Just as development involves various changes - physical, cognitive and affective - identified with precision by psychologists, clinicians, etc., so can personal evolution be described in terms of our changing relationship with reality. Indeed life is best understood as a perceptual activity. As we perceive, so we react, process, integrate and behave. The act of initial perception is affective rather than cognitive. We connect primarily with reality through our feelings. We also connect with a shared reality that is based on our intellectual understanding of what life is about. When a person says ‘I love you’ he or she is articulating a deeply held emotional reality that transcends all rational consideration. When a person tells you that the French drive on the right, we are still talking about a reality, but it remains extrinsic and relatively incidental to our personal lives – unless we live in France! Both realities are important, and establishing a viable balance between the two is the key to sanity. To ignore one at the expense of the other is to exist within a fragile bubble which will implode sooner or later.
Passionate perception is to be found in the energetic bonding that we make with the world around us.
We can divide emotional perception into three states: innocent, passionate and generous. All three states are like the facets of a diamond, each reflecting a different aspect of reality. Innocent perception is relatively passive and is concerned with surrender and connection. Generous perception is about surrender, intimacy and contribution. Passionate perception is to be found in the energetic bonding that we make with the world around us. It is expressed in everything to which we are driven and committed, be it in relationships, interests or in our work. To be passionate is to be intensely immersed in someone or something. The hallmark of passionate perception is its creativity. It is expressed in the active, transformative and inventive energy that we bring to relationships and projects. It is driven less by reflection than the need to make a difference. Above all else its activity sustains us in our ambitions and the fulfilment of our dreams.
As we slip away from the shallows of childhood, beckoned into the stronger currents of our teenage years, and begin to shape the goals and aspirations that will take us forward into adult life, passionate perception is everywhere. It begins by defining the creative nature of our lives, giving us the confidence to explore beyond our first imaginings and to break away from the tired and familiar. It has little interest for comfort and social convention. It celebrates our thirst for adventure, our willingness to behave irrationally and to risk what we hold most dear, be it life itself. Despite our doubts and reservation, it often encourages us to throw caution to the four winds. It surprises us with the discovery of resources previously untapped and unknown. It galvanizes our self-confidence as we realise that what once seemed like the rainbow’s end is now a dream about to come true.
Although passionate perception with its strong, creative outcome is available to us whatever our age, it is properly birthed in adolescence. As we struggle to ground our identity in the relationships, the interests and in the long term aspirations that are beginning to coalesce around this period, it plays a formative role in our emotional perception of the world. Its presence is to found in the burgeoning commitments that begin to take shape when we explore the mystery of intimate friendships outside the nuclear family; and it extends our self-awareness when we discover resources and abilities whose previous potential and existence were unknown. In the excitement of passionate perception we have so much to celebrate, for it enables us to experience who we truly are, plunging us into the risky exploration of unfamiliar behaviour, stretching our imagination into the darkest recesses of our culture and touching also on those rare sublime moments when heaven and earth appear as one.
Passionate perception is the connective mainspring whose energy brings movement and excitement into our lives
Whenever a project truly engages our heart, at whatever age we find ourselves and regardless of the condition of our lives or the limits that frame our horizon, passionate perception is establishing itself. And as we surrender to its dominion we notice a surprising element: it has the capacity to banish tiredness; it will also make sleep its helpmate as we harvest the inspiration that we download into our waking hours. It drives us as no other. Passionate perception is the connective mainspring whose energy brings movement and excitement into our lives. It spurs our imagination and innate gifts and stretches our creativity. It is essentially without thought for reward, position or power.
Although passionate perception could be likened to a prairie stallion in its unbridled lust for new beginnings, we do it an injustice if we attend only to the beauty of its rough, inquisitive search for adventure. Yes, its impulse causes the lone yachtswoman to force a passage across the Southern Ocean and it rejoices in the physical challenge of free-climbing the cliff face; but it is also to be found in the dextrous artistry of the seamstress, the steady rhythm of the stonemason’s chisel and the patient collaboration of scientific endeavour. It is where the joys of discovery, of creativity and transformation come together and burn bright with curiosity and willpower.
It is a commonplace to describe adolescence as a time of turmoil, unpredictable behaviour, sullen moods and volatile swings as youth lurches along the uneven passage from child to young adult. Yet underlying those elements is an intense interest in connection and friendship. We find for the first time, stumbling clumsily in our search for a loving relationship, that there are emotional skills whose learning is not easy, whose mastery will perhaps take us forever, but where practice and persistence owes everything to passionate perception. As we move from the predictable and sheltered network of family relationships to seek out others who will sustain our growing sense of identity, we are intensely vulnerable to whatever or whoever may sate our loneliness. It is in the absorbing and irrational grip of passionate perception that we truly learn the first lessons of the heart: how to love and surrender. Indeed there is an intoxicating element of madness about passionate perception. In the short term it will initiate and foster many relationships, for it inspires the ardour, energy and idealism that give colour and excitement to even the most unlikely of friendships. Yet without the additional support of generous perception, with its gifts of patience, tolerance and kindness, even the most soaring trajectory will lose its momentum.
When a low premium is placed on connection, the emphasis on feeling and surrender is quickly replaced by attitudes involving exploitation or self-promotion. As these harden, and integrity is exchanged for short-term gain, our capacity for passionate perception is grievously affected and becomes stunted. The creativity and idealism that underpin the activity of passionate perception are thwarted to deliver outcomes that may be spectacular but have little justification or ethical merit. With disconnection from feeling comes disconnection from personal responsibility and with it the prospect of an increase in antisocial and pathological behaviour. Addictive interests, obsessive activity, even paranoia, an overly competitive approach to life with its need for control, are but a few of the elements that rise to the surface as we slip away from the grounding effect of connected feeling. For when we live in a disconnected state we usually fail to protect that which is most important, namely our integrity; we leave ourselves open to the emptiness of fashion and the lure of quick profit, quicksand in which we lose both our foothold and that sense of liberation that comes with our birth-right to evolve as individuals with unique creative talents.
Passionate perception is not to be confused with physical passion, for the latter has associations as much with our appetites as with our greed. Passionate perception operates at a much deeper and more comprehensive level, involving everything that a person can bring to living intensely in the present. It could most easily be compared to a pair of spectacles that transforms everything that is seen. Yet even that analogy does it a disservice: Passionate perception goes to the heart of existence because it stimulates creativity and transforms the individual as new feelings are experienced. This process leads to greater self-confidence and a quickening sense of what is possible. Passionate perception blesses us with a creative life in which both the inner and the outer world are transformed as we strive to bring about change.
© 2009 Nick Halpin