A Teachable Travel Moment

Recently, I have been reviewing the collections of photographs and other memories from my journey of discovery which began more than forty years ago now, and several pieces of the puzzle have started to be filled in with particular memories, which have sparked new levels of awareness about just how important some of the events which occurred along the way were, leading me inexorably to this moment in time. The image above is one of my most important memories from 1975 when I was living in Augsburg, Germany, and first visited the Ancient Roman Museum there as a young soldier. The photograph depicts one of my very first adult encounters with ancient artifacts, and I will be posting an entry in the coming weeks about those heady days in Europe when so much came together for me.

I’ve also been reading posts by my friend Anthony at zenothestoic.com these days, and his recent posting about travels prompted me to dig through the archive to locate this one special travel memory that now looms much larger in the big picture, which I have been constructing all these years. I am grateful to Anthony for a number of teachable moments of late, and recommend his blog to anyone who has an interest in straightforward, no-nonsense stories that often get right to the core of whatever matter he takes on.

His travelogue in the English landscape stirred my memories of travels through the many small villages and remote country towns when I was a young man exploring the outer world in Europe, and just beginning to awaken to my expansive inner world. This recent stirring reminded me of a more modern memory, and I will tell you about that now, and how it all fits in to the larger story about my focus on consciousness.

It was a dream I had one night long ago. I met a woman on the steps of a university somewhere, and upon the very first glance at her face, I immediately felt a connection and a degree of intimacy that could not be explained by the temporal circumstances. I seemed to accept that it was so—that it was completely normal to encounter someone and to have this response.

I remember as the dream progressed, being close—face—to—face. I distinctly remember the look in her eyes as I spoke. Somehow, I knew that whatever I said had better be the truth, because she would know—she would know whether whatever I said was true or not—and I remember hesitating, only briefly, but deliberately pausing, as I was about to say something non-threatening—something neutral, and when I looked at her directly in the face, I was compelled to tell the truth…and the truth was…that I was absolutely, completely crazy about her.

It’s not like there wasn’t any precedence in my life experience with this phenomenon, but I have to say throughout my lifetime of experience, when attempting to interact with another person with whom I sensed an intimate connection, I almost always knew right away, instinctively, yes or no, and when it was yes, I was frequently met with responses like…”how is it even possible to say these words…it’s only been this amount of time;” the connection for me was always immediate and intimate, and once in a while, it would remain strong and involve a depth of caring for some time.

Most often, though, I remember the response being incredulity or astonishment or confusion, but for me, none of those words applied to my response; I was completely accepting of my own response to the individual. For them, it was always some abrupt expression like, “Wow,” or “really?” For me, it was something like, “Of course,” or “yes, really,” or “I know.” I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t so.

Looking back over the years, it happened so many times, and just as often the other person had a very difficult time accepting that I could feel the way I truly did feel. For me, it was impossible to deny what I absolutely felt without a doubt. I kept getting the sense that none of them were prepared to accept the truth that I was able to accept easily. Thankfully, it was just at this time when I started to take a serious interest in photography, bought some quality equipment, and began to record more than just images on film. I was also documenting my life at a critical time, and expanding my range of skills.

For a time, it became an issue when I shared these ideas, prompting blank stares or disbelief. One particular example occurred as a young man in the U.S. military living overseas in Europe. One day after work, I met a beautiful young woman, and at the very moment we met on a street corner, waiting for a bus into town, she turned to look at me in a most peculiar way, and I noticed my heart rate accelerated rapidly, without judgement on my part, but the suddenness of it gave me pause. We struck up a lively conversation about local attractions and initiated a polite exchange of information about our shared military duties, and when she asked me where I was headed in town, I reported that I was going home to my off-base apartment downtown. Her eyes suddenly lit up with surprise, her face immediately softened, and she smiled in a way that grabbed me right in the solar plexus. At that very instant, I felt a surge within me that was unmistakably of the same sort as before, only now it hit me like a cresting ocean wave.

The conversation took on a whole new level of urgency at that point, and by the time the bus arrived, we had made an arrangement to meet the next day to visit with me there. The rest of that evening I was unable to settle down or think clearly at all. I found myself oddly unable to go to sleep that night; so instead, I decided to clean out and rearrange the cabinets. I was an emotional wreck, and exhausted from anticipating her arrival the next day, but when she finally arrived, all the anxiety I felt just melted away.

We chatted briefly about locating the ingredients for a recipe she wanted to try for something called, “Hungarian Chicken.” Without having any idea exactly why I felt so compelled to rearrange the kitchen, it now seemed as though my mind had been operating on some level outside of conscious awareness, because it turned out to be the exact task I should have done, even though I couldn’t figure out what was making me act that way the night before.

We ended up spending a great deal of time together in the days following that first meeting, and all the while, outwardly I behaved with courtesy and as one would when first nurturing a friendship, but on the inside, I was a bubbling cauldron of intimate emotions, swirling like a tornado in my head and heart. I was in love. I immediately wanted to be close to her, but it seemed that it was impossible to express it without endangering the whole enterprise. The challenge for me was to avoid giving any overt indication of the inner turmoil, while still behaving in a rational and explicable manner. We laughed often and she seemed completely open to listening to the stories of my adventures over the years, and all I could do was remain totally open to her bright spirit, encouraging her to share time with me on her terms. I just wanted to be where she was.

One night, after a lovely day spent enjoying a warm spring afternoon walking around together in town, we were sitting on the sofa in the living room and I couldn’t hold back any longer. I had to try to express what was going on inside me before I exploded. The beginning of the conversation went well as I recapped all the wonderful parts of our friendship and the time we spent together, and without getting overly emotional or suggesting what might happen next, I simply allowed my heart to gently speak its truth. Her immediate response was a blank stare for about a minute, followed by an expression of agreement with the clear advantages of our friendship, but also noting her astonishment at how it would even be possible to have such a strong sense of connection, adding “It would take me a year to say those things to someone.” My time in Augsburg held some of the most important events of my young life, and when the time came to leave that city, I climbed to the top of the city hall there to take one last look before moving on to Central Germany and a brand new assignment.

Similar circumstances happened to me all the time, even with important friendships with others of every variety. For me, there was no doubt at all. It became clear eventually, after numerous repetitions of this scenario, where I was absolutely certain of what was happening, that the cause had something to do with ME. It was about ME. I was different, but I couldn’t explain it. This and several other pivotal events during this time brought all of the mystery to the forefront of my experience and pressed me to dig deeper. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to see a connection between these events when they occurred, and while some were more intense than others, certain ones were so profound, so in-depth of a connection that it completely enveloped all of my senses and occasionally saturated my entire experiential awareness.

Hopefully, after all this time, and years of paying attention to the particulars in these situations, writing about my experience in the Roman Museum and reflecting on everything that happened to me during that time will assist me now as a mature person, to not only understand myself better, but to have some improved grasp of the phenomenon of the human spirit, which I still see and experience in the same way sometimes.

My subjective experience of my own self continues to force me to confront these connections, and while I continue to see and feel these sensations at particular times and establish similar connections with certain individuals more intensely than others, I recognize it as the same phenomenon of an ineffable nature no matter how it occurs. Consciousness is much more than a result of brain physiology. That much, for me, is certain.

8 thoughts on “A Teachable Travel Moment

  1. thank you so very much for sharing your travels and life experiences and reflections. you can learn so much about yourself while reading about others. bless you and your journey……..

    1. Wendi…Thank you for your comment. One of the clear benefits of sharing our experiences and reading about what others have experienced is to begin to understand and appreciate the significance of our connection to the world-at-large, and see a little better our own contribution to that world. Each of us has important moments along our journey in life and we can learn much when we engage in this kind of sharing.

  2. Your journey has been a long one, and indeed the path for all of us seems arduous. I get a sense though that “peace” is winning through? I suspect peace is more easily achievable for those who have finished with the task of child rearing and daily toil. Perhaps there is some reality to reincarnation. Perhaps we learn to perfect ourselves as we go around the wheel.

    1. Anthony,

      Your comment strikes at the very heart of the matter, as usual, and your thoughts regarding the achievement of peace in the sense that you mean it, have merit. I believe it is possible to be at peace in this way, even when life seems arduous, but it is correct to say that having completed the major hurdles of child-rearing and daily toil improves the odds considerably that one may eventually win such progress. My own life is a great deal less arduous these days, at least in the main, and as you may have surmised from my recent series on reflecting and memories and maturity as a person, one could reasonably describe my circumstance as at least “winning a state of peace more often.” I am very grateful for the blessings in my life these days, and I know well how much less peaceful it COULD be, and take nothing for granted.

      Reincarnation is an ancient and fascinating idea that has many adherents even in the 21st century, and there are many credible descriptions of individuals who have experienced “near-death experiences,” which challenge any criticism of the idea in principle. The concepts of Karma, Moksha, and Nirvana have enormous appeal to anyone with a genuine interest in some form of the spiritual nature of life, and some of my own experiences, which may qualify as having mystical components, prevent me from ruling out such ideas altogether. It seems reasonable to me to at least remain open to such ideas, and to learn as much as we can about the full realm of possibility.

  3. I also find myself particularly excited by the idea expressed throughout your blog that science and “mysticism” are not mutually exclusive. I strongly believe that to be the case also. In an odd sort of way, I believe that even Dawkins might agree, although he would wish to use different language. He talks beautifully about the wonder of the physical world.

    1. In his book, “The Magic of Reality,” Dawkins expresses an interesting view in this quote:

      “What I hope to show you in this book is that reality – the facts of the real world as understood through the methods of science – is magical in this third sense, the poetic sense, the good to be alive sense. […] In the rest of this book I want to show you that the real world, as understood scientifically, has magic of its own – the kind I call poetic magic: an inspiring beauty which is all the more magical because it is real and because we can understand how it works. Next to the true beauty and magic of the real world, supernatural spells and stage tricks seem cheap and tawdry by comparison. The magic of reality is neither supernatural nor a trick, but – quite simply – wonderful. Wonderful, and real. Wonderful because (it is) real.”

      His “different language” made me laugh a bit because even though he seems to bend over backwards to describe “reality” as the antithesis of the “supernatural,” or just some form of illusion, the “true beauty and magic of the real world,” from my viewpoint, does not eliminate the possibility that there are forces and energies at work in the world which originate from a realm which does not reveal itself in scientific terms. I am reminded of a lecture in one of my many theology classes where the professor suggested that a supernatural source, or God, or whatever metaphor one wishes to apply, may have brought about all that we observe, by utilizing a method which uses the physical laws that we have determined to be at work in “the real world,” and just because we “understand how it (all) works,” doesn’t mean it didn’t originate in some supernatural realm or by some hitherto unknown process or source that is not currently evident to our science. Perhaps, the ability to determine Dawkins’ physical laws, was part of the plan all along!

      The natural world is, indeed, beautiful and mysterious and dangerous, and anyone who has done even a small amount of reading here should recognize my love affair with the natural world in all its many forms. I have no problem with Dawkins’ views, and appreciate his efforts to increase our appreciation of science as the best way to describe “the real world.” The “real” explanations of physics and the natural sciences are wonderfully illuminating and take nothing away from whatever the source might be.

      Carl Sagan once wrote, “Science is not only compatible with spirituality, it is a profound source of spirituality.” I’m with Professor Sagan on that point.

      1. I have not read Dawkins in a while but in a sense I get the feeling that his wonder about the world and the universe may not be so very different from the deep sentiments of those he purports to deride. I think much depends on one’s interpretation of “magic” and the divine. I think I have probably already said somewhere or other that my admiration goes out both to the scientist Frank Tiple and to the Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin. In their different ways they both envisage an Omega Point. The one through science, the other through god. It has always seemed to me that they end up in the same place, but by different paths. The physical laws of our universe, let alone those of the multiverse, are so wondrous and still so material that anything seems possible. For my money, I prefer to imagine that conscious entities can and may someday aspire to qualities which some may call godlike. Tipler certainly thought so and became a christian because he came to believe that resurrection was possible and would happen. Through virtual reality at the very end of the universe.

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