Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On Seeing by the Light of Deity When the Van Goghing Gets Tough

My son is at that age in which he blurts out things that make you wonder, "where did that come from ?", since he didn't get it from us. A while back we were sitting on the couch, and he looks into my eyes and out of nowhere says, are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?

That was actually the purpose of my little query at the conclusion of yesterday's post. It wasn't to elicit testimonials for the blog, but to merely ask, "are you thinking what I'm thinking?" I mean, I just want to make sure I'm not the only one. You see, it's not always that easy to define these things when you're in the middle of them. Again, no one back in 1500 turned to his companion and said, "isn't it a hoot to be living in the Renaissance, what with this new emphasis on humanism, self-awareness, classical learning, and perspectival painting?"

Speaking of which. Schuon deplored what we call the "Renaissance," and thought that it represented a catastrophic turn toward the near total error (for him) of modernity. I want to be fair to him, but I don't have time to give a full explication of his views. However, I think it would be accurate to say that his main beef with the Renaissance was that it represented a rejection of celestial realities and divine mysteries for a reversion to paganism and an overemphasis on this world -- on glorification of the individual, an "art for art's sake," and a general fall from the cosmic center to the terrestrial periphery.

There is clearly a "world hating" theme that runs through Schuon, but it is difficult to say whether this was a cause or a consequence. In other words, we may simply be dealing with an issue of temperament, which is then clothed in metaphysics. For him God is all, and the world is an illusion. I wish I could find the quote, but I remember him saying words to the effect that "once a man realizes Truth, all that is left for him is to patiently await death."

Before you reject his view out of hand, I think that he's merely reflecting a deeper divide between what we might call "ascending" and "descending" spiritualities. While the former types are not excluded from Coondom, I think it is fair to say that most of us fall into the latter category, as I will proceed to explain. This was certainly the whole basis of Sri Aurobindo's approach, but more importantly, I think it is what largely distinguishes "American Christianity" from some of its other variants. Perhaps it is the "Judeo" aspect of our uniquely Judeo-Christian heritage, but America has spawned all sorts of spiritual movements aimed at transforming and redeeming this world, and living the Life Divine on the earth plane.

In contrast, I have read a lot of Orthodox writers who very much reflect Schuon's world-shunning view. For example, the Philokalia -- the handbook for serious Orthodox pneumanauts -- is pretty tough sledding if you have any attachment whatsoever to this world. It's not that it isn't valuable -- quite the opposite. It's just that it is so world-denying that it is a jolt to modern sensibilities, and to American ones in particular.

Similarly, I have tremendous respect for a Father Seraphim Rose, but he is another guy who was only interested in the ascending stairway out of this world. His spirituality -- which was rooted in that of the early Christian fathers -- involved an intense mortifiction, which, after all, is related to death (mort). For him, the idea was truly to crucify the ego with extreme prejudice and be dead to this world, in order to be "resurrected" in a higher world.

For those of you who have read my book, recall the symbols of the two arrows, the ascending (↑) and descending (↓). The only reason what we call "spirtuality" can exist is because of those two arrows which link the above and below. They can be looked at in different ways, one of which would be involution (the descending force) and evolution (the ascending force). The only reason God can be realized is that he is intimately involved in the world.

Now, I didn't expect to discover this, but you will notice in my sidebar that I am currently reading a book on the diametrically opposed Christian metaphysics that informed the painting of van Gogh and his friend Gauguin. I can't yet say that I recommend the book, since it is largely written in that dry academic style, and considers religion from a detached, sociological point of view, as if one were examining dead objects in a museum. Nevertheless, I have found parts of it to be most illuminating.

Let me just cut to the chase: both van Gogh and Gauguin received intense theological training early in their lives. In Gauguin's case, it was very much of the world-denying type. But in van Gogh's case, it was quite the opposite, with an explicit emphasis on appreciating the immanent divinity of this world, which is simply a "veil" of God.

Gauguin's painting reflects a rejection of this fallen world and an attempt to escape upward, while van Gogh's reflects nothing less than the divinization of matter (↓), which, as we shall see, was central to Aurobindo's mission as well. But I also believe that the latter is more true to Christianity, for example, with the Transfiguration, in which Jesus' material body is transfigured into pure light; instead of ascending to heaven, you might say that heaven descends into Jesus, which is a critical point to bear in mind for later. At any rate, van Gogh was quite consciously attempting to do the same thing with his painting, i.e., to transfigure matter with divine light.

Both men received religious training, but in Gauguin's case it centered around the idea that material reality was hopelessly corrupted and "even perfidious," whereas van Gogh was the beneficiary of a new attitude that "placed a special emphasis on the arts as evocative forms of an immanent divinity." Its goal was to "render the infinite tangible" by "embedding the sacred in the stuff of matter and the faces of ordinary people."

In contrast, Gauguin's quest for the sacred led him in the opposite direction: "to dematerialize the physical surface of the canvas as much as possible" in order "to efface the distance between a deficient material world and the ineffable world of dream and the divine." In fact, you may have noticed that many of Gauguin's paintings are as flat and aperspectival as an Orthodox icon -- and for the same reason.

The differences may be summarized as follows: Gauguin sought to dematerialize nature in a "flight to metaphysical mystery," whereas van Gogh sought to naturalize divinity in service of what he called "a perfection that renders the infinite tangible to us."

Elsewhere van Gogh wrote of a "longing for the infinite" in the form of a "permanent, eternal order beneath the surface of appearances" or an "indivisible union of the tangible and the infinite." Importantly, this was a realization, only a descending one. His desire was not to "overcome" matter, but again to "disentangle" the sacred from the profane and mundane. For example in his famous painting of The Sower, he "flooded the picture plane with a dense, materialized light that penetrated every bit of ground and grain":


Wo. You can say that again. The point is, both men saw painting as a mediator of divinity, but in opposite ways. van Gogh "longed for the infinite" in this world (↓). As he wrote, "I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize."

Which is another interesting point. The kind of traditional painting which Schuon championed was symbolic in nature, using objective symbols such as the halo to convey a spiritual reality. But van Gogh wished to directly convey the reality beneath the symbol, which Schuon would have objected to as a potentially self-indulgent flight into subjectivity. And you can again appreciate his point, since that is largely what modern art has become: totally detached from the objective spiritual plane, and a celebration of nothing more than the artist's own warped subjectivity. Nothing is less real than mere reality -- unless it is mere subjectivity divorced from the objective (i.e., transcendent) Real.

In Gauguin's case, he wrote of art as an abstraction from nature as a means of "rising toward God" (↑). His goal was to "seek transcendence and the mediation of an ideal, a supernatural realm extending beyond perceptual experience." You might say that van Gogh wishes to make the invisible visible, while Gauguin wishes to make the visible invisible. His "intentional anti-perspecivism formalized the drift of the natural into the supernatural arena," as the way of "mounting toward God" and seeing beyond the "contingencies of matter."

I could go on -- an exact account of their differing theological training is quite interesting in its own right -- but I think I've established my preluminary point.

Which is what?

It is this. Yesterday we spoke of the higher mind, or the "mind of light." The point is, this is not exactly a transcendent flight from, or denial of, this world, a la Buddhism or "ascending" Christianity. Rather, it is precisely the descent of the divine light into our own earthly home, which is to say, our heads. And it is as American as an Apple iPod.

And the other point is this. Yes, matter is an "obstacle" to spiritual realization. Which is why so many illustrious pneumanauts of the past just bypassed it altogether as hopelessly impervious and resistant to the Light. But the Raccoon takes that as a challenge.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Give me transfiguration or give me death! In a manner of speaking. Or painting. Or blogging.

For the whole of being is a connected totality and there is in it no abrupt passage from the principle of Truth and Light into their opposite.... The depths are linked to the heights, and the Law of the one Truth creates and works everywhere. --Sri Aurobindo

Here are some Coons of the ascending type:

62 Comments:

Anonymous Aquila said...

Gagster,

Have you ever heard of the "Death to the World group? They're a bunch of former punk rockers who embraced Orthodox Christian spirituality, and see Fr. Seraphim Rose as a major influence. Reading their stuff, you really see the parallels between the type of world-denying aspects of Orthodox Christianity, and the more nihilistic strains of the counterculture (Fr. Seraphim himself was an ex-beatnik.)

Another example of this sort of hipster-cum-renunciate spirituality is the so-called Dharma Punx Buddho-punk movement. This one, however, is far bigger and better known, and as a result, crosses over heavily into trendy Westernized pseudo-Buddhism, many of whose adherents are the most worldly people imaginable (on YouTube there's a series of badly-taped onstage exchanges between Dharma Punx head-guy Noah Levine and the execrable Mark "The Pope is at War with my Dildoes" Morford.)

9/09/2008 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Right stuck to the ceiling, they are.

By the way, one person I spoke to warned against 'being more Orthodox than the Fathers'. I think if there will be any reason that dear Rose will not be canonized it will be for that reason.

Allow me to explain. In telling the lives of the Fathers, like, St. Anthony, my patron, we find that what is important is not just the holy man who is written about, but the man who does the writing.

I think you had said before that beautiful soul can only be recognized in the reflection of one's own soul's beauty, i.e. that deep calls out to deep. The problem with much of Hagiography is that while in spirit it is true; that is, it writes about a holy person with respect for their unique experience of God. You also see through them the many colors of the rainbow of the grace of God; how different each man is.

With the Life of Antony, we are blessed to have a holy man of one type writing about a holy man of another type. But within this intense mirror chamber we see that they are essentially alike; Antony can only be seen to be world-affirming through the eyes of a man as beautiful in soul as he. For his disposition hid his love for the Cosmos and created order. Athanasius was listening carefully to his Spiritual father, and heard him when he said things like, "Wherever you find yourself, do not leave there quickly."

And so this is my point, I suppose. We are not just called to transfigure our souls so we can chill in paradise, but we are called to do works in faith which transform this world into the world to come. If men had not already been doing this we would not have been born, most likely.

In the Orthodox way there are many paths; For instance there is the very basic difference between the monastic path and the non-monastic path. There is the clerical and the non-clerical, the marital and the celibate, and so forth. But there are many other subtleties. Some saints are what I would call loners, who are called to go out alone and live 'with God as Adam did'. You will hear that same Father warning his Monks to live in community, but also to care for and give to those who live as hermits. And there are so many more distinctions who are 'of the Lord', but who are as 'numerous as the sands' but are invisible to the naked eye; carrying water like ordinary men.

I tend to think of the Eastern religions as a wheel in the sky, and the western ones as digging in the dirt; and true Christianity stemming from where the 'rubber met the road' - where the wheel touched down and started going somewhere.

With the Philokalia, I think we always must search for the essence or spirit of the words, since we (most of us anyway) are not monks. It is written for monks. What does it mean for a father and mother with child to 'renounce all worldly goods'?

An esoteric question!

9/09/2008 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

correction to my ramble here:

"The problem with much of Hagiography is that while in spirit it is true; that is, it writes about a holy person with respect for their unique experience of God[, is that it is often written by a person who does not fully comprehend the holiness of the person of whom they speak.]

9/09/2008 08:32:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Q: River, could you stop double-posting?

A: B-b-but I wanted to recommend this podcast!

Q: We can dig it.

9/09/2008 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

River,

If the "ceiling" comment was aimed at the DTTW crowd, I'd have to agree.

I think much of their extremism is informed not only by Fr. Rose, but also by the purist/hardcore ethos of punk, which can become as rigidly absolutist as any ideology or theology you'd care to name. Too, many people in both DTTW and Dharma Punx are recovering junkies, alkies, and other grossly-dysfunctional types, who probably need some sort of self-denying, mortifying discipline to function without indulging their addictions, and to provide an overarching purpose in life.

BTW, nice analogy about Eastern v Western religion.

9/09/2008 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

I would suggest that Schuon's thought was not world shunning, but worldliness shunning, which is quite a different animal. Certainly, he saw the cycle of the earth as winding down, based on holy writ (hindu scriptures), but in practice, and in his writings of his last 20 years or so, he hardly gave the end of the world a thought or a drop of ink.
Also, though your large strokes of comments about his views on art are correct, it is odd that you oppose him to Van Gogh and Gaugin, which, are, to say the least--since stylistically his own paintings owe much to them, exceptions which prove the rule, in his mind.
Schuon was ever aware of possibilities within the modern world for beauty and sanctity, however rare, and he fully acknowledged them. Van Gogh and Gaugin were prime examples of this to him, in the domain of art, as were Napoleon and Lincoln in the domain of military and politics.

9/09/2008 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Mike L said...

Bob:

Speaking of "ascending" and "descending" spiritualities, you might be interested in how Benedict XVI explicitly handles that theme in the first part of his enyclical Deus Caritas Est.

Best,
Mike

9/09/2008 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Joseph:

I am aware that Schuon approved of certain works of Gauguin, but he seems to have been more ambivalent about Van Gogh, writing that the spiritual qualities in his paintings were only "partial," and were noteworthy for a style in which "normally intelligent men sell their souls to a creative activity which no one asks of them and of which no one has any need."

9/09/2008 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

And perhaps I'm a philistine, but I'll take Van Gogh's paintings over Schuon's any day. But of course, I like Sonny Rollins more than Bach, so there you go...

9/09/2008 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ascending and descending pathways can be done simultaneously; we can aspire to be taken up by the Lord into her arms while at the same time we desire her grace to descend into ours. We meet in the middle; in physical space, this would be just over our heads. That is the meeting place.

9/09/2008 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

Didn't Dr. J play for the philistines?

I think Schuon was always careful in his writings to not give any openings for modernism--kind of like you and Democrats:) You can see in his style, though, Van Goghian (if that is a word) influence, and that was certainly concious, which reveals volumes.
I have to agree with your taste, however. But even with Beethoven, Schuon, referred to it as music which, strictly speaking, has no right to exist. I can't even venture what he would have thought of Junior Brown!

9/09/2008 09:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the problem is not whether a certain tradition was exclusively world-denying/ascending or world-embracing/descending. We don't know what kind of world in which those traditions arose, even though we may have a very good idea.

When I read Schuon's work, maybe it's my temperament, but I did not find it world-denying at all. I thought he was describing a higher world in the most concrete, worldly terms, and the overall effect was to achieve ethereality with rocks and mud. The difficult passages forced my mind to see and feel this material world from another perspective that was quite unreal.

Anyway, what's important is: what world does the aspirant live in now, and what kind of tradition is most suited for him?

For me it's sad to see Westerners who blindly reject Christianity and flock to Buddhism and worship those lamas as if they were god incarnate. I mean we don't show that kind of emo-hysterical veneration towards Catholic bishops.

But then the deeply ingrained, consumerist and materialist Western world may need an exclusively ascending tradition as a counter-weight. Third world countries are embracing Catholicism in droves because of its friendly attitude towards the matter and these countries frankly need basic material development for basic sustenance.

As for Sri Aurobindo, I see that he was deeply immersed in Western education, which was quite materialistic. Then his imprisonment resulted in an unexpected spiritual retreat, cut off from the world, totally ascending. Afterwards he was then thoroughly prepared to marry Heaven and Earth by bringing Heaven right here, right now.

I think most of us need a jolt of total ascending training just loosen us from the materialism and scientism, especially those Lefties. But then their unprepared minds might just destroy them under such pressure.

9/09/2008 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I've never seen Schuon's paintings, so can't speak to them. But I do like Van Gogh, very much. I always hated Gaugin. First, just on general artistic principles (the flatness, etc.), then after I learned that he abandoned his family to ogle and paint topless island girls, well... he just came across as a jackass.

For some reason, when I was in college Van Gogh didn't get much play in my art history classes. They'd cover "the Potato Eaters" and one or two others, but that's it. Out of a body of hundreds of paintings, it hardly seems adequate.

"Van Gogh "longed for the infinite" in this world (↓). As he wrote, "I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize.""

I don't think I knew that about him, but it's something I've long wanted to convey in my own art, and why I sometimes like the use of primary colors over realism.

Incidentally, thanks for explicating the ascending/ descending distinction. I read that (in the Perry) yesterday with a bit of a mental question mark.

Also, I know I said I wouldn't mention it again, but I'm still kind of hoping some other folks want to play. But that really is the last time.

9/09/2008 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

anon:

I think you will see that that is precisely what I laid out in my book: up, out, down, and in.

9/09/2008 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Which is also why the book circles back around from ascent to creation....

9/09/2008 09:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Its odd I feel completely out of the intellectual league here, but from a completely different angle I've been struggling with the question of how much to participate in this world. I feel ecstatic union by withdrawing from the world to the barest levels and living a responsible hermit life. I'm left dumbfounded and fullfilled in a simple existence and I struggle to even keep up with the flow of modern life. Yet I can see that many here are able to somehow bring light into dense matter and find deepest fullfillment in doing so.

I think as River suggests each soul may have a different temperment and different purpose. It may not be for us to decide what is a right path for one and a wrong for another. I tend to believe that within the the heart are all our answers, as it is our source of contact with the infinite. I don't mean to sound generic or cheasy but listening as deeply as possible to this is probably good advice for all. As such there might be some inclined to a more active world embracing ascent and others a more solitary ascent. I think what is important is that the religion helps the person taking either of these paths.

9/09/2008 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Even when the going is toughest it is still possible to perceive the supernatural light:

"The rain came straight down that day. There was no wind. As I walked down the sidewalk I noticed the rainwater running off the trees and the buildings and moving down the gutter to the drains that would take it on to the harbor and on to the sea. And that water was, for only a minute or so before it ran clear, gold."

9/09/2008 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

your "isn't it a hoot" line recalls Tom Verlaine's
The Bastard's Tale, Part 2:
'Now remember, the year is 1714,
And we're enjoying our new inventions,
Whatever those were...'

9/09/2008 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Nick,
"I'm left dumbfounded and fullfilled in a simple existence and I struggle to even keep up with the flow of modern life. Yet I can see that many here are able to somehow bring light into dense matter and find deepest fullfillment in doing so."

Being something of a natural hermit myself, a lot of times I have a deep longing to just withdraw; move to a little cabin on the edge of nowhere and just forget about everything/one else except DH and the dogs. But the reality is, that's not going to happen soon, or maybe ever, and so my job is to participate in the life I have right here and now, while still being an extreme seeker. In a lot of ways, withdrawal would be an easy way out; the real challenge, the object of the adventure, is to be able to feel communion even in the midst of the messiest, most distracting aspects of modern life (I'm not saying I succeed at that, by the way, but I do try to strive for it, when I remember to). Because O is there, just as much as in the stillness and quiet; it can't not be so.

Real life, especially with activated cOOnvision, is not for the faint of heart. But I don't - can't - believe that for most people, this precious gift of life is something to be reviled and mortified while we wait to go back to heaven. If that's the case, what's the point of being born?

9/09/2008 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I am reminded of the great Sun Ra, who also never felt comfortable in this world. Another jazzman, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, reflected similar interplanetary sentiments:

"The main thing is I'm here because I did something wrong on my planet. I'm not really from this planet. I did something wrong on my planet and they sent me here to pay my dues. I figure pretty soon my dues will be paid, and they're going to call me home so I can rest in peace.

"I know I'm not from this planet. I can't be. I must be from someplace else in the universe because I'm a total misfit. I can't get with none of this."

9/09/2008 10:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Norman Vincent Peale once wrote

"The trials of life are meant to make you, not to break you."

Heavy contact with life develops soul-power. Earth is the only field of play for this.

If you're going to eat here, it is recommended to order the full plate of angst and chaos. Very full-filling.

Sure you can just nibble the hors de ourvres, but that's not making the most of the opportunity.

Wade in and suffer, tyro. That's what you're here for.

9/09/2008 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Hm.

9/09/2008 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Oh, that can't be good.

Is there anything science can't do for us?

9/09/2008 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matter can be seen as a spiritual obstacle, but another point of view is that matter is essential for the enlargment of the spirit/soul.

We come here to be hammered by time against the anvil of matter, shaping us into something new, better, and useful.

We are sandblasted by adversity, painted by pleasures, chiseled by relationships and family and jobs, into fantastic new shapes.

And we get to take it with us; our new, better souls return to the afterlife with permanant gains from earthly life.

While one is on the anvil, it can be frightening, but the anvil is the only place where change can occur.

Or so I parse it.

9/09/2008 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

~ Poetic, Musical Interlude ~

a moments divine
what rapture serene
to clouds came along
to disperse the joys we had tasted
and now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted
I know but too well what they mean

so don't let them begin the beguine
let the love that was once a fire
remain an ember
let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember
when they begin the beguine

oh yes let them begin the beguine
make them play
til the stars that were there before
return above you
till you whisper to me
once more darling I love you
and we suddenly know what heaven we're in
when they begin
the beguine

~Cole Porter

From the top Artie Shaw

9/09/2008 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"In other words, we may simply be dealing with an issue of temperament, which is then clothed in metaphysics. For him God is all, and the world is an illusion."

Isn't that what Gnosticism says? I don't get gnosticism from your Schuon quotes, though. He sounds very similar to orthodox Christian theology to me, from the snippets I've read.

(Forgive me, I'm slow.)

9/09/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Well, the purpose of religion, at least as understood by the fathers, was fourfold: Firstly to restore man's relationship to God, Secondly to restore his relationship to his fellow man, third to his self, and fourth to the world.

I think the order I've made is roughly correct, though not exclusively 'step-like'.

The ascending/descending thing doesn't seem like such a big deal to me; I'm reminded of Jacob's dream where the angels are ascending and descending a ladder (which symbolizes the Theotokos, who in turn represents us.)

9/09/2008 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

River says: do works in faith which transform this world into the world to come. If men had not already been doing this we would not have been born, most likely.

This is profound and something I am too inarticulate to express. When I look at the modern world, I see the Kingdom coming. In many ways this is kind of like a millennial age, especially when you consider how much has changed since the Cross.

As a member of evangelical, more or less fundamentalist churches, I've heard that in the last days perilous times will come, as if that means things would spiral down into destruction. Yes, evil will get worse. I believe that is true. But good will also get better. There still has to be a Singularity when we get a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, but our works of faith move us toward that.

Again, I cannot adequately express what I think I understand.

9/09/2008 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Joseph said: I can't even venture what he would have thought of Junior Brown!

No, Joseph, but the important question is what Junior thinks of Schuon.

9/09/2008 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Mushroom, the end times have been here since the day of Pentecost. John says, "We know that the end times are here because many antichrists already among us."

The millenial/evangelicals are dead wrong about this one, allow me to say. The Kingdom has come, and is yet to come, at the same time. Thus the end times are here and are coming.

The book of Revelation is mysterious and infathomable, and those who try to map it out do so at their own peril.

9/09/2008 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Hmmm. "...ogle and paint topless island girls..."

I'm having a little trouble seeing the problem with this.

Got pictures?

9/09/2008 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous bob f. said...

The final line in Rose's slim volume, Nihilism: "Nothing less than Hell is worthy of man, if he is not worthy of Heaven."

An extreme position, but then so is death.

9/09/2008 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

julie, regarding withdrawing as taking the easy way out. First off it isn't that easy to do and is filled with rewarding challenges. I've always found growing hunting and storing my own food a great challenge and a very rewarding learning process, but like you it is more of an idea and far less of a reality as I'm totally ensnared in the modern world.
It came to me over lunch that it is the pointlessness in my day to day struggles that causes me to seek a withdrawal. I don't think of myself as a coward and in the past I've always dug into life extra deep muck and all, it just seems all the battles right now are so frivolous and shrill that my efforts seem wasted. Anybody else feel this? Perhaps my withdrawal is part of a process to gain better cOOnvision?

9/09/2008 12:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the anon who commented on Sri Aurobindo. Forgot to sign my name.

I knew what I wrote sounded pretty good - I must have assimilated it from reading One Cosmos and other spiritual books!

Further rambling inspired by Van Goghing post.

I personally don't like to reduce any tradition to ascending or descending labels, though there is some merit to that.

I think it's because the exoteric or public face of each tradition emphasizes one or the other.

Exoteric Christianity is about charity work and helping others materially and physically (descending). Its esoteric core hides wonderful ascending practices that are only beginning to be revealed to the secular world (especially Orthodox practices).

Exoteric Buddhism seems to be all about ascending via meditation and scripture, but esoteric Buddhism, such as the inner side of Zen, puts a lot of emphasis on utter ordinariness of life, especially daily labor. Arrow can be released with or without spirit. It has a marine like edge to its training that toughens up the aspirant to be strong and committed to life, to engage with life without holding back.

But New Agey world - oh Lord! It inculcates narcissism through oh I am spiritual so I am holier than those who aren't spiritual - because I go to a seminar. It goes against the world - who cares about the lives of poor and suffering beings when all I care about is how I feel and how I must take care of this body through spa, vegetarianism and yoga?

Another tangent: if I were in a rough spot, who should I call - Obama or Palin? Do I have to answer such an obvious question?


Another Bob

9/09/2008 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

Yes, but what if your community were disorganized? Then who would you call?

9/09/2008 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous LaFayette said...

I'd call the cops.

9/09/2008 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous skippy said...

I've been reading OC for a bit now. By comparison those who are deemed coldly rational (see Origin of the specious seem to me not even as dullards.

The sneering ad hominem attacks and hand-waving dismissiveness (of, in this instance, ID) are hallmarks of the benighted modern "thinker".

If the Interweb didn't exist, we never would have found out about Robert Godwin... talk about being born in the best of times, and the worst of times...

9/09/2008 01:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Nick, your situation is a stage described by Aurobindo as "vairyaga," disgust with the world. It is a necessary movement. The seeker must disengage first, before reengaging with a modified consciousness.

Without becoming disgusted, ordinary life has too much attractive pull. The disgust must come to all seekers sooner or later, then it can be left behind when focused re-entry is done.

The next stage for you, Nick, is that you will no longer care how shrill and pointless your struggles are. You will have your "marching orders" and can focus on those.

To be centralized around a spiritual objective is the best condition in which to spend life.

You will inwardly calm and centered at all times, and ready to share your attention, time, money, and love in whatever direction seems right at any given time.

You may rely on Laocoon's question, which is, "What is the best use of my time, right now?"

Just keep asking that question, in the context of your spiritual objectives, and then you will pass beyond all disgust of life.

Obnoxious phenomenon and people can be coolly bypassed or ignored.

9/09/2008 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

Mushroom,
Junior tried to read Schuon, but he finally "Hung It Up".

9/09/2008 01:42:00 PM  
Anonymous skippy said...

You a member of this group, Bob?

Armed with new research into what makes some people environmentally conscious and others less so, the 148,000-member American Psychological Association is stepping up efforts to foster a broader sense of eco-sensitivity that the group believes will translate into more public action to protect the planet.

“We know how to change behavior and attitudes. That is what we do,” says Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin, association president. “We know what messages will work and what will not.”



Yeesh. Who needs horror movies?

9/09/2008 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Nick,

"regarding withdrawing as taking the easy way out. First off it isn't that easy to do and is filled with rewarding challenges."

I know that it is filled with rewarding challenges; to me, that's part of the appeal. Maybe what I'm trying to get at is that, from my own perspective, it would be in fact be easy; it's not much of a stretch from my day-to-day life, anyway. Maybe not convincing DH to move to a cabin in the woods, but withdrawing - all I'd have to do is drop out of choir and skip the art league meetings. As it is, most weekdays I don't physically talk to anyone but DH (which isn't to say I'm not busy and not interacting - it's just that most of it's from home), and I'm perfectly happy with that.

I did go through a phase, a while back, where I was depressed by the pointlessness of daily life. Hell, for a long time I thought being a housewife was the worst, most worthless thing I could end up as. These days, my perspective is different. For one thing, I know now that daily life isn't pointless, at all. I may not be changing the world, but I help make one man very happy, and I have the chance to positively affect the people I do work with, even when things get frustrating. I can choose to find contentment in the simple stuff, knowing that in doing so I am helping to bring a little of that light down into this life right now.

If I withdraw, I won't be sharing any of that with other people, and it seems that for now, that's my greater task. It's not easy - I often find other people to be frustrating, and I'm very impatient. But just because I don't always see it, that doesn't mean there isn't a point to all this.

9/09/2008 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...

anon, I have asked myself the question of what is the best use of my time right now over and over, it has thus far guided me well. I'm just in some serious fog where up is down and down is up. What I used to think important seems false. What I used to think was helping people and the world seems to me to just be me spreading my mistakes all over. I feel caught in a world of people spewing their mind parasites out all over and me doing the same. So I feel inclined to at least withdrawal.

9/09/2008 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Hm. Maybe a tad more clarification. I'm really opposed to withdrawal in the

"once a man realizes Truth, all that is left for him is to patiently await death."

sense. I'll admit, I've been drawn to that idea at times, but deep down, I know it's fundamentally wrong. Again, if the purpose of life is to hate it/yourself (a la mortification in its various guises) and wait longingly for death, well... why place such a high value on life to begin with, then?

It sounds like you could maybe use a step back from where you're presently at, a chance to re-evaluate from a different perspective. Everybody needs that sometimes. I think of it like working on a painting - you can get so caught up in the minutiae that you forget to see how it looks in toto. It helps tremendously to take a break, walk away for a while - hours or even days - then look at it first from a distance, or in a mirror, so that you're seeing it as if for the first time, all over again. Then it's much easier to see where the problems lie, and what can be done about them. Also, to see what you've done right, and be glad.

Of course, life isn't a painting; I've no idea how you personally might do something analogous, especially since I don't know you. But if it's possible to take a metaphorical step back, maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing.

A time for everything, and everything in its time...

9/09/2008 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

You might find Walt's post today to be helpful. Also, anything he has about breathing.

9/09/2008 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Really walloped me with the Van Gogh. For some reason Van Gogh's paintings just reach through my eyeballs and body slam me into the wall.

Van Gogh - Yeah!

On the other hand, Gaugin... and all the rest are... aesthetically speaking, and not to get too technical... ick poop.

9/09/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"It is this. Yesterday we spoke of the higher mind, or the "mind of light." The point is, this is not exactly a transcendent flight from, or denial of, this world, a la Buddhism or "ascending" Christianity. Rather, it is precisely the descent of the divine light into our own earthly home, which is to say, our heads."

I think that feels very true.

"And it is as American as an Apple iPod."
eh... slight quibble here... Apple iPod is of course a commie pinko gadget designed to subvert all that is American, and shrink everyones privates to the size of olbermans.

"And it is as American as a PocketPC."

Ahhh... there we go. Much better.

9/09/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For seekers who would like a new flavor of O cream, you might try typing Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche into the Google search engine, and
select the first entry.

"Shambhala" is an activist Buddhism; that's right, Buddism that is not ascendant/withdrawn.

"The Shambhala tradition believes in the inherent wisdom, compassion, and courage of all beings. It holds that these noble qualities are ultimately more stable than aggression and greed.

It shows how to use worldly life as a means to ripen this spiritual potential. It practices turning the mind toward others as a discipline that creates lungta, windhorse, the ability to attain success that occurs from acting virtuously. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche leads a worldwide community that is rooted in these principles."

Here we find a form of Buddhism as world-centric as Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, etc. It has an especially rich and detailed spiritual terminology and employs simple practices for attaining peace and change in the self/world.

It defines God as "Basic Goodness." I like that definition; kind of says it all compactly.

I'm not even Buddhist but I like it.

9/09/2008 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Nick -

Having investigated "withdrawal" quite a bit, I'll agree that it has its uses. In my experience, however, it doesn't really "solve problems."

What does? Well, one way or another, you've got to find out how to metabolize your experiences so that they nourish you, rather than seem toxic. If your daily living becomes useful to you, and serves your purposes, then even the tough parts become bearable.

Our Unknown Friend in MOTT suggests that we begin by learning to be quiet, and concentrate. Check out pages 8-11, if you've got the book. Here's a typical quote:

" For all practical esotericism is founded on the following rule: it is necessary to be one in oneself (concentration without effort) and one with the spiritual world (to have a zone of silence in the soul) in order for a revelatory or actual spiritual experience to be able to take place."

Presumably your wish to "withdraw" is based at least in part on wanting to "lower the volume," so those pages have excellent advice along those lines. Concentration and silence will provide a basis for properly receiving experiences. (If you don't have the book, let me know, and I'll post an extended passage from those pages at my site.)

9/09/2008 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Good point. Satprem too has a good chapter on the Silent Mind in the Adventure of Consciousness. A key point, I think, is to attain it with the assistance of grace as opposed to some merely technical means. Otherwise, I think it might be just a trick of self-hypnosis that will fail when rubber meets road.

9/09/2008 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Finally! Darwinism explains why humans fall for Darwinism.

9/09/2008 04:50:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Nick, you wrote:
"Anybody else feel this? Perhaps my withdrawal is part of a process to gain better cOOnvision?"

Yes & yes. Also, your current cOOnvision has pulled the veil & you clearly see the busywork BS with which most humans engage their entire lives. My guess is it's your InnerCoon sending you a message: listen to it.

I get the sense you're expressing something closer to 'a retreat', as in: 'a place of privacy; a place affording peace and quiet' rather than 'running away from the world'. You'll gno when to come back out. Don't be surprised if you return more 'yourself' than you are now.

It may be a rite of passage, a walkabout, or akin to sailing around the world: plenty of precedent. Most just don't have the guts to follow thru with the call when they hear it.

We, here, live such hyper-connected lives, often high-velocity and downright shallow, hopping from one thing to the next. It's a tho we need to fill every second with chatter or we're not 'alive'. We all make ourselves crazy: more, more, more - and for what?

COOntemplantion requires Slack, don't ya know, sitting under a tree watching the river flow past, on the beach with surf rolling in, building a wall - you'll gno what speaks to you.

Have you read the works of Kathleen Norrs? Thinking of Dakota
or The Cloister Walk? Don't remember them as 'too girlie' for a Nick to enjoy. They spoke to me when I was last in your state.

PS to Norris fans: new book due out 9/16/08 Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer's Life

9/09/2008 04:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One starting point for worldly works is to have a central point to cohere around.

For instance, it would appear as if Bob has a central purpose, that being to "spread light" or some equal metaphor. He gets up every day and that's what he's programmed to do. Life undoubtedly seems interesting and stimulating to him, not anxious or burdensome.

I get up in the morning and say "I want to do the Yoga of the Psychic Being" because I'm an Aurobindonite and that's what we do. For us there is actually nothing else worth doing. Simple.

This point of focus coheres my day wonderfully. I can't go wrong because the constant concentration on what the Psychic Being is trying to tell me to do is endlessly fascinating. Each day is full of errors and tribulations but since all is organized around a central task it becomes a pleasure. Obtacles are seen as enjoyable challenges rather than annoying setbacks.

Each person selects a cohering principle based on their unique souls. Some examples are:

"Show Love"
"Pay attention and Tell the Truth"
"Be Compassionate to all Beings."
"Make a Million Dollars for God"
"What would Christ Do?"

etc.

9/09/2008 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

Something tells me an upcoming post will have pigs and fishes in the title :-)

http://drudgereport.com

9/09/2008 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

“Are you thinking what I'm thinking?”
Bob,
That’s one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings. Great choice.
Here’s another.

You know...I’m starting to wonder if everything I thought I knew about him…you know the stories…are as bad as I was taught to think. The “crow” painting some say was not his “farewell” piece, although close to it. For some reason, it just doesn’t bring me down. The opposite. I mean, the crows could be landing or taking off…speaking of ascending/descending…
If I look at just the paintings I think I see the real man.

9/09/2008 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Alan,
Way to deliver that punchline…yaknow ya yuh can put uh uhh uh..yuh lipstick pig uhh on a lipstick ona pig on lipstick uuhh uhh…

9/09/2008 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

“You see, it's not always that easy to define these things when you're in the middle of them.”

I believe Sri describes how this gets more difficult the “higher you go”. When you get back, even your memory can’t retain it - never mind words to describe it. As if it’s not qualified or equipped.

9/09/2008 06:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

Ricky: Barrack Elmer Fudbama

He has a "tell" when he thinks he is insulting someone cleverly - there's no escaping the subconcious :-) He hold his hand to his face. He did it twice in the Dem debates (including the not-so famous, middle finger to Hillary that, in hindsight, seems to be exactly what it looked like)

Sorry, everyone, for going off track.

buhdee, buhdee, that's all folks!

9/09/2008 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Alan,
Apparently I’m not that clever. You see, I have one requirement of jokes – that they be funny. How is she a pig, again? I’m confused. What’s funnier is how the audience laughing at the sparkly applause sign doesn’t know the show is over either.

Yes. Saw the open hand holding the forehead. You could see the smoke, “How does this joke go again? Oh yeah, don’t say pit bull, they’ll think I’m the girl in this fight.”

No offense, but I remember who used to call boys pigs. Speaking of fighting like a girl, do you think he’d use that joke behind Amthedudeofjihad’s back?

9/10/2008 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Ha! As if I needed more reason to support McCain / Palin.

9/10/2008 06:36:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

How come it is when I hear most people who claim to be be Buddhist/Hindu/Yoga variant speak or write these days I want to vomit violently and suddenly?

Was it something I ate?

As for the central point on which one ought to focus, I recall the words of my own patron, which are for all men and yet different with each: "Keep always in your mind the memory of your own death."

If you cannot think continually of your own death without becoming frightened and neurotic, there's be mind parasites.

The rest is just doing the motions that follow the instructions that came with the equipment.

9/10/2008 07:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

julie, ximeze, walt gagdad and others,
Thanks for the suggestions and help, upon further reflection I think that I'm at a point were I need to realize what I know. That doesn't sound to sensical, but I think that with the privelage of having a wealth of spiritual information afforded to us by technology comes a hefty price of not taking to time to thoroughly digest.
Furthermore the more I go inward the more I realize I already have answers to my big questions in life, and eventually I have to be able to stand as much as I can on my own in this knowledge. Having to rely on a memory bank of concepts ideas, and occasional experiences just seems utterly inadequate. Anyways I'm out of timelessness for a while got to get to work.

9/10/2008 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

They can have him if they want him, nomo!

9/10/2008 02:24:00 PM  

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