I’ve become a bit obsessed now with the works of Alain de Botton. The first book read Art of Travel inspired me to pick up a few more because frankly I love the style of writing. In the same vein as Brain Pickings, it mirrors modern, relevant thought with that of historical figures who, in their own time, struggled with many of the same issues. Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Use of Religion is the next on my list. This book has sat, unread, for at least two years on my iPad waiting for me to open it up. It wasn’t until Art of Travel however that my memory was triggered and this book sprang to mind.
As I sat listening to the Headspace pack on Motivation yesterday morning the question arose: “What are you most passionate about in life?” The idea isn’t to jump on the first thought that comes to mind, but rather allow the words to sing in and see what flows through your conscious mind. The question will in fact sit with you beyond the meditation time and pop up at random times throughout the day as it has for me. When I first heard the question nothing really jumped out at me. Not to worry the app reassured me as the goal isn’t to suddenly think of something and the task is done. It took until this morning after reading a chapter on Education that it struck me where my passion lies. Books. Ideas. Photography. Sharing. It’s actually four ideas that swirled in my head and started over a year ago as I stumbled into photography for the first time.
As I read through the chapter a couple of ideas jumped out at me:
“[Christian] theologians have known that our soul suffers from what ancient Greek philosophers termed akrasia, a perplexing tendency to know what we should do combined with a persistent reluctance actually to do it, whether through weakness of will or absent-mindedness. We all possess wisdom that we lack the strength properly to enact in our lives.”
It struck a note in the back of my mind as I see these ideas swirl in my head, subconsciously knowing the direction I need to go yet consciously unable to fully grasp it. Has it been reluctance all this time or perhaps the perspective that I’m not moving towards anything and find myself every day at a new step along the way. How do we know when passion and ideas are connecting at the right level? Perhaps when we can ask the question above to ourselves and allow it to settle in for the evening. Forget the question but know that in the back of our minds it is working away.
Mindfulness practice has slowly brought these ideas to bear in my own life and it’s exactly what Alain speaks too in this chapter. We are all a function of the ideas that we hear or read yet these ideas slip away slowly unless we put them into practice. Unless we grab them and hold on tightly. His point is cemented in the notion that religions have understood this for centuries. Why else would these ideas be constantly reiterated and reaffirmed in the minds of those who attend church or who are directed to revisit certain passages in the Bible and Koran. Mindfulness practice may not be religious in nature and yet it has confirmed in my own mind that this notion truly does happen as I read through dozens of book on the subject only to watch them slowly drift away. The secret has been to keep reading. To keep searching for ideas and coming up with thoughts around how they apply to my own life.
Alain goes on to note:
“We occasionally sense the nature of our loss at the end of an evening, as we finally silence the television after watching a report on the opening of a new railway or the tetchy conclusion to a debate over immigration and realize that – in attempting to follow the narrative of man’s ambitious progress towards a state of technological and political perfection – we have sacrificed an opportunity to remind ourselves of quieter truths which we know in theory and forget to live in practice.”
How often are we struck by new ideas (revisit many of the posts here to gain my own perspective!) and unless we truly apply them and revisit them do they slowly fade away. That is where passion fills this strange disappearing act. Passion for something circumvents our own degenerative thought pattern and keeps us in tune with those things that we hold the closest to us.
For me the notion of searching for new ideas is a passion. Reading books and learning about new ways to apply teachings in my life is a passion. Capturing images on a camera and to somehow link those ideas to an image is a passion. What do you find yourself thinking about most often and how do you then turn those images in your mind into action? Alain’s suggestion, pulled from many of the ancient religions, is to continue to remind ourselves of those images on a regular basis. Take the ideas most important and revisit them in a week and a month and a year. The book you are most connected to, re-read it in a year’s time and re-connect to those ideas that you love. In that way, we move closer to realizing the things in our lives that we truly want. Whether it’s a career or even the lifestyle that matters most to us.
As I revisit the Headspace question now I see that I don’t have a firm specific answer but an abstract of ideas that I’m slowly piecing together in my own life. A series of words and ideas that come together to form something that’s hazy at this point in time. Mindfulness. Photography. Books. Ideas. Storytelling. Connecting.
I’ll leave you with the same question that you need to ask yourself in the third person as the Headspace app suggests. It isn’t “What am I most passionate about,” it is framing the question in the third person, as an objective observer, “What is it that you are most passionate about in your life right now.” Ask the question and then walk away. Ask the question tomorrow and start to see the ideas that bubble up most often. Those ideas that we revisit most often tend to be what our minds and hearts are truly directing us toward.
Why not follow?