Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Emilee O’Leary, I have a collection of Alice in Wonderland t-shirts, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living. In today’s episode of Stuff I Learned Yesterday, I am going to share a little bit on what I’ve learned this summer concerning re-learning lessons I thought I learned a long time ago.
Today’s fun fact is a Word of the Day! As a general observation, I also don’t think we use enough words that start with the letter Q on a daily basis. Quiet, query, question, quality, quarter, quick, quote… those are probably a handful of the most popular. I like looking for words that aren’t used very much and introduce them to my vocabulary. Yes, if you didn’t already know, I am a nerd.
So today’s Word of the Day is… Quondam! Q-U-O-N-D-A-M. Quondam is an adjective used to describe something that has been, something that formerly once was. I was a quondam host of Arrow Squad, another of Golden Spiral Media’s podcasts. Something that used to be popular has quondam popularity.
I like this word because it sounds really cool, and it’s also a little antiquated, not used much anymore, so it kind of even describes itself now. Quondam.
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Learning and Re-Learning
You’ve heard the colloquialism, facing your demons, right? The idea behind the act of facing our demons is to stand up against the things that hold us back from…. Fill in the blank. In the abstract, the term demons is a euphemism or a generalization for something that follows us around like a cold sore. It can be burdensome and detrimental to our livelihood.
I don’t want to talk in the abstract, though. I had a really good discussion this week with a friend whom I haven’t talked to in a long time and we were talking about how rare it is to address abstract suffering in practical ways. Often that abstract suffering just means that we hurt or feel emotional pain without really understanding why we do, or perhaps we understand why we do but it has such an enigmatic hold on us that it’s difficult to overcome.
It’s been interesting to observe, in my own life, how each new stage force me to re-address old lessons I’ve learned. My old demons have new faces and I’ve had to wield new tools in order to fight them off again and again. The demon that likes to linger the most in my life is the one I call Melancholy. By definition, melancholy is a state of mind without an obvious cause, and it is such a beast for me to address because I don’t usually know why I feel the way I feel for long periods of time. In addition to Melancholy, I also confront the demons of Extremes, of Imbalance, and Instability. All of these battles have been exhausting, but I’ve learned so much about myself and about what I really want out of life by facing them.
As much as I often use the word demon in its colloquial sense, to denote something that is destructive, I also believe that demons are literally the minions of a very real enemy, one that has every intention to steer us away from truth and from living a full life. I do not shy away from asserting this because I can observe in myself, and others, how terribly destructive certain habits and tendencies can be in direct competition to our recognized purpose in life. We can have every intention to do or be something, with altruistic intentions, and find ourselves derailed by the opposing force. Sometimes it looks like Apathy, sometimes it looks like Melancholy, but I do believe that there is real evil in this world that takes on many forms in order to control us. Because as long as something else is controlling us, we are ineffective in whatever purpose we have been called to.
One of my favorite books, called Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, does an incredible job of relating the philosophy and theology behind demons in our every day lives. I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this book on this podcast before, so just in case I haven’t and you’re unfamiliar… this book is fictional, it’s a collection of crafted letters from the demon Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, a demon in training. I can only imagine how that premise might sound, so to help bridge the gap, think about Screwtape’s letters being satirical in nature, and his approach to teaching his nephew as through the eyes of someone who believes his work is inherently correct and his objective, though evil in nature, through the lens of someone who believes his work is good, relative to his mission. In these letters, Screwtape discusses the work Wormwood is doing on his quote un-quote patient, a.k.a. someone like you or me, in order to keep him distracted and dissatisfied in life.
In chapter 7, Screwtape tells his nephew the following about the existence of demons:
The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you keep your patient in the dark. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that he therefore cannot believe in you.
In this same chapter, Screwtape provides some advice to Wormwood about the same things that have plagued me in the past:
All extremes, Screwtape writes, are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some eras are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other eras, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them.
The chapter prior to the one I just quoted from has an even more telling objective of this unseen enemy. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6:
Fear becomes easier to master when the patient’s mind is diverted from the thing feared to the fear itself, considered as a present and undesirable state of his own mind; and when he regards the fear as his appointed cross he will inevitably think of it as a state of mind.
So much of what I learn on a weekly basis comes from reading, from reflection, and from discussing what I’ve read with others. I fully acknowledge that this is some dense material I’m dishing out here. This is how I understand the excerpt I just read: Fear becomes exacerbated when our focus shifts to fear itself rather than the thing we fear. When we exist in that state of being fearful, and our behavior and reactions directly correspond to living in that fear, we start to believe a lie that this fear is something we’ll always just have to deal with. We start to believe the lie that we cannot overcome it, find joy in spite of our circumstance, and that is when these demons win.
Here’s what I learned.
My ultimate purpose in addressing this concept is to try and start a conversation about learning that we often don’t talk outright about. We talk abstractly about dealing with grief, about battling old demons, or dealing with issues we thought we put to bed long ago. But so much about what I’ve been learning about dealing with grief is that I first have to name the demon I’m facing and I have to want to overcome it.
I’ve written and talked and podcasted a lot in the last several months about staying vigilante when times are hardest. I’ve talked about the importance of staying present in every moment, about not letting feeling fester and addressing pain when it comes to the forefront. As time passes and the grief keeps coming, regardless of how many times I deal with the emotions that come to the surface, this can get harder and harder. Not only, then, am I dealing with the weight of emotions from something external, something I cannot control, I am dealing with the growing feelings of incompetence or inadequacy, as though I should really be able to totally conquer those emotions that hit hardest.
I recognize now that I’ve had little compassion for people who experience these recurrences. Not just in grief, but in whatever that thing may be. Fill in the blank. So in addition to re-learning lessons, I’ve been learning how to have compassion and patience for others who live in the shadow of their fear, under constant oppression by their own demons. And in learning how to have compassion for others, I’ve been finding patience for myself. And as I’ve found more patience for myself, I’ve found more patience for others. In my own process, one of the best reminders for me has been that as much as I feel like I might be, I never return to square one. Even when an old demon resurfaces, we are never the same person as we were when they first showed up. We have experience and we have knowledge, and we must use that to our advantage in the battle for our purpose.
My name is Emilee O’Leary and this has been Stuff I Re-Learned Yesterday.
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