First vs. Languishing

a personal opinion reflection

by Dea Podhajsky


As more people are vaccinated and COVID restrictions are lifted, we are faced with new challenges. The year has taken its toll on the mental health of many. In a recent issue of the New York Times Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, wrote an article entitled There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing. Languishing is defined in that article as “a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield”

Our Transfiguration book group recently read The Rent Collector. It was about life in the Phnom Penh dump. The members of our group were universally impressed with the message of hope that permeated the novel. Sang Ly’s, the protagonist, learning to read was the catalyst for many positive changes in the lives of the characters. The author’s description of the moment in which Sang Ly first realized that she was reading was beautifully written and poignant.

I was transported back to firsts in my life. I believe that “first” are the opposite of languishing. Think back to some firsts in your life: the first time you rode a bike, the first day of kindergarten, the first time you fell in love, the first time you held your child. Everyone’s list will differ, but firsts are never stagnant, foggy, or muddled. Even when the first is negative like the first time a friend died, the first time you were turned down for a job you really wanted, or the first time you were bullied, the experience is focused, intense, and powerful.

Roberta Flack’s song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face employs beautiful images to capture a first.


The first time, ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars
Were the gifts you gave

And the first time, ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hands
Like the trembling heart
Of a captive bird

That was there, at my command
My love


John Denver’s hit of the early 70’s Rocky Mountain High powerfully described a first,


He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year
Coming home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him
You might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for ev'ry door


When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hangin' by a song
But the string's already broken, and he doesn't really care
It keeps changin' fast, and it don't last for long

I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight
Is softer than a lullaby
Rocky Mountain high
Rocky Mountain high


He climbed cathedral mountains
He saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say that he got crazy once
And he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept his memory


Now he walks in quiet solitude
The forests and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside
Himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake


And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky Mountain high
Rocky Mountain high


There is nothing stagnant, empty, muddled or foggy in these songs. The artists are engaged with their lives. Later in the article by Grant, he states “Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference.” Again, the songs do not describe dulled delight nor is there a slow slide into solitude or indifference.

Experts have given steps to combat languishing which can be found on the internet. But I want to suggest Rabindranath Tagore advice, “Do not say, 'It is morning,' and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a newborn child that has no name.”

And if you are having difficulty recreating the feeling of a first, try taking time to remember important firsts in your life. This is a reflection on a church web page here are some religious possibilities for reflections.

  • First communion
  • First solo in the choir
  • First day at church camp
  • First day at Sunday School
  • First time you had a part in the Christmas pageant
  • First time you deeply felt the power of communion
  • First miracle
  • First time you were angry with God


Although cliches are often derided as simplistic and without nuance, image this to be the first time you’ve heard this and feel its power. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Last modified on Monday, 07 June 2021 01:21

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