Last night I came home from trivia and went out and sat on the front porch for a bit with a cigar. The moon was out and low enough in the sky that I could see it just below the edge of the porch roof. It was humid enough still that the cigar smoke hung in the air, but I didn’t mind because it kept the bugs away. I watched the smoke slowly snake its way up and around in gentle patterns. I tried to blow a few smoke rings, but it’s an art I haven’t been able to master yet. But mostly I just sort of took in the moon and did some thinking.
I was thinking about an interview I had been listening to in the car the other day with Sam Harris, the famous atheist and author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Harris was promoting his new book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Another way of putting it (or a way that I’m more comfortable with) is the ability to have deep and meaningful moments of personal transcendence without assigning supernatural meaning to them. He talked about how these moments can come from meditation, solitude, drugs, etc. and that they can be deeply meaningful and life changing.
I recalled the moment I had in Alaska, which I’ve written about here, when I reached the summit of the ridgeline and saw Denali through the clouds, surrounded by my brothers and how I cried. My mind went over the improbability of my being there in that moment. To see Denali through the clouds is, perhaps if not rare, certainly hit or miss. My brother who’s been guiding in Alaska for three years and has been hiking and camping in this part of the park many times couldn’t recall a better string of good weather in his time there. I thought about the parallels between my hike and my struggle with the depression and anxiety and the alcoholism. It all seemed perfect.
Of course, the rational and skeptical side of my mind tells me that good weather days, while perhaps not the norm, certainly aren’t unheard of. When I talk about Denali being revealed through the clouds, there were a few clouds moving across the sky throughout the day, so what we were seeing was simply what had been happening all day before we got to the summit of the ridgeline and happened after we left (indeed, I’m pretty sure the clouds blocked and revealed the mountain at least twice while we were up there). The universe or god or animist spirits weren’t arranging things just so for me to have a moment. How presumptuous to think that way. So while I don’t think there was anything supernatural that happened, I did have a transcendent experience up there, a moment where it seemed as though there was something magical happening. It was deeply meaningful to me.
There’s so much that we don’t yet know about how the mind works and why we’re moved by certain moments, why we can have these powerful emotions and moments of clarity. There’s a moment where you realize how old and big the world and the universe is and how small you are and how fleeting your time in it is, but then you think about the privilege of just being able to be a part of it. It’s so wonderful! (There aren’t enough exclamation points for it, so I’ll just use that one).
I don’t know if there’s a mission or a calling to take from it other than to appreciate everything around us and to make one another’s time here as pleasant as we can. But that’s not a bad place to start.