If acedia or apathy lies at the heart of climate denial in our culture today, as some keen observers like Lester Brown and environmental lawyers maintain, it behooves us to study more deeply what acedia is all about. Maybe doing so will unleash some of the forces holding humanity back from responding to our own extinction.

“Apathy.” Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Etymologically, the word “acedia” is said to have two derivatives. One is akedos in Greek, which means “not caring.” The other is from the word for “sour.”

There is a not-caring aspect to acedia, a lack of passion, 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.”  Dante defines acedia as “slow love.” A “slow love” is presumably one that fails to connect to the cosmic love.

The first chakra, we will recall, concerns taking in the sounds of the universe – it is all about cosmology and ecology; the sciatic nerve links to the minor chakras of the knee and foot.

Re-grounding in desert meditation. Photo by Nappystock

It is all about being grounded in the sacredness of all being and all relations (remember that the sacrum literally means “the hollow bone.”). It is all about listening – listening to the vibrations and music of all that is, to all that is holy. Its color is the red of blood and excitement and eros.

Acedia, defined by Thomas Aquinas as “the lack of energy to begin new things,” is a kind of ennui, depression, cynicism, sadness, boredom, listlessness, couch-potato-it is, being passive, apathetic, psychically exhausted, having no energy.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, p. 189.

Banner Image: Playing the music within. Photo by Calum MacAulay on Unsplash

To read the transcript of Matthew’s video teaching, click HERE.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you recognize that being cynical and sour often accompanies an attitude of not caring? How can we get beyond that with one another?

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13 thoughts on “More on Acedia and Ways Beyond It”

  1. Avatar

    With regards to your queries for contemplation in today’s DM, what comes to mind is several conversations I have had with people in health care, like myself and others whom are in education and policing. We are people who actually care deeply and yet at times we have all experienced levels of cyncisim. This cynicism was not the result of not caring, but rather it was the result of time and time again working for justice, facing daily the many injustices within these systems and becoming frustrated and dishearted that all our efforts resulted in nothing changing.

    We all, during these moments of cynicism recognized the importance of feeding our souls, that helped us to remain focused on what really matters and what is of real meaning and purpose in our lives. We all recognized the importance of retreating at times to avoid the burnout of actually caring to much, having daily responded again and again to the suffering, sorrow and pain in this world, only to be left wondering if what we are doing is really making a difference.

    During these moments of cynicism, we all, despite the lack of neccessary changes within the systems that we give of ourselves, realized that we could not stop caring, because caring was and is apart of who we are.

    This realization helped us to refocus our caregiving, in areas that we knew we were making a difference, which really narrowed down to the personal and intimate relationships with those that we were engaged with day after day, those whom we were in solidarity with, sharing not only in their struggles and sufferings, but also their successes and joys.

    With often both tears and laughter during these moments of cyncisim we realized that changes were indeed taking place within this, and that these changes were recipical in the sense that they were changing us from within as well… in the positive sense of continously encouraging us to embrace the unfolding of our remaining and becoming more deeply caregiving people in the midst of unjust systems in which the neccessary changes needed rarely seem to manifest themselves.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Your comment in view of the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality. The cynicism you and those you work with is part of walking the Via Negativa. Cynicism can also be part of this path, the point is to learn from your time on the path. Then there is the Via Creativa which is the creative path–in looking at negative situations, the point is to think creatively for solutions that are the best for all concerned. And finally, the Via Transformativa is the path we walk in doing personal and societal transformation for the better. Thank you for your comment, and be thinking of how these paths can help you deal with these situations…

    2. Avatar

      Jeanette your words are well taken. We do care after being beat up. Many of us got out of the trenches into to acrid air of poison behaviors. We charged the Evil and were cut down by people we know. We wore the badge of Compassion and the armor of justice. We fell exhausted and continued to care and today rest to gather a new breath with he help of Mathew Fox and his meditations.. If we fail to make this rest do its healing we won’t be fit to return to battle. Thank you for you well thought out reply.

  2. Avatar

    I offer this prayer, by Henri Nouwen, to all those whom may find themselves in moments of cynicism.

    Lord God, it is true that there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea. You God, are the sea of unwavering Divine Love. Although I experience many ups and downs in my emotions and often feel great shifts and tides of changes in my inner life, You remain the same. Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of Your love I came to life, by Your love I am sustained, and to Your love I am always called back.

    There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of cynicism and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and disheartedness and moments of meaningful success; but all of them are embraced by Your unwavering caregiving love.

    O Lord God, sea of Divine Love and the goodness and beauty of this, let me not fear to much the storms and winds of injustice within my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow, but the sea remains.

    1. Avatar

      Thank you Jeannette for sharing your personal experience of frustration with persistent injustice and your evolving understanding of how to transcend the fear and despair that injustice can generate.

  3. Avatar

    This is an ingenious comparison between imbalanced chakras and what have been termed deadly sins/capital vices/cardinal sins. Widespread education is needed for how chakras affect our organisms. Thank goodness for the University of Creation Spirituality! This education seeks to make people more adept at mind/body awareness. A High Adept is able to sense when her body is becoming imbalanced or is becoming immoderate. But the education for awareness has to become part of the person first. This education leads to collective cosmic sensitivity. It is inevitable that this type of education will eventually permeate into the classrooms of the world. This widespread education, alone, will nurture as vibrant health as possible for Mother Earth.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gary, I feel that I got one of the best, and most unique and experiential educational at the University of Creation Spirituality. Matthew is truly a master-teacher–we should call him, “Meister Fox!”

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, When you thank Matthew for the “pulling together of many threads”–that’s one of the things Matthew does. He’s a great synthesizer!

  4. Avatar

    I thank Matthew also for being a great synthesizer. And I believe that fear is the basic door that opens to all kinds of sins, especially that of injustice. Acedia is one of the conditions for the existence and growth of injustice. Thank you Jeanette for your faithful work and witness despite all the injustice you face, and thank you for the prayer.

  5. Avatar

    I follow both Matthew Fox and Fr. Richard Rohr because they are both prophets, in my opinion. Their daily meditations and other work complement and enrich each other. Here is Fr. Rohr’s Prayer for Our Community that is included in every daily meditation and to which I listen every single day–it helps keep me going in this poisonous atmosphere where I live in the state of Florida, which has become infamous around the world.

    Prayer for Our Community
    Loving God, you fill all things with a fullness and a hope that we can never comprehend. Thank you for leading us into a time where more of reality is being unveiled for us all to see. We pray that you will take away our natural temptation for cynicism, denial, fear and despair. Help us to have the courage to awaken to even greater truth, greater humility, and greater care for one another. May we place our hope in what matters and what lasts, trusting in your eternal presence and love. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our suffering world. Please add your own intentions…………….. Knowing, good God, you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God. Amen https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/

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