Caught Unawares

Image: 'Your Reflection May Be You,' by Simon Matzinger on Flickr

[Image: “Your reflection may be you,” by Simon Matzinger. Found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next — if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions — you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.

(Margaret Atwood [source])


Imagine that one day you are out for a walk in the woods. Suddenly you see a small spaceship on the path in front of you. A tiny Martian climbs out the spaceship and stands on the ground looking up at you…

What would you think? Never mind, it’s not important. But have you ever given any thought to the fact that you are a Martian yourself?

It is obviously unlikely that you will ever stumble upon a creature from another planet. We do not even know that there is life on other planets. But you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and see yourself in a completely new light. On just such a walk in the woods.

I am an extraordinary being, you think. I am a mysterious creature.

You feel as if you are waking from an enchanted slumber. Who am I? you ask. You know that you are stumbling around on a planet in the universe. But what is the universe?

If you discover yourself in this manner you will have discovered something as mysterious as the Martian we just mentioned. You will not only have seen a being from outer space. You will feel deep down that you are yourself an extraordinary being.

(Jostein Gaarder [source])


Psychologists and psychiatrists are moving from their traditional hostility to ecstasy to an understanding that it’s often good for us. Much of our personality is made up of attitudes that are usually subconscious. We drag around buried trauma, guilt, feelings of low self-worth. In moments of ecstasy, the threshold of consciousness is lowered, people encounter these subconscious attitudes, and are able to step outside of them. They can feel a deep sense of love for themselves and others, which can heal them at a deep level. Maybe this is just an opening to the subconscious, maybe it’s a connection to a higher dimension of spirit — we don’t know… The journey beyond the self is not safe or predictable. On the other hand, staying in the self also has its risks — boredom, staleness, sterility, despair. Ultimately, there’s something in us that calls to us, that pulls us out the door.

(Jules Evans, thrive [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Yet ecstatic experiences are surprisingly common, we just don’t talk about them…

There’s even a database of more than 6,000 such experiences, amassed by the biologist Sir Alister Hardy in the 1960s and now mouldering in storage in Wales. They make for a strangely beautiful read, a sort of crowdsourced Bible. Here is entry number 208: “I was out walking one night in busy streets of Glasgow when, with slow majesty, at a corner where the pedestrians were hurrying by and the city traffic was hurtling on its way, the air was filled with heavenly music, and an all-encompassing light, that moved in waves of luminous colour, outshone the brightness of the lighted streets. I stood still, filled with a strange peace and joy… until I found myself in the everyday world again with a strange access of gladness and of love.”

(Jules Evans [ibid.])


The macroscopic world as experienced by humans is, in short, an intimate mixture ranging from the most predictable events all the way to wildly unpredictable ones. Our first few years of life familiarize us with this spectrum, and the degree of predictability of most types of actions that we undertake becomes second nature to us. By the time we emerge from childhood, we have acquired a reflex-level intuition for where most of our everyday world’s loci of unpredictability lie, and the more unpredictable end of this spectrum simultaneously beckons to us and frightens us. We’re pulled by but fearful of risk-taking. That is the nature of life.

(Douglas Hofstadter [source])



when he was advancing
feeling his way in the night
he was doubtful rebelled
wanted to climb back up
to the old light

but a force held him
enjoined him
to pursue
to venture
once more
once again
into the thickest darkness
of his shadow

one day
at the height of his distress
emptied of all force
driven to see that
the inaccessible would not yield
he admitted that he must
renounce it

to his great surprise
without his having
to take a single step
he crossed the threshold
came into the light

(Charles Juliet (translated by Louis Simpson) [source])

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