Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good Compulsions

The world is leery of concepts such as compulsion and addiction with good reason. Compulsive and addictive behaviors can be the habits of drug addiction, alcoholism, etc. While there are negative choices that can be compulsively lived out day after day, such as skipping sleep, beating a child, lying to every person encountered, perhaps we are too quick to assume that something compulsive is always a bad thing. Instead there are bad compulsions, but not all compulsions are bad. What we can safely say is that there are bad choices, made once, made over and over, but not all compulsions are fraught with bad intentions or outcomes. A world mired with fear, guilt, and anxiety often leaves us more comfortable with notions of playing it safe as characterized by such sayings as all things in moderation. If this saying were the final say so on how to live life the world would have never seen a single genius. Jesus was compulsive in loving the world. Beethoven was compulsively practicing the piano. Gandhi compulsively resisted non-violently. Einstein compulsively tinkered with numbers and ideas related to the universe.

The nun compulsively prays on behalf of the rest of the world. She does not pray in moderation. She prays without ceasing.

Consider the things you love most. Do them and do them well. Do them over and over until they are as much a habit and a requirement as it is a habit for your lungs to take oxygen from the air you breath. Walk wisely with your compulsions so that you can walk again tomorrow and walk better tomorrow. Learn from the times when you pushed too hard and were made lame the next day. Reflect on your compulsions to determine if they are still good choices. Seek wise counsel from others who have gone before you and wisely learned how to manage similar compulsions. But don’t fear the threshold and the risks associated with peeking over to the other side. On the other side of the apparent boundary waters are genius, fulfillment, ingenuity, creativity.

I guess that for me these compulsions manifest themselves in running and writing. I have moments of lassitude and lacks in confidence, but I come back again and again because I can do no other.

Rainer Maria Rilke writes in Letters to a Young Poet, p.18.

Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge a testimony to it.

Rilke describes his urge to write. The positive compulsion of your choice can be inserted into the structure of Rilke's description. I think "Pre" pictured below characterized running like Rilke describes writing, even after falling just shy of the podium at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Post a Comment