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“What is Despondency?” Chapter 1 Discussion

Hello friends! Here we are on another Monday! Book club Monday. Have you had a chance to read chapter 1 of Time and Despondency? What a full and informative chapter! I learned so much about myself!

Reading chapter 1, the explanation of what despondency is, was like looking in a mirror in many ways. The chapter starts out with a quote from Alexander Schmemann…

“Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.”

Nicole describes what despondency is through the eyes of the 4th century ascetic who spoke of what he observed in his fellow monks. Evagrius Ponticus describes the symptoms “of a ruthless interior sickness” as restlessness, rumination, torpor, sloth, distractibility, disinterest, and despair.

Nicole says that the term despondency, “evokes, for me, the sticky web of sadness and rumination, the ‘strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us down rather than up.’” Part of that definition comes from Alexander Schmemann again, from the same source, his book Great Lent. He has a section where he talks about the prayer of St. Ephraim and is speaking about the line, “take from me the spirit of sloth…”

“It is the strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us down rather than up—which constantly convinces us that no change is possible and therefore desirable. It is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every spiritual challenge responds “what for?” and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste. It is the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.”  

This explains a lot for me! Alexander Schmemann goes on to say that “the result of sloth is faint-heartedness. It is the state of despondency which all spiritual fathers considered the greatest danger for the soul.”

I know we aren’t discussing the book Great Lent but looking into her source a bit further really solidifies my understanding of the despondency that so gripped my life for so long. It helps to understand what I am fighting against in my quest to overcome it.

In the next section of this chapter, Despondency and the Soul, we learn about how the soul can become sick just like the body, “particularly when the mind dominates the heart.” And then she introduces us to the Greek word logismoi which means “thoughts”. In this case, we are talking about intrusive, destructive thoughts.

“Not all logismoi are necessarily “bad” or negative, but all carry the potential to cause problems if we cling too tightly to them.”

I absolutely love Nicole’s imagery of logismoi (which I think she gets from Metropolitan Hierotheos’ book Orthodox Psychotherapy) …

“Logismoi begin relatively harmlessly, as a ‘flowing river’ of quiet imaginings that rushes softly past. If we heed them, however, they eventually transform into a deluge from which the heart cannot escape.”

I love this image because I can imagine how thoughts could get caught up. James used to go white water rafting and he would describe the dangers of the rapids when there was a spot where the water would rush over a drop caused by a boulder. As the water rushed over this area it would often get caught in a whirlpool, and you needed to avoid these areas because if a kayak or boat would go over them it could be overturned, and people could get caught in this whirlpool of water and drown. But sitting next to a lazy river is calming and peaceful. We need to keep our thoughts like this lazy river.

This chapter is pretty long but the next section that really grabbed my attention was Despondency and “Sin”.

Nicole explains that despondency begins “as harmful, intrusive mode of thinking.” But “we cannot control our thoughts anymore than we can control how much it rains.”

Our thoughts only become sin once we give the thought consent. Sin begins to take root because we give our consent to the thought. “…once we give our consent to a thought, it is almost inevitable we will eventually act on it.”

But she then talks about that not all action is physical or visible. “There are sins of omission and commission, and many of the outward ‘actions’ of despondency consist of the apathetic failure to act when action is not only warranted but would be helpful to our condition. We adopt procrastination as a sort of existential mandate, putting off responsibilities and tasks until we feel like doing them.”

Me. For years and years whenever I was in a valley, I would describe to my husband that I felt “paralyzed” and stuck.

We learn that the acting (or inaction) upon our thoughts is the sin but that it isn’t the sin that angers God, but rather “it erodes our capacity to choose Him at all.”

“Sin is fragmentation—between ourselves and our neighbor, between ourselves and God, and also between the very part that constitutes our selves.”

“…sin shatters us. It divorces us not only from God but also from our true desires and potentiality, particularly our capacity to act freely as His creatures.”

This chapter was a pretty hefty chapter for me. It really opened my eyes to the true sickness of my soul. But at the same time, I feel empowered to move forward in battle. To fight against the logismoi by simply ignoring them. I can’t stop them, as Nicole reminds us, but I do not need to give them consent.

There was so much more to this chapter that I could talk about, that maybe needs to be talked about. It certainly is good to talk about these things.

What stood out to you in this chapter? What were your “aha moments”? I would love to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on ““What is Despondency?” Chapter 1 Discussion”

  1. The introduction of the logismoi was again putting a name to thoughts thay have caught and swept me up for decades. Your (well James’ articulation) of the whirlpool put an image to that name as well. Before I came to know true Christianity, and before I came to truly know myself I would get caught in these rapids and quickly decay in the whirlpools following.
    I found myself thinking while reading this chalter that I wish I had know this, and Christ earlier in my life, and how I would have acted differently instead of allowing my thoughts/logismoi to be my demise. Prior to reading this book I became aware that my ego was the main thing producing these raging rapids of thoughts and if I could simply admit the the torrent of exchanges in my heard were not infact the end all be all of everyone else’s thoughts/opinions I could find a jetty in that river. But that was still a partial conclusion to an issue I still struggle with.
    This first chapter has been like a bright light illuminating the dark corners of my heart and mind that I thought were already properly seen.

    What about you? What spoke to you most?

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    1. Thank you so much, for sharing, Adrienne!

      It is good to talk about these things. 🙂

      I, too, feel a light illumining the darkness. So grateful.

      “the sticky web of sadness and rumination, the ‘strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us down rather than up.”
      This sentence right here is by far what spoke to me most. Because it describes what I have felt on and off for as long as I can remember. And it is the thing I most dislike about myself. It is so comforting to know I am not alone in this, and I have the capability, by the grace of God, to fight it.

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