Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau - EXCERPTS

The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred. Phil Cousineau. 1998. ISBN 1-57324-509-7


Besides hearing a thousand complaints through the years by bored and disappointed travelers, I'm also aware of the spate of angst-ridden travel writers complaining we've gone from a world of classical ruins to sites simply ruined by too many (other) tourists.

... we may log impressive miles in hour travels but see nothing/ we may follow all the advice in the travel magazines and still feel little enthusiasm.

I don't believe the problem is in the sites as it is in the sighting, the way we see. It's not simply in the images that lured us there and let us down, as in the imagining that is required of us. Nor does the blame lie in the faiths that inspire throngs to visit religious, artistic, and cultural monuments, as much as in our own lack of faith that we can experience anything authentic anymore.

If we truly want to know the secret of soulful travel, we need to believe that there is something sacred
waiting to be discovered in virtually every journey.

There are as many forms of travel as there are proverbial roads to Rome. The tourism business offers comfort, predictability, and entertainment; business travel makes the world of commerce go 'round. There is exploration for the scholar and the scientist, still eager to encounter the unknown and add to the human legacy of knowledge. The centuries-old tradition of touring to add to social status endures, as does traveling to ancient sites for the sheer aesthetic "pleasure of ruins", as Rose Macaulay described it. In the seventeenth century emerged the custom of the Grand Tour, which recommended travel as the last stage of a gentleman's education. Most recent is the phenomenon of the "W .T.", the World Traveler, renowned for drifting for the sake of drifting, and the "F .B. T .", the Frequent Business Traveler .

What if we have finally wearied of the paladins of progress who promise worry-free travel, and long for a form of travel that responds to a genuine cri du coeur, a longing for a taste of mystery, a touch of the sacred?

For millennia, this cry in the heart for embarking upon a meaningful journey has been answered by pilgrimage, a transformative journey to a sacred center. It calls for a journey to a holy site associated with gods, saints, or heroes, or to a natural setting imbued with spiritual power or to a revered temple to seek counsel. To people the world over, pilgrimage is a spiritual exercise, an act of devotion to find a source of healing, or even to perform a penance. Always, it is a journey of risk and renewal. For a journey without challenge has no meaning; one without purpose has no soul.

What legendary travelers have taught us since Pausanius and Marco Polo is that the art of travel is the art of seeing what is sacred.

Pilgrimage is the kind of journeying that marks just this move from mindless to mindful, soulless to soulful travel. The difference may be subtle or dramatic; by definition is it life-changing. It means being alert to the times when all that's needed is a trip to a remote place to simply lose yourself, and to the times when what's needed is a journey to a sacred place, in all its glorious and fearsome masks, to find yourself.

... if the journey you have chosen is indeed a pilgrimage, a soulful journey, it will be rigorous. Ancient wisdom suggest if you aren't trembling as you approach the sacred, it isn't the real thing.

The Art of Pilgrimage is designed for those who intend to embark on any journey with a deep purpose but are unsure of how to prepare for it or endure it. As the title suggests, this book emphasizes the art of pilgrimage, which to my mind signals the skill of personally creating your own journey, and the daily practice of slowing down and lingering, savoring, and absorbing each of its stages.

What is sacred is what is worthy of our reverence, what evokes awe and wonder in the human heart, and what when contemplated transforms us utterly.

Our days stretched on. The hours seemed to contain days, the days held weeks, as in all dreamtime adventures.

In the uncanny way of spiritually magnetized centers of pilgrimage, I felt a wonderful calm exploring the derelict pavilions, abandoned libraries, and looted monasteries.

We travel as seekers after answers we cannot find at home, and soon find that a change of climate is easier than a change of heart.

Centuries of travel lore suggest that when we no longer know where to turn, our real journey has just begun. At that crossroads moment, a voice calls to our pilgrim soul. The time has come to set out for the sacred ground – the mountain, the temple, the ancestral home – that will stir our heart and restore our sense of wonder. It is down the path to the deeply real where time stops and we are seized by the mysteries. This is the journey we cannot not take.

Imagine your first memorable journey. What images rise up in your soul? They may be of a childhood visit to the family gravesite, the lecture your uncle gave at a famous battlefield, or the hand-in-hand trip with your mother to a religious site. What feelings are evoked by your enshrined travel memories? Do they have any connection with your life today? Have you ever made avow to go someplace that is sacred to you, your family, your group? Have you ever imagined yourself in a place that stirred your soul like the song of doves at dawn? If not you, then who? If not now, when? If not here, where? Paris? Benares? Memphis? Uncover what you long for and you will discover who you are.

This pilgrim is a wayfarer who longs to endure a difficult journey to reach the sacred center of his or her world, a place made holy by a saint, hero, or god. Once there, the desire is to touch a relic, have a vision, hear an oracle, and to experience what psychologist Stephen Larsen calls the "irruption of the divine in a three-dimensional place."

This is what the risk is for, the confirmation that the mystery exists at all in a modern world seemingly determined to undermine the sacred as mere superstition.

Integral to the art of travel is the longing to break away from the stultifying habits of our lives at home, to break away for however long it takes to once again truly see the world around us.

The traveler's lamp is also an illuminating metaphor for the light that shines forth from the wisdom of travelers who have walked the path before us.

Think of the ways that questions illuminate the world around us. Questions tune the soul. The purpose behind questions is to initiate the quest.

Take your soul for a stroll. Long walks, short walks, morning walks, evening walks -whatever form or length it takes. Walking is the best way to get out of your head.

Carl Jung wrote about his midlife crisis in his memoirs, in which he asked himself which myth he was living by. He discovered to his horror that he didn't know. "So I made it the task of tasks of my life to find out."

By what sacred story are you living? What task have you set for yourself? Can you tell your life story, accomplish your task, from where you are/

... the melancholic side of the questing spirit. The blue wave that overcomes us, the knotting in the ribcage is a signal that we have reached an impasse. How to adequately respond to this? The first step is to treat the melancholy as a force to be followed into its depths.

If the treasure – the truth of our life – is so close at hand, why is it so difficult for us to wake up, rub our eyes, and reach out to find what is within arm's reach? Why risk time and money and risk our necks to venture somewhere far, far away?

All of the answers are within us, but such is our tendency toward forgetting that we sometimes need to venture to a faraway land to tap our own memory. Our intuitive self has shut down; our light into the transcendent has gone out.

The irrepressible desire to see deeply into ourselves and the world evokes what Hindus call dyana, "the long pure look."

There is another call, the one that arrives the day when what once worked no longer does … The heart grows cold; life loses its vitality. Our accomplishments seem meaningless.

The long line of myths, legends, poetry, and stories throughout the world tell us that it is at that moment of darkness that the call comes. It arrives in various forms – an itch, a fever, an offer, a ringing, an inspiration, an idea, a voice, words in a book that seem to have been written just for us – or a knock.

Not a day goes by when the world doesn't cry out for us, signal us with signs and sounds, calling us home. Listening closely is nearly a lost art, but a retrievable one. The soul thrives on it. Words heard by chance have been known to change lives.

The call to the sacred journey your secret heart longs for won't come by expectation, will not arrive in a logical way. If you imagine that something is trying to call to you, try to practice stillness for a few minutes each day. Be still and quiet and you may be surprised what you start to hear.

Ask yourself what is absurd in your life right now. Then recall that the roots of the word refer to being "deaf”. If you have stopped listening, try to begin again, first with what you love, then with what is difficult for you.

... to name something is to imbue it with a soul.

Always the call summons us to the hidden life.

First there is the personal restlessness, the feeling of being nowhere in the place they are now; then there is the need to feel something deeper than the surface glare of things, a longing to be somewhere else where that is possible.

Imagine the last time your faith failed. Faith in yourself, your family, your God, your country, love, the arts, even faith itself. Of course, faith is Janus-faced. One face is blind, unquestioning; the other sees far and deep, trusting what is unfolding in your, in life. It takes courage to trust the voices that mayor may not be genuine calls. With that in mind, what or where has called to you recently?

... the notion of transformation implicit in secular pilgrimages, such as the writer's journey to Paris or the artist's to Rome.

I am proposing a way of looking not only at but through the road, through our moments of travel to their past and future dimensions, to consider each encounter as a chapter in a long novel, each person along the way as one of the characters in our soul journey through life.

Imagine slowing down, becoming aware of the voices in your dreams, your unexpected encounters.

Practice listening – to your friends, your children, music, the wind, your dreams, the ancient wisdom of sacred texts. Listen as though your life depended on it. It does.

Timeless art is like that. It anticipates you. Without it there is no sacred journey.

Try to imagine that you are leaving for a journey from which you may never return. How would you "mark" the time? Would you hold a feast? Would you chronicle and record every moment? Rituals mark time, set space apart – two ways of defining what we mean by the sacred.

Before setting out, remind yourself of the purpose of your journey. From now on, there is no such thing as a neutral act, an empty thought, an aimless day. Travels become sacred by the depths of their contemplations. As in myth, dream, and poetry, every word is saturated with meaning. Now is the time to live your ideal life.

The venerable tradition of traveling with one satchel or bag symbolizes the fundamental philosophy of pilgrimage: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!

The pilgrim's staff is unnecessary for city travels but is indispensable for long walking tours.

Crossing over means confronting the guardian at the gate, the personification of the forces trying to keep us in the village, the ordinary world … A vacation is easy to embark upon; everything has been laid out for us to have a predictable, comfortable, and reassuring holiday. But a pilgrimage is different; we are actually beckoning to the darkness in our lives. The fear is real.

When you leave home, you are a stranger, and a stranger is always feared. That is why the wise traveler carries gifts.

The shift from the tourist emphasis on "taking photographs", "taking souvenirs home", "taking a break", to "leaving" something behind is the pilgrim move … Coins dropped into a fountain or well or poorbox, letters left behind at a national park office for the goddess of the volcano, pencils and postcards of your hometown left behind for beggar children rather than candy or cigarettes - all are simple "gratitudes", acts of gratitude that you have been blessed with on this journey. Ask yourself what your gratuities will be before you leave. Keep one pocket in your satchel just for these.

A second task once you have crossed the threshold is to listen intently to everything around you. A pilgrimage is an opportunity to reconnect with your soul. But that is difficult if the radio frequency is jammed. Solitudinous time listening to music is a remarkably effective way to get back into the habit of listening closely when traveling.

Recollection is an effective way to illuminate your true motivation. Recall past journeys, incomplete journeys.

In sacred travel, every experience is uncanny. No encounter is without meaning. There are signs everywhere, if only we learn how to read them.

Everything matters along the road, but what matters deeply is what is invisible and must be seen with the inner eye.

If there is a trick to soulful travel, it is learning to see for yourself. To do this takes practice and a belief that it matters. The difference between pilgrim and tourist is the intention of attention, the quality of the curiosity.

The traveler soon learns that it is difficult to unlearn a lifetime of habitual seeing, the ordinary perception that gets one through a day at home but is inadequate to the task of comprehending the suddenly unfamiliar, strange, even marvelous things.

The artist and pilgrim, soulful travelers in parallel realms, are by nature similar; like Siamese twins, they are connected by the tissue of desire to experience the world directly.

To allow room for surprise and improvisation is to begin the apprenticeship of learning the way that is no way.

Imagine the way you see yourself seeing. How are you seeing your way? How do you plan to record it, remember it, observe the journey as if it were a work of art? Try to see yourself as a peripatetic artist whose job it is to capture in words, art, music, or story the essential secret of the day. How would you do it? The practice you pursue will determine the quality of your pilgrimage.

Imagine that the task of the pilgrim is to deepen the mystery for himself or herself, not have it handed over. If you find yourself facing disappointment, try to ask yourself where your attention has wandered. The real work on the journey has begun; you have to meet the gods at these ancient sites halfway.

Because so much of what is encountered along the road is novel, it is important to honor it by recording our thoughts as we move along. Thinking that we'll remember the smell of the pine cones or the shimmering of the sea is as illusory as trying to convince ourselves that we'll perfectly recall a dream … Why is this so important? Because you are changing as the miles click off and the destination draws nearer, and there is nothing more fascinating than to closely observe the process of change and
deepening, and how we respond to that quicksilver phenomenon.

We can only plan so much. Then we must let go and trust in Kairos, the old god of synchronicity.

Remember, those who don't ask essential questions don't find what's most authentic. The soul of your pilgrimage, the heart of your destination, disappears, will be invisible, like the Grail Castle if you are too afraid or too proud to appear as you really are at the moment – someone far, far from home, without all the answers, without the soul map to the city.

Each day … you will have to choose – between the image that is being offered to the great run of people alongside you, or the imaginative, active encounter with the place. Do not be fooled by glamour, an old Scottish word for spell.

The secret, of course, is that there is no secret. No one way, just your way.

Everywhere has a secret room. You must find your own, in a small chapel, a tiny cafe, a quiet park, the home of a new friend, the pew where the morning light strikes the rose window just so. As a pilgrim you must find it or you will never understand the hidden reasons why you really left home.

Patience, silence, trust, and faith are venerable qualities of the pilgrim, but more important is the practice of them.

How will you answer the voice who asks you now to describe what you are enduring halfway through your pilgrimage? For every time we move toward a significant goal, the world has a tendency to through terrific obstacles in our way. [WMC: Not really the right perspective. There are obstacles when we move in ANY direction. It is the MOVING itself that causes me to encounter obstacles, NOT my goals specifically! It is the obstacles, or our perceptions of them, that kept us from moving earlier.]

At a fundamental level, all pilgrimage sites are oracular. But we must be careful how to frame the question and how to interpret the answer.

If we leave home with a fundamental question in our hearts and minds, we are moving toward an oracular encounter, the "sacred well-spring", the source where we can replenish our lives.

We learn by going where we have to go; we arrive when we find ourselves on the road walking toward us.

Imagine your return journey as the last act of an epic story. Which moments gleamed brighter, gave you pause, challenged all your previous beliefs, reconfirmed your belief in the power at the center?

This is the key to the poetry of pilgrimage: The story that we bring back from our journeys is the boon. It is the gift of grace that was passed to us in the heart of our journey ... The boon … is a presence in the soul of the world that can be sensed and honored and carried home in your heart.

Prepare yourself. It will be harder than you think to find an audience for your stories.

... the challenge now is to use the insights gathered on the road to see your everyday life as a pilgrimage. Remember again and again that the true pilgrimage is into the undiscovered land of your own imagination, which you could not have explored any other way than through these lands, with gratitude in your satchel and the compassion for all you see as your touchstone.

The challenge is to learn how to carry over the quality of the journey into your everyday life. The art of pilgrimage is the craft of taking time seriously, elegantly.


There came a day when the clouds drifting along with the wind aroused a wanderlust in me, and I set off on a journey to roam along the seashores …

Ambrose Bierce
Pilgrim, n. A traveler that is taken seriously.

Gautama Buddha
You cannot travel the path until you have become the path.

Helder Camara
When your ship, long moored in harbor, gives you the illusion of being a house … put out to sea! ... save your boat's journeying soul, and your own pilgrim soul, cost what it may.

Joseph Campbell
Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.

Joseph Campbell
The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return, must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.

Joseph Campbell
Unless you leave room for serendipity, how can the divine enter in? The beginning of the adventure of finding yourself is to lose your way!

Loy Ching-Yuen
The beauty of the Way is that there is no "way".

Rene Daumal
To return to the source, one must travel in the opposite direction.

Fyodor Dostoyevski
Thou shall love life more that the meaning of life.

Meister Eckhart
The Wayless Way, where the Sons of God lose themselves and, at the same time, find themselves.

Betty Edwards
Drawing isn't the problem, seeing is the problem.

Alexander Eliot
Personal answers to ultimate questions.
That is what we seek.

Theophile Gautier
The pleasure of traveling consists in the obstacles, the fatigue, and even the danger. What charm can anyone find in an excursion, when he is always sure of reaching his destination, of having horses ready waiting for him, a soft bed, an excellent supper, and all the ease and comfort which he can enjoy in his own home! One of the great misfortunes of modern life is the want of any sudden surprise, and the absence of all adventures. Everything is so well arranged, so admirably combined, so plainly labeled, that chance is an utter impossibility.

Liz Greene
I stood at a crossroads and fate came to meet me …

Michael Guillen
Bring home an aspect from every journey for your altar at home. Make it part of your altar at home. What's important to me is this is the domestic part of Latino life; our altars protect our home. So bring something home to re-create the altar – a smooth mineral, a touchstone. This is an important part of pilgrimage, the recreating of memory rituals to help remember people you lost. Another way for me is to remember others and to remember myself honestly.

Dag Hammarskjold
The longest journey
Is the journey inwards
Of him who has chosen his destiny

Zora Neale Hurston
Travel is the soul of civilization.

Alan Jones
We are impoverished in our longing and devoid of imagination when it comes to our reaching out to Others … We need to be introduced to our longings, because they guard our mystery.

Soren Kierkegaard
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts.

Antonio Machado
Traveler, there is no path
paths are made by walking.

Joan Marler
... a new outlook can lead to a realignment of intuition that awakens perception of where you need to be next in your life.

Joan Marler
Be prepared – then let go of expectations!

Henry Moore
The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring
everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is – it must be something you cannot possibly do.

Richard R. Niebuhr
Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit's compass points the way.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Never trust a thought that didn't come by walking.

Flannery O'Connor
No matter what form the dragon may take, it is the mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will be concerned to tell.

Martin Palmer
True pilgrimage changes lives, whether we go halfway around the world or out to our own backyards.

Walker Percy
[Inward seeking] is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair .

Peace Pilgrim
A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose.

Peace Pilgrim
Think of how free I am. If I want to travel, I just stand up and walk away.

Arabian Proverb
It's not the road ahead that wears you out – it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.

Eskimo Proverb
Glorious it is when wandering time is come.

Objiwa Proverb
Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky.

Rainer Maria Rilke
The necessary thing is great, inner solitude. What goes on inwardly is worthy of your love.

Mevlana Rumi
As you start on the Way, the Way appears.

Mevlana Rumi
Don't be satisfied with the stories that come before you; unfold your own myth.

Huston Smith
The art is to learn to master today's unavoidable situation with as much equanimity as we can muster, in preparation for facing its sequel tomorrow.

Huston Smith
The object of pilgrimage is not rest and recreation – to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life. Nothing matters now but this adventure.

Freya Stark
A good traveler does not, I think, much mind the uninteresting places. He is there to be inside them, as a thread is inside the necklace it strings. The world, with unknown and unexpected variety, is a part of his own Leisure; and this living participation is, I think, what separates the traveler and the tourist, who remains separate, as if he were at a theatre, and not himself a part of whatever the show may be.

Freya Stark
This a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world.

Robert Louis Stevenson
For my part I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.

Jules Supervielle
And it was then that in the depths of sleep
Someone breathed to me: "You alone can do it,
Come immediately."

Henry David Thoreau
A traveler. I love his title. A traveler is to be reverenced as such. His profession is the best symbol of our life. Going from – toward; it is the history of every one of us.

Qingyuan Weixin
When I had not yet begun to study Zen thirty years ago, I thought that mountains are mountains and waters are waters. Later when I studied personally with my master, I entered realization and understood that mountains are not mountains, waters are not waters. Now that I abide in the way of no-seeking, I see as before that mountains are just mountains, waters are just waters.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Alain de Botton Quotation

It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others. They may have particular visions of who we are and hence may subtly prevent certain sides of us from emerging: “I hadn’t thought of you as someone who was interested in flyovers,” they may intimidatingly suggest. Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then, too, we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity. But alone in Hammersmith in the middle of a March afternoon, I had no such concerns. I had the freedom to act a little weirdly. I sketched the window of a hardware shop and word-painted a flyover.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Awe by Paul Pearsall - Excerpts

Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion.

Paul Pearsall. 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0-7573-0585-6


… the best description I’ve been able to give it so far is that – no matter how good or bad our brain considers whatever is happening to be – it is feeling more totally and completely alive than we thought possible before we were in awe. It’s feeling numbed yet totally alert at the same time.

Languishing is not being sad or happy. It’s not being mentally healthy or mentally ill, perhaps because it’s more a state of chronic doing than engaged being. Because it is mistaking a busy life for a meaningful one, it’s generally awe-deficient. It’s living in a state of often unacknowledged quiet despair, unrecognized because we mistake a busy personal life for a meaningfully connected one. Languishing is going through the motions without a lot of any kind of emotion.

In fact, because awe is first and foremost our most connective emotion, the more you think about yourself, the less likely it is you will be in awe. Awe is an emotion designed to help us experience and learn from the paradox that life is as dreadful as it is divine, better than we can imagine and worse than we fear, and as short as it is magnificent.

Awe makes us feel powerless and insignificant yet at the same time also strangely empowered, because we feel we’ve been uniquely blessed by being given a brief challenging glimpse of a deeper significance to life that we may never understand but must keep trying.

Ultimately, the decision between an easier, fascinating life and a harder, tremendously mysterious one is a choice between the solace of certitude and the aggravating invigoration of unending inscrutability.

… a life full of moments of powerful and transformative emotions that frequently send chills down our spines, fill our eyes with tears, cause our hearts to race, make the hair on the backs of our necks stand on end, boggle the mind, and literally take our breath away – in other words, a life full of awe.

Although intense contemplation of its meaning can end up deepening it, awe often shakes our faith and disturbs the solace of our spiritual certitude.

Awe results in a sense of fear and submission to things, events, people, and ideas that are experienced as being much greater than the self, and that can make us feel wonderful or terrible, or even both ways at the same time.

Awe renders us dumbstruck, and it’s up to us whether we want to take it from there and start thinking deeper and differently about life or experience a brief spiritual buzz that leaves our life’s explanatory system unperturbed.

Awe can make us feel strange, because it’s the emotion we feel when we’re most in touch with the unfathomable eeriness that is the universe we live in.

… if you’re the kind of person who’s looking for answers, the choice of an awe-filled life isn’t for you.

… true awe always comes with a sense of terror of the vast nothingness that also makes awe so exciting.

Perhaps because awe makes us realize we will eventually lose the existence that allows us awe’s profound awareness of being, it must almost come with sadness and a sense of shame for our ingratitude for the gift of life.

… awe happens not because your mind involuntarily reacts to the outside world, but because our understanding and experience of the outside world is transformed by how we think about it.

The awe-lite life is based on the pop psychology bromide: “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.”

There’s never any closure in an awe-inspired life, only constant acceptance of the mysteries of life.

… an awe-filled life is a humbling one that is constantly damaging to our self-esteem.

Being in awe means that you will spend a lot of time feeling afraid and confused.

Living a life of awe is living life on the edge of the sense of chaos and confusion that comes with the realization of life’s perplexing majesty.

“Awe is when you become so aware of just how tremendously frightening it is that you’re alive that it scares you to death.”

If we go beyond a kind of ignorant distant voyeurism through which we gawk at life rather than fully engage with it and put in the effort to try to understand a little more about life’s meaning, awe becomes less a feeling of being high and more a feeling of deep immersion in any and all of life’s processes, including health, illness, love, and even death.

Awe draws us out of our increasingly dominant secular consciousness, and awakens our latent sense of the sacred.

Awe shakes us from our mental, spiritual, and physical self-absorbed languishing and can make our other emotions pale in comparison to its transformative life impact.

My study of awe indicates that its defining characteristic is what psychologists call ego death, meaning dissolution of the sense of self, replaced by a feeling of total immersion in, and connection with, something much more vast and meaningful.

The overwhelming suddenness of awe literally takes our breath away. What we see, sense, and feel seems not only to far transcend our day-to-day level of consciousness, but causes us to become more aware of the range and power of our senses.

Research from the fields of neurocardiology, cardio-endocrinology, and energy cardiology indicates that the heart receives signals from the world around us and sends those signals to the brain and other parts of the body.

The founder of the transcendental movement is usually considered to be Ralph Waldo Emerson. He described his sense of awe derived from going to the woods alone as his way of knowing and worshiping God. He wrote that when he was in such an environment, he felt that he became nothing, yet could see everything, and become “part and parcel of God.” It’s as if he was becoming aware of God through the heart’s eyes.

The debate persists between pantheists who look for God in everything, theists who believe in a God over everything, and atheists who believe in no God or gods. It still rages between the deists who believe God set the world in motion, provided its laws, and leaves it to us to use our rational thinking to deal with it, and theists who believe in communication with God and behavioral and prayerful earning of his intervention.

Happiness is an abnormal, brief respite between the stresses and strains of a fully engaged meaningful life.

As [Brian] Swimme points out, there is nothing more astounding than to be able to participate in the process called life; death is an inescapable necessary part of that process, and it can be as astounding as it is devastating.

The experience of being in awe can quickly shock us out of any inauthentic happiness we’ve tried to achieve for ourselves.

Mountains force us to consider our relative smallness, powerlessness, and comparative impermanence. An unending plain forces our binocular vision to converge far beyond its normal length, drawing us to consider the nearness of our mundane life versus the farness of yet unimagined possibilities.

Based on what the SAI participants told me, they never felt more alive than when they felt the terrible pain of an awe-inspiring negative life transition. Because the awe of understanding leaves lingering doubts and more questions than answers, many of them were pensive, worrying people, not smiling optimists – another argument on the side of choosing the easier, less-awe-filled life.

The SAI participants were not an upbeat, smiling, perpetually positive-thinking group, but they were the most alive and engaged people I’ve ever met.

A good life is about meeting the challenge of carrying pain without amplifying it into suffering and savoring pleasure without becoming a slave to pursuing more of it.

You have read that awe is first and foremost the emotion of self-transcendence. It’s encountering something, someone, or even an idea, a disease, or a terrible crisis that is not only a violation of our expectations, but a revelation of what is beyond our wildest imagination.

I still know of nothing more awe-inspiring, as I have defined that response, than death, and it still leaves me in a state of utter confusion at the power of love, life, and death that can result in such agonizing grief at life’s irreversible end.

Based on my research, a working definition of awe might be that it is “the humbling experience of our own lack of imagination in the face of a prodigious stimulus.”

It’s when we are underwhelmed with our selves that we’re more likely to become overwhelmed with the wonders of the world around us.

Maybe that’s what awe is for: to act as a consciousness stimulant that makes us more aware of just how unaware we usually are and the need for a more creative, forgiving, loving consciousness.

… when we feel emotionally moved, we are actually experiencing energy moving throughout our body. Unless we consciously interpret them, however, feelings quickly pass, and our emotions just “are”. Emotions are energy neutral, meaning that until our consciousness gives them meaning, they’re pure energy manifested and registered primarily through our autonomic (or automatically reactive) nervous system.

We may admire the brain’s rational brilliance, but our emotions are taking place faster than the brain can think. That’s why truly transformative awe requires lengthy reflection after the event. Only then can we put what inspired us into the context of our lives and decide how it will be stored in our consciousness.

… pop psychology has told us for decades that living is a matter of technique and that we should learn these techniques from experts who offer their various well-marketed sets of steps to emotional health.

Being in awe is less about our own feelings pouring out than feelings pouring in.

Being in awe of all of life, both good and bad and happy and unhappy, is flourishing; it’s the opposite of languishing, which sends us off in search of the latest secret to how to have a better life.

To ask, “Is this all there is?” is to throw the gift of our being back in the face of the Giver.

Awe can really mess up our thinking, disrupt our certainty, and expose the false beliefs many of us use to get us through the chaotic, random, unfair evil that permeates so much of life.

Awe can console us because it offers enlightened illusionment – a time to dream, fantasize, and stretch our consciousness beyond the bonds of our middle-world brain.

When we’re in awe, we’re reacting on some level to the emergence of things and phenomena that our busy brain doesn’t often have the time or tolerance to deal with.

Consciousness is a mysterious blend of how and what we say when we talk to ourselves, what’s doing the listening, how it feels about what it hears, and what seems to be doing the speaking.

… the majority of Americans are languishing their lives away in a kind of psychological purgatory in the form of a mental health “in-between-ness”, in which they are neither totally mentally healthy nor mentally ill, and spend their days in the pursuit of a happiness that forever seems to elude them.

Languishing is indolent and sneaks up on you over time. It’s characterized not by depression, high anxiety, or the presence of negative feelings, but by the absence of the regularly intense feelings about life that flourishers experience, including the good, the bad, and the ugly things that life brings.

The use of the word awesome has become more an announcement of a shopper’s discovery than an indication of a transformative spiritual insight in progress.

True, unadulterated, sincere, understanding awe involves awareness of significant spiritual needs being drawn out of us, not wants finally being met for us. It leaves us bothered and thoughtful, not satisfied and full, and it’s as likely to make us sad as happy. Awe is the basic human emotion that lifts us far above languishing, not because it makes us feel good, but because it makes us feel.

We may often be too emotionally numb to know it, but languishing is always lonely. Flourishing is always shared.

Of course awe doesn’t alter the reality of pain, but it provides a sense of meaning and comprehensibility that provides a degree of manageability.

Life isn’t wonderful. It just is, and that’s more than enough to inspire awe.

“You can’t be in awe of how great life is unless you’re also awed by how rotten it can be. Awe is becoming so intensely alive that it can be really terrifying and make you rethink everything.

The easily awed are essentially “one thought” people, who don’t allow their brains to dart around from idea to idea.

Without accommodation, awe can become a superstitious portent supporting our preconceived fears, biases, and narrow self-protective and self-enhancing view of the world.

When someone is a zealot, he or she can’t conceive how anyone could see the world and explain its mysteries differently than that person does.

… if we take the time and pay attention, being in awe is easy. The problem arises when awe arouses us but doesn’t necessarily inform us. Our reverent fear and awe’s sense of powerlessness can easily be transformed into evil when we haven’t taken sufficient time to accommodate awe into our own lives.

Faith has come to mean a blind, trusting acceptance of a belief, usually one into which we were indoctrinated as children when we were the most vulnerable and most prone to being ignorantly awed.

My interviews indicate that the awe of understanding is almost always in reaction to nature or processes like a fuller awareness of our own senses, a strong emotion, giving birth, loss, illness, healing, dying, suffering, loving, and other manifestations of profound connection or disconnection with “something more”.

Whenever our awe response results in a sense of separation rather than deeper and more profound connection, it’s the dark side of awe that does to work and will have toxic consequences.

With the awe of understanding comes the challenge of a mind forever opened and seldom at final peace and closure.

The awe of understanding can be experienced alone, but it results in the undeniable urge to share what happened and talk about it with someone else.

If you decide to have more awe in your life, you will have to be willing to take on and think deeply about your role in the process as an imperfect being in an imperfect world that keeps teasing us with its imperfect grandeur.

The lesson to be learned from understanding awe is that the purpose of life isn’t to be happy but just “to be” and to accept the gift of being allowed to at least try to figure out the why of why we are.

The more we have to love, the more we have to lose. The more we care, the more we are sure to grieve.

The more self-conscious we are, the less fully conscious we seem able to be.

It’s when we’re most engaged in life itself and with someone with whom we share life that we can lose all awareness of time, place, and self – a state psychologists call “flow”.

That’s the thing about awe: There is no “payoff”.

Popular-psychology bromides aside, we actually have relatively little control over the most important and difficult things that happen in our lives.

It’s the effort, not success at finding final answers, that will sustain us.


Richard Dawkins

Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.

Richard Dawkins

False beliefs can be every bit as consoling as true ones, right up until the moment of disillusionment.

Editor, Publisher’s Weekly

Nobody ever went broke overestimating the desperate unhappiness of the American public.

Albert Einstein

The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experiences is the sensation of the mystical. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.

Wallace Stevens

The imagination is man’s power over nature.

Fritz von Unruh

The dog is the only being that loves you more than you love yourself.

Thorstein Veblen

The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tryon Edwards Quotation

Science has sometimes been said to be opposed to faith, and inconsistent with it. But all science, in fact, rests on a basis of faith, for it assumes the permanence and uniformity of natural laws - a thing which can never be demonstrated.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard - Excerpts

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard. 1974. ISBN 978-0061233326


We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence …

That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac.

The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.

I propose to keep here what Thoreau called “a meteorological journal of the mind”, telling some tales and describing some of the sights of this rather tamed valley, and exploring, in fear and trembling, some of the unmapped dim reaches and unholy fastnesses to which those tales and sights so dizzyingly lead.

But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it … I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing. If Tinker Mountain erupted, I’d be likely to notice. But if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present. It’s not that I’m observant; it’s just that I talk too much.

But there is another way of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way I stand transfixed and emptied.

But I can’t go out and try to see this way. I’ll fail, I’ll go mad. All I can do is try to gag the commentator, to hush the noise of useless interior babble that keeps me from seeing just as surely as a newspaper dangled before my eyes.

An Eskimo traveling alone in flat barrens will heap round stones to the height of a man, travel till he can no longer see the beacon, and build another.

Fish gotta swim and bird gotta fly; insects, it seems, gotta do one horrible thing after another.

It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale.

Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.

I remember what the city has to offer: human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained. I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, “next year … I’ll start living; next year … I’ll start my life.” Innocence is a better world.

The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying; it is a canvas, nevertheless.

That there are so many details seems to be the most important and visible fact about the creation.

… even on the perfectly ordinary and clearly visible level, creation carries on with an intricacy unfathomable and apparently uncalled for. The long ping into being of the first hydrogen atom ex nihilo was so unthinkably, violently radical, that surely it ought to have been enough, more than enough. But look what happens. You open the door and all heaven and hell break loose.

What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest, possible force of their very reality.

Certainly nature seems to exult in abounding radicality, extremism, anarchy. If we were to judge nature by its common sense or likelihood, we wouldn’t believe the world existed. In nature, improbabilities are the one stock in trade. The whole creation is on lunatic fringe.

Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me. This is easy to write, easy to read, and hard to believe. The words are simple, the concept clear – but you don’t believe it, do you? Nor do I. How could I, when we’re both so lovable? Are my values then so diametrically opposed to those that nature preserves? This is the key point.

Either this world, my mother, is a monster, or I myself am a freak.

But wait, you say, there is no right and wrong in nature; right and wrong is a human concept. Precisely: we are moral creatures, in an amoral world. The universe that suckled us is a monster that does not care if we live or die – does not care if it itself grinds to a halt. It is fixed and blind, a robot programmed to kill. We are free and seeing; we can only try to outwit it at every turn to save our skins. This view requires that a monstrous world running on chance and death, careening blindly from nowhere to nowhere, somehow produced wonderful us.

My rage and shock at the pain and death of individuals of my kind is the old, old mystery, as old as man, but forever fresh, and completely unanswerable.

This is what I came for, just this, and nothing more. A fling of leafy motion on the cliffs, the assault of real things, living and still, with shapes and powers under the sky – this is my city, my culture, and all the world I need. I looked around.

Somebody showed me once how to answer a bobwhite in the warbling, descending notes of the female. It works like a charm. But what can I do with a charmed circle of male bobwhites but weep?

Every minute on a square mile of this land – on the steers and the orchard, on the quarry, the meadow, and creek – one ten thousandth of an ounce of starlight spatters to earth.

I didn’t know, I never have known, what spirit it is that descends into my lungs and flaps near my heart like an eagle rising. I named it full-of-wonder, highest good, voices.

Is this what it’s like, I thought then, and think now: a little blood here, a chomp there, and still we live, trampling the grass? Must everything whole be nibbled? Here was a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world, the actual plot of the present moment in time after the fall: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling – not held aloft on a cloud in the air but bumbling pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land.

The young man proudly names his scars for his lover; the old man alone before a mirror erases his scars with his eyes and sees himself whole.

No, I’ve gone through this a million times, beauty is not a hoax – how many days have I learned not to stare at the back of my hand when I could look out at the creek? Come on, I say to the creek, surprise me; and it does, with each new drop. Beauty is real. I would never deny it; the appalling thing is that I forget it.

Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.

There is not a guarantee in the world. Oh your needs are guaranteed, your needs are absolutely guaranteed by the most stringent of warranties, in the plainest, truest words: knock, seek; ask. But you must read the fine print. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” That’s the catch. If you can catch it it will catch you up, aloft, up to any gap at all, and you’ll come back, for you will come back, transformed in a way you may not have bargained for – dribbling and crazed … Your needs are all met. But not as the world giveth. You see the needs of your own spirit met whenever you have asked, and you have learned that the outrageous guarantee holds. You see the creatures die, and you know you will die. And one day it comes to you that you must not need life. Obviously. And then you’re gone. You have finally understood that you’re dealing with a maniac.

Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And then you walk fearlessly, eating what you must, growing wherever you can, like the monk on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries his vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms him, but with which he will not part.


Martin Buber (quoting an old Hasid master)
When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.

The physical world is entirely abstract and without “actuality” apart from its linkage to consciousness.

It ever was, and is, and shall be, ever-living Fire, in measures being kindled and in measures going out.

Huston Smith
In nature, the emphasis is on what is rather than what ought to be.

Simone Weil
Let us love the country of here below. It is real; it offers resistance to love.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Kathleen Norris Quotation

[Travel] is a way of surrendering to reduced circumstances
in a manner that enhances the whole person.
It is a radical way of knowing exactly who,
what, and where you are, in defiance
of those powerful forces in society that aim to make us forget.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

James Jeans Quotation

Put three grains of sand inside a vast cathedral,
and the cathedral will be more closely packed with sand
than space is with stars.

photo from: