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What Creates Passion and Passionate People, and What Defeats it In Us? Interview with Gregg Levoy

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Rob: And, to me what you've done in this book is put together a collection of ideas about how to manage these top down and bottom up functions of your brain in a way so that you don't let your top down brain become too powerful and keep you from seeing and experiencing and maximally, optimally living your life.

GL: Right.

Rob: And you do it with such great detail and engaging and entertaining stories and analogies and metaphors.

GL: Yeah, you know one of my concerns though about the notion of inhibition as being a top down function of the brain is just that inhibition is also, I think in a central operating principle in the natural world, you know. In the sense that this is a force that tells, you know trees when and when not to bud, tells animals when and when not to shed. You know what I'm saying? So I think that inhibition is also built into us from a bottom up perspective as well.

Rob: How's that?

GL: Well, just in the sense that you know, it tells us as animals, and we have essentially animal bodies and native intelligences and sensual appetites, it tells us what to move toward and what to move away from, right? It warns us of danger so those inhibiting features of the really primitive brain, not just the frontal cortex. So I just don't want to kind of this may be overstating it, but demonize -

Rob: Actually, part of this breakthrough that reading your book really helped me with was to realize that you have to have them; you have to have the top down, you have to have the bottom up and it's the balance between them; it's the dance between them -

GL: Absolutely.

Rob: - that you have control over and that's one of the big things that you talk about is this control that you have over that -

GL: Right.

Rob: - and control is another topic that you dedicate a lot of time to in the book.

GL: Yeah, but I think, like you said, it's important to find a way to manage the tension between the two of them. I think one of the most brilliant things I ever heard was somebody who said heroism can be redefined, or of course heroinism, can be redefined for the modern age as the ability to tolerate paradox. That to me is just brilliant because what they're saying is the ability to hold two contrary, or seemingly contrary, forces inside of us at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. So, different ideas, different energies, different impulses, different belief systems inside of us at the same time top down and bottom up, I think being one of them. And so - and I think part of the beauty of learning the skill of paradox, of holding the tension, is that it mitigates against tyranny and I just think of tyranny as placing one belief system above all the others and suppressing all the other ones. Right? Holding one above all the others and if we learn how to hold paradox inside ourselves, no less between each other, you know, that it mitigates against this tyrannical approach to ourselves that we're pushing parts of us down and elevating others. So we learn to have a dialogue between them at all times. What does bottom up say to top down and vice versa. What does passion say to security? Right? What does love say to passion? Because these tend to work toward different goals and this is what I meant the other night in the workshop when I said I think it's important to learn how to suffer creatively, not just neurotically. You know, to bring them together and to play with these energies, literally draw pictures of them and write them out and play them up. But managing the tension between these two rather than projecting one or the other of them out there, I just think it's critical to have ownership of both of them.

Rob: Well this idea of ownership and out there versus in here is a topic that you get into in a couple different places in the book and I like the way you do it because what you're basically saying is your big picture is that it's all in here; everything and everybody.

GL: Yeah. I would say so.

Rob: Can you talk about that?

GL: Well, I think we all have all of it, you know, we have inner tyrants, you know, we have abstract thinking that drives us out of our minds because we combine it with the what if and suddenly we're filled with fear; fear for the future. So we have a lot of these energies that are disconnecting energies and tyrannical energies within us, but we also have just these native desires, you know we have animal bodies, we have the ways that we respond to the world; pure animal stuff. And I just think it's important to realize that we have the higher self and the lower, and I don't mean that in a moral sense, both of them within us and they both need to figure out a way to be brought to the bargaining table and somehow hammer out a treaty that's going to work for both of them. Because I think what happens if you start shoving one or another under the floor boards just to be rid of the tension is you end up with the tell tale heart syndrome. You know, who's that - is that Poe?

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