I was delighted to get an email recently from a favorite human-potential speaker of mine, Gregg Levoy, letting me know that his new book, Vital Signs— The Nature and Nurture of Passion, is coming out on December 26th. His first book, the bestseller, Callings— Finding and Following an Authentic Life, is one of those touchstones in my life that I often revisit for its inspirational insights (contemporary, historical, and literary) into creative, authentic ways of living and working. Because of its personal resonance for me, as well as the lively elegance of its writing, I used quotes from it in my own book, Success with Soul— Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance.
With Vital Signs, seventeen years and several significant life passages have passed for Levoy since the publication of Callings. This time he explores the particular ways he has learned to cultivate living with passion— cultivating wonder, the quest route, the call to wildness, the way of love, authentic expression, and taking risks. In Vital Signs Levoy is more personally revealing and willingly takes more risks, sometimes stripping himself— literally, emotionally, and spiritually— before our reading eyes, to let us feel “what inspires passion and what defeats it. How you lose it and how you get it back.”
When I opened to the first chapter, “Eyes Wide Open— Cultivating Wonder,” and read, “Years ago I saw the Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti perform….,” I was hooked, because years ago I, too, had heard Pavarotti sing and had had the same experience— that “it was impossible not to recognize that Pavarotti’s voice was heart-stoppingly beautiful, like nothing I’d heard in my life….”
This sense of the wonder in being fully alive and engaged in an experience that heightens one’s senses and one’s spirit is what I, too, have learned to cultivate and embrace— and seek to share with others through my work today.
Throughout this book, Levoy shares from a wide range of sources what it’s like taking on and renewing a passionate stance with the deepest relationships in your life— with the longings and sensations in your body, in intimacy with another, with the wildness within yourself longing for expression, and in risk-taking that cracks open your fears and touches your spirit.
As in Callings, Levoy in Vital Signs draws from a rich, quirky, anecdotal brew of his own life stories and those of other life adventurers, mythology, art, music, biographies, philosophy, and science to share how people throughout the centuries have learned to re-discover and re-ignite passion in their lives from the same materials that haunt us in our own lives— our dead ends, stuckness, depression, and failures.
One of these stories is that of my friend, Bonnie O'Brien Jonsson, for whom the trauma of having her father declared missing in action during the Korean War ultimately led to her facilitating dozens of Year-to-Live groups (based on Stephen Levine's book, Year to Live]. In these groups, participants act on the assumption that they have a year to live, and are guided through a series of experiential exercises designed to help them come to a deeper understanding of the value of living fully in their lives now.
Basically, Vital Signs is a wonderful, highly readable book for gaining new perspectives on re-lighting the flame of your own passion when the demands of daily living or the weight of past misfortunes drain you of energy and curiosity. I strongly recommend it for inspiration that can kick you forward towards the changes you long to make to re-connect with your alive and vibrant self!
Below are a few examples from Vital Signs about reconnecting with passion that I really enjoyed and would like to share—-
What we’re after isn’t the wildness that’s divorced from cultivated life and exists only in outbacks and hinterlands, belonging only to other species and other eons— though we seek that, too, sometimes. We’re after the wildness that exists alongside daily life . . . It surfaces in those rich and raw emotions that occasionally manage to claw their way out of the bag of behavioral restraint and in those moments when you act with spontaneity— from the Italian word “sponte,” meaning, once again, “willful,” “of one’s own accord,” “obeying natural impulses.”
The rub is that to take advantage of the healing power of a confiding relationship, you’ve got to actually confide. You’ve got to reveal things that many people are terrified will lose them the very love they’re after. Meaning that the hunger to be safe works against the hunger to be known, which will have to fight against a stiff headwind to gain purchase in your psyche and your relationships.
Just prior to quitting my job as a reporter, I had lunch with a mentor of mine, and when I mentioned my fear of failing at self-employment, he said, “Gregg, if you’re not failing regularly, you’re living so far below your potential that you’re failing anyway.’ Which reminded me why I had lunch with the guy maybe once a year.
But whether life came about through accident or intention, through natural selection or God, whether we believe every atom in the universe is saturated with infinity or divinity or lime-green Jell-O, it doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s amazing any of it is here. And equally amazing that each of us is connected to the passionate force that put it all here.