In an anxious, rational world, is there a place for enchantment? Katherine May, New York Times bestselling author of Wintering and Enchantment, talks with Amy Julia Becker about awakening wonder, relearning enchantment, connecting to the natural world, and living every day with a continual sense of the presence of God.
“Katherine May is an internationally bestselling author and podcaster living in Whitstable, UK. Her journalism and essays have appeared in a range of publications including The New York Times, The Observer and Aeon. Katherine lives with her husband, son, two cats and a dog. She loves walking, sea-swimming and pickling slightly unappealing things.”
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For transcript and more, go to: amyjuliabecker.com/katherine-may/
Season 6 of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast connects to themes in my latest book, To Be Made Well, which you can order here! Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
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I had to work out what I needed for this very changed world that I wanted to go back into. And over and over again, I circled this word Enchantment, which seemed to unpack so many different ideas for me about being fascinated and engaged and full of awe and wonder, but mainly feeling like there was a little tingle of magic in the world. But, I might not fully understand. But that took me back to that almost childhood sense of being drawn deeply into something and playing within that space.
Amy Julia (38s):
Hi Friends. I'm Amy Julia Becker, and This is, Love is Stronger Than Fear A podcast about pursuing hope and Healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. Today I am talking with Katherine May, author of a new book called Enchantment. Katherine is also the author of book called Wintering, which was a New York Times bestseller and really popular book a couple of years ago. So you might remember her from that, although I didn't get to talk to her then because I didn't have a podcast then. But now I do. And I was so excited when I had the opportunity to talk to Katherine about awakening wonder, relearning enchantment connection to the natural world, living every day with a continual sense of the presence of God.
Amy Julia (1m 22s):
I hope you'll enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Well, I am delighted to be here today with Katherine May, author of a new book called Enchantment Awakening Wonder In, an anxious Age. Katherine, thank you so much for joining me.
Katherine (1m 41s):
Oh, thank you so much for having me.
Amy Julia (1m 44s):
So I have lots and lots of questions for you, and I also feel as though we could sit here and spend our entire time together simply talking about the title of your book. I will not spend our whole time talking about the title But. I. Thought that might be a good place to start. Really, I wanted to just ask you, talk to us about the idea of Enchantment and what it was that drew you to that topic, and you know, how you got there. Tell us the story of, of Enchantment, how this book came to being into being, but also what you even mean when you say that word.
Katherine (2m 18s):
Sure. Yeah. So Enchantment was a word that kept coming up when I was trying to explain this need I was feeling, you know, and it was against the background of life during and after the pandemic and the lockdowns where I'd got to the point where I felt so seized up with brain fog and burnout, But I just couldn't even think straight, let alone make any progress with any projects I was working on, or read a book, or like, all the basic things had fallen away from me. And I had this strong sense that even though I was not having a great time, I didn't wanna return to life as it had been before.
Katherine (3m 1s):
Like, to some extent, I'd experienced a relief during the lockdowns, you know, the, the pace of change, of the pace of life would slow down, I should say. Yeah. And the sort of going back into the world as it was just filled me with horror. Like I could feel it in my body that I didn't want to spend so much time, like in crowded spaces or rushing between appointments. And I, I had to work out what I needed for this very changed world. But I wanted to go back into, and over and over again, I circled this word Enchantment, which seemed to unpack so many different ideas for me about being fascinated and engaged and full of awe and wonder, but mainly feeling like there was a little tingle of magic in the world, But, I might not fully understand.
Katherine (3m 51s):
But that took me back to that almost childhood sense of being drawn deeply into something and playing within that space.
Amy Julia (4m 1s):
I, I wanna go back to what you just said about the childlike sense of wonder. But before that, what I'm also wondering about is, you know, some people would say, we have lived in a disenchanted age. Actually, this was an, I was reading an essay in the New Yorker this morning and read this. It was about the fact that English majors are dropping, like people who study English in college and university as just precipitously falling. And so they were writing about why there's no longer any English majors. And one of the things that the author quotes is, contemporary critics pride themselves on their power to disenchant, and the disenchantment has reached students.
Amy Julia (4m 47s):
And so I'm thinking not only about Enchantment, but also about disenchantment. And one question I have for you is whether you think, looking back on that pre pandemic time, is the, was there a sense of disenchantment that you hadn't noticed and the pandemic opened up the space to notice that and the longing for it to be different? Like, is that a, is that a fair way to characterize it?
Katherine (5m 11s):
Yeah, I think so. But I'd go even further to say that I'd almost deliberately chased a sense of disenchantment in the first ch half of my life. you know, it was almost a project But I thought that it was much better to be completely rational and governed by science and to reject anything that felt esoteric or quasi-religious perhaps. And I, and actually I was really aware of my own disenchantment, I think, and I, and I thought it was a good thing. Mm. But for me, the, there was this gradual dawning of understanding that I wasn't particularly enjoying it.
Katherine (5m 53s):
Yeah. And that maybe like, there was a yearning in me for more But, I kept having to push away, and I needed to, I needed to change the way I thought about how I related to the world, I think.
Amy Julia (6m 5s):
Yeah. That's so interesting. The deliberate disenchantment that has come, I think for many of us, especially in the modern era. And as we grow up, which again goes back to that idea of childhood wonder. And I was, I, I guess maybe there's a sense of Enchantment as being childish, and that's why we think we're supposed to move along from it. But I also, especially in reading your book, was thinking about the wonder of childhood and that sense of Enchantment that many of us have, whether that is simply in being curious about nature or in actually living in made up and make believe worlds or really long enjoying, like the rituals that come with religion.
Amy Julia (6m 49s):
I mean, I think they're all different ways that that Enchantment happens and feels very natural as a child. And it made me wonder, we can either think of that as childish, or we can say when we've lost that we've lost something intrinsic to who we are.
Katherine (7m 4s):
Yes. And there, this, it's human. Yeah.
Amy Julia (7m 6s):
Yeah. Something really human. So this is a quotation from your book. Early on, you said, I thought it was what I had to do in order to grow up. It took years of work, years of careful forgetting. I never realized what I was losing. So can you talk a little bit about that process of careful forgetting and of losing, and then we'll get to talk a little bit about the careful remembering
Katherine (7m 30s):
And finding. No, I, I think that, you know, on one hand I was very conscious of deliberately pushing back against any, any time that that rose up in me. That, you know, the, the sense that I was leaning towards a kind of more spiritual understanding of the world, and I'd catch myself doing it and, and kind of almost tell myself off and say, you know, that's not, that's not the rational way to live. And, and that it was maybe embarrassing that maybe in the company I kept, I didn't feel like I could come out and say, I think there's more, don't you? you know? Yeah.
Amy Julia (8m 12s):
I was thinking about this and wondering whether, what the reasons are for the disenchantment of our age. And I wondered whether religion in the past served as a conduit of Enchantment from those years that we move from childhood to adulthood, whether it's something that's kind of given to us when we're young, but in order to keep it alive, we need some sort of pathway. And, and one of the questions I had when I was reading your book was whether religion in some ways is a, a pathway, not the only pathway, or, you know, there, I'm not trying to suggest that must be it, But I just wondered whether part of what has gone alongside is this kind of prioriti, as you're saying, prioritizing of reason and rational thinking, and a denigration of these religious rituals and practices, again, of all sorts of forms of varieties, but whether we really need something to guide us from childhood to adulthood when it comes to that sense of there being something more.
Amy Julia (9m 18s):
Katherine (9m 20s):
Yeah. It's almost like it sets up a framework through which we can explore bigger ideas than simply like the business of every day. And I mean, I grew up without that, although I did have contact with Christian religion because I was, I was at a church school and I went to girl guides and, you know, I, I spent quite a lot of time in church. And so, you know, I understood the structures and the way of thinking, even if I didn't ever particularly feel like they were my belief system. Hmm. And you know, for example, I, you know, I learned to pray at school, which was something that just carried on through the rest of my life as a, as a practice that had no kind of foundation.
Katherine (10m 1s):
Hmm. And I, you know, I, I just began to feel, I think what, you know, when I started to write this book that without that, with living, with that rejection, was living with an active, pushing back against something that I wanted to do. Like I had an instinct for it. It wasn't that, you know, taking on a spiritual practice or a, or a religion would've injected something into me. It's that I seem to automatically reach towards it. And to need it actually to, to need it as like, part of the full spectrum of how I could think and not having that spiritual perspective meant that I felt like I was only using a, a, a sort of small section of my total capacity for interaction with the world and, and how to think about it.
Katherine (10m 54s):
It, it was a cutting down and it, and it began to actually feel more and more restrictive as as time went on.
Amy Julia (11m 2s):
Yeah. And obviously, you know, I'm thinking about it and I'm like, of course religion can also be a path to disenchantment because it can, it can also come under the banner of rationality or of control. Right. So, you know, even as I'm listening to, on the one hand, I wonder whether for you almost not having the beliefs, but being given some of the forms might have been helpful in some way, just in the sense of
Katherine (11m 28s):
Amy Julia (11m 29s):
Weren't thinking, oh gosh, I have to do it this way, but more like, I can receive what I'm being given, and if it seems like something that connects with what I need as a human who has a spiritual dimension to life, then I'll use it. I don't know.
Katherine (11m 44s):
Yeah. I mean, it, it's advantageous because I, I never, I never had that sense of patriarchal control from it because it wasn't coming from my family. And so I know a lot of people that I speak to who grew up with very, you know, loads of different religions Yeah. Are very much against it, because at some point they felt like it Yeah. Took excessive control of them, told them what to do, didn't let them develop and explore their own values, for example. I mean, it's certainly not true of all religious people. But, I think one of the things that's been driving our, you know, secularization or our disenchantment has been this increasingly kind of sharp analysis of, of patriarchy really.
Katherine (12m 24s):
And how, you know, controlled lives have, have often felt, and how hierarchical systems have felt incredibly oppressive rather than, you know, feeling like they're enhancing life, particularly. So I didn't have, I just got to go to church and quite enjoy the atmosphere. you know, I used to, when I was at university, I used to sing in the chapel choir three times a week, and, you know, to go to a lip space every night with candle, you know, only candlelight, the most beautiful song and a and a sense of peace falling on the room. And a sense of intent to me was absolutely a wonderful space to enter into But I didn't believe.
Katherine (13m 11s):
And so that cut me off from feeling like I truly belonged there.
Amy Julia (13m 16s):
Hmm. Yeah. I'm, I, I do think having access to those spaces, I mean, again, there are people who, for whatever reason, still feel cut off even from that sense of peace that you had. And yet I do, I'm thinking about, you know, walking around through most of the world with a little screen in our hands and not noticing what's around us, whether again, that's the natural world or being able to sit and be still, or sit and be bored or just experience our own bodies and our communities and environments with a less mediated Yeah.
Amy Julia (13m 59s):
Perspective. And I do wonder, well, one of the things you wrote early on, again, was if there were a spirit of this age, it would look a lot like fear. And obviously, you know, awakening Wonder In, an anxious age is the subtitle of the book. And so I do wonder about that relationship between anxiety and Enchantment or disenchantment and, and even just our modern age, we've obviously got both the Covid pandemic as well as the, you know, technological age that we're in. So could you speak a little bit about how, what, what relationship you've seen between fear or anxiety and this longing for Enchantment?
Katherine (14m 40s):
Yeah, it's really interesting, isn't it? Because we've talked a lot in the last few years about our distractedness, you know, and, and the way that our screens are pulling us from the real world, if you like, and into this digital space where we're numbed to, you know, the sensory inputs that we'd otherwise be noticing, and also the, the social interactions that are in the room around us Yeah. When we're busy interacting with, you know, sometimes complete strangers. And I, I wonder if we don't need to flip that a little bit, flip our understanding of it, because I, I would see instead that we're fleeing onto our screens to escape something that feels very overwhelming in the real world.
Katherine (15m 23s):
And I, I think that is, you know, it's, it's complex. I think we're often escaping a sense of conflict and intergenerational conflict or political conflict that we dunno how to solve. And, and we've no longer got the comfort to, to be in disagreements. So we, you know, we're fleeing onto more common communities online. But I also think this sense of distraction does come from a, a feeling of fear, whe, which is maybe quite diffused, but we, we feel like something's going to happen. It's, it's profoundly apocalyptic actually. Like we, we feel like the end of the world is somehow imminent, whether that's from the pandemic and, and clearly that there was a lot to be afraid of there.
Katherine (16m 9s):
But also we, you know, we're worrying about environmental dis disaster. We're worrying about, you know, violence and, and particularly gun crime, you know, coming and visiting us. There's a, there's a big war that, you know, on in the Ukraine that looks like it could well roll into a, in a, into a world war. Yeah. All of those things are terrifying. Like they're legitimately frightening. Yeah. And it's no wonder that we are struggling to concentrate on the finer things in life when we are literally looking over our shoulder to see what's coming.
Amy Julia (16m 41s):
And so what, I mean, I agree, those are all real. And, and on some level, the easiest place to flee right now is these devices that we've got. And yet they also, I think, leave us pretty unsatisfied, you know, at the end of scrolling through Instagram, I do not feel the same piece that I do at the end of sitting in a contemplative space, even though I'm gonna scroll through Instagram every day, and I'm not gonna sit in a contemplative, not
Katherine (17m 14s):
Amy Julia (17m 15s):
Right. you know, so I, you know, I am, I am very much a part of this problem, but I'm wondering Yeah, about the, well, the idea of awakening wonder, and there's a another phrase you have of just needing instructions for re-enchantment, and I'm curious to know what instructions you discovered. Are there instructions for re-enchantment?
Katherine (17m 41s):
I wish there was a cheat sheet that you could just like hold in front of your nose and it would all be easy. I mean, I, I began really with just trying to find a way to leave my desk. Because I think during the lockdowns, you know, when I couldn't go out, I'd got very used to almost clinging to my desk, even if I wasn't doing anything. But it felt meaningful and productive to have my laptop open and to be looking at something. And I eventually, I, I had the foresight to put a little post-it note above my desk that said, go for a walk. And one day when I was feeling like really lost, I noticed this note and I was like, right, okay, I'm gonna go for a walk. And just the act of getting up and leaving the house was actually quite transformative for me moving my body, you know, noticing what season I was in.
Katherine (18m 31s):
But I, I walked up to a, a place near me, which I was, I think really set up the tone for the whole book because the local authority has installed Britain's newest stone circle on, on a village green at the top of our town. And I, for me, that took me straight into this space where I was thinking about the clash of all that's happening here. That on one hand we don't know what we want anymore. you know, I live in a fishing town, we're full of little chapels because the, you know, seaside towns where, where sailors have gone out to sea have always had loads of religious spaces where people can, you know, lay down their, their hopes and fears in between these risky trips out.
Katherine (19m 15s):
Yeah. But we're not visiting those anymore so much. And so instead we've created a sort of facsimile of these ancient structures that we find across the British aisles, but they're kind of hard to love because they're so new. Like, one of the things that we appreciate about them is their ancientness. And I, that was a, a really interesting reflective space for me to enter, cuz here was I yearning for something more without knowing what that more was. And feeling quite embarrassed to be yearning for it in the first place. you know, having no one that I could really share that with. And I arrive in this, in this place that has been made almost as an open invitation to create new meanings.
Katherine (20m 1s):
you know, there's, there's no fixed meanings that those stones offer. They are aligned to, to the equinoxes. Actually the soltice is, I can't remember, but they, they are aligned to some of the kind of major celestial events of the year. But with no given interpretation and no practice laid down over the years to follow. And I think a whole lot landed in me while I was walking through them. I took my shoes off and walked barefoot between them. And it, it made me question a lot of my own assumptions about how I could value, you know, a notion that people had worshiped in a place for a long time.
Katherine (20m 42s):
And it, it would, it would've made it easier for me cuz it would've let me put aside my own need to make my own meanings. But here in this space, I needed to figure that out for myself. And that meant sinking into my body and responding to that moment and, and bringing my own state of mind into that space rather than waiting for it to give me a state of mind. And I found that ultimately quite enchanting, you know, you know, that, that here was I on the cusp of, you know, a new era figuring it out. And I, and I actually think that that uncertainty became like a really, a real guiding light for the whole book.
Amy Julia (21m 25s):
Well that's, it's interesting cuz one of the things that your book made me think about is how, right now we know in terms of information more or have access to knowledge about more on every level than we ever have in human history. So we've got more information. We have in some ways, I think access to more experiences. We can get on an airplane and go somewhere if we want to and have the, you know, money and ability to do so. But nevertheless, largely we have more information and more experience. And yet I think one of the things that struck me in your book is how much knowledge has been lost and that we know less than we ever have in other ways because we aren't stopping to pay attention in that sense of taking off our shoes.
Amy Julia (22m 11s):
Both kind of literally and metaphorically. And it made me wonder whether that sense of longing for meaning and purpose and a sense of a reason for our existence might have very little to do with having lots of information and a lot to do with having a different type of knowing, which I think you write about in a couple of different, I mean, really throughout the book, whether it's in, you know, knowing how to bake bread or knowing how to keep bees or knowing what to do in an ancient or modern, I guess kind of sacred space. Yes.
Amy Julia (22m 51s):
So I, I'd love for you to tell some of those stories and talk about that kind of knowledge and where it led you and where it might lead us. And again, within that, within that idea of having some instructions for re Enchantment.
Katherine (23m 6s):
Yeah. So we've fallen into the trap, I think, of relying on only one kind of knowledge. And that knowledge is very brain based. you know, it's very, it's critical, it's rational. It's based on information and the storing of information and then the retrieval of the information. you know, that, so there's, that's, that's one way of knowing and it's an important and useful way of knowing. But what, what's died down in this is this, this whole kind of spectrum of other knowledges. And many of them are impossible to be put into words, you know, know. So there's knowledge that's embedded in your hands when you are, when you are sensing something or making something.
Katherine (23m 52s):
There's the knowledge of intuition, there's the knowledge of movement and you know, many, many, many others. And I think when we, you know, when we send our children to school, what really worries me is that we are reproducing this sense that that one knowledge is more prized than others. And that just doesn't give us the entire skill set that we need to navigate these actually very unknown spaces that we are going into. you know, we, we don't have the flexibility, we don't have the athleticism to feel our way into places.
Katherine (24m 34s):
And so I've been, I guess I was trying to unpick that a lot. And that for me meant, you know, from making a sort of ritual loaf of bread called a lama loaf, which is traditionally made in the British el to celebrate midsummer and thinking about what it means to celebrate a moment with your hands like that and how that might change your relationship with something, you know, when, when actually our means of celebration are normally quite restricted now because, you know, there, there they're only one note. We have to be happy And, we have to drink alcohol And, we have to, you know, it has to be rowdy and noisy. Well, you know, that's, that's one way of marking a moment.
Katherine (25m 15s):
How, how do I mark it differently? I also visited a, a sort of Healing well that was, that's sort of a part of the pilgrimage route into Canterbury, which is near where I live, and thought about what it means to go and worship at a place or to go and pray at a place where generations have prayed before. And, you know, in that space it led me into how I behave. Like it's, the place was set up to take me into gentle contemplation and to, to acknowledge my own beingness in that space. And yeah, so I guess, I mean, I'm an experimental, that's how I always write books.
Katherine (25m 59s):
I try a few things out. I, I visit places I physically put myself in the place that I want to learn about. But that meant that it was actually quite hard to write about in a book because I was specifically exploring spaces that go beyond words and that go beyond easy explanation, you know, that are actually profoundly subjective and, and therein Lies their value and then challenging myself to write about it.
Amy Julia (26m 30s):
Well, I just wanna interject here to say that you were up to the challenge. This gives me a chance to just, I had on my notes for this podcast, I have like my questions and different thoughts and whatever, but then I just wrote at the bottom sentences I love, I'm gonna, I'm gonna share two of them because one of the things I think you do so beautifully in this book, and I, and I do think yes, obviously it comes out of your ability as a writer, But I think it also comes out of that enchanted perspective, like that willingness to not simply think in kind of materialistic or rationalistic terms. So this is just a description of tides and you said there are two giant waves traveling endlessly around the earth and twice a day we see their full volume.
Amy Julia (27m 20s):
And that just to me was like, it's true, right? I mean, it's rationally true I guess. But it was like, that's such a poetic and artistic and like it gives me a a so many more, it's like a sensory experience to read that sentence rather than to simply describe in more scientific terms what's happening when a tide rises or falls.
Katherine (27m 43s):
I really, I'm really glad cuz that was a, that was a moment of response from me really, you know, of standing by the sea and thinking I have this kind of schoolgirl understanding of how the tides work. But I don't feel it, you know, like it doesn't feel intuitive to me how this works. I, I need to understand it further. And I spent ages researching it and, and actually I, you know, found that the language often got in the way of me really getting it, like really getting it on a cellular level. And it was only when I realized that this motion was continuous around and around two bulges at once. That, so the, the tide bulges out where, where it's closest to the moon and where it's farther away on, on one hand the gravity sucks it towards the moon.
Katherine (28m 30s):
I know we shouldn't talk about gravity sucking, but that'll do me for now. And on one the gravity is released at the opposite side, so it bulges out as well. And these two giant waves are continually moving around the planet. So when the tide retreats, it's not that it's moved backwards, it's just that it's lost. It's the, the moon has lost its grip on the tide, so it, it, it sort of sinks back. Hmm. And that felt glorious. It's not, it's not a kind of factual knowledge. It's a, it's an intuitive, instinctive sense of movement, of planetary movement that feels like a very different form of knowledge to writing a paragraph down in your, you know, notebook at school cuz your teachers dictated it to you and going, yep, I've tipped that off.
Katherine (29m 16s):
I've, I've got this little bit of science. Yeah. That's the shift. Definitely.
Amy Julia (29m 20s):
And that's, you know, it's interesting, I, I talked to my kids a lot because they've read the beginning of the Bible, and so they've read Genesis chapter one and they've also learned in school about the Big Bang and evolutionary biology. And they're like, okay, mom, so one or the other is true, which is it? And I'm like, both are true. And I don't mean by that. There, there were literally 7 24 hour periods in which God spoke and this is what happened. But what I mean is they are different ways of knowing the same truth, and they both have value And. we need to ask what is trying, what is the, what is the writer trying to offer us here?
Amy Julia (30m 1s):
What are the questions that are trying to be answered here? And in order to have, as you just said, like that kind of scientific understanding of how the tides work, I don't know for the purpose of, you know, sailing a ship that's different than having that sense of, again, as you said, like the, the rhythm of it, the feeling of it and, and the sense of wonder about it and the sense of being a part of a universe, a very, very, very small part, but nevertheless finding
Katherine (30m 31s):
Amy Julia (30m 32s):
Yourself in it. Right. So I just, you did that in multiple places for me and it was Yeah. Really wonderful to read. So I appreciate that very much. Well, I, but
Katherine (30m 44s):
For me it was also like, how am I bodily linked to it? you know? Yes. Like, how, what part do I form in this tide? And that was, it's that, it's that sense of feeling your way into the world, But I was learning to do. And I'm, I'm still learning, but you know, like that was, that was the shift. Yeah.
Amy Julia (31m 5s):
Well I love, I love that in all the different places where you're able to do that, you know, for me as well. And I also loved, so this is, I have, I have what's called a masters of divinity, which is one of those words that again, you
Katherine (31m 19s):
Know Yes, yes.
Amy Julia (31m 21s):
The ways in which religion can be, you know, a box rather than a path. But I. But nevertheless, I learned a really fun theological word from you in reading this book, which is, I don't even know if I'm pronouncing it correctly, but hark, is that how you say that word? Hi,
Katherine (31m 39s):
Har. Yeah, I think so. Yes. As far as I'm aware, I, okay.
Amy Julia (31m 43s):
Well, will you explain, I could be the, what is Harini And we, yeah. Will you just talk about Hiny for a minute?
Katherine (31m 49s):
Yeah. So Hiny comes from the sociologist Mercy Ard, and he used it to describe the way that the sacred can be expressed in the material world, essentially. So that could be anything from a across for Christians, which, you know, is imbued with this deep meaning and, and kind of power that comes from holding a kind of, you know, a, a whole gestalt of the sacred. But it could also be, you know, a standing stone, or it could be something that's a little less obvious than that. So, you know, like a sacred landscape is a hy and I, I began to think about how we have personal phonies as well.
Katherine (32m 34s):
These, these ideas or these places or spaces or objects that hold something to us that feels much more than the sum of its parts. And that transcends the, the material.
Amy Julia (32m 48s):
Yeah. There's, in the epilogue you also write about harny and how it's not rare, and this I'm quoting you, you say, but what is rare is our will to pursue it. If we wait passively to become enchanted, we could wait a long time. But seeking it is its own kind of work. And you've said a little bit already about seeking it just from putting the post-it note of take a walk, right. And giving us some descriptions of ways in which you've sought it. But do you have anything more to say about what it would mean for us to not wait passively to become enchanted, but to actually begin to seek the hoons that I think exist within us and all around us all the time if we, this is kind of quoting Jesus, but have eyes to see it.
Katherine (33m 33s):
Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, and actually I'd go further and say, I don don't think he'll ever come to us if we don't go looking. you know, it's a, it's an artifact of our attention, and in order to really feel that, that hy or to feel that sense of Enchantment, we need to train our attention gradually. Like, it, it can't come to us in one go. There isn't a shortcut to it. We can't buy our way into it. And all of that sounds obvious as I'm saying it, but actually quite often we believe those things, you know, we, we believe that we will only find awe if we go to a special place that we pay good money to go to. And we'll have a more awe inspiring experience if we pay more money for it.
Katherine (34m 16s):
you know, or, you know, we must travel halfway around the world in order to experience a place that's really magical. Like, I, you know, I wonder how many people living here, you know, listening to this if I said, think about what you think about Tibet, you know, and, and think about whether you think that is a more special place than the place you live in now. And I bet if people were honest with themselves, a load of them would say, yeah, all right. I, I did kind of think that Tibet was, had some special stuff going on. Yeah, yeah. I don don't think that's true. I think the difference between Tibet and my back garden is that lots of people believe that Tibet is special, and so they direct their attention to it.
Katherine (34m 57s):
They spend time thinking about it and treating it carefully and reverently. That's not to say there's anything wrong with Tibet at all, but actually I can make that space in a corner of my house or on my own front step or in an alleyway behind it, which, you know, I, I write about in, in Enchantment. Like, these, these places respond to our attention and our intent and our desire to make them feel significant. So we create the h is, but we have to do that consciously. you know, these, these are not things that will knock on our door and say, I'm really special actually, can you, can you now like, you know, just suck in my my wonder.
Katherine (35m 46s):
It, it's an act of our noticing. And once you start doing that kind of noticing and start paying that kind of attention, it becomes really addictive and really irresistible because the world begins to, to glow with a, with a sort of magic and it, it becomes possible.
Amy Julia (36m 3s):
Well, and that's where there at least, and tell me if you disagree, I'm curious because it seems to me there is perhaps a creating of hoofy or perhaps it is a, it's, it's there for the taking's not quite the right word either, but for the discovering, for the encountering. And so the work on our side is the noticing or the paying attention, but it's present and it's just something I think that I'm missing a lot of the time.
Katherine (36m 35s):
Yeah. And I, I think both, I mean, I think there are some, there are some places that are, you know, waiting for our attention again. And, but there's also work for us to do in creating new spaces that meet our current needs. Yeah. So, yeah, I mean, to go back to Standing Stones, it's irresistible to step into those places and think about them as ritual spaces and to find them quite awe-inspiring because of the amount of time they've stood. But actually we ha we have new needs now and we're inhabiting new spaces and new kinds of spaces. And like, you know, a really important question for us is how do we imbue those with that same sense of, of wonder?
Katherine (37m 22s):
And that's complicated, right? Because one of the, our first instincts has been to borrow artifacts from other cultures that we don't fully understand in order to add that in, you know, to burn a certain kind of incense that we know some other spiritual community uses or, you know, to, to address them with kind of borrowed religious symbols, right. That you don't really understand the depths of. And you know, that's, that's been called out as problematic in the last few years. And I, I think one of the reasons that's problematic is that quite aside from the borrowing, we often only like steal the good half of them, the half that tells us we're okay and everything's fine, And, we ignore the, you know, the more tricky demands on us, like the, the more tricky moral demands that say to us that, you know, we owe a, a sort of debt of, of service in return, or that we have to look very carefully at our own behavior and our own thoughts to, you know, to judge them as harshly as we often judge other people.
Katherine (38m 28s):
Hmm. And so, yeah, I, there is, there is a need now, and I, you know, I don't have the answers for this. But I love the idea of being part of the finding of the, of this new path. There is a need for us to create spaces that are adapted to this age and to create structures of thought that that, that actually challenge us to be our higher selves within those spaces according to our current moral beliefs and not according to moral beliefs that we are no longer comfortable with.
Amy Julia (39m 4s):
And are there, have you found any of those spaces or practices along the way?
Katherine (39m 12s):
Well, I, I wrote an Enchantment about my time spent in a Retreat, an online Retreat. So it's like, it's kind of nice that this is a digital space Yeah. With a Buddhist organization called the Zen Peacemakers. And they hold regular, what they call bearing witness retreats, where they invite people to join them, to immerse in an act of understanding of, I mean, they're normally historical injustices, so they hold retreats around things like homelessness Native Americans, the, the Holocaust. And they, the one that I attended was about slavery Yeah.
Katherine (39m 54s):
Slavery in America in particular. Yeah. And that was so interesting to me as a way of forming a very different kind of congregation, like a dispersed congregation, and about encouraging engagements in, you know, really difficult critical spaces. And the way that that was achieved was by asking us to break down our assumptions that we brought into the room. So asking us to step away from what we thought we knew and to enter a, a a sort of an attitude of unknowing and to allow ourselves be remade again in the light of, of new evidence and of hearing voices that we hadn't heard before.
Katherine (40m 38s):
And I, you know, I felt like I was intruding a little on a space where Americans were reflecting on their history of slavery, but it did make me reflect very deeply on my own country's colonial history, which, you know, has led to sort of, you know, similar and different outcomes through different means and, and how easy it is for me to disengage with that and see it as in the deep path while judging another country for, you know, for doing essentially the same thing. So it took me into a really, a really challenging place actually, but also a deeply spiritual place where I felt held and supported and I felt like I was holding and supporting other people.
Katherine (41m 22s):
Hmm. And I, yeah, I would, I would love to offer that up as a, as one of the possibilities for ways that we can start to practice into the future.
Amy Julia (41m 30s):
Yeah. I do think we're going to need rituals, spaces, practices, I mean a whole myriad set of things in order a as you said, to not only to get the both and of the, I guess what religious language would call, you know, repentance guide of acknowledging human darkness and harm and injustice. And then also whether it's the celebratory and communal rituals or the, you know, solitary and peace, you know, finding belovedness and belonging within who we are and being able to sit in the peacefulness of that.
Amy Julia (42m 16s):
But all of those things, it seems, if and as we can reawaken a sense of Enchantment to your point, there are going to be things we can learn from the past and carry forward, but also some real need for new spaces and new ways of doing that. I had one.
Katherine (42m 36s):
Yeah, I mean, go ahead. Oh, sorry. No, good turn. Well, I, I mean, it's quite exciting in lots of ways because actually we do get to, to carry some things forward. But we, you know, we are being offered at the moment a global perspective composed of millions and billions of voices that we've never had the opportunity to really hear before. you know, like one of the really painful things about that experience is we can't possibly process the level of pain we are hearing, you know, and, and the kind of multiplicity of that But I, I think is, is mostly really good.
Katherine (43m 17s):
Like, even though we're overwhelmed by it, even though we don't always react well in the face of it initially, even though we don't know what to do with it, we are feeling that that calling of humanity on a global scale. And it, it's actually really exciting to make new practice within that.
Amy Julia (43m 35s):
Well, and that, that leads me to what I guess at this point will be my final thought or question for you. This is a quotation from the middle of the book. Talking to God does not require faith but practice. It is a doing rather than a believing and act of devotion reciprocated in the same way it is made mutely through the hands and the feet, the myriad attentions of the body. And I wondered if you could just say a little bit about that sense of not needing faith and belief, but practice and devotion. And there's some, it seems regularity and I don't know, I guess I also think there is some faith in practicing something like kind of inherent within it, but not Yeah, sure.
Amy Julia (44m 24s):
Not the same type of faith as that, which is believing a set of propositions about a divine being. I get that, but yeah. What, yeah,
Katherine (44m 32s):
That's right. Yeah, that's,
Amy Julia (44m 33s):
Yeah. Yeah. Can you just say a little bit more as we kind of come to a close here, but about what it looks like to continue to practice these acts of devotion in and through our bodies and in and through our attention, and how that actually is a crucial aspect to Enchantment.
Katherine (44m 57s):
Yeah. So, so what I was talking about in that passage was the challenge of the challenge that I faced of having this profound sense that there was a God, but not having any knowledge or understanding of what that meant, you know, and not having any kind of fixed meaning about what that God thought or like wanted me to do, or, or the form that that, that they took, you know. And so I found that I could, that the best thing I could do was just to keep returning to that sense of something sentient being there and abandoning the fixed, you know, the desire towards fixed meanings around it.
Katherine (45m 45s):
And also thinking about how an entity like that would receive my communication. And I didn't think it would simply be through words, you know, I, I felt like there were other ways to worship and to pray and to make contact with that sense of prayerfulness rather than prayer as a, as an object. And so, yeah, I think, and I think you are right, it takes a kind of faith to keep returning to, to enacting that But I also think that there's a, there's a direct contact there that, that isn't intermediated with words or beliefs.
Katherine (46m 29s):
And so I find that I need a sense of faith much less, because actually I feel the physical pulled towards it. I feel that direct communication and that direct bodily need for that immersion in, in that bigger sense of consciousness or sentience and my connect and like, you know, my absolute connection to that rather than my separateness from it. Hmm. I dunno if I'm expressing that very well, it's quite hard to explain.
Amy Julia (46m 59s):
No, I think you are, and I, and it's interesting because I think for me, you know, as someone who comes from a very particularly Christian perspective, there's still so much about what you've written that rings so true, including this, that, you know, I certainly as a kid going to church did have a set of beliefs. And on some level I could still say that that is true. It, it's not as though I no longer believe almost everything I would've said I believed, you know, 30 years ago. And yet it is more the, the putting that into practice and for me, this expanding ever expanding sense of that what that sentience and consciousness and connection and invitation into that connection that is always going to be beyond my comprehension and yet feels also more intimately present.
Amy Julia (47m 56s):
Even if I feel like in some ways, I would say when I was 12 and going through confirmation class and like giving the right answers, I had more, yes, I felt like I had more comprehension than I do now. But I now would say having walked with an expanding sense of God's love, of the presence of, you know, what I would call the spirit of God and of the life of Jesus. All of those things have actually have decreased my comprehension, but expanded, yes.
Katherine (48m 32s):
Amy Julia (48m 32s):
Sense of kinda intimate belonging, you know, so that's where I just really connected to that sense of talking to God does not require faith, but practice and, and that sense of being yeah. Present to an unknowable and yet intimate being who
Katherine (48m 54s):
Yeah. you know?
Amy Julia (48m 55s):
Yeah. Who is always there.
Katherine (48m 58s):
I love the idea that as we get older, we can deepen our relationship with that, you know, with that, that sense, you know, that, that actually it takes experience to keep returning to it, but also that we can get much more comfortable with uncertainty and, and not knowing as we get older. Whereas maybe as children we want to master it very quickly. And, and actually I've learnt to let go of my own mastery of anything as I've got older and, and that's a real pleasure. Yeah.
Amy Julia (49m 29s):
I know. There's so much I wish I could go back and give to my teenage self, including the need to get it all right. But, I, that's just part of the journey, so
Katherine (49m 40s):
Amy Julia (49m 42s):
Well, Katherine, thank you so much for your time and for this book. It's such a gift. And I know it will be something that I go back and reread and pass along to other people because there's so much in it that is Yeah. That awakens wonder, and I'm really grateful for it. Thank you.
Katherine (50m 2s):
Thank you so much. It was so lovely to talk to you.
Amy Julia (50m 8s):
As always. Thank you for listening to this episode of Love is Stronger Than Fear. We rely on you to spread the word about this podcast. So think of someone who would enjoy this conversation and send it their way. Go ahead and give it a rating or a review and contact me if there's something you wanna say. If you wanna suggest a guest, or if you wanna just respond to some of the thoughts that you heard here today. My email is Amy Julia Becker writer gmail.com. I also wanna thank Jake Hanson for editing this podcast. Amber Beery my social media coordinator for doing all the things to make sure that it comes out into the world in a, a good shape. And finally, as you go into your day today, I hope you'll carry with you the peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.