Fickleness, yet Passion

There is a line of thinking that suggests that attachment and passion are anathema — a bane — to a healthy and productive life. If we give…

Fickleness, yet Passion
Photo by Alex Harmuth / Unsplash

There is a line of thinking that suggests that attachment and passion are anathema — a bane — to a healthy and productive life. If we give in to our fickle human needs, this line of reasoning seems to say, then we will fall into darkness, led to this fall by our base desires. This echoes the philosophy of Plato, who thought that:

“It’s not at all uncommon to find a person’s desires compelling him to go against his reason and to see him cursing himself and venting his passion on the source of the compulsion within him. It’s as if there were two warring factions, with passion fighting on the side of reason. But I’m sure you won’t claim that you had ever, in yourself or in anyone else, met a case of passion siding with his desires against the rational mind, when the rational mind prohibits resistance.”

Plato seems to think that it is possible to master the passions of the body through the pursuit of mental prowess. Indeed, for Plato, those who have detached themselves from the passions of the world are closer to the source of the divine — he holds that philosophers, above all, have made this sloughing off a primary goal in their life.

In one sense we can likely agree with Plato: that it is advantageous to handle our passions in such a way that our passions do not handle us — but does this mean suppression of passions? I would suggest that desire, passion, and attachment are not the pure vices that some suppose — but that it is how we go about experiencing such things that matters.

“Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.” ― Frank Herbert

The more we strive for freedom from our passions the more those passions will inevitably rule our lives. We can see a practical example of what Herbert means whenever we think about a skilled artisan at work. Through their many years of training, a musician or painter will work hard to acquire new skills and hone those skills as best they can. This frequently means working in styles that are not their own or practicing some form of repetitive exercise until the object of that exercise becomes second nature. In martial arts, too, we see this: repeated practice of specific moves and set combinations.

On its own, this repetitive practice will not make an artist’s work “great”; the martial artist who can only move within a kata will find their skills outmatched in any changing situation. However, such maneuvers are not intended to be ends unto themselves but rather means to an end: greater skills, stamina, control, and depth of technique. Out of the discipline required to maintain the long practice of a martial artist or painter comes the reflexes needed to skillfully improvise.

If someone jumps straight into improvisation, without ever attempting to take the hard road of practice, they will forever be limited by the scope of their own experience — which, without practice and exploration (and, yes, practice) will be quite a small scope indeed. This is not a perfect rule — there will always be some value in pure expression and there are other ways than rote practice to learn something — but the general principles apply well.

Seeking freedom without discipline will leave one imprisoned by their very desire to be free. True liberty requires an application of discipline — in art and in a person’s mental life. We remove negative habits through discipline and we expand those skills which are important to us through the same.

Yet, here we come to an important point that I touched on earlier: passion is not, in itself, a negative trait. It is, in fact, a necessity for the growth and application of discipline. Unfettered, passion is fickle and can be disastrous, but without passion, there would be no motivation toward self-improvement. I would suggest, therefore, that we must seek to find within ourselves a passion for discipline — that special inner state of deep recognition where it is possible to feel, on an innate emotional level, the importance of discipline in life. Sometimes this realization can take time: it, itself, is built upon a sort of repetition and practice. The more we experience the positive effects of discipline, the more we are capable of connecting that positivity to other areas of our life.

In order to go about our lives in accordance with our own human nature (which is at once a mixture of the need for growth and the need for freedom), we need to cultivate our appreciation for the freedom that discipline provides — for the long-term gains over the short-term joys.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

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