(Not as oxymoronic as it sounds!)
For me, spirit appears to be dynamic. A process if you wish.
As an aside, and it has totally nothing to do with the topic at hand, I am reminded (yes, a bunny trail of no consequence) by what a former colleague once said to me: “ When you die, it won’t be your spirit that leaves your body….but a giant tapeworm looking for a new host”. In context, this is in reference to my nutrition consumption i.e. eating, all day long. My wife once remarked: “when you’re not eating, you’re cooking”.
But I digress already!
As the quote goes:
- Some people have a great perspective on life …..
- A positive attitude,
- A generous heart,
- A joyful spirit …..
Some people understand the wisdom of making the most of every day and inspire us more than they know to be like that too.
In “The Runner” by Markus Torgeby (Sweden 2015 and published in English in 2018), the phenomenology of enjoyment comprises 8 major components.
- The experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. This obviously speaks to something that is manageable and do-able.
- We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Our focus and intentionality rule here.
- (And 4.) Concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback.
- Hence, the task is outcome-oriented and there is ‘immediate gratification’!
- We act with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Very Zen indeed ! And reinforced by Csikszentmihalyi in 7. below.
- Enjoyable experiences allow us to exercise a sense of control over our actions. Not sure if this is indeed paradoxical. If I suck at golf – hence having no control or any sense of mastery, it won’t be enjoyable for me and I would certainly stop! Maybe the latter allows the experience to be enjoyable over time if I persevere and attain some degree of competence (and mastery)?
- Concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically, the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.
In his seminal work, “Flow” (1990), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (a Hungarian-American psychologist), defines Flow as a state in which we are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The experience itself is so enjoyable that we will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it – we do it for its own sake.
It is autotelic – an end in itself. Tempting, but for myself, it may be foolish to say the least, to re-engage with my road running , which is so enjoyable – as well as releasing eight neurochemicals in my brain ! I don’t think my bulging disc (and sciatica) would necessarily be in full support of it.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, Flow then, is the way we describe our state of mind when our consciousness is harmoniously ordered.
- The sense of the duration of time is altered; hours passed by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. Time is distorted.
In 1958 (published in English in 1961), Roger Caillois, the French psychological anthropologist, divided the world’s pleasurable activities into four broad classes, depending on the kind of experiences they provide:
- Agon (competition)
Due to the competitive nature of the games in this category, agôn implies that sustained attention, appropriate training, diligent application, and the desire to win is required.
While competitive, the games may not need to be regulated (paidia), such as in racing and rough and tumble play. Games with rules (ludus) particularly fit this category, such as chess, boxing, football, and contests and sports in general.
- Alea (chance)
Games of chance (alea) result in an outcome over which we have no control and must be taken as fate rather than mastery. We are entirely passive and await our destiny, such as in the outcome of a roll of the dice. Flipping a coin or saying a counting rhyme have little to do with rules, but betting games, roulette, and lotteries are played in strict parameters.
- Mimicry (simulation)
When engaging in make-believe or making others believe we are others than ourselves, mimicry comes into play. Suspension of reality and illusion are the basis of this play form.
The use of masks and disguises, games of illusion, and children’s pretend play are freely played with no rules attached, but theater, puppet shows, and performances in general do have restrictions and a framework that control the event.
- Ilinx (vertigo)
The last kind of game, ilinx, includes those based on the pursuit of vertigo, an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of panic on an otherwise lucid mind.
Activities include spinning, swinging, racing downhill, and sledding that are enjoyed just for fun. More structured activities for experiencing vertigo include amusement park rides, tightrope walking, skiing, and mountain climbing.
So, we would think that any pleasurable activities that we participate in – by choice – would be enjoyable for us. Otherwise, we would not do so. Right? The question remains as to whether we limit ourselves to those we know to be pleasurable or do we ‘push the boat out’, to ‘boldly go’ where we haven’t been before. In order to discover new lands, we have to be prepared to lose sight of the shore.
In this respect, Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, in her book “Mindset” (updated 2016) reminds us that we can regard our abilities as fixed (a Fixed mindset) or that they can be developed (a Growth mindset). Through this, our spirit of enjoying pleasurable activities becomes amoebic in nature. It is a journey, not a destination.