Pat Schiller, a college linebacker hoping to go professional [‘Goal To Go,’ NY Times Magazine, November 25, 2012], said: “I walk out and I look at the crowd...I come out of my body... I become this lunatic... a different person.”
I understand that. Back in college after WW-II, intending to major in English, I happened to take a dance class. Six months later I was touring with Martha Graham, a rash decision that still surprises me. Dancing too, can (paradoxically) lift you out of your body, a transcendence that inspires all artists, also scholars, scientists, lovers, and mystics, but drives some to seek power, amass riches, do drugs, go mad.
“Know thyself,” first said by the ancient Greeks, sounds wise but it’s a chimera because you never can. Humans, social creatures like horses, dolphins, elephants, and penguins, seem to be the only species who can’t just be.
In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley’s 1954 treatise on mescaline, the mind-altering drug, he wrote that transcendence can be upward, as with saints, or downward, as when swept into a mob.
In her book, Alone Together, Dr. Sherry Turkle, a professor of science and technology at MIT, said that the Internet offers contact with hundreds while disconnecting people from themselves. A child of the 1960s, she grew up in an era replete with failed transcendence seekers and deems abuse of the Internet a downward path.
Language bristles with yearnings for exaltation: “It blew my mind!” “It was awesome!” “It knocked my sox off!” Some find exaltation by falling in love, which is deemed a survival mechanism. But why does it extend to so many other pursuits, and why does it go bad, turning some into misers, tyrants, fiends?
Every once in a while someone shows up at my door, polite, neatly dressed, carrying a Bible, and eager to explain it all to me, One time it was a couple whom I invited in and served tea until it was time to say thank you, I really must do something else now, a little sad not to have been convinced.
Right now, some scientists are building a theory that the multiverse and all the universes it spawns are one vast evolving sentient entity in which each of us is a tiny yet vital atom of its being. Does that not have a mystical ring?
Are science and mysticism beginning to converge? Does our longing for exaltation come from a faint inchoate inner awareness of something transcendent and beyond our ken, a scrap, perhaps, of the “revealed” knowledge upon which religions are founded? Is it what inspires a Mahatma Gandhi, a Mother Teresa, and all who spread love among those who touch their lives? Does its will-o-the-wisp allure also generate the madness that produces criminals, Scrooges, tyrants, haters, suicide bombers? Is our brief flicker on Earth the time we are given to find one or the other path?
It seems an awesome and mind-blowing question.