Passion – vice or virtue? According to the major religions, we have two competing forces – good and evil, vice and virtue. However, if we realize there is actually no evil, just us, walking either a path to self-actualization, or floundering in our own fears and self-defeating negative behavior, we begin to view passion as neither a vice nor a virtue; it just is a part of who we are as humans. Religious study of the virtue of passion is obsessed with defining passion as the choosing of good over evil, serving others rather than ourselves, avoiding pleasure and pursuing some form of altruistic stoicism. Passion as the pursuit of pleasure is regarded as a vice. However, there can be no passion at all without the pursuit of pleasure.
Passion is usually listed as the fifth cardinal virtue. Aristotle’s term ‘passions’ covers our bodily appetites (for food, drink, sex, etc.), our emotions, and any feelings accompanied by pleasure or pain. On the physical level, passion drives us to self-gratification, and this is as good thing. Our bodies and brains are rooted in the pursuit of pleasure. We are driven by the dopamine based neural pathways from the forebrain which give us our drive to experience challenges and achievements. These pathways, when the circuit is complete, activate the pleasure center of the brain, which releases the neurotransmitters endorphins which inhibits pain, including thought-pain, and gives us a feeling of euphoria. When the goal is physical love, and the joining of two people is accomplished through copulation, the neuromodulator oxytocin is released aiding in the development of powerful neural and hormonal pathways that we can refer to as bonding. This bond in the basis of romantic passion.
Freud believed that this sexual passion was at the root of all our passions, and I tend to agree with him. The forming of passion for anything, such as politics or even the game of golf, employs the same pleasure seeking bonding system, but without the oxytocin. These dopamine drives are part of our alpha-seeking system which have sexual links, making us, especially males, seem more attractive. When we achieve alpha in any area, it is assumed it will attract others to serve us in the pursuit of spreading our alpha genes and passing on our accomplishments to the next generation.
But passion is more than just enjoying the pleasures of the senses. We also have a trump card, the frontal cortex, the administration center of the brain, which gives us the ability to choose which path we will pursue. It in turn overrides the primitive brain and takes over the dopamine drive and the endorphin reward system. In other words, we can choose to do “good” deeds strictly for the pleasure of it. Usually this leads to self-actualization based on the desires of the ego. This is good (unless a person gets pleasure by inflicting pain on others) and is the beginning of passion as a virtue.
Beyond the cortex, or perhaps including the cortex, we somehow arrive at the higher self, which I believe involves the energy system of the soul that we can refer to as spirit. We now begin to create our own love story, which means we are operating from the heart. The heart-passion is a desire and drive for good based on love, but it is still connected to our own selfish, pleasure seeking pursuit of self-actualization, but on a higher level. We get to a new kind of love-pleasure based on the energy flow of combined body, mind, and spirit. This leads to pleasure by connection with others and to the source of all goodness. Self-actualization is now much more than body or ego based passion. Through love we now take pleasure in helping other towards their own self-actualization, which then becomes a collective pursuit of what is considered the universal good. Our romantic passion also takes on a new dimension. We pursue intimacy rather than just sensuous pleasure.
Here are my five applications to sexuality, particularly for us bisexuals:
- We can be passionate. We can let our passions free to just be without the restrictions of thought and shame. Our body passions are “good” in themselves; they are the energy system of a healthy body’s needs and desires. Without dopamine passion we slip into repressed drives which leads to chemical imbalance or clinical depression. Without the dopamine-oxytocin drive we become impotent which again can be a symptom of depression. It is natural and good to release and enjoy our passions.
- We can employ our minds to choose when to let loose use our passions. We can rely on our egos to choose what is best for us as a sentient being. Sometimes this means delaying self-gratification.
- As bisexuals, through consciousness, we can use mindfulness to expand the sexual sensations to involve the full body, mind, and soul, including all our senses and feelings. We can use our sexuality to build more than one love story and we can harmonize these stories into a whole new way of life that involves intimate relationships with both men and/or women, or we can choose to be monogamous and focus our love passion on one individual.
- We can expand our passion to include altruism, keeping in mind that we should also derive some form of physical or sentient pleasure by serving others. When we are making love we should be conscious of a partner’s experience of pleasure and take pleasure from our partner’s pleasure.
- We can use our relationships to reach out to a higher form of love that includes sexuality as a spiritual experience that binds us to humanity in general and to the universal flow of love. Passion is the love energy that we can learn to use for the universal good.