Acedia, Ecology, and the Via Positiva

During the industrial revolution the captains of industry complained about “sloth,” as the deadly sin of acedia was translated at that time.  They considered anyone who did not want to work 14-hour days, six days a week, alongside 12 year old children to be “slothful” and lazy (it took the union movement to break the chains in the workplace and achieve a 40-hour five-day work week with vacations and an end to child labor) .

Today, we are exploring the meaning and deeper medicine for acediaIn my book on Evil, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh, I discuss acedia at length.  “Acedia is the misdirected energy of the first chakra.  It is what happens when people live without a cosmology.  For Dante, who shared a strong cosmology with Aquinas, it is Love that ‘moves the sun and the other stars.’

“Untitled” Image by Cuyahoga from Pixabay

Etymologically, the word ‘acedia’ has two derivatives. One is a-kedos in Greek, which means not caring.  The other is from the word for sour: There is a not caring aspect to acedia and there is also an attitude of sourness or cynicism toward life.  It is said that acedia consists in loving a great good with less intensity than it deserves; it is ‘slow love.’  Slow love is Dante’s definition for acedia.  A ‘slow love’ is one that fails to connect to the cosmic love.”

Hildegard says humans become “weakened by the coldness of indifference and neglect” whereas we can work “to all manner of good by the fire of the holy Spirit.”  Acedia, she says, lacks the vigor to fight for justice.

The opposite of acedia is joy.  Joy brings fire.  Joy is the fruit of love.  A joyless culture is a culture locked in acedia.  A joyless person or culture is one starving for love, one out of touch with the real love of the universe transpiring all around us.A joyless person or culture is one starving for love, one out of touch with the real love of the universe transpiring all around us. Such a culture would be indifferent or in denial about the threat that climate change poses to our planet.

The chakras. Diagram by unknown artist. Wikimedia.

The first or root chakra at the base of the spine is the beginning of all the chakras—it is where the fire, the seed, the kundalini snake lies coiled up and ready for action.  If that snake is not uncoiled, no energy happens.  We are listless. 

Acedia is the first of the sins of the spirit because it is where our energy dries up.  The daily addictions of consumerism put us into a sleep of acedia.  Hildegard asks: “O Human, why do you live without passion?  Why do you live without blood?”

The Via Positiva is all about awakening our passion.  The cure for acedia.  And the starting point for com-passion.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 189f.
Banner Image: “Free Hugs in Stuttgart, Germany, March 2008” Photo by CS Free Hugs, Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

How do you enkindle the “fire of the Holy Spirit” in your love of life and work?  How does the Via Positiva experience light your fire? 

Do you sense a listlessness in our culture at times?  Do you agree that the Via Positiva can correct that apathy, that lack of passion, that not caring?

Recommended Reading

Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil. Through comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.

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8 thoughts on “Acedia, Ecology, and the Via Positiva”

  1. Avatar
    Barbara Schwartzbach

    I am intrigued by your work. My kundalini was awakened years ago……At the time I did not have the knowledge or support to explore this. People close to me assumed I had a mental breakdown I saw it as an awakening. Any recommendations about exploring this.?

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Barbara,
      You have been given a great gift through the awakening of your kundalini years ago. Gifts like this don’t come to everyone, but when they do, they need to be opened and explored. How did you know it was a kundalini awakening? Start there. There are books, articles, YouTUBE videos, weekend workshops, yoga studio classes available to help you find your way. Keep going until you know you are there.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  2. Avatar

    I just read a lovely interview on “forest bathing” by Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. ( Called shinrin-yoka in Japanese, it sounds like an excellent cure for acedia and a prescription for marinating joyfully in the Via Positiva! With the average American spending 93% indoors, it is so timely and I love the image of forest bathing.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Greetings, John. And thank you for reminding us how simple it can be to reconnect to creation in a way that restores our heart, mind, and spirit. There is a presence that slowly reveals itself when standing in a forest or a garden. Even 15 minutes apart from electronic distractions and next to a tree changes our sense of self and our cosmology. Perhaps forest bathing is a return to our natural state, living in constant connection with nature.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  3. Avatar

    This is a beautiful (verbal, spoken) reflection on the musical, shimmering (sensed and unsensed) vibrations of the cosmos in which all things move and have our (connected, interactive) being, Matt. Thank you (on behalf of tailless, often clueless creatures). Cosmology rocks; theology, too. P.S. Love the frequent meditation shirt shifts (no short shrifts); find playful parentheses (almost) as much fun as popcorn. -Maria M., ICCS, ’82.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Maria,
      What a playful, shimmering, interactive response to this meditation on (what else?) acedia! Obviously, you are not bored with life!
      Thanks for the lift!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  4. Avatar
    Donald Heckelmiller

    I think that most people are so wounded, lack self-esteem and Joy that they truly believe that they cannot make a difference. Part of our job is to motivate whomever we come in contact, with praise and empowerment by letting them know they are important to the evolution of all that is. Help them find their gifts.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Thank you, Donald, for keeping the health of the human spirit in your heart. When people are told they are basically sinful and are only useful as a consumer, their lethargy can be understood. And yet, we yearn for importance and meaning.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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