Art by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1854-1919).
This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.
Why have human beings lost this passion? Have human beings lost it because they use too much energy on self-assertion - because their eternal self-evaluations are sucking life out of the present, transforming the self-image into reality and the reality into emptiness? This vampire-like life, where the life-urge, or the vitality, slowly is reduced, crumbled, dissolved, and where ennui and boredom make the whole of the world of Man, and Man himself, empty, waste and dark.
Stagnation is in its actual form blocking, fixation, paralysing. Stagnation is a lack of ability to, or possibility for, being fully alive. Life ends, is stopping up, of irrelevant reasons. Stagnation leads to obduracy, drying, lifelessness. There comes something grey, sad, colourless, monotonous, over the individual person´s life. The same is applying for the individual person´s world. Stagnation is connected with, that also the world, or parts of it, becomes grey, sad or monotonous: the invasion of Mordor. Lifelessness in the individual person corresponds with a life-lessness in his world. Habits and tedious repetitions take over life. The life rhythm decays to stereotypy. The individual person is fixated in specific patterns.
Another utterance of stagnation is officiousness, restlessness, busy-ness. So these are not a positive alternative to stagnation, but an outside movement, which covers over a lack of inner, of actual movement. Boredom has been connected with lots of problems in the modern society.
We use ourselves over ability by doing things, which basically don´t interest us. And at the same time we have still not found out, what we seriously are interested in: our true calling in life. We haven't discovered what our real interest is, and we feel a fundamental disappointment, bitterness, or perhaps rather guilt: the feeling of not having accomplished our possibilities, the feeling of lack of life-unfolding and unlived life, and the annoyances over this.
It is necessary that you as a Life Artist ask yourself the question about what you are interested in. Not what you ought to be interested in, but what really absorbs you. More and more people become interested in finding out. And it is really important that you, with yourself, find out, in which direction your interest goes.
So far you perhaps have tried different things, you have devoted your energy and intelligence to these, but they haven't given you any deep satisfaction, like in Kazuo Ishiguro´s novel The Remains of The Day, where the ageing butler Stevens realizes, that his loyalty to Lord Darlington has implied, that he himself never really has lived fully. Or you have perhaps burned yourself up by doing things, which didn´t had your profound interest, or your real interest is still lying in torpor, and is waiting to be awakened. So which of the two possibilities is then the true?
Many people today have a need of discovering what the truth is concerning this question. If you have burned yourself up, the problem requires a special attitude; but if your fire still is sleeping, then it is important that it becomes awakened. And as a Life Artist it is important that you yourself discover the truth, rather than letting another tell you what is true. The truth about what you are, is its own action. If you are burnt-out then it is a question of healing, about recovering, lying fallow in creative sense, like the Virgin Mary State, which Meister Eckhart was talking about. This creative state of fallow follows when you have cultivated and reseeded, it is non-action, which leads to complete action later.
If your real interest not yet has become awakened, and if the prompting to find out is present, then you will find out, not by constantly seeking after an answer, but to be inquiring, clear and warm in your prompting. Then you will see, that when you are awake, there is a sharpened attention in which you receive any hint from the hidden interest, and that dreams also play a part. In other words: the prompting gets the mechanism of discovery to function.
You shall not seek your real interest; the real interest will emerge by itself, because you are in a passive listening presence. If you consciously try to find out what your real interest is, there is a danger that you just choose one, weigh it up against another, calculate and judge. This process is only a cultivation of resistance; you use your powers on speculations about whether you have chosen correctly etc. But when there is passive listening, and not a positive effort to find, then the movement of the interest steps into this presence.
If one should suggest a technique, then try to think about the interest as something that can´t give you any success, money or power. This technique disarms the Ego in the same way as the monastic vows: poverty, chastity and obedience.
The French philosopher Bergson´s philosophy of life is a part of a large-scale world-image, in which all forms of life have their origin in an élan vital, a life-upswing, an eternal breeding power. In Bergson, life in all forms is that, which strives up-wards, outwards, still forward – in a fight against the material, against the inertia, which spoils life. That is: a dualism between dynamics and stiffness, or between movement and stagnation.
The Danish life-philosopher Ludvig Feilberg also talks about two forms of life-unfolding. The first is characterized by the possibility-raising life, where you are in a creative condition, characterized by self-forgetfulness, movement and freedom. The other is characterized by the posibility-reducing life, where you not are creative, but controlling, self-evaluating, split and closed.
We know movement and change from the outside world. Existential movement is connected with Man, with identity and personality. It arises in the individual person´s relationships with the surrounding world. Movement has to do with human growth and development; it is to be integrated in something, which happens, not in whatever, but in something which folds the essence of Man out, contrary to stagnation and paralysation. It is to have your identity with you in a movement, which fills you, enriches you, favours you, promotes you. Movement is to be involved. It is an ontological phenomenon, a characteristic of being, not a phenomenon of consciousness.
Or you can say, that the happy movement is characterized by, that awareness and being go together. Existential movement gives life colour, or it is life in its colour-richness (Middle-earth). It is lifegiving, or it is the identity in its life-given form. Movement creates light in the identity, gets it to light up. There is in it an energy, which is spreading as a live-liness in the identity. It is the flowering of the essence of Man. The movement is so to speak a radiance of life. It is the thinking, which has been made transparent in being: self-forgetful thinking.
To begin to sense your true interest is a deep vitalizing, an élan vital, a new possibility-raising life, a transformation of the inert and posibility-reducing life.
The society is today characterized by a life-philosophical vacuum, a meaning-vacuum. Admittedly we all have a life-philosophy, yes, it is swarming with life-philosophies, but it is philosophies as images of life, not as conduct of life, it is as theory, not as practice. We have a lot of different ideas, conceptions, world-images, and are in extreme degree analyzing and evaluating. We put incredibly large emphasis on the positive in having a lot of views about everything, and we become more and more self-opinionated and obdurate. We confuse intellectual safety with meaning and coherence. In that way the thinking isolates itself in relation to conduct of life. We achieve intellectual safety at the expense of a meaningful conduct of life. The thinking is emptying the conduct of life for life and presence, and are filling it with boredom and absence.
Today we have no meaning-giving life-practice, no philosophical life-teaching, that has with our conduct of life to do, no philosophical life-practice, which can fill up our conduct of life with life-feeling, reality and presence. We think life and have all possible ideas about it, but it is very difficult for us to live with it in joy and fulfillment. This discrepancy between the thought and the conduct of life has created a kind of meta-pathology: existential problems such as unreality, ennui, boredom, guilt and anxiety.
There is therefore a need of that philosophical life-teaching and practice, which is offered in philosophical counseling. There is a need of philosophers who partly are university educated, partly have a philosophical life-practice; that is to say: philosophers who - like Socrates, the Stoics, the Epicureans, and the philosophers in the East - are and live what they think and teach, true teachers, whose thinking is made transparent in being, and who consequently live what they teach.
The function of the mind is to investigate and learn. To learn in philosophical sense doesn´t only mean to cultivate the memory, or to accumulate knowledge, but to learn to think clearly and rational without illusions, to start with facts and not with beliefs and ideals. When the thought originates from the conclusion, you learn nothing. Merely to get information or knowledge is not to learn in philosophical sense. To learn in philosophical sense includes love of understanding, and love of doing a thing for its own guilt.
It is the philosophical counselor´s job to help the guest to a philosophical life-practice, whcih again means to help the guest to discover his true calling in life. What does ”a true calling” mean? Something you love to do; something, which is natural for you.
What is then the purpose with education? As the Danish philosopher Finn Thorbjørn Hansen says in his book The Philosophical Life then the pedagogy in the twentieth century mainly has been dominated by psychology and sociology. That is to say: we have made specialized views of human nature to a starting point for education and upbringing, and therefore we have put emphasis on specific influences to Man. But Man is much more complex, and to emphasize one influence at the same time as you understate others, has created a lack of balance; it has led to much more confusion and decay. Man is a complete process. In pedagogy there must therefore be an understanding of the Wholeness, and not just a part of it, regardless how important this part sometimes can be. Finn Thorbjørn Hansen says, that we are on the way into ”the age of self-formation”, and that there is a need for re-creating a thinking and a practice that consider philosophy to be the central discipline of pedagogy.
The purpose of education is to help Man to human growth, so that he can be free from self-assertion, and can find his true calling. And that means, as Finn Thorbjørn Hansen says, that pedagogy becomes a philosophical matter, that pedagogy becomes founded in the pedagogy of art of life.
The self-assertive has never discovered his true calling, because if he had he would not be self-assertive. It is therefore the true teacher´s duty to help humans to achieve insight, to be free from anxiety, so that they can find their true calling, their own way of life, the way whereon they really want to live and earn their living.
But in society it is of course not so, because pedagogy is political controlled, therefore the purpose with education is not to create humans, but machines, which can be accomodated to the society, which the politicians want. And the politicians will do everything they can in order to prevent that pedagogy becomes founded in the pedagogy of art of life. Because humans who really have discovered their true calling, will be philosophical rebels, and do what they can completely to break down rotten society-systems; that is to say: models of society that are based on a particular image, or ideology, whether it is of political or religious nature. Such humans will do what they with their essence love to do, either they are gardeners, painters or engineers.
And to do what you really love to do, is not to be self-assertive. To accomplish something wonderful, to do it completely, truly and in compliance with what, you deepest think and feel – is not self-assertive, and in such an act there is no anxiety.
You might have a talent as an author, poet, artist. Which potential you might have, if what you do, is something you really love to do, it is not self-assertion that runs you, but love. And in love there is no self-assertion.
Therefore it is very important, that humans, both younger and older humans, receive the correct help, so that their own reason can be awakened, and so that they can find their true calling. Then you will love what you do life through, and this means, that there no self-assertion is, no competition, no struggle to achieve prestige or a high position; and then you will maybe be able to create a new world. In this new world will all the ugly the elder generation has created, cease to exist – their wars, their injury, their competition, their intolerant gods, their rituals, which all are meaningless - their strong government power, their violence, etc.
That to be interested in something, is not the same as self-assertion. We can add to the word ”self-assertion” multifold meanings. In art of life self-assertion is based on becoming something, and therefore anxiety. But if a boy for instance is interested in becoming an engineer, because he is inclined towards raising beautiful buildings, to create wonderful bridges, to build excellent roads, then this is because he loves that act; and that is not self-assertion. It is an expression of what he is, and therefore there is no anxiety. In love there is no anxiety.
Self-assertion and interest are two different things. If you really are interested in painting, then you love to paint, you don't compete with others in order to become the best, or the most famous, painter. You simply love to paint. Perhaps there is another person who is a better painter than you, but you don't compare yourself with this other. When you paint, you love what you do, and in you this is enough. You are one with what you are, you are fully and completely existing, and the important is present and real.
What you as a Life Artist need, is a reason and a feeling which can provoke a philosophical revolution in your life, so that there no longer are any self-contradictory actions, but a whole, coherent movement. The only revolution is a philosophical revolution; that is: where you rediscover your own true philosophy. Any other revolution is the introduction of an ideology.
In order to, that such a change can occur in your life, there must be both awareness and passion. In order to be able to do something worthwhile at all, you must have this clear awareness and strong passion. In order to be able to understand the act in which there isn´t any division, or inner discord, you must have this awareness and passion. Intellectual concepts, or formulars, can´t change your way of life; this can only the actual act of understanding what you are, and to that is needed both awareness and passion.
Can you as a Life Artist observe yourself, what you are, the violence, the self-assertion etc., with the utmost care; that will say: in passive listening presence? You can only do this if your clarity, your energy, your interest and deepest passion fall together in the moment where you are exposed. In that moment you must have a heart, which is a burning passion after understanding what you are, and you must have a mind, which doesn´t distort what it observes. These things must take place immediately in the moment of unveiling; what means, that you are sensitive enough, and free enough, to have this living energy, intensity and clarity, which fall together in the passive listening presence.
So in order to be able to see the truth you must also be able to feel, you must be endowed by passion after discovering, and having a great energy. When you observe a cloud and the light in this cloud, then there is beauty. Beauty is passion. In order to, that you can see the beauty in a cloud, or the beauty in the light on a tree, there must be passion, there must be intensity. In this intensity - this passion - there is no sympathy or antipathy at all, and therefore not the feelings, which follow these. The intensity is not personal, not yours or mine. When there is lust there is yours or mine. But the mind, which is passively aware, allows life and energy to flow back from the past and the future, into presence and reality. The energy and the life, which are invested in sorrows and bindings, plans and problems, are flowing in, filling the Now, increasing the intensity and the consciousness in the Now.
This opens by itself the heart; being and reality fall together, your life is real, you are self-forgetful wrapped up in beauty; there is no theorist or dreamer within you. You are your activity in the beauty; it is a presence of something, which not is hidden, something obvious, something, you have a clear understanding of. And in this way reason and feeling fall together.
There are literary hundreds of lines in The Lord of the Rings that express this longing for something lost, something Edenic. The past haunts the present like an undersea creature that constantly troubles the surface of the water. It is much more than mere nostalgia for “the good old days”. It is also more than traditionalism´s practical payoff of getting things that are useful for yourself by remembering what was useful for your ancestors. Rather, the past as such has a fascination. And this is not because of its content; for if we could return, we would not be fulfilled, we would not find Eden.
It is its very unattainability that makes the past such a powerful symbol of something that is unattainable not because it is past but because it is future, or, rather, transcendent to all history. What is achieved by the “haunting of history” in The Lord of the Rings is not nostalgia, but Sehnsucht: a longing for the transcendent, the “more”.
Already in the second chapter we see it in Frodo:
Often he wandered by himself, and to the amazement of sensible folk he was sometimes seen far from home walking in the hills and woods under the starlight. Merry and Pippin suspected that he visited the Elves at times, as Bilbo had done…He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He…began to feel restless, and the old paths seemed too well-trodden. He looked at maps, and wondered what lay beyond their edges: maps made in the Shire showed mostly white spaces beyond its borders (LOTR, pp. 41-42).
It is not clear what is being desired here, but it is “something more”.
The “more” is qualitative, not quantitative. It is a desire for a step up the hierarchy of being, for communion with more exalted beings. It is, in fact, a desire for communion with Elves: “Sam…believed he had once seen an Elf in the wood, and still hoped to see more one day. Of all the legends that he had heard in his early days such fragments of tales and half-remembered stories about the Elves as the hobbits knew, had always moved him most deeply” (LOTR, p. 44).
It is also a desire somehow to transcend ordinary time; this is done in elvish places: Rivendell and Lothlorien (often referred to as Lórien). Bilbo says of Rivendell, “Time doesn´t seem to pass here: it just is. A remarkable place altogether” (LOTR, p. 225). And in Lothlorien,
Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness. When he had gone and passed again into the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there. Frodo stood still, hearing far off great seas upon beaches that had long ago been washed away, and sea-birds crying whose race had perished from the earth (LOTR, p. 342).
And we too – we readers who have walked into The Lord of the Rings as Frodo has walked into Lothlorien – we feel like Sam when he first meets the Elves in the Shire forests: “Sam walked along at Frodo´s side, as if in a dream, with an expression on his face half of fear and half of astonished joy” (LOTR, p. 80).
The sea, the stars, and the Elves seem to be the most powerful catalysts for this desire, or images of this mysterious object. They are the messages from Eternity. The three are connected in the figure of Earendil, the mariner “from Otherworld beyond the Sea”, who “came unto the timeless halls where shining fall the countless years” (LOTR, p. 228-29) and is now revered as “Earendil, the Evening Star, most beloved of the elves” (LOTR, p. 355). It was this name, this single word in an eighth-century Anglo-Saxon poem “Crist”, that first moved Tolkien to create his myth from which The Lord of the Rings grew.
The Elves themselves feel the sea longing. Legolas confesses that “deep in the hearts of all my kindred lies the sea-longing, which it is perilous to stir. Alas! For the gulls. No peace shal I have again under beech or under elm” (LOTR, p. 855).
Kreeft says that the sea is a nearly universal symbol of death. Thus Frodo, like King Arthur, or like the Viking hero, leaves Middle-earth forever by ship. There seems to be a fairly obvious connection between this sea love and the desire for something that can be attained only after death.
Kreeft asks: “Did Tolkien deliberately intend that The Lord of the Rings should have this effect on us? Of course he did. For in “On Fairy-Stories” he explicitly points to this arousal of desire as fantasy´s primary end”.
But desire for what? In “On Fairy-Stories” Kreeft says that Tolkien mentions four aspects of this desire that fairy tales both stimulate and satisfy: fantasy, recovery, escape, and consolation. In one word: it is Paradise. We live in a fallen, broken world. And we remember and long for another. That is why “this world is not enough”, why we have our “lover´s quarrel with the world”. To use Pascal´s image, we are like disinherited princes: if we did not remember our kingly other-worldly glory, why would we be so dissatisfied with this beautiful world? But we are, even (especially!) when it is at its best: in sunsets and stars and storms and symphonies. As Kreeft says:
Only the Incarnation brings Heaven back to earth. Only Christ fulfils this universal longing. Very subtly, yet very deeply, The Lord of the Rings really points to Christ. That is why its central symbol is the Ring: it is the exact opposite of the Cross.
In the next chapter we will look at how the New Thought bible A Course in Miracles probably is the most extreme real-life example of the Ring seen in opposition to the Cross.
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