Sunday, July 27, 2008

Advice: Read Richard Tarnas (Pt. 2)

Yesterday's post on Richard Tarnas was for those of you who need to read him. This second is for those of you who don't, because you already get it:

Today I was reading Cosmos and Psyche on the porch, reading Tarnas' chapter on what Carl Jung called "synchronicity." Jung's word concerns those coincidences that seem a little too improbable to be entirely devoid of meaning. I was reading on the porch with my wife, sort of vaguely trying to open myself to synchronicity to see if I could "get it to happen."

Digression: since I met her, Gretchen's been telling me to read Eckhart Tolle -- "I know you'll like him," she always says. His first book was called The Power of Now, and his more recent international sensation (thanks to Oprah's Book Club) is titled A New Earth. I've put off reading Tolle because I've sort of figured I knew what was inside: a kind of new-agey metaphysic based on something-like-prayer-and-gratitude. Ho-hum. I'm too smart for that nonsense.

While I was reading Tarnas this morning I said to Gretchen, "You know, this guy is sort of suggesting a new way of thinking that is neither exclusively modern nor 'primal' in its nature -- it's almost like he's describing a third way that is a mystical combination of both."

"Like Eckhart," she said, with a glare.

I fell to reading silently, and these are the first two paragraphs I read (!!!) in Cosmos and Psyche after the exchange about Eckhart Tolle:

On rare occasions a synchronicity proves to have an extraordinary power through its impact on an historically significant individual, so that it ultimately plays a pivotal role in the collective life of the larger culture. The famous coincidence that formed a turning point in the life of Petrarch took place at the climax of his ascent of Mont Ventoux in April 1336, an event that has long been regarded by scholars as representing the symbolic beginning of the Renaissance. For many years Petrarch had sensed a growing impulse to ascend the mountain, to see the vast panorama from its peak, though doing such a thing was virtually unheard of in his time. Finally choosing the day, with his brother for a companion, he made the long ascent, marked by intense physical exertion and inward reflection. When he at last attained the summit, with clouds below his feet and winds in his face, Petrarch found himself overwhelmed by the great sweep of the world that now opened out to him--snowcapped mountains and the sea in the distance, rivers and valleys below, the wide expanse of skies in every direction. James Hillman recounts the event:

At the top of the mountain, with the exhilarating view of French Provence, the Alps, and the Mediterranean spread before him, he had opened his tiny pocket copy of Augustine's Confessions. Turning at random to book X, 8, he read: "And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty billows of the sea, the broad tide of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, and pass themselves by..."

Petrarch was stunned at the coincidence between Augustine's words and the time and place they were read. His emotion both announced the revelation of his personal vocation and heralded the new attitude of the Renaissance... Petrarch draws this crucial conclusion from the Mont Ventoux event: "Nothing is admirable but the soul" (nihil praeter animum esse mirabile).

Petrarch was so moved by the coincidental force of Augustine's words that he remained silent for the entire descent down the mountain. He at once recognized the coincidence as part of a larger pattern of such transformative moments that had happened to others in the history of spiritual conversions. "I could not believe that it was by a mere accident that I happened upon them. What I had there read I believed to be addressed to me and to no other, remembering that Saint Augustine had once suspected the same thing in his own case." For indeed Augustine had undergone a nearly identical experience at his own momentous spiritual turning point. In the garden of Milan in 386, in a frenzy of spiritual crisis, he heard a child's voice from a nearby house mysteriously repeating the words, "Tolle, lege" ("Pick up and read").

"Tolle, lege!?!" Okay, okay -- so I went inside and picked up Gretchen's copy of A New Earth, opened to a random page, and went down 14 lines (in honor of Petrarch). Come to think of it, I think I'll keep what I read there private, but just admit that, well... it was awesome.

If you think this post is "too much" (Michael, Santos, Mxrk), consult Pt. 1 of the Tarnas posts. It's much more likely.

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