‘In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… in the real world all rests on perseverance.’
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Last week, we looked at enthusiasm, and some of the joys and challenges it can bring to our lives. Enthusiasm which isn’t grounded in reality is like a tree with shallow roots which is blown over by the first gust of wind. It’s relatively easy to kick-start a burst of enthusiasm, but even easier to deflate it again. You may know a person who, every time you meet them, breathlessly extols the latest self-help book or diet or guru or TV preacher. They’ve finally found ‘it’ – the one thing which will turn their lives around and set them on the path to happiness and fulfillment. Except that next time you see them, they’re preoccupied with a completely new ‘it’, the formerly wonderful ‘it’ quite forgotten.
It’s much more difficult to stay with something long-term – to remain committed to a teacher or a craft or a sport or religion through the inevitable ups and downs and the tedious, repetitive parts – and still retain some of that enthusiasm which probably helped you to get involved in the first place.
One of the greatest barriers to enthusiasm might also be that it makes us vulnerable. We put ourselves on the line when we show enthusiasm – we’re saying, in effect, this is precious to me, this is something I feel passionate about. It’s so easy to deflate someone’s enthusiasm – just a little pinprick, and the bright red balloon becomes a sad scrap of rubber. It might seem much easier to be cool, cynical, to not show the world what we care about.
Mindfulness meditation can help us with all three of these factors. It can provide a grounded counter-balance to over-excitement, to be more realistic about our present reality – to neither overplay nor underplay our expectations. Mindfulness can help us develop beginner’s mind, an appreciation of what is happening right now, which is useful when we want to stay with something long term without getting bored by it. Mindfulness also helps us become more comfortable with our vulnerability, to be honest about those things we care about, but perhaps to also choose more wisely who we share our enthusiasm with. Not everyone wants to hear all the ins and outs of the novel you’ve been working on for the past ten years, but sharing it with a person who does, and who actually, genuinely, wants to read the latest version of Chapter 1 – that is priceless!
Weekly practice idea:
On a piece of paper, write down what you feel enthusiastic about. If little comes to mind, perhaps remember some things you enjoyed doing as a child. Pick one of these and find a way of including it in your week, even if it’s only for ten minutes.