“Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.”
I attended a Japanese tea ceremony recently and thought about passion and method while watching and participating in this beautiful ritual. I had not been aware of the numerous micro-rules regarding gestures, bowing and distance that have to be observed during the proceedings. Such a passionate perfection and a refined beauty are achieved through hard work and disciplined observance of rules. It makes a lot of sense to me that the words ‘passion’ and ‘patience’ have the same root and are both related to the word ‘suffering.’ I thought about this while trying to stay for ninety minutes in the same position, which is called Seiza in Japanese and which involves kneeling with legs folded underneath the thighs. Some people may think this is a mechanical ceremony governed by soulless rules but I sensed a deep passion and a predilection for extremity that I have always associated with the Japanese spirit. I feel there is a lesson to be learnt here about the need of a purposeful cultivation of our passions in a manner similar to a dancer who will repeat a single movement tirelessly or a composer who will revise tirelessly individual notes of his work. Discipline, control and rules are inextricable from real passion; there is something passionate and frightening in every work of perfection. For me, reading Dostoevsky or Kafka is a powerful encounter with passion every time but it is worth remembering that both writers spent hours revising their manuscripts, never satisfied with the end result. Their souls may have been in frenzy but their work was full of cold discipline and relentless dedication. The painful extremes of passion are different from the mere madness of an obsession:
“What makes a person refuse passion – or be incapable of pursuing a passion which has already been born, thus transforming it into a mere obsession – is his or her refusal of totality. Within the lover’s totality – as within any – there is the unknown: the unknown which is also conjured up by death, chaos, extremity. Those who are conditioned to treat the unknown as something exterior to themselves against which they must continually take measures and be on guard, may refuse passion. This is not a question of fearing the unknown. Everyone fears it. It is a question of where the unknown is located. Our culture encourages us to locate it outside ourselves. Always. Even disease is thought of as coming from outside. To locate the unknown as being out there is incompatible with passion.”
John Berger, “The Sense of Sight”
Method and discipline are not enemies of passion but rather its true measure.