Something happened one day in 1974 that would forever change the way I look at life. And I find that once you go through that door, you can never go back.
Many people have spoken or written of some life-changing personal experience. Perhaps it happened during an encounter with a special person or the reading of a cherished book, or maybe it was being in some particularly wonderful corner of our physical world. And it likely seemed absolutely amazing in that moment. These so-called watershed events usually involve a sudden shift in perspective, and they often result in the seemingly miraculous appearance of new or previously hidden possibilities. And most often, they are described as having happened by chance, by being in the right place at the right time, or simply as “lucky breaks.”
The story I tell in this book is that of a gradual personal transformation.
This transformation began very subtly and quietly, and its unfolding has proceeded very gently, but it has been punctuated by a few sudden and profound “aha!” moments along the way. And the cumulative effect of this transformation has been as thorough and complete as I can imagine. Over several decades my story—the way I think about my life—has become less and less about the events of my life and more and more about the transformative power of a very special idea. This particular idea lies outside the scope of the worldview that virtually all of us accept as being completely self-evident. In fact, in attempting to share this idea with others, I have received many indulgent smiles and a few blank stares.
I have over the course of several decades come to the understanding that much of what we have been told about the world and our relationship to it, and most importantly about how best to live joyful and satisfying lives, has been without real value as guidance, and sometimes it is just plain wrong. I would go so far as to say that all of us have been lied to on this topic thoroughly and consistently by people who, in turn, had been lied to since the moment of birth. And none of them, or us, knew any better.
Among many other things, we were told that the world is the context in which we live our lives. The world, so we were informed, has existed for billions of years and will presumably be around for billions more after we’re gone. We have inherited from our culture a shared description of the world, a description consisting of symbols—words and ideas—with which we represent the elements of our world. We see this description as abstracted from our experience of the world (i.e., first there was the world, and then there arose among human beings a description of the world). And because we understand the world to be exactly what it appears to be, the best we can do with our description is continually refine it so that we will have a progressively better grasp of how best to operate our knowledge of the world.
This description of the world that virtually all of us share, together with what we believe to be the description’s relationship to the world it describes, constitutes an explanation. It’s an explanation for who we are, for what the world is, and for our relationship to the world. In other words, everybody knows, in a profound ontological sense, that the world is senior to us as humans. Everybody knows that it remains while we come and go, and that we had better set about making the best, or taking best advantage, of whatever corner of the world in which we find ourselves.
In 1972 I came upon a different idea of the world and our relationship to it.
At first, it was an interesting and oddly compelling notion to me. But over the intervening decades I have come to see my attempt to understand this different idea as my raison-d’être, as my purpose for being here, and I have finally understood that I no longer have any choice except to follow this idea as far as I can. It’s as if I hear a calling, and at some point I finally decided to follow that calling as best I can.
This book represents an attempt to set down in words the story I now tell about my journey through life. All people, naturally, have a story they tell about their lives, and while I’ve had some wonderful experiences and encountered some truly amazing people, I don’t think the list of events that have taken place in my life is particularly remarkable. And yet because I now tell my story in terms of following a path to which I was called, and because of the manner in which this new and very compelling idea shaped my choices and decisions, I believe that it’s worth setting down. To some degree this is an autobiography, and there are parts of it that will sound that way. It’s also an adventure story, but in a very different sense than one might expect.