When we talk about living with passion, which is sort of a cliché, what exactly do we mean?
I suppose that people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. We are the only animals who are naturally unfinished.
We have to bring ourselves to fulfillment, to integration and to coherence.
Some people are seized by this task with a fierce longing. Maybe they are propelled by wounds that need urgent healing or by a fear of loneliness or fragmentation.
Maybe they are driven by some glorious fantasy to make a mark on the world.
But they often have a fervent curiosity about their inner natures and an unquenchable thirst to find some activity that they can pursue wholeheartedly, without reservation.
They construct themselves inwardly by expressing themselves outwardly.
Members of the clergy sometimes say they convert themselves from the pulpit. By speaking out their faith, they make themselves faithful. People who live with passion do that.
By teaching or singing or writing or nursing or parenting they bring coherence to the scattered impulses we are all born with inside.
By doing some outward activity they understand and define themselves.
A life of passion happens when an emotional nature meets a consuming vocation.
Another trait that marks them is that they have high levels of both vulnerability and courage. As Martha Nussbaum wrote in her great book “Upheavals of Thought,” to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don’t fully control.
To be passionate is to put yourself in danger.
Living with this danger requires a courage that takes two forms.
First, people with passion have the courage to dig down and play with their issues.
We all have certain core concerns and tender spots that preoccupy us through life.
Writers and artists may change styles over the course of their careers,
but most of them are turning over the same few preoccupations in different ways.