- Feb 21, 2006If you read RS discussion forums, you'd think Steiner was anti-
ascetic. It is true Steiner spoke against false asceticism, but
people seem to forget, or they ignore, Steiner also encouraged a
disciplined life style that includes spiritual training. He never
fell into the trap of believing that simply thinking infinite
thoughts, or simply existing in a state of beingness, is enough.
Steiner stresses the fact that effort is required to bridge the
imagination (the astral body) with the physical body. In that way
what is gained from the soul-spiritual realm has resonance within the
self, which is the aim of spiritual evolution.
If you study the lives of great artists, you'll notice that in their
early years---late teens or early twenties, before they
become "great"---they either have asceticism thrown upon them by fate
(Van Gogh, Rimbaud) or their asceticism is self-willed (Goethe,
Nijinsky). At some point they endure hardship, in which they battle
some physical discomfort or another: hunger, poverty, etc. In the
process they gain control over their lower impulses.
If, by good fortune, they come from middle class families---like
Nietzsche---asceticism is consciously willed. In Nietzsche's student
years, for instance, while obsessed with Schopenhaurian philosophy,
he lived alone in a small apartment, disciplining his intellect as
strongly as he disciplined his body; devising strange exercises
wherein he remained wakeful for long hours of time. In the military
his natural asceticism came in handy. Something in him (destiny)
understood the enormous task that he had to accomplish in his
lifetime, and that this task required super human strength. No
barrier---ill-health, poverty, cold, loneliness---impeded him so much
that he was unable to remain creative.
Although Van Gogh never disciplined his intellect, as Nietzsche did,
Van Gogh did master his feeling-nature. Uninterested in intellectual
disciplines, like math or philosophy, Van Gogh focused almost
entirely on conveying thoughts that are without language components;
not separation, but the wholeness of nature inspired his creative
impulse. In time he developed a feel for landscape paintings that is
unparalleled, save by nature mystics.
The un-willed poverty that he endured was a brand of asceticism of
the purest variety. His asceticism was a genuine desire to live "the
life of an artist," not to be a famous painter, but to be a mystic
who painted. He totally subjected himself to the formless current of
life that imbues simple peasant living, a feeling of almost childlike
reassurance in the cosmos. His figures aren't angular; they contain
only a minimal geometric quality. The skies, rivers, roads, farmland
of the French countryside are painted like interacting fields of
energy, all in harmony with each other, with no clean divisions.
What we're seeing is universal wholeness---reality through the eyes
of a saint.
But like Nijinsky, Van Gogh disciplined his feelings at the expense
of irradiating the life of thought. His letters to Theo show an
almost obsessive anti-intellectual contempt for thought or any
pursuit that inspired abstraction. The consequence was that he lived
a sort of life devoid of objective self-analysis. Van Gogh didn't
know he was. At least Nijisnky knew that he was great, and that his
ballets would be played long after he died. "I am god in flesh,"
Nijinsky repeated in his diary. "I am god in flesh."
Van Gogh didn't understand his greatness any more than his friends or
family did. When he painted "Starry Night," he knew it was possessed
by greatness, but then he returned to his cottage, drank and
quarreled with Cézanne. No matter how high he reached in his
artistic life, his life of normalcy remained dreary and incomplete.
Townspeople knew him as a rather pathetic, grouchy, ill-tempered
characters totally dissimilar to the life-affirming spirit of his
art. Van Gogh successfully conquered "the thought riddled nature,"
but he also relinquished his mind in the process.
No one has so completely destroyed "the thought riddled nature" as
Van Gogh. Hemmingway tried, but failed miserably. TE Lawrence
tried, but failed as well. Hemmingway required big game hunting,
war, blood sports, and alcohol, to gain relief from his thought
riddled nature. TE Lawrence used alcohol, fast speeds and women.
But ultimately their ends were self-determined. All three committed
mind-suicide, first. Then came attrition. Van Gogh with a blast to
his chest. TE Lawrence by crashing his motorcycle. Hemmingway by
blowing his lid.
Asceticism must not only occur on the physical and emotional realm,
nor in the intellectual realm either, but in all three
simultaneously. Thinking, willing, feeling must be incorporated into
a somewhat harmonious relationship, or else lopsidedness is the
result. Nijinsky and Van Gogh felt too much, and lived in the
darkness of their feelings, lacking all but a minimal amount of self-
knowledge. Hemmingway, Lawrence, Nietzsche thought too much; they
lost the ability to live; that is, lost their ability to appreciate
life outside the mind. Their thoughts were their reality.
Hemmingway spent years in the countryside, but never accepted it, as
it is, in itself, thus his addiction to hunting and fishing. He
could never accept his beingness. Van Gogh's voyages through the
countryside achieved a level of spiritual satisfaction that is simply
impossible for the writer of "For Whom the Bell Tolls," a novel that
takes place in the mountains, but requires war to make them real.
Once thought separate itself from the object, thoughts turns upon
thought; a kind of insanity is the result. The mental life becomes
devoid of soul-full self reflection. Blake wrote that when thought
turns upon thought, love will show its roots in the deepest hell.
This is certainly the case of the over-abstracted intellect.
Thoughts assume a quality detached from reality, and are subject to
the Luciferic powers of deception and hallucinations.