Mepkin Abbey is a very lush area in South Carolina. The beauty of the land was undeniable, before even knowing about the various gardens, dedicated grounds, and even labyrinth located on the monastic grounds. Unfortunately, I spent a short time at Mepkin, but still felt extraordinarily welcomed, loved, humbled, and honored to experience this monastery.
What I learned? That perhaps the ability to look at things more concisely may be a gift as opposed to a hindrance. Or maybe that viewing things less loosely and more blatantly: is this “coincidence or providence?” is this a “trip or a pilgrimage?” allows one to fully engage in a focal point in order to put their energies (or even lack thereof) towards something that is beyond themselves. It seems as though the less I understand things, the more potent they are to me. This, however, appears to accompany the daunting ability of letting go of my need for control in knowledge, knowing, decisions, etc.
I suppose part of me doesn’t want to declare such language because it seems to rein me in. But, what if it frees me to fully engage in that which I am meant to be, meant to explore, meant to do, meant to see? A friend of mine reminded me that perhaps freeing ourselves from the need of semantics (easier said than done) perhaps allows for letting go in an experience, ultimately allowing one to be more present and mindful.
I’ve found lately that having language for particular experiences has been helpful, however, some experiences require no language. What is it about the human experience that makes me think/assume I need to tie it to words? A word I’ve recently been introduced to is Acedia (according to my Apple dictionary: noun spiritual or mental sloth; apathy (which, to me, may minimize the word’s depth and affect)). Coming from the mental health perspective, this word has been especially enlightening – a word that is far different from depression, but almost mockingly mimics it. It seems as though I have mistaken some bouts of depression in my life for the experience of acedia (which has also been referenced as the ‘noonday demon’*)
What is it in life that makes us (me especially) complicate things with words? For me, I have found words often necessary for human connection and interaction. Meanwhile, I have also found some of my most potent human connections to be in the midst of silence and knowing. Yet, I assume, how can I know without words being assigned to feelings or actions, or how can I feel without assigning words to knowing?
Another question that came up is the idea of “do you access something by self limits?”
This seemingly radical thought may be of disgust to some, but it intrigued me. What if I am able to access more by self-limits, able to be more of who I am meant to be by self-limits, able to grow and learn and challenge myself in self-limits? There is certainly a lost art to self-control in our society these days (this includes myself). While we’re quite attune to those self-control motions that ‘appear’ and ‘show’ to others (i.e. working out, eating right, clothing), why aren’t we (or maybe I am just speaking for myself) more involved in those eternal aspects of our being regarding self-control? Why is it more important for one to say they meditated or prayed than their actual meditation or prayer experience? Why is it more important for one to say they gave a homeless person a piece of bread rather than to quietly experience the community with another brother or sister of humanity?
Clearly, my time at Mepkin was illuminating towards a more simple way of thinking and living. That honing ourselves in to words, ways of life, people, jobs, choices, directions, and feelings – may be more fulfilling and opening than depleting and closing.
*Evagrius’ (345-399 AD) depiction and description of acedia, the noonday demon:
“The demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon [Ps 90:6 LXX]—is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour and besieges the soul until the eighth hour. First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour, to look now this way and now that to see if perhaps [one of the brethren appears from his cell]. Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred. This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself. He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to be adored everywhere. He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life. He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight. No other demon follows close upon the heels of this one (when he is defeated) but only a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy arise out of this struggle.”
Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer, tr. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1981), pp. 18-9.
Some of Kathleen Norris’ Q&A on her book and the topic of acedia: