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Mindful : December 2016
take notice, an activity that you lose yourself in, a pursuit that calls out to you in a way that other things don’t. You might find only a small seed at first—but it will grow and flower if you cultivate it. Passion is not static. The problem is that we are often so busy with the to-do lists of our everyday lives that we can forget what really matters to us. We might not even notice the glimmer of a calling—or forget about it as soon as our attention is drawn to something else. Our passion is buried. This is where mindfulness is especially helpful. Practicing sitting still or walking slowly, in silence, we reduce distractions and learn to pay careful attention to our breath or sensations in the body. We begin to increase mindful awareness, which we can then bring to everything we do. We don’t become dull or boring. We wake up to life, breath by breath. We cultivate wise passion. The Dark Side of Passion Passion as a motivating interest pointing us toward our bigger purpose is usually a source of joy unlike any other. Without mindful aware- ness and wise discrimination, however, passion has a well-documented shadow. Faust’s passion for knowledge (not wisdom) leads to a pact with the devil. In Homer’s Iliad, Helen and Paris’ pas- sion (not love) destroyed an entire culture. When passion is no longer compelling but obsessive, it becomes lust or greed, which can lead us to do anything necessary to get what we want or to hold on to it, no matter the conse- quences to us or to others. Our emotions are controlling us, rather than the other way around. When we become attached to the emotion of passion, and desperately fear what it will be like to lose it, then we have lost touch with the spacious positive energy of passion. We see daily in the news the suffering brought by greed for money, for land, for power over others, for fame. We are all vulnerable to obsessive passion. We all get lost in it sometimes. The drive to earn money so you can give back to the world becomes an obsession with earning more and keeping more, and so on. Does being mindful mean that we shouldn’t appreciate or strive to acquire beautiful or useful things? Not at all. In fact, mindfulness helps us appreciate things but not to be attached to them. (That we may find we don’t need as much as we think we do might be a welcome realization.) It helps us experience life open to each moment, with all our senses, and it also helps us cultivate evenness of mind, equanimity, and the wisdom to see that our possessions are not who we are. We need mindful awareness so we are not driven to action by blind passion, so we have the space to see our motives and our choices and the insight to choose wisely. And we also need to cultivate compassion, so that in our drive to fulfill our own passion, we don’t cause harm to others. This frees us to engage more fully in a passionate life. So delight in your passions. Find your New Orleans or your French cooking. Work to resettle immigrants, preserve nature, or develop solar technology. And bring mindful awareness to each moment, each action, each decision. Cultivating wise passion is the ultimate act of love; a heartfelt offering of our unique contribution to the world. ● Passions are power ful. They can lead us to do great things but also to make choices we regret. Equanimity can help. Also called even-minded- ness, it’s the experience of balance in hear t and mind. It’s when you find yourself in a difficult situation, but you feel centered, calm, and able to be with whatever arises. Equanimity keeps us moored to a steady state of being, not tossed about by the waves of emotion and change. Applied in pleas- ant situations, it allows us to experience even deeper fulfillment. Bring Your Passion Down to Earth Practice for strengthening equanimity: • Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Bring your attention to your breath until your body and mind feel calm. • Notice what arises. When strong thoughts, sensations, or desires come up, instead of pushing them away—or encouraging them—try being curious. Not judging the thing, or your impulse to deny or cour t it. Just simply... notice. • Keep noticing until it dis- solves by itself, and gently return to the breath. You are developing equanimity. • End your practice by repeat- ing silently a few times: “May I be in balance and at peace.” PRACTICE December 2016 mindful 61 emotions