The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing which is the experience that produces the joy. David Brooks, “The Art of Focus”
Let your unabashed intensity run free!
“I’m obsessed!!!” I exclaimed to my friend. “I’m really obsessed!!!” And then I poured out in a rushing stream of words the details of my current obsession. “You might want to choose another word,” she suggested. “Obsession usually doesn’t have a positive connotation and I hear only good things in what you’re describing.” But I don’t want to use another word. I love that I am turning this word upside down, a word that I often have used to describe my current not-so-positive thought process, and am now championing it in a way that brings me thrill bumps. I believe that the word “obsession” really does have two faces and can be used to describe the way that we step up and dance with the universe and the way that we resist the universe’s willingness to be our partner in a passionate and heated tango.
It’s a bold move that we make, this decision to be born into these physical bodies — and then it is up to us, each one of us, as we look around, wide-eyed, at this world that we find ourselves in, again and again it is up to us: Are we going to dance or are we going to hold ourselves back from the inevitable forward movement of expansion? Because life force/god/goddess/universe/source — whatever we want to call it — is an eager partner filled with an energy beyond our comprehension and a willingness to bring to the dance floor the foot moves and the arm swings, the deep journeys and the flights of fancy that can set our bodies on fire with passion and our spirits soaring. And this whoosh of energy, it dances through each one of us in a way that is unique. It matches up with our particular longings, our particular dreams, our particular obsessions, and it brings them to light and it helps us give them expression.
I’ll speak for myself. It’s not hard for me to slip into my dancing shoes, to climb up to center stage in my own living and boldly cry out: “Dance with me, Universe! I’m ready! Bring it on, the ‘how-to’ motion that will propel me forward in the direction of my dreams!” Sometimes, I remind myself of Max, in the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, full of puffed-up four-year-old bravado. “I’m not scared of you!” I holler into the spotlight, quivering a bit in those dancing shoes. Other times, I remember that I’m in charge of my vibration. (I think that Max remembered this, too, that the monsters are not something outside of us; they are simply energy that we can allow to stream through.) And either way, quivering or standing stable and grounded, it happens. The universe hears the calling, reads the vibration and approaches, with an idea, an inspiration, with marching or dancing orders for some motion forward. And that’s when it can go either way. I can open myself up to this powerful partner, become a conduit for the whoosh of energy, and, if I do, the action that arises from such a rendezvous will feel inspired. Or I can freak out, see this mighty life force as a “wild thing monster”, something outside of me to stomp into submission or suppress or repress, something just too scary and powerful to take on as a playmate. And when traveling in either direction, I can say the same words, “I am obsessed!” And in one direction the obsession feels exhilarating and in the other direction the obsession feels stifling and miserable.
It’s the exhilarating that I want to talk about. I have given enough airtime in my mind to the other side of obsession and it’s time to say it again with gusto: “I’m obsessed and it’s the good-feeling kind of obsession!” And this is the thing that is so fun about dancing with the universe, about allowing your partner to bring you the “how” that you just wouldn’t discover when dancing solo on will power alone — you end up exploring worlds that open up worlds that open up worlds that open up worlds. You go down rabbit holes that lead you to the most unexpected of places. It’s that big and that expansive and that fun. And often you find yourself surprised from the get-go by the dream that emerges when you grab hold of the universe’s hand and allow the dance to begin. Honestly, I never expected to become obsessed with my grandfather.
I knew there were the files of letters and articles and who-knows-what-else sitting in our home’s upstair’s hall closet, the cardboard box and the artist portfolio that my mother had entrusted in my care back in my thirties. And I knew that I would someday deal with this well-spring of family treasure, the life’s work and archival records of an artist grandfather who died in a car accident in 1925. And I also knew that I would sort through the pile of etchings and paintings that had been stacked under the guest room bed since my siblings and I divided them up the weekend of my mother’s memorial service over two years ago. These tasks were on my to-do list for sure, more responsibility and burden than unfettered passion. And now I realize that it’s all in the timing. It just wasn’t the moment for this particular dance, until now, that is. Now, I’m allowing myself swing across that dance floor with a momentum that sometimes has my head swirling and my heart swooning. And it’s so darn fun to be this swirlingly swoonily ridiculously obsessed!
A few weeks ago, I watched a two-part interview on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday with Elizabeth Gilbert, best-known as author of Eat, Pray, Love. Her conversation with Oprah was engaging and I soaked it in, but it was something else that transfixed me — it was the clip of Elizabeth walking through an old run-down mansion, then lying on the floor of the mansion and poring through an antique volume on botany and telling us, the viewers, that this was the inspired location for her latest novel, the Signature of All Things and this book that she was pouring through was an important part of her research for the project. I had just finished reading The Signature of All Things before watching this particular Super Soul Sunday, and had been transported not only by the epic story that spans one woman’s lifetime and the whole of the 1800’s and the history of botany, but also by Gilbert’s courage to immerse herself in the research, to allow herself to become this obsessed.
And now, I too have taken up the calling, allowed myself such immersion. It is me lying on my creativity room floor pouring through letters written by my grandfather as a young high school student in 1889, as a man in his twenties studying the great masters in London and Paris, as a middle-aged man balancing passion for art and the call of fame with family and friends and a sense of adventure, and letters and articles and clippings by critics and journalists and friends and family before and after his passing. It is me reading these aloud to my husband at bedtime, then continuing my dipping into the box long after my husband has gone to sleep. It is me studying in detail the etchings, learning the difference between silverpoint and lithography and intaglio. It is me communing with my father, forty-one years after his death, and thanking him for the fine job he did gathering and organizing this material. This is not the passion that I expected to bubble up. And I am not sure where the dance is taking me. But I can tell you this for sure. When I’m allowing the universe to be my partner, when I’m trusting that inner fire, the process is way fun.