Might as well start off this post as I did a similarly-titled one back in 2014:
Hey, when you're as churchless and unreligious as I am, you take your revelations in any form they might appear.
So today, my mini (or micro) satori came unbidden while on a late afternoon dog walk.
After canine companion Zu Zu and I had made our way across the creek, through the woods, and started to circle the path around our community lake, I suddenly had a Wow! feeling while we were walking on dry cut grass.
Naturally I had to document the outwardness of my inner revelation with an iPhone photo.
It wasn't just the bits of straw that had been tickling my sandal-clad feet. It wasn't just the pleasant air temperature, in the 70's after a long stretch of 90's heat. It wasn't just the familiar sight of tall firs and old oaks that I enjoy every time dog and I walk this way.
What it was -- and like all revelations, secular or sacred, this is hard to put into words -- was a sense of wonder that I was experiencing all of these things, that I was conscious of existence rather than just existing like a rock does.
Gratitude. That word sort of captures what I felt, but not exactly.
This morning I read the final chapters in Daniel Klein's "Travels With Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life." Klein speaks of having dinner with a Greek family.
I stand and raise my glass. "It is a great privilege to be here," I say. Then, smiling, I add, "In fact, it is a great privilege simply to be."
Maybe that thought had been rattling around in my unconscious all day and popped up in an experiential guise during the dog walk. Doesn't matter. What mattered to me was the clarity of what came over me on the dry grass path.
I am conscious. I am experiencing life, the world, myself, everything through this consciousness.
The marvel, the wonder of it all, is conscious awareness. I and other conscious beings, including our dog, not only exist, but are aware of existence; I not only am, but can experience being what I am.
I was struck by how much more important consciousness is than anything particular I'm conscious of. It doesn't really matter if I am looking at the Grand Canyon, listening to the most melodious music in the world, feeling horrible pain or enjoying intense pleasure.
Well, of course it matters.
Just not in the way I normally look at life. Meaning, I usually take for granted that I'm alive and aware. My focus is on what is transpiring in my life, what I'm aware of. That I'm alive, that I'm aware... this realization usually takes a back seat in my consciousness.
Not on today's dog walk, though. It was like clouds briefly parting and letting a ray of Alternative Understanding beam in my brain. Then, pretty much, I was back to normal -- whatever that means -- remembering more than experiencing what had transpired.
Instead of blabbing on more about this, I'll share an excerpt from one of the final chapters in Klein's "Travels With Epicurus" that I read today.
Religion has not played a significant role in my life to date. And I do not find much consolation in the fact that the sannyasi starts off with a blank slate too; even though he has rejected the religious training of his youth, I suspect that he begins his journey with a stronger sense than I have of what enlightenment might look and feel like.
Still, my inchoate yearning for some kind of enlightenment is clearly there. I believe it has always been. Indeed I suspect that it is always there -- somewhere -- in most of us. Maybe I am being soft in the head again, but my guess is that even the most rabid atheist has a hankering for a transcendent dimension; he just cannot get a believable bead on it.
As for me, I simply have gotten into the habit of ignoring my spiritual yearnings, as if they were some kind of annoying tic. I am like the man who, when admonished by Baba Ram Dass to "be here now," replied, "I'm cool -- I am definitely planning on living in the present any day now."
But again, the unique urgency of old age chastens me: if not now, when?
The fundamental questions at the root of spiritual yearnings are not difficult to identify; it is just hard to make meaningful sense out of them: Do I have any kind of connection to everything else? To the cosmos? Are we both -- the cosmos and I -- in this thing together? And if so, what does that mean about how I should live the rest of my life?
Questions do not get much vaguer than these do, yet is is difficult to think of questions that are more essential. After my bout with Heidegger's "unfathomable question" the other day, I feel better equipped to wrestle with the new atheist's claim that I would be untrue to myself if I even entertained the idea of a spiritual dimension.
I do not think I am searching for a thing, like Sam Harris's mythical diamond the size of a refrigerator in my backyard. I do not expect to see the face of God or the landscape of heaven. It is some sort of sublime understanding I am after, an existential aspect to the universe. Again, it is the philosopher William James who gives some hope to my yearning: no, I am not looking for a thing; I am searching for a spiritual experience.
And so I return to James's Varieties of Religious Experience, another favorite old book of mine that I've brought along on this sojourn. Indeed, the copy sitting on my desk in Hydra now is the same one I bought at a Harvard Square bookstore some fifty-plus years ago, my earnest student underlinings and marginal notes still intact.
One passage I underscored back then speaks directly to what I am musing about now: "We pass into mystical states from out of ordinary consciousness as from a less into a more, as from a smallness into a vastness, and at the same time as from an unrest to a rest. We feel them as reconciling, unifying states. They appeal to the yes-function more than to the no-function in us. In them the unlimited absorbs the limits and peacefully closes the account."
Yes, it is a jiggle of my "yes-function" that I am seeking. And if I have such an experience, I will take it from there. If Harris informs me that the experience was merely a wish-fulfillment, I will take that under advisement. But I reserve the privilege of rejecting Harris and embracing my yes.
Subjective experience is nothing but yes, yes, yes. It is only when we wrongly try to claim that our subjective experience reflects an objective reality that others, as well as ourselves, are justified in saying no, no, no.