Acedia: The Darkness Within
Acedia: The Darkness Within
(and the darkness of Climate Change)
Perfect Bound Softcover
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There are many books written on the need to change consciousness but rarely does anyone explore the depths of humanity’s refusal to do so, even under threat of the approaching cataclysm in our refusal to deal with climate change. Dave MacQuarrie has written such a book. In it, he explains both why it is so difficult for us to change and what all of us can do to become more aware and more free of the darkness within. It is a superb book. — Jim Garrison, President and CEO of Ubiquity University, and author of Civilization and the Transformation of Power. Acedia is a well-informed and inspired book about the historical and psychological origins of a centuries old affliction. Acedia masterfully connects the dots between personal psychological traumas and looming environmental collapse. Dr. MacQuarrie pulls no punches, yet offers a ray of hope that we just might save our future. — Christian de Quincey, PhD, Professor of Philosophy and Consciousness Studies, John F. Kennedy University, and author of Radical Nature: The Soul of Matter. This is a wise, searching book by an authentic scholar and seeker. It helps us enter into the darker waters of our crisis, and find their treasures of dark wisdom and endurance. — Andrew Harvey, poet, mystical scholar, Founder/Director of the Institute of Sacred Activism, and author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism. Dr. MacQuarrie has lifted the ancient monastic curse of acedia out of its medieval tomb and applied it aptly to the dis-ease of the contemporary world. His interpretation of the human resistance is perceptive and provides important insights into our present inclination to repudiate changes that demand action on our part. A serious and sensitive work. — Father John-Julian, an Episcopal priest and contemplative monk, translator of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love.

From Chapter One

The present document is a study of an ancient concept, acedia, in its relationship to modern issues, especially those that impact climate change. The study is presented as a cogent philosophical argument, based upon my 23 years as a psychotherapist, supplemented by two years’ exploration of the topic by a group of individuals committed to the investigation. Throughout this chapter and the next, I will discuss the etymology of acedia in detail; for now, in essence, acedia refers to the emotional-cognitive processes by which humans beings avoid their capabilities for correcting the challenges of living; it thus refers to aspects of both consciousness and behavior. I will be suggesting that acedia is the most important concern of our current civilization, and, unless we find ways to resolve our individual and cultural acedia, we may not survive as a species. It may already be too late, considering the amount of damage we have caused our planet. I will also be suggesting that the pathway out of acedia is also based on an ancient word, phronesis or practical wisdom; the processes of “wisdom” will also be examined later in detail and, for now, will refer to “the power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, understanding, etc.” I will be proposing that, with the rise of scientism and technology, wisdom has been somewhat neglected in the past few centuries, thus contributing to the major difficulties of our culture.

From Chapter Six (the “A Brief Summary of a Mature Culture” section)

Is this type of mature culture possible? I do not know. Is it necessary? I maintain the answer is Yes—we have to come to terms with a zero-growth sustainable culture, one that honors all species on the planet. Need it have the characteristics I am suggesting? No, but likely something like this would be necessary. We need to live in peace with our world; we need to live in peace with each other, especially our differences.

It will be difficult to achieve. I remind the reader of the difficulties identified by the project participants, such as “I’ve worked on these issues for 20 years, and am amazed at how hard I have had to work.” Our current civilization is in a state where all of the forces that oppose acedia are disparaged, and thus, conversion to a more mature state will require much time and effort. Consistent with the proposals put forth by Gilding (2011), I believe that we are capable of such conversion, once we decide to do so. However, whether we will do so in time to save our species in not yet clear.

From Chapter Six (the “The Nature of Burnout” section)

. . . burnout is actually quite simple: it is a mismatch between power and desired outcome, and occurs as a result of over-functioning in the third limb of emotional triangles. It can occur both for individual and systemic issues. Figure 31 (“The Nature of Burnout”) and Figure 32 (“Self-differentiation”) illustrate the fundamental differences between self-differentiation and burnout, suggestive that self-differentiation is in keeping with the Serenity Prayer, and burnout is not.

Burnout, both at the individual level and the systemic, occurs because the individual is overly invested in the outcome of his or her interventions, wanting the other aspects . . . to change in a direction desired by the individual.

From Chapter Seven

My essential contribution has been to offer a better understanding of the internal conflict by which individuals move to acedia, and the pathways that lead to resolution (phronesis). Modern acedia occurs because we are pain avoiders, and we are traumatized. Previously, in Chapter Two, I noted the major augmentation in acedia since the French Revolution. . . .

Central to my thesis are the three “laws” of experience and the three “laws” of relationship. . . .

Is there an exit from the problems we create? Definitely—do the work of wisdom! We must somehow create a path to wisdom that is less painful, hopefully more fun, than our current cultural path of materialism. It will not be easy. Generally, during the past 10,000 years of being “civilized,” we have lived the acedia cycle. When we encounter excessive pain, we move back to safety; we talk about what we would gain, but we are unable to move through the pain, and hence we do not act to resolve our difficulties. Over the millennia, individuals such as Socrates, Evagrius, and Jung have called us to live the wisdom cycle, to move through the short-term pain as to achieve long-term gain, but in general, we have been unable to do so. In the previous chapter, I indicated many of the values and skills that I believe would be necessary—ranging from the quintessential valuing of children to the participatory leaderships skills associated with holacracy. We either couldn’t access these, wouldn’t, or shouldn't. The reasons do not matter; it is the results that count—the reasons would be important only if they motivated us to do the necessary work.

The consequences, however, have accumulated—for example, we now face the massive penalties of climate change—our motivation for change is increasing. We may resolve the immediate technological issues (albeit with irreversible tipping points of major disruptions for our children and grand-children), but unless we become significantly more mature, we will simply find other ways to destroy ourselves.

I think the evidence that we may be maturing as a species is considerable.

Dave MacQuarrie, MD PhD, is a retired physician-psychotherapist with 25 years experience. Working with clients, his major challenge was finding ways to encourage them to do the necessary therapeutic work for living authentically. On retirement, he discovered the ancient word acedia—the best descriptor for this lack of effort. He also came to believe that acedia is the key psycho-spiritual state that prevents us as a civilization from dealing with the crisis of climate change. This book reveals the results of his deep investigation into this ancient concept. Modern acedia occurs because we are biological pain avoiders. A major source of our individual and collective pain comes from scientific materialism and the technology it has spawned, resulting in subtle but massive trauma to our humanness, both psychologically and spiritually. This book tackles the systemic problems of our species, specifically the current dilemma of climate change. If we do not succeed in transforming our individual and cultural acedia, we might forestall climate change with more technology, but we will not succeed in the long-term survival of our species—other problems will plague us, and eventually overcome us. This transformation will require wisdom, hope, discipline, and playfulness.

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