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asceticism

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  • Mathew Morrell
    If 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 21, 2006
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      If 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 C├ęzanne. 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.

      Mathew Morrell
      www.kcpost.net
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