Friday, December 19, 2008

Never-ending Loops

That’s what obsessions are. Just like my little Moebius strip that goes from red to blue and back to red covering inside and out. I’ve been thinking a lot about the anatomy of an obsession, having just read When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom.

We all obsess from time to time, some of us more than others. We obsess about people of the same sex, people of the opposite sex, things said to us, things not said to us, the sports car we desire, persistent pain, food, and on and on and on. For some, the obsession is so extreme that it is diagnosed as OCD. But for many of us, it’s just there from time to time.

When I find myself in one of these endless loops, there are a couple of ways I get at least temporary and occasionally permanent relief. Sometimes writing about my obsession puts it in perspective and makes it go away. This may take the form of an e-mail or a Blog post. In either case, it’s a chimney-sweeping activity that tends to at least help.

Meditation is also a great escape. Mindfulness training asks us to clear our minds of persistent thoughts to the degree possible and concentrate on our breathing. Every breath in tends to put the brakes on the obsessive cycle. But at some point the bell calls us back to reality and often the thought picks up where it left off.

For me, obsessive thoughts usually focus on something I think I want and can’t have or something I have lost and want restored. It’s usually just out of reach and still within the realm of possibility.

This reminds me of a relationship I once had when I was much younger with a guy several years older than I was. We were somewhere between friends and becoming lovers for many years. I fantasized about what it would be like to be his “main girl” as I watched him date others, thinking the time we spent together was so special. It was only later that I learned that he was doing those same special things – like grilling shrimp on the beach – with everyone. He gave me a copy of The Prophet upon graduation from high school. A few years later when I visited him in California and perused his library, I found the same book with an almost identical inscription in the front, a gift to him from a girlfriend. When he finally decided a year or so later that I was indeed the one he wanted, my obsession had been dissipated by the knowledge that I was not any more special than anyone else. I wanted fresh flowers, not a second-hand bouquet.

When Nietzsche Wept was incredibly useful in understanding the endless cycle of obsession. I don’t want to reveal the way the two main characters managed to rid themselves of their personal obsession because that would give away the best part of the book. (If you’re in my book club, be forewarned that this will be my choice when it’s my turn to suggest a book!)

It occurred to me that we may cling to obsession as a way of keeping our minds actively engaged – notice I did not say profitably engaged. It’s those rare moments when I think my life is perfect and I have no obsessions when I also have no creative juices and nothing in particular to say. I told my PT Guy (who loaned me the book) that I equate this to living in San Diego, where the weather is the same year around and for me would be BORING. He reminded me that in that situation, you must simply go inside to create the variation and interest.

Is there something here with which you can identify? Do you have any pearls of wisdom on getting out of those endless loops that can tie our brains up in knots?

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another big topic, Barbara! Sorry for longish comment here. At its worst, for me obsession is a form of addiction; and there can be a range of desire and attachment running from addiction, obsession, unhealthy attachment, deep immersion in passionate interest, to curiosity. Obsessions for me are most painful when what I "want" is available intermittently; easier to let go when there's no or full contact with what I think I want! Mindfulness practice, writing, talking w/friends who understand, yoga and other somatic/spiritual practice, all help. The main thing for me is remembering that I am whole even w/out the thing I think I want or need; and remembering the element of "choice" -- no one but me is making me want the object of my desire, or stay in my thought loop. Lastly, I ask myself what is really underneath the "loop" -- often I'm wanting relief from anxiety about something, so I address that issue.

Your line about the flowers/bouquet was eloquently beautiful and poignant! And I'll check out that book; thx. Hug to you.

- F.

12:21 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

Tying together obsession and blogging, I heard Arianna Huffington say recently that, regarding important issues, bloggers have obsessive compulsive disorder, and the mainstream media have attention deficit disorder.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Squirrel said...

Ahhh the little mobius strip _ I haven't seen one in ages, but it certainly is a good way to illustrate how we think sometimes.

Everyone obsesses from time to time and experiences boredom I think your friend's advice

"you must simply go inside to create the variation and interest." is so true.

As a child I was taught that if you're not boring, you can slip out of boredom easily. (go inside to create)

my parents also saw the value of meditation, and since even though they weren't Christian, they did encourage us kids to "sample" various churches in town and learn some prayers. From simple prayer, we were introduced to simple meditation techniques. They read a lot of books on theology, and so had interesting discussions with us.

When feeling the pain of obsession, knowing that it is temporary and not really about actually desperately needing something ... is a relief.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Anon -- Sometimes it's as hard to get unhooked from obsession as it is from alcohol or drugs. It beats up your mind, not your liver!

MC -- I'll take OCD over ADD. Don't you think?

Squirrel -- When you are feeling the pain of obsession, you are often not able to rationally tell yourself anything unfortunately.

And yes, the moebius strip has amazed me since I first saw one so many years ago. It did seem the perfect way to think about this.

Have you noticed that I am reformed? Instead of stealing from Google Images, I just made my own!

3:05 PM  
Blogger Adrianne said...

For me it helps to remember two things: (1) everything is temporary and (2) obsession is merely a creation of the mind and therefore is completely within the control of the creator. If your mind created the obsession, it can move beyond it by making a conscious choice to let it go and move on to other topics. It sounds like theoretical advice that is easy in theory but impossible to execute in real life; however, it really *is* easy once you decide that you truly want to stop. Choosing to stop likely will be the hardest part -- in my observation and personal experience, being in an obsessive feedback loop tends to become a kind of comfort zone for those who do it, which can produce a real fear of letting go of the obsession. But, if you truly want to get out of an obsessive feedback loop, that choice really is available to you at any time. Life, and especially the life within the mind, really is all about choices, I think.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Adrianne -- If indeed obsession is an addiction as my Anon friend F has suggested, perhaps we need a 12-step program to rid ourselves of it. Many of us have a hard time heeding our own advice, even when we know it's the right thing to do!

2:14 PM  

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