Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Being's Flight From Being, or You Can't Outrun an Assoul

Acedia has a number of "friends and companions," including despair and restlessness. In a way, you could see restlessness as a defense against despair, so they are really just two sides of the same coin.

Pieper describes some of the variants of restlessness, which are interesting in and of themselves. But also, they demonstrate how perceptive a psychologist Saint Thomas was, long before there was even a word for psychology. For that matter, it also shows how anemic modern psychology is in ignoring the spiritual dimension of things (or, alternatively, taking it seriously only in a frivolous, new age, chopra-esque manner).

If one's depression is a result of spiritual disorder, then it's important to know that. It is very much analogous to how physical pain conveys important messages about our behavior and surroundings. Likewise, on a psychic level we have certain built-in mechanisms that convey pain, such as shame and guilt. A person with no shame and no guilt becomes a sociopath or even a Chicago politician.

There are few people who are born with no capacity for shame. More often than not, the dysregulation of shame is a result of having had one's "circuits blown" as a child -- of having been exposed to too much shame too soon. As a result, the person may grow up with a kind of "shame bypass" mechanism, or else be so vulnerable to shame that they are paralyzed for fear of triggering it.

But do note that shame is only thinkable in the context of the other. When we are shamed, it is a result of projecting our own judgmental eyes outward. Therefore, the shame-prone individual projects a pair of eyes that are particularly harsh and judgmental, even condemnatory.

In this regard, it is important to distinguish between shame and guilt, the former being more "ontological," the latter more "existential." In other words, when we feel guilt, it is over an action. But shame has more to do with our very existence.

In his books, Allan Schore does a wonderful job of describing the actual neurobiological correlates of shame. When shame becomes dysregulated, it actually becomes woven into our very neurology. Let me see if I can find an illustrative passage.

But before doing that, let me describe how it happens with my son. Of course, until a child is, what, three years old or so, they have no capacity for shame. They are quite literally shameless, which, of course, brings to mind the primordial state of Adam. But what is the first thing Adam experiences upon his eyes being opened? Correct. Shame. He saw that he was naked, and quickly covered up.

Anyway, so future leader is now capable of feeling shame, which is clearly a good thing, because if he weren't, I wouldn't say that there would be no way to control him, but we would have one less tool in our arsenal. But the key, of course, is to never shame the child in a way that is traumatic -- any more than you want them to feel any kind of pain to excess, even while retaining the capacity to feel it. Shame is like an unbidden stranger that lives within us. Quite literally, it is a "built in other" that ensures our harmonious relations with the group.

But again, dysregulated shame either paralyzes or "unleashes." This is why so-called shame cultures -- for example, much of Islamic world -- are so shameless. Or, precisely because they cannot tolerate the acute shame they feel for being such world-historical losers, they attack the nearest "eyes," which happen to be the Israelis. If not for them, they'd have to just murder and maim each other more than they already do.

Note also how the general emotional immaturity of the Islamic world causes men to locate their shameful sexual impulses in women, so that by covering them up, they can tamp down their libidos; or how our own ridiculous troll hides his shame behind a cloak of anonymity, as if that prevents us from remembering his numberless follies!

Eh, forget about Schore. We're getting way too far afield. Let's get back to Pieper/Aquinas and the many defenses against despair, which include loquaciousness, excessive curiosity, "an irreverent urge to pour oneself out from the peak of the mind onto many things," "interior restlessness," and "instability of place or purpose."

Each of these could be confused with garden-variety anxiety, but Aquinas is talking about something deeper, about being's flight from itself. But, to quote the wise words of Beavis, it is absurd to imagine that you can "run away from your bunghole." Rather, wherever you go, it goes there too.

There are other ways to flee from being and to manifest the "sluggish indifference toward those things that are in truth necessary for man's salvation," for example, "pusillanimity toward all the mystical opportunities that are open to man.'' Another --a veritable peter pandemic on the left -- is "irritable rebellion" against those who serve as a reminder of one's higher purpose (thus, for example, the truly inevitable attacks on the Pope and on Jews). For what did the Master say about being hated by the world?

The last and most noxious and destructive defense against despair goes all the way in converting defense to offense, to actual defiance; it is the "conscious inner choice and decision in favor of evil as evil that has its source in hatred for the divine in man."

To pick a low-hanging fruitcake that is always near at hand, our own perpetually irritated and rebellious troll makes no attempt to conceal his belief that it is necessary for God to have an adversary, and that he considers his presence here to be the reflection of a "very fundamental principle of the universe," that is, "the tendency of any force to give rise to its opposite."

There is some garbled truth to this notion, except that it is critical to bear in mind that while light necessarily gives rise to shadow, that hardly means that light "wishes" for shadows to exist.

Rather, shadows are entirely "parasitic" or "reactionary." Only in this sense do we give rise to our opposite in Anon. It would never occur to us to seek out this anonymous darkness, much less create it! Nevertheless, in throwing out the light, we have indeed done so, in a manner of speaking. My bad. (Remember, never get angry or impatient with him, as I sometimes see some of you doing, for he is always here to teach.)

Some of the above defenses are probably not self-evident, for example, "excessive curiosity." What could this mean? Obviously there is nothing wrong with curiosity. It is how we learn. It is the empty space we must tolerate in order for knowledge to occur. As Bion was fond of saying, "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity." But what is excessive curiosity?

I think it manifests in various ways, for example, in a kind of seemingly innocent but bovine lack of certitude about certain fundamental questions, without which thinking isn't even possible -- for example, in questions of whether truth, or free will, or moral absolutes actually exist. To even ask such questions, one must either be stupid or malicious, but in any event, such an insane quest can only result in ignorance chasing its own tail and calling it "philosophy," i.e., tales told by the tenured and troll tales of the tin-eared.

Another manifestation of excessive curiosity involves "overrunning" the truth long after it has already been found.

And with that, I am abruptly out of time. To be continued.....


Van said...

OT, haven't had time to read yet, but thought this might interest a few,
Lasers uncover earliest icons of apostles Peter, Paul beneath streets of Rome

Back later

(another winner in the title dept.)

Magnus Itland said...

When you mention excessive curiosity, I think of such things as cataloging one's earlier incarnations (usually presuming that one was born as something other than an illiterate peasant, against all odds, especially when one is the equivalent thereof today), or trying to extract information from the dead (not counting the natural bond that may form between a saint and those who venerate in a later age). I could probably add the desire to map the spirit world far beyond where one is planning to go personally.

And of course there is the panorama of sexual curiosity, but I assume this is dealt with under another capital sin.

black hole said...

Magnus, you've managed to hit all of my faves.

But then again, I am crushed under a groaning truckload of shame on a daily basis.

And I could have used the nuerochemical info for Schore you were about to admit into evidence.

I'd like a redo please.

julie said...

Magnus, agreed. I wonder, too, if it doesn't include getting caught up in minutiae before grasping larger or more fundamental concepts, for instance: how many angels does it take to crack open a pinhead? The world may never know. But if you worry about that while ignoring more important issues, you've successfully managed to avoid the daily verticalisthenics while telling yoursoph you've done your Omwork.

mushroom said...

The discussion of shame hits very close to where I was thinking today. I am quite susceptible to being controlled by variations on the statement: I'm so disappointed in you.

Van said...

"The last and most noxious and destructive defense against despair goes all the way in converting defense to offense, to actual defiance; it is the "conscious inner choice and decision in favor of evil as evil that has its source in hatred for the divine in man.""

In "Othello", Shakespeare's uber-villain Iago, goes through the play giving one reason after another for the evil he directs at Othello (very much like the Joker in the last Batman) because for him reasons are only pretexts and one is as good as the next, because he had no reason other than the urge to do evil against that person who most attracted his attention, the authority and stature of Othello.

Coleridge, in one of my favorite descriptions ever, called it 'the motive hunting of motiveless malignancy', which seems to fit pretty well here too.

anunce? Care to step and smile for your portrait?

Northern Bandit said...

Well I'm certainly a staunch opponent of Islamism, however Muslims in general don't commit as much murder in their own countries as most people think. About 80% of Muslim countries have a lower homicide rate than the US, and of course all of Western Europe is far below the US in that regard. The true murder capitals of the world are places like Jamaica, Honduras, Venezuela and South Africa. Both Russia and Mexico are more murderous than *any* Muslim nation, for example. (Note that no data are available for Iraq or Afghanistan, but even Palestine has a lower per capita murder rate than the US according to the CIA).

That's one thing I've learned in travelling so much: Americans don't really appreciate just how violent the US by world standards.

julie said...

Via Vanderleun, this movie looks like it will be a stark example of life in an acediocracy.

In a way, that is what the various forms of socialism and communism are at heart, for in striving to create systems of equality of outcome, any attempt to reach for something higher and more true must be punished. Here again the modern concept of "fairness" shows its true face.

Gagdad Bob said...

Murder stats are misleading, if only because the Great Jihad is just organized murder.

Rick said...

Not the feel-good movie of the summer?

julie said...

Rick, probably not; I guess it all depends on how it ends. Also on how many things explode. If there's a cacophony of liberal heads detonating in the theater as people finally grasp the logical ends of the policies they endorse, I'd feel pretty good...

julie said...

The acedic president?

mushroom said...

Harrison Bergeron -- I can see the promos now:


Rick said...

You two! Stop it!

julie said...

You're talking to someone who was laughing during hard labor; my sense of humor may be a little skewed...


Northern Bandit said...

Murder stats are misleading

Indeed they are in this case. There is a world of difference between the turf wars over drugs in the US (which accounts for the bulk of murders) and the genocidal rage of the Palestinians, regardless of the actual "body count".

Northern Bandit said...

I.e., my point is that the Crips and Bloods shed each other's blood according to certain gang rules. Generally speaking they don't attack "civilians" too often (yes, I know it happens). Most Palestinians would repeat the Holocaust at the drop of a hat if they had the means and opportunity. Ditto much of the Muslim world -- sick in the heart.

julie said...

"Why don't things ever seem to change?"

Heh. Now if you could just comprehend that you just asked yourself that, since the whole fantasy you just shared is a product of your imagination bearing as much resemblance to the rest of us as a collection of cardboard cutouts of our photos would if arrayed around a card table, you'd actually be getting somewhere. Voila! Things would change. Maybe even for the better!

Gagdad Bob said...

Had to delete. Surpassed the cringe limit.

julie said...

And suddenly, my contextless comment takes on the surreal quality of a Garfield minus Garfield cartoon...

walt said...

While it's true that there's no context for the last few comments, the faint odor of "burnt troll" in the air tells me what happened....

julie said...

back on topic, Lileks on shame:

"I was disciplined twice in my entire school career – once for taking over the school library with squirt guns, barricading the doors, and pretending we were a domestic terrorist organization, the SLA. (Speech League of America, a parody of the Symbionese Liberation Army.) For that I was bade to leave the school for a day. In grade school I uttered a ripe Bronx cheer on my arm during orchestra class, and Miss Nelson made me stand in the hall. The principal walked past as I stood there; the shame was unbearable, especially since he had thought well of me since my monogram on Ants in the third grade."

Gagdad Bob said...

Cringing is vicarious shame, BTW. But there's only so much shame I want to have to feel for black granthole.

Dianne said...

I'm sorry I missed it. But then again, it probably saved me from writing my own cringworthy response.

Tigtog said...

To NB re:

"Both Russia and Mexico are more murderous than *any* Muslim nation, for example."

NB, are you aware who counts deaths as murder in Muslim countries? For instance, a whole lot of Phillipina maids seem to fall out of tall buildings in Saudi Arabia and their deaths are usually scored as suicides or accidents. Strange thing about numbers published from big shiny buildings, each number is not necessarily equal to another. In your worst nightmare, you do not want to be a Phillipina maid in Saudi Arabia. Things done to you don't count as crimes or sins and there is no one to whom you can turn to for justice. Just saying. Its kind of like gambling at a casino, you know the odds are stacked.

black hole said...

Well, the deleted comment wasn't that bad. It was a dramatization, is all.

Bob's trying to run a good site and I'm not helping.

Therapists collect annoying histrionic hangers-on and this is purely a case of that.

I don't have anything new to say about a spiritual disorder because I am disorder personified. Literally.

The blackness at my core is pure concentrated shame, so dense that nothing can escape.

Yeesh. Another bad comment.

Dianne said...

Black Hole - I would offer you advice on that, but I'm afraid you'd take it the wrong way. I tried to advise a girl once, thinking she was smarter than she was, and I ended up creating a monster.

You might want to start your prayers with "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

Van said...

bh said "The Integralist, Ray, and Anon sit down with Bob, Van and Julie for a summit meeting."

bh awakes with a start, reads warning label on recreational drug vial "This stuff has a major opiate base and will mess with your head - don't take before sleep, as your dreams will be disturbing".

Susannah said...

Guess I "missed out." So to speak. :)

Do a postmodern people even experience shame *or* guilt anymore? What strikes me about our little spot in history is rampant shamelessness. Like glib deceitfulness, for instance. I just can't believe how easily some people lie.

Van said...

Susannah said "Do a postmodern people even experience shame *or* guilt anymore?"

Shame requires an awareness of doing what is wrong, which requires knowing what is right. See typical school curriculum and MTV for odds on whether they are being taught what is right.

(Sorry for resurrecting a line of bh, just now saw it'd been deleted)

Dianne said...

Apparently shameless lying is the new black.

Susannah said...

It's not like I'm trying to set myself up as a paragon of's just that I recall a particular lie told in my youth with a horror of shame...and I felt that exact shame in the moment I told the lie as well. I was just too cowardly to confess in the moment.

Not so for many people one encounters daily. :/ Lying's just a matter of course.

Re: shamelessness in children... I have a child around that age who is in a habit of lying. Granted, they are quite transparent right now (e.g., "the cat did it"), but I am quite bothered by how to get across to him the wrongness of it, since he's really at an age now to understand it's wrong, yet nothing I say makes a dent. He is also given to fantastic tales, which aren't so much at issue, since mom or dad can just be matter of fact about them. "My, that's quite an imaginative story you just *made up.* Very entertaining." But how to teach him to value the truth at this age is stumping me. This is the first time I've encountered this to such a degree in my child-rearing experience. Perhaps the capacity for shame hasn't fully kicked in yet! :)

Dianne said...

Susannah - I think something that might help in the long run is when you put your children to bed at night, is read a chapter from the Bible like a bedtime story and then pray with your children. Children DO listen and hear, whether we know it or not.

I lived with a foster mother when I was little who did that (along with much kindness), and altho it only lasted through Kindergarten age and 1st grade, I remembered it for the rest of my life, and it helped me so much to find the right direction in life, after a lot of stupid mistakes of course.

jwm said...

I haven't been commenting much of late, but Magnus' comment on acedia, and the Parable of the Talents yesterday got my attention by making me hugely uncomfortable. (thanks, Magnus)
I sense that in the will of God there is a sort of prime directive to do the best we can with what we have- to make the most of our potential, whatever it may be.
But how often have I settled for less, settled for easy, settled for comfort, over settled for nothing but my best? How often have I tried for "easier softer way" of twelve step parlance?

And you can't cop out on junk food accomplishments. I don't think there is much spiritual gain from hitting a zillion points on a video game...

As a final question- could acedia also cover taking salvation for granted? As in 'no effort needed on my part, so why work at it?'

...just trying to wrap my mind around the concept.



Dianne said...

Well, JWM, it seems so easy to discount the struggle, now that we're here. I'm just now catching my breath over that hard, wild, terrifying ride. I think I'm going to rest in God for a while. I now know he means me no harm.

Gagdad Bob said...


Yes, according to Pieper, "presumption" is the other side of hopelessness. I believe I'll be getting into that tomorrow...

black hole said...

Our Father who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.


ge said...

BH, you left out a line you ol feminist you :) ya got sumpthin against kingdoms power & glory & eternity??

so check out this one:

Our Mother, Thou who art in the darkness of the underworld,

May the holiness of Thy name shine anew in our remembering,

May the breath of Thy awakening kingdom warm the hearts of all who wander homeless,

May the resurrection of Thy will renew eternal faith even unto the depths of physical substance. Receive this day the living memory of Thee from human hearts,

Who implore thee to forgive the sin of forgetting Thee,

And are ready to fight against temptation, which has led Thee to existence in darkness,

That through the Deed of the Son,

The immeasurable pain of the Father be stilled, By the liberation of all beings

From the tragedy of Thy withdrawal.

For Thine is the homeland and the boundless wisdom and the ail-merciful grace, for all and everything in the Circle of All. Amen.

-V. Tomberg

Susannah said...

Great suggestion, Dianne. We'd read aloud at night for years (various books) and memorized Bible passages as part of schoolwork, but combining the two is the best. I'll start doing that as well each night after we finish the chapter of their current book.

River Cocytus said...

Bob: Read John Cassian's 'On the eight vices'. He gives examples more concrete about the same subject. Talkativeness is what happens when you have stuff you don't want to do at work so you listen to a podcast or chat with your neighbor to procrastinate. It can also be that you need to figure out what you need to do, and instead you chit-chat. Excessive curiosity has to do with the mind wandering over everything - a big problem with the internet - in the same situation. Acedia is also called 'the demon of noonday' and the Tradition holds that the Psalm 90 LXX refers directly to acedia here:

6Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

'destruction that wasteth' was interpreted by the greek-speaking Jewish sages as 'diamonos pesimbrinou' (demon of noonday.) [I cross-ref'd my Septuagint to make sure.]


julie said...

River - procrastination, chit chat and excessive internet consumption?

No, I wouldn't know anything about any of those...

[...checking for lightning to strike...]

River Cocytus said...

What the monastic Fathers get at is that the distraction of excessive curiosity itself is harmless, but that the enemy uses it as a diversionary tactic. So maybe browsing the internet is harmless, but then again, it leaves you open to a bunch of problems.

This in fact makes it worse rather than better, because it is so easy to fall in, curiosity being natural. This then is what 'nepsis' (spiritual vigilance) is all about.

The Philokalia is wonderful for this stuff, but read outside of having experience in the Orthodox tradition it can seem overtly harsh and absurd.

julie said...

To me, a lot of the true old wisdom came across at first as overly harsh, joyless, etc. There were whole chapters toward the beginning of the Spiritual Ascent that seemed that way, even though I knew there was some depth I was probably missing.

It's probably time to go through it again; my perspective these days is drastically different on some issues. I've read a little of the Philokalia - mostly, I think, through you in fact, River - maybe I'll have to give that a more in depth look, too...

River Cocytus said...

The main key is not to misunderstand the 'get thee to a nunnery' aspect of monastic literature. To experience a real monastic elder some day would put it in a better perspective, I think - for many of us, we know that whatever it is to be a monk, we are not ready for it, or it is not the shape of our path. I once saw a comment by St. John Chrysostom as to why people always lauded the virgin's path - and in particular the monk's path - over marriage.

To paraphrase, his response was that marriage comes naturally for people, (I think because society is built on children from marriages, along with our natural drive for it) and the 'angelic' or monastic life seems unnatural to us. Therefore there is no reason to exalt marriage, since its benefits are intuited by everyone even if they outwardly despise it, but virginity to them is alien.

It also helps to know who a letter was written to, or who a book was originally addressed to. This helps make sense of the advice given by the elder or saint, keeping in mind that the idea of 'mass media' was totally unknown.

Rick said...

Well said, River.

"It also helps to know who a letter was written to, or who a book was originally addressed to. This helps make sense of the advice given by the elder or saint, keeping in mind that the idea of 'mass media' was totally unknown."

This is a point that might have been helpful at Och's place.

Rick said...

It is something that occurred to me recently. How can one know exactly what Jesus means when he says x? You can't know exactly of course, but you can only know better by listening to everything He said. All the Word is the context.

julie said...

Rick, indeed. And to add to River's last comment, the other thing that makes the tough stuff gnowable, imho, is simple lived experience. I'm not now who I was when I first read The Spiritual Acent; for that matter, I'm not even today who I'll be tomorrow, even if the difference is virtually undetectable.

Or to paraphrase my little guru, some thumbs are unsuckable without the arm & hand strength and coordination to move them into place and keep them there. Not to mention the whole concept of what it means to recognize and be united with one's hand. But if we keep trying, eventually it will all make sense, and someday we'll forget we ever didn't know in the first place.

Rick said...

Experience indeed.
Do you remember Julie-before-the-baby? I remember not recognizing my legs when my wife told me she was pregnant.

julie said...

For a while there I was so focused on the immediate present that I was lucky to remember much of anything. I do remember, but at the same time am already forgetting that I ever did all the usual things I do without taking his needs into consideration.

River Cocytus said...


True about Och's place. There was one Greek priest who went so far as to not let people read the fathers because they were ignoring the context. When we are in a bad or desperate situation (Whether by our own making or beyond our control) we tend to become more insistent and less patient in our demands for answers or comfort.

I recall when I was younger and I was clinically depressed - the solution was no answer or drug or formula, but to desire health and move gradually towards it.

The more I've read Och the more I'm convinced that he's completely off base with his Marxist-inspired interpretation of the Fathers and scripture.

But it's easy to sell food to a hungry man. It doesn't mean that there isn't cause for relief of hunger, it's always a matter of doing so as judiciously as possible.

The link I gave back there (pretty interesting stuff, if a little bit too reactionary for my taste) has an interesting quote:

We can beg for mercy.
But with what right do we demand justice?

A fine line, there.

Rick said...

Yeah, Riv. Something is wrong with Och in that department. It's a mind bender for me because I've been blown away by some of his older posts -- the series on drama/epic and Ortho/contraception.
The first off-the-rail I caught was the Memorial day one. Hardly seemed worth the cost. I suppose that's an understatement.
I just don't get it. He sees things I can't see yet can't see a thing so basic.
And Teena, I sympathize of course, but how can she not understand what is charity and what is not. Your point about virtue was exactly it. Yet, she and others continue on.
Oh well, what can you do.

In related news, found this good Orthoblog in Mushroom's sidebar:

wv: mushe (you know him?)

River Cocytus said...


The presence of Milton probably doesn't help - he's too old to see how much of a bully he really is. If ever become that 'experienced' please come and shoot me.

Rick said...

Yeah, Uncle Milty reminds me of one of those "there's nothing more pathetic.." guys Bob refers to. I'm surprised he doesn't say "right on. right on." after each Och outrage.
I've never "unsubscribed" to an email stream before. Never. I had a beer so I thought I might be tempted to comment under the influence. So I unsubscribed last night after Och's tirade. He must be in a bad place.
Anyway, I hopped over there this morning after a good nights sleep. I see you deleted a comment after I unsubscribed. No worries, I didn't see what you said.
I think I may comment one more time just to clarify something...since Och is projecting like crazy, I assume, onto you and me.
Just for the record...

Bob, sorry for the OT here...