I am now studying the Thai alphabet with the purpose of learning to read and write. As a sixty-six year old, it has been about fifty-nine years since I first began this process, but on the other side of the globe and in English. Like learning to ride a bicycle, or swim, or play a musical instrument, rote learning is often tedious and humbling. By now I am used to engaging in activities in which I’ve already attained a degree of competence. But not here. I am fearful that I will be the only one in the class you can’t memorize and identify the strange letters. I waste energy blaming the Thai language for its multiplicity of letters, many of which seem redundant.
Wipa is studying English, and can already read and write our alphabet. Yesterday she showed me the word “adoration.” I thought that an odd word for a beginner to learn, but she didn’t think so, as religion is a big part of Thai culture. Buddhists Monks spend a lot of time praying, and some of that adoring this or that. Anyway, she didn’t think it an odd vocabulary choice.
That got me thinking about adoration. We modern, educated Westerners don’t spend a lot of mental energy in adoring anyone or anything. Adoration is for teenagers. Celebrities are adored. Hildegard von Bingen adored the Risen Christ, but the average American has to be content with admiring Kobe Bryant.
When was the last time I adored anyone? That took a while to summon from the memory soup. In eighth grade I adored a chubby girl with a sweet face whose name escapes me. My adoration of her was not a pleasant affair. I felt quite ill whenever she entered the room, because my desire for her was all-encompassing.
The last time I remember a pleasant and prolonged state of adoration was when I was in graduate school. I was stoned on marijuana and listening to Bach’s Keyboard Concerto Number Three, the Adagio movement, and the snow was falling outside. Transfixed in rapture, my jaw dropped, I stared out at the heavy flakes falling in blue twilight, and understood for the first time the majesty of Bach’s accomplishment. I may have been drooling.
In my limited experience, adoration was ecstasy. I could stand some more of that. But who or what to adore, and how can I ensure my ability to notice that which is adorable?
If I could somehow manufacture a heightened emotional reaction to my study of the Thai alphabet, it would make remembering the letters easier. Because I find so much of modern life annoying, I dismiss it as being beneath the dignity of my attention. That kind of habitual process is a self-affirming prophecy. Not much room for adoration there.
But I long for complete engagement, for bliss, for transcendent moments that last more than a millisecond. The only way I know to have experiences worth remembering is to be as fully present as possible, which is hard while watching television or browsing Facebook.
What, if anything, might adoration teach us?
When I witness great beauty, I get all excited about the idea that it’s a doorway into even greater beauty. That’s it’s a portal to the transcendent. So when I hear a piece of music or see a painting or read a story that really knocks me out, I don’t just appreciate that in itself, I’m hoping that it’s the first taste to a much larger meal. I’m hoping it means something.
This desire to find import is hardwired into we humans, and if course like most instincts, they can far exceed their intended purpose and drive us and others crazy. When I find that my breath has been taken away by something outside myself, I get my hopes up. Just minutes before I was resigned to life being just this and no more, and suddenly it’s much, much more! It’s fantastic. I’m surrounded by things that are adorable!
When the Swiss scientist who first synthesized LSD left his lab and rode his bicycle home for lunch, he fell off the bike into a field of flowers and knew that he was not only tripping, but had made a great discovery. The world is more than what we thought it was.
Here are a few musical works that have given me a glimpse of the divine.
Bach Keyboard Concertos.
Chopin’s Ballade Number One and his Barcarole
Horowitz playing Lizt’s transcription of Wagner’s Liebestod.
Louis Armstrong playing “Strutting with some Barbecue”
Bix Beiderbecke playing “Singing the Blues”
The Who playing “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
Anything by Elmore James
This is a short list of my favorites, and I’m sure you have your own. There are Hopper paintings that not only take my breath away, but have the same reaction for tens and thousands of us. The hairs on the back of our necks stand up and salute the infinite.
This is adoration in progress. I want more of it. I want it at least every day. So how do I get there?
My intuition tells me it has something to do with getting out of myself long enough to really notice my surroundings. Stilling the chatter of the monkey brain. Looking for the good rather than finding fault.
I think there’s more to it than that, but it’s a place to start. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that my life be more about laughing and rolling around in a field of flowers than planning and scheming to get what I think I want or need.