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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Consuming Interest

Passion or Obsession

It is surely a great calamity for a human being to have no obsessions.”
Robert Bly

Obsessions run the gamut from mere infatuation to mania and compulsion. Between what is minor and what is pathological are way-stations such as fixation, passion and preoccupation. We sometimes diagnose obsessions as unhealthy, especially when they get in the way of everyday life, but certainly, new love is obsessive and no one wants to ditch that. All human beings have what the autism community refers to as “a restricted interest,” and some of those are productive and some are not—which seems to be the demarcation point between being deemed healthy or pathological. Many people have turned something that started out as an obsession into an industry. Obsessive behavior pushes us to perfect, collect, and refine and can make us “the best” at whatever we do. I think of elite athletes who practice their sport six or eight hours a day, even when their game is not in season, and no coach is pushing them to keep up their skills. It can also ruin our lives.

A pathological obsession is “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person's mind.” (Webster's) It can motivate us to create, as it did Vincent van Gogh, or it can render us insane by interfering with sleep and driving us to mania. On the other hand, passionate interest in one thing has produced some of our greatest inventions and discoveries. Think Albert Einstein, the Wright brothers, Marie Curie, and Watson and Crick, all of whom devoted their lives to a single concept.

It seems uniquely human to have passion for something. When we don't have a consuming interest in life, we feel flat and distracted. We can fritter away our days in idleness or aimlessness. Passionate interest is an exercise of life energy, of directed chi. It is life asserting itself and directing itself. But there is a difference between passion for something and all-consuming obsession with something—one enhances life, and one interferes with it. As with most things, between the black and the white are many shades of gray. Do you have a driving obsession? How does it affect your life?

                                                                In the Spirit,

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