Waking up from unmindfulness

Charlotte Sheridan
4 min readFeb 9, 2021

Here’s a bit of Greek mythology that I discovered the other day.

In Greek legend, Lethe is the River of Unmindfulness, one of five rivers in the Underworld. The river winds around a cave where a character called Hypnos lives and anyone who drinks from Lethe’s waters forgets everything that went before. As is the way with Greek legend, the river Lethe also doubles up as the spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion. It’s from these names that we get the words lethargic and hypnosis.

Roman mythology also helps us with modern words too. Somnus is the Roman version of Hypnos, and the personification of sleep — from where we derive the word ‘insomnia.’ Somnus’s brother is called Mors (death) creating the words ‘mortician’ and ‘mortal’ in English and ‘mort’ in French.

We have our own River of Unmindfulness in modern life. We sup from it every­ day, lulled into a sense that everything will be alright. Someone will fix the problems — we just need to sit tight. We are rocked like babies until we fall into a waking sleep.

Edmund Burke was an Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher, born in Dublin in 1729 and wrote this: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Just add “and women” and it will be more current.

It’s easy to float along on the River of Unmindfulness. Simpler to do nothing, when doing something is hard. How can we change the course of climate change, cure cancer or bring about world peace? We are simply individuals making our way in the world. Tiny gnats in a giant hurricane. Although Greta Thunberg disagrees — her latest book is called “No one is too small to make a difference.”

I think we can get round this by eating the elephant in smaller chunks. Metaphorical elephant of course. Focus instead on inputs (a small action today), rather than outcomes (changing the world tomorrow). We don’t need to fix world hunger. We could just start with changing our mindset.

One way to do that is to challenge ourselves about how we see change. Often we view it as destruction, rather than disruption. But we don’t need to break things…



Charlotte Sheridan

Psychologist, coach, writer, photographer… juggling them all but often dropping balls.