“The passions, these “magnificent monsters” (Nietzsche, 1967, p. 521), can we consider them a gift in which something valuable can be learnt?
Below is a consideration of the multiple, dynamic, creative and sometimes conflicting forces of energy that are often competing for dominance within us – what Fredrick Nietzsche sometimes described as ‘the passions’. Others may describe them as drives, passions and impulses. They are always present and seemingly are what constitutes and influences much of what is our lived experience. Despite their force and significance, they can often go unnoticed and our knowledge of them is always incomplete. They sometimes emerge into our conscious awareness when we are awakened into our existence, for instance when we are confronted by experiences such as uncertainty, grief and love.
Feeling passionate can be both enthralling and scary. Passions are sometimes encountered as other worldly, because they can appear out of nowhere and stir us and shake the ground beneath our feet. Passions can cross the many boundaries of our lived experience. They can symbolise our strong emotional states including joy and suffering. Perhaps many people can relate to the passions felt in the first stages of falling in love, or the sudden earthquake of loss.
At times, we may find ourselves running away from them. This is perhaps born out of a sense of needing to escape from what is being experienced. Perhaps this can be influenced by our conditioned beliefs, rooted in religious and philosophical beliefs, which might espouse that passions are dangerous, uncivilised and something that need to be tamed, and/or eradicated.
Other times we may run towards them, feeling that despite the fear they might cause within us, their intensity and irreducible form feels like an opportunity to live more vitally and come-into-being.
As time passes, human beings seem to be moving into spaces where connection and desire are dampened down by our addiction to technology, self-preservation and control. Even therapy can find itself, unwittingly perhaps, offering ways to master the ever-arising encounter with thoughts, emotions and sensations, so that we might never have to feel perturbed. Other times therapy may be seen as providing an opportunity to self actualise, by integrating all that we apparently are. Perhaps all of this in some way is a strategy to defend against feeling unsafe and uncertain.
But what if moving out of uncertainty is not possible or even necessary? What if these passions are revealing our possibilities, our strengths, our potential to move and become? What if we need them to create, to learn, to feel alive within our uncertain world. What if really feeling them slowly and subtly before acting on them or attempting to eradicate them is important? What if becoming intimate with them and patiently listening to them is what is necessary?
Perhaps this is where therapy can facilitate; by providing a space to feel, to explore, to experiment so that maybe we can change the relationship. What is perhaps significant to consider, for a while at least, are the desires and possibilities they are revealing within us. As Clarice Lispector (2012) wrote: “Life, my love, is a great seduction in which all that exists seduces.” (p 55).
Perhaps some passions must sometimes be tamed in order to live within a collective space. However, within any taming I feel it is equally, if not more significant, to understand what is being felt and moved within us with curiosity and kindness so that we may experience this brief encounter with life more deeply and compassionately.
Maybe letting go of a need to control, just for a while, and trusting our continually changing movements, just for a bit, is all that has to happen?
With gratitude and inspiration from Nietzsche (1967) and Clarice Lispector (2012).
Susanna Petitpierre, BACP Registered, is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor, providing long and short term counselling. Her approach is primarily grounded in existential therapy and she works with individuals. Susanna is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice and Lewes Practice.
Further reading by Susanna Petitpierre –
A consideration of some vital notions connected to Existential Therapies
Being embodied in Therapy: Feeling and listening to your body
Lispector, C (2012) The Passion According to G.H. Trans, Idea Novey. London, Penguin
Nietzsche, F. (1967) The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufman London: Weidenfeld and
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