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To engage wholeheartedly, to be passionate about, absorbed in, immersed in activities

passionate red

Animate. Animation. Animal. Those words all share a common root – “anima”. Anima means “the life principle” or the “soul”, amongst other things. What is this “life principle”, this “soul”? Well, whatever your beliefs, I think you’ll agree that you instinctively know about “soul”. For example, most of us know soul music when we hear it. In fact, most of us know when any song is sung with “soul”. It’s something akin to passion isn’t it? It’s a song sung wholeheartedly, powerfully, movingly.

What does it mean to “animate”? It means to make it move, doesn’t it? A computer animation creates moving images, moving images which make the objects or characters seem alive. There is something very important here. One of the key characteristics of a living organism is one of movement. Think of the beating of your heart, the flow of air in and out of your lungs, the constant activity of all the organs of your body. When all that movement ceases, life has ended.

This constant movement can be thought of as some kind of flow. In some countries there is a concept known as “Chi” – in fact, acupuncture is a therapy which claims to be able to influence the flow of this mysterious “chi”. However, in all cultures, I think, we experience this “flow” as energy. This energy we experience is quite a mysterious phenomenon. Think of a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is the lowest energy you can imagine experiencing and 10 is the greatest energy you can imagine. Where are you right now on that scale? The vast majority of people can answer that in an instant. You don’t need time to figure it out. We do it intuitively and holistically. We can break it down though. What about mental energy? Or physical energy? Or emotional energy? Many people are able to report quite different figures for each of those “energies” in the same moment. I don’t understand exactly how we make those assessments but I’m pretty sure we’re becoming aware of the “flows” inside and that’s what we’re reporting.

flow

The psychologist Csikszentmihalyi has conducted a lot of research on the mental characteristics of this “flow”. He describes a flow experience (by which he means something optimal) as being when you are in the process of achieving a challenge you’ve set yourself. Reaching the top of a mountain you are climbing would be one example, playing a challenging piece of music on an instrument would be another. Both the physical and the psychological senses of flow can be understood as passion. When we are passionate about something, we can be totally absorbed by it, we can lose ourselves in it; we feel energised, buzzing, our hearts beat faster, our breath quickens. This feeling of passion is a basic need. It’s the need to feel, and to know, that we are alive.

But passion at its fullest is neither good nor bad, at least, not in a moral sense. Think of the French “crime of passion” verdict for example. It’s almost a kind of insanity, where the passions have overwhelmed the reasoning mind. Spiritual practices have traditionally aimed at teaching people how to manage or to control these “passions”.

But not all passion is this kind of an overwhelming phenomenon. It’s not always so dramatic. An aspect of passion is wholeheartedness – to do whatever it is that you are doing wholeheartedly, with commitment and attention and focus. All such activities which stimulate your passion in this sense, are absorbing. These are times when time itself flies past, where you feel temporarily out of the world and totally into your own world. On the other hand they can feel like transcendent experiences where you are so in the flow that you lose that sense of boundaries, of the margins between you and other or between you and the world, where you step into the full flowing river and you feel like you become that river.

in the flow

We need passion in life.

We need passion to feel alive.

The more you engage with life wholeheartedly, the more you will feel in the flow. The more you are passionate about something or someone, the more significant and important that activity or person will be for you.

Perhaps passion is not a simple good but without passion, or flow, how do you know you’re alive?

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