excerpt from "In Praise of Positive Obsessions" by Eric Maisel -
in Eric Maisel's Creativity Newsletter, #28, October, 2002. ericmaisel.com
The common wisdom of therapy has it that obsessions are always bad things. As a feature of its namesake disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or as a feature of some other disorder, an obsession is a sign of trouble and a problem to be eliminated.
But the main reason therapists find themselves obliged to consider obsessions invariably negative has to do with language: an obsession is invariably negative because clinicians have defined it as negative.
Clinicians define "obsession" in the following way: an obsession is an intrusive thought, it is recurrent, it is unwanted, and it is inappropriate. Defined this way, it is obviously always unwelcome.
But suppose a person is caught up thinking day and night about her current painting or about the direction she wants to take her art? Thoughts about painting "intrude" as she balances her checkbook or prepares her shopping list. She can hardly wait to get to her studio and her rhythms are more like Picasso's on painting jags than like the rhythms of a "normal" person.
This artist is obsessed in an everyday sense of the word - and more than happy to be so! ...
For a contemporary intelligent, sensitive person, it may well make more sense to opt for a life of positive obsessions that flow from personal choices about the meanings of life than to attempt to live a more modest and less satisfying normal-looking life that produces dissatisfaction and boredom.
After all, no one can say how normal ought to be defined. In what sense is it normal to work at a job that constricts you and bores you rather than risking everything on a life that challenges you, even as it frustrates you?
Much of what we call normal behavior is simply based on fear. Indeed, the average person might even prefer a negative obsession, despite its horrors, to a positive obsession rooted in excitement, passion, and active meaning-making, so wild and unafraid would he feel if he were obsessed that way.**