Castles in the Sky
The reason I write
Sometimes I read something so profound I have to stop reading and stare into the distance. I need to give the idea space to unfold. These moments of revelation are the reason I started writing: to share them, to help others find them, and to build a community around them.
As I wrote, I began searching for ways to express this idea. I was excited when I discovered the term “psychological richness.” It was created by psychology researchers to describe one of three qualities, alongside happiness and meaning, that people feel defines a good life. The researchers describe a psychologically rich life as one full of complex, novel, and perspective-changing experiences.
I felt seen and understood by these researchers. “Psychological richness” gave me a vocabulary to share the way I see the world, but it was lacking something big. The way psychological richness shows up in my life is through powerhouse experiences that are visceral and immediate, but also dreamy and grandiose. I was looking for a more poetic term, one that would cut to the bone of what I meant without being so literal that nobody could remember it.
I enlisted the help of another writer to name that feeling. He got right to the real question:
“What do you want your readers to take away from your writing?”
I struggled to answer. I talked a lot but said little. One idea knocked at the back of my head but I ignored it. After nearly an hour with no progress, I came clean and shared the image and phrase that I could not shake:
“Castles in the sky.”
He asked me to elaborate and the words poured out:
“Imagine you’re walking along, minding your business, watching where your feet are going to step next, and someone tells you there’s a castle in the sky. You arch your neck and look up. Half obscured by clouds, there it is: a massive castle, improbably high, immensely beautiful, defying understanding. As you observe it, your breath catches in your chest and you stop walking. Nothing else is important. You must stop and take it in. You continue to stare and become familiar with it. Your mind measures the edges of it, follows the contours, puts it together, and–although still exciting, still raising questions, still dazzling–it is now of the world, and you cannot imagine otherwise. No less startling than an instant before, it has nonetheless now changed how you understand the world, and where you stand in it.
There is so much truth, beauty, and humor to life, and my experience of these things compounds as I embrace novel, complex, perspective-changing experiences. When I get hit by that feeling, something happens in my mind and I have to stop and stare into space because I need somewhere to let the awesome power of the idea unfold. Like when a dam breaks and water rushes through a valley, I have to stop and let the idea overwhelm my mental landscape, rushing in every direction and reshaping my understanding of the world. The idea unfolding is familiar but implausible, awe-inspiring, like a castle in the sky.”
Castle in the Sky is a metaphor for a new idea so powerful that it changes the way we see the world. It is both visceral and immediate, but also dreamy and grandiose.
But seeing castles in the sky is not an idea or a lesson–it is not something entirely intellectual. It is more sensual. It teaches you something, but transcends memorization or association: it is often something from nothing. More often than not, people who embark on journeys of self-discovery do so after seeing a castle in the sky. People who change the world and do great, enviable things often do so after seeing a castle in the sky.
And this is why I write: to share stories and ideas that promote changing the world and finding yourself. I write to build a community of driven, hopeful, passionate, curious people–people living their life as explorers, as introspective as they are intrepid. I write to build castles in the sky.
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Beautiful sentiments, Charlie. Is Thought Bananas becoming Castles in the Sky?
This is beautiful. You put in words a feeling-more than a feeling, an experience-that is often inexplicable, one that sets apart some from others, one that is also the reason I write. Castles in the sky. I love it.
There’s a trance song by Ian Van Dahl from around 2000 (showing my age here) of the same name, that gives me the same visceral reaction when I hear it, because it comes from a time when I saw my first Castle in the Sky. Thank you for that memory this morning!