Is life lived from the inside out, or from the outside in? This seems like an obvious question, but many supposedly educated people believe that “we construct ourselves inwardly by expressing ourselves outwardly.”
The philosophically puerile idea that “doing some outward activity we understand and define ourselves,” is not merely the product of individual wrongheadedness, but is the logical extension of an obsessively outer-directed culture, which has come to its logical end.
The hardest thing for humans to do is face the end of something—the end of our selves, the end of a coherent people and culture, or the end of an empire. But all of these things have a natural or unnatural end. The mature human being accepts and even welcomes natural ends, while living fully and supporting living human systems while they are alive. A people can die an unnatural death however.
The only time I heard a voice that I was sure did not come from my own head was in a meditative state while walking in the hills above South San Francisco Bay in the early 1990’s.
Having known depression in my 20’s, I had gone into a funk that was not depression, and did not even feel personal at all after America’s glorious victory in the ‘good Gulf War,’ when we killed over 1000 Iraqi soldiers for every soldier we lost (at least a quarter million to less than 200).
For a few weeks after the end of the egregiously lopsided war (I’m not arguing that more Americans should have been killed, but that the entire conflict was egregious) I kept asking, ‘what is this feeling that besets me?’ After a meditation outdoors that yielded a completely quiet mind, I asked the question for maybe the 100th time. In retrospect, it felt like tossing a small rock into a still pond. An unexpected answer came back on the wave.
“You’re in mourning,” came a resonant response from I know not where, tinged with a slight edge, like an affectionate parent speaking to a child, leaving me with the feeling “you foolish man.”
There was an instantaneous feeling of relief you get when you know what the source of something is that’s been vexing you: That’s it! With the next thought came the next question, ‘What am I mourning?’ “You’re mourning the death of your nation’s soul,” was the instantly, unshakably clear response.
The truth of it has never left me. Through the LA riots; through the Clinton boom and bubble years after America’s so-called democratic capitalism defeated a centralized, sclerotic Soviet Union; through the Bush-Cheney malignancy after the horror of 9.11; through the near-collapse of the entire global economy; through the false hope and promise of the Obama presidency. Like the body, once a body politic is dead, it’s dead.
So now Americans, and humankind to the extent that the global culture has become the individualistic, self-gratifying American culture, are faced with the question: What next? This is where the imperative of passion comes in.
The writer above absurdly cited and quoted Lady Gaga as a paragon of passion. At a recent gala where young musicians performed her songs in front of her she said of her career, “I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”
“Reminder to the universe?” That’s gaga. The universe doesn’t need reminding; people need recovering, of life and passion.
There’s a big difference between passion and enthusiasm, just as there is between feeling and sentiment. The smarter and more cunning a person is it seems, the more difficult it is for them to make these distinctions, within themselves and with others.
Confusing Lady Gaga with passion entails forgetting the meaning of the name she gave herself, which describes her perfectly—“overexcited or irrational, typically as a result of infatuation or excessive enthusiasm.”
Man is the only creature that does not have intensity in abundance. Everything in nature is intense, even snails and sloths. Passion is our birthright.
Therefore to say that because “humans are the only animals who are naturally unfinished, we have to bring ourselves to fulfillment, to integration and to coherence,” is to profoundly misunderstand nature and human nature.
We are not naturally unfinished, but unnaturally unfinished. We bring ourselves to coherence, integration and fulfillment not through any positive movement of self-striving, but through the negative (accent on second syllable) movement of self-knowing. It is in losing ourselves that we are made whole, not by adding to our selves, with some illusorily separative entity putting all the pieces together.
From where does passion arise? Does it arise from the mind of man? Or does it arise at once within and beyond the brain, when the conditioning, programs, and mechanism of the self are not dominating, even operating?
To create a great building, to create great art, or to create a new, unprecedented global culture requires great passion. That energy, which is the energy not only in lions pouncing on their prey, but in every blade of grass pushing toward the sun, is in us when we naturally end and empty our selves.