Seven months into the pandemic and with no end in sight, many people have been feeling a sense of unease and upset that goes beyond anxiety or distress. For many, it’s a nameless feeling that somehow makes it hard to go on with even the enjoyable things you regularly do.
And seems to be there constantly these days, no matter what you do or how you support yourself. There’s a deep sense of feeling lost and disoriented that is plaguing many people these days.
What you are experiencing right now is ancient. It’s called “acedia” and is linked back to Medieval monks who were plagued with this listlessness too.
Acedia is the sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one has become apathetic, but because somehow the whole process of caring becomes blocked and all jammed up.
On the face of it, you quite likely care very much about the health risks to those you know and even those you don’t know. Alongside this, though, is a sense of dislocation, an anchorless-ness that somehow interferes with how you care.
Think about it this way…
If you’re like the rest of humanity, everyone assumes that there will be a future world that survives your particular lifetime, a world inhabited by people similar to you, including some who are related to you or perhaps even known to you.
We probably even have envisioned it somewhere deep inside, even though we’re not conscious this has happened.
Though you rarely pay attention to this deep assumption or even acknowledge it, this presumed future world is the horizon, or the anchor, towards which everything you do in the present is oriented.
Philosophers have studied how losing one’s horizon (the future how we thought would exist) impacts one’s day to day activities. And what they found was that the things that you value start to lose their value.
Your sense of why things matter today is built on the presumption that they will continue to matter in the future, even when you, yourself, is no longer around to value them. Your present relations to people and things are, in this deep way, future-oriented.
So, given that most of us have lost our sense of what the future will look like, this sense of dislocation, melancholy and listlessness makes sense then in this current Covid-19 reality.
The origins, then of our current, dislocation and listlessness is not the literal loss of a future but a more subtle and unconscious disruption in pretty much every future frame of reference on which just going on in the present relies.
“Moving around” is what we do as humans and for that we need horizons. Covid has erased many of the spatial and temporal horizons we rely on, even if we don’t notice them consciously very often.
So, if you’re one of those people feeling listless and having a hard time accomplishing anything much, you make sense. There’s a very good reason why this is happening.
Naming this malaise may seem more trouble than it’s worth, but actually, the opposite is true. When we name something we replace ambiguity with form and structure. We suddenly make the invisible, visible. This is powerful.
What these religious philosophers also discovered about the ancient acedia experience by the Medieval monks was that struggling through it in isolation aggravated the experience ten-fold.
Isolation makes everything worse. It still does today.
I get it: connection is changed too. It’s not possible to be in person with others in the same ways that we took for granted pre-pandemic. I, too, am exhausted and getting burnt out from the day to day ongoing connection through a computer screen, over a telephone line or through texting or chat messaging.
And yet folks, this is reality now.
If connection via a screen is all we have right now, then we have to begin having “real” connection, real conversations about the things that are truly happening all around us. This is what’s going to reduce your sense of feeling lost and anchorless.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll begin to recognize our current experience of acedia is a problem we need to tackle together — across political and cultural lines — as families, communities, nations and a global humanity.
Which means doing so in acceptance of our shared vulnerability, finding ways to connect with each other and weather this storm in real and authentic connection, rather than suffering each on our own.