Passion? Joy?
Or is contentment enough?

by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative Loafing)

A reader writes: "I am a 38-year-old, divorced professional woman, more aware than most. (Yes, I'm trying internet dating, which is highly correlated to this question.) I'd like to understand why making my contented life open for more passion and joy meets with such seemingly impenetrable resistance. It's as if some exterior force tugs me back in line when I dream of more, as though I'm being told that some things are not available to me. My soul work has made me much more content and aware, but slightly saddened and lonely. While I've stopped making poor choices, the things I've hoped for haven't appeared. Acknowledging the gap makes it wider, and leaves me wondering if contentment should be enough." - Sarah, Decatur.

I presume, Sarah, since you refer to internet dating and passion, that the "things you hope for" are actually the companionship of a mate. If that's what you mean (and I'm really not sure), another way of stating your dilemma would be to say that you are fundamentally content but that, without a mate, you don't feel passionate. Further, you seem to say that acknowledging this leaves you feeling resigned to a life without passion. So, for you, it seems, passion depends on a mate.

Of course, I cannot really address your love life here, but you do raise some questions that are deeper than the purely personal. First of all, you notice something very natural -- that a wish or a goal seems to give rise to its opposition. There's nothing pathological in that. Freud observed that we are always thus conflicted to some extent, having both an erotic, creative drive, as well as a death drive. Jung expressed it somewhat differently but likewise noticed that whatever is present in the conscious constellates its opposite in the unconscious and vice versa.

And, yes, Jung also theorized, like you, that this conflict may arise outside our personal psyches, in the realm of the archetypes. I might suggest at the outset that you read Goethe's Faust.. Dr. Faust was suffering your same dilemma, an absence of passion in an otherwise successful life, and Goethe observed that his dilemma actually originated in heaven, the realm of the archetypes, in a bet between God and Satan. So your problem is part of what is given with human nature.

Freud and Jung were both heavily influenced by Goethe. Freud argued that we have to identify and repress the destructive drive, the one that draws us away from our reasonable pleasure. Jung argued, more intelligently in my opinion, that the two opposites have to be held in conscious tension, so that a third unimaginable possibility can emerge. In Jung's way of thinking, the problem is not that the "gap" you write about becomes wider, but, perhaps, that you don't let it grow wide enough so that the third possibility can emerge.

Our culture's priests - I mean the religious and the psychological types - continue to preach that if we do the right things, such as go to therapy and "unlearn" our parent-based relationship styles, we will be rewarded with monogamous relationships in which our sexual, romantic and domestic needs will be met. So we all go to work on ourselves. We learn what messes our families were. We try "to become the person we would want to love." Perhaps we try to become "centered," looking for a divine spark, thus spiritualizing our situation. If we don't pathologize or spiritualize our status as single people, we genderize it. Men, after all, are from Mars while women, obviously, are from Venus. We have to fix everything…and quickly. But we still end up awaking at 4 a.m., the hour of the wolf, as the French call it, overcome with melancholy and disappointment, alone.

My training as a therapist followed by the work I developed as an alternative to therapy has taught me that passion and a deep sense of purpose cannot be recovered in an agenda set by the ego or by hopping on the bliss-ninny train. I have three observations that may be helpful.

First, the unconscious for most us now resides in the body. There can be no real split between body and mind since mind, obviously, resides at least partly in the body, even if you imagine it purely as a brain function. Thus, when Descartes attempted to split mind from body, he really just rendered the body unconscious. I have repeatedly found that the body provides the clearest clues to the passion we have disowned. Any massage therapist can validate this. Touch the body with compassion, and emotions well up.

The center of this body knowing is the heart, but there are other centers of consciousness in the body that can be reawakened. The heart until very recently in human history was known to be an organ of perception. In James Hillman's terms, it has its own logos. So, if you feel you have lost your passion, the first thing I counsel is re-establishing contact with your body and it's heart-knowing. Massage, yoga, energy work are just three ways to reintroduce yourself to your body.

Second, beauty is the path to passion. More than anything else in modern life, the aesthetic has been devalued. To really have an experience of passion, put yourself in beautiful circumstances with an open heart.

And this begs a question: Who responds to beauty and who is reawakened in the conscious body?

That's my third point. Our souls respond and awaken. This is the great failure of modern therapy - forgetting that healing is not for the persona, but for the soul, the angel, the daimon that possesses us and demands our respect. Soul is the unacknowledged presence in the usual therapy room. Passion is awakened when soul is given its voice and body.

So, Sarah, in summary, to rediscover our passion, we let the gap between what we want and what is true widen, not narrow. We sink fully into the body, paying special attention to the heart - the heartbreak you wrote about. In this conscious grief, the emotion which really separates the more evolved from the less evolved, we give ourselves an experience of the beautiful. You will have an experience of what the Germans call sehnsucht and the Greeks called pothos -- a yearning for your own divine nature. If you do this, I promise that soon enough, your passion - your duende, to use Federico Garcia Lorca's term, will spring to life.

Copyright 1999 by Creative Loafing

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