08/20/2012 08:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Obsessions, and Why to Follow Them (Sometimes)

I'll never forget the first time I saw eye miniatures. I was in the farthest reaches of the deepest depths of the Philadelphia Art Museum when I came upon them. They were the most curious, mysterious, and beautiful things I had ever seen. And there was absolutely NO official research on them. No guidebooks, no art history references, no Google results. Turns out the museum's eye miniatures had been the eccentric collection of a woman who'd donated them, but their history goes back to "Prinny," the Prince Regent, and his secret wife, who exchanged them as tokens of their illicit love.

I became obsessed with finding ones to buy, going all over the place--the fancy New York City shows, the rural "maybe they don't know what they have" shows. After two years of looking, I was at the Delaware Antiques Show when a man behind a counter said, "Yes, I have some." My heart leapt! My whole body thrummed with joy. I bought three of them--two are part of a matching set, which means they were exchanged by lovers who didn't want to give away their identity by showing their whole face. After all, the eyes are the window to the soul, and true love is between souls, not faces.

I've had other obsessions: trying to understand the true history of women and religion, for example. My library at home is filled with thousands of books, hundreds on this topic, most of which I have devoured. That obsession led to writing a book a long time ago with my daughter (It's My Pleasure). By following that obsession to its resolution, I was able to define for myself who I really am and see myself in the context of thousands and thousands of years of history. It's a stunning view, actually.

And then there are the obsessions of the moment: Two years ago it was Southern food (which is now more popular than ever). Bruce Springsteen (a long story, the source of which will make a good book one day). Even sexual obsessions, I think, can be an opportunity for learning. What deep need are we trying to fill? I think obsessions are the heart and soul and mind's ways of leading you to learn new things and grow in new ways. When you follow them (and I am NOT talking about dangerous, illegal, or stalking obsessions) you expose a light into areas where perhaps there is a secret message for you. Is there something you need to learn? To heal from? To better understand about yourself and your life.

I'm dealing here with a basic assumption I have that life is not meant simply for us to float through in ignorance, measured by wealth, or belonging, or years of obedience to someone else's ideal. I'm talking about LIVING. Being alive. Perhaps you could say I get swept away with being alive while I am alive. It's awesome.

In fact, I'm obsessed!


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