Here’s a great question one of my students asked me. “Is it really possible to have passion for life, passion for your ideals, passion for a cause, and still have peace of mind? Wouldn’t peace of mind make you dispassionate and uninvolved?”
The person who leaped to mind for me immediately is the Dalai Lama. I don’t think there is anyone on the public stage today with a consistently quieter mind than the Dalai Lama. Yet he is a relentless crusader for peace and good will. He has a profound passion for improving the human condition. He does it from inner stillness, from his own certainty about his cause. People listen to him because they can “hear” the loving wisdom in him, even if they don’t agree with the philosophical foundations from which he speaks. He radiates kindness and authority simultaneously; he is not threatening, but touching. He speaks in measured, simple terms, and he is never off-message, yet he is at ease with people who are struggling with his message.
Contrast to him some of the political pundits who surface during election season, with wild-eyed rage for their ideals (on any side of issues). Yes, they are passionate true believers. But only those who already agree with them can stand to listen to them. Their passion is to be right and inspire contempt for those who don’t think they are. They are agitated, aggressive and jumpy. They speak from the head, not the heart; from impassioned insecurity, not from a place of peace. They create argument and discomfort.
The essential quality of a peaceful state of mind is security. Security is a clear-headed feeling of being at ease in one’s own skin, nothing to prove, nothing to fear. In that state of mind, all of us have access to wisdom and an intuition for what to do in the moment, for the right word, the right action, to be our best at whatever we are doing. In that state of mind, we operate from insight and inspiration.
When I consider this, I recall some years ago when I was asked to speak to an environmental group well-known at the time for dramatic descriptions at their meetings of the perils to the next generations of dirty air, depleted water, shrinking resources. They presented horrifying images to support their tirades, believing that they could scare people into caring about the planet and changing their habits. They had big crowds at their events, but nothing much seemed to be changing. People would get all worked up during the presentations and leave exhausted — but then they would quiet down and not remember what it was they had committed to do in the heat of the moment.
When they invited me to speak, I tried to decline. I told them I did not match their style and did entirely different work with people. But a good friend of mine was part of the group and she kept insisting that they go with a new approach and she kept persisting with me. So finally, with some trepidation, I went to talk to a two-hour meeting about caring for the planet. At first, people were confused. I was speaking of how we change our minds, about anything, about the quiet state that opens the door to the unknown and makes the unknown and untried seem possible. I was pointing towards the natural state of security and love from which people make moral choices far different from the expedient choices we make out of fear and insecurity. I asked the group to break into small groups and address the question of when they made choices in life about which they feel really good, and the state of mind they were in when they made them. The reports out from the small groups produced some touching stories — for example, a brother who at first resented his sister who needed a kidney and got angry when his parents suggested he might be a match, but then, when sitting quietly in the hospital with his very ill sister, suddenly had the insight that he loved her so much it would be an honor, not a sacrifice, to donate a kidney to her. He called that “a moment of happy clarity from which I never turned back.” His sister was in the audience, beaming.
We talked some more about how we create very different ideas from the same neutral information in higher states of mind, and how those states of mind happen. Then I had the group break up again, this time to talk specifically about ideas that came to them when they reflected about small changes that could make a big difference to the environment.
Again, the reports from the small groups were touching and inspiring. They had a lot of creative ideas, and all of them seemed plausible and achievable to those who thought of them. They left laughing and chatting together about how maybe it wasn’t crazy to think one person at a time could make a difference. They even talked about getting together in a month or so to compare stories.
What is more powerful than passion expressed through a peaceful state of mind?