In the movie “Immortal Beloved,” about the life of Beethoven, the composer is describing a piece of his music. He is talking about a young man going to see his love, and being hampered by the weather. He says, “That music is the sound of his agitation.” It is a wonderful moment in the movie. What he is talking about is wanting something and encountering an obstacle and feeling agitation at being delayed. The agitation amplifies the motivation.
In the same way, living beings have an inborn motivation toward growth. They are hard-wired to seek the best possible expression of their potential. Flowers want to bloom, fish want to swim, people want to be the best person that they can be. The motivation is given. But sometimes living beings run into obstacles. In the case of flowers, concrete. In the case of fish, predators. And in the case of people, internal limitations based on how they have learned to view the world and themselves.
The obstacles create frustration: Agitation. And that agitation can be the energy that informs a greater effort or it can be the brick wall that prevents further growth. The thing is, the flower breaks through the concrete. The fish swims faster. And lots of times the person ducks, avoids the obstacles, tries to go the other way, gets self-destructive. But fundamentally, that motivation to be the real me tends to keep coming up and keep insisting on expressing itself. Often we do not even know why we are agitated. We are just uncomfortable, unhappy or undirected. We thrash around, trying one thing and another. We look for easy answers, quick fixes, facile tricks. We want someone to rescue us, to tell us what to do, what to believe in. It helps a little. We learn a few things.
Ultimately we begin to get acquainted with ourselves. Not the selves we are supposed to be but the selves we really are. We notice what is working and what is not working. What fits us as we are and what doesn’t fit. We lurch and halt and argue and complain the whole way. It’s too hard. It’s not making any difference. It’s stupid. But we can’t stop trying to be happier. Not just a good mood happy, but a deep happy, like we belong in the world. It’s the agitation. It won’t allow us to stop.