I used to live a contained life, consciously and purposely, without a lot of drama. For me, passion was not something I pursued. In fact, I considered it undesirable, even dangerous. I viewed passionate people as not being in control, of going from one emotional extreme to another. On the other hand, I admired those who seemed calm and controlled. From a young age, I found comfort in walking the middle path, which I interpreted as not being fully invested in any one thing or person. Although I valued my relationships with family and friends, I seldom shared my innermost thoughts, fears or desires with anyone. I held a little of myself back in my work, in setting and pursuing goals, in relationships. I gave enough to be competent without excelling, did enough to be admired but not envied. The result: a good life on the outside but an inner life that was brimming with unspoken desires and a constant restlessness about something I couldn’t describe. Like most, I experienced the emotional highs and lows that life’s events – falling in love, having my heart broken and becoming a mother – presented. However, it wasn’t until two back- to – back events in my life, that I awoke to a new definition of what it means to live a life of passion. I discovered that being passionate isn’t about extremes or being out of control. It’s about staying open to all the moments that life offers us- whether they bring joy or pain. It is in accepting both that we ultimately find true inner balance.
Patagonia – The End of the World
In 2012, I traveled with my husband and three small children to Argentina to visit his native country. Looking back, it’s hard to comprehend how even the prospect of a trip like this could have been anything other than exciting. However, I thought the trip was impractical – too far, too expensive- something we should plan in the future. Maybe. Although a tiny part of me felt intrigued about the possibility, I drowned out that voice with all of my logical arguments. “When in doubt, say no” was my mantra. Thankfully, my husband stood his ground.
We set out first to Patagonia, the southernmost region of the world, aptly known as the edge of the world. With three children and double that number of suitcases, we embarked on a twenty-four hour journey to a small village near Bariloche, a popular ski destination. The trip turned out to be a surprising adventure. The wild beauty of its remoteness combined with the welcoming warmth of the locals was unlike anything I had experienced. For the first time, I disconnected from all the noise and enjoyed an immense sense of presence, connection and joy. Our trip was far from being hassle-free but what I gained far outweighed any inconveniences or discomfort. It awakened a curiosity and yearning to discover new places and connect with nature. More than that, going to the end of the world taught me to say yes often. This simple act has greatly enhanced my life.
Soon after our trip, I wrote my first eulogy. It was to honor my father, who lost his battle with leukemia at the age of sixty-six. His death left me in shock, reeling with anger, grief, and acute anxiety about losing someone else I loved. One of the hardest things for me was that I routinely lost control over my emotions, going from angry to afraid to bitter and sad, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, this sometimes happened without warning, and not always in private. One day, while out for a run, I bumped into a fellow mom and neighbor. When she asked how I was holding up, I was mortified to dissolve into her arms in a puddle of sweat and tears. I recall her being kind and not making a huge deal about it, as if bawling in the middle of the street in broad daylight was perfectly natural. I’d always been a little fascinated by her exuberant and passionate personality but in that moment, I felt only calm and comforted by her.
I always tried very hard to appear composed during stressful times but suddenly found it exhausting to pretend I was doing fine. This vulnerability was very disconcerting and I used all my defenses to return to the detached place where I felt safe. But something had changed in me. As painful as this loss was, I felt awake for the first time. With every wave of grief I let myself be carried by, I felt more alive. I also felt strangely connected to other people. It was as if in breaking, my heart was being rebuilt as bigger and stronger somehow. I finally understood that my beliefs about keeping emotions at bay came from a desire to protect myself from the pain of loss. Having experienced the biggest loss of my life liberated me from the grip of this fear and I became better at giving and receiving love.
Everyone defines passion differently and there are so many ways to live a passionate life. Whatever that may be, figuring it out is invaluable. For me, living with passion means being more awake, more open to all of life’s experiences and the emotions each one brings – even when they are uncomfortable or even painful. It was only in accepting the extremes that I found my middle path.