Private Obsessions

By Will Baker

I have a good friend who is currently "on retreat" as a result of her obsessions, and the fact that I am afraid that I might be witnessing her self-destruction, has led me to think about the nature of compulsive behavior. I suppose that we all have our own private addictions. Whether they are the arts, sciences, our jobs, families, eating, smoking, drinking or maybe even deviant sex. And I find it to be so very curious that we have this in common with one another. And after considering the matter for some time, I have become quite convinced that this fact is part and parcel to the "Human Condition." And to take this notion to its logical conclusion; it seems to me, therefore, that no woman or man that has ever walked this Earth has failed to experience this pull.

And with respect to our lives, much has been written about the positive benefits that can accrue when balance is achieved. But what does this mean? And how does it relate to the above referenced condition that we must all contend with: the compulsion to obsess.

I believe that there must be a very good reason for these compulsions to be present in our lives. But perhaps, moderating our impulses might help lead to our actualization as human beings. So therefore, it seems to me that these obsessions might very well be considered to be double-edged swords: they might lead to our enlightenment or they might destroy us.

For instance, it is widely known that many of history’s heroes and villains owe their very notoriety (or infamy) to their compulsions. Albert Einstein and Adolph Hitler come immediately to mind, but it seems to me that the list is truly endless. But does this mean that these two characters, given different circumstances may perhaps have gone the "other way?" Well it seems to me that that idea is entirely possible. After all, it is said "our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses." And very often, what makes a trite remark trite is its resonance with us. But then, if that is true, why did Hitler and Einstein turn out the way that they did, each to their own paths of truth or ruin. Maybe the answer lies in the degree of balance that they were able to achieve in their lives.

Balance, like most things, it’s certainly easy to desire, but oh so very difficult to achieve. But it might well be the key to transcendence. In times past, many philosophers have peddled notions relating to the idea of duality: that the "soul," and body are somehow in conflict with one another, and that the way to salvation lies in this problem’s resolution. Yet I do not "buy" this concept. It seems to me, that if the "desires" of the body were entirely tamed, it would be impossible to achieve actualization. For, certainly, at least based upon empirical evidence, which I have spent a lifetime accumulating, I believe that these desires, in moderation lead to a certain feeling of happiness and a sense of fulfillment. And if one chooses to envision an individual soul, I believe that actualization probably lies on the road which leads towards the attainment of a state of harmony between the body and it. However, as President Clinton so eloquently pointed out, the matter all hinges upon what the definition of "it" is.

No, given the experientially acquired information referenced above, I can’t say that I’m a "Duelist." However I will give Descartes his "props" (read: proper respect) with his "ghost in the machine" analogy. For me, this surely hits nearer the mark. Yet, given the human condition that we have been discussing, does this not mean that obsession might be an element of the ghost, that is, if there is a "ghost" at all?

At this point, I am inclined to step away from the discussion. For it seems to me that in the end, it is of no consequence if achieving balance is a matter of "taming" the body or the soul/mind. I believe that achieving balance is a simple proposition that really does not require that much deep thought. It seems to me that we know intuitively that all things are good in moderation. But again, doing is much harder than talking. So where then does that leave us? Well for starters, we can recognize that, to some degree obsession might be a component of our make-ups, and that when we make plans, experience pleasure, want or angst, these things are occurring as a direct result of that reality. In other words, the situation must be dealt with on an intellectual level. And this is very easy to say…quite a simple solution, wouldn’t you agree? But as far as you and I are concerned, given our circumstances, therein lies the dilemma.



 (Essay Collection)