It occurred to me today that passion is embedded in the word compassion. For spiritual seekers and practitioners of all kinds, compassion is an important virtue to develop. Quite literally, compassion means “to suffer together” and is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with anothers suffering AND feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
Passion, on the other hand, is described in the English dictionary as a “strong and barely controllable emotion”. Speaking for myself, we crave as an element of connection to others, to the world and yet also deeply fear as passion as it moves us to take great risks, to be tender and vulnerable, to expose ourselves to uncertainty. Passion is “an intense emotional drive”. Synonyms for passion include devotion, dedication, intensity, zeal, and heat on the one hand and anger, rage, vehemence and wrath on the other. For fear of exposing these negative emotions, do we tamp down the fire within? For fear of frightening others with the strength and power of our inner longings, do we wall off the potential that we have for connection, for intimacy, for compassion.
YS.II.1 tapas svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani kriyayogah
Burning zeal in practice, self-study and study of scriptures, and surrender to God are the acts of yoga
“Tapas is the blazing desire to burn away the impurities of body, sense, and mind”
B.K.S. Iyengar then goes on to define tapas in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanajali, as “discipline”. However, Iyengar actions and life show us something very different. He expressed a very deep passion for his wife. He was not a celibate, he chose to be a householder, living in the world. He lived his life fully and freely. He didn't hold back anything. He returned to his practice day after day for over 70 years not because he felt obliged or dutiful, because he had a burning zeal for the subject. He had a burning zeal for yoga because it had saved his life, and in saving his life, he gave his life to share the gifts of yoga with the world. He gave absolutely everything he had. He turned no one away. He selflessly gave away resources that came to him without any desire for acknowledgment.
Passion is fire, it is an excitement, an ardor for life, for human life, for living fully and completely. And, it involves a delicate balance and an incredible amount of patience and skillful action. A fire requires fuel, care, tending otherwise it goes out. Think right now of the kind of fire you would want to sit by. At it's best, the fire provides warmth, light, comfort, security, peace, health, nourishment. If we sit by the fire and allow it only to touch our skin, if we do not allow the heat to penetrate us, don't use the fire to prepare food to nourish us, then there is a danger that we fall into a penitent state of feeling like we are simply tolerating or bearing the heat. On the other hand, if we carelessly or fearfully allow the fire to die down to embers and threaten to go out, we fall into apathy, lethargy and dullness.
Sattva (luminosity) is the balanced state between rajas (action, motion) and tamas (inertia, darkness). It is the state that we are asked to cultivate in our spiritual practices. We have all had the experience of being close to someone whose lightness, whose openness, whose love in palpable and as a result has transformed us. Another word for this luminosity is lustre which comes from the Latin word root lustrare 'illuminate'.
Passion, fire, lust has the power to break through our misconceptions about who we are, what we are capable of and who we want to be. It can free us and it also has the power to overcome us and sink us into negative states of anger, jealousy, greed. Our spiritual practices, whatever they are, can give us the strength and resilience to hold all of these emotional states, to make our bodies a container, a vehicle for passion to turn into compassion.
“For I am like a blind man who has found
A precious gem within a mound of filth
Exactly so, as if by some strange chance
The enlightened mind has come to birth in me”
“Right in the middle of our foulest emotions, we find this precious gem; there in the midst of confusion and reactivity, we find the jewel of boddhicitta (awakened heart/mind). The most negative emotions can serve as the basis for compassion.” Pema Chodron, No Time to Lose
Parivrrta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose) is a strong standing twist. It requires balance and strength. It requires us to deeply let go and have faith. It churns up our inner heat. It exposes us to our faults and insecurities and places of feeling inadequate. Squeezing ourselves into a tight twisted state, can we be there with equanimity. AND when we come out of this deeply twisted position, can we allow ourselves to expand more fully, to go beyond our perceived limits, to awaken the light which is our birthright.