Saturday, March 5, 2011

Search No More

What do you seek? Would you scale the highest peaks on each of the seven continents? Would you cure the world's ailments? Would you develop Hendrixian capacity on the electric guitar? Would you get your kid out of bed and to school on time five days in a row?

Whatever you seek, there is but one key that unlocks the gate barring the path leading from failure to success, a key that is remarkable simple, and yet can take a lifetime to obtain: for most of us, more than a life time.

The key: Pursue all you desire passionately, but with a loose grip.

Passion with a Tight Grip
When you first become passionate about something (about art, about music, baseball, rock-climbing, a new partner, a child) it's all about the object of your passion. If you're like most of us, it's only in the early stages that you experience pure passion.

Over time your focus shifts from the object of your passion to yourself and as it does your grip begins to tighten. It's no longer about the pure expression of yourself through painting or playing or writing; it's about how well you paint, play or write. It's no longer about the pure joy of a newly born child; it's about your properly raising and caring for her. It's no longer about the exhilaration and delight of running; it's about achieving times and winning.

The initial shift is subtle, just a tinge of "how can I make this even better" or "I love this so much, I never want to lose it" or "what would I do if I could no longer..." However, once started, your grip continues to tighten, slowly squeezing out the passion. Before you know it, the space that was once occupied solely by passion is now crowed with judgements, responsibilities, should's and have-to's.

Although we often associate passion with words like commitment and important and meaningful, it's those words that kill passion.

Apathy with a Tight Grip
As your grip tightens, the object of your passion shifts from a source of delight to something unbearable. Of course, the object of passion hasn't actually changed; you have. Unfortunately, most of you're not that self-aware and rather than looking inside for answers, you look outside.

You make changes. You try new approaches and methods. You seek new teachers and guides. You try to change people: your kids, your partner, your friends. You buy new tools, new instruments, new running shoes, new studio furniture. You desperately try to get it back. But you can't, because you never actually lost it. You lost you.

In frustration, you start to look inside. You realize that you're making things way too important, hanging on too tightly. You've got to learn to relax a bit, to let go, to chill and let things happen. But somehow, the only way that you know to let go is to deflate your passion. So, rather than loosing your grip, you become apathetic. You feel more relaxed about how your child is doing in school or about being able to write well or how fast you can run, but that burning desire is no longer there.

Apathy with a Loose Grip
As your passion slowly dies, you still maintain a tight grip. You can't bear questions like, "So, how's that novel coming along?" or "Hey, how many times did you run this week?" It's only after your passion is long dead and gone that you finally start to relax your grip.

You enter a new phase of apathy with a loose grip. You're no longer uptight about playing music or writing or running or raising your kid. You can talk about it and questions don't irritate you. You've gave up on that long ago.

Passion with a Loose Grip
Perhaps you're currently experiencing one of the above states? With your work? With your partner? With you art? Perhaps you've followed the sequence from pure passion to tightly-held passion to tightly-held apathy to pure apathy?

The good news is that it doesn't really matter. You may have killed your passion years ago. You may be in the throws of tight-fisted angst and anger. You may grudgingly no longer care. It doesn't matter. You can once again experience the joy and delight of unadulterated passion.

The beauty is that doing so does not require the cooperation of anyone but you. It doesn't require new teachers or new gear. It doesn't even require an specific object of passion (even the it is ultimately irrelevant).

It simply requires letting go, diving in and steadfastly refusing to hang on.

How can you be passionate and not hang on? Well that's what it's all about isn't it. Here are some tips.
  1. If you find yourself making it important, stop. It's not important. It may be a priority, something that you put before other things. However, once you make it important you start to make it about you personally. You plant the tiny seeds that will quickly grow into passion-choking vines.

  2. It doesn't mean anything! All meaning comes from you. There is no inherent meaning in anything you do. In the end, nothing you've done will remain. All you have is the experience of it.

  3. Don't give your critic an inside track. Understanding how you can better do what you do is valuable. Well-founded and solidly reasoned critique is a joy. However, when you make it mean something about you, you're, umm, screwed.

    Avoid critique? Hell, no. Invite it and embrace it. Say it aloud! Repeat it! Share it!

    "The reason I'm running so slowly is..."

    "The reason my stories don't hang together is..."

    "My paintings could be even better if..."

    Put it out there so that it doesn't take root inside.
Everything that makes us human comes alive when we experience passion. It's a wonder that we're not better at it.

Happy Saturday,

PS Stay tuned for Rita's post coming this afternoon.

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