PART OF THE DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK ON AMAZON:
This tightly packed but eminently graspable guidebook is full of original ideas for highly personal, deeply spiritual happiness appealing to both religious and nonreligious individuals. Basing its premises in values—and everyone has values--it offers broad avenues and private pathways to achieve sustained, empowering, exalted, and expansive “Soul Celebration” experiences that are singular to every individual because each person’s value system is theirs alone. It also offers smaller “Spiritual Snacks” providing instantly available, delectable bits of spiritual nourishment and inspirational energy for “spur-of-the-moment” experiencing the wondrous joys of being alive in today’s whirlwind world.
Q-Let’s begin with your own original definition of secular spirituality?
A-A heightened state of being: a rapturous, exalted, ecstatic, blissful, expansive, or empowering psycho-sensory experience of unity with one’s own fundamental values in response to an “other” physical entity embodying them—specifically nature, art, or a romantically beloved person—which results from a process of mind-body integration.
Q-In devising your theory, your challenge?
A-Since my subject is secular spirituality, my challenge was to answer how connecting with a finite, here-on-this-earth, material entity—rather than a supernatural or deified “other” as in religion—can achieve a state of exalted emotional-physiological grace we call “spiritual.” This is significant for nonreligious individuals because it affords ultimate ecstatic spiritual experiences most of them assume must be mystical, based in faith, and incompatible with reason.
Q-Did Ayn Rand’s Objectivism influence your theory?
A-Not directly but indirectly via her followers. In the 1990s I gave a speech on “Art as Spiritual Experience” plus a workshop at an Objectivist conference sponsored by what is now named “Atlas Society” at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The speech was from an essay I had previously written for my art foundation’s magazine ART Ideas. During the workshop I learned that virtually no one in my class—Objectivists all—had a clue that they could have spiritual experiences because they tied the subject to religion, and being atheists they couldn’t buy that. So the workshop got me thinking about wider applications of secular spiritually stimuli than just art. Then I moved to other projects and forgot about the subject
Much, much later (2016) I joined Face Book Objectivist groups and again observed members seemed unaware of spirituality as a category and its life-enhancing personal joys. I then delved deep and originated a secular spiritual thesis that would enrich these reason-oriented individuals and, actually add to the Objectivist corpus. I consulted Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and very clever 16th-century Italian monk for guidance and put together a theory of secular spirituality compatible with the philosophy. The theory turned out to be applicable to all individuals of either faith or reason, but my driving impetus was to enrich the spiritual lives especially of Objectivists.
Q-Can you state your thesis in a nutshell?
A- Well, I can paraphrase from the crux of it from the PREFACE:
Our essential self-created or accepted value center defines our distinctive personhood. This interior core can be activated by external stimuli into experiences of sustained secular spiritual exaltation, which become celebrations of our one-and-only unique personhood. This is why we need set-aside periods of time to celebrate our value-centered Self, so we can soar high to experience, both mentally and physically, a gloriously personal affirmation of our own achieved personhood in a spiritual manner.
How? By connecting to and uniting— becoming “One”—with three “other” here-on-earth entities that can stimulate our value center psychosomatically: nature, art, and romantically beloved humans.
Rain can become a spiritual experience rather than cause for an umbrella. By learning to selectively focus on wonders of the physical universe, we can experience a “merging” with chosen aspects of nature and come away with a fulfilled sense of having participated in eternity. A museum stroll, novel, and music may become empowering experiences that feed the soul because art at its best expresses ideas that make physically manifest the artists’ internal values. If those values match ours, we may feel elevated to the height of exaltation and experience the art spiritually as well as aesthetically. Romantic love with its sexual component becomes the supreme secular spiritual experience because the most desirable and cherished human being is a living embodiment of our highest values. That makes this mind-body union the most sacred of all.
Q-What is a “spiritual snack”?
A-“Spiritual snacks” were inspired by Cardinal Giles during the Italian Renaissance. Again paraphrasing from the PREFACE:
Plato was on the ascendency when 16th-century Giles of Viterbo looked at Socratic dialogues like Phaedrus and the Symposium for philosophically oriented accounts of otherworldly rapture—Plato’s ideal, immaterial “Forms”—to enrich his sermons. But he also spiked his solemn speeches with worldly, sensual allusions drawn from classical myth. By doing so he believed that delectable bits of enlightenment would be tasted and digested emotionally by his flock, adding a little zing to his stern Biblical lessons. Giles called these references “spiritual snacks.” In his poem La Caccia Bellissima (The Beautiful Hunt), for example, he represented the human soul as sexy Greco-Roman goddess Diana whose dedication to tracking down God’s footprints in the forest symbolized the Christian soul searching for signs of heaven in this material world. His concept of brief and lighter fare to enhance profoundly nourishing soul matters captivated me and became part of my theme addressing modern spirituality.
Q-You mention “a museum stroll” to discover spiritual experiences in art, and (as an artist) this especially interests me.
A- Every broad-subject museum offers paintings and sculpture approaching the sublime. These gems we must discover alone. There are no maps, rules, or rituals to guide you. Only you can lead yourself. Don’t use headphones or read text or placards. Don’t prejudge, preconceive, or censor your reactions. Do let yourself “Go.” When entering any room, scan the art and let it “speak” to you. No rights or wrongs in this adventure. Open your mind. When an artwork draws attention, whether it be subject matter or an arrangement of colors or shapes, stand quietly before the work and think or feel everything that comes to mind … or not. Your quiet attention to something that only whispers to you is fine too. Many levels of intensity exist within the broad spectrum of Soul Celebrations from breathlessness, a pounding heart, and emotional rapture, to a calm and gentle inner hum. The more fundamental the value identification, the more profound the experience.
Don’t be surprised at negative responses. If you feel moved to joy or anger by an artwork, one (or more) of your values is being confirmed or assaulted. For now, attend only to art that ignites unusually positive connections and pleasures you to the highest degree. If you feel soaring with energy, quiet blissful awe, or inspired and empowered, you are experiencing a spiritual connection with your own deepest self. You are witnessing your own values through the art and loving all you see within and without. Welcome to a true Soul Celebration of your one and only unique Self through the visual arts.
Q- What about the scientific basis for your thesis?
A-Technical aspects of the methodology were vetted by a NYC neurologist and a Mayo psychologist. The mental-physical processes occurring from sensory stimuli to emotional evaluation to physical responses are detailed in the book
Q- How exactly did Aristotle, Aquinas, and the Cardinal influence your thesis and presentation in your book?
A- I answered the Cardinal’s influence, but regarding Aristotle and Aquinas:
I revisited Aristotle not from an intellectual point of view but from a spiritual one to see if and how his reality-centered premises might translate into contemporary spiritual experiences for individuals today. His focus on development of Self via reason, excellence of Self as the highest purpose a human could strive for offered objective reasons why one should be concerned with one’s Self as the primary concern of individual development, responsibility, and respect.
Thomas Aquinas: This Aquinas identification speaks directly to my present value-oriented theme of spirituality: ‘The things that we love tell us what we are.’”
Taking Aristotle’s Eudaimonia—human flourishing—as my ultimate guide; enthused by Aquinas’s conclusion that values create our identity; and modernizing Cardinal Giles’s charismatic idea of spiritual snacks, I conceived this guidebook to honor the individual sovereignty and serene happiness of all people by charting paths to here-on-this-earth-now spiritual bliss.
Q-Lastly: You begin each chapter with one of your poems. Which is your favorite?
A-I love all of my poems the same way parents love all of their children, but this one is my favorite:
THE STILL POINT
There is a place if we earn it and own it
A Center unique if we each will but know it
Where the mind is cold and honest and true
Yet passions burn strong like fires renewed
It’s not the “Still Point” of poets’ renown
Where opposites meet or typhoons becalm
It’s active and full of growing and glowing
Excellence bound with achievements flowing
My center is I, a Self that is mine
For here is where pleasure and pain combine
To create my days and my soul define
Our Center is all, so let each take heed
What we make of ourselves is who we shall be
It’s only in death we meet Still Point of fame
While the world spins on not remembering our name
Time cannot be stopped, nor the cry of the dove
So celebrate life and all that you love
Each moment, each “now,” while you dance here on earth
Is eternity’s gift, every morning’s rebirth
We must decline. Alas! None are divine
Make it fun, make it fine. Make it sweet and sublime
Not to live while alive is the only crime
Alexandra’s novels and nonfiction books have been published in the US, Canada, England, Australia, Russia (translation), and Spain- South America-and Mexico (translation). American publishers include Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Van Nostrand, Ballantine, Berkley-Jove, Crossroad Press, and Book-of-the-Month Club. Her work also has appeared in publications as varied as Reader’s Digest (Domestic and International),Vital Speeches, The New York Times, USA Today, Vogue, New Woman, Chronicles, The Humanist, The Intellectual Activist, Reason, American Arts Quarterly, American Artist, and Confrontation Literary Journal.
She was for six years Editor for ART Ideas, a quarterly arts and culture magazine published by American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a 501-C-3 New-York-City based nonprofit educational arts foundation of which she is the Founding President--www.ART-21.org--and currently has a monthly Art and Culture column for NewsMax.com, the largest online news service in America: http://www.newsmax.com/Insiders/AlexandraYork/id-329/
Alexandra has appeared on major talk shows including “Today,” “Larry King Live,” "To Tell the Truth," "AM New York," "AM Los Angeles," "AM Philadelphia," "Wake-Up Houston," ABC's "Eyewitness News," and hundreds of local and syndicated radio shows. In person, she has lectured extensively at Town Hall Celebrity Series, private organizations, corporations, universities, and exclusive cruise ships. She received the 1997 Whiting Memorial Award for outstanding service to the cultural world from the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry, serves on Advisory Boards for Florence Academy of Art in Italy, Art Renewal Center (ARC) and Heartland Institute in America, and is listed in Who’s Who of American Women and Who’s Who in America.