Transcendence

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We can do anything in order to get it done.

We can do anything in order to go on to the next thing.

And we can do anything in a way that reaches for transcendence.

I played pool today for an hour and a half, after a couple of hours yesterday as well, both days on my own. I haven’t played much lately, mostly because I’ve been writing so much but also because I lost all my partners when I moved to Vermont. There’s one poolroom in the entire state, a couple of hours away. There are a couple of people here in town whom I can persuade to play once in a while, but they don’t play for the same reasons I do.

I play pool and write fiction because they are, for me, the most reliable sources of a state that I can only describe as transcendent. Losing concern for myself and my capabilities or lack thereof. Losing concern over “correct” outcomes, and paradoxically generating better outcomes than I could ever have otherwise approached.

And although I don’t do it anymore, teaching used to be that way for me as well. I taught in the humanities, mostly, and so wasn’t responsible for ensuring that students could reliably graph x = 3y – 9. Instead, we talked about big ideas. I gave what could only plausibly be called a sermon, and then we worked our way through what some intelligent person had written.

When we imagine that education has outcomes (which it should), we attempt reliable sequences for achieving them. But when we imagine instead that education is a daily experience (which it is), we craft moments of heightened, collective attention that are their own justification.

I would like to make the case that undergraduate education, as preparation for meaningful adult lives which include but are not limited to our jobs, should focus far more fully on the connoisseurship of heightened, collective attention. Concerts, gallery exhibits, scientific experiment, great food… All things that lift us above ourselves and show us something greater. Leave the job training for another day; college is about something different. And I believe, with some evidence from personal experience and from psychological research, that focusing on the quality of the experience gets us more effectively and more reliably to skills than focusing on the skills themselves ever does.

I want a pool monastery, where the likeminded can gather to use our simple tools for greater good. I want a college that heightens the daily joys of life, without regards to the amassing of credits or the blessings of some disciplinary accrediting body. I want transcendence.