Why I have written a review of: Soul Celebrations and Spiritual Snacks
by Mike Gemmell
The single greatest influence on my life–other than my wonderful parents–has been the ideas of Ayn Rand. I cannot think of a single area of my life where I don’t utilize some aspect of her philosophical system.
As sweeping in scope as her philosophical system is, however, there are areas where it can be extended. One area where, I believe, the value of her work can be magnified immeasurably is in the area of spirituality, specifically secular spirituality. Although her novels present larger-than-life heroes that are highly evolved mentally, a fictional archetype is not a substitute for a full-blown system of ideas explaining and demonstrating the value of a secular viewpoint in the realm of spirituality.
For that we need a rigorously developed, integrated system of ideas. No one has developed such a system of ideas … until now. For that achievement, we must offer our sincere gratitude to internationally published author and founding president of NYC-based nonprofit arts foundation American Renaissance for the Twenty-First Century, Alexandra York, and her newest nonfiction work: Soul Celebrations and Spiritual Snacks (SC & SS).
With that as a preface, I would now like to introduce and highlight York’s comprehensive treatment of secular spirituality dedicated (in her own words) to:
“men and women committed to reason who sense there may be something missing
men and women of faith who sense there may be something more.”
How Secular Spirituality Relates to the Philosophy of Objectivism
Since the following review is specifically for those familiar with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, I will first present how the idea of spirituality relates to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. This should make it easier for readers to see how Alexandra York’s SC & SS extends Rand’s work in the area of values.
Objectivism advocates using a process of reason to choose values in order to define the direction and purpose of one’s life. Values are where the inter-relationship between Rand’s and York’s ideas begin. It works like this:
- Select values and life goals consistent with those values
- Achieve personal character and goal(s) consistent with those values
- Experience emotional satisfaction from achieving a worthy personhood and goal-oriented values
Experience primary animating values at the height of emotional-physiological ecstasy in a spiritual manner of Whole-Self Celebration by interacting with three “other” here-on-this-earth physical entities that embody those values: nature, art, and a romantically beloved person.
Soul Celebrations & Spiritual Snacks
Readers of Ayn Rand’s fiction are well aware of her heroes and how they experience life very intensely. For example, Howard Roark as he views one of his completed buildings and John Galt and his intense recitation of his moral creed of living in Galt’s Gulch. These professional achievements and their emotional responses come from implementing their values via their personal efficacy.
Secular spirituality differs from these value-achieving and satisfying emotional experiences because there is an external entity stimulating our chosen value system, namely, nature, art, or a romantic beloved. This external-element stimulant offers an entirely different experience from personal achievements or passionate adherence to values. For instance, when Hank Rearden produces the first batch of Rearden Metal he feels great pride from his achievement, but also experiences loneliness when he tries to share it with his wife Lillian who scorns and ridicules his achievement. Only when he shares the first ride on the John Galt Line using Rearden Metal with Dagny Taggart followed by their intense romantic encounter afterward does he fully experience a spiritual experience via an external entity–Dagny Taggart—because he is celebrating himself emotionally and physically with an “other.”
As the story progresses and his love for Dagny deepens, he begins to experience a thrillingly new, higher level of joy in life and a fully psycho-somatic rapturous spiritual experiences of “becoming one” with a true beloved not only emotionally with love but physically with sexual union. Thus, he begins to realize how much joy has been previously missing in his life.
Our Nature as Spiritual Beings
Everyone is aware of the pervasiveness of mystically induced religious spirituality throughout history, but SC & SS explores the largely unexplored region of another kind of spirituality known as secular spirituality. This form of spirituality shows us that the “the inherent human desire to connect with some ‘other’” (God, deified prophet, saint, etc.) is not restricted to those via a religious outlook but can be experienced with a secular outlook via experiences via earthly entities: nature, art, and a romantic beloved.
Q: What is the human need for Spirituality in general?
A: York’s answer is:
“the inherent human desire to connect with some ‘other’ that offers affirmation of one’s personal worth in the context of the vast impersonal universe into which we are born and live out our own individual time on earth.”
York emphasizes that the difference between a mystical (religious) spiritual experience and a secular spiritual experience is that the first connects with an “other” that is an ephemeral “source” whereas the second connects with a here-on-this-earth-now real-life entity—nature, art, or a romantic beloved–that physically embodies our most sacred values. A secular spiritual experience satisfies our need to connect with aspects of the world in order to experience a sense of Self-celebration, and this is the theme of SC & SS. What is distinctive about her approach to the subject matter is her actively conscious methodology that is based on identifiable primary values. This secular spiritual experience, of course, can be had by religious folks as well as nonbelievers, which is another unique aspect to her thesis.
Main theme : Self-Celebrating Secular Spiritual Experiences via Nature, Art, and a Romantic Beloved.
York vividly demonstrates that we all have the potential for intensely rapturous psycho-somatic (emotional and physical—mind-body integrated) spiritual experiences outside the supernatural realm of religion. Details of how—the methodology–secular spiritual experiences via nature, art, and romantic love can be experienced are presented in separate chapters on each topic.
Supporting theme: Daily Secular Spiritual Experiences Known as “Spiritual Snacks”
In addition to these intensely ecstatic soul-celebrating secular experiences, there are spur-of-the-moment opportunities for smaller, shorter spiritual experiences. York designates these “Spiritual Snacks” from the book’s title. As she shows us, partaking of them is a matter of attuning ourselves to the many opportunities in normal daily life. She further elaborates on these possibilities in chapters titled “Family and Home as Spiritual Experience” and “Friends as Soul Mates.”
This is a book rich in thought-provoking ideas. It can be read from cover to cover or browsed and pondered upon again–and again. The blank pages inserted at key points in the narrative by the author are very useful for readers to capture thoughts, make notes, and record personal insights.
The content and style of presentation in this highly original book compatible with the philosophy of Objectivism are captivating, and the overall message is life changing:
“To fully flourish as human beings, to experience joy and all that our existence has to offer means embracing our secular spirituality”
A Personal Perspective on Secular Spirituality
At the age of 25 I was introduced to Ayn Rand and began reading her fictional works starting with The Fountainhead. I realized one of the distinguishing characteristics of Rand’s fiction was the nature of her heroes and their extraordinary levels of integrity to their chosen values. Values and their importance to the main characters are what drive the plot of both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
After reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged I had a rough idea of what exaltation meant by Rand’s descriptions of the romantic encounter between Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden as well as other excerpts between main characters in The Fountainhead, e.g., the interaction between Dominique Francon and Steve Mallory as he creates her sculpture for the Stoddard Temple:
“Then he saw what he had been struggling to see all day. He saw her body standing before him, straight, and tense, her head thrown back, her arms at her sides, palms out, as she had stood for many days; but now her body was alive, so still that it seemed to tremble, saying what he had wanted to hear: a proud, reverent, enraptured surrender to a vision of her own…”
In SC & SS York provides a full definition of the secular spiritual experience such as Rand’s characters experience in the scenes between Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart and Steve Mallory and Dominique Francon:
“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: Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, Dominique Francon, and Steve Mallory are extraordinary, towering figures interacting in a fictional setting. Can a person in real life also experience such a heightened state of being within the context of secular spirituality?
A: In a word—Yes!
Six years after reading The Fountainhead–on a day I shall never forget—I experienced a life- changing encounter and my first full-blown secular spiritual experience.
The “heightened state of being … experience of unity with one’s fundamental values…” that York referred to, came my way as I was hell bent on getting somewhere I can’t for the life of me remember. I was traversing a shopping center when suddenly she came across my vision and immediately EVERYTHING stopped. Time, the outside world … Everything.
It was a picture of the great ballerina, Natalia Makarova, with her arms flung back in an expression of glorious exaltation. Through her incredibly artistry I saw a vivid image of what human life could be and what I wanted my life to be.
I could not have moved or looked away had my life depended on it. I had no words at the time, but I knew I had just had a life-changing experience. I bought that picture the next day and it has hung on my wall as a source of inspiration to me ever since.
Although it captivated my emotions by illustrating my fundamental view of life, I did not fully understand it in a way that I could communicate to others until some years later when I read York’s essay “Art as Spiritual Experience.” That essay was part of a collection of her ideas in From the Fountainhead to the Future and other essays on Art and Excellence and represented an early step toward York’s full blown theory of secular spirituality presented in SC & SS. In “Art as Spiritual Experience” she describes her early secular spiritual experience with her own values via an external entity when she first viewed the sculpture of Nike of Samothrace (Winged Victory):
“But there in Paris I found myself transfixed, rooted to a spot at the bottom of the staircase in the (old) Louvre, physically unable to mount the stairs because I was totally mesmerized by the marble figure of Nike of Samothrace.”
Reading York’s description of her first secular spiritual experience and its similarity to my own was the final step toward understanding the role of fundamental values via an external entity in a secular spiritual experience.
Soul Celebrations & Spiritual Snacks was written as a guidebook to those who understand the crucial role of having integrity to one’s set of values in life—such as admirers of Ayn Rand—and who wish to take the next step forward in living a life of integrity by celebrating those values in a new and immensely satisfying manner via secular spirituality.
With the discussion groups led by Atlas Society senior scholars, along with the guidance provided by York via SC & SS, an admirer of Rand’s ideas can fully understand and embrace stunning experiences of secular spirituality in a period of months rather than the time it took– in my case– of well over a decade. And I can only say that I sincerely hope you fully embrace the magnificent opportunity that the works of Ayn Rand and Alexandra York have created for you in the area of secular spirituality.
The health of the republic in the U.S. is dependent upon the health of individuals. And without individuals in optimum health, the effort to restore the republic in America will likely fall short. Those individuals will need spiritual sustenance while making that effort, and SC & SS will be an excellent source to turn to for that sustenance. York’s remarks in the early pages of SC &SS indicates she understands this:
“In the context of the current cultural and global strife, these spiritual snacks become extra significant because they provide tiny soul-satisfying surges of joy, of peace, of wonder, of “aliveness” at any time or place.”
The evidence of unhealthiness in America is all around us: rising tyranny in government at all levels, widespread disappearance of civility and manners, poorly written and verbal communication skills, declining literacy and interest in the arts and humanities, and more. Addressing these ills will take a very large effort over many years by countless individuals. I believe there is no better guide for nourishing our souls as we pursue that goal than the ideas that Alexandra York has imparted to us through her magnificent work, Soul Celebrations & Spiritual Snacks.
The ultimate goal of life on earth is happiness and human flourishing, designated “Eudaimonia” by Greek philosopher, Aristotle. To fully achieve this goal we must learn to embrace and celebrate our Self via experiences of secular spirituality. Alexandra York in Soul Celebrations & Spiritual Snacks shows us the way…
“I am a Radical Romantic intent on championing and merging beauty and reason. I write both fiction and nonfiction to enrich, enlighten, and inspire. I am determined to confront the cynical concepts of the sensationalist, nihilistic, popular anti-culture in which we now live and encourage a path of self-created distinctiveness, integrity, and pursuit of excellence. My novels fall under the broad category of Romantic-Suspense but are solidly based in serious ideas with no escapism, fantasy, or wishful dreaming to waste the brain. My nonfiction focuses on the arts and the culture at large, mining history to bring golden nuggets of universal truths to fresh, modern light in order to help meet and greet today’s contemporary challenges.” Internationally published author in fiction and nonfiction, founding president of American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART)—www.ART-21.org—and regular art and culture columnist for NewsMax.com.