Shanti writes to Piero Ferrucci, author of the book ‘Inevitable Grace’.
It has been an extraordinary day today, November 12, 2014. What a great day and what an astonishing, audacious, outstanding technical achievement! After a 10 year journey of 6,5 billion kilometres, ESA, the European Space Agency, has dropped a man-made vehicle on a comet at a distance of 500 million kilometres of our planet Earth and orbiting the Sun in 6,5 years. Today a spacecraft called Rosetta has put a lander called Philae on the comet, which is no more than 4 kilometres long, called Churyumov-Gerasimenko, named after the man and the woman who have discovered this comet in 1969.
I watched the landing of Philae on the Internet, seeing nothing of course of the bouncing touchdown – more a dancing than a landing – except for the joy of the ESA people, immediately after receiving an “I am OK” message from the lander. The good news took 28 minutes to arrive from over there in the Lander Control Centre in Cologne and in ESA’s Mission Control Centre in Darmstadt.
Philae is named after in an island in the river Nile where the obelisk has been found, which has been a great help in decoding the Rosetta Stone, found in 1799 and the key to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Spacecraft Rosetta released the Philae lander at a distance of approximately 22.5 km from the centre of the comet. Landing and dancing was about seven hours later. Rosetta is a cornerstone mission. The objectives of this mission are to decipher the origin of comets and its implications with regard to the origin of our Solar System. Rosetta may open a door to our understanding of the origin of planet Earth and foster a better understanding of the presence of water and life down here. People from 20 different nationalities have worked over decades together to make this impossible dream a reality today. As Dana Berry phrases it in his book New Cosmos: An Intimate Guide to the Latest Discoveries in Space:
We live in a new astronomical Golden Age of astronomy, even greater than the one of Galilei.”
I have heard you saying, dear Piero, how much you love science and in the Introduction to your beautiful book, Inevitable Grace, you write:
We will study human experience as such, just as we study any other phenomenon in the universe: the vortices in a river, the roots of a tree, the flight of an eagle or the structure of a comet.”
Your subject of study is not the outer universe, the universe we live in, but the inner universe of human experience, the universe in us, in particular the so-called peak experiences, our most beautiful and meaningful moments. You make a study of more than 500 of us: artists, scientists, sages, philosophers, educators, mystics, men and women of action, pioneers, actors and athletes. You are looking for our moments and periods of greatest happiness, the states of grace most significant to us and most beautiful, experiences we all have in different degrees, ranging from the ones in full bloom on one side of the spectrum until the ones in a dormant, embryonic state on the other side. By studying these experiences you want to contribute to a better understanding of our human potential.
Those peak experiences are everybody’s birthright.
Osho, Philosophia Perennis Vol 2, Ch 7, Q 3
You publish your book in 1990, at the end of the 20th century, which started with two other wonderful publications, Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke and Varieties of religious experience by William James, the ‘father’ of psychology in America by his publication of The Principles of Psychology in 1890. Both of them invite us to have a serious look into a certain kind of experience, most meaningful to those who report to have had them, experiences in which they live their fulfilment and their glory as a human being. Psychology calls them peak experiences. In a way these experiences are Psychology’s stepchildren, because almost all research goes to what we can call the opposite kind of peak experiences, the down-in-the-valley experiences in which we live our shortcomings and despair. Abbie Maslow has done a pretty good job by calling Psychology’s attention to these peak experiences and so did your great teacher and inspiring friend, Dr. Roberto Assagioli from Florence, the founding father of Psychosynthesis, and so did Richard Maurice Bucke and William James. You are doing something similar, parallel to Bucke, James, Maslow and Assagioli, by pointing in the same direction, but you do so in your own unique way.
First of all I love your title, Inevitable Grace, because my understanding is that you, by those two words, are expressing your unshakeable trust that whatever happens, grace is inevitable! We can hide for a while by identifying ourselves with our so-called limitations and shortcomings, but grace will find us. I love the content of your book too. You study the peaks in the lives of many people, more than 500, men and women from different backgrounds, different ages and different cultures. You show us that they walk on different paths through life, as all of us are walking on different tracks. Some of us are travelling the way of beauty, as you call it, others the way of action, the way of illumination, the way of dance and ritual, the way of science, the way of devotion or the way of the will. My understanding of this diversity is that you want to show us that there isn’t only one right way, that paths are many, as many as there are people. I love your diversity. It blows away any dominance, be it of devotion, science or whatever. Roads are many as there are many different people. There is no necessity that we all follow one way, that we confine ourselves to only one of our many faculties. I love that freedom, that mobility, that anarchy.
I also love to see that there are so many ‘modern’ people in your ‘group’, people who are or are almost contemporaries, like Leonard Bernstein, Martin Buber, Pablo Casals, Charles Darwin, Fjodor Dostojevski, Isadora Duncan, Albert Einstein, Camille Flammarion, Vincent Van Gogh, Martin Luther King, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Charles Lyell, Barbara McClintock, Yehudi Menuhin, Edgar Mitchell, Fridtjof Nansen, Pablo Neruda, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vaslav Nijinsky, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Ramana Maharshi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Russell Stewart, Albert Schweitzer, Rabindranath Tagore, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Leo Tolstoy, Alan Watts and Simone Weil.
Of course there is a great danger in mentioning all these ‘great names’. They can make us misunderstand the ‘democratic character’ of these peak experiences and conclude that they are only for the happy-few. I love seeing you contradict that misunderstanding from the very beginning, right in your Introduction, where you also point at the value of reading about other people’s so-called transpersonal experiences:
“We see them at work in ourselves too and in the people around us. We all have them, although in an embryonic, dormant or repressed form…We need only to think back to the best moments of our lives, moments when our brightest idea came to us or when time stood still, or when we were unusually sensitive to beauty, times when we felt our confines expanding to include another person or other people and we were filled with feelings of solidarity…
“The study of transpersonal states changes our concept of what it means to be human and therefore changes our image of ourselves and other people. To recognize the varieties of transpersonal experiences may widen too narrow a conception of what has value in human life. To consider the richness and the diversity of the various ways is a useful exercise in self-transcendence. Moreover, by coming into contact with the happiest moments in the lives of great people, we will be stimulated and inspired. As with all ways of being, from Apathy to Zest, transpersonal states too are communicated and resonate in those who are exposed to them, even in written form.
“Knowing about the experiences of enlightened and creative people also enables us to become better attuned to the greater potential of each human being. We realize that these experiences do not strictly belong to individuals far removed from us in space and time, but that at least potentially they reside in us as well.”
You describe these seven paths (billions would have been unpractical!) and you give a voice to the people who experienced their peaks and finest hours on each one of them. Let me quote just a few of these voices, so that we can listen to them here and better understand what you mean by grace.
Doctor Albert Schweitzer, describing both his and the patient’s reactions after an operation:
“Scarcely has he recovered consciousness when he stares around him and ejaculates again and again: ‘I have no more pain! I have no more pain!’ His hand feels for mine and will not let it go…The African sun is shining through the coffee bushes into the dark shed, but we, black and white, sit side by side and feel that we know by experience the meaning of Matthew’s words: ‘And all ye are brethren’.”
Dancer Ruth St. Denis:
“I see myself standing on a hill behind our old farm house in New Jersey, lifting my arms in an unconscious gesture of oneness towards the round silvery glory of the moon. At the same time I’m listening to the whisper of a faint breeze as it gently sways the tips of the tall pines. I begin to move. It is my first dance-urge to relate myself to cosmic rhythm. With a motion of complete joy, as a free being in the world of infinite depth and beauty, I surrender myself to the unseen pulsation of the Universe.”
Astronomer Camille Flammarion was on a hillside at sunset. He felt entranced by the beauty of nature as the sun sank beyond the horizon. Then, as the stars began to appear, his thoughts turned to the immensity of the cosmos:
“The sublime harmonies and immense movements of the heavenly bodies were unfolding above my head. The earth became an atom floating in infinity. But between this atom and all the Suns in space, those whose light takes millions of years to reach us and those which move unknown, beyond the power of our human sight, I felt there was an invisible bond which links all universes and all souls in the unity of a single creation…The grandeur of this spectacle was too much for me to contemplate. I felt my personality vanishing before the immensity of nature. Soon I felt as though I could neither speak nor think. This vast sea stretched to infinity. I no longer existed and something like a veil descended over my eyes.”
Physicist Albert Einstein:
“This deep intuitive conviction of the existence of a higher power of thought which manifests itself in the inscrutable universe represents the content of my definition of God.”
Barbara McClintock, geneticist and recipient of the Nobel Prize, spoke of her work at the microscope, examining neurospora chromosomes:
“I found that the more I worked with them, the bigger and bigger they got and when I was really working with them, I wasn’t outside, I was down there, I was part of the system. I was right down with them and everything got big. I even was able to see the internal parts of the chromosomes…It surprised me because I actually felt as if I were right down there and these were my friends. As you look at these things they become part of you and you forget yourself. The main thing is that you forget yourself.”
Autodidact Charles Darwin, in the journal of his trip to South America, standing in wonder in the primeval forests of Brazil and Tierra del Fuego:
“No one can stand in these solitudes unmoved and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.”
Conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein:
“At the end of such performances which I call good it takes minutes before I know where I am, in what hall, in what country, or who I am. Suddenly I become aware that there is clapping, that I must bow. It is very difficult, but marvellous. A sort of ecstasy, which is nothing more and nothing less than a loss of ego. ‘You’ don’t exist.”
Fridtjof Nansen, scientist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, exploring the Arctic:
“In this silent, starry Arctic night around me, I stand in all my naked simplicity, face to face with nature. I sit down devoutly at the feet of eternity and listen and I know ‘God’, the all-commanding, the centre of the universe.”
Edgar Mitchell, reaching the moon and seeing planet Earth from a distance:
“It began with the breathtaking experience of seeing planet Earth floating in the immensity of space, the incredible beauty of a splendid blue-and-white jewel floating in the vast, black sky. I underwent a religious-like peak experience, in which the presence of divinity became almost palpable and I ‘knew’ that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes. This knowledge, which came directly, intuitively, was not a matter of discursive reasoning or logical abstraction. It was not deduced from information perceptible by the sensory organs. The realization was subjective, but it was knowledge every bit as real and compelling as the objective data the navigational program or the communication system was based on.”
Russell Schweickart, the first astronaut floating in space without an umbilical, during the Apollo 9 flight, at that moment the most isolated man ever, felt himself ‘a piece of this total life’:
“You look down and see the surface of that globe that you have lived on all this time and you know all those people down there and they are like you, they are you.”
The experiences of these people are an invitation for self-reflection, for remembering and cherishing our own moments of grace, something I personally love to do often. Writing this essay has been another opportunity to experience again how much joy flows through me just by reading other people’s quotations. Given an atmosphere of respect and love, we can also share our peak experiences with other people. One of the best things I have done up to now in my life is recommending this book to people and inviting them to sit together, for a day or a weekend, to reflect on and to share with each other our own peak experiences, these golden moments of inevitable grace.
Once again thank you, dear Piero friend, for your inspiring book which invites us to become better attuned to the energy, the insights, the wisdom, the glory and the peace available to us in our own moments of inevitable grace and in those of others as well.
By the way, Piero, in your Acknowledgments you thank the people who have helped you writing the book. You write: “My wife Vivien almost rewrote my own rewriting of the English translation. No husband was ever so happy to be corrected 5000 times.”
Does this mean that I better change “Dear Piero” into “Dear Vivien”?
Loving you, Shanti