I’ve been listening to a Sounds True production of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes talk about Seeing in the Dark. I’ve listened to it before, but not for some years, and not since I developed a daily practice of sitting and breathing.
She suggests that a practice, whether it be meditation, prayer, or whatever else, is not a pathway to calm, but a pathway to passion. This struck me as a radical idea, and it made me reevaluate my Be Still Now practice completely.
Sitting in silence with nowhere to go, nothing to do, focusing only on my breathing, has been of inestimable value to me in ways I feel deeply but cannot easily put into words. I can talk about the effects in words: less speeding, diminished anxiety, a deeper connection with my intuition and creativity. But the pleasure of the actual practice during those few minutes a day is an experience I can’t share.
I would never have associated it with passion, however. Serenity, yes. I’ve pursued serenity and peace all my life, and that was my destination in creating a Be Still Now practice.
Pinkola Estes suggests I’ve not walked far enough along the path the practice opens up; that beyond the peaceful place where I stop and have my being in those minutes lies something more, some primal power I’ve been trying to control, hide, and even amputate for most of my life.
What does passion mean? Passion is a strong or compelling feeling. It comes from a Greek root meaning ‘to suffer’.
Passion expresses the full power of feeling. It’s a tidal wave, a hurricane, a tornado. It’s the grief we cannot bear, the rage we dare not fully express, the physical desire that overcomes our civilized facades and renders us as natural as wild animals.
Passion is agony and ecstasy. It’s a quality both attractive and repellent. We admire passion in music, on film, and in other artistic expression, but it’s more easily appreciated when we keep it at an arm’s length. Living with our own passionate nature, or that of someone close to us, is an uncomfortably intense experience for most people.
My experience of my own passion is it makes others uncomfortable at best. At worst, it’s a fearful threat, and when I’ve allowed it to bloom it’s been beaten down without mercy. Passion, for all its beauty, is also suffering, and none of us want to get too close to that. It might be catching.
The problem is if we are passionate, to deny deep suffering is to deny all deep feeling, to live in a kind of numb, unchanging twilight. We show a bland, inoffensive face to the world, asking for nothing, needing nothing.
We know much more in this culture about numbing our feelings than we do feeling them. When I view any personal practice from this angle, I can see being present without distraction is a natural first step to presence with our feelings. If we deliberately put aside all our coping mechanisms for pain, all that’s left is to feel it.
I don’t want to feel it. I want to feel peaceful. But my Be Still Now time doesn’t actually take the pain away. It takes my thoughts about the pain away. It allows me space to express and experience pain directly, without a lot of noise around it, but I have to actively consent to enter that space.
Passion is, of course, much more than pain. It’s also incomplete without pain. For me, pain is the top layer of passion, and if I don’t allow it, I can’t get to any other deep feeling.
Which means I can’t write from the fullness of my being.
Which diminishes the core of my life.
But, hey, nobody’s offended or uncomfortable. Nobody’s threatened, so it’s all good, right?
If I use my daily Be Still Now practice to connect wordlessly to passion, what would happen?
Just before I started writing this post, I read this:
In spring the blue azures bow down
at the edges of shallow puddles
to drink the black rain water.
Then they rise and float away into the fields.
Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy,
And all the tricks my body knows—
the opposable thumbs, the kneecaps,
and the mind clicking and clicking—
don’t seem enough to carry me through this world
and I think: how I would like
To have wings—
ribbons of flame.
How I would like to open them, and rise
from the black rain water.
And then I think of Blake, in the dirt and sweat of London – a boy
staring through the window, when God came
Of course, he screamed,
seeing the bobbin of God’s blue body
leaning on the sill,
and the thousand-faceted eyes.
Well, who knows.
Who knows what hung, fluttering, at the window
between him and the darkness.
Anyway, Blake the hosier’s son stood up
and turned away from the sooty sill and the dark city—
turned away forever
from the factories, the personal strivings,
to a life of the imagination.
I wonder if it’s possible for me to endure a fully passionate life now. I am attracted, and I am afraid. If my daily practice might be a doorway to reclaiming and inhabiting my own passion, I’m not sure I dare open it. There are reasons I’ve worked so hard all my life to bury passion.
And yet … to dance. To live in music. To be joyfully in the body. To howl and snarl and know the innocence of joy. To weep without shame. To love again without fear. To turn it all into words that awaken passion in others. Can I ever be truly peaceful without those? Is a life without passion peaceful, or merely numb?