We have many names for it: “so-so”, “not bad”, meh, whatever, average or blah. No matter what you call it, this emotion has become commonplace during the various restrictions and lockdowns of recent years. It describes that feeling somewhere between happy and sad: where you lack motivation and care but can’t really explain why. Psychologist Adam Grant draws on the old word ‘languishing’ to define this emotion. He explains it well by reflecting:
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. … It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.[Adam Grant – New York Times, 19/04/2021]
You may have experienced this emotion recently, for days or even weeks at a time? It can be an unfamiliar and confusing place to be. Knowing things aren’t right, but not quite being able to pinpoint the cause or a pathway out of it. All the while, struggling with motivation to stick to daily tasks you once did without blinking an eye.
The good news is, you’re not alone and there is a pathway through it! Even better, it’s not a new emotion that a world in pandemic has produced, but an emotion as old as humankind. The ancient Greek word for it is ‘acedia’. It means to be “without care” and is used to describe both mental and spiritual apathy.
The word acedia was used by early Christians known as the ‘Desert Fathers’: hermits, ascetics and monks living in the Egyptian desert only a few hundred years after Jesus. In explaining the Desert Fathers’ use of this word, Harrison Ayre writes:
But it is much more than a simple laziness or lack of desire to do anything worthwhile. It is an infliction of the soul that attacks desire: we listen to it and become unable to follow through on our intentions. Because we don’t act on intentions, we feel dull, numb and spiritual dead. To put the definition in a more pithy fashion: acedia creates in us the inability to choose the good.[Harrison Arye, Fighting Acedia: Choosing God at all times]
This description is a little confronting. What began as just ‘blah’, is actually a spiritual condition of being unable to choose the good.
The disciples of Jesus experience acedia when they fall asleep on the Mount of Olives. [Source] Jesus describes acedia in the Parable of the Talents when one servant just buries what was entrusted to him by his master rather than investing it. [Source] And, the church in Laodicea were suffering from acedia, when they were criticised as being lukewarm – neither cold nor hot. [Source] Each time, acedia created in them the inability to choose the good, reducing their desire for God and replacing that with dulled senses and self-seeking choices. It’s worth being a little confronted by the problem of acedia, as it robs us of the abundant life that Jesus offered those who follow him.
However, before you get discouraged, along with an ancient word like acedia there also comes a long heritage of wise people identifying and suggesting a way through it!
Consistently, advice about breaking the effect of acedia includes establishing a healthy life rhythm. Adam Grant suggests ‘uninterrupted blocks of time’ three or four days a week. Harrison Ayre writes that the Desert Fathers used the rhythm of manual labour (yard work, chores or doing something with your hands) as an effective cure for acedia. Even when vast crowds came after him, Jesus often (regularly) withdrew alone to pray [Source]. Finally, the Apostle Paul says he “disciplines his body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” so he can run with purpose in life. [Source]
You may struggle to be motivated, but the pathway of curing acedia begins with making some basic choices. It could be praying and going for a walk when you wake each morning, or reading the Bible before going to bed at night. Maybe discipline yourself to turn Netflix off at 10:30pm in the evening rather than staring at the screen late into each night, or resist the temptation each day to look at social media before midday. Just pick one to begin with: small steps that when repeated begin to break the cycle. Thus allowing God to remind you that with His help you can make choices ‘for the good’ along with experiencing His gifts of peace, hope and joy in each day.
If you’re struggling with feeling “blah” and can’t see a way through it, we would love to talk further with you. Contact us, and we can organise to catch up.