Saturday, October 18, 2014

Journal of a Soul 66

The Futility of Obsessional Searching

Galicia, Spain, not far from Allariz
Having observed at close quarters an ASD pupil who suffered from severe OCD was a great lesson for me in my life's journey.  Having encountered others since who have relatives with this mental ailment further convinces me of how disabling any form of obsession can be to us as individuals. Prior to this I was well used to encountering people and students with hosts of other problems from depression to schizophrenia, from anxiety to panic attacks and so on, and I knew how these were very crippling - indeed I have written many times in these pages and others about my own diagnosis of clinical or endogenous depression at the age of forty.  But the obsessional lesson, if I may be so bold as to call it that, was particularly enlightening.  At this juncture in my life as a 56 year old Special Needs Teacher, with a background in philosophy, theology and counselling as well as in the usual more academic subjects - Mathematics and Languages - I have been searching for the truth of who I am for longer than I care to remember. Every time I look back over my progress over this earthly pilgrimage I constantly observe that it was often during those periods when my search was most intense that the "answers" or at least the consolations were always surprisingly few, and that it was the times when I was not pushing myself so hard and so obsessively for answers that the so-called "answers" and consolations were surprisingly more.  As a writer I often find that this is also the case with inspiration - the muses come to us when they wish, in their own time as it were, and often don't come when we are obsessively searching for them.

Stream of Consciousness:

All too infrequently I do a written exercise in stream of consciousness composition where I just let the words roll onto the page without either censoring them or using any form of punctuation.  Punctuation would obviously be a way of hindering the flow as it would  be an obvious shaping or ordering of the words.  Those of my readers who are into literature will know that our great and wonderful Irish author James Joyce was a master of this technique. I was taught it several times over the years at various creative writing classes I attended. However, to cut to the chase here, let me add a brief extract from my most recent stream of consciousness exercise:
some flowers will appear like lotuses from the muck and gunk and bilge and all that slime and all that slime and somewhere deep within it there will be something fine formed like a poem coming to birth coming to a shape forming forming from all those Freudian depths from that cesspit from which rises the Self like some exotic phoenix (see Stream )
It would seem that everything is grist to the mill for a writer or shaper of words, indeed for any artist at all.  Furthermore, everyone is an artist in the sense that they are the shapers of their own lives, of their own Self. We have to learn to be unobsessive shapers of our lives, that is, we definitely have to learn to mould and shape our lives but we have to learn to do so in an unobsessive manner, that is, not in an obsessive manner that could certainly cripple us in our pursuit of real happiness.  That's the sense behind the quotation above from my recent stream of consciousness, that the Self does rise like an exotic phoenix if only we would learn "to go with the flow" of life and learn to tap into its overall energy.  Shaping our lives means going with the flow, pushing with the energy of life, not pushing against it. We certainly have to work and shape, mould and form our lives, often with the sweat of our brow, but always by going with the flow of the energy around us.  Obviously, this is never ever a sense of aimless drift - the exact opposite to what I am talking about here. Going with the flow is never the easy way out. It requires a level of honest effort, too.

Going with the Flow

Here I wish to say a little about the contemporary psychologist and psychotherapist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  He discovered that we find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness that he called simply "Flow". In this state we are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity that involves our creative abilities. During this “optimal experience” we feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”  Here, in the footsteps of Abraham Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi insists that happiness does not simply happen. It must be prepared for and cultivated by each person, by setting challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple for ones abilities. The Pursuit of Happiness (see Here) website gives as an example of flow an advanced skier's conquering of a difficult slope.  We might add any other skill we have learnt, even typing these few words on my laptop.  We have to put in the effort obviously, and then allow ourselves to tap into the energy that's out there to enliven us.  Of course, going with the flow can involve all the simpler exercises like good conversation, listening, encouraging, helping, being compassionate, joining in the fun, playing a game and so on.  However, the major point here is that it is never a lazy drift that will lead nowhere.

Cziksentmihalyi defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (Cskikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.4)
Allariz, Galicia, Spain

Again, I have experienced this state at work, most especially when I am involved in helping others cope with life; especially more recently where I have been called on to listen to the upset of a seventeen year old at his brother's hospitalization or of another's experience of depression. A more powerful experience of flow that I participated in (and I use these words deliberately as I felt that there was another power literally flowing through me) was that of visiting with a family who had been recently bereaved by a suicide of a young man of twenty - the essential topic of my last post here. My experience of being part of a flow of energy, of a higher power even, that I was somehow directing rather like a conductor of an orchestra was and is surely inspiring.  As I sat with that young man's friends and his family I knew I had to be there, felt drawn there, knew what I was about, could use all my organizing skills to their best to celebrate that young man's short life, to help support family and friends in their almost unspeakable grief.  Going with the flow is very empowering.  It does take courage but once you start the flow itself energizes you.

It would seem to me at this stage in my life's journey that (i) learning to search for meaning without obsession is a healthy thing to do.  Such a searching is something akin to, though not the same as, John Keat's famous concept of "negative capability" that he defined in his Letters as: that state of mind "when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason" (See Here) (ii) that being open to lessons from our own unconscious through dreams, visualizations, meditation exercises, yoga, singing, writing or art of all kinds  and (iii) going with flow are all valuable skills to learn so that we can begin to navigate the Ship of Self through the choppy seas of life if I may be permitted to use a somewhat extravagant though useful metaphor here.  One, of course, can use other descriptors for these suggested skills like soul, spirituality, Higher Power, Inspiration, God, Holy Spirit, Mysticism, Living in the "Now," and so on.  In the end, the language is a surface matter.  What really is important is the real-life experience of the energy of Flow.

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