By Suma Varughese
Passion is the petrol that keeps the engine of your life running. Its powerful energy is the secret behind success, achievement, and a joyous life. Suma Varughese explores how to achieve and retain this eminently desirable quality
In March 2012, I went for a holiday to Kashmir, with two of my close friends, Harvinder Kaur and GL Sampoorna. We stayed with another close friend, Chitra Jha, one of Life Positive’s prolific writers. One afternoon, we went to Dachigam, a national park situated in the midst of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, perhaps after Mumbai, the only city in India to host a national park.
As Harvinder was unwell, only Sampoorna and I went, armed with an introduction to the director of the National Park, Naseer Ahmed. We caught him at a busy moment, and he sent us on our way to explore the beautiful park, which had a sanctuary for animals so tame that leopards would playfully nuzzle the hands of their keeper, or flop on the ground with their bellies exposed and paws dangling like giant tabbys, while massive Himalaya bears would rise on their hind legs, press themselves against the fence and grin at us.
It was nearing dusk when Sampoorna and I returned and found Mr Ahmed free to attend to us. He was a slender man of average height, whose appearance I can’t quite recall. What I can recall though, and vividly at that, was the incandescent passion that gripped him when he mentioned his beloved national park. The man was familiar with every flora and fauna in the park. He took us in an open-air electric cart (the kind that you find in airports to drive you to the gates) all the way to a hilltop to show us not just the most staggering view of the city, but also some lichen that grew only when pollution was absolutely nil. He identified every leaf and blade of grass, and kept us enthralled with his stories of cavorting with Himalayan bears and other wildlife. He laughed and shared that he never, if he could help it, left his park and went into the city. But once his wife forced him to go to the dentist and there he was, a helpless babe, having to dodge traffic! By the time we tore ourselves away and were embarking on our return to the park office, night had fallen. Mr Ahmed continued to identify all sort of night sounds, when suddenly he paused and stopped the vehicle. Turning to us with his eyes afire, he said, “A langur is signalling that he is trapped on a tree with a leopard below. Shall we go and see?”
Sampoorna and I blanched. Go out and look for a leopard in the dark when we could hardly see about us, and the undergrowth was full of twigs that would crunch and alert the leopard about our whereabouts long before we were alerted about its? We politely shook our heads and declined his invitation. Mr Ahmed was shattered. It was clear that there was nothing he would have loved more than to witness this wildlife drama, but he was too much of a gentleman to leave us alone. Long after we left him, the memory of his love for the wilds hung about us like a fragrance, and we came back to our homes vowing that the next time someone asked us to take a walk on the wild side, we would be prepared!
How fortunate Mr Ahmed was to have identified his passion for wildlife, and to have found the perfect job to further it. Thomas Carlyle wrote, “Blessed is he who has found his work. Let him ask no other blessedness.” How fortunate too, to have unlocked his passion.
A question of passion
Not everyone can boast of passion. Wasn’t it Thoreau who said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”?
As a teenager I believed this to be true, because that was how I felt, but today I am not sure this applies to the majority. However, even if our lives don’t embody quiet desperation, how many of us can claim they embody passion? How many of us are afire with love of life every moment of the day? How many of us pour ourselves into everything we do? How many of us are consumed by a project, a person or a cause?
Let’s face it, most of us just go through the motions, simply coping with the mountain of chores, duties and responsibilities we have to juggle every day, before we crash exhausted into bed.
But that does not mean that passion is denied us in this lifetime. We too can lead a life of joy and brio; of passionate purpose that infuses our life with meaning and makes each moment a deep experience.
What is passion?
To start with the basics. What is passion? Passion is the power that drives us long after our energy forsakes us. It is what takes us back to the drawing board time and time again, until we finally have it right. It is what enables us to prop up our drooping eyes, straighten our slumping form and continue labouring into the night long after exhaustion has rung in. It is what enables us to climb mountains, discover continents, uncover the secrets of life and create enduring works of art. The script of excellence is written with the ink of passion. With passion as our partner, sooner or later success will be ours. Passion is the petrol that runs the engines of our lives. Without passion our lives sooner or later judder to a halt, or chug along lackadaisically.
Among the millions of gifts life showers us with, passion is one of the choicest. Joseph Campbell rightly says, “Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failure.”
The reason why passion is such a power is that it is sourced in desire, and each of us is given the energy we need to attain any desire we may feel. Desire comes with an inbuilt energy pack. For instance, if a desire for a pizza consumes us and we have the money to pay for it, most of us will immediately call for it, or if we cannot get through, send someone to collect it, or if that fails and depending on how strong our desire is, we will go to the outlet ourselves. If we live beyond the reach of pizza, we will get around to making it. The same is true for a movie we want to see, or a book we want to read. And if we want to meet a lover, nothing on earth can stop us.
Tulsidas, the poet saint who wrote the Rancharitramanas, was full of lust for his wife, Buddhimati. So much so that when she went to her parents’ house for a holiday, he followed her there late at night. It was a wild and stormy night and Tulsidas had to battle a raging river in spate which he did by the power of his passion. When he reached her home, he mistook a snake for a creeper and used its power to hoist himself into her room. The shocked Buddhimati looked at her dripping wet and panting husband and said reprovingly, “If you had half the passion for God that you have for this mortal body of mine which will soon fall prey to worms, you would surely attain enlightenment.”
Stunned to the core of his being by the truth of what she said, Tulsidas turned on his heels and left her; he spent the next 14 years in sanyas, passionately immersed in his love for Lord Ram.
Passion generates energy
When his desire for his wife became converted to desire for liberation, Tulsidas’s energy pack magnified in proportion.
Thus, when we live life passionately we have at our disposal an endless supply of energy, because the more energy we use to achieve our purpose passionately, the more becomes available to us. We tap into an inexhaustible source.
My friend Leena Thakker, (58) a businesswoman living in South Mumbai, is one of the most passionate people I know. She once told me that she was a dedicated packer, and I got a glimpse of it when I went on a trip with her and saw the focus and attention with which she placed clothes and objects into her suitcase until she got the perfect symmetry she was looking for, even if it meant arranging and rearranging several times.
“If I can’t give my 100 per cent to a task, I don’t do it until I find the time when I can,” she says.
No mote of dust would dare enter her house, and if it did it would be summarily whisked away. Every nook and cranny is sparkling clean, her plants flourish in happy abundance, the drawers and cupboards in her house are arranged with absolute precision and cleanliness, her financial papers are always in order, and any time of the day or night, she has some task on hand. “I always have a to-do list that never seems to get over,” she admits.
In 2011, after the passage of her father, Leena joined the company her father and his brother had founded, Monji Vishram, which manufactures balms. Within the next few years she meticulously, and with the same dedication and passion, worked on every aspect of the business. “Just like I nurture my plants in order to have them flourish, I nurtured the business by paying attention step by step to every area until I brought it alive,” she says. The changes included refurbishing the factory, renewing the electrical and civil work, redesigning it, converting the bottles from glass to plastic, revamping the packaging, introducing new machinery and raising production by double the number of bottles. In every sense she upped the standards of operation, which also infused enthusiasm and energy among her colleagues. Always a successful product, Leena’s passion and meticulous approach enabled her to optimise sales of the balm and lift up its success curve substantially.
Leena’s passion stems from her innate capacity to care, to pour herself deeply into life. “I never feel bored. When I feel I have had enough of one thing, I change the activity,” she says simply.
Maturing into passion
For others, passion suddenly bursts out at a certain point in time, almost as a maturation activity. Sunny Malti Suresh was one of them.
As a collegian, he was blithe and careless, focussed only on fun. And then Aarti came into his life. She was focussed, committed and compassionate, a member of the National Social Service (NSS). She was also duty conscious and would hare off home at 6 pm no matter what the temptation. The eldest daughter of a single mother, she was responsible for caring for her younger brother and sister. “I realised how difficult her life was, as compared to mine, and yet she had the heart to help others. She became a positive influence on me,” he says.
The closer they got, the more he changed. “If she had not entered my life, I would have been a big loser. I had even failed a year,” he says frankly.
Then came the day that changed both their lives irrevocably. In 2006, one of Aarti’s friends at college had brought along his Dad’s car. Aarti went for the fun ride near Gorai beach, when the car turned turtle. Aarti received serious head injuries and slipped into a coma.
From the moment he heard of the accident and rushed to locate her, to the time she came out of the Neurological ICU 100 days later, Sunny never left her side.
“I was the sort who could not even sit one hour in a hospital, let alone 100 days.”
What made him do it?
“I felt sure if the tables had turned and this had happened to me, Aarti would have done the same,” he confesses.
The media got wind of this extraordinary love story and newspapers and TV channels covered them. Readers sent donations which helped to defray some of the expenses.
Even after she came out of the ICU, Sunny stayed by her side, save that he would go home to sleep every night. In 2007, Aarti came out of her coma to the jubilation of her family and Sunny, and was sent home. Until she passed away in 2010, four years after the operation, Sunny took care of her, and fed her, along with her mother, Bharti Makwana. “I felt I had lost my girl friend in 2006. This Aarti was my child,” he says poignantly.
This committed caring for one human being for a number of years transformed him. A couple of years after her accident, in the midst of caring for her, Sunny left a course in accountancy to pursue a Master’s in social work at Nirmala Niketan. Today, he works for Foundation Minim, a charitable foundation for the education of underprivileged youth and children. “The whole experience made me vulnerable by putting me in touch with my feelings, but also stronger,” he says. “I was a careless person. Looking after someone was a big shift for me.”
He admits that he found both passion and purpose through the ordeal. At his foundation, “even if youth fail, I counsel them. If I can rise above failure, so can they.”
“Aarti may have died but she is living through my work,” says this ardent young man, now 32.
It soon becomes clear that the passion we are talking about is not the kind that pulsates in pulp fiction. This sort of passion is not merely lust or desire, not just a craving induced by the senses. That sort of passion is also a driver, but because it is purely driven by the need for sensory fulfilment, it consumes us, and inevitably leads us to misery. No wonder desire has such a bad rap in spiritual circles. But even sages say that all we really have to do is to transition to a higher desire from a lower one. Thus, if we were to pursue excellence as Leena does, or a commitment to the welfare of the other, as Sunny does, we will actually tame and bridle our senses and point them in the direction of what we want to achieve. This sort of passion actually purifies us, for it helps us rise above the senses.
So how does one acquire passion? Or stoke its embers into a constant steady flame?
The foundation for passion as for any good quality is set in childhood. In his book, The Road Less Travelled, Scott L Peck, says that it is the love that parents give children in childhood that enables them to develop the self-esteem that is essential for living. He says.“When children have learned through the love of their parents to feel valuable, it is almost impossible for the vicissitudes of adulthood to destroy their spirit.”
A sense of being valuable gives us clear access to the energy flowing within us, which can otherwise get blocked by self-doubt, fear, anxiety and negative circumstances.
But even if we have been deprived of self-esteem in childhood, we can still find our way to passion, for life itself often astonishingly makes us whole.
I was born without a shred of self-esteem, and between 16-32, I was so locked up in misery that I simply had no bandwidth to lead my life. With my head wrapped in a million thoughts, I lived on auto pilot, completely unavailable to the moment, devoid of all dreams, passion or even ambition. It was a spiritual awakening at age 33 that gave me an understanding of life and its true purpose, which was to grow as a human being. I also discerned my own purpose which was to help heal the world of its misery. That gave me my first access to caring. I now longed to live but found that I was still too deeply conditioned in negative concepts of myself to access my passion. My self-esteem needed to become whole, and I needed to free myself of limiting beliefs such as that I was lazy, weak or indisciplined.
Over the last 20 years, I have been doing this work steadily. Although I would still not call myself passionate, I am clearly in the zone of enthusiasm and care. I deeply care about many things, especially about the welfare of the other, and it makes me extend myself more than perhaps the average person would. I constantly strive to excel as a writer and editor, because it is vital to me that the reader benefit from each article.
In the writing workshops I have started in the last two years, I am repeatedly told that I teach with love, and give of myself unstintingly.
But still, I have yet to overflow with the kind of energy and zest that is associated with passion. I feel sure that this is the next step and I eagerly await it for I have known what it was to be possessed by a passion for what you do, and I have seen how effortlessly work happened, how potent my creativity became, and how fused I became with the work, so that waking and sleeping, it figured in my consciousness and led me to make some amazing contributions.
Once having known the heady power of passion one would not want to settle for a more lukewarm way of life, where one goads oneself to do things because one must.
Regaining what is lost
Even those who are born with passion can lose it in the vicissitudes of life.
Pavani Mavuri, a Delhi-based accountant working in Amity International School, was a passionate child, immersed in writing and art, giving 100 per cent to all she did, determined to lead an independent and meaningful life. However, a challenging marriage embroiled her in unhappiness. Passion tossed its head and left.
But life is always on our side and slowly it brings us in touch with our true nature. A lover of God, she poured out her grief into the only ears she could confide in, and later joined the Brahma Kumaris. The turning point in her spiritual journey occurred when she accompanied her sister-in-law on a shopping expedition and glimpsed a copy of The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
Reading the book gave her a powerful sense of being guided and supported. Soon, she found a job and began getting a modicum of independence. Personal growth workshops followed. A course in NLP triggered off introspection and made her recognise that it was not her circumstances but her belief systems about them that imprisoned her in pain.
Gradually, she took back her life in her own hands, and found passion pirouetting back. Art, writing and teaching surged back and fed her starving spirit.
Says she, “I am enjoying every moment of life. Passion makes me challenge myself and venture into what seems impossible. I was procrastinating working on a piece of art for fear that I would not do justice to it. But one day passion whispered into my heart, “You can do it” and in three hours at a stretch I did it. Now I do things without a sense of guilt or fear of what others think or say. I am learning and growing with passion each day and happy to be crazily experimenting with life.”
When we indomitably confront the circumstances that drain away our passion, we will triumph over it, and not only will passion return, it will do so with ten-fold force.
Find your purpose
Another vital factor in building passion is to find your purpose. Even the most disinterested person is capable of getting electrified when his purpose is revealed to him. Purpose clarifies and distils your focus, and enables you to concentrate your full energy on one thing instead of dissipating it in many activities. Purpose gives meaning to your life and puts you in the flow of the life force. Everything you think, do and say gets dovetailed towards that all-consuming purpose.
Take the case of Dr Chandrashekhar Ranade, an irrepressibly enthusiastic ENT surgeon from Khambaliya, Gujarat. Not only is he a speed reader with a speed of 1200 wpm, which enabled him at one point to correct 440 answer sheets in three days in the midst of his medical duties (while working as Faculty in E.N.T. in Gujarat Adani Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhuj), he is also a prolific poet, having written over 350 poems.
But all of this pales in comparison with the magnificent obsession that overtook him when he was introduced to mind mapping, a fairly new and enhanced way of organising information, created by Tony Buzan.
He says, “It was in 2010 that I realised my life purpose, at the age of 48. That was when I attended Dharmendra Rai’s first open seminar in Mumbai on mind mapping. After attending it, I was gripped by excitement day and night, as I would before an exciting cricket or football match. It was even comparable to one’s first crush!”
He continues, “I would get up early in the morning, take out huge volumes of medical textbooks and convert them into mind maps. Any book, magazine, newspaper or document that came into my hand got mind mapped. I mind mapped events, e-mails, smses and even scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana. I even mind-mapped telephone directories! I started seeing mind maps on every article in the house, clinic, streets, vehicles and yes, clothes and even the fan. I imagined seeing mind maps on a blimp in the sky as well in the clouds!”
What drives his passion is a powerful vision of the possibilities of this technique: “I saw it as a solution to many of the learning challenges that I faced as a medical student. I see it as a solution for the many emerging challenges in the 21st century, especially time and timing.”
He is the only person in India to have taught medical students using mind maps, and he says that it halves the studying time. He is also known as the Bard of mind maps because he has written innumerable poems on the subjects, is recognised internationally as one of the most prolific mind mappers in the world, and has written a book on the subject, the first of a series!
It is this sort of full-blown lunacy that fuels genius. Dr Ranade’s passion for mind maps has sublimated all his other senses in a frenzied pursuit of his goal. Who knows where Dr Ranade might go with mind-mapping? Clearly, the sky is the limit!
Similarly Mansoor Mirza, a homeopath and alternative practitioner, fell passionately in love with running when he joined a running programme in 2012. He says, “I could hardly run more than 100 metres, but persisted with the training at 6 am every morning for three months and gradually but surely ran 21 km (a half marathon) in less than three months. Running has become top priority and besides becoming fitter, I feel mentally stronger, more relaxed and energetic. When people ask me what religion I belong to, I simply say that I am a runner. I hope it reflects on my passport someday, though it’s already embedded in my soul and sole.”
The role of faith
Mithu Basu, curator and founder of an art organisation called Dolna, was passionate by birth, “ I have always felt that whatever you do, you should do fully. People talk a lot about being in the here and now, but that has always come naturally to me. I am a tea addict, but my teapot turns stone cold if I am immersed in painting.”
Even so, her turning point came when she discovered faith. “Then passion rolls on castor wheels. There is no longer effort. The ‘I’ is no longer there. There is only certainty and flow. Integrity is the foundation for this. If my plan benefits others, I benefit most from them.”
She experienced this practically when she left her secure and plush job as General Manager, Corporate Communication at the Leela Palaces, Hotel and Resorts to pursue her passion for art. Before quitting she took a sabbatical to do a course in art at Shantiniketan. Looking at the talent around her, she stumbled upon her purpose – to give talented artists an opportunity to exhibit their works in urban cities and get known. Four years into the journey, she says she is deeply satisfied, and considers herself blessed to be surrounded by artists.
Anil Bhatnagar, a trainer, facilitator and life coach, points to a few more vital ways to keep passion flowing. “Stop trying to please others or impress them or conform to societal strictures. That is a surefire way to drain yourself of your passion.”
He should know. Having tried his hand at the corporate life while working for the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), one day he decided to quit. Today, a highly skilled and popular trainer and facilitator, he says, “When I look in the mirror, I am very impressed by the person I see.”
He also suggests freeing oneself of extrinsic goals such as fame, money, power in order to follow your authentic passion.
A major passion killer is the mindless routine of life. We get locked in the treadmill of duties, responsibilities and doing what we are doing and seldom have the mindspace to see if there is a way to fulfil these responsibilities without losing passion. Most of us lose touch with what once gave us joy.
“To rediscover passion, look at what you loved to do as a kid,” says Vinita Suri, student counsellor.
Another factor that can dissipate passion is our disproportionate attention to only those areas of our lives that drive our passion, If our passion is solely focussed on work and we ignore other aspects, our lives will topple into misery, and we will eventually squander our passion. Says psychologist Neha Patel, “One must be mindful of not letting passions block one’s sense of rationality. While efforts should be applied towards pursuing one’s passion, it’s also equally important to be level-headed and not get swayed so easily in that pursuit that one starts to compromise on other vital areas of life. You can truly enjoy the fruits of your passion when you’re able to maintain a balance in life at the same time.”
In other words, make sure that you are equally passionate about your relationships, finances, health and community. How do we do that? Try spirituality.
The spiritual outlook
Mostly passion dies because our default approach to life is not guaranteed to keep it going. What do you do when you can’t get the work of your dreams no matter how many doors you knock at? What do you do when surrounded by people who put you down and emotionally abuse you? What do you do when your sweetheart jilts you and takes along your passion for life with them? How do you make sure passion flows through all areas of your life?
Only the capacity to work on ourselves, the willingness to change and grow, and an access to the higher truths can enable us to lead an ongoingly passionate life. A life where we are passionate about everything, not just one thing. A life that enables us to pay attention and focus on the smallest task. A life that enables us to tend to the flame ongoingly. In other words, a life attuned to spiritual growth.
Spirituality is really the journey of eliminating our false self and finding our true self. This means eliminating all the negative feelings that characterise our ego self and reclaiming our true nature of peace, love, joy, compassion and yes, passion.
The more we work on ourselves, the less vulnerable we will be to outside forces that can dampen and destroy our passion. Neither failures, nor societal pressure, not discouragement or depression can affect us for too long. Through paying loving attention to all that arises, we learn to dissipate these forces and reclaim our true heritage of enthusiasm, confidence and commitment.
And eventually we reach a stage when there truly is nothing between us and life. A moment when the shadows of the past and future dissipate and disappear. We are left in full possession of the moment, to relish it, to squeeze every bit of juice out of it and to slurp it up. Joy, passion and love surge out of us and encompass all that we do. Everything, even the most mundane act such as brushing our teeth or bathing becomes deeply enjoyable, a memorable moment. It is then that we know what it is to truly live, to be what the sages call us: amrutasya putraha (children of immortality).
Osho describes this state of mind beautifully, “Death is a constant reminder that, ‘I can come any moment. Be prepared.’ And what is the preparation? The preparation is: live life so totally, so intensely, be so aflame with it that when death comes there is no complaint, there is no grudge. You are absolutely ready because you have lived life so totally, you have known all its mysteries — there is no point in living anymore. Death has come exactly at the right time, when you may have thought to die yourself. I call that death perfect which comes at the moment when you yourself may have thought, ‘It is enough.’”
What more can we say?