Delving into the Intangibles


Let me introduce my favorite sculptor, Camille Claudel: model, confidante, and lover of Auguste Rodin, and for a time a major source of his inspiration. When Rodin refused to break with his long-time common-law wife, Rose Beuret, Camille went her own way, giving expression to her artistic impulses and completing works that, in the eyes of some, surpassed even those of Rodin. But her thwarted love for Rodin and her complex feelings about the authenticity of her own creative gift took a terrible toll on her mind and body, condemning her to a cruel fate: she spent the last thirty years of her life confined to a psychiatric hospital. My heart aches when I look at the work called Sakountala, which Camille, torn by passion, carved by hand out of marble, in her relentless pursuit of artistic experimentation.

In history, there are many examples of artists, princes, and aristocrats who meet tragic ends because of a failure to control unruly passions. Ludwig II of Bavaria, a devoted patron of the operas of Richard Wagner, and obsessed with extravagant castle-building projects, exhausted his royal revenues, was deposed, and died in mysterious circumstances. The beautiful Empress Elisabeth of Austria (also known as “Sisi”), dogged by family tragedy, left the court, and took up a wandering existence that ended with her assassination by the shores of Lake Geneva. The “diva” Maria Callas, whose stellar singing career ended soon after she began an affair with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, passed her final years alone in an apartment in Paris where she died of a cause or causes not fully explained.

A pattern runs through these stories.

Touched by the spark of things, events, or people you encounter, your heart catches fire. You want to experience them more and more, going wider and deeper. You want to reach the limit, to grasp it. As you feel the pressure, joy, or satisfaction of the process, curiosity wells up higher, forcing you to explore more, pursue more, striving without limit. Hot, intense passion, emotion, devotion, frenzy, fever, or rage flares up in a violent flame. A passionate, single-minded person must take risks for the joy he or her receives in proportion to the energy expended. In the process of “burning” one’s passion, it is important, however, to adjust the levels of adrenaline, pheromone, and endorphin, so they do not run out.

The potential range of objects of our passions––work, hobbies, sports, romance, all forms of art, science, religion, et cetera––is infinitely wide. Life invites us to devote ourselves wholly to somebody or something, but we must have discerning eyes in order to make the right choices.

The intangible energy of passion needs to be managed by maintaining a certain distance from the object, through reflection, reasoning, and objective observation. Otherwise you can become blind, plunging in recklessly, creating personal conflicts; until, burnt out, you end up with physical and mental disorders. These are what I call “the risks.” If, on the other hand, passion is kept at a proper temperature, you can be a person with wonderful charisma and a good leader of others, getting satisfying results in return for the passion you burn. Your life will be fruitful. Let it grow excessively hot, however, and you might become the dictator, or the stalker, or the person who develops a personality disorder­­––riven by hysteria, “burn-out” syndrome, or panic disorder. We are dealing with a formidable energy. In order to burn passion “well,” it is important to face the object calmly, deliberately cooling down your responses if they have become overheated: a process sometimes best facilitated by listening to the opinions of other people.

There is a wise proverb in Japan: “The last drop makes the cup run over.” Perhaps this proverb came down to us from those whose lives were burned out because of an excess of passion.

   HOME  Archive