Passion is a word that strikes me as being way overused. Nowadays, you hear it all the time.

We in the nonprofit sector are particularly guilty. The ways in which we describe our work are laden with the word: We do this work because we are passionate about it. Our board members need to have a passion for the cause. We must connect with our donors' passions.

The frequency of its use makes me think that "passion" may not be at all what we're talking about. "Hearty enthusiasm" or "strong commitment," perhaps. Trendy, for sure. "Lust, craving, sexual excitement" (as my thesaurus says)? - a different use of the word.

If you ask those from the world of art, they will tell you that passion is typified by emotional response to stimulus. Artists note five emotions that ARE passion. These emotions - shared by all humanity across time, geography and culture - are those that artists have worked for centuries to capture in their creative endeavor.

In my view, genuine passion rarely is part of the human experience. Rather, we are stunned by the extraordinary glimpses we are allowed into the hypersensitivity of passion.

What are the five emotions of passion? You may be surprised by both the list and the definitions, as I surely was:

  • Awe - Profound and reverent dread of the supernatural

  • Anguish - Beyond pain, in torment

  • Joy - Bliss, delight, a feeling of happiness, a sense of well-being

  • Love - Strong affection, feeling of devotion or tenderness, cherish (verb)

  • Triumph - Exultation of victory or success.

  • In writing this piece, it was my desire to share times when I have observed or felt each of these five emotions. In reflection, I realize there are very few incidents in an entire lifetime that qualify as passion. A deeply-felt response to a host of stars filling the late summer sky surely evoked awe. More common but still fleeting moments have provided some consciousness of joy and of love. Anguish has been mine but one or two times, and triumph perhaps not at all. Few if any of these emotions have been related to my work.

    Our humanity limits our capacity to absorb and to feel, and our language limits the conveyance of what little we take in. The lives we lead are not built for sustained passion, and it is our meager understanding of the concept that devalues its preciousness.

    May your days be filled with happiness and success, but with the mindfulness that this is not passion. May your life further be blessed with those singular moments that overwhelm you in the emotion that you know is, indeed, true passion.

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