The way we think about and employ words can tell us a great deal about our culture. Often the original root meanings are different. A word that sheds light on the unconscious split Westerners have created between our intellects and our emotions is ‘interest’.
When we use this word we are often referring to something external to us that we feel curiosity about. When I have an interest I am drawn in that direction, and I usually seek to understand it and master it by employing my reason and intelligence. The object of my interest and I are two separate entities.
The Zen master D.T. Suzuki aptly describes the Western mentality when he says “The chief characteristic, therefore, which distinguishes the scientific approach to reality is to describe an object, to talk about it, to go around it, to catch anything that attracts our sense-intellect and abstract it away from the object itself, and when all is supposedly finished, to synthesize these analytically formulated abstractions and take the outcome for the object itself” (D.T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, pg. 11).
It’s strange to realize that when we are interested in this or that, passion and emotion usually take a back seat to intellect and analytical constructs. Yet doesn’t it make sense to feel emotionally charged by those parts of your life that attract you and draw you towards them? Actually interest comes from the Latin root interesse, which has two parts inter-esse. Inter means between, and esse means to eat, to consume, or to devour. The best translation for the full word is ‘to be in’.
We see that the original definition is much different from our definition in that I and the subject of my interest fuse together and become one. I am my interest. The words eat, consume, and devour all imply an active as opposed to passive process. We in the West tend to consider our interests from a safe distance where we can see and understand them objectively.
We can learn about ourselves and our interests by thinking about the difference between the definition of the original word and how we employ it today. Our personal interests exist for a reason, and this reason probably has much more to do with passion and emotional engagement than we let our analytical minds believe. We can open ourselves up to our interests and let ourselves inhabit the moment joyfully, relating to what we do emotionally instead of rationally thinking about what we do. We can learn through this process to fuse intellect with emotion and create a richer style of living. Think about your own interests and try letting yourself get excited about them.