Saturday, April 11, 2009

That ‘Magnificent Obsession’: Nurturing & Holding It

I saw Shine (1996) recently for the very first time and I know now why it won many awards, including some for Geoffrey Rush’s break-through performance as troubled pianist, David Helfgott. I also got to learn that the real Helfgott was awarded an honorary Doctorate by Edith Cowan University in 2004, co-incidentally at my now sister-in-law’s Graduation ceremony.

The Helfgott story, as depicted in Shine, illustrates what an external drivenness, and a twisted love, can do to the human heart and mind. Inspiring is David, as he negotiates and masters the formidable Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto (the ‘Rach 3’), but thrust against it is his traumatic upbringing that reduces his life, paradoxically, to the extremes and inevitably to breakdown and institutionalisation.

The motion picture showcases, to a point, a default effect of untempered extremes and obsessions.

And only recently, I too was reminded by a valued mentor to not go to extremes. His words resembled this piece from Balthasar Gracian:

“Push right to the extreme and it becomes wrong: press all the juice from an orange and it becomes bitter. Even in enjoyment never go to extremes. Thought too subtle is dull. If you milk a cow too much you draw blood, not milk.”

Obsession is not generally met as a good thing in life, is it? It’s not valued universally and it often has its down sides. Yet, the best contributors and highest achievers in history were obsessed in one form or other. A tempered form of obsession perhaps?

As I think of the first serious attempt in my life to master myself, I consider again what I searched for and what is now also before me. The hardcover copy of Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone[1] has graced my shelves for a quarter of a century--I bought it as a depressed and awkward 16 year old. Though it is distinctly humanistic, it brought me some of the light I was searching for at the time.

In this book, the topic of The Magnificent Obsession is unfurled--that of helping people. The principles behind this magnificent obsession are core to the gospel worldview in my observation, but they leave God (and certainly Christ) largely out of the equation.[2]

But, this sort of obsession--a magnificent one--is worthy of any life. “There is something infinitely better than making a living: It is making a noble life.”[3] We see here an obsession of an unusual kind.

Cleverly directed and manifested magnificent obsessions (of which, there is an inherent weirdness about them) can never be truly understood by most others, and certainly not by those closest, but they are nonetheless often imperative in the grand scheme of things.
There are those who will see any sort of obsession as a negative thing--and even the sage alludes to this. Therein lays a classic truth for anyone with a valuable ‘magnificent obsession’ for which they must afford protection in order to preserve it.

We must temper the obsession to the point of its tolerability, certainly relating to others who’ve influence over us.

All obsessions should know their limits, so at least they can continue their vital, albeit eccentric, contributions.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Napoleon Hill & W. Clement Stone, Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall/Angus & Robertson, 1960). Though it is largely humanistic this book does point people in some part toward faith. For instance, St. Francis’ (Serenity) prayer is mentioned. One can almost assume that converts to a positive mental attitude would be led subliminally toward the Church as was the case with myself, personally.
[2] Hence the allusion to humanism i.e. the gospel proclaimed without God glorified in (and central to) the process.
[3] Hill & Stone, Ibid, p. 176.

No comments: