Australia’s biggest social experiment is not Married at First Sight (that’s not an experiment at all, obviously). It is our new normal, something we have never imagined. Monks have a little known fourth rule in addition to poverty, chastity and obedience. It’s stability, as in, staying put. Don’t leave where you are, ever. It seems easy compared to the first three, but it’s actually the hardest of all, because it causes any incompleteness in our formation to rise to the surface. Abba Moses, an early desert father (one of the first to leave the Empire for solitude and a different way of being in the world), said to his students “stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”
What happens when we do this is the “noonday devil” shows up. Not for some, but for all. It’s called acedia, a listlessness that is distracted by everything superficial and wants nothing of substance. It’s like the kid on holidays who says “I’m bored” – but a hundred times more restless. We find we just can’t settle. Evagrius, another of those early mystics, said the noonday demon “makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and . . . he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself.” It is especially prevalent around the middle of the day, when nothing ever seems to change, and it’s just another seemingly endless, meaningless day. Gregory the Great reframed it as sloth, but it’s a restless sloth, like apathy but frenetic.
Why am I saying this? So you would know this fella will show up in the weeks ahead. We are the most superficially distracted society that has ever lived. This is not to cause fear, but to see how facing this demon will change us wonderfully. We will start noticing the tiny miracles in life. We will become aware of the wonder of our breath coming and going, and how sweet it is to breathe. This is a gift. What might at first seem like depression is actually invitation into a new way of being, that very few of us would ever choose.
I work from home so my world has been reduced to a small footprint for several years, but even more so now. I haven’t left home in the past 4 days at all, and won’t except for a walk around the block for who knows how long. But I’m watching the ants devour the left over dog food and marvelling at their industry and capacity to build a cooperative society. I’m so grateful for the comfort of a chair or the autumn light starting to cast an ever more northerly shadow into our home. I’m stopping around dusk to let evening come, as it must, gently and quietly undressing nature in order to rest.
A meditative practice can become essential to ground us in this. It doesn’t matter what spiritual tradition you come from (or none), your breath is always your front door into the mystery of being that will ground you.
Ask me in a month how I am going. I am sure I will be frustrated, restless and cranky at times. That’s ok. That’s what the demon does. It’s not wrong or bad, it’s the process necessary to uncover the treasures buried underneath.