A STORY WAITING TO PIERCE YOU
Our beautiful blue dot of a planet looks like a wonderland from outer space. But as you get closer, you see the conflicts, the violence, and the ruined opportunities. Move in even closer and you notice personal unhappiness, depression, and violent and aggressive behavior, based on some deep ignorance about meaning and values. Of course, this is using only a negative lens. In pockets of peace and prosperity, life is also still exciting and promising.
Many earnest people are at work trying to understand how to shift civilization and private lives away from entropy and threat. They try to be intelligent and informed and trust that civilization will thrive on good factual knowledge and the best data. They look to experts in each field to lead the way by means of their education and experience.
But Peter Kingsley offers an alternative point of view, and a solution to these essential questions, by delving deeply into the roots of our civilization. He doesn’t do this as a typical philosopher, and he doesn’t depict the philosophers he studies in the usual way: as academics surrounded by books and always deep in thought. In his previous books—as in A Story Waiting to Pierce You—he demonstrates that philosophy, true to its Greek language roots, is a certain intimate interplay with wisdom, and that classically it is pursued not in abstract and mental terms but through crafted modes of meditation, ritual, and community.
I have taught religion and mythology for many years. People have frequently told me that they studied myth in school, but they didn’t know that it had anything to do with their lives. I do my best to point out how myth depicts the deepest urges and patterns that shape our lives. But Peter goes much further.
One bit of mythology he clears up for me has to do with the Greek god Apollo. Often Apollo is understood as the archetypal model of rationality, moderation, and the shining outer achievements of civilization. I’ve never felt easy with that picture of him—given that his wisdom rose out of a fissure in the earth associated with the mother goddess, a great Python and a mantic seer.
Peter gives a very different portrait of this god, far from the allegorical cipher that you find in books on philosophy or mythology. What’s important about this shift in our picture of Apollo is the very point of Peter’s new book: a new appreciation for shamanic ecstasy as the only trustworthy source for a civilization’s—and I would say a person’s—continuing on the adventure of life.
This new book has a drive and energy that is thrilling. I can’t go into much detail about its substance, because I don’t want to spoil the tight, dynamic movement, or its detective-story suspense, or its unexpected and inspiring outcome. Let me just say that the reader does what the story is about. The reader travels with unnatural speed from Mongolia to Greece to where he lives, here and now. He is presented with an unexpected key to his own life. But there is no guarantee that he will accept it, since it is so anachronous and mysterious.
Peter writes in a style that echoes the oral musicality of a traditional storyteller. To all appearances it is a simple style; but profound challenges sit quietly, almost hidden, on every page. Peter is re-writing the ancient philosophical tradition and, in doing so, is making it accessible in a way that, I believe, is most suited to our new century. His style is not linear, entirely logical, nor explanatory. It evokes the mysteries that have long remained invisible in texts that have been presented as though they were the result of factual research. In every way, Peter is closer to dream than to what we think of as fact.
This new book uses fresh investigations into history to give us timeless clues for our survival. His topic is nothing less than civilization and its sources of unfolding and flowering. I also read the book as a psychology of ecstasy.
Peter’s point of view is analogous to the one I bring to my practice of psychotherapy, where I trust a dream to tell us much more about the client’s situation than any idea either of us may have. Taking a dream seriously is like looking through a window onto a parallel, relevant universe that accounts for our experience, but is generally hidden.
The materialist dismisses dreams as electrical by-products of the brain, and many would dismiss ecstasy as a way to knowledge. Or they demand to know how it all works, and what, after all, is the nature of what you contact in trance or dream. It would be better to enter the process and be convinced by its effects.
I find all of Peter Kingsley’s work exciting, captivating, and full of hope. I realize that it demands a shift in paradigm, and maybe it is the catalyst for such a shift. I appreciate the way his new book is organized: a fluid, adventurous story followed by an equal number of pages devoted to notes. We need both powerful narrative and scholarly reflection, and Peter can supply both.
This is a small book. You can read it in an hour. I suggest that you read it several times and really get the golden idea at its core. Then bring that idea to everything you do—every decision, every choice, every plan, and every interpretation. Live by an entirely different guidance. Shift from the left-brain Apollo that has brightened your life, to the god of ecstasy portrayed in this book. Walk like you’ve never walked before. Let the arrow pierce you.
Thomas Moore is the author of the bestselling Care of the Soul, as well as many other books. His work has appeared in over twenty languages. He started his career as a friar and has been a psychotherapist for thirty years.
-Reviewed by Thomas Moore
Reposted with permission from Peter Kingsley.