Should one always follow one’s professional passion?
Really? I wonder why it is that so few people seem to end up doing what they want to do. Why is it that not everyone gets to become a painter or an actor, a basketball player or a family constellation facilitator?
First, of course, there are often very powerful external circumstances at work, and for most of the world things like food and safety take precendence over “following our passion.” On another level, I am careful about assuming that folks are passionate about what they say they are passionate about. I learned this in the mirror. Passion exists at various levels, usually simultaneously, and for each passion that can be articulated, there is often a deeper one that cannot be.
I’m not sure what you mean. People are lying to themselves about what they want and then lying to the world?
No, not lying. The thing I am trying to locate here is that our professed desires are sometimes at odds with our subconscious drives. Like we are in the right gear to head into the future as we dream it but there is gunk in the fuel tank and we keep stalling out: in essence we keep faithful to our other passions, those first established when we were very young. For me, for the longest time, since I was so little, I said I wanted to be a writer. That was my great love. To be a writer. It was a thing I said, a thing I felt, sometimes a thing I tried.
So, that’s what happened, right?
Yes, it is. Still, it took over 30 years to allow that passion to rise to the top, to take center stage. Many things had to come into alignment: concentration, energy, confidence, time, determination, discipline, comfort, interest, continuity – all over a period of time, not just once (the bolt of lightning) but for weeks and weeks, a year. Passion is a demanding companion.
When did you feel a shift? When did those things all come into alignment? What did it feel like? That’s probably a dumb question. But somehow I imagine there must be a deep, good feeling that goes with it, like landing, like deep breathing all the time without even thinking about it.
No? What then?
I don’t know exactly. I just kept considering what I had read in Family Constellations books, witnessed in my own work, and learned from my own students. I just kind of allowed the observations to whoosh around in my mind over a long time, with no agenda or expectation. Like mouthwash whooshing around, sometimes it felt minty fresh! I was surprised again and again that Hellinger’s observations seemed to shed some light on my own patterns and that I was allowing that to happen, allowing for the light to show me something even if it scared me. Some of those patterns had felt so deep and intractable that I hardly wanted to mention them even to myself. I figured, This is too shameful or that is so dispicable, I will just shut my eyes so it disappears. Hellinger’s observations brought some light, and more important, some ease in looking. If I didn’t have to hate my mother in order to love myself – or love her and end up hating me – this seemed like a good start. I was trying not to think too hard, but just to stay open to hearing, to allow one thing or another to have meaning.
You never went to a therapist?
Oh, I did. And I worked in the behavioral sciences for decades. I had a great deal of respect for most of the therapists I worked with, and learned a lot from them. But my primary investment was in not rocking my own psychological boat, in not looking at patterns so I wouldn’t have to fail in changing them, witness myself not following through yet again.
What do you mean? Why did you think you would fail?
Well, most of us fail in that. A pattern is a repetitive design: I might not be happy with it, but I know where I am in the structure, what was, what is, what will be. It is the youngest part of us that gets caught in that structure, the part that has to know she is not alone, that this is how to ensure survival.
I get that. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Okay, so what’s all this have to do with being passionate about what you do? You won’t know where you’re going?
That may be part of it. But I’m thinking more about levels of passion. I would say that my unspoken passion, my deeper passion, was more about not abandoning my brother than about pursuing something I wanted. His voice was not heard, would never be heard, not in the family, not in the world. If he could not, I would not. And, don’t worry Mom, don’t worry Dad, I will not leave him just because you did. Follow my passion? Indeed, this is my deepest, earliest love and knowledge. I know what to do, how to do it: stay quiet, stay young, stay still.
So, have you abandoned him and them by writing this book?
No, now I see it in another way. In the past, when people invited me to succeed (which I understand to mean: completing what I set out to do) – so many people who loved me and cared about me over the years – I could not, despite great efforts, do it. And what felt like craziness, ineptitude, ongoing failure weighed more and more heavily on me and my relationships. Passion for the future – the place that waits with open arms – felt like betrayal to my greater passion, a past I could not abandon. Over time, days and days and more days, Hellinger’s observations began flowing into my own burgeoning understanding, along with a more general opening to other currents moving around me and through me, little bursts of new life-giving thought-feeling, and fresher interactions with the world. Without being able to tell you when exactly or where or why or even how old ideas of loyalty began nesting inside larger images of honoring, at some point they did. What I mean is that I began to see that moving more freely in the present, eyes forward toward more life, is in fact, in different fact, is a way, the way, of paying homage to my older brother. In stepping more fully into life, I am not leaving Edwin behind, I am saying, or living, my “thank you.” To make a contribution to life that is in accord with my widest vocabulary is to bring my older brother into the world, his arm around my shoulders, exactly as he does it. His contribution is in accord with his vocabulary, not knowable by me, and I can move in my way, not knowable by him. Does Life judge him as harshly as I have in the past? Does it judge me with such conceit? Each of us is on our own road, our parents and everyone behind them coursing through us in different ways, all of that color, sound, wisdom, confusion, greatness, belief, and vulnerability.
And the book?
Well, it is written with all of the energy of confluence, the words not so much from me as through me. Where once I wrote in the airless spaces of separation and opposition, trying to put something back together, now expression felt as though it was being set free. I didn’t write this book in honor of my family, or to expose or fix them, I wrote it with them. Passion aligned.