Michaela Maxwell is currently interning for the Blog of the APA as well as doing research for the Baha’i International Community’s office at the United Nations. She is majoring in South Asian Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont and is particularly interested in Buddhism as both an academic and personal pursuit.
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher or historical figure from any time, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?
I believe I would gain a lot from a conversation with the ancient Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna. One can read about what he thought and wrote about true or “ultimate” reality, but I would very much like to know what he felt about the nature of it. What does it feel like (for lack of adequate words) to attain enlightenment? I have this sense that ultimate reality must be an amorphous field “pulsating” with love, whence everything originates—not the kind of love that grasps to sensations, but a kind of love that can only be experienced through the realization that everything is ever-changing yet ever-connected.
What is your favorite sound in the world?
Laughter. It connects people. Laugh as often as possible.
What are your top three books of all time? Why?
I don’t have favorites, but here are three novels that have left their marks:
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, which inspired me to study Buddhism more formally.
Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak, Memory, in which he explores the blurred lines between autobiography and fiction, and between memory and fiction. Our memories are created by stringing together various perceptions into a “self” narrative. Thus, they can never reflect reality. Moreover, when we write autobiographies we further narrow our scope in order to tell a story with words that have no direct access to our memories let alone reality. Nabokov was a very poetic philosopher.
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Anyone who has ever desperately wanted to understand what is and isn’t reality, and anyone who has struggled to find meaning, will be able to relate to this book and its characters.
Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled and why?
I have travelled a lot in my 21 years of life, but the 10 months I spent in India and Nepal top everything else. Not because it was an otherworldly or “foreign” experience. On the contrary, I have never felt so alive, and I have never felt so connected to humanity and to the planet.
What is your personal Philosophy?
Love. Love everything. Love everyone, especially your enemy.
What’s your favorite quote?
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.
— Jack Kerouac, On the Road
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