Are you living a dispassionate life? For the average guy in his early twenties, a discussion about a passionate life may not seem necessary. At that age, most people I’ve known are on missions to pursue and accomplish their dreams. Some are so driven by a singular goal that they disregard nearly every other area of their lives like modern-day Captain Ahabs riveted, at all costs, on the prized whale. Most people who are just starting their true adult lives wake up every morning knowing exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it — or so they believe.
As people progress further into their adult lives, most encounter obstacles and diversions that either threaten to or succeed at separating them from that true passion with which they so strongly identified in their younger years. Losing one’s true passion can greatly diminish one’s lust for life and, arguably, one’s potential for growth and greater success. How does one handle all of the responsibilities and time-gobblers that life hurls at him and remain connected with and dedicated to that “thing” which makes his life exciting and personally-gratifying? The answer is that he must make room in his life for “that thing.”
In the song, “Piano Man,” Billy Joel characterizes the after-work crowd at a bar. The pianist-narrator points out a “real-estate novelist.” The term implies disappointment and desperation. One both wonders and fully understands why this would-be novelist must divide his time between what he considers to be his calling and hawking sensible condominiums to soul-flattened yuppies.
This nearly-derailed author must have a family and home to support, must be tethered to the life-consuming American financial system that loves to keep us horses forever chasing the dangling carrot. If we’re one-sided in our analysis of the real-estate novelist, we discredit him and fail to realize his heroism. Yes, he has compromised his pursuit of his true ambition in order to make a living. Yes, he has, in part, succumbed to the status quo; but he’s still at least a part-time novelist or a man who continues to identify with his passion for writing. Despite life’s mundane demands, he has still found time and/or room within himself to remain connected to his dream. Many of us can recite from memory Langston’s Hugh’s admonition that we “hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”
Why do so many of us divorce ourselves`from our dreams in life? As the 42-year-old lead singer of the well-received-yet-still-underground hard rock band, Urbansnake, I can tell you that most of the excellent retired musicians I know have quit because they never realized the material success that they desired to garner from their music. There was no world tour, no throng of groupies, no royalty checks with which to pay for trashed hotel rooms. They never flew to a gig in a private jet, nor graced the cover of a fan magazine. In their minds, they failed.
This perspective is at least in part attributable to their indoctrination into a capitalist society that doesn’t recognize success that is independent of visible wealth and prestige. An excellent remedy for this unfortunate and dream-crushing mindset is the Buddhist sand mandala. Many Buddhist monks create these incredibly intricate works of art using tiny grains of multicolored sand. These projects take a very long time to complete. Shortly after the completion of the work, the artist destroys it. Therein lies the spiritual significance of the whole endeavor. Life isn’t permanent. Nothing is permanent. Meaning is to be found in the activity, not in the end result.
Who were you as a child? What captured your interest then? Did you love sports? Did you draw? Did you make up stories or write songs or dance or sing? If you’ve lost touch with the kinds of interests that pleased your soul, reconnect with them. Find a half hour here or there, and escape the drudgery. There is evidence that personally gratifying and pleasurable activities boost the levels of dopamine in our brains.
What is dopamine? It is a neurotransmitter that assists in commandeering the centers of our brains that register rewards and pleasures. These centers respond to obvious forms of pleasure like food and physical intimacy. When our dopamine levels are low, we risk losing interest in life. When this occurs, we end up feeling like we are merely going through the motions in life, merely fulfilling our obligations. Life becomes a burdensome and deadening affair.
So rather than seeking out dopamine boosts via harmful substances like tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs try simply reconnecting with the things that you’re passionate about.
Ours is a culture that too easily seeks medicinal solutions to problems that are often spiritual in nature. If you are feeling like you’ve lost your enthusiasm for daily life, you may need to do something rather than take something that will rekindle your passion. Do it for you, and do it just to do it. Your elevated sense of well-being will be your reward.
By Vincent Corvino
About the Author:
Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, among them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake. He is a former student of Zen Buddhist Roshi, Rich Hart, and has trained as a boxer under former WBO Middleweight Champion, Doug Dewitt. He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership. He has been an English teacher since 1996.