We’re Longing For Intensity

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Image by Hoshi Joichi

My life was not about the world; it was about God. When I had to let go of something, it was always the world that was the first to go…

I was not able to attach myself to any comfortable situation. I walked away from a situation if I thought it no longer served everyone involved. I never felt like my life and actions were so perfect that the world loved and helped me consistently. Sometimes people were threatened by what my life represented in relation to their own. They had a personal need to keep me and what I represented at a distance… Any other reality — certainly one as strange as my own — was seen as a threat. I understood the threat — I lived with it. As long as I did my own work in the area where that fear came up in me, I could forgive. It was hard at times to be so misunderstood. It is human nature to misunderstand what we most fear about the unknown, and we have all fallen into that small-minded trap. But when the world seemed most against me and all seemed lost, something would always come through, just as I needed it. I was saved by something larger than the imperfect details of a given situation. I could not save myself nor could I depend on anyone to save me. A third, unseen entity ultimately held my life in balance, and I came to rely on this as the only thing in my life that was at all constant.

— Jerry Wennstrom


That broken-open lowliness is the reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, ‘burning’.
Be friends
with your burning. Burn up your thinking
and your forms of expression!

— Coleman Barks and Rumi (Fragment of a poem)

We want intensity and passion above and beyond everything else. Of course, when it’s divorced from understanding and anything of deep meaning it can get dangerous. It may break out in a raging riot of destruction like we just saw in Washington or in service to hate or competing egos.

Artists fall in love with the beauty of the world and the intensity of the process of filtering it through their uniqueness. They feel something akin to religious exaltation when something successful and beautiful comes out of them. There is mystery involved in the process of creation. It can’t be done by formula, by just following the rules. Spontaneous inspiration and serendipity come into play somewhere along the way. If they don’t, you may have a souffle that doesn’t rise.

People sometimes object to Campbell’s dictum of “follow your passion.” The word passion seems hyperbolic, a bit of an exaggeration, but I think that’s exactly what we long for. Artists and mystics share a common motivation, I believe, that they’re both willing to make sacrifices to keep it in their lives. They’re willing to work like slaves to realize it.

We all want something deep and meaningful in our lives, but it takes courage to commit ourselves because it’s not safe or well regarded to be so “extreme.” It’s embarrassing to those who shrink from such an “unsafe” life, even if they secretly admire it.

We live in a culture that wants comfort and entertainment more than passion. If we devote ourselves to something so immaterial, we do it from a determination to have a real life. Having a profound experience of being alive is the “pearl of great price, “ but it won’t be handed to you. There’s work involved, part of which is not being dissuaded by a world going the opposite way.

Being indifferent to praise or blame is a skill we could all use.

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