“Enthusiasm” really is a fascinating word and one that has resonance far beyond the more everyday concept it has taken on. It hails from the Greek word entheos and translates loosely as “God within”. In common usage, it has evolved into something more akin to being “lit up from within” or “being inspired or inspiring”, however the original sense that it conveys, of being connected to something larger than yourself, of drawing upon the universal or cosmic forces of creation, is what makes the word – and the state of enthusiasm – something rather special. Its root definition is a reminder that we are all fragments and, indeed, instruments of that cosmic force of creation and can draw upon it at will – likewise, when we are less than enthusiastic, it can be a sure sign that we are disconnected from it!
When I first tripped upon this deeper interpretation of the word, which was somewhere along the route (that I am still on) of seeking out my true purpose and how I connect to “the bigger picture”, it seemed to trigger a mini-epiphany – one of those moments of sudden clarity, where many intersecting parts of the puzzle fall into place and the whole picture starts to makes sense in an entirely new way and with a degree of clarity that surprises you in face of having received just one small nugget of information. In fact, over time, my deeper understanding of the word has lead me to more than one “a ha” moment as I have continued to draw connections and make comparisons between times when enthusiasm floods into the picture and, seemingly, transforms everything it touches.
Enthusiasm, you see, is something that has ebbed and flowed in and out of my life (with significantly more ebbing than flowing at some points) but I can see clearly that those times when I have been full of it are ones when I was – quite literally – “in the flow”; inspired and almost electrically charged, adept at forging everything, from my art to whole life-situations, out of a sea of endless potential that, at other times (like someone fumbling around in a semi-darkened room), I would hardly be aware of.
So, if its such a productive and transformational state to be in, why the constant ebb and flow that so many of us experience? With tongue firmly in cheek, I’ve identified my decidedly unenthusiastic upbringing as the source of the enthusiasm-in-check state that I’ve lived in for large portions of my life. Don’t get me wrong, years of learning to interpret the more subtle nuances of body-language assure me that my parents were heartily enthusiastic on the inside; they just hesitated to show it in the more obvious ways that allowed those sparks to fly. Perhaps it was a generational thing but, try as I might, I fail to recall all that many moments of high enthusiasm in our family life when I was growing up; in fact, it was simply not the “done thing” to gush or wax lyrical about anything and I’ve come across many a family-dynamic built along those lines. Backhanded compliments, witty badinage, deadpan compliments and the interchange of strong opinion took the place of enthusiasm in our family as something to get the conversation going and bring a bit of colour to our cheeks but anything as exposed or unfettered as pure enthusiasm was made to feel distinctly out of place or somewhat uncomfortable and whilst I had wonderful parents in so many ways, a set of “A” grades or truly brilliant school report were more likely to generate a matter-of-fact nod of approval than a celebration. So, since the “norms” of behaviour that we learn from our pack as very young children are quickly assimilated for the purposes of survival, I learned early on in my life that it was advisable to curb the highest expression of my enthusiasm and take on the nipped-in and understated stance that was our family way.
As I look back on how this play-everything-down family trait used to feel to me as a youngster, and whilst it didn’t consciously bother me at the time (since I didn’t really know what I was missing), I realise that at some level it was like always having to go against the grain, keep the lid on something or hold my excitement down, like an out-of-control geyser; I can also see how years of suppressing that part of me has varyingly revealed itself as “chronic shyness”, extreme frustration and, ultimately, a myriad of health issues. However, our essence, true nature, divine purpose or whatever you want to call it cannot be distorted for too long and, like water, will always fill all of the available cracks and find its own level. In my experience, the very distortions that prevented me from connecting with my true essence for so long morphed into the very circumstances that were set upon reconnecting me: and so a longing to express myself combined with severe life-frustration and a need to rebalance my health lead me directly to art and writing, to sharing inspiration with others, which has become the very instrument through which I express my vast enthusiasm for the all and everything of life.
So why is enthusiasm so important, other than in its ability to send the person experiencing it into some sort of giddy, unfettered state of personal ‘high’ and a sense of connectivity with something bigger than themselves? Well, first of all, moments of enthusiasm really can feel like plugging into something very fundamental, a state where all of the other stuff of life falls away, leaving a profound and lasting imprint of having connected with “your true purpose” – after all, its impossible to become truly enthusiastic about something that isn’t aligned with your purpose, whatever that may be, so on a journey to discover your purpose, enthusiasm acts as one hell of a clue that you are on the right track!
The other big thing about enthusiasm is that it doesn’t just affect the person experiencing it but spreads outwards, like a ripple effect, and is highly contagious. I will never forget a wonderful compliment that I received from a young lady called Bernice who used to manage one of the very first galleries that I was in; she told me that she loved inviting me to private viewings (which can turn into stagnant affairs at the best of times as people turn left and right wondering what to say and to whom) because in contrast with many artists who prefer to leave it to their art to do all of their “talking”, I was so very passionate about my work and my sources of inspiration that my enthusiasm would be infectious and ensure that people would be fired up into lively conversation. Taken aback by her lovely observation, I found that it went on to have a huge impact upon how I regarded my vocation – and the all-important role of artist as a source of inspiration and, yes, conveyor of enthusiasm – and I can see now that it was the stepping into the sense of purpose that being an artist gave me that finally allowed me to unleash my natural enthusiasm in ways that had eluded me before, enabling me to connect fully with my perceived life-purpose and with other people in the process. In effect, enthusiasm has become my absolute benchmark in the creative process and in life: if I have enthusiasm for what I am working on, I know that I am on track and “tuned into” the sea of all potential but if it is missing from the task, I quickly realise that its a non-starter and so I throw the project in the bin!
Enthusiasm is also “key” in our relationships with others; a sure sign that a true connection is being made. I can recall numerous occasions, over the years, when I have become so fired up with enthusiasm amongst friends that we have sparked each other off into whole new directions and along life-altering paths or left an imprint that will resonate long after a million other memories have faded to nothingness. The total loss of the enthusiasm that once held together a meaningful relationship can be like the withholding of oil from an old piece of furniture and it will soon develop cracks and fall apart. Those with frequent moments of shared enthusiasm are the ones where we look deeply into each other with eyes that say “I remember why I love you” and so we connect at the most fundamental level, that of the spark within.
Yet, I admit, I still struggle to express and to allow enthusiasm in all aspects of my life. As a parent, I occasionally trend towards the way of my own parents (don’t we all) and affect a straight-faced reaction on occasions where a gush of child-like enthusiasm would serve so much better – both testament to how hard it is to unlearn those first few “formative” years of our lives and a reminder that, for our own children’s sake, we must. My longstanding goal is to allow the enthusiasm to bubble to the surface much more often so that it can join forces with the very natural enthusiasm of my daughter before she, too, unlearns it – and isn’t it interesting how we arrive in this world instinctively knowing healthier attitudes than those that are used to replace them? Where does this attitude of enthusiasm-crushing come from and how does it filter into our kids to the point they make the attitude so resoundingly their own by the time they are teenagers? By the time they are just 11 or 12, enthusiasm for anything at all is made to seem so decidedly unacceptable by so many kids that I have lost count of the times my daughter has come home from school declaring that it is deemed to be “so uncool” to show that you are excited by anything; to the point that she now feels she has to adopt their nonplussed “yeah, whatevs” attitude just to survive amongst her age-peers. Ultimately, this attitude is mimicked from the variety of cultural determinants that “bring up” our kids today; but why we gear our culture this way, forcing our youngsters to have to claw their way back towards enthusiasm rather than starting from that place, is beyond me; it serves no one and deadens creativity and expression at the very source.
I’ll end with this, however: heartily and enthusiastically, I believe we are on the cusp of a change in mood. Certainly something is afoot so maybe enough of us have finally let the enthusiasm off the leash to such an extent that its catching-on, meaning that a tipping point is about to occur. For one thing, the Olympics have been accompanied by the most astonishing wave of enthusiasm that I have ever seen (even from those who profess not to have any interest in sport), which has to be a good start and – considering the contagion factor – must mean we are going to be carried along on that particular wave for some time to come. It strikes me that there is no small amount of coincidence in the fact that, like the word “entheos”, the very concept of the Olympics hails from the ancient Greeks and has the lighting of the Olympic flame as its core symbol – a divine spark actualised and, in this case, very likely to perpetuate long after the actual flames have died down. Long may the spark of enthusiasm burn – for all of us!