Living life passionately beats quiet desperation

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 13, 2003

It was a typical day in the life of an idea in Cochrane. The topic of passion and identity had emerged from last week's column on the movie Seabiscuit, and folks wanted to talk.

As any of you who have seen the film may recall, trainer Tom Smith says to owner Charles Howard about the under-performing racehorse: His previous owner and trainers have got him "so screwed up running in a circle, he's forgot what he was supposed to be.... He just needs to be a horse again."

So, Seabiscuit's new owner, trainer and jockey set about affirming the thoroughbred's true identity, and with gentle, patient discipline they restore his passion for racing as a winner.

Passion and identity are intimately interconnected.

The morning's discussion started out when I mentioned the movie to coffee companion Alice Chester at Rustic Market Square while I was scratching the tummy of Kaya, chiropractor Colleen Griffin's Jack Russell terrier.

Discovering what we are passionate about is fundamental to finding our true self, Alice commented.

"You just want to get up in the morning with a smile on your face and you can't wait to start your day," she said. "I've met people like that; it's an inspiration to be around them."

Coffee mug in hand, I walked across the street and encountered petroleum geologist Mike Veloski sitting on a tree stump, book in hand, outside Westlands Bookstore. (Mike's one of the best-read people I know.)

When I repeated Alice's comment to him, he immediately associated what she said about finding one's true self with something poet Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet on the relationship between reason and passion: "Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul," the prophet explains. "If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; and let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes." Later during afternoon coffee break, Cochrane-area artist/philopher Ray Arnatt joined me and added his thoughts. At the University of Calgary, where he is head of sculpture, he has observed a rather intriguing phenomenon among some of his students.

Their work, he said, will be "developing well but rather predictably," when a point is reached where they make "a quantum leap into an exceptional body of work. One might call it a moment of insight, a coalescence of factors leading to a discovery of an individual passion – an undogmatic knowing and a celebration of identity."

"It's a very rewarding phenomenon to witness," he said, "and has a positive influence on the group."

Ray's reference to the "moment of insight" stirred my memory of another animal story about passion and identity, a story not about a racehorse, however, but a seagull – Richard Bach's 1970 Jonathan Livingston Seagull, to be exact.

Jonathan was different from the rest of Breakfast Flock who were circling around fishing boats and fighting over bits of food.

"Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight – how to get from shore to food and back again," Bach writes. "For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight."

In his disciplined passion for attaining perfect speed, and with respectful disregard for the naysayers of his flock, Jonathan fully embraces the insight of his grand identity: "I am a seagull. I like to fly."

And Seabiscuit was a racehorse; he liked to run. And you and I are human beings, so let's embrace our own grand identity – passionately.

As another of our coffee companions, author Jeff Imbach, asks in The River Within, his great book on passionate living: "Why should we die by degrees, in lives of quiet desperation, because we're afraid to live?"

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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