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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: Poe, Poe.

GL: Where a man kills another man, buries him literally under the floorboards in his house, but the beating of the man's heart drives him crazy and he tears up the planks and reveals himself in front of the police captain. You know, trying to stuff any of our powers down and not bring them up and deal with them is going to create repression and I heard Thomas Moore, who wrote Care of the Soul say that repression of the life force is what drives most people into therapy. You know, and I just think that you're not going to suppress either one of these parts, the bottom up or the top down inside us with impunity. That's my sense and I've seen it in my own life.

Rob: Now you cite somewhere in the book that neurosis is the price we pay for civilization.

GL: Yeah, well some people actually describe neurosis as the split between two warring factions within us. I mean you've created this wonderful duality of the top down and the bottom up, that's one way to language it, but they say that neurosis is the struggle between two parts of ourselves and maybe ultimately the essential, natural self and the conditioned and socialized self. Which may be one way to look at the top down, bottom up paradigm, but you know, there's no way to get away from this neurotic struggle. And I mean neurotic really in the psychological sense, not in that people are neurotic. It just means that they're split and they're struggling with the split and again, another reason to bundle paradox into the works here, is to really work creatively with these energies, but neurosis is just that split between the part of us that wants to rise above, wants to be intelligent and work with our abstract qualities, and the part of us that are just reactive and animalistic and sensual and they just need to be worked with; not try to shove one or another of them away.

Rob: Now you have a whole chapter, a big chapter on call of the wild.

GL: Yeah.

Rob: I think this is where this concept comes in.

GL: I think so.

Rob: You talk about the wild versus civilization.

GL: Right, exactly and I just - part of living passionately, in my estimation, was reconnecting, to whatever degree you may have lost, is reconnecting with the part of us that is wild, is that is original, that is natural, I mean we talk about our natural-born selves, right? That's the essential part; that's the wild part and not to try to be so civilized, you know, that's why I love this poster that's on the wall of the kitchen of a friend of mine, it says - shows a picture of a woman down on her hands and knees scrubbing out a bathtub and a caption that says a clean house is a sign of a wasted life. And to me -

Rob: Amen, hallelujah.

GL: That means I'm doing great.

Rob: Me too.

GL: Yeah, exactly. You know, but that's like the security-minded part of us getting out of control. You know? Oh here's a great one, I think I mentioned this in the book. I'm in the cemetery that's around the corner from my house and I stumble on a gravesite, a gravestone for a guy named WC Stradley and his epitaph says that he led a spotless life, a triumphant death. And I stood in front of this gravestone and I thought man I would much rather see it the other way around. You know, I would much rather have a triumphant life and a spotless death. I don't - the notion of a spotless life does not strike me as something really to aspire to. You know?

Rob: What does it mean to you? A spotless life?

GL: Well I think in this case it meant rising above, transcending this dirty earthly mortal life and being pure of spirit and pure of thought and wearing your Sunday best all week long. And honest to God, I think that's missing the boat. I think that's missing the whole point of being alive and passionate, which is just to sink your teeth into it. I don't think the point is to live a spotless life; I think that's a religious notion that has frankly done a lot of damage because it says that all of our sensual and super sensual appetites and urges and inclinations are somehow depraved.

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