I am not able to read the signs. And I don’t like it!
So far, in this Mexican town, I have mastered the signs indicating Alto, Rosarito and Tijuana.
Anything else I’m guessing.
I prefer to know where I am and what is expected of me. I can deal with spontaneity - if I’ve planned for it - but not knowing where I am does not count as being spontaneous.
What’s worse is that I can no longer rely on my usually trustworthy friend GPS. Not that the Great Locator provides wrong directions; instead, they come too quickly, and the street names calmly recited float into irrelevancy given the absence of street signage.
“Keep trying routes until you find what you’re looking for,” seems to be a common wisdom. Not efficient nor designed to ease stress when seasoned with the caution - “Whatever you do, don’t venture into those neighbourhoods in Tijuana!”
The importance of being able to read basic signs when in a foreign country seems obvious.
When I lack the necessary literacy, I feel uncomfortable. And this applies not only to driving a vehicle.
I remember walking with my son, during various stages of his addiction, through parts of Victoria where drug buys happen. The sense that I was in a foreign land was palpable. My inability to read the many nods, verbal and subtle physical cues made it clear that I was illiterate and consequently lost in this world.
The benefit of trying to navigate utterly foreign territory is that I am aware of my ignorance.
At home, I don’t need to read the signs because I know where I’m going, or so I think. Familiarity breeds disinterest.
Familiarity breeds disinterest.
Relationships find the rocks when conversations center only around the logistics of living, with no time spent pondering the nature of the bond and hopes for a shared future. Weeks and months roll by and then, all of a sudden, people find themselves each in entirely different places.
The instances where I pretend not to know are legion.
When I’m busy, I ignore the signals my body sends - weariness, aches and pains, heaviness, lack of energy. Often the signs relate to physical matters to which I need to attend. Sometimes I wonder what it would take to stop the train. If struck by a sudden medical condition would I want my phone or laptop nearby in the operating theatre just in case something came up? I smile but also know that some of my habits will not go down without a fight.
The signs that point to emotional and spiritual pain and yearning are equally as dangerous. Sometimes though tracing the root of a behaviour or condition, like boredom, can be a long and twisting path.
Periodically, I make it a practice to engage the question - for what does my soul yearn at this moment or during the coming year? Sometimes the pen covers many journal pages before clarity emerges. Denial and pretending not to know are highly underrated antagonists.
Denial and pretending not to know are highly underrated antagonists.
Recently I have been trying to increase my literacy around a particular state of the soul.
In the past, I have worked with the more theologically inclined language of hope and despair, the more psychologically seasoned words around depression as well as the management tinged analysis of burnout. Each has provided significant value during specific periods. What I have found though is that while despair, depression and burnout are related, they are not clones.
The most recent scope, gifted to me by a friend, is the ancient word acedia.
Acedia comes to the lexicon of the soul from the Desert Fathers, particularly Evagrius of Pontius. Like many spiritual conditions, a precise definition can be elusive. Kathleen Norris, in her book Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life, describes it as trying to grab a shadow.
In my experience and understanding, acedia accompanies a “what’s the point?” attitude. It’s often experienced as profound boredom, or of feeling overwhelmed to the point of not caring that you don’t care anymore so that spirit and soul retreat, even if the body is unable to change the locale.
The 11th century Benedictine, Peter Damiani, said acedia amounts to a “heaviness of the eyelids.” I believe the metaphor extends to a deep heaviness of the soul to the point of feeling that one’s core of life might never be roused again. What's the point?
Some like Dom Jean Nault, a current day theologian, declare acedia to be the “unnamed evil of our times.”
I am curious whether acedia will function as Google Translate to help me name unexplored hills and valleys of the soul. The journey continues.