“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

European Preview

The sky is growing bluer as my plane races eastward to greet the rising sun. Below me is the Gulf of Mexico, its sparkling surface now marred by slicks of oil that continue to gush from ruptured pipes along the seafloor. It won’t be long now before the orange glow rimming the horizon is pierced by sunlight, birthing a new day on this our wondrous but ailing planet.

My journey has begun: half spiritual pilgrimage, half worldly adventure, but as a whole something more mysterious than I can yet fathom is luring me to Europe. I await the revelations grace may bestow upon me this summer. I’ll be landing in Fort Lauderdale shortly, where I’ll stay for a few weeks to catch up with family and friends. I realize how much San Francisco has changed me only when I see myself through the eyes of those I left behind.

On June 19th, I fly to London. Upon landing, I immediately catch a train and head 3 hours southwest to the town of Totnes, where I begin a course at Schumacher College co-taught by Sean Kelly (a cultural historian and professor of mine from CIIS), Stephan Harding (ecologist and Gaia theorist), and Rupert Sheldrake (biologist known best for his theory of morphic resonance) called “Gaia theory and the Evolution of Consciousness.” After two weeks of study with these brilliant thinkers, I head to the airport a short distance away in Plymouth to catch a flight to Dublin. There, I’ll meet up with my friend Kelleigh, whose grace and joie de vivre will surely make this leg of the journey especially exciting. Theory will be put to practice in Ireland, as the Gaian ecology learned at Schumacher should give me a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the living landscape. After enjoying the culture (and Guinness!) of Dublin, we head south to the sacred ruins and protected valleys of Glendalough. I’ve recently been reading the story of St. Kevin, who was told by an angel to journey alone to the slopes of Glendalough, where after years of solitary prayer he learned to commune with otters in the lake and birds in the sky, beautifully exemplifying the intimacy with nature so characteristic of Celtic spirituality. The next leg of our Irish adventure takes us west toward Galway. From there, we’ll make our way down the coast by train or bus, stopping in pubs to meet locals and fellow travelers. Eventually, we’ll find ourselves on Dingle peninsula to hike the foothills and gaze across the Atlantic from the edge of seaside cliffs. On the 15th of July, we arrive in West Cork to farm with our WWOOF host, John Dolan, for about a week. Waking up before dawn to tend to the needs of the soil is something I crave, even if I’ll only get a small taste of what such a life in constant communion with the earth is like. From the Dolan farm, we head to Wexford county on the east coast of Ireland to camp and participate in a sustainability and survival skills workshop. That will bring our stay in the land of ire to an end, as we’ll hop on a ferry at the port and cross the sea to Wales. Once there, we’ll rent a car and drive to Brecon Beacon to hike and maybe even camp, then to the town of Hay-on-Wye, famous for its multitude of bookstores full of old classics. I’m on the lookout for some early printings of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, a book of poetic philosophy I’ll be drawing from for my dissertation. I imagine Kelleigh and I, bibliophiles that we are, will need to ship a box or two back to the States before we leave! Next, we head towards Glasonbury to soak in the ancient energies of Stonehenge, perhaps built by Druids, who perhaps had help from whatever is responsible for the regular appearance of crop circles in the area. Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to arrive at the right time to investigate a new one. Then, the first day or two of August, we drive to London to drop the car off and head our separate ways, Kelleigh to Belgium and I to Dornach, Switzerland. I’m attending an English language conference at the Goetheanum (world headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society) on the future of spirituality. The controversial esotericist and Sophiologist Sergei Prokofieff is the only lecturer on the schedule whose name I recognize, but my advisor at CIIS, Robert McDermott (author of The New Essential Steiner), who is well-known among Anthroposophists, assures me I will not be disappointed with the rest of the line up. Prokofieff is an outspoken critic of Valentin Tomberg, whose spiritual classic Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism (transl. by Robert Powell) has profoundly influenced me. I’ll be interested to hear the angle Prokofieff takes, as I’ve not yet read any of his work.

From Dornach, I head to Italy to visit Florence and Rome for a week each. I have to thank my friend Fr. Thomas Matus for drawing up an extensive itinerary for me during this leg of my journey. He lived for some time at the monastery of St. Gregory the Great in Rome and so knows the city and the culture quite well. There are too many highlights to mention now. I’ll have plenty to recount afterwards, I’m sure.

Rome is the end of the line. My flight back to Miami leaves out of London on the 23rd of August, but I might try to change it to fly out of Rome to save myself a train ride back to the UK. I’ll spend a day or two in South Florida and then fly back to San Francisco to get ready to drive to Nevada for Burning Man on the 30th. It’s my first burn, but I’ll be camping with a bunch of regulars, so I’ll probably survive!

I’ve been dreaming of this summer since my senior year of high school. I actually almost sold my car and dropped out my freshman year of college to backpack through Europe. I was fed up with the assembly-line education and military-industrial funding funneling into UCF. In hindsight, I’m glad I decided against it. I’m in a much better position now then I probably would have been.

The plane is making its final descent. The sun has risen. My summer is just beginning.





2 responses to “European Preview”

  1. Leland BeBee Avatar
    Leland BeBee

    Hi, Matthew!

    It’s a joy to see you so exuberant in anticipation of your trip! In the early sixties, I first saw the movie, “Auntie Mame.” Disturbingly familiar societal stereotypes populated the movie dramatically and humorously like a menagerie, but all were contrasted with the unforgettable, extraordinary, even outrageous, but always alluring title figure — who seemed to have just the right thing to say or do. For me, the most memorable line Auntie Mame spoke was this: “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” She offered it up not only as an admonition to those who were prepared to hear the message but also as an audacious encouragement for anyone who had the courage to break out of their particular mold and stop being a poor starving sucker.

    As I entered college, I was obsessed with the urge to travel, and had to suppress it, or I would have migrated, like some waterfowl with every change of seasons. I, too, had to wait awhile — maybe not so long as you have waited, though. Like you, I chose Europe, but for me the first trip was a grand tour of four-months’ length, followed by several other stints in the years to follow. In that first trip, I had destinations and goals. I had an ambitious plan. I had a banquet arrayed before me. The trip proved every bit the marvel I thought it would.

    But it proved MUCH, MUCH MORE. Although I made the trip totally without an intended companion, I never ended up alone — companions just appeared appropriately and amazingly all along the way — real companions, “birds of a feather,” spiritually speaking. More on that another time. And, there was an inner voice, which at first I thought was just my mind refining and redefining the itinerary — until I realized that the pattern of amazing meetings and events was quite beyond what I, alone, could have accomplished with logical projection. I discovered that something else was there — an ineluctable Guide I had not really comprehended had always been in my life, or lives — always and always — the Whisper that allowed me to recognize kindred spirits on first acquaintance, that suggested I take that train not this one on that day not this day, the murmur that said it was ok to stay at this person’s house or that particular monastery. Because I was open to spontaneous events, opportunity became as constant as daylight, and the journey was always richer and more colorful than I could ever have planned. You, Matthew, are certainly prepared and eager for such opportunity, so you are right to expect the unexpected, and should be listening for the Whispers of the Guide that will lead you to what you could never, in any reach of your consciousness, actually plan, and “spirit you away” to contexts and events that you probably most need to experience. I would not expect your “vacation” to involve any vacancy. People on quests may hunger and may go hungry, but they are never empty.

    I looked up a Tang Dynasty poem I had filed away a few years ago — I remembered the poem and particularly the first two lines — the poem and those two lines seem apropos to share with you as you embark. The author is Du Shenyan (645-708 AD). It is titled (with a meaning or two tucked in to be inferred), “On a Walk in the Early Spring Harmonizing a Poem by My Friend Lu Stationed at Changzhou.” Here it is:

    Only to wanderers can come
    Ever new the shock of beauty,
    Of white cloud and red cloud dawning from the sea,
    Of spring in the wild-plum and river-willow….
    I watch a yellow oriole dart in the warm air,
    And a green water-plant reflected by the sun.
    Suddenly an old song fills
    My heart with home, my eyes with tears.

    This poem evokes the spirit I pray you will have in your journey — the spirit of the wanderer. Another young man, once upon a time in the Southwestern Desert, quested for beauty and lived an adventure few of us can even imagine — Everett Ruess was his name, and now he is the stuff of legends. Because he and others like him dared the elements to experience life fully, he can be an inspiration but must also act as a caution. Ruess wrote: “I thought that there were two rules to life — never count the cost and never do anything unless you can do it wholeheartedly. Now is the time to live.” The first of his rules is where the caution arises — Ruess was one who “tested God,” who risked life and limb probably more than he needed (that old sense of invulnerability of youth, which I once definitely had, as well). He predicted that he could meet his end through a dangerous escapade one day, and foresaw that he might die on the altar of beauty and creativity. We don’t know if he died, because he disappeared without a trace. The second of his rules I definitely believe is valid — and a great sendoff for you — I probably don’t even need to say, “Do the trip wholeheartedly!” That’s where you seem to be as a person, anyway. And, yes, “now is the time to live.” NOW, now, always now.

    I’m sorry if I’ve exercised my thoughts too much here in your blog. I’m not sure what the etiquette or protocols are. I’ve never “blogged” before — never been inspired to join in this medium before I listened to a whisper the other day and arrived at your videos and your blog — at, in toto, your magnum opus of sharing and instruction — the patient expressions of a striving soul who my own soul gauges was born to serve. So, I hope you’ll indulge me just a few more thoughts.

    I learned from my actual travels, but more from the long caravan of all of the aspects of my life’s journey, that there is a truth that is cell-deep, mind-encompassing, and soulful — an understanding that I attempted to express in one of my European journals years ago, as follows: “Freedom is the Holy. Freedom is the Dream. Freedom is the Holy Dream.”

    So, dear friend, get on with the Holy Dream! Write poems! Sing songs! Let wonder nourish you! Stop, look, listen! Listen well! Really hear the heartbeat of the world and its creatures! Be the gentleman and the gentle soul you are! Be humble! Be patient! Be charitable! Be uplifting and encouraging! Integrate and create! Be free! All that you can do. All that you can be.

    तत् त्वम् असि

    Always and always,


    1. matthewdsegall Avatar

      Hey Leland,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and email. I am also grateful for your sage advice about my upcoming travels. I don’t have too much more to add at this point, but I look forward to future exchanges. The process of meeting people we’ve known before is certainly facilitated by the Internet, which has really become, at least for me, a sort of synchronicity engine. There have been so many nights when I’ll upload a video addressing a certain issue, only to find that several others also recorded videos addressing the same thing. I’ve almost gotten used to it now, and have to remind myself not to take it for granted!


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