Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Hove, Philo H. (1999). Wonder and the Agencies of Retreat. Unpublished Dissertation Edmonton: University of Alberta.


< Abstract >

Among the expressions of post-modernity in Western culture is an increasing engagement in meditation retreats. This dissertation examines the experiential dimensions of wonder in view of the intense environment of Buddhist “rnindfulness” (sati) practice. They are linked by virtue of wonder’s resonance with the insight(vipassana) such practice is understood to elicit which, in turn, invites an investigation of the pedagogy of retreat.


Wonder is identified by Plato to be philosophy’s true beginning and by Martin Heidegger as its sustaining passion1 wherein one confronts the unexpected strangeness of what is most ordinary – the fact that something is as it is. The mindfulness meditation retreat involves a social leave-taking in which qualities of silence and a disciplined attentiveness are fostered; Buddhist theory understands this practice to lead to definitive insights regarding the nature and diverse agencies – the ontological character – of experience.


This work introduces both wonder and mindfulness retreats through phenomenological narrative, before a more hermeneutically informed inquiry of each is undertaken. Meditation achieves an interrogation of habit that opens one to the lived-moment. In wonder our customary assumptions endure a marked rupture or crisis: neither one’s concepts of “self” nor “other” are indifferent to its thrall, such that an ethically charged interest can be awakened and one’s very identity put into question. Similarly, meditative insights reveal an agency beyond the horizons of will, wherein the lived-moment attains its own (extra)ordinary character. Mindfulness meditation may be regarded a method for promoting wonder; insight, as wonder’s culmination.


Teaching in the meditative environment is congenial to wonder/insight insofar as it encourages inner silence, attentiveness, and a deepening consent towards experiences-lived. In this way the meditation instructor practises an “anagogical” regard – i.e., teaching which accompanies (agogy) the practitioner back or anew (ana-) to the honest textures of what is present. My exploration of personal experience and interview material reveals such anagogy to be imbued with kindness and humility, and to be attuned to the enduring virtues of companionship along a curriculum vitae fully engaged in the myriad, unavoidable expressions of life to which our continual becoming makes us heir.