Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An Unformed, Inarticulated Hunger

"...the spiritual longing that doesn't know how to express itself." 
"...being governed by fear and not love..." 
"...to sacrifice to others, to be obedient to a transcendent truth." 

There are several themes in NY TIMES columnist David Brook's address to the Christian philanthropic group, The Gathering, that seem to echo directly themes explored in The Assassin Lotus. For readers who've enjoyed the novel--particularly fellow Christian readers--I urge you to find half an hour in the next few days to read the transcript or hear the podcast of Brook's fine talk HERE.
"Everyone is born with that moral imagination. The heart flies upward, even if you don’t know the categories, even if you’ve never been to church, you’ve never read the Bible, and you don’t exactly know the forms of it. You feel the hunger. And so to me, that is what is out there in the secular culture. An unformed, inarticulated hunger. And so when I turn to the topic of what, how do you be religious in the public sector…in the public world, the question then turns into, “How does the Christian world engage the secular world?”"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Lost Kingdom of Innocence

In his deeply-researched and enlightening book, The Way to Shambhala, Edwin Bernbaum examines at length the meaning of the mythical Tibetan kingdom known in the West as Shangri-La. His keen insights were an inspiration to me in writing The Assassin Lotus. 
"Myths of hidden places like Shambhala help to remind us, if only subconsciously, that there is much more to the world than we imagine. We need such a reminder to counteract the tendency of the surface consciousness to cut us off from immediate experience and lock us up in the illusions of the ego.
"Rather than being just a form of escape, our interest in Shambhala actually reflects a deep longing to experience reality itself. We might say that the kingdom represents the place in each of our lives where we make contact with the world in which we really live.
"...When this awareness appears. it brings back the forgotten memories of childhood experience. It reminds us of a time when we did not know what the world was like, when everything seemed as unknown and mysterious as Shambhala. At that age, we had no preconceptions to cover up and dull our perceptions. Rather than fitting things into fixed ideas of how they should be, we experienced them directly, with all the sense of awe and wonder they inspired. As a result, the world around us had the fresh and magical quality of a hidden kingdom.
"...In taking the inner journey to Shambhala, we strive to regain this direct awareness of a child with all its sense of wonder and awe. But we cannot do so by retreating into the past and attempting to become children again. We have lost the innocence to experience the world directly. [...] Only by becoming aware of our illusions and how we cling to them can we free ourselves from their power and awaken a fresh and direct awareness of the world around us. Rather than go back, we have to go forward to a new and wiser innocence--one that combines the wonder of a child with the wisdom of a sage."  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

East Meets West

In her piece for The Spectator, "The Cult of Mindfulness," Melanie McDonagh makes a number of assertions I don't necessarily agree with, e.g., that mindfulness is a form of selfishness, that it's "Mostly About Me," and that "it's non-doctrinal, non-prescriptive, non-demanding in terms of conduct apart from an insistence on not being judgmental." Her criticisms are apparently based on a week's worth of superficial experience. There are many different kinds of mindfulness and meditation practice, but a primary purpose in all of them is to first become aware and begin to make peace with one's own self before trying to change others and bring peace into the world. To borrow from Matthew, "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." 

I do, however, largely agree with another point she makes: 
"Taking an established religion--Buddhism in this case--and picking bits from it piecemeal can be a more dangerous business than it might seem. However much people may dislike the idea, the major world religions have developed incrementally over time to be a comfort and support for humans in their quest for meaning. Even the seemingly eccentric bits can serve a vital purpose, hidden from non-believers. One rejects 'the boring bits' of an established religion at one's own peril."
Religious leaders have been critical of foreign meditation practices, which they often see as intruding on their sacred, doctrinal turf. But I have also noticed an hostility toward organized religion from those who proudly proclaim themselves "spiritual but not religious." This mutual animosity is unnecessary and to my mind counterproductive. I think yoga, mindfulness, and meditation practice are flourishing in the West because they attempt to bring back the mystical experience that lies at the root of religion and has partially been lost or forgotten. That ineffable experience has been described as the inner experience of the divine, what the Bible calls "the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding." All the major religions have some form of this mystical tradition, including Christianity, but for many it has been reduced to little more than supplicatory prayer. It seems to me the inner experience is at least as important--and perhaps a necessary antecedent--to the communal experience of churchgoing, the development of virtue, and the doing of good works. One does not preclude the other; rather, they reinforce each other. As the Hindus say, "nirvana is in samsara." The inner life and the outer life entwine and grow together. As East meets West, it may be there is simply a re-balancing going on. A replenishing of the root.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014


"As I have begun to grow somewhat older than I really want to be, I have also begun to vest less faith in certain forms of argument, or at least in their power to persuade the unwilling, and more in certain sorts of experience--certain ways of encountering reality, to phrase the matter with infuriating vagueness. My chief desire is to show that what is most mysterious and most exalted is also that which, strangely enough, turns out to be most ordinary and nearest to hand, and that what is most glorious in its transcendence is also that which is humblest in its wonderful immediacy, and that we know far more than we are usually aware of knowing, in large part because we labor to forget what is laid out before us in every moment, and because we spend so much of our lives wandering in dreams, in a deep but fitful sleep."

~David Bentley Hart, from The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Check out David's latest post:


YOGA RADIO interview
8:00 P.M. Central Time
Wednesday Feb 11, 2015
Listen live HERE.

FREEDOM WORKS radio interview:
10:15 A.M. Eastern time Wednesday 11/26/2014
Listen live HERE.

McNaughton interview:  DARK GOLD


Back to DavidAngsten.com

Thursday, October 30, 2014


SHADOWS OF SHAMBHALA was the original title of what would become THE ASSASSIN LOTUS. The title plays on the theme of man's recurring quest for Utopia, the dark side of which is explored in the novel. The mythical Tibetan kingdom of Shambhala was the basis for the book and movie "Lost Horizon," (1937) which gave the legendary kingdom its more popular Western name, "Shangri-La."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Mind of the Jihadi

Fascinating article by Mary Wakefield gives rare insight into the making--and unmaking--of the violent jihadi.
"What we forget about IS, I think, is that the boys who herd off to join the jihad in Iraq or Syria don’t usually start off as monsters — they are made into them along the way. There are techniques for making sadists out of young men that have been practiced by militias worldwide and throughout history. In fact all that throat-cutting and torture, which seems so particularly diabolical for being unnecessary, is actually a crucial part of the monster-making process itself."
Read the whole piece HERE.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Soul

The soul is like a little mouse.
He hides inside the body’s house
With anxious eyes and twitchy nose
As in and out he comes and goes,
A friendly, inoffensive ghost
Who lives on tea and buttered toast.
He is so delicate and small
Perhaps he is not there at all;
Long-headed chaps who ought to know
Assure us it cannot be so.
But sometimes, as I lie in bed,
I think I hear inside my head
His soft ethereal song whose words
Are in some language of the birds,
An air-borne poetry and prose
Whose liquid grammar no one knows.
So we go on, my soul and I,
Until, the day I have to die,
He packs his bags, puts on his hat
And leaves for ever. Just like that.

~John Whitworth

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nothing to do with Islam?

"Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgement that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas – jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy – reliably lead to oppression and murder?"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


"...'reality' is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creates its own special reality having nothing to do with the average 'reality' perceived by the communal eye."
~Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Friday, August 15, 2014

Getting Rid of "Nothing Buttery"

Roger Scruton on the fundamental human need for the sacred:
"Atheists [...] tell us that the ‘self’ is an illusion, and that the human person is ‘nothing but’ the human animal, just as law is ‘nothing but’ relations of social power, sexual love ‘nothing but’ the procreative urge and the Mona Lisa ‘nothing but’ a spread of pigments on a canvas. Getting rid of what Mary Midgley calls ‘nothing buttery’ is, to my mind, the true goal of philosophy. And if we get rid of it when dealing with the small things — sex, pictures, people — we might get rid of it when dealing with the large things too: notably, when dealing with the world as a whole. And then we might conclude that it is just as absurd to say that the world is nothing but the order of nature, as physics describes it, as to say that the Mona Lisa is nothing but a smear of pigments. Drawing that conclusion is the first step towards understanding why and how we live in a world of sacred things."
I think getting rid of "nothing buttery" is the true goal of art and literature as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Chemical Life

The Irish-born poet Paul Muldoon, poetry editor for the New Yorker, believes artmaking is a drug:
‘We see a connection, and endorphins or whatever go nuts. So I’m sure that a certain amount of art-making has to do with chemical dependency…that feeling, that extraordinary buzz that may be akin to a drugs buzz or an alcoholic buzz or a chemical buzz. Auden, as you know, referred to it as the chemical life.[...]Basically, I think all artistic lives are chemical lives. Why do people keep on doing this? Why do they keep on going back for more, more of the same, when there are so few rewards? It’s a drug. Art-making is a drug. I’m sure what keeps me going back for more is the particular ecstasy that one feels when — and of course it may be completely misplaced, that’s the problem with it — something comes together.’
Actually, when Auden referred to "the chemical life," he was not talking about art-making as a drug, but the drugs he took in order to produce his art: Benzedrine (an amphetamine) to activate his mind in the morning and Seconal (a sedative) to make him sleep at night. This reportedly went on for twenty years. And he wasn't alone. Graham Greene, Ayn Rand, and Jean-Paul Satre used amphetamines regularly, too. Auden said they were one of several "labor-saving devices in the mental kitchen," along with alcohol, coffee and tobacco.

Friday, July 25, 2014

And All That Stuff

Hercules First Labor: wrestling the Lion of Nemea
Athenian red figure stamnos, ca. 490 B.C.
Smart review of Hollywood's latest take on the HERCULES myth from writer Spencer Klavan at a cool new blog, The Forum. He concludes:
"We’ve forgotten how to tell these stories — we drain the life out of them. We did it when we erased the gods out of the Iliad in Troy, and we’re even doing it to Superman, who now fights for “truth, justice, and all that stuff” because the American Way is too bourgeois. And that’s at the heart of it all: we’re afraid of valor, patriotism, heroism, because they feel unsophisticated and gauche. They’re not “realistic.” But obviously hero myths were never about what really happened, not to the Greeks. They’re metaphors for what it feels like, when the glory of fighting evil becomes so much larger than life that it’s as if you could fly, or see through walls, or wrestle a lion. If you don’t believe in that story, why tell it? Why not just talk about some big strong guy — why tell the legend of Hercules at all?"
Read the whole piece HERE

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Happy Birthday Mr. Chandler

Raymond Chandler
July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959
"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room." (from Farewell, My Lovely)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Tentacles of Consciousness

"Tentacles" by Steve Ball
"In a sense, all poetry is positional: to try to express one's position in regard to the universe embraced by consciousness, is an immemorial urge. The arms of consciousness reach out and grope, and the longer they are the better. Tentacles, not wings, are Apollo's natural members."  ~Vladimir Nabokov, Speak Memory

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ah Wilderness!

Following 4-hour flight from LA, 16 hour drive north from Chicago, flew into Latreille Lake from Red Lake, Ontario for a week of fishing. Some pix (click to enlarge):
The puddle-jumper -  built in 1946.

My Native American guide - no sense of humor. And nasty habit of chewing tobacco and spitting it out--constantly.

The Lodge -- hell on earth.

Glad I had the guide.
Two of these Americans claimed to be doctors, another a dentist, the fourth a lawyer. Yeah, and I'm Ernest Hemingway. No doubt they're all on the dole.

The guide's evil children tormenting a desperate moose.

Guide snags a big Northern--would've been lost without his expert net man.
Fishing in Canada: Hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer sublimity--

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Happens

"Lament for Icarus"  Herbert James Draper (1898)
"A myth does not describe what happened in some obscure period before human reckoning, but what happens always and repeatedly."  ~Roger Scruton

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mystical Experience

I am always amazed by those rare writers who manage to describe what in truth is indescribable.
 "In that moment of remote immediacy to things--of intimate strangeness--there may be some element of unreflective innocence, even something childlike [...] That sudden instant of existential surprise is [...] one of wakefulness of attentiveness to reality as such, rather than to the impulses of the ego or of desire or of ambition; and it opens up upon the limitless beauty of being, which is to say, upon the beauty of being seen as a gift that comes from beyond all possible beings. This wakefulness can, moreover, become habitual, a kind of sustained awareness of the surfeit of being over the beings it sustains, though this may be truly possible only for saints. For anyone who experiences only fleeting intimations of that kind of vision, however, those shining instants are reminders that the encounter with the mystery of being as such occurs within every encounter with the things of the world; one knows the extraordinary within the ordinary, the supernatural within the natural. The highest vocation of reason and of the will is to seek to know the ultimate source of that mystery.  Above all, one should wish to know whether our consciousness of that mystery directs us toward a reality that is, in its turn, conscious of us."
~from THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD:  Being, Consciousness, Bliss, by David Bentley Hart. Professor Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher who draws much of his inspiration from the classical theology of non-Christian religious traditions, including Sufism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The subtitle of his book, in fact, is derived from the Sanskrit description of Brahman in Vedantic philosophy: Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being, Consciousness, Bliss). 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sacrifice at Ft. Hood

Sgt. First Class Danny Ferguson died keeping Lopez out of a room full of fellow soldiers — holding doors closed that wouldn’t lock, says fiancĂ©e Kristen Haley.

"The tragic hero is both self-sacrificed and a sacrificial victim; and the awe that we feel at his death is in some way redemptive, a proof that his life was worthwhile. Love and affection between people is real only to the extent that it prepares the way for sacrifice [...] Sacrifice is the core of virtue, the origin of meaning and the true theme of high art."  ~Roger Scruton, Beauty

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Science and the Myth of Objectivity

"There's this myth in wide circulation: rational, emotionless Vulcans in white coats, plumbing the secrets of the universe, their Scientific Methods unsullied by bias or emotionalism. Most people know it's a myth, of course; they subscribe to a more nuanced view in which scientists are as petty and vain and human as anyone (and as egotistical as any therapist or financier), people who use scientific methodology to tamp down their human imperfections and manage some approximation of objectivity.
"But that's a myth too. The fact is, we are all humans; and humans come with dogma as standard equipment. We can no more shake off our biases than Liz Cheney could pay a compliment to Barack Obama. The best we can do-- the best science can do-- is make sure that at least, we get to choose among competing biases."  ~ biologist and author Peter Watts

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mind More Than Matter

"After all, consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell, this presence is sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we might know later we will know only through this same consciousness. Many want to claim the exact opposite, that consciousness is not its own thing, is reducible to warm, wet tissue and brainhood. But no one has come close to showing how that might work. Probably because it doesn’t."
~Jeffrey J. Kripal, "Visions of the Impossible: How 'fantastic' stories unlock the nature of consciousness"

Saturday, March 22, 2014

That Look

Emily Blunt in THE WOLFMAN (2010)

“Words are only painted fire, a look is the fire itself. She gave that look, and carried it away to the treasury of heaven, where all things that are divine belong.”

― Mark TwainA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Monday, March 17, 2014

The thought is in the mix

"Whoever looks for the writer’s thinking in the words and thoughts of his characters is looking in the wrong direction. Seeking out a writer’s “thoughts” violates the richness of the mixture that is the very hallmark of the novel. The thought of the novelist that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist.

"The thought of the novelist lies not in the remarks of his characters or even in their introspection but in the plight he has invented for his characters, in the juxtaposition of those characters and in the lifelike ramifications of the ensemble they make — their density, their substantiality, their lived existence actualized in all its nuanced particulars, is in fact his thought metabolized.

"The thought of the writer lies in his choice of an aspect of reality previously unexamined in the way that he conducts an examination. The thought of the writer is embedded everywhere in the course of the novel’s action. The thought of the writer is figured invisibly in the elaborate pattern — in the newly emerging constellation of imagined things — that is the architecture of the book: what Aristotle called simply “the arrangement of the parts,” the “matter of size and order.” The thought of the novel is embodied in the moral focus of the novel. The tool with which the novelist thinks is the scrupulosity of his style. Here, in all this, lies whatever magnitude his thought may have 

"The novel, then, is in itself his mental world. A novelist is not a tiny cog in the great wheel of human thought. He is a tiny cog in the great wheel of imaginative literature. Finis."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Zeteticism Skepticism

Whatever savants say,
the world is flat, not round;
the ships that crowd the bay
are for its limit bound.
Their cargoes likewise, all
consigned to one address,
at the world’s waterfall
plunge into nothingness.
The brightwork, the white sails
unfurled against the sky,
the million knots and nails
for such a voyage, why?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Center of Strength

"Finding the center of strength within ourselves is in the long run the best contribution we can make to our fellow men. ... One person with indigenous inner strength exercises a great calming effect on panic among people around him. This is what our society needs — not new ideas and inventions, important as these are, and not geniuses and supermen, but persons who can be; that is, persons who have a center of strength within themselves."   
--Rollo May (MAN'S SEARCH FOR HIMSELF, 1953)