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I encountered a quote last week that has continued to knock around in my head. Film director Federico Fellini said, “There is no end, there is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.” I like it.

There is only the passion of life. A state of being so utterly engaged, so fully immersed, that we become completely present in our living experience. Senses, emotions, hearts, minds, and bodies all plugged in and turned on to such a degree that beginnings and endings dissolve into this infinite now.

Often when I get tired, burned-out, or over-it, it seems like what’s called for is a break from it all. I need a vacation, more sleep, more downtime. Less obligation, less stimulation. A little pause to regroup and recharge, for heaven’s sake. Sometimes, I’ll work myself up about it — get resentful and ornery, then make a big declaration about taking some “time for myself,” ruthlessly carving out big blocks in my schedule, clearing my calendar, saying “no” to everything, and making that commitment like I’m making a blood oath to some goddamned freedom and self-care, finally, for a change!

But then, after all that… Generally, my recuperation lasts for maybe an afternoon before I get interested in something new, excited about another undertaking. Often it’s something bigger and bolder and more involved than ever before. I can’t even blame it on the demands of the world; really, it’s me.

Because I’m just passionate. I feel intensely. I care about a lot of different causes and issues and things and people. I’m super sensitive, probably to a fault. It’s when I stop being that way, when I stop feeling that way, that it seems like something’s wrong. When I try to disengage from my life and all its commotion — even if it’s a well-deserved break — that can feel not so much restful but rather soul-deadening. I recharge by plugging in more, not less.

I know I’m not everybody. Different strokes for different folks. I’m naturally extraverted, for one thing, but even as an active people-person I do get overwhelmed by too much activity and too many people. So, I’m not advocating for nonstop busy-ness and relentlessly committed go-go-go — not for myself or for anyone.

We all need downtime, we all need alone time, we all need time, period. Even so, I wonder if there’s a way to approach this kind of self-care not as dis-engagement. Not self-care in a way that means caring less about others and the world — not self vs. other. Not as dis-passion. Certainly not as apathy. The best retreats aren’t away from life, but instead go deeper with it. More passion, not less.

The word “passion” comes from the Latin pati — to suffer, to endure. “Passive” has the same origin, in the sense of being acted upon by external forces. In the Middle Ages, the word was used to connote afflictions and diseases, especially those one brings upon oneself by an inclination to sin. Eventually it came to mean any strong feeling, desire, or yearning. Today, the word has mostly a positive flavor, a zest. But passion has had a long slog from sin-pocked disease to sexy dynamism. And still it usually has a whiff of danger about it — it’s probably something best kept in check.

This week, Christians remember the suffering and death of Jesus — his “Passion.” Holy Week represents Jesus at his most frail, his most human. For many, Easter Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’s ultimate transcendence of the pitiful agony that is life.

But I wonder if this misses part of the point — the meaning of the life of Jesus, his example. His life story isn’t just one of transcendence, it’s also one of complete immersion. No beginnings, no endings, only the passion of life while we’re in it. We are consciousness embodied. Word made flesh.

Human life — these impassioned lives — aren’t merely something to be gotten over. For sure, there’s some suffering for all of us. For some of us, sadly, there’s a lot of suffering. You might even say, as the Buddha did, that life is suffering. AND it is also juicy, and beautiful, and rich. We are here to savor, appreciate, and enjoy it as much as we can. I think that’s the point.

“To endure” — that can have a positive or a negative connotation. I choose the positive one. Not merely to make it through, but to keep on trucking, full speed ahead. Sometimes I might engage with a lot all at once, sometimes I might dive in deeply to one thing at a time, maybe sometimes (more often, I hope) I can relax. Passionately relax.

“To be acted upon by external forces” — well, that might not merely suggest victimhood but also describe receptivity. Something about being with the world not against it. Accepting life, allowing life, embracing life.

Maya Angelou said it beautifully and wisely, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

This Sunday, for Easter and always, let’s take some big juicy bites out of life and savor this glorious opportunity to be together. I’ll see you at 10:00 am, at Maple Street Dance Space. With the divine Patty Stephens. XO, Drew

©2024 Drew Groves

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