Sunday night I went to hear a lecture at Lesley University by Thomas Moore (author of Care of the Soul) and Richard Tarnas (Passion of the Western Mind) on the topic, “Soul and Cosmos: A New Way of Imagining Life in the 21st Century.”
I have heard Moore speak before (he is, after all, something of a local luminary) but it was my first encounter hearing Tarnas speak. I hope it isn’t my last. He is thoughtful and articulate which is even more impressive when it happens in the domain of that hard to describe, edgy, thin ice world that goes by a number of different names—metaphysics, New Age, cosmic consciousness, soul-centered theology, neo-paganism, mysticism, among others.
Every once in a while you come across a person who has been extremely well educated in the rational traditions, usually sporting a PhD in a serious field. And then something happens. Their world cracks open.
I have come to call this “scientists gone galactic”. David Bohm. Ken Wilbur. Rupert Sheldrake. Stanislav Grof. Richard Tarnas is another one to add to the list.
Sunday night was a steady stream of idea kernels, and I hope to write about many of those in the future. Here is a small one as a start.
Tarnas referenced research that demonstrated how a small consortium of like-minded people can shift the overall cultural patterns much more readily when systems are in a state of chaos and upheaval. The discontinuity is actually an advantage for leveraging a change in thinking.
In other words, small groups can have a much larger impact than might have been supposed. This is an idea that can’t help but make you feel more hopeful. There are possibilities here.
And today I found an example that is a case in point. Bruce Weber wrote a piece for the New York Times about the extremely supportive and convivial literary scene in San Francisco. This is far afield from the competitive posturing that is typically found in New York and London. And even though the number of well known writers is small by comparison, San Francisco appears to be creating a literary community that does thing differently. Writers mentioned in the piece include Amy Tan; Po Bronson, Ethan Watters and Ethan Canin (founders of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto); Dave Eggers (creator of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern); Stephen Elliott. Weber also pointed to the positive influence of programs like Stanford University’s prestigious Wallace Stegner Fellowships.
From Weber’s article:
The city’s writers — and, notably, its readers — celebrated the 10th anniversary of the book lovers’ festival known as Litquake with dozens of readings, panel discussions and other events (including the braising of Ms. Tan). It all culminated in Saturday’s edition of Lit Crawl, the annually overcrowded word-and-drink fest in city bars.
It was, over all, a pep rally, an emblem really of the school spirit that San Francisco literary life has established in the last decade or so. And though the city has a venerable history in letters, the community of writers has never been as, well, communitylike as it is today. Like the thriving theater culture in Chicago, which coalesced around a few key companies and created an important center for the art form without becoming a rival to New York City as a center for theater commerce, so San Francisco’s writers have come to recognize and trumpet the idea that this city prizes their craft, its solitary difficulty and what can emerge from it, even though there isn’t much of a publishing industry here.
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