Posts Tagged ‘transcendentalists’

 

In the woods is perpetual youth

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

EmersonOne of the inspirations of this blog is the Transcendentalism initiated by Emerson, Thoreau and others. Emerson’s essay ‘Nature’, although short, really started the whole movement, and stands as a good reminder to writers that they don’t have to produce reams to make a difference in the world. Here’s a section:

Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years.
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. …

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836

Into the cauldron of Samhain!

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Three weeks into this blog experience and the festival of Samhain approaches. This is traditionally a time of chaos, confusion, a letting-go, an acceptance of death and endings over a period of 3 days from October 31st to November 2nd and a chance to enter a new cycle from November 3rd.

So into the Samhain cauldron I am going to put my thoughts and feelings about this venture, to see what will emerge after Samhain. A part of me is still uneasy with the distraction the internet and computer screens bring into my life which is already filled to the brim with demands. And yet the potential of blogging fascinates me.

I thought a blog was simply a template for an electronic diary, but I’ve realised it can be:

1. A common-place or scrap book that can archive movies, sound clips, photos, quotes and so on.

2. A ranting platform

3. For those of us who work to deadlines, it can be a medium to develop the ability to write under pressure, and a medium to help loosen up one’s writing style and develop expressiveness.

4. A ‘museum’ – in the classical sense, where there can be a group discussion (as yesterday) but which is focussed or which has a primary speaker.

5. A form of sharing journaling in an attempt to follow the ‘naked way’ as discussed – the Transcendentalist’s use.

Maybe an old hand at blogging can add more ways in which a blog can be used, but for the moment I wonder whether one can combine all these goals in one blog. I suspect that to use it effectively I should choose one theme or function. Already I find myself concerned that I am boring readers! So I feel a pressure to be interesting! This must stop! I am off to the Samhain camp and will see what emerges by November 3rd. Over and Out until then!

My intention is to undress

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Yesterday I decided that there was at least one good thing that Judaeo-Christianity has given us: the concept of a ‘day of rest’ once a week. Do other religions offer this arrangement that frees up one seventh of your time from drudgery or thrilling work? If anyone knows do please tell me. And also why witches call their festivals Sabbats, which must come from ‘Sabbath’ surely? So I’ve introduced a new rule to control my relationship with this ‘entity’ that is a blog. Leave it alone on Sunday! But all rules are made to be broken of course…

Now back to Zil’s comment last week. Our relationship to technology is so age-dependent I’ve decided. If you’re under 30 or so no-one would question having a blog or facebook/myspace page. It’s just part of living in the 21st century for many First World people as far as I can see. But for those of us who are older we have a different approach. When Zil asked herself if it was ‘worthy’ of me to have a blog I understood exactly what she meant. She & Myrddhin, her husband and excellent harpist too, had emailed me a while back to announce their MySpace pages and I had caught myself having the same thought as if somehow to have these things is ‘vulgar’ or ‘self-promotion’ or if you’re into psychology ‘narcissistic’ or into eastern approaches ‘egoic’.

I wonder if it is cultural too – perhaps it is a European attitude. I notice my American friends, who are in a similar position (authors, running spiritual groups etc) have been writing blogs for years. Maybe no-one in the States would question it, but in England and France (perhaps more than any other European culture) we are still quite attached to ideas of ‘high culture’ and sophistication, and the concept of vulgarity. So starting a blog or myspace page for us can feel like ‘mutton dressing as lamb’ – a 50+ year-old trying to ease into skin-tight leather trousers and go out on the town, chewing gum and wearing shades.

My desire however is to do quite the reverse. I intend to undress! This may sound trivial, attention-seeking, even ‘vulgar’ (!) but no – it touches upon the most central questions in philosophy, religion, psychology and politics. ‘Surely not!” I can hear you thinking. Over the next few months I may be using this as a recurring theme, because after Samhain (November 1st) I’m beginning work on a book for Reaktion/University of Chicago Press called ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’ , which will deal with precisely these issues.

The challenge in using a blog in this way is the challenge suggested by the Transcendentalists, like Thoreau and Emerson, who suggested sharing journaling as a way of self-cultivation and as a tool for spiritual progress.

If I get undressed now – by myself with no-one around – it may have some value (especially if it’s too hot for clothes). But if I do this in the company of others then there is a real potential for change:

First: you are confronted by your fears. Do I look ugly? What will people think of my pale skin?

Then when you actually do it the gain is tremendous. You realise things you should have grasped years ago: that (a) no-one cares! People are far more preoccupied with themselves than with you! (b) If you don’t look perfect they will be pleased, because they don’t look perfect either! And if they do happen to look perfect (and this has only happened to me a few times – once when a suntanned Princess Diana look-alike climbed into our hut tub at the OBOD Summer Camp in NY) then it’s so interesting you don’t care about anything else!

So when it works, Naturism is fabulous because it frees you of this incessant preoccupation we can have with what we think the other person thinks about us. Our mass-media world makes us so conscious of image, perception, surface that we can be trapped in a web of projections based upon unconscious calculations of others’ perceptions. A web of illusion at the heart of which is the spider of ‘Poor Self Image’.

So the act of undressing in this conscious, deliberate, fundamentally spiritual way, is an attempt to call the spider’s bluff. If it works, the web and the spider disappear. I fully recognise that it is not always that easy, and that it is a complex issue, but I believe there is truth in this approach.

Occultists know the maxim ‘as above, so below’. If you can do something on the physical level, it has effects on the supra-physical/mental level. Behaviour affects consciousness. Take off your clothes now and you change your mind.

Conversely, make changes at the mental/spiritual level and you can affect behaviour and the body – ie health. So now – in the interests of health (and research) – I am going to use this blog to psychically undress with the goal of freeing myself from the web of ‘identity’ spun, partly by my conscious or unconscious fears and beliefs about what others think about me, and partly by the circumstances of this life, which are not of course illusion, but which even so can conspire to create an illusory sense of limitation:

How? I’ll begin by taking all those labels that describe ‘me':

English, pantheistic, naturist, mostly pisco-vegetarian, Conditional Pacifist, heterosexual, liberal, middle-class, intellectual, Druid, Taoist, writer, psychotherapist, leader of a Druid group, father, grandfather, husband, brother, son, uncle, nephew…

….and peel them off, one by one.

None of them , individually or collectively, describes the ‘core self’ of this Being tapping away at these keys.

It all depends on your philosophy – your beliefs about the Nature of Being. I believe that beyond all these labels is the ‘Real Me’. But someone else might believe that is all he is. As I peel away all these labels do I come to some ‘radiant Being’ – some soul that exists beyond all those definitions – or do I come to nothing, like that old TV Series ‘The Invisible Man”? If he was asked to undress you would find, once the pants were removed, there was nothing to see…

To get physically undressed doesn’t take that long. Whisk, whisk and the clothes are off. With this psycho-spiritual approach it will take longer. We are familiar with the psychobabble term ‘baggage’ to denote unwanted or unprocessed psychic content. Well we could just as easily use the image of clothing, and most of us are staggering through life wearing layers and layers of clothes – many of which were worn by our grandparents, and their parents!

The spiritual and psychotherapeutic journey could be characterised as the journey of discovering how we can take these clothes off to live more fully and effectively in the world.

One Continuous Mistake

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Gail Sher in her book One Continuous Mistake – Four Noble Truths for Writers presents writing as a spiritual practice. Reading her book was inspiring, and helps me to understand how I can use this blog as a spiritual practice too. Developing the ideas in yesterday’s post, I can see how it could offer a way in which to cultivate clarity of mind and power of expression. This I think is what the Transcendentalists were recommending – the use of journaling as a means of cultivating our spiritual and creative potential.

Sher talks about the way in which writing from this point of view words rise up from the still centre of her being: ‘One beats through me, pushes its way to the forefront and appears on a page. I care about this. I care about the clarity of myself as a vessel, the utensils used, the paper as receptor and the way the whole process unfolds. Silence for me is replete with possibility.’

The blog as a means for cultivating clarity. What an idea! And what a pity blog is such an ugly word with its resonances with bogs, which are sticky (and toilets at least in Britain) and logs which by definition have been cut down and are no longer living trees.