Alison Gopnik

‘I think that kind of open-ended meditation and the kind of consciousness that it goes with is actually a lot like things that, for example, the romantic poets, like Wordsworth, talked about. So there’s this lovely concept that I like of the numinous. And sometimes it’s connected with spirituality, but I don’t think it has to be. It’s this idea that you’re going through the world. And often, quite suddenly, if you’re an adult, everything in the world seems to be significant and important and important and significant in a way that makes you insignificant by comparison. My colleague, Dacher Keltner, has studied awe. And awe is kind of an example of this. But the numinous sort of turns up the dial on awe. And part of the numinous is it doesn’t just have to be about something that’s bigger than you, like a mountain. It could just be your garden or the street that you’re walking on. And suddenly that becomes illuminated. Everything around you becomes illuminated. And you yourself sort of disappear. And I think that’s kind of the best analogy I can think of for the state that the children are in. And it’s worth saying, it’s not like the children are always in that state. So the children, perhaps because they spend so much time in that state, also can be fussy and cranky and desperately wanting their next meal or desperately wanting comfort. They’re not always in that kind of broad state. But I think they spend much more of their time in that state. That’s more like their natural state than adults are.

So, going for a walk with a two-year-old is like going for a walk with William Blake. You go to the corner to get milk, and part of what we can even show from the neuroscience is that as adults, when you do something really often, you become habituated. You do the same thing over and over again. It kind of disappears from your consciousness. You’re not doing it with much experience. And again, that’s a lot of the times, that’s a good thing because there’s other things that we have to do. But if you do the same walk with a two-year-old, you realize, wait a minute. This, three blocks, it’s just amazing. It’s so rich. There’s dogs and there’s gates and there’s pizza fliers and there’s plants and trees and there’s airplanes. I’m sure you’ve seen this with your two-year-old with this phenomenon of some plane, plane, plane.’ (from the New York Times)

I posted a section of this conversation a couple of weeks ago, and this is another part that I really enjoyed. I was recently asked about some of the experiences I had on retreat, and could conjure up many moments of sesshin at Tassajara where things became illuminated – just sitting on the Stone Office lawn watching the bees at work with the flowers. I was also asked how I brought mindfulness into my day these days, and walking was the example I gave, doing my best to notice everything as I walk, even just around the block. And I also remembered Blanche giving the example of a two-year-old who was living in City Center at the time demonstrating beginner’s mind with almost every activity. Maybe, when I get Roaming Zen going again, we can share this experience .

3 thoughts on “Alison Gopnik

  1. Lovely – sums up numinous so well…I also think that when you become retired and also revert a little to play and just being in it all there is more and more a realisation of the miraculous and constantly changing nature of things…joy!

    Liked by 2 people

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