I have a worthy cure

Now that I’m flipping pages, skimming back through my penciled underscores, I see that I indeed absorbed my remedy in part while reading Acedia and Me.

[quoting Evagrius] “What heals acedia is staunch persistence…. Decide upon a set amount for yourself in every work and do not turn aside from it before you complete it.” p100

Man, oh man, oh man. This is keeping the schedule indeed! Reach back into what your logic (not your mania, be careful) tells you is a prudent amount of Things To Be Done. Write them down so they are harder to evade. Start at the top, and work to the bottom. Staunch persistence in the face of the demon of pointlessness.

I have an image of a splay-footed soul in a lumpy non-colored cassock, elbows on hips: I will not be moved. Staunch Persistence, my super-hero.

Maybe I should find a picture of that and pin it to my corkboard!
Maybe finding pictures on the interwebs is precisely the opposite of staunch persistence.
Oh, hm: true. I have extremely few moments in my life where logic would agree that “finding pictures on the interwebs” is a Thing To Be Done. Since even when I do I have to set a timer.

You do realize that discussing Acedia and Me is my set amount in this work of writing, self-prescribed during my bout of acedia in June? You’re welcome to argue that I keep turning aside from it, and thus I dilute the wise maxim. But even if that is what’s happening, notice that I keep coming back and persisting.

They gave one another good counsel: Perform the humblest of tasks with full attention and no fussing over the whys and wherefores; remember that you are susceptible, at the beginning of any new venture, to being distracted from your purpose by such things as a headache, an intense ill will toward another, a neurotic and potent self-doubt. To dwell in this desert and make it bloom requires that we indulge in neither guilt nor vainglorious fantasizing, but struggle to know ourselves as we are. p132

Full attention, that’s important. I fail at partial attention…I start to feel as if my thoughts are splintering into glass shards. All of them stab at me, and I struggle to put any given one of them where it belongs. Given all the research on how multi-tasking doesn’t actually work for humans—I prefer time-division multiplexing, but even that has its problems—it’s amusing that the desert monastics nailed this down nearly two millennia ago.

No fussing over the whys and wherefores: here, then, is another affirmation of my setting my habits outside my critical thinking. Because I am susceptible. Because in the overly harsh glare of acedia, nothing can withstand the fussing.

Struggle to know ourselves as we are: I’m just pointing to that because I can say, “Hey, yeah, I do that all the time!” Someday I think I’ll write about how my teen years sharpened this struggle into one of my major life’s-works…but that day is not today. Today is for the set work of tackling Ms. Norris’ book.

The early Christian monks […] regarded repetition as essential to their salvation, and valued perseverance in prayer and manual labor as the core of their spiritual discipline. “Abba Moses asked Abba Sylvanus, ‘Can a man lay a new foundation every day?’ The old man said, ‘If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment.'” p86

Repetition is my least favorite activity. And by “least favorite” I mean I actively avoid it. But perseverance I understand and affirm the value of…and now that I’m more than seventeen I can see how repetition provides one of the structures of perseverance. I have a lovely letterpress card on my corkboard: “Always we begin again” -after St. Benedict. That is, part of the Benedictine Rule is that one starts over in practicing the Rule as many times as one steps away from the Rule. After spending this last winter adrift on the sea of my wide-open days, I know the practicality of laying a new foundation at every moment. At some point, for a little while, the piers may hold even to the bottom of the ocean.

So okay then!

The desert monastics’ cure for acedia:
  • Keep to the routine you already had/be cautious if you have to establish a new routine
  • Be staunchly persistent in keeping to that routine
  • “Decide on a set amount […] in every work,” write it down, and work it from top to bottom…
  • …giving each element your full attention in turn.
  • Once the work and the set amount are decided, no fussing or revisiting: just do it.
  • Keep a calm, loving, and skeptical eye on yourself, because
  • “Always we begin again.”

Son of a gun, a distilled bullet list. Maybe I’ll turn out to be a self-help writer one day.

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