A few years ago I was in Flagstaff, sitting in my favorite coffee shop with my oldest friend, when I picked up one of the new age-y hippie vortex-heavy newspapers that leak all over Northern Arizona from their mystical epicenter in Sedona and began spontaneously flipping through it. As I idly scanned the ads for crystal healing and seminars on channeling your spiritual contact, my eye was caught by the following headline: "Reality Is All The God There Is." And I thought to myself, yes; perhaps out of all the crap in this smudgily copied newsprint, all the things that I don't even remotely believe in, this is the one thing I can lay claim to, the one concept that I will take as my own from this morning full of too much coffee and mountain sunshine.
Some time later a friend of mine, a person who is deeply invested in a type of spirituality far from my own, looked at me and said, gently and slightly sorrowfully, "You just aren't a very spiritual person, are you?" I thought for a moment before answering no, and I still think of her and that particular moment every time my damn horoscope seems full of portent (as it does this week; thanks, Rob Brezsny, for muddying my lack of belief) or something miraculous befalls me seemingly from the ether. It's not that I'm not spiritual, exactly; it's just that almost all of what might be considered spiritual about me comes from my daily life, from reality. There's a border to where my mind, my skin, my sense of self, exist, and I'm coming to the realization lately that what feels holy to me is when that line between myself and other is crossed.
I was recently described as "sensual" and I think it may now be my favorite adjective for myself. I feel like it explains so much. Sensuality doesn't only relate to sex, although that can certainly be part of it; for my own part, I like to use it to describe my body's relationship to the world. When I was in elementary school we had to take a series of really frustrating tests--even at that tender age I resented having to choose inflexible answers to flexible questions--to determine our learning style; I was classified as a kinesthetic learner, somebody who learned by doing, a "hands-on" sort of person. At the time I thought this was faintly ridiculous--I was about the least physically-oriented person I knew, and I spent almost all of my spare time sitting on the couch in my parent's living room reading book after book--and it wasn't until years later that I began to understand that kinesthetic didn't mean shop class necessarily, but rather that I had to be physically involved somehow in the transfer of information in order for it to register fully.
What this means for me in my daily life is becoming clearer. Learning is one of my favorite activities (because I am a giant nerd), and I learn by doing, even if sometimes it's only the act of holding a book between my hands. When I was younger I think I confined my definition of learning to the classroom and the novels that I devoured, although I was always passionate about it; I was the student who read the unabridged versions of novels that we read isolated chapters of for school, who told my baffled fourteen-year-old friends that every book I read, no matter how crappy, contained something to learn, be it a new turn of phrase or a word I'd never heard before or just new possibilities for how to live and be. I believed that deeply and I still do, because I believe that nothing that happens to me is a waste. But I also believed that I was almost purely a creature of the mind, that my body was a grumpy hanger-on, that what was in my head was Life and everything else was more or less incidental. In other words, I was a bit of an egotistical little shit.
I'm expanding my definition of learning as I grow older, allowing myself to understand that I learn from the world that is around me all the time and not just from formalized collections of words or classrooms that smell of pine-sol and dust. The overlap between myself and the outside world teaches me, and learning is as close to god as I'm ever going to get. I learn from hiking alone up a mountain, feeling the sweat build up between my shoulderblades and the blood coursing through the muscles of my thighs, observing the plants and wildlife and weather and sunlight. I learn from walking down a city street and watching how children interact with each other. I learn from reading but also from writing, and from talking to other people and paying attention to what they are actually saying. When I sit on the train and stare out the window and sift through the dreck that floats through my mind to pick out the interesting stuff, I'm learning. When somebody touches me and I feel their skin against mine and I shiver, I'm learning there too.
A new idea has always filled me with elation, and if it's something really mindblowing I can feel myself nearly vibrating with the force of it rattling around inside of me; learning and mania are sometimes, often, very close together. It's only recently that I realized that I felt something very similar from my interactions with the world, from people and movement and taste and sensation. And so, for the sake of knowledge, I'm making an effort to finally give both my mind and my body credence. A well-turned phrase or a new way of looking at the world still makes me shudder with joy, but so does the sunlight that shines red through my eyelids and, for a moment, becomes the most important thing in my immediate worldview. If learning is joy, then perhaps joy is also learning.