When was the last time you tasted the sublime?
When did you last feel wonder?
Can you remember feeling awed by something?
These are things we need, if we are to thrive. They are fuel for the higher human abilities. If we lack them, as is currently endemic throughout the West, our higher abilities will lag.
For lack of better terms we can call these feelings “upward movements of the heart,” and we are diminished when there is a lack of them. Without them we fail to develop our higher capacities and insights. We slide more and more toward becoming, in one critic’s words, “mere trousered apes.”
I am certainly not the first person to notice this. Here, for example, is something Albert Einstein wrote on the subject:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
Here’s a comment from Mozart:
Neither a lofty degree of intelligence, nor imagination, nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.
And here’s a poem from Richard Feynman:
Out of the cradle
onto the dry land
here it is
atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.
Stands at the sea
wonders at wondering: I
a universe of atoms
an atom in the universe.
We need these things.
Currents to the Contrary
Sadly, the modern West has become a mad scramble to distract as many sets of eyes as possible, and to keep them – to own them – for as long as possible. And so long as professional distractors own your imagination, you won’t experience much in the way of awe.
Think of Google and Facebook; these outfits bring in billions of dollars per month, based almost entirely on how much human attention they can capture. Likewise the many news networks; they get paid according to how many people watch their images for how many minutes. These people are serious about owning your brain cycles; they employ armies of employees to count, gather, plan, and improve their ownership of your eyes.
Please understand the content they deliver serves only to grasp your attention.
Certainly websites like Freeman’s Perspective also want your attention but not for its own sake. I want your attention because I think we have something worthwhile to communicate, not to own your brain. Facebook and Google want to own you… the inner you.
Likewise the lords of academia((I am not including kind, benevolent teachers in this group… some of whom still survive in modern academia.)); they want your mind to bear their impress… permanently.
Consider, for example, the many academics who espouse cold, rationalist, materialistic philosophies: that we are no more than preprogrammed machines, that words can never really communicate anything, that humanity is ignorant and dangerous.
Have you noticed that they reek of “smarter than thou”?
Then if you have the opportunity, examine their lives for beautiful acts, for loving passions, for kindness and deep benevolence. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll notice a striking lack of those things.
Among the greatest of all contrasts to the upward movements of the heart are those pertaining to dominance, status, and rulership. They are natural antagonists.
Think of drinking in the wonders of the universe, the beauty of nature, the glorious love between a good parent and their child… and then contrast those things with the blight of the dominator “protecting” you at the point of a sword… of the politician cultivating your fears like a gardener cultivates a garden… of the lover of status who feels pleasure when seeing you beneath her.
Dominance, status, and rulership are the drives of the people who abuse us. And they are primary causes for our elevated experiences being diminished.
Moving Past the Blockage
We need to get away from these people and beyond these foul concepts. And once we do, life will expand. Here to make that point is a final quote, this one from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:
The loss of awe is the avoidance of insight. A return to reverence is the first prerequisite for a revival of wisdom…
The things that contribute to our higher nature have been driven away from the Western world, and often systematically. Humans who are denuded of the higher things are far less trouble to rule, and they are far easier to manipulate… to own without their noticing.
But don’t let yourself by driven away from the higher and better things:
Lay under the stars and wonder.
Look into the face of a child and experience his or her awe of the world.
Sit in the wilderness and imagine benevolence and beauty and goodness unchained.
Lie in bed and imagine yourself with a conscious sense of righteousness.
Imagine yourself with no embedded fear.
Ruminate over good things you could do in the future, over beautiful things you’d do in the right circumstances.
Politics poisons this, dominators wish to subdue it, sociopaths cannot experience it.
Get as much of it as you can. Go out of your way to cultivate it.
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A book that generates comments like these, from actual readers, might be worth your time:
I just finished reading The Breaking Dawn and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking, amazing books I have ever read… It will be hard to read another book now that I’ve read this book… I want everyone to read it.
Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people’s conceptions.
There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.
Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.
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