Day 3, The Noonday Demon
Yesterday morning, a little before lunch, I was looking out the window of my cell, when I remembered this little gem from Abba Evagrius:
The demon of acedia, also called the noonday demon, [see Psalm 91:6] is the most oppressive of all the demons. He attacks the monk towards the fourth hour [10 am] and besieges the soul until the eighth hour [2 pm]. He begins by giving the impression that the sun is hardly moving, or not moving at all, and that the day has at least forty hours. After this, he continually draws the monk to his window; he forces him to go out of his cell to look at the sun and calculate how much time still separates him from the ninth hour (that is, the time for Vespers and dinner), and finally to look about here and there to see if some brother is not coming to see him…
I have new respect both for Abba Evagrius and for this demon. I knew that coming to a hermitage and plunging into a week’s worth of solitude would be tough, but I didn’t expect this particular visitation within the first 24 hours. Here is a partial list of what Demon Acedia (pronounced ah-keh-DEE-uh) has visited upon me:
- Restlessness, an inability to sit still. I find myself jumping up from my prayers or from my reading or writing and realizing it only after I’m already on my feet. (The fact that every chair in the whole place is hard isn’t helping).
- Literally getting up and going to look out the window like the hapless monk in Abba’s story.
- Boredom. Again, I’m astonished it hit after only one day. Fills me with the idea that this is going to be a lo-o-o-ng week.
- Sleepiness. I took two naps yesterday, one in the morning and one before dinner. The last time I napped twice in one day I was laid up with the flu.
- Mental fog. Difficulty concentrating on what is at hand and of remembering what I was just reading.
- Yearning for self-medication: coffee (there isn’t any here, of all the God-awful tricks to play on me); chocolate, candy, salty snacks (of which there are none); surfing the ‘Net, reading blogs (my internet connection is very weak and sporadic at best), so none of these things is possible. Depriving me of coffee, chocolate and internet all at the same time is probably a task for a mental institution, four-point restraints, and the careful supervision of a doctor. Instead, I am learning patience and fortitude, all under the gentle tutelage of Acedia.
- Wanting to check my e-mail and my blogsite for signs that people are reading what I write and responding with approval. My vanity and self-esteem want their strokes… badly. Is my writing engaging, witty? Am I missed yet?
- Wishing I had someone to complain to, who would offer me sympathy and comfort. This is just bullsh*t, and I know it, but the “pull of regression” is there for all of us just when the going gets tough.
And those are a few of the things I’m okay with mentioning (this is a G-rated blog, and we’ll pass over in silence the more chthonic fruit of concupiscence and irascibility).
One of the other desert Fathers said, “Sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” I can see how this is true; it would have been helpful for the good Father to have mentioned, if only in passing, that you are not going to like what you learn, even though it’s the best thing for you.
(By the way, I am much better today. Establishing more structure for my time and sticking with it helps a lot. As Brother Akedia has wandered off to afflict one of the other guests here, I expect some other of his infernal brethren will be along directly to teach me humility in his/her/its own way…)