“Passion creates, addiction consumes.”
― Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
Obsession, passion, compassion – they’re powerful emotions, and I’ve seen people whose drive is so high they can become whatever they put that energy into: the best heart or brain surgeons, Olympians, or…..the best criminals or alcoholics. The choice is theirs.
Some of our clients who come to us possess extraordinary intensity, but they’re also obese and unhealthy. Their mismanaged passion and drive has manifested physically, in their bodies. When we talk to them we often discover that they love what they call “freedom,” which is, in their understanding, the freedom to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, and however much they want. They can also work compulsively, exhausting themselves after days and days without a break. But they’re in a state that gives them less freedom in their day-to-day lives, because they’re limited and unhealthy. After a while they see that their freedom is more compulsion and addiction, the soaring and the crashing. And then their system of belief shifts.
They begin to understand that freedom is the power to choose and exercise control of the outcome. They’ve suffered because they were controlled by need for something outside themselves to feel “alive” and energized. Can the exaggeration of needs and wants that brought them to this negative place be turned into something positive? Is there such a thing as a positive addiction?
It seems that many athletes, artists, and activists are possessed by a similar drive, yet their force is one of creativity and achievement—changing the human condition—as opposed to destructiveness. John Keating, the teacher in the film Dead Poets Society, is a good example of passionate engagement, full commitment that seemed unorthodox and extreme to those on the outside, but was, at its heart, both generative and nurturing. Another beautiful example is Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, a compassionate human being who lived to 105 and continued to see patients and work up to eighteen hours a day just a few months before his death.
Where is the fine line between a deep passion for life and an obsession that can ruin it? We want to have a fire burning within, something that encourages us to strive and change the world. But we also need structure and accountability, and a sense of responsibility and care, for ourselves as well as the world at large. Serving others is a vital component of channeling passion in a positive direction.
It’s easy to get lost in the vastness of what life “supposed to be like.” There will always be opportunities for comparisons, judgments, jealousy and envy, but your life and passion for it shapes what a good, creative life is for you. Embracing the creative force can generate an amplified, multi-layered life that is singular and uniquely yours. You may also learn how little you really need to have a fulfilling life.
And that goodness spreads to others.
Have you ever had an addiction that flipped into something more positive? Or have you witnessed that kind of transformation in others? What did you observe about the process of change—was it gradual or was there a certain catalyst that triggered it? Do you recognize any positive additions in yourself?
Leave your response below in the comments.