Afflictive Emotions: Passion

iStock_000034950462_SmallPassion is intense, driving emotion involving strong desires or aversions as well as sensations of pleasure or pain. The raw and urgent experience of passion influences behavior in a way that tends to be unexamined, immediate and visceral. Given this, it makes sense that the word is derived from a Greek verb meaning “to suffer”.

Without examination, our passionate emotions can enslave us. Human beings experience emotions from the very start of life, but the ability to reason develops later and only gradually. Rational thought is less entrenched in us and emotion is generally the default; it is our first unfiltered response. When the scales of emotion and reason are tipped, we are often driven by our more primitive instincts and passion prevails.

…taking a passionless approach, means that all life is regarded as a fertile situation and a learning situation, always. Whatever occurs—is part of the learning process. So there is nothing to blame; everything is the path… – Chogyam Trungpa

Intense or passionate emotions are usually relatively short-lived. This is because human beings will habituate to almost any prolonged stimuli. Habituation is a decrease in response that occurs after repeated or extended contact with an object of our attention. We are glad for this quality when emotions are painful such as despair, rage, and panic. It allows us adapt to even very difficult conditions. We lament it when emotions are pleasurable such as euphoria and awe. This may be one of the reasons why many marriages ultimately fail.

The short-lived nature of intense emotions means that actions born of them also tend to be brief. Any good that comes from our passion fueled actions is often unsustainable over the long run. An example of this is social movements that bring lasting social change versus those that smolder and die without ever reaching their goals. Passion often inspires a movement – it may even be a necessary ingredient, but it isn’t sufficient for success. Successful social movements typically involve some planning, build momentum over time, and garner continued support even after initial goals are met. The most successful social movements eventually found ways to work with, rather than merely fighting against, key leaders toward needed change.

Whatever the issue, effective social change movements and campaigns are characterised by good strategy, good communications, courage and successful ways of working across differences. – Steve Whiting, Bringing it Up to Date

Passionate emotions are most useful when acknowledged and balanced with reasoned consideration. We have to first recognize what is happening inside us and then be willing to pause to observe our inner experiences. This is particularly challenging when emotions are strong. A consistent practice of mindfulness increases our awareness of thoughts, feelings and body sensations as they arise and cultivates equanimity (balance) despite circumstances.

Passion brings energy and enthusiasm. It can provide powerful motivation to action and the courage to persevere through difficulty. With practice, we learn to recognize passion before it enslaves us and channel its energy into doing good. We can transform passion into compassion in action.

Human passions, like the forces of nature, are eternal; it is not a matter of denying their existence, but of assessing them and understanding them… they can be subjected to man’s deliberate act of will and be made to work in harmony with reason. – Leon Bourgeois

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