On the first day of my Gestalt coaching program in October of 2022, one of the faculty read a poem that captured my imagination. The untitled poem by Dawna Markova had this first line: "I will not die an unlived life." As I read and re-read the poem, I realized that one of the lines seemed to be wrong. I did a quick internet search and found the original poem, and, as I suspected, there was a line that had been reprinted incorrectly. Here is how three lines of the poem had been distributed to us:
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living more open to me,
To make me less afraid . . .
Here’s how these three lines were supposed to be written:
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me,
To make me less afraid . . .
The correct lines spoke to me in this way: the process of living can open us up to new ideas and experiences. I made a note to correct the poem for the class, and I also ended up buying Markova’s book, titled I Will Not Live an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Passion and Purpose, which was first published in 2000. Purchasing this book was a life-changing moment for me, because the theme that threads the chapters together is about reclaiming purpose and passion in one's life. It is something all of us must remember to do every day.
The first section of the book is titled "Living Wide Open: Landscapes of the Mind." It starts with that untitled poem, which she wrote on the day that her father died. In the initial chapters that follow, she writes about the importance of asking the right questions in order to find out what is really important to us. For example, one of her questions to herself was this: "How do I live divided no more?" She even reached out to her friends and asked them to share evocative questions. Some of their responses included the following:
- How can I expand my compassion into proactive passion?
- How can I be my most true self?
- Where am I going? Do I really want to go there? Is there anything I can do about it?
- What generates energy for me? What depletes my energy?
- What is it too soon for, too late for, just the right time for?
GESTALT COACHING: LIVE YOUR PASSION
These questions resonated with me and inspired me over the last several months. In addition, the book has been a useful tool in my Gestalt coaching practice, where I work with individuals from all walks of life and encourage them to discover, develop, and express their passion in their work life and home life as a way to live a more fulfilling purpose of self-initiated joy and creativity. The Gestalt approach to healthy human relationships is used in individual therapy; group therapy; team building; group work with organizations, neighborhoods, and communities; and personal and professional coaching; among other interventions for personal growth and group cohesion. Gestalt is different from other methods of change, because it emphasizes that transformation occurs when we focus on the here-and-now (present) instead of the then-and-there (past). Gestalt encourages participants to tell stories about their present experiences in the company of attentive witnesses. The Gestalt approach is a collaboration between and among facilitators (e.g., therapists, moderators, coaches) and participants in therapy, coaching sessions, group work, team-building, and community-building.
THE DOOR OF RAGE
In the second part of Markova’s book, she writes about the four doors of Rage, Denial, Inertia, and Loss. Rather than turn our backs on these doors, we need to face them and walk through them, Markova believes, because on the other side are pathways to living life with passion. The first door is the door of rage. She describes rage as passion without choice. Because we don't know how to befriend the energy that is rage, it can spin off into words or actions that cause suffering. When we feel full of rage, she encourages us to notice our bodily sensations and to refuse any story that our mind is making up. As we reconcile with the flash fires and forest fires of our rage, she suggests that we can transform that caustic and ravaging energy into a new and wholesome energy that can burn a more steady and constructive light for ourselves and the rest of the world.
THE DOOR OF DENIAL
The second door is the door of denial or fear. She cites examples from her own life, explaining how her mother lived her entire life in fear—fear of death, fear of embarrassment, and multiple other fears. She describes fear as passion without breath. At some point, we have to face what we are afraid of, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves what we love more than we fear. As an exercise of living in conscious relationship with fear, she suggests taking daily, interesting risks. Rather than being prepared for death, she writes, be full of life.
THE DOOR OF INERTIA
The third door to unlocking passion is inertia. She describes inertia as passion’s sleep or passion’s sunset. She points out that the opposite of a profound truth is not a lie but another profound truth. Just as one cannot light a candle without creating a shadow or have a sunrise without a sunset, we cannot experience passion without stillness and rest. In fact, Markova invites us to listen to the "sacred hungers" inside of us that can only be heard in the stillness and shadows on the other side of passion.
THE DOOR OF LOSS
The fourth door is that of loss. In telling the story of the fire that destroyed her home, she remarks that loss strips everything away in a sorting process, reminding us of our strength, of what we truly value, and of how much we need each other. If life is a flow, as described by psychologist Rollo May, there can be no river without its banks. We would never be pushed to live life with passion without crisis and suffering forcing us to find out who we really are and what we stand for. As I reflect upon this, I come to realize that perhaps loss is passion’s funnel—a way of distilling what is most important to each of us. It is a personal, very individualized process of re-grouping, re-focusing, and channeling our goals, intentions, and efforts.