I was silly to think they'd stop.
I continued to experience the strange feelings that I once mistook for manifest deity--those unexpected flutters in the stomach, or the thrill of tingles that wash over the body from head to toe bringing an unexpected comfort and peace. This would happen whenever I was confronted with something simultaneously beautiful and physically enormous: The Rockies in Colorado, the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, the view of mountain peaks and sheer drops from the Eagle's Nest in Germany, the scintillating, wide-open starry night above a sleepy Greek island in the south Aegean, and various hundred-year-old European castles and cathedrals with their perfected architecture, vaulted acoustics, groined arches and their deathly quiet. (Having a family member in the military afforded me many otherwise impossible international trips, for which I am incredibly lucky and grateful.)
Those quiet inner thrills, those psychological deep breaths, helped me keep my existence (read: problems) in perspective. No longer subscribing to a religion to keep my moral trajectory in check, I feel like there is a satisfying amount of work that goes into policing my own ethics and perspective on life, happiness, and respect for others. All of which need constant effort.
Traveling became much more expensive and trips ceased. I came to think that perhaps my chances for those introspective and revelatory non-religious moments had passed.
Once again, I was silly to think as much.
In the last year or so I have unearthed a driving curiosity in mathematics and science. I'm not sure where the desire to further my study came from, though I've always been somewhat interested in the subjects. My new-found zeal has led me to math & science textbooks and many online lectures and tutorials. I'm still mostly in the realm of re-learning things I long ago forgot, but I am slowly crawling toward the shores of unknown countries: particle physics, quantum mechanics and calculus. It is in the pages of these mathematical and scientific text books and lectures that I have rediscovered that shiver of meaningful awareness.
Physically, the experience is the same as when I saw the Rockies for the first time: the awe, the moment of unbreathing and the feeling that my heart is clenched, while my rib cage feels at the same time overfull. But the emotional and cognitive aspect of the experience is completely different. The spark that ignited a "spiritual experience" came from the great mystery of the unknown--basically came from fear but in a relatively safe-feeling way. The catalyst for my moments of awe and smallness in the presence of the natural beauty of the Earth (and a few towering man-made things) is born of admiration and wonder--still, though, an aspect of ignorance, of not knowing how something so beautiful came to be, exactly. But in these new things I'm learning, the tingles come not from mystery, not from ignorance, but from discovery and knowing. There are passages of mathematical logic that I have read in books that take my breath away. I've had revelations in the middle of physics lectures that make me want to call somebody up and just yell about the universe and how vast and elegant it all is, and how the ripe, quivering instability of an atomic nucleus is utterly gorgeous.
Why didn't I latch onto this stuff when I first learned it in high school?
I thought I wasn't smart enough to understand it.
The blame for that is largely my own, I could have pushed through and pursued it if I'd only tried. However, there were "mentors" who had, at one time or another, uttered versions of "girls just don't do well in math and science, don't beat yourself up over it." At the same time, I had been freshly diagnosed with an organizational & memory/recall learning disability--which dealt a severe blow to my confidence in my ability to learn anything at all. When I saw female students whom I looked up to excelling in math & science, I assumed they were exceptions to the rule because they were exceptionally bright, unlike me. I'd allowed this insidious idea to grow inside me so easily that it effectively blocked my pursuit of anything overtly scientific or mathematical until my early 30s. MY EARLY 30s.
And now, this...renaissance. This onslaught of all the things I'd been interested to learn but thought I couldn't. Not every moment has been a ground-shaker, but when breakthroughs do come I have to stop for a minute. I have to pause the lecture or put down the book and let the information sink in. Sometimes the revelations are things I already knew, not having realized that if I tilted my perspective, or viewed it through the lens of this theory or that one, it becomes a symphony of new interconnected meanings.
As a really basic example we can all relate to: take wind.
Wind is rushing air, ok got it. Knew that from when I was a kid. Duh. But when I feel the wind, calling it "rushing air" is like referring to a banana split as "a dessert": that description tells you what it is without really telling you what it is. Everything's made of molecules (which are made of atoms, which are made of electrons and various quark cocktails). When I feel the wind it is not just rushing air. It is trillions and trillions of molecules crashing onto me, like tiny, raging oceans. It seems so obvious set down in writing. And really, it is. But next time you're outside and the wind is blowing, imagine all those molecules, tumbling all over each other and colliding with your skin, careening through strands of your hair, thundering past your ears--and tell me you don't feel a little fucking majestic in that moment.
I used to worry that learning how something works takes the magic away from it. And sometimes I still fall into that trap. But a main worry was that if I only came to understand nature in terms of numbers, proofs, theorems and experiments, I would never be able to look at it for its simple beauty again. And I was so wrong. Learning that most rivers have a "sinuosity ratio of pi" doesn't take away from the beauty of flying over the Mississippi and seeing the sun glint off of its enormous, journeying form. Knowing that ratio makes the whole experience more perfect, more whole, because I can think of the Mississippi as a single river, and then think of how it has this mathematical relationship to all other rivers in the world. The hidden math--the hidden equations--behind all the things I love are just as beautiful and elegant as the things themselves, sometimes more so.
I regret passing up on all this discovery earlier in my life but I'm thrilled and grateful to have discovered it now, especially since I think the time is nearing to phase out the primary craft I chose to study. I'm buoyed up by many stories I've heard and read of people accidentally re-inventing themselves and changing careers in their adult-hood. I'd never expected to waver from being a performing artist, and in some much smaller ways I will continue, but I have been feeling a push to move on that I never thought I would experience.
This post is much bigger than I have the words or will to write, so I will conclude here. But putting so much of it into words helped me to solidify many things. As I'd stated much earlier in the beginning of this site, I don't intend for this to be a blog in the traditional sense, so I will try not to shove my thoughts onto you very often. Things like this may pop out from time to time, though.
Thanks for reading. Go open a window and inhale some fresh molecules ;)