By Lisa A. Listwa
Heat. This has been on my mind quite a lot lately. Mostly because it’s summer and, well, it’s hot and sticky and uncomfortable. But I’m not here to talk about how miserable the weather is. What I want to talk about is a different kind of heat.
I want to talk about passion.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word passion? Is it a torrid romance? An intense love affair? A powerful surge of emotion, desire, intensity?
Me, too. But perhaps not quite in the way it seems. Sure, passion is all those things and certainly makes for the stuff of great novels and films.
But let’s talk about your passion. My passion. The passion burning inside and driving us toward whatever it is that we desire – not necessarily in love, but in life.
For passion has many more facets than its most readily-used identification of intense sexual love. Passion is the intense desire for anything which arouses enthusiasm and excitement in us. I’m passionate about cooking and music. Maybe you have a passion for gardening, or horseback riding, or sailing. Maybe someone else’s passion is designing buildings. What piques our enthusiasm drives us to pursue our interests, our goals, and our dreams.
When we think of passion, it’s easy to imagine it as intense and inflamed. Passion is strong and powerful. It may come in unexpected and nearly uncontrollable bursts. It’s easy to say that we burn with a desire to dance or to run a marathon. No one says, “I’m simmering to be an artist.”
But that’s exactly how passion works sometimes.
Sure, passion may burn hot and intense, like an active fire consuming anything in its path. But it may also be a low, slow burn. It may give off intense heat, or it may give just enough warmth to make us comfortable – not cold, not hot…just right.
Passion exists everywhere. It infuses every element of our lives. It lives in our relationships, our pursuit of goals and dreams, our efforts toward self-improvement.
Of course, we easily think of passion in our relationships, most particularly the romantic ones. I watched an episode of the show Madam Secretary recently and there was a quick scene where the main character and her husband are discussing the possibility of a getaway; she hopes for a family trip, but the kids aren’t buying it. Her husband encourages her to see the positive side of a weekend alone together and reluctantly she concedes that it’s better than nothing.
“Now, you see,” he says. “It’s just that attitude that’s kept the flame alive.” They laugh, enjoying the knowledge that their romance has its highs and lows but is still alive and well. And of course, they dive immediately into some physical activity of the romantic type.
It’s OK to have it both ways. This couple offers a great example that their desire for one another is always there, even if it’s not an active burn. And our other pursuits in life work much the same way. Life and all its obligations demand our attention and force our passions to the back burner, so to speak. Lots of things get in the way of our fire and creativity, our desire to succeed and achieve. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of telling ourselves we have no passion left.
“I’m not a writer…”
“I’ll never find inspiration to paint…”
“I’m not cut out for that promotion…”
“I’ll never lose this weight…”
“I can’t fix this problem…”
Perhaps it feels that way some days. It’s trying as hell to feel we aren’t getting anywhere, that we have lost our spark. But it may be that your passion – your heat – is in that smoldering stage right now. You haven’t lost your passion. It’s still there, patiently waiting to be rekindled.
In The Crisis, No. 1, Thomas Paine writes “…for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire…” He is talking about the Colonists’ commitment to the cause for freedom from Britain, even though the effort seemed bleak at the time. He encouraged them to realize that even if we don’t fight now, wars will continue to break out until America breaks free of foreign dominion because that desire for freedom will burn until it is quenched by victory.
An active flame is a visible manifestation of fire. Paine’s example makes a lot of sense in the context of feeling that we’ve lost our passion. He uses coal – a fuel familiar to people at the time – as a straightforward metaphor to describe the people’s desire for liberty. The British government might be able to temporarily restrain their liberty, but the Colonists’ desire is so strong that it is impossible to permanently suppress it.
Do you remember the old charcoal grills of your childhood? You light the coals to cook your meal and then the fire dies down to a softly glowing warmth. But what if someone arrives late and wants a burger? Or you decide it’s time for toasted marshmallows and s’mores? Those still-warm coals are easily refueled and brought back to an active flame with just a bit of effort.
So, what are we supposed to do when our creative heat subsides and the flame of passion dies down? What do we do when inspiration is not at an active burn, but rather a slow, warm smolder? Well, fortunately, passion and creativity work a lot like that charcoal grill.
First, don’t panic. As the latecomer will always get his dinner, your passion will burn again. All things in due time.
Next, don’t force it. You can’t expect the fire on the grill to ignite in an instant, and neither can you force creativity. Take some time to nurture it.
Grab a stick or a pair of tongs. Gently stir the glowing embers and maybe add a little bit more fuel to get things moving. Finally, and above all, be patient.
Sit back and visit while you wait for the fire to come alive again. Remember that your passion isn’t gone, it’s simply waiting for the right time to reignite – and it will. When it does, be ready to throw on a fresh burger, grab some marshmallows, and get cooking!
Lisa A. Listwa is OTV’s Author in Residence