Lose Yourself in Action

When evening comes, I return home and go into my study. On the threshold I strip off my muddy, sweaty, workday clothes, and put on the robes of court and palace, and in this graver dress I enter the antique courts of the ancients and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born. And there I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives of their actions, and they, in their humanity, reply to me. And for the space of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexation, fear of poverty no more, tremble no more at death…”

Thus says Machiavelli in a letter to Francesco Vettori, Italian diplomat and writer, in December 1513. Machiavelli, founder of modern Political Science and best known for his political masterpiece book, The Prince, was a gifted writer in making visual scenes out of his writings. When I read to him, though he could be describing a strategy for the ruler on how to organize his army, I feel as if I am seeing how the army is getting organized before my eyes. In the above quoted from his letter, Machiavelli is beautifully picturing the tiresomeness of the day life – in which he describes his workday clothes as “muddy” and “sweaty”, denoting that what he was doing involved movements and actions (sweaty) on the ground, not in a comfortable room (muddy). Besides the sense resultant from this condition, it also infers that the physical body must be tired after that day of actions.

However, the remarkable thing about the message here is losing one’s self in something worthwhile that one enjoys doing for itself – not for money, not for fame, not for the boss. Beware! This is different from losing one’s self in a task at hand, like filling accounting balance sheet or envisioning a tracking system for an inventory. Machiavelli here is describing a higher level of engagement in something at hand, which is more than just the traditional busyness of our day work or house duties, that maybe can take our minds, but not our souls, senses, feelings, and the intellect. This is described by Machiavelli in that when he gets to study, his soul is teleported to another world; that he feels as if he is one of them – sitting with them, clothed like them, eating with them, and even discussing matters with them. Not only this, but he also feels as if they are responding back to him and answering him. An interactive experience. Such vividness of experience of the invasive absorption of one into something that close to his soul and mind is an experience to be envied. It’s the experience of losing yourself, with all its sides, in action. It’s a bliss that one can have something in his life that can take him away from his life – even if it was a living person. It must not be a study, or a book. It could be a dream, a beloved person, a mission in life… The key is the transcendence of the experience, of going beyond one’s self into something else. This is because humans need transcendence in their lives – not to live self-centred all the way in their course of life. We need that feeling. Besides the beauty of such experience sufficient for itself, that experience is also important as a defence mechanism: losing oneself in action is a shield from depression, despair, and negative emotions. This is because our minds can only focus in one thing at a time and when our minds are vacuum, there comes the chances for negativity to occupy that empty space. As such, losing ourselves in action, best if it was something we enjoy for itself and something that grabs all our senses and mind, is a therapy to many psychological illnesses – in fact, it’s an actual technique in psychiatry, termed as ‘Occupational Therapy’, in which patients are treated by getting them busy in something that absorbs them. As Tennyson said “I must lose myself in action, lest I wither in despair.”

Let’s not be dwelling into ourselves only all the time. Let’s give ourselves to something we deeply love and appreciate: a study, a mission, a memory, a beloved, or a thought … to give ourselves wholly so that, like Machiavelli had, we lose sense of our current world, our time, and even the clothes on our bodies and just transcends and be with that something – to tear the imprisonment of time and space and travel with our soul and mind to something beyond ourselves. If that something was of yielding a result, like a study or a writing or a mission in life, the outcome would be extraordinary if we did the thing with that level of transcendence rather than just doing it as a busy task absorbing only the mind. And if it was something that has no specific result, like a memory or a dream or a book we are reading or a thought about the beloved, enough with the outcome of losing ourselves and the exhaustion of our day into something we love – something/someone with which/whom we would just be happy being with with all of our soul and mind, even for a short time. This would the least bring us happiness and shield us from many psychological illnesses.

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