Saturday, February 26, 2011

what others have to say about passion

The month is winding down, and I was sitting here thinking about what I was going to write for March -- which has now been altered a little from its previous fart-like phrasing (air, space, wind, release) to Surrender. And I realized that I wasn't giving Passion its full due.

Sorry, Passion. Won't do it again.

I found a number of famous people talking about passion, and thought some of them were particularly interesting.

Like Cicero:
“He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”

Or my good friend T. Alan Armstrong*
“If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you and BECAUSE of you."

“There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.”

Ye Olde Proverb:
“Our passions are the winds that propel our vessel. Our reason is the pilot that steers her. Without winds the vessel would not move and without a pilot she would be lost.”

Ben Franklin:
“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

D.H. Lawrence:
“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot.”

“Love without passion is dreary; passion without love is horrific.”

Fran├žois de la Rochefoucauld:
“If we resist our passions, it is more through their weakness than from our strength.”

And my favorite, Joss Whedon:
“Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping... waiting... and though unwanted... unbidden... it will stir... open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us... guides us... passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love... the clarity of hatred... and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we'd know some kind of peace... but we would be hollow... Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we'd be truly dead.”

I love the way so many of them contrast reason with passion and point out how easy it is to be overwhelmed by passion, or driven by it. At the same time, many of these quotes also speak to our tendency to ignore passion or leave it behind. As if passion is an all-or-nothing debate. Either you're a rational person or a passionate person, and while there's a desirable blend of both, few seem to master it.

Back when I was acting, there was a side of me that was truly a passionate artist, who acted as a craft and an art form and for whom the time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears was all part of the deal. And there was also a part of me that recognized that I wanted to make a living at it, so I had to be more rational, more balanced, and live more with my brain than with my heart.

I had a conversation with my father around that time about theatre as a business, and he talked about investments and equity and return on investment and I told him the thing that would keep theatre from being a business the way, say, publishing or manufacturing is a business is the passion of the people involved. Most actors will work for free. Some will even pay you to let them work. There is a heart to that community that is missing (in my personal experience) in others. So while there is truly a rational side to any art, I would argue that most of it is about passion.

But unlike Cicero, I think that people who use their passion AND their reason are in the best shape. It's like the kiss quote -- not enough passion and reason is dull, not enough reason and passion is too much.

*yeah, I have no idea who he is.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

what I learned about passion

So it turns out that one of the things I'm most passionate about is passion! I was generous with my generosity in January, so who knows? Maybe in March I'll surrender to surrendering.

First I'd like to thank the participants who showed up for the call this weekend. I learned a lot from them, and was really fascinated by where our conversation took us.

The first highlight is the difference between healthy passion and unhealthy passion. Healthy passion was defined as the fire that comes from a conscious engagement with what aligns you. It's the energy of being on purpose, and can sometimes take determination and willpower to manifest itself. And unhealthy passion is the kind of whirlwind energy that, like an addiction, can take you over and point you in directions that don't serve you. They have that driving force in common, except that healthy passion drives you to where you want to be, where you're meant to be, and unhealthy passion drives you over the cliff -- kind of fun on the way there, but in the end, it wrecks your car and you have a hard time walking.

It's easy to get sidetracked by unhealthy passion because it mirrors and mimics healthy passion; as healthy passion ebbs and flows, unhealthy passion tends to just flow. So it's easy to ride that wave -- whether it's a relationship, a drug, obsessive thoughts, what have you -- because it feels just like the flow of the healthy passion. It's the ebbing that's more difficult.

We also talked about the similarities between "passion" and "passive" -- essentially they both involve being taken over by something outside yourself. Passion tends to move you forward, passive tends to keep you static and move things around you.

We talked about how passion, oddly enough, can take work. That it's one thing to sit around and claim to be passionate, and it's another thing all together to get out there and make things happen in the areas where you are passionate. For example, it's one thing to say "I'm passionate about writing music," and another thing to regularly put in the time it takes music to be written. Many people are passionate about the goal, but fewer are passionate about the journey to reach it.

I asked the question, "What can someone do when they aren't feeling passionate? How do you get passion back in your life?" And here are a couple of the answers:
-- be aware of what your passions are
-- have courage to pursue your passions
-- adjust your belief system so that being passionate is valuable
-- spend time with passionate people
-- be careful how and where you spend your time
Essentially, it was agreed that there was little an outside person could do about somebody else's passion except leave it up to that person to bring back his or her own fire.

The most interesting and exciting part of the call to me, however, was when I asked the participants to use a three word combination to describe their understanding of passion. Here's what came out:
1) deep interest, commitment, engagement
2) heavy, complicated, light
3) excitement, transcendence, irresistible attraction
4) joy, purpose, transcendence
5) aliveness, alignment, yes!

These definitions led us to a discussion of passion as something that flourishes in the face of a struggle. If what you're passionate about comes easily, it's not as rewarding as it is if you have to struggle to attain your passion. One participant called the struggle "suffering," and I agree with that in the sense of not-suffering-fools (as opposed to suffering-torment (or suffering-succotash)). And I think that my struggle to understand passion has helped me feel more passionate about understanding it. Kind of a never ending cycle, actually!

Finally, we discussed the sliding scale of passion, which enables me to be passionate about connecting with people and about reading books, but where my passion for people is about a 47 (out of 10) in intensity, my passion for books is about a 9 (out of 10). Probably because "connection" or "communication" are my umbrella passions, and theatre, books, and linguistics all fall underneath it.

It's been really exciting engaging in this study so far. I really had a hard time with it at first, but after a month of putting in the work, I'm starting to see the rewards.

And just in case I haven't done enough, the Passion of the Christ is at the top of my Netflix queue. Just because.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm a passionista!

In furtherance of the Year of Yes! (well, ok, the fourteen months of yes), this month's focus is on passion. And I'll be honest, I've really been struggling with it.

Part of my struggle is the fact that the Year of Yes! (well, ok, the fourteen months of yes) is really about doing things on my own. Being alone, but welcoming others to join me in my adventures. But the things that I'm most passionate about involve connection, communication, and otherwise engaging with people who aren't me. So I got a little stuck.

I've been refocusing my attention on passion, and trying to define what I mean when I say that someone "is passionate." Can a person be passionate without having an object of their passion? For example, can I simply say that Kate is a passionate person? Or do I have to say what Kate is passionate about? And if I say that Kate is simply passionate, what is it that she says or does that demonstrates that she's passionate? How do we recognize passionate people? And will identifying those qualities help us define passion?

Can passion stand alone? Or does it act as an amplifier to something else -- like being passionately angry, or loving passionately?

Another trap I fell into earlier in the month is thinking that passion is some all consuming thing. That it's bigger than life and only a scant few really have it. Because I think our society believes that's true. That passion is this driving force that keeps those dedicated people who are lucky enough to be in touch with their passion up until the wee hours of the morning, working to save the world. And maybe it is. But I think that passion is anything that's worth getting up early in the morning for. So I'm passionate about my family. And I'm passionate about a beautiful sunrise, or my job. (This wasn't always the case, my friends. Hooray for new jobs!) And if someone else would wake up early in the morning with me, I'd be more than delighted to have a deep conversation with them at 5:30 a.m. Because as I said before, connection is a huge passion.

But I have so many more questions.

Are there downsides to passion? Can it burn out like a flame, or burn up like a house on fire?

And what's the relationship of passion to compassion?

What do the major religious traditions have to say about passion?

What do YOU have to say about it?

Please join me for a phone conversation on passion this Sunday, February 20th at 4:30pm Eastern. Just call 712.775.7100 and use the participant passcode of 500681# to join.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

rush rush rush rush rush rush

On Monday of this week, I dropped the little wallet I carry that holds next month's metrocard (worth $104) and all my IDs -- my license, my building pass, gym memberships, etc. I went back to look for it after I realized I had dropped it, but it was gone. To make matters worse, I was traveling for work Monday night and wouldn't be back in the city until Wednesday night, so I hoped that a Good Neighbor had picked it up and stowed it safely away for me, and figured that by the time I got back, I'd know more about it.

I have to say, I was impressed with how calm I was.

I got home Wednesday night, and, alas, there was no information. I went another day ID-less, and then on Friday started to replace the missing items. (Did you know you can get a replacement drivers license without going to the DMV? Heaven!!) I shelled out $25 for my building pass, $10 for my gym pass, $17.50 for my drivers license, and tried to cancel the metrocard to no avail. I was grumpy, grouchy, and extremely frustrated.

When I got home Friday night, though, there, in my mailbox, was a package from K. Murphy, my Incredible Neighbor. Mr. or Ms. Murphy not only returned my whole wallet to me, but included the unused, $104 metrocard! I was so impressed!

So what's the lesson? Wonderful things CAN happen, but not necessarily when I want/need/expect them to. This is really important for me to keep in mind, especially when pursuing things I want, like in dating, or looking for a new job, or trying to find an apartment. While there is definitely something to be said for faith, there is an equal amount to be said for patience.

Because not everybody knows my schedule. And even if they did, not everybody would care about it the way I do.