Nathaniel on ennui

Nathaniel on ennui

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

5:45 a.m. I got up thinking we should continue, but now I’m not sure. Time to take a day off?

That is always your option. You may feel you aren’t doing any work other than this and therefore shouldn’t stint this, but you don’t know.

I certainly feel flat, this morning.

No harm in skipping a day, and perhaps some help.

6:15. Maybe better if I use you for what I don’t have, a way to talk about my usual angst. It is so hard to want to live!

“Usual angst.” Doesn’t that strike you as an odd combination of words? Why should it be usual? Is it anything more than a bad habit?

I don’t know. Is it?

Well, what is a bad habit?

Same as a good one, I suppose: a well-trodden path.

No. a good habit – that is, one you approve of – is the result of conscious choice if only to the extent of approval. A bad habit is the result of unconscious choice – a contradiction in terms, that – which is why it remains out of your control.

Meaning, grasp it and master it?

Not necessarily in any death’s-grip struggle; just a deliberate choice of attitude. Remember, this is one of the seven deadly sins.


Not a tendency toward depression; not even a chemically induced depression, either natural or the side-effect of legal or illegal pharmaceuticals or alcohol. The sin is, shall we say, in tacitly approving of, participating in, depression.

That is not clear.

One may submit, one may resist, one may even approve. Or one may set one’s will against it, not acquiescing, not identifying with it, and, on the other hand, not hurling defiance at it, so to speak, nor even battling on in grim determination and resignation.

Well, that seems to exhaust the available choices!

It doesn’t, you know. There remains the sovereign remedy, to live in faith.

Isn’t depression pretty much the opposite of living in faith?

No, and we can show you. A brief thought-experiment. Someone is depressed by circumstances beyond conscious control, either indirectly, because of insuperable “external” circumstances, or directly, because the depression has no obvious cause but exists as a steady-state environment. What is the person’s choice? That is, what choice is available?

I can feel you, or me, dancing around the use of the masculine pronoun. Let’s just agree that, like TGU, we mean anybody regardless of gender.

Yes, it was getting in the way. Very well, s/he faces the problem: The depression is there, it cannot be alleviated or removed by shifting of external circumstance – what’s his choice? The answer surely is, he can submit or not. That amounts to, he can set his attitude (not his mood or his emotional response, nor even his intellectual response, but his attitude) one way or the other. He can accept it as an accurate description of the value of life, or reject it. To reject depression – life-devaluation – is not a cure-all; it leaves the underlying problems unaffected. But it does set one’s attitude toward life and against it.

The words are clear but not the meaning. Perhaps others will see it, but I don’t, yet.

The sin of sloth – ennui – world-rejection, call it what you will – is not in your emotional response to the world (you can scarcely help that) but in your response to the feeling. You see? It is in the giving up, not in the feeling overwhelmed.

I see it abstractly, but it isn’t really real to me.

Think of Lincoln in his darkest hour – in the Civil War. Already used to fighting depression his whole life, here he had external circumstance enough to make it seem warranted. Men were being slaughtered by the thousands, and he could do nothing to end it; the Union was in peril of being destroyed, and his best efforts were barely holding it together; he prayed for victory and success, not particularly to justify himself but so that justice would prevail, so that the twin cause of free government and abolition of the institution of slavery would transform the country. But, freely praying, still the victory did not come and the slaughter did not end, and he faced the very real prospect of being responsible – or anyway being held responsible – for the destruction of the Union and the continuation of slavery in North America. There were many times when there was scant reason to hope, but his life had taught him, plow on. Continue. Do not give up the effort and do not give up faith that anything that comes to you comes for a reason.

Acting in faith primarily, with hope a distant second, he lived with and in effect conquered the continual temptation to despair, to say, “It’s all too much,” or “It isn’t fair to expect me to deal with this successfully,” or “It isn’t worth it.” Like Victor Frankl he recognized, in effect, that in whatever circumstances, he could always choose his attitude toward them.

And I hear, he called to his assistance the cardinal virtues, even though he may never have heard them named. Prudence. Justice. Temperance. Fortitude.

Did he not exemplify them? They did not prevent him from making errors of judgment; they did prevent him from acting out of despair or, of course, malice born of pride.

An additional note. There is a reason why Pride is considered chief of sins: It enters into them all. They each in their own way manifest pride as a sin. (Again, always, as opposed to legitimate pride as joy.)

What is acquiescence in despair, in world-rejection, in depressed resignation, but an implicit assumption that you know better than the universe? This life you have been given has its difficulties, some kinds for one, other kinds for another, but everyone has them. They may crush you to the ground sometimes. Are they worse than Lincoln’s? Are they worse than Frankl’s? Are they worse than Anne Frank’s, or Helen Keller’s, or innumerable others who have seen their path through to the end, refusing to despair?

Yours is not the age of faith in the sense of the simple shared faith in God and the saints of the Middle Ages, but no one lives without faith in something, a faith implicit or explicit. Be it faith in an external order (faith in machinery, say, or Progress, or material prosperity, or Communism, or the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith’s), or in an internal order (“God will provide,” or “Every day in every way I am getting better and better,” or whatever), you will live, shall we say at least among a faith if not precisely in one. But always you must – and are able to – choose.

To choose to wallow in despair is no less a choice for seeming inevitable under the circumstances. To choose to have faith that somehow all is well may seem irrational, but it is still a permissible choice. And which one leads upward?

But note – you can hear it if you listen carefully – how Pride will tempt you to say that believing that All Is Well would be fatuous, childish, unworthy of a mature individual. And so it always goes. Abraham Lincoln’s deep humility saved him from that temptation, and led him to what the middle ages would have called sainthood, and his own age called goodness. In that, they were not mistaken.

I had thought this would be private, if we had a session at all. But I am grateful for this, and I’m sure others will be, as well. Thanks.


8 thoughts on “Nathaniel on ennui

  1. “The sin of sloth – ennui – world-rejection, call it what you will – is not in your emotional response to the world (you can scarcely help that) but in your response to the feeling.” !!! Beyond dynamite, Frank!!!

    I’ve not had to suffer with depression in life … but this post is just as meaningful to me as it might be to those who have and/or do. These recent posts from Nathaniel speak very deeply to me … once again I salute you for your courage and effort in bring this through!

  2. Frank? Did you know the word “angst” is spelled and pronounced exactly in the same way as in norwegian?

    I have found many a time since to have reached the age of a 72 year old Methuselah, that MANY at my age have got A NEW attitude of life at large. Especially catching depression in the wintertime. The long and dark winter-nights.
    BUT, what caught my eyes in what you to have written here right now – You said something important(at least to me):”NOT TO IDENTIFY WITH IT”(the depression).
    BTW: I`m to recal your late friend John Wolff told backin time(a couple of months ahead of his “passing” – not very long before you telling us about his death by the way), that John felt life as BORING. I am to recall John decided to begin with doing the Golf again as retired…
    I believe (we are what we belives) Ennui is “normal” when to reach “a certain age” so to speak. In my opinion it is a INNER “knowing” of a scenario/- a stage “to let go.”

    1. Angst is a German word, I believe, so not surprising that you and we took it over untouched.
      Not everybody expresses depression and world-weariness only as a result of age. I am only a youngster, next to you — I won’t turn 72 until July 🙂 — but I have experienced them all my life. (I wonder if that’s why I identify so strongly with Lincoln.) But realizing that YOU are not the Depression is a helpful step, just as realizing that we are not our moods, and our moods are not objective reports on reality. I think John Wolf may have been just bored with life and ready to move on. (But he certainly appeared joyous in person; I don’t think he was depressed.) God knows if I had to choose between golf and suicide, I’d be out buying a handgun or a length of rope!
      Finally, I don’t know that ennui and letting go are the same thing. a good topic for discussion, perhaps.

  3. This was spectacular. Stellar information. From the darkest depths comes the brightest light. It all comes down to choice. Thank you!!!

    1. Thanks.
      Yeap, “It all boils down to choice.”
      Very true but sometimes is it felt as “to have no choice” at all ? More or less falling prey “to the circumstances.” That`s why the feeling of ennui must be “disssolved” as “to let go” in my opinion: BTW: I dislike the “opinion(s)”, including my own, at large….there it is befallen a old pattern in me.

      P.S. I have had a cousin once who did suicide at the age of 26 years old. He was one year older than me and a good friend. (I was living in Bangkok with my husband, when he died, and of him doing the suicide).
      After his death GOT a VERY STRONG FEELING about him, almost FELT HIS PRESENCE, and almost “HEARD” his voice in my head where he “told me” to become born with “The Melancholy and Sadness” all his life. – Remember, in our family NO RELIGION was “involved” or practized at all.
      But he was a very humble and soft guy – a very KIND, and a very GENTLE personality(a gentleman from the inside and out in my opinion). In comparison/-the opposite, of his two brothers that is. I would never calling them “SOFT” in any way.
      Maybe he was too SOFT and KIND to become what`s expected of a boy back then, A Schwartzenegger of some sort? Climbing mountains, playing football and long distance skiing as the boys did all the time. He never did any sports. But he did his plight with his one year army duty/service, and with the bravour/flying colors, for a year though(back then all the boys at age 18 years old, were ordered out in the military for doing their duty for a year, but it is no more). And he reached the rank of an Navy-Officer in the end, coming onboard one of the Navy-Ships(he had the good exams from the university). He was good-looking, slim and tall likewise, nothing “wong” with the outlook. To my knowledge he never had a girlfriend either? But who knows ? He always held the fun with me. He was usually calling me his crazy cousin, or his mad cousin: “What is she up to again?”

      …one might really wonders sometimes ?…. and wonder why falling prey to emotions at all ? AHA ! I have decided to make a CHOICE about the exercise in to do Detachment in everything, as my first priority – NOT identifying me with the emotions. Lol.

  4. Inger Lise, I agree about Detachment. I say it differently but I think it is the same process. Many years ago I chose to become an Observer, to just watch and not judge, and not get caught up in the emotional chaos of events. It has made all the difference in my peace of mind.

    1. Nancy, thank you, I do agree with you a 100%. But it is demanding a honest intent all the way – in keeping it in mind (in training the mInd). And at the same time feeling compassion without attached to it. The clue is not becoming involved with the emotions about us(as you told).
      Hm, many among the New Age peoples are proud of being “Empaths.”

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