I promised God, as you recall, in the hospital where I lay nearly dying, that, if I was allowed to live, I would write the things which I most feared to write.
So here we are: starting.
I sought my entire career to secure a reputation as a serious, academically-trained intellectual in the post-Enlightenment tradition. I did largely achieve that.
However, that came with a cost.
For this tradition — especially now, since World War Two — is a thoroughly mechanistic one. If you are a “serious person”, in the discourse of the West, today, you cannot possibly believe in anything that cannot be objectively measured — and measured, to take that one step further, with the physical instruments that currently exist. If you believe in anything beyond the purely mechanistic, materialist Newtonian universe, you are a rube, a fantasist, credulous, ignorant, deceived.
So — like many people — I have taken care to censor rigidly the fact that all my life, I have also had experiences that were dramatic, and that made deep impressions upon me — but that went beyond what the physical universe could contain or explain.
I am, having come so close to death, as a friend put it, “playing with House money.” Meaning that I have a second chance at life, and I have nothing left to lose.
So I am putting a match to my reputation once again, by sharing my conviction, and attesting to my lived experience, that the world is awash with ‘energies’, both good and evil, and that these affect humans – and probably animals, and the planet itself — in profound and important ways.
Ever since I was first conscious, I was aware that I perceived some things differently than did many of those around me. In kindergarten, I realized (without, of course, having the word for this) that I had synesthesia — the condition in which one sense spills over into another; people with this form of perception hear colors, or taste sound, or in other ways activate different senses at the same time [https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322807]. In my case, I so vividly saw numbers as colors — “1” as yellow, “2” as green, “3” as red, “4” as brown, “5” (my least favorite number) as black, “6” as light blue, and so on — that I was astonished to discover that this way of seeing the colors of numbers, was not experienced by everyone in my class. That was the first time I felt ashamed and embarrassed when I realized that my perception made me different from the peers with whom I wished so much to fit in.
Somehow I managed to suppress this “odd” way of seeing numbers – a suppression which also, sadly, later made it quite difficult for me to enjoy numbers (or, as a result, to do math).
Though I managed to censor my synesthesia, my awareness as a child that perception was fluid, and that currents of all kinds were continually flowing around us all — and that the physical world was illuminated and glowing and magical, but also that it contained dark and scary forces — could not be suppressed.
Luckily I was born into a family of eccentrics, and of people who believed in and respected the creative fire. My father knew the literature of the mystical poets and of the Transcendentalists very well. He knew that the way I saw the world was not that unusual, and that plenty of reasonable people — from Walt Whitman to Henry David Thoreau to Emily Dickinson — has similar sensibilities. My dad knew his William Blake, so he was fine with his weirdo daughter’s tendency to see “a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” [https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43650/auguries-of-innocence]. My mother, when I was a child was a folklorist. Nothing I shared, as a child, was too weird for my folks.
The world of intellectuals has not always been as divorced as it is today from mystical perception. In the 19th century, for example, intellectuals pursued mysticism: indeed, there was a word for it: the perception of, or the artistic capture of, “the Sublime.” Instead of mocking those who were aware of the larger currents animating the physical world, many 19th century aesthetes, and certainly our own Transcendentalists, actively pursued awareness of the Sublime; they read poems and looked at paintings to hone their sensibilities in that direction. It was understood then that anyone could perceive the Sublime, and that doing so, ennobled the observer.
Here is Walt Whitman in the 1855 Leaves of Grass:
“What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceased the moment life appeared.
All goes onward and outward . . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe . . . . and am not contained between my hat and boots […]
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself; They do not know how immortal, but I know.”
But by the time I was coming of age, though, those days were gone. I was growing up in a jet age, a Jetsons age. The Transcendentalist poets were passe.
My family accepted me, but the larger world would be a problem.
If you could not measure it, it did not exist.