

    Left Right Out wrote, in response to harmonyml:

    I’m lucky enough to have an organising freak for a spouse, so we have systems in place (designed by her) for everything. When the credit card bill comes in the mail I confirm that it’s been paid online, mark it paid, then I file it. If I have a system in place that stops things from piling up it definitely makes day to day tasks less burdensome. I also use the timer method a *lot* — looking at a chaotic room I set the timer for ten minutes, go for it, and then reward myself with reading for five minutes, or whatever. However I don’t think that would work for other areas of my life where I know what you mean — I look at other people and marvel at their control in that area.

    Harmony, my child is same age as yours I think (six month-ish?). Since she was six week old I’ve been making up a big dish of lentil, rice and veg every Sunday and having it for lunch every weekday. I alternate “Indian” and “Mexican” spices. I started this because it use to be she would *only* sleep on me during the day and I could dish this up one handedm but now I find I enjoy it and it makes my life easier not having to think about lunch. Just a thought.

    sallythomas wrote:

    I would add that on a pragmatic level, breaking things down into bite-sized proportions does help me. It’s the “everything!” that overwhelms me into inertia. I’ll put off making doctor’s appointments, for example, because I’ve also got to cook dinner, Christmas shop, get something for the Angel Tree, do school, etc etc etc. If I say to myself that I won’t do it all in one day, but I will make one phone call for an appointment — the hardest thing of the mix, because I’m kind of phone-phobic — then I can accomplish that, and it’s something, which makes me feel more empowered to do other things. I get very mired in “I can’t possibly . . . ” and have to remind myself that I can, actually. And if it’s hard, I can offer that little difficulty as a gift to God.

    harmonyml wrote, in response to shelbykat:

    I get paralyzed by indecision, too, and I think that’s at least part of my problem. I look at EVERYTHING that needs to be done around the house, and it’s just too much. Of course, the way to get over that (I’m in the process of learning this from my husband) is to just do one thing and don’t worry about everything else that also needs to be done. That’s why the timer works so well for me: I tell myself that I won’t worry about anything that isn’t done when the timer goes off. Of course, once I get into a cleaning groove I generally don’t want to stop, but it’s the getting there that’s so hard for me.

    Something else that I’ve found helps are lists and charts. For example, a chart that tells me which room I clean each day (and I don’t worry about the other rooms – this is important for me), or a list that ranks the various things I need to do today in order of importance. It helps to ask my husband what he thinks are most important, because if I tried to do it I’d be frozen with indecision.

  12. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    shelbykat wrote, in response to harmonyml:

    Harmonyml, those are some good suggestions, thanks, and I do pretty well with the lists. General housecleaning is not usually a problem, but the big projects around the house doo feel like too much at times!

    emilydarling wrote:

    I have a quote on a homemade calendar that states: “The fruit derived from labor is the sweetest of all pleasures.” Another one from the same calendar: “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” That being said, sometimes the idea that you will have finished something is motivation enough to do it.

    I have a chronic back condition which prevents me from doing many tasks (including ones I long to do). Those I am able to do become very repetitive as they are few and far between. What I keep in mind is that I am thankful to God (and content!) that I am still physically able to do them, that by doing them I am serving, and that I am being an example to my children of diligence and obedience. (I think this last is very important!)

    At times I become frustrated or melancholy, but when I replace those thoughts with God-thoughts (memorizing Scripture helps here) in a deliberate way, I am able to climb back up out of the despair. These are suggestions just off the top of my head and how I cope. My limits are many, and so I do what I can to the best of my ability and to His glory, and do not allow myself to go down the other path. Lots of other wonderful thoughts, ladies!

    annaberri wrote:

    I completely know what you mean. Completely. I found two things this year that have helped:

    Managers of Their Chores at http://www.titus2.com

    Eliminate Chaos. Great book. Recent, and has a 10 step process that helps me a lot on those activities I have been putting off. Her ideas are reasonable, and she has good reasons for the order she does things in. Best organization book I ever saw, and I have been through more than my share of them.

    New baby is making me not type as much, but I had to share.

    Anne-Marie wrote:

    I’ve been thinking about this off and on today, and have realized that for me, pride is a big reason for laziness. Several times I have caught myself avoiding some small, tedious task because I secretly believe it’s beneath my dignity. Deep down, I think I’m too important to put the spilled laundry back into the hamper, or sweep the dirt from the entryway.

    Faith wrote:

    Thank you for this article! I just put it on my facebook. This is like an answer to prayer! Bless you! I haven’t even had my first cup of caffeine this a.m. so I am not fit to really respond. I’ll wait til later when I can be more eloquent. But thank you, thank you!

  13. Lizzie
    Posted April 2, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Top 5 things for me:

    1) Dishes, so that I can keep my family well fed
    2) Laundry, so that I can keep my family clothed
    3) Spending time with the people I love, which includes my family and the Lord
    4) Make sure everyone is clean, whether that requires a bath, shower, or just brushing the teeth
    5) General tidying – because everyone should have an orderly place to “play,” where the definition of ORDERLY fits the person’s life appropriately — for me, that means CLEAN, nothing out except what I’m using; for my husband, that means surrounded (untidily πŸ˜‰ ) by things he likes; for my daughter, well, she doesn’t get a decision since I put her toys away each night (she’s only 10 mos old). She isn’t big enough yet to get to decide what is “clean enough.”

    I have a clean house. I tend to keep it pretty clean as a general rule… it’s just how I am. BUT I do still have to do certain things that I absolutely despise, and some days where I just can’t make myself do anything. So I’m definitely familiar with the problem.

    I think the thing that helps me most to overcome the inability to move is prayer. I don’t mean prayer “in the moment” when I can’t do anything, because prayer is included in that “anything” — but on the good days where I can stop to think clearly about why I don’t want to do things, the Lord has (slowly!) revealed to me the WHY for each of the tasks that I hate, and He graciously brings those WHYs to light when I need them most. I’m almost certain that the WHYs will be different for each person… but it’s likely that nearly all of them lead back to a respectful view of humanity, because we are all made in God’s image and therefore worthy of respect on a basic level.

    And there is a level of “just do it.” It depends on my mindset, truly — sometimes I just need a proverbial kick in the pants to get started, and other times hearing myself or someone else say “just do it” only makes things worse. But I do think that there is a valid place for obedience to the Lord… because one of my biggest God-given responsibilities is to love and care for my family, I do things *out of love for them and God* that I just don’t want to do. Wanting to obey and serve God is a powerful motivation.

    My housework mantra is: It’s better than it was. In other words, what little effort I was able to put towards dishes or laundry or whatever… the situation is better than it was before, because it can’t possibly be made worse when I put away a load of clothes or do a sink full of dishes. Obviously this won’t always apply to, say, emptying an entire closet and then losing interest or not having the ability to deal with it. πŸ™‚

    Oh, and for making the bed, my reason is one of sheer laziness… when I make the bed (by which I mean “pulling up the covers and piling the pillows at the head”), I have to wash the sheets less. πŸ™‚

  14. Lori
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I know this is an old post, but I had printed it out to read later… and now it’s later.
    I do two things when I am depressed and completely overwhelmed and paralyzed.
    First, I remember that I am an Entropy Warrioress (is that a word?!). I try to picture a goofy mask and cape, if I can, just to cheer myself up.
    Second, I remember someone’s advice: “I can do anything for 15 minutes.” Then I go set a timer. As I drag myself along to the task, I picture Mr. Bear (of Mr. Bear to the Rescue, by Debi Gliori — must check out if you don’t have it), and say to myself, “‘Just a little farther,’ he said to encourage himself.”
    I find the mental pictures can be more encouraging than anything else… all I need is just enough to get myself to 30 seconds past the starting line. Momentum will take over after that until the timer goes off (often until the task is finished, even beyond 15 minutes, if the job is not too big).

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! I think I need to get another timer.

  15. Josh
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    I realize how old this post is, but you seem to still reply to comments years after the post so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts (and please let me know if you’ve learned more about acedia and/or overcoming it.)

    I personally learned about the concept of acedia several years ago. I have never heard a word that so encompasses my past — and unfortunately current — state of being so accurately and completely. I struggle with a general apathy towards life, and I find it incredibly hard to do things and even harder to care about things. This originally manifested in the inability to pursue bigger things (diet, investing in relationships, writing a novel, etc.) but eventually spread to even the most mundane tasks (brushing my teeth, making my bed, doing my laundry, doing schoolwork, etc.). It got to the point where I would rather lie on my bed and do nothing instead of doing what I knew I should do. It also manifested in a lack of self-control against various temptations, and every time you give in it gets a little a bit easier to give in the next time.

    3. (This seem likes the most pertinent question.) Throughout my attempts to change, I have thought long and hard about the question you raised. How do you choose to act when you don’t feel like it? How, in that moment when you are lying in bed about to fall asleep, and then you realize you didn’t take out the garbage which is going to be picked up early next morning, and you know you won’t get up early enough to take it out but you tell yourself you will get up anyway, how do you choose to get up and do it? This concept of knowing somewhere deep down inside that you should do something, but not doing it anyway, is known as akrasia, or the weakness of will. This is related to acedia but not the same thing: acedia is larger than akrasia but encompasses it.

    The key part is that somewhere inside of you you believe that you should do that thing. If you didn’t believe that you should brush your teeth, then there wouldn’t be a problem (well, there would be, but it would be a whole different problem). And presumably you believe this for reasons. I believe that I should brush me teeth because if I don’t I’ll probably get cavities and lose my teeth which will be painful, expensive, and somewhat incapacitating. I believe that I should spend time with this person because I care about them, I want to develop their relationship, and it will ultimately be better for me as well. I believe that I should take out the trash now because otherwise it will overflow and my yard will start smelling like trash.

    But apparently these reasons aren’t enough, or at least they aren’t always enough, evidenced by the fact that I don’t brush my teeth, take out the trash, or spend time with people a lot of the time. And yet if you look at the reasons I just gave, they should be completely sufficient for a rational person to do the given behavior. There are two factors as to why I don’t do these things in the moment. The first is because of little excuses I make in my head. For instance in the case of taking out the trash, I might tell myself, “I’ll take it out early next morning” or “I can go another week without overflowing the trash bin”. Or I might not even give a justification, like “It’s not that big of a deal.” The second is that I just don’t feel like it. I don’t have any energy. I feel empty. I don’t have the will. So I don’t do it.

    So you have these two conflicting parts of you. The one that tells you you should get up and take the trash out. And the one that tells you should just go to sleep. There are six things that I have found most helpful in choosing the former self.

    First, I think it needs to be said, you need to accept the reality of suffering. As much as I hate saying this and wish it wasn’t true, at some level, you need to accept that getting up will be unpleasant and move past that. As to how you accept and transcend this pain, it’s something I think that you need to learn in your own way. But there are certainly ways to help, which is what the next ones are.

    Second, keep in mind your place in time. Remember how short your life is. Think about your funeral, and what kind of person you want to remembered as. Think about how the decision effect the type of person you’re becoming. Think about the percentage of your life that has already gone by, and the average human life span. Think about what you will think about yourself the next morning. Think, and think honestly, about the consequences of your decision.

    Third, make and memorize rational sentences about why you should do the behavior, and then repeat them to yourself in the moment of ambivalence. This helps fight against the little lies you tell yourself to make yourself feel better about not doing the thing. For instance, if you’re trying to fight the urge to not brush your teeth, you might say the statement in your head, “By not brushing I am contributing to cavities, which in turn will be painful, expensive, make me less attractive, and I will never be able to get my real teeth back ever again.” Also you might prepare a mental image of what you would look like without teeth. Or you can also memorize and repeat more general things like a bible verse. “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Proverbs 6:9-11.

    Fourth, use mental pictures. People think in pictures: they are extremely powerful. If you picture yourself after having done the thing you don’t feel like doing, this will almost certainly help motivate you.

    Fifth, if it is something that will take an extended period of time, do it systematically. Break the thing up into manageable chunks and consistently work on the chunks over time, consistently being the key word. Plan things out ahead of time. Structure. Order. And do it intelligently and efficiently.

    Sixth — more of an encouragement really, the more you repeat the said behavior, the more self-respect you gain, and the more self-respect you gain, the easier it becomes the next time. Eventually it will develop into a habit, which you won’t even have to think about. It may seem to get harder the longer you do it, but if you do it consistently for over a month then I guarantee it will get easier.

    Hope this helps.

    regards,
    Josh

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted January 26, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Wow, Josh! Thanks so much for very well thought out and helpful post. I’d love to copy and paste the whole thing to a blog post so more people see it- crediting you, of course. May I do that? I think it would be helpful for a lot of people.

      • Josh
        Posted January 26, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        By all means, if you find it helpful.

  16. Sophia
    Posted February 7, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Hello.

    I have first heard about acedia a few years back … and then in “good acedic manner”, forgot about it. πŸ™ Fortunately, I had printed out some articles that I now came across again.
    One of them is a chapter from Garrigou-Lagrange’s “There Ages of the Interior Life” – http://www.christianperfection.info/tta41.php
    He gives a recommendation as to how to overcome acedia.

    As to your questions 3 and 4:

    “3. *How* do you make yourself do things that you *really* do not want to do? ”
    I think this is a misleading question, which just invites unhelpful replies. Obviously, people suffering from acedia are asking themselves that question, myself included.

    “Whatever the β€˜thing’ is, what does it take to break the inertia, to get you moving toward doing those things that you are most resistant to doing?”
    I think answering this requires that one figures out some very tough metaphysical issues.
    It’s a vast topic that needs daily revision and repetition.

    “4a. For those who struggle with this, do you think it’s a question of being more weak of will than others, or is it a different weakness- that we have a longer list of things we just really don’t want to do?

    4b.. Is the need just one of really just needing more self-discipline? Forcing yourself to do what you really do not want to do? Or is it changing your outlook and finding a way NOT to dislike those things so very, very, very much?”

    That hatred or at least dislike of one’s life or some regular tasks in one’s life — that is acedia.

    I don’t think it’s about being weak of will per se.
    I think it’s more like being under the influence of a drug.
    Or like the compound effect of many small actions or omissions over a longer period of time.
    The way a small lump of snow can, when it rolls downhill, collect more and more until it becomes an unstoppable snowball.
    Or like the way a person gains weight: It’s possible to gain, say, 30 kilos in the course of a year. It’s not possible to gain that much weight from one day to the next, but it is possible to gain it slowly, over a longer period of time. If this person weighs themselves every day, then on any two consecutive days, there is no significant difference, but comparing two days further apart, the difference is evident. And vice versa with losing weight: from one day to the next, there is no discernable difference, but over a longer period of time, if one persists in various activities that promise to eliminate excessive weight, one can effectively lose weight.

    Having acedia is like becoming significantly overweight. It happened little by little, but one suffers the full extent of it, and a single action can’t fix it.

    I’ve just embarked on a new path of overcoming acedia (that’s how I found this blog). I’ll see how it works!

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