Whew… don’t have to have a passion…

Gilbert sharing some interesting view on creat...

Elizabeth Gilbert  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a widespread assumption in the spiritual community that we’re all supposed to “find our passion” or “pursue our passion”.  It’s implied that without passion and its pursuit life is somehow lacking.  I always feel a bit flummoxed when I encounter this opinion as I don’t feel I have a passion.

The “Shame” of Not Having a Passion…

I’m not too inclined to toe the line with such opinions so I won’t say I’ve suffered because of it, but it certainly has caused me to think about my interests and whether I feel passion for them.  And sometimes to worry that I’ve lost my verve.  To wonder whether I should be trying harder to determine a passion.

It isn’t that I haven’t had one.  As a child I was pretty single-minded about pursuing music and, more quietly, I always wrote.  My passion for music fell by the wayside, particularly when I realized I don’t really have the right skill set/talent for the type of music I’d prefer to make.  But I remember what that felt like to have a burn to do something.  Which is how I know I don’t particularly have one now.

So I felt relieved and pleased when I finally played my recording of a Super Soul Session with Elizabeth Gilbert.  She told a story of speaking about passion and the need to have one and then receiving a letter from an attendee, describing how badly the talk made her feel since she didn’t have a passion.  Elizabeth examined the idea of pursuing passion and concluded that some of us have many interests and our path is to follow curiosity in whatever direction(s) it takes us.

That’s more or less what I’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve followed a variety of seemingly unrelated threads and over time I realized the threads have been slowly forming a picture; each thread I’ve been led to follow connects with one or more others.  Quietly something is unfolding and I’m content to follow each beckoning trail until the tapestry reveals itself.

I like that she was able to step back from a conviction about passion based on her own experience and to realize not everyone has the same path; not every one has a passion.  Some of us have some meandering to do.  Some of us are drawn to many things and no one of them calls more strongly to be pursued.

Sometimes the exhortations to find a passion and follow it feel a little like bullying to me since I don’t have one.  If you have a passion or ardor is important to you, you may find such advice is helpful.  But for many of us the assumption that everyone must have a fanatic devotion to some particular pursuit is hurtful because it makes us wrong for failing to single-mindedly pursue one course.

The Video

The “embed” feature on the video doesn’t seem to actually put the video in the post but this link immediately opens the video of Elizabeth’s talk here:


Choosing Words…

I’ve also sometimes felt like “passion” is too strong a word for me.  I used to live on a roller coaster of emotions and one of my favorite things about years of spiritual practice is the greater equanimity with which I live; melodramas used to be constantly playing in my head as I exaggerated emotions and turned everything into a drama and I DON’T miss that.

Passion always feels to me like a word that belongs on the roller coaster ride.  I kind of like “follow your bliss” better.  And I really like Gilbert’s quiet hummingbird, flitting along the paths of its curiosity.  Those words feel like they fit better with my hard won state of balance…

Don’t forget it’s time to set aside 10 or more minutes to pray or chant for peace!

Just be who you are…

I enjoyed all of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love but one piece jumped out for me and had such an impact that I keep coming back to it periodically. In India, she tried hard to meet some expectation she imagined about being soft and quiet and “spiritual”.

Cover of "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Se...

Cover via Amazon

Eventually she understood a message–apparently repeated often by her Guru—that God just asks you to be who you are. And, put another way, since the divine is in you whoever you are is divine.

I grabbed a pen and underlined most of a paragraph, drew a flower next to a line, double lined some pieces and felt immensely relieved. Unlike Elizabeth, I never aimed to meet some image of what a spiritual person should look like. I’ve said many times (and wrote in a previous post) that I didn’t start this journey for spiritual reasons and my persistence at doing practices always had more to do with health and building energy for me.

But as I’ve discussed in another post, there was a point when I started studying Buddhism and began to be influenced by the idea that I should be aiming for “no self” or “non-duality” or detachment from personality. None of those ever really became a goal but every time I encountered them I felt confused about whether I was doing it “wrong”.

So this tale of a guru who teaches that you just need to be yourself came as a great comfort. It felt like one of the most important pieces of spiritual wisdom I ever read. Great, there’s no requirement to stop having a personality; in fact this teacher felt that trying not to be your individual self just leads to being unhappy. Of course, then I started thinking about it. I come from a long line of folks who like to think everything through and look at every situation from every angle. Tends to lead you off from the comfort place… Eventually I reached a place of wondering, well which “me” is the one to be?

When I began this path I was pathologically shy, neurotic, anxious and unhappy enough to sometimes wish for death. If the idea is that you are already divine and thus whoever you are at any given moment is the one to be then it sounds like I should have just skipped all the practice and studying and stayed miserable. I never had an image of some particular person or type of person I aimed to be, I just didn’t want to be so unhappy any more and I wanted to get my health back, so I did nothing on this journey with some picture of who I “should” be instead (except healthy and not miserable).

But over the years, as I’ve explored the deep emotional landscape and worked on energy practices and yoga for my health, mask after mask came off. I started out an introvert but have become much more extroverted. I didn’t make the change on purpose, but if I just accepted “I’m an introvert” as who I am I’m not sure that I’d have been open enough to allow the transition to happen. I used to be anxious all the time but after years of releasing the past and doing yoga and the Eight Key Breaths, etc. I have been pretty calm and serene for years. Which of those is who I really am? Should I have just said “anxious is who I am” and stayed there?

In modern times here in the west I think we all wear a lot of masks by the time we reach adulthood. I’ve wondered whether in the ancient east people were less removed from their essential (divine) selves. I don’t quite understand how it’s possible to be happy and connected to your divine self if you’ve covered that self in multi-layers of masks—for most of us so many layers that we no longer can experience our own divinity. Practice has always seemed to me to be one way to move toward that “essence” self that lives behind the masks.

The more I’ve grown and changed and lowered masks the less I’ve been certain who I am. Some characteristics seem to have remained intact since childhood but many aspects of my self have changed. At one time I’d have told you I could never teach or be a speaker because I could NOT speak in public, ever, under any circumstances and I really believed that was who I was. I now do it easily and don’t mind at all. There have been so many changes that have moved me in a different direction than who I thought I definitively was. I wasn’t trying to be some specific other person, practice just transformed me.

Early in the journey I accepted myself as a divine being though I didn’t know what that specifically meant and I developed no goal about being a certain way that could be defined as “divine”. I think maybe the acceptance of that divinity and then steadfastly doing practices that impact divinity has carried me toward being a truer version of the me I came here to be. Maybe that’s the key factor: knowing I’m divine and doing practices that acknowledge that while staying open to letting my god-nature combine all that and guide me toward being my Self, whoever she may turn out to be…