A message from the 5th century

by | Nov 26, 2020 | Leadership

As the pandemic restrictions begin to ease – at least in Australia – you may have been left with a sense or a feeling, even an emotion that you just can’t put a name to. It’s not anxiety or depression. It’s more like boredom, dissatisfaction, an inability to focus and concentrate, a listlessness, a low-level worry that results in a kind of numbness. We may be all experiencing varying degrees of the ancient Greek emotion of acedia.

Jonathan L. Zecher, a research fellow at the Australian Catholic University describes how John Cassian – a monk and theologian – wrote in the early 5th century that acedia arose directly out the spatial and social constrictions that a solitary monastic life necessitates. These conditions generate a strange combination of idleness, sluggishness, and inability to get motivated.

Fast forward to 2020 and the social restrictions we have all endured could resemble the life of the 5th century monks. Social distancing has limited physical contact, physical movement and redefined our physical space. Working from home or having lost work entirely has upended routines and long held habits. Our familiar world, where everything is known and predictable, has been turned into an unpredictable and unfamiliar place.

Over time the monastic life has changed to include strict routines that involve an emphasis on physical activity. Tending to the farm, picking fruit, milking cows, making cheese and ploughing the paddocks is all designed to engage the body and distract the mind from the endless loop of negative thoughts.

This article is not meant to diminish the emotions and experiences that you may be experiencing right now. Everyone knows how tough it’s been but like the monks, if you can distract the mind and engage your body in any physical activity on a regular basis, the fog will clear and the clarity and focus will follow.

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