Tempering Passion with Joy

For those of us who see through the illusions and injustices of the world, it is easy to get riled up over them. Speaking for myself, if left unchecked, my passion for truth can quickly turn into aggression. But aggression is aggression, whether it’s coming from egotistical oppressors or impassioned activists, whether its intention is to overpower or to reveal truth.

Passion is a key emotion that can lead to great positive change, but in the hands of those who do not understand its inherent trappings, it can lead to tragedy.

Here’s what truth-seekers and change-makers need to know about the passion for reform: We can only make life-generating contributions by maintaining healthy, life-generating passion, not falling into the trap of aggression. This is not an easy task because passion is inherently active, boisterous, lively, expressive—all excitable qualities that resist being governed.

But to get carried away by our passions is to let them own us instead of using them as tools to reach our goals. In my case, my deepest desire has been to recognize the illusions that stand between me and a life-generating experience—personally, communally, and globally—and then to apply these insights to create life-generating results.

Aggression and depression are two common traps of passion. They are the negative polarities to which the pendulum of passion can swing when left unchecked. When passion turns into aggression or depression, it becomes dangerous and gains momentum toward life-deteriorating results. In this way, even the best intentions can turn ugly.

The best life-generating results come from clarity. Passion can be clear or cloudy, depending on how we exercise it. When we let passion veer off toward aggression or depression, we lose our place and spin away from our goal. And like any trap, this one is not always obvious.

The trap of misdirected passion is rage on the one hand and impotence to effect change on the other. It is understandable that we sometimes fall into the trap of feeling inconsolable, depressed, or furious at the state of the world and the powers that be. But if we do slip into such traps, we must not dwell there for long, lest they render us impotent.

Nobody wins—neither you nor I, nor our evolution—by getting stuck in clouded, negative passion. Furthermore, there’s just no time for it. We, our communities, and our planet are already terribly sick, and getting more so by the minute.

So how do we open our eyes and the eyes of others to the realities of our world, and how do we watch the slow motion of the wheels of justice without becoming impatient and aggressive—or so furious as to become apoplectic, or so depressed as to become suicidal? I have spent a lot of time chewing on this question because it has been part of my personal journey.

If our passion for truth can swing toward the extreme of blind aggression and anger (e.g., hatred, shouting, fighting, violence, dogma, etc.) and toward the related extreme of depression (apathy, impotence, surrender, self-numbing, substance abuse, addiction, suicide, etc.), we must ask ourselves, “What will bring the passion back to a healthy range?”

The answer is joy. According to the great modern mystic, Almine, joy is “the desire to live.” Almine also coined the concept that joy is the emotional mate to passion. That is to say that passion, like any emotion that falls out of balance, must be “checked” by its partner emotion, joy, in order to remain in the sweet spot. Joy can bring us back to equilibrated, life-generating passion.

For example, when I catch myself leaning toward imbalanced states of passion, I immediately remind myself what all this work is about—I envision a world that works for humans and for all life. I hold close the vision of a world that embodies joy, like Anastasia’s, like life-generating native communities that work in inter-dependant harmony. I focus on what makes our inner and outer worlds brim with natural life. The desire to live guides me back to a passionate approach that serves my purpose rather than diluting it.

This approach lifts me out of aggression and into that sweet place where passion and joy pulse together. It brings my warrior out of imbalanced fight mode and into productive protection of all that is good, magical, beautiful, and harmonious.

To give you a visual illustration, think of desire as the key that turns on the ignition, passion as the accelerator, and joy as the wheel. Passion gives us the energy to create that which we desire to manifest. The desire is the reason we choose to pursue a vision. Joy keeps us on the life-generating road.

Notice there is nothing remotely passive about pulling passion out of aggression. Passion in its equilibrated state is actually more powerful and effective than aggression. It actively works to build a new reality, rather than strengthening its opposition with knee-jerk resistance and ineffective battles that only spill vital energy and fan hatred.

Remember, we always run the risk of strengthening that which we oppose. Instead of fighting against big business and insane cultural paradigms with just another brand of brute force and insanity, we should use our energy creatively. We can do more good by healing those aspects of ourselves that reflect the destructiveness of the world. In reforming ourselves, we can liberate ourselves, and thus empower ourselves to help others heal as well.

We must lead by example. By creating alternative ways of life that actually work, we can create a whole new template for others to try when they, too, are worn thin by the old ways.

So many people talk the talk. They want you to know they eat a raw diet and practice consciousness, and so on and so forth. They desperately want to be seen in this light because they do not yet own it. They want to be whole but they are not yet whole, so they fly in a holding pattern around the life they want, never quite landing on it because growing and changing are so hard to do. This kind of change requires a leap over a chasm, which requires an enormous amount of energy.

The energy must come to the individual in the form of desire, passion, and will. Typically, this potent blend of desire, passion, and will comes to a person only after hitting the intolerable lows of a life that doesn’t work. Sometimes people unconsciously create horrible events in their lives in order to effect change for the better. More often, though, people get stuck in life-deteriorating patterns because their will is inactive.

We all have those aspects of ourselves that stand in the way of personal growth that we tend to shove under the bed rather than face. But this is the first obstacle to change, on any scale. We have to address the need for change within ourselves, not just point fingers at the world. For everything we want the world to overcome, we should overcome something within ourselves.

We have to lead life-generating lives and practice—day by day, moment by moment—what we feel is true, not just talk about it, not just keep on wrestling the same old demons. At a certain point, it’s time to move beyond them, beyond indulgent self-reflection, and take action.

What must you change in your personal life? What dragons must you slay for you to be able to live your truth? Identify the steps you must take, and take them. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake, for there is no greater mistake than inaction in the face of suffering. This is the only way to find your equilibrium and create a way of life that sustains that equilibrium. Be vigilant moment to moment, so you don’t fall into those old traps that would corrupt your passion and leach your joy. If you do get pulled one way or the other, toward aggression or depression, work to reclaim your sweet spot as soon as you can. Keep practicing until you can hold that space longer and longer—until it comes naturally to you.

I know this is a major task. But this is your chance to have a real life, to be free of your demons and dragons (call them what you will), to live and to lead by example. Everyone wants to be free of the old traps, but who is going to show them that it’s possible if not you? If you merely wallow in your issues for too long, you will miss this amazing opportunity to live, truly live, in all the wonder and beauty of the human form. This is your chance to bust out of your cage, to lead a life of exhilarating growth and ever-greater levels of freedom.

People usually enter this work wanting to change their bodies and improve their health. What I hope most people come to realize is that correcting misguided eating patterns is just one obvious part of becoming whole again. It is an essential step to regaining our clarity and equilibrium—breaking free of the cages that hold us, the illusions that paralyze us with fear, the clouds that loom overhead and dictate our future—not just to look good and stay out of the doctor’s office. We do this work to increase our joy, to embrace life and to give life with every fiber of our beings.

So when I find my inner warrior falling out of balance and lashing out in rage against authority figures, I remember that this is my passion succumbing to imbalanced aggression. I remember the vision of life that I am working for and hold that vision until I am clear about my real mission. Then, if that assertive part of myself still wants to express itself, I can allow it to do so from a place of awareness. I give it some room and watch it act out its part, and then I put it neatly away, like an actor might remove his or her costume and makeup after a performance. This way, I can maintain balance even while letting my inner warrior express itself. Of course, I am not always so perfectly aware, but the more I witness myself in this manner, the more I am able to remain centered and empowered with clarity of purpose.

My personal quest has always been one of equilibrium (it also happens that I am a Libra, the symbol of the scales, or balance). Finding equilibrium is like finding the Holy Grail—or the alchemical recipe for transforming our lower (base) self into our higher (rarified) self. It is an experience that comes with great clarity.

People tend to equate equilibrium and balance with moderation. I think this is a mistake. The common saying, “Take everything in moderation,” is a pet peeve of mine. When I hear it, I always chime back, “Especially moderation!” Moderation and balance have become intertwined concepts, defined by our culture as having a little bit of everything. The problem is, if you have a little bit of everything in our culture, you’ll be sick and very mentally and emotionally imbalanced.

The Buddhist tradition speaks of the middle way, but this is not moderation as our culture knows it. The Buddhist middle way is the place where the body and mind are extremely clear, only after being purified by asceticism. It is the middle way because it is the place where life can flow, where the stream is fresh in the center of the flowing river. It is the place where you are so abundantly filled with life force and inner peace that you are not lured into states of extreme happiness or sadness by outside events. Rather, you are whole because your inner life is whole. You are aware of what is truly life-generating, and you are able to hold yourself in that place consistently.

The modern individual cannot achieve this by partaking of his or her unnatural world “just in moderation.” A cup of coffee, a single donut, a nine-to-five job, a turkey sandwich, a bag of chips, a coke, a cigarette, an hour of television, a single beer, a small burger, a couple of medications, a bit of Metamucil, a touch of milk of magnesia, twenty minutes of exercise three times a week, and a prayer before bed—here is a life of modern moderation. Here is something utterly out of balance.

Equilibrium is the sweet spot in all things. It is the place to look when you are healing aspects of yourself that seem impossible to overcome. Ask yourself in each case, “What is disrupting my equilibrium here?” Then apply what you learn, and remember to employ joy to keep your passions as a truth-seeker and change-maker positive and fruitful.

Oxygen Tank, Anyone?

Because of industrial agriculture, and because of changes in ocean currents caused by industrially induced global warming, there are increasing numbers of ever-larger hypoxic zones in oceans all over the planet. In some regions, such as off the coast of southern California, oxygen levels have dropped by 25 percent in the last twenty years. In some regions, such as a 1200-square-mile patch off the coast of Oregon last summer, there is essentially no oxygen in the water whatsoever. This kills bottom-dwelling creatures like crabs and stationary creatures like anemones, and forces fish to at the very least change their migration routes. It allows jellyfish and squid to move in, and causes great mats of anaerobic bacteria to grow.

Do you think that if these zones—caused by the activities of industrial civilization—were in the air and not water, and do you think that if these zones frequently passed over major cities and caused people to flee their homes or die, that those in power would stop the activities that were causing these zones?

Nah, I don’t think so either. I think they’d figure out a way to make a dollar selling tanks of oxygen. Soon enough, a lot of people would consider this normal. And a few environmentalists would get really fed up, and, why, by gum, they’d sign a petition, and maybe even ride their bike (recycled oxygen tank strapped to their organic cotton backpack) to their next Voluntary Transformation Club meeting. The earth can’t take this much longer. I don’t know about you, but neither can I.

—Derrick Jensen, from a letter to his inner-circle “reading club” and his upcoming book, Dreams

Our culture takes away all the real essentials in our lives—the things that naturally conduct health, joy, and connection—and then, in their place, offers “solutions.” These solutions are often welcomed and celebrated, and in time they become a seamless part of our reality.

To recognize this phenomenon, we must see through many layers of cultural illusion. It sounds absurd that one day we’ll think it’s normal to walk around with tanks of lab-generated oxygen strapped to our bodies for survival—can you imagine?!—but wait, look what we’ve already accepted as normal…

Our civilized climate is already inhospitable to the human organism. Yet we completely ignore this fact and assume that the shortcomings of our bodies, minds, and emotions in this setup are normal. In fact, we pay homage to modern medicine, psychology, and technology for providing solutions because, from this cultural vantage point, the alternative would be to perish, or at least to suffer as humankind did before these advances.

The very fact that our civilization is not life-generating to our species (let alone other species) remains hidden to most people. We are under the spell that our civilization should set the standard for all others—it should be revered. It brings to my mind the image of elegantly attired couples dancing on the Titanic as it’s sinking.

The so-called solutions reinforce the illusion that everything is running smoothly, that all is well and normal. They keep people believing in this culture. Sure, any number of citizens might see a movie like The 11th Hour, Food, Inc., orRevolutionary Road and feel a surge of outrage, but just as quickly that feeling fades and they fall back under the old spells that keep them dancing on the Titanic.

A culture (in our case, post-agricultural civilization) provides a blueprint for the life of its people, and the solutions it offers are like the nuts and bolts that hold the structure in place.

Imagine for a moment the common blueprint for the life of a child living the American Dream, with all its ups and downs: school, sports, play dates, getting sick, wearing glasses, getting braces, playing video games, skateboarding, watching television, sleepovers, tests, friendships, losing virginity, getting drunk, feeling reckless, summer jobs, graduation ceremonies, dates, proms, disappointments, finding a job, trying to please parents, running into trouble, making bad choices, excelling at something, feeling great about life, failing at something, feeling horrible about life, not understanding life but carrying on nonetheless, finding a mate, and so on and so on.

Cramming our lives with activity after activity, we become so busy, so intimately and multiply connected to the cultural blueprint, that we mistake it for who we really are. We become so entrenched in the demands of the blueprint that we fail to recognize that it enslaves us. The blueprint is so profoundly reinforced that it’s hard to recognize that it’s the cause of our pain and confusion—that is, if we’re aware enough even to acknowledge our pain and confusion.

If we take this cultural blueprint as our only guide, as our only means of navigation, we must accept all of its conditions and solutions:

• It fills the air with substances that inhibit the flow of our breathing. Solution: a steroid inhaler.

• It ruins our water supply and makes living spring water largely inaccessible. Solution: bottled water.

• It offers a life plan that begins with miseducation—forcing children to sit for hours on end indoors, imposing a curriculum that excludes essential information about the nature of our world, and filling the brain with facts that are drilled into memory only to be forgotten. Solution: PE classes that are more about discipline and competition than joy and playfulness.

• It offers stimulating, refined substances for our food and drink that make people of all ages expand with toxic by-products (e.g., gas pressure, fat deposits, yeast overgrowths). Solution: fewer calories and more exercise.

• It gives us many strained relationships with family and friends that suffer from deep disappointment and poor communication and remain broken in ways we don’t know how to fix. Solution: therapy, self-help books, and a “that’s life” approach.

• It gives us birth defects and childhood leukemia. Solution: fundraisers.

• It gives us infertility. Solution: Clomid, Clomid, and more Clomid. (Who knows, the next round might take!)

• It gives us cancer and so-called incurable autoimmune diseases. Solution: chemotherapy and more fundraisers.

• It programs us to be insatiable, materialistic, status-conscious consumers. Solution: credit cards and debt. (Or wait, is it the other way around?)

• It gives us self-serving, impotent governments and political parties. Solution: more of the same and fundraisers.

In the context of this cultural blueprint, the solutions (like the oxygen tank in Derrick Jensen’s above scenario) make sense and seem completely acceptable, normal, and necessary. But in the context of the natural laws of life, they are flat-out insane.

The natural health world of Pilates classes and power shakes may pose as an alternative solution, but it has actually been co-opted as a reinforcement of the mainstream blueprint. It has become an industry much like any other. Do you think the Aborigines, Cheyenne, Bushmen, or Hunzas ever attended exercise classes or drank power shakes? C’mon!

As adults, we must be told how to breathe deeply, something we were born knowing how to do (most children breathe properly without any instruction) but lost through acculturation. Moreover, there was a time, before the environmental assaults of our civilization, when the air was so well oxygenated that we could get more vitality by sipping the air than we can get today by deep breathing in our cities and suburbs.

We are encouraged to take multivitamins and mineral supplements. Why? Because the topsoil has been denatured by civilized methods of agriculture and food production, and people can’t be expected to eat enough fruits and vegetables.

We are offered antidepressants to combat the feelings of a blocked and imbalanced body (chemically, physically, and emotionally) because of the way we live.

We hand our children off to childcare facilities so we can work all day in jobs that support this juggernaut of madness. We even suggest such a modern setup proves the evolution of our culture and the empowerment of women. Sister Suffragette, please! It’s just another oxygen tank in a dying world—another of our civilization’s mad solutions!

We have places to put our parents when they can no longer live alone. Poetic justice for all those hours of being cared for by strangers and coming home to empty houses after school? We have lost touch with the life-generating, inter-generational threads. Rarely do we see a family in which the grandparents are honored as contributing forces of guidance.

We go to gyms to offset sedentary jobs. During the workday, we look forward to the lunch hour just as much as we looked forward to recess when we were in grade school.

We spend half our attention on communication devices but never really connect from the heart or even hear what our own inner voices are trying to tell us.

We have very few examples of real love relationships but an endless stream of romantic entertainment, matchmaking services, and dream weddings.

We spend our precious lives working jobs we hate to pay for things we’ve been programmed to think we need.

We have no oxygen. We are wearing oxygen tanks. We perceive it to be normal. This level of cultural absurdity has already come to pass. What are we going to do about it?

Our bodies are dying, suffering all manner of illnesses because we are so clogged up and the vital fluids of life cannot do their job. Blood flow, lymph flow, and intestinal flow are all blocked and septic. What do we do? We turn to doctors, pharmaceuticals, “natural remedies,” vitamins, and super-food supplements to help us counter symptoms that we fail to understand. With these in hand, we go about the “bon continuation” of our toxic lives and accept the toxic norms, teaching our children how to follow in our footsteps.

Many who see through the illusions of our world end up turning on themselves because they don’t know what else to do. They often hide behind substance abuse and addiction. It seems that every day another celebrity or former child-star has died of a drug overdose or other form of suicide, not to mention all the non-celebrities who slip away from life unseen. Many more will follow. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, the set design is the same—whether elaborate or Spartan, it’s still a façade.

If we continue to accept the “solutions” offered by our cultural blueprint, we will come to accept that oxygen tank. As long as we work in jobs we hate to buy more junk to distract us and reinforce our illusions, we are working toward this oxygen tank. One day, we will heed the advertisement, “Yes, it may be expensive, but your life is worth it!” We will save for it like parents save to send their kids to college—working our whole lives so our children can break through to the next level of societal acceptance, the ultimate validation in a world gone mad.

If we continue to ignore the depletion of oxygen in our oceans, rivers, and lakes—which are the very lifeblood of the earth and all of its inhabitants—there will come a day, sooner than we realize, when we will all need artificial oxygen just to live. The scariest part of this scenario is that we will come to accept it as normal.

The earth can’t take this much longer. I don’t know about you, but neither can I.

For Love of Oxygen and Consciousness,