Finding Common Threads in Unfamiliar Places

Parador de Alarcón.
Parador de Alarcón.

There was a time when I was ashamed to be Chinese, when I was defensive yet embarrassed in knowing next to nothing about being “Chinese.” The spell probably snapped when my mentor told me, “Jung loved China,” though I did nothing to hunt for crosslinks in the bifurcated streambeds of my psyche. But falling in step with the Western fascination with Eastern traditions, I waded through sacred books of India, China, and Japan, until the whole urge of my being wound around the jigsaw puzzle of Confucius’ sayings.

So it was a jolt of a revolving door that reverted me to the familiar when our good friend arranged for us to experience a parador on our first night in Spain, one in a chain of monasteries, palaces, and castles refurbished by the Spanish government for tourists. Upon figuring out that Exit 166 marked the 166th kilometer of a highway south of Madrid Airport, we gave over our design of the trip to the vast plains, the fields, the orchards, the waves of hills, the rollout of skies, the languorous windmills, and, of course, the occasional gargantuan black matador bull monogramming the countryside.

Surprisingly large signs to the 8th century Parador de Alarcón guided us to more deserted turf, when suddenly, the medieval fortress rushed into the sky. We followed a long driveway uphill to end in a nearly empty parking lot and gateway to the correct stone courtyard. We were directed to the top floor in the bell tower. Imagine that first tremor, when, swathed like a monk in the stillness of a stone turret, my soul opened to light at the lone casement window.

Oh my soul! From that instant through the rest of our sojourn, my consciousness randomly refilled with Phoenician water ducts, Carthaginian settlements, Roman amphitheaters, Hannibal and Augustus, the Moorish Alhambra, Columbus and 1492, the Basilica of San Francisco, and more. The artistry of the Spanish collection at El Prado museum, speaking through struggles of princes and passions of Christ, rekindled the loving, magnificent “Father who art in heaven”—though not God of my ancestors—in whom my childhood spires were housed. Spain, like the rest of Europe, had secured and defended these divine embers for civilization. Nowhere was this impression sharper than in the ultra-modern, Byzantine-inspired mosaic Capilla del Santisimo in the national Catedral de la Almudena in Madrid. Off limits to touring, this chapel reciprocates the inquirer, the seeker who alights there even just briefly.

We sat in the vacuum of morning dew-yellow tiles. My heart … skipped a beat.

In that interval woven of white space, I was aware only of myself as a sense wave sitting at a pew, my eyelids batting. The sanctuary soon recapitulated as silent chords of opaque tiles and sweeping lines, forte with images at the base that softened into blond then blank overhead—lifting my spirit to dissolve into whiteness that is neither ceiling nor sky. The next morning I flew home, airborne on this drift:

I am imbued with tales from Adam and Eve to Jesus to us.
I am bound with pointers from Confucius that the secular is sacred.

St. Augustine: I was restless until I found my rest in thee, O Lord!
Confucius: Shine that luminescence in you to rest in its ultimate.
Rollo May: Be yourself. Be all that you can be.

Confucius: Let me not talk of gods or of what is unknowable.
Rollo May: Do not stress with the why of the givens.

I want more than harmony of my two souls.
I want that the self-same soul speak through different tongues.

Like the hero with faces for a thousand journeys,
The self-same soul knows the self in these faces

And can tell one from another… and reconcile.

Campbell, J. (1949/1970). The hero with a thousand faces. New York, NY: Meridian Books.

Fingerette, H. (1972). The secular as sacred. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers.

Hoffman, L., (2009) Overview of existential theory and practice. In L. Hoffman et al. (Eds.) Existential psychology East-West (2009). Colorado Springs, CO: University of the Rockies Press.

Jung, C.G. (1931/1962). The secret of the golden flower: A Chinese book of life. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Legge, J. (c.1860/1991). The Chinese classics, v. 1: Confucian Analects, The great learning, The doctrine of the mean. Taipei, Taiwan: SMC Publishing.

May, R. (1983). The discovery of being. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

St. Augustine of Hippo (401 CE/2008). The confessions of St. Augustine. Dover Thrift Edition. Kindle version.

— Meili Pinto

Today’s guest contributor, Meili Pinto, PhD, is Adjunct Faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and an independent researcher. Growing up in India, China, Japan, and the United States, the course of her maturation was spontaneously determined by the necessity to merge vastly different cultures and linguistic systems, resulting in her perennial quest for transpersonal common ground and existential meaning.

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