Celebrate Your Moment Of Apathy
Apathy has gotten a bad rap. The word is derived from Stoicism, one of the most under-appreciated spiritual movements in our history. Philosophers like Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius should be the study of every American student. But our teachers are afraid of them because they said things like:
“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor... Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune..." And our culture is founded on craving, rooted in the quest for good fortune.
The Greek word, "apatheia," is a Stoic term which may represent the influence of traveling Buddhist teachers in the first century A.D. "Apatheia" is what Buddhists mean by "Sunyata," emptiness. "Pathē" means a disturbance of the mind. To neutralize this disturbance of thought-waves is to find "a-patheia". The term was borrowed by early Christian mystics in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Likewise, in the practice of Yoga, "apatheia" corresponds to "vairagya," dispassion, which does not mean suppression or indifference, but inner freedom. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines Yoga as "neutralizing the thought-waves of the mind." We allow the mind to return to the soul: pure awareness, which is simple stillness and clarity, prior to the arising of any thought, either positive or negative.
Therefor in our spiritual practice, "apatheia" is not a depressed or troubled state, but quite the contrary. "Apatheia" is freedom from obsessive thinking, from the culturally-induced compulsion to seek positive sensation, and avoid negative sensation.
Yet our media, as most of our schools, teach us that every moment should be busy with grasping for "the good" or avoiding "the bad"; and when our minds take a rest from this hyper-activity, there must be something wrong with us. If we fall into a neutral state, we tend to panic. We feel guilty because we have dropped out of the rat race, the quest for the pleasant, the flight from the unpleasant.
Then we judge ourselves as lazy, unhappy, "apathetic," simply because our mind is taking a break from stimulation. Conditioned from the earliest age to grasp the positive and suppress the negative, we are terrified by neutrality. Even in our political obsessions, we regard neutrality as cowardly, irresponsible. But ceaselessly grasping the positive, rejecting the negative, won't make us more response-able, more active. It will only drain our energy and make us re-active, slaves to outward circumstance.
What if the moment of neutrality is a blessing? What if the moment of emptiness is a portal to peace? What if the moment of "apathy" could be the gateway of grace?
In truth, the gap between thoughts and emotions, when we feel neither "high" nor "low," is an opportunity for deep spiritual practice. Precisely when we are freed from positive or negative reactions, we can be nakedly aware, throw off the garment of past and future, dissolve the despair of seeking. Liberated from the chatter of a culture that entices us to constant sensation, we can listen to the silence...
Celebrate your next moment of apathy. Use it to sink from the mind into the heart. Let this moment be a Sabbath. Repose in freedom from the search. When we root down in the fertile ground of emptiness, we emerge as a blossom of brilliant energy. The energy to love.