Lynn Soots

Getting engaged ... in life

summing up a second pathway into flourishing - engagement
posting by Jana

Jana at the river in forest therapy.jpg

It was our second week focusing on Martin Seligman's five points of human flourishing as pathways to Co-Flourishing of people, place, and planet ... together, which brought us to 'Engagement' as a theme. 

Here's Seligman in a 2011 article talking about engagement: 

The second element, engagement, is about flow: being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self-consciousness during an absorbing activity. I refer to a life lived with these aims as the “engaged life.” Engagement is different, even opposite, from positive emotion; for if you ask people who are in flow what they are thinking and feeling, they usually say, “nothing.” In flow we merge with the object. I believe that the concentrated attention that flow requires uses up all the cognitive and emotional resources that make up thought and feeling.
There are no shortcuts to flow. On the contrary, you need to deploy your highest strengths and talents to meet the world in flow. There are effortless shortcuts to feeling positive emotion, which is another difference between engagement and positive emotion. You can masturbate, go shopping, take drugs, or watch television. Hence, the importance of identifying your highest strengths and learning to use them more often in order to go into flow.

'Hence the importance of identifying your highest strengths and learning to use them more often in order to go into flow.' This defining aspect of 'engagement' sent me on a quest for inspiration from people known to have honed their highest strengths: famous writers and elite athletes, for example. 

Monday 8 Jan 2018
As a launch pad for exploring engagement, we started the week with musings on the term's etymology. The word 'engage' comes from the French word for 'to pledge,' which is of course the basis of its association with betrothal and marriage. More generally, however, the word means 'to occupy or attract (someone's interest or attention)' and synonyms include engross and absorb. 

For positive psychologist Lynn Soots, engagement as a component of human flourishing can also take a more generic form:

Engagement can be deep states in which we purposely create an extended period of time that includes a passion such as a hobby, a technique or a skill, and commitment to performance. This is just one aspect of engagement as engagement is not limited to long-term binding activities. Engagement can be a choice to engage in life ... 

I wonder about the mutually enhancing relationship between the two states of engagement: the deeply immersive is a concentrated version that serves as an invitation to imagine how life in general can attract our attention and absorb us in its details, beauties, challenges. And to cultivate engagement in our lives without the pressure of developing an all-engrossing hobby or vocation. As Soots reminds her readers at The Positive Psychology People, flourishing through engagement can also be about being 'open to and willing to initiate, create, and savour experiences that fuel our inner (and outer) wellbeing.'

Tuesday 9 Jan 2018
In the first part of the week, we focused on the immersive sense of engagement, the flow notion of being deeply absorbed in some one particular activity. The first quote of the week was from author of National Velvet fame, Enid Bagnold, who speaks of writing in ways that communicate the sense of being engrossed and absorbed. Interestingly, her craft absorbs her in life. 

Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it's the answer to everything ... It's the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it's a cactus.

Wednesday 10 Jan 2018
Athletes are quintessential exemplars of 'flow', and sports philosopher Michael Novak describes the moment of unity (another aspect of definition of engage is to join together or unite as regards parts in machines, which raises interesting points to ponder about the machinery of marriage and the athlete as machine).

This is one of the secrets of sport. There is a certain amount of unity within the self, and between the self and the world, a certain complicity and magnetic mating, a certain harmony that conscious mind and will cannot direct ... the discovery takes one's breath away. 

Thursday 11 Jan 2018
Too engaged (in whatever I was doing?) to post a quote! Practicing what I preach and all that ...

Jana in action.PNG

Friday 12 Jan 2018
Near the end of the week we moved into the more generalised sense of being absorbed in life. Walt Whitman is perhaps the great ambassador of such:

This is what you should do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches, give alms to every one that asks,
stand up for the stupid and the crazy,
devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people ...
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem. (Leaves of Grass)

Saturday 13 Jan 2018
Today's quote was short and sweet:

I intend to live life, not just exist. 
- George Takei

Sunday 14 Jan 2018
To close the week's focus on engagement, we switched from an implicit understanding of how our own flourishing through engagement enables, conspires with, co-incidences the flourishing of the whole community of life on Earth into an explicit naming of this symbiotic relationship: as we are part of life, so our flourishing participates in the flourishing of the whole. 

Mythologist Joseph Campbell invites us to imagine our heroic role in bringing vitality to life by living our own story of vitality: 

The influence of a vital person vitalizes ... People have the notion of saving the world by shifting it around and changing the rules and so forth. No. Any world is a living world if it's alive and the thing to do is to bring it to life. And the way to bring it to life is to find in your own case where your life is, and be alive in yourself. 

Living questions and invitations
arising out of this week's journey into engagement as part of flourishing (as part of co-flourishing of people, place, and planet): 

  • What do you find absorbing? 
  • You are invited to imagine your experiences of flow as part of the overall vitality of life. 
  • Being engrossed in something you enjoy can feel quite self-indulgent, like a turning away from greater responsibilities and caring for others and the Earth. What do you embrace and what do you resist about the idea that your own vitality is essential to the world's vitality?

What other questions and invitations arise for you when you reflect on engagement? You're invited to share your thoughts and get some discussion going in the comments section. Or here.

The purpose of these journeys via the Cosmic Quotes is to explore what it means to be a Cosmic Person, to live with sensitivity to and conscious awareness that we belong to the universe and that our lives are governed by interdependency, connectedness, and emergence. To be a Cosmic Person is to let this awareness support our wellbeing and direct our decisions and choices such that our lives become about participating in the flourishing of the whole community of life on Earth. It's about living a bigger story, a better story, and a beautiful story, the one about falling in love with the Earth over and over again.