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** Welcome Hello, MoseFite409518683! This is the weekly email digest of brainpickings.org by Maria Popova. If you missed last week's edition — Pythagoras on the purpose of life and the meaning of wisdom, Annie Dillard on our search for meaning, an illustrated invitation to living with presence — you can catch up right here (http://eepurl.com/dwUXyz?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) . And if you're enjoying this newsletter, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation (https://www.brainpickings.org/donate/?open=one-time&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) – each month, I spend hundreds of hours and tremendous resources on it, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
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** Nature and the Serious Business of Joy (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/06/07/michael-mccarthy-the-moth-snowstorm-nature-joy/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID])
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http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1681372428/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

“Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity,” Rachel Carson wrote in reflecting on our spiritual bond with nature (https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/09/20/rachel-carson-lost-woods-the-real-world-around-us/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) shortly before she awakened the modern environmental conscience (https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/01/27/rachel-carson-silent-spring-dorothy-freeman/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) .

The rewards and redemptions of that elemental yet endangered response is what British naturalist and environmental writer Michael McCarthy, a modern-day Carson, explores in The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1681372428/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) (public library (http://www.worldcat.org/title/moth-snowstorm-nature-and-joy/oclc/990109904&referer=brief_results?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) ) — part memoir and part manifesto, a work of philosophy rooted in environmental science and buoyed by a soaring poetic imagination.

McCarthy writes:

The natural world can offer us more than the means to survive, on the one hand, or mortal risks to be avoided, on the other: it can offer us joy.

[…]

There can be occasions when we suddenly and involuntarily find ourselves loving the natural world with a startling intensity, in a burst of emotion which we may not fully understand, and the only word that seems to me to be appropriate for this feeling is joy.

“Roots” by Maria Popova

In a sentiment that calls to mind Theodore Roosevelt’s assertion that “the poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer,” (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/04/30/theodore-roosevelt-arena-cynicism-critic/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) McCarthy weighs the particular necessity and particular precariousness of joy in our cynicism-crippled world (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/09/hope-cynicism/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) :

Referring to it as joy may not facilitate its immediate comprehension either, not least because joy is not a concept, nor indeed a word, that we are entirely comfortable with, in the present age. The idea seems out of step with a time whose characteristic notes are mordant and mocking, and whose preferred emotion is irony. Joy hints at an unrestrained enthusiasm which may be thought uncool… It reeks of the Romantic movement. Yet it is there. Being unfashionable has no effect on its existence… What it denotes is a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.

A century and a half after Thoreau extolled nature as a form of prayer (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/03/08/thoreau-and-the-language-of-trees/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) and an antidote to the smallening of spirit amid the ego-maelstrom we call society — “In the street and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean,” he lamented in his journal — McCarthy considers the role of the transcendent feelings nature can stir in us in a secular world:

They are surely very old, these feelings. They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.

Earthrise (December 24, 1968)

In consonance with Carl Sagan’s beautiful humanist meditation (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/05/09/a-brave-and-startling-truth-maya-angelou/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) on the Pale Blue Dot photograph captured by the Voyager spacecraft, McCarthy turns to the first iconic cosmic view of our planet — Earthrise (https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/12/24/earthrise/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , captured by Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968. Echoing Sagan’s own insight that Earthrise seeded in us a new kind of dual awareness — “the sense of our planet as one in a vast number and the sense of our planet as a place whose destiny depends upon us” (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/04/05/carl-sagan-jonathan-cott-rolling-stone-interview/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) — McCarthy writes:

At this moment, for the first time, we saw ourselves from a distance, and the earth in its surrounding dark emptiness not only seemed impossibly beautiful but also impossibly fragile. Most of all, we could see clearly that it was finite. This does not appear to us on the earth’s surface; the land or the sea stretches to the horizon, but there is always something beyond. However many horizons we cross, there’s always another one waiting. Yet on glimpsing the planet from deep space, we saw not only the true wonder of its shimmering blue beauty, but also the true nature of its limits.

In a passage that calls to mind Ursula K. Le Guin’s insistence that “to use the world well, to be able to stop wasting it and our time in it, we need to relearn our being in it,” (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/04/10/ursula-k-le-guin-late-in-the-day-science-poetry/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) McCarthy places the vital relationship between responsibility and joy at the heart of our relearning of being:

It is time for a different, formal defence of nature. We should offer up not just the notion of being sensible and responsible about it, which is sustainable development, nor the notion of its mammoth utilitarian and financial value, which is ecosystem services, but a third way, something different entirely: we should offer up what it means to our spirits; the love of it. We should offer up its joy.

Illustration from Beastly Verse (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/04/22/beastly-verse-joohee-yoon/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) by JooHee Yoon

I have long found the word environment disquieting. Embedded in it is residual Ptolemism that places us at the center of nature and casts the rest of the natural world as something that surrounds us and implicitly revolves around us. The notion of “natural resources” furthers this hubris by framing trees and rivers and meadows as entities and economic assets existing for the satisfaction of our human needs. McCarthy speaks to this civilizational hubris and how it bereaves us of the far greater “resource” which nature can offer us, and has long offered us, not as an exploitable asset but as an unbidden gift:

We can generalise or, indeed, monetise the value of nature’s services in satisfying our corporeal needs, since we all have broadly the same continuous requirement for food and shelter; but we have infinitely different longings for solace and understanding and delight. Their value is modulated, not through economic assessment, but through the personal experiences of individuals. So we cannot say — alas that we cannot — that birdsong, like coral reefs, is worth 375 billion dollars a year in economic terms, but we can say, each of us, that at this moment and at this place it was worth everything to me. Shelley did so with his skylark, and Keats with his nightingale, and Thomas Hardy with the skylark of Shelley, and Edward Thomas with his unknown bird, and Philip Larkin with his song thrush in a chilly spring garden, but we need to remake, remake, remake, not just rely on the poems of the past, we need to do it ourselves — proclaim these worths through our own experiences in the coming
century of destruction, and proclaim them loudly, as the reason why nature must not go down.

Illustration by Matthew Forsythe from The Golden Leaf (https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/05/04/the-gold-leaf-hall-forsythe/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID])

That most unquantifiable, most precious value of nature to human life, McCarthy insists, is the gift nestled in the responsibility — the gift of joy. He writes:

Joy has a component, if not of morality, then at least of seriousness. It signifies a happiness which is a serious business. And it seems to me the wholly appropriate name for the sudden passionate happiness which the natural world can occasionally trigger in us, which may well be the most serious business of all.

Echoing Denise Levertov’s stirring poem (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/05/10/america-ferrera-sojourns-in-the-parallel-world-denise-levertov/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) about our ambivalent relationship to nature — “We call it ‘Nature’; only reluctantly admitting ourselves to be ‘Nature’ too.” — McCarthy extends a promissory vision for reclaiming our joyous belonging to the natural world:

The natural world is not separate from us, it is part of us. It is as much a part of us as our capacity for language; we are bonded to it still, however hard it may be to perceive the union in the tumult of modern urban life. Yet the union can be found, the union of ourselves and nature, in the joy which nature can spark and fire in us.

A mighty kindling for that fire is what McCarthy offers in the remainder The Moth Snowstorm (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1681372428/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) — a beautiful and catalytic read in its entirety. Complement it with evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis on the interconnectedness of nature (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/04/19/lynn-margulis-talking-on-the-water/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) and Loren Eiseley — one of the most elegant thinkers and underappreciated geniuses of the past century — on how nature can help us reclaim our sense of the miraculous in a mechanical age (https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/06/22/loren-eiseley-muskrat/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , then savor Krista Tippett’s beautiful On Being conversation (https://onbeing.org/programs/nature-joy-and-human-becoming-may2018/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) with McCarthy:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/06/07/michael-mccarthy-the-moth-snowstorm-nature-joy/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]


** Forward to a friend (http://us2.forward-to-friend.com/forward?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=6749078920&e=88f55d2d64) /Read Online (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/06/07/michael-mccarthy-the-moth-snowstorm-nature-joy/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) /
https://mailchi.mp/brainpickings/nature-and-joy?fblike=fblike-a399df93&e=88f55d2d64&socialproxy=https%3A%2F%2Fus2.campaign-archive.com%2Fsocial-proxy%2Ffacebook-like%3Fu%3D13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1%26id%3D6749078920%26url%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.brainpickings.org%252F2018%252F06%252F07%252Fmichael-mccarthy-the-moth-snowstorm-nature-joy%252F%26title%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.brainpickings.org%252F2018%252F06%252F07...
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** Julián Is a Mermaid: A Tenderhearted Story of Identity, Belonging, and the Courage to Be Yourself (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/06/07/julian-is-a-mermaid-jessica-love/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID])
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https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight,” E.E. Cummings offered in his advice to aspiring artists (https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/09/25/e-e-cummings-advice/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) . “You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you,” James Baldwin argued two decades later in his fantastic forgotten conversation about identity (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/03/26/margaret-mead-james-baldwin-a-rap-on-race-2/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) with anthropologist Margaret Mead. “If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble.” Both the vulnerability and the courage of that world-telling are in direct proportion to our sense of otherness — to how far the teller diverges from society’s centuries-old, dogma-proscribed, limiting ideas about the correct way to be a human being.

A lovely celebration of the courage to tell the world who you are comes in Julián Is a Mermaid (https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) (public library (http://www.worldcat.org/title/julian-is-a-mermaid/oclc/1031366651&referer=brief_results?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) ) by Jessica Love — a sweet story of loving acceptance and the jubilant inner transformation that takes place when one is welcomed to be and to dream beyond society’s narrow templates of being and dreaming.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

Whenever Julián goes to the swimming pool with his grandmother, he dreams of being a mermaid.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

One day, on the subway ride home, he glimpses three beautiful women dressed as mermaids. He is instantly entranced.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

“Abuela, I am also a mermaid,” he tells his grandmother shyly, the way one whispers a closely guarded innermost truth.

When Julián’s grandmother goes to take a bath, an idea alights to his enchanted mind: He sheds his boy-clothes and fashions a headdress out of a fern. Like a miniature Scarlett O’Hara, he transforms the window curtain into a long skirt, tying its end to resemble a mermaid’s tail.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

Just as he is rejoicing in his self-creation, grandma returns from the bath, frowns, and walks away.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

But she quickly returns to unsink Julián’s heart by handing him the perfect finishing touch for his mermaid regalia.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

Julián takes her hand and follows her out of the house, through the streets, wondering where she is taking him. “You’ll see,” she says.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

When they turn a corner near the boardwalk, Julián gasps at the sight of mermaids — throngs of them, of every size, shape, gender, and color.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

New Yorkers would recognize the glorious spectacle as the famous Coney Island Mermaid Parade, which celebrates the beginning of summer. Under the sunshine of his grandmother’s unconditional love, Julián celebrates a different kind of personal beginning as they join the mermaids in the parade and an ecstatic sense of belonging washes over him.

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

Julián Is a Mermaid (https://www.amazon.com/Juli%C3%A1n-Mermaid-Jessica-Love/dp/0763690457/?bpnl-20&mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) makes a fine addition to the best LBGT children’s books (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/16/best-lgbt-childrens-books/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) . Complement it with the immeasurably wonderful Jerome by Heart (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/03/29/jerome-by-heart/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , then revisit Oliver Sacks on how narrative shapes our identity (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/01/15/oliver-sacks-identity-self-narrative/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) .


** Forward to a friend (http://us2.forward-to-friend.com/forward?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=6749078920&e=88f55d2d64) /Read Online (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/06/07/julian-is-a-mermaid-jessica-love/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) /
https://mailchi.mp/brainpickings/nature-and-joy?fblike=fblike-ef6f6731&e=88f55d2d64&socialproxy=https%3A%2F%2Fus2.campaign-archive.com%2Fsocial-proxy%2Ffacebook-like%3Fu%3D13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1%26id%3D6749078920%26url%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.brainpickings.org%252F2018%252F06%252F07%252Fjulian-is-a-mermaid-jessica-love%252F%26title%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.brainpickings.org%252F2018%252F06%252F07...
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** William James on Consciousness and the Four Features of Transcendent Experiences (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/06/04/william-james-varieties-consciousness/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID])
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http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140390340/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

“Queer, in fact maddening, to think that ‘beauty’ in nature is for us alone: for the human eye alone. Without our consciousness it doesn’t exist,” Joyce Carol Oates wrote in her journal (https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/05/14/joyce-carol-oates-beauty-consciousness-wonder-journal/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) . “All of nature, all of the given ‘world,’ is in fact a work of art. Only the human consciousness can register it.” Four decades earlier, Virginia Woolf had recorded the selfsame sentiment in what remains the most stunning passage (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/09/09/virginia-woolf-cotton-wool-moments-of-being/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) from her own journal; four decades later, neuroscientist Christof Koch would echo the sentiment in the unsentimental chamber of science: “Without consciousness there is nothing… Consciousness is the central fact of your life.” (https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/05/25/christof-koch-consciousness-qualia/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID])

Long before Koch and Oates and Woolf, the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James (January 11, 1842–August 26, 1910) examined the mystery and complexity of consciousness in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140390340/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) (public library (http://www.worldcat.org/title/varieties-of-religious-experience-a-study-in-human-nature-being-the-gifford-lectures-on-natural-religion-delivered-at-edinburgh-in-1901-1902/oclc/248818310&referer=brief_results?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) | free ebook (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0082Z598S/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) ) — the 1902 masterwork based on his Gifford Lectures, in which James explored science, spirituality, and the human search for meaning (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/05/28/william-james-varieties-of-religious-experience/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) .

William James

James considers the central function of human consciousness — to make sense of reality through abstract concepts:

The whole universe of concrete objects, as we know them, swims… in a wider and higher universe of abstract ideas, that lend it its significance. As time, space, and the ether soak through all things so (we feel) do abstract and essential goodness, beauty, strength, significance, justice, soak through all things good, strong, significant, and just.

Such ideas, and others equally abstract, form the background for all our facts, the fountain-head of all the possibilities we conceive of. They give its “nature,” as we call it, to every special thing. Everything we know is “what” it is by sharing in the nature of one of these abstractions. We can never look directly at them, for they are bodiless and featureless and footless, but we grasp all other things by their means, and in handling the real world we should be stricken with helplessness in just so far forth as we might lose these mental objects, these adjectives and adverbs and predicates and heads of classification and conception.

Three decades after Nietzsche lamented how our abstractions blind us to the actuality of life (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/03/26/nietzsche-on-truth-and-lies-in-a-nonmoral-sense/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , James adds:

This absolute determinability of our mind by abstractions is one of the cardinal facts in our human constitution. Polarizing and magnetizing us as they do, we turn towards them and from them, we seek them, hold them, hate them, bless them, just as if they were so many concrete beings. And beings they are, beings as real in the realm which they inhabit as the changing things of sense are in the realm of space.

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/20/best-brothers-grimm-illustrations/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm

And yet our consciousness, James argues, is capable of states that radically disrupt its own neat model-universe of abstractions. He considers how these transcendent states discompose our constructed, concept-constricted experience of reality:

Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question — for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.

A quarter century before quantum mechanics founding father Niels Bohr formulated the principle of complementarity (https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/05/02/complementarity-frank-wilczek-a-beautiful-question/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) and its corollary that, in the words of the Nobel-winning physicist Frank Wilczek, “you can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth,” James offers the defining feature of these transcendent forms of consciousness:

It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself.

One of Arthur Rackham’s revolutionary illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/02/01/arthur-rackham-alice-in-wonderland/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID])

James had arrived at this conclusion not merely as a philosopher, but as an empiricist, using his own body-mind as a laboratory for experiments with nitrous oxide — a favorite of the visionary chemist and inventor Humphry Davy’s, who christened the substance “laughing gas” for its pleasurable euphoric effects (https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/04/26/free-radicals-michael-brooks/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) . The mild hallucinogenic properties of nitrous oxide gave James a glimpse of a whole other side of his own consciousness, which he used as a springboard into understanding so-called mystical, or transcendent, experiences — “a group of states of consciousness peculiar enough to deserve a special name and to call for careful study.”

Governed by the conviction that “phenomena are best understood when placed within their series,” he morphologizes the four defining features of these experiences — the first two necessary and sufficient to qualify the transcendent state of consciousness as such, the remaining two subtler and not required, but often accompanying the experience:

1. Ineffability. — The handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists. One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one must have been in love one’s self to understand a lover’s state of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the musician or the lover justly, and are even likely to consider him weak-minded or absurd. The mystic finds that most of us accord to his experiences an equally incompetent treatment.
2. Noetic quality. — Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.
3. Transiency. — Mystical states cannot be sustained for long. Except in rare instances, half an hour, or at most an hour or two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the light of common day. Often, when faded, their quality can but imperfectly be reproduced in memory; but when they recur it is recognized; and from one recurrence to another it is susceptible of continuous development in what is felt as inner richness and importance.
4. Passivity. — Although the oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, as by fixing the attention, or going through certain bodily performances, or in other ways which manuals of mysticism prescribe; yet when the characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power. This latter peculiarity connects mystical states with certain definite phenomena of secondary or alternative personality, such as prophetic speech, automatic writing, or the mediumistic trance. When these latter conditions are well pronounced, however, there may be no recollection whatever of the phenomenon, and it may have no significance for the subject’s usual inner life, to which, as it were, it makes a mere interruption. Mystical states, strictly so-called, are never merely interruptive. Some memory of their content always remains, and a profound sense of
their importance. They modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their recurrence. Sharp divisions in this region are, however, difficult to make, and we find all sorts of gradations and mixtures.

More than a century after its groundbreaking publication, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140390340/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) remains a fascinating read. Complement this particular portion with physicist Alan Lightman’s stirring account (https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/15/alan-lightman-accidental-universe-science-spirituality/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) of one such secular, non-hallucinogenic transcendent experience in his encounter with a baby osprey and mathematician-turned-physician Israel Rosenfield’s pioneering anatomy of consciousness (https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/03/17/the-strange-familiar-and-forgotten-israel-rosenfield/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , then revisit Albert Camus on consciousness and the lacuna between truth and meaning (https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/26/albert-camus-myth-of-sisyphus-consciousness/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) .


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** |FROM THE ARCHIVE| Why We Fall in Love: The Paradoxical Psychology of Romance and Why Frustration Is Necessary for Satisfaction (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/10/05/adam-phillips-missing-out-frustration-love/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID])
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http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1250043514/bpnl-20Adrienne?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID] Rich, in contemplating how love refines our truths (https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/07/02/adrienne-rich-honorable-human-relationship/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , wrote: “An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.” But among the dualities that lend love both its electricity and its exasperation — the interplay of thrill and terror, desire and disappointment, longing and anticipatory loss — is also the fact that our pathway to this mutually refining truth must pass through a necessary fiction: We fall in love not just with a person wholly external to us but with a fantasy of how that person can fill what is missing from our interior lives.

Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips addresses this central paradox with uncommon clarity and elegance in Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1250043514/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) (public library (http://www.worldcat.org/title/missing-out-in-praise-of-the-unlived-life/oclc/795174368&referer=brief_results?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) ).

Illustration from An ABZ of Love (https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/12/05/an-abz-of-love/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite vintage Danish guide to sexuality

Phillips writes:

All love stories are frustration stories… To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn’t know you had (of one’s formative frustrations, and of one’s attempted self-cures for them); you wanted someone, you felt deprived of something, and then it seems to be there. And what is renewed in that experience is an intensity of frustration, and an intensity of satisfaction. It is as if, oddly, you were waiting for someone but you didn’t know who they were until they arrived. Whether or not you were aware that there was something missing in your life, you will be when you meet the person you want. What psychoanalysis will add to this love story is that the person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams; that you have dreamed them up before you met them; not out of nothing — nothing comes of nothing — but out of prior experience, both real and wished for. You recognize them with such certainty because you already, in a certain sense, know them; and
because you have quite literally been expecting them, you feel as though you have known them for ever, and yet, at the same time, they are quite foreign to you. They are familiar foreign bodies.

Art from The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/12/the-missing-piece-meets-the-big-o-shel-silverstein/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , Shel Silverstein’s allegory of falling in love

This duality of the familiar and the foreign is mirrored in the osmotic relationship between presence and absence, with which every infatuated lover is intimately acquainted — that parallel intensity of longing for our lover’s presence and anguishing in her absence. Phillips writes:

However much you have been wanting and hoping and dreaming of meeting the person of your dreams, it is only when you meet them that you will start missing them. It seems that the presence of an object is required to make its absence felt (or to make the absence of something felt). A kind of longing may have preceded their arrival, but you have to meet in order to feel the full force of your frustration in their absence.

[…]

Falling in love, finding your passion, are attempts to locate, to picture, to represent what you unconsciously feel frustrated about, and by.

Missing Out (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1250043514/bpnl-20?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , previously discussed here (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/17/missing-out-adam-phillips/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , is a magnificent read in its totality. Complement this particular portion with Stendhal on the seven stages of romance (https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/11/29/stendhal-on-love-crystallization/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , Susan Sontag on the messiness of love (https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/08/03/susan-sontag-on-love/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , and the great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn on how to love (http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/03/31/how-to-love-thich-nhat-hanh/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , then revisit Phillips on balance (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/06/08/adam-phillips-on-balance/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) , the essential capacity for “fertile solitude,” (https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/07/18/adam-phillips-on-risk-and-solitude/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) and how kindness became our guilty pleasure (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/13/on-kindness-adam-phillips-barbara-taylor/?mc_cid=6749078920&mc_eid=[UNIQID]) .


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