Christina, one of my regular commenters (but not much, recently… are you still out there?), turned me on to a book by Kathleen Norris a while back, called Acedia and Me. The book is an exploration of her lifelong wrestling match with the monastic “bad thought” of Acedia, a type of sloth or despair. Saint Anthony of the Desert called it the “noonday demon.”
Today, getting up, I didn’t want to do tai chi. With a white-hot, firey passion. I did it anyway. I also did 80 push-ups, in four sets of 20. But I really, really didn’t want to. And I really, really, didn’t want to write this entry for you today. Writing that whole sequence of poems was hard work, and it didn’t feel like it mattered so much to my readers. Did it matter to me? I like to think so, but I don’t genuinely know.
And that’s Acedia, at least at the start, for me. There’s this sense that none of this matters, that the work is unimportant, that it’s not particularly valuable to you or to anyone else, that it doesn’t lead to a better life or a better world or a better you. Call it anger crossed with despair, with a soupçon of frustration thrown in for good measure.
The act of beginning tai chi — or more specifically, putting my hands on the floor and doing the first push-up — began the process of dispelling the Noonday Demon. But I don’t doubt that he’ll be back.