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Friday, April 5, 2019

Bohemian Travel Stories as a Spiritual Exercise

by Carme Magem

In fact, it is only his body that lives and has its residence in the state; his soul, however, holds all this to be puny and meaningless, and contemptuously wanders all over the place, “under the earth,” as Pindar says, and measuring whatever is on its surface, and “above the heavens,” observing the stars, and in general thoroughly investigating the nature of everything that is, but without lowering itself to the level of any of the objects in its vicinity.

Plato, Theactetus, 173c (this is Plato´s description of the philosopher, which, probably with roots in facts, sounds like a description of a shaman. Philosopher in this sense, simply means what the word means: a lover of wisdom. Modern philosophers are so removed from this, that it only is the name they have in common). 

In Platonism philosophy is considered to be a spiritual practice with a spiritual purpose. 

Philosophical counseling follows the Traditionalist School, which is concerned with what we consider to be the demise of traditional forms of knowledge, both aesthetic and spiritual, within Western society. A central belief of this school is the existence of a perennial wisdom, or perennial philosophy, which says that there are primordial and universal truths which form the source for, and are shared by all the major world religions.

In relation to the modern society, philosophical counseling advocates alternative life styles, and supports the so-called Bohemianism. Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people and with few permanent ties. It involves musical, artistic, literary or spiritual pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may or may not be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which often were expressed through free love, frugality, and—in some cases—voluntary poverty. A more economically privileged, wealthy, or even aristocratic bohemian circle is sometimes referred to as haute bohème (literally "high Bohemia").

In this article we shall see, that the concept of storytelling (poetry, imagination) is a spiritual exercise. The philosopher, Pierre Hadot's, recurring theme is that philosophy in antiquity was characterized by a series of spiritual exercises intended to transform the perception, and therefore the being, of those who practice it; that philosophy is best pursued in real conversation and not through written texts and lectures; and that philosophy, as it is taught in universities today, is for the most part a distortion of its original, therapeutic impulse. 

In the following I will explain how the concept of storytelling is being made into a spiritual exercise combined with Bohemian travel stories. It can of course be used in a philosophical salon (or in a forest gathering as I practice it in my shamanic/philosophical counseling in Rold Forest), where there are other people present, but mainly it is a part of my spiritual exercises, which are:

1)  Learning to Live

2)  Meditation

3)  Critical thinking

4)  Investigation of the shadow

5)  Learning to die 

Read about them in my article, Five Basic Exercises in Philosophy as a Spiritual Practice.

Though meditation is quite central, the exercises have to do with thought training. You can formulate them as rules of life. You could keep life´s events “before your eyes,” and see them in the light of the exercises as fundamental rules. This is known as the exercise of memorization (mneme) and meditation (melete). You must engrave them as striking maxims in your memory, so that they are there constantly, also when you are not meditating. The two main reasons why spiritual exercises is a necessity is partly, that the ongoing self-confirmation of the ego and its negative automatic thoughts, is replaced by a spiritual remembrance, partly that the collective inertia is purified and prepared, so that the Ego is made transparent along with that original sin and negative karma are transformed and transfigured in the contact with the Source (God, Christ, the enlightened consciousness, the saints etc.) And these two processes mutually fertilize each other (negative automatic thoughts are based on thought distortions).

The exercises are the striking maxims which the Life Artist needs to engrave in his or her memory, so that they are there constantly, also when you are not meditating.

by Kevin Sloan

Learning to live is something entirely different than you hear about in coaching. It requires that you fall in love with wisdom. This is philosophy in the ancient sense. The Stoics, for instance, declared explicitly that philosophy, for them, was an “exercise.” In their view, philosophy did not consist in teaching an abstract theory – much less in the exegesis of texts – but rather in the art of living. It is a concrete attitude and determinate life-style, which engages the whole of existence. The philosophical act is not situated merely on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a person who goes through it. It raises the individual from an inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he attains self-consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom.

In the view of both the Hellenic and Roman schools of philosophy, mankind´s principal cause of suffering, disorder, and unconsciousness were the passions, that is, unregulated desires and exaggerated fears. People are prevented from truly living, it was taught, because they are dominated by worries. Philosophy thus appears, in the first place, as a therapeutic of the passions. Each school had its own therapeutic method, but all of them linked their therapeutics to a profound transformation of the individual´s mode of seeing and being. The object of spiritual exercises is precisely to bring about this transformation.

Meditation is trained through the Relaxationmeditation (incubation) and the Harameditation (omphalos psychism). Together they aim at stillness (hesychia). In this stillness you begin to ask philosophical questions in a meditative-existential way: How does man preserve peace of mind and balance in all the relationships of life? How do we learn to appreciate the true goods and flout all transient and vain goals? Is the destiny of Man part in a larger plan?

Critical thinking (kritikos) has to do with three virtues: A) refutation of sophisms (elenchos), B) discrimination (emphilotekhnein), C) flexible thinking (learning to see, or rather, think about, things "from above", from all kinds of alternative viewpoints, and, in doing this, focusing your thoughts on Beauty, Goodness and Truth).

In my previous work, as for example my book A Dictionary of Thought Distortions, I have described A and B.  In my book Meditation as an Art of Life, I have described C in the suppporting exercise, The Philosophical Diary. The philosophical diary is inspired by the Stoics, especially Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations, in fact was his own philosophical diary.

The interplay between the three virtues ensures the balance between logic and imagination, rational and irrational, philosophy and storytelling.

My own focus on logic and philosophy is mainly displayed on my website, with emphasis on The Matrix Conspiracy. My focus on imagination and storytelling is mainly displayed on this blog (see blog archive for the different categories).

The exercise of telling Bohemian travel stories is primarily about adding storytelling into your thoughts; storytelling which is aiming at seeing, or thinking about, your life as a journey, and yourself as a philosophical globetrotter, life artist and idler; or said in another way: a Bohemian. This is storytelling which is connected with philosophy in the ancient sense. I have told about that in my Ebook, Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien, and in my article, Philosophy, Storytelling and Shamanic Healing (links can be found in the end of the article). 

by Ernesto Arrisueño

The Investigation of the Shadow, or the painbody, has to do with philosophy as a therapeutic of the passions. The main way to deal with the painbody is through meditation, neutral observation, passive listening presence, and eventually, complete stillness. You must attain a Stoic attitude of indifference. In reality it can´t be healed through therapy. Only an intervention from the divine can heal it. The painbody doesn´t only contain pain from this life, but also from earlier lives. It reaches far down into the collective images of time, into complex patterns of original sin and negative karma. The whole complex constitutes an ancient inertia, which resists any kind of change (it even tries to destroy any attempt of change). This inertia is a guardian of the threshold. I have personalized it with the figure of Lucifer Morningstar. This figure gives you two choices: either to play the hand of the sophist, or the hand of the philosopher. Most people will choose the hand of the sophist. Usually it will therefore seduce you to leave your path to enlightenment, and get lost in the spiritual twilight zone, and end up in a spiritual crisis, either as ego-inflation or The Dark Night of the Soul.

Besides the two other meditation exercises (aiming at stillness) the most important meditation exercise you can use, when dealing with the ancient inertia, is the Heartmeditation. The ancient inertia can only be resolved through compassion and love.

Plato said that those who go about philosophizing correctly are in training for death. Paradoxically, learning to live is the same as learning to die. Most of us connect life with the thinking´s past and future. The thinking´s past and future is the same as the Ego (the painbody), and therefore our identity. It is an identity in an absence. If you begin to live in the now, all this falls away. Going into the now, into presence, into being, is a kind of death.

by Kal Gajoum

All the ancient schools of philosophy engaged their disciples upon a new way of life. The practice of spiritual exercises implied a complete reversal of received ideas: one was to renounce the false values of wealth, honors, and pleasures, and turn towards the true values of virtue, contemplation, a simple life-style, and the simple happiness of existing. This radical opposition explains the reaction of non-philosophers (people not in love with wisdom), which ranged from the mockery we find expressed in the comic poets, to the outright hostility which went so far as to cause the death of Socrates.

The individual was to be torn away from his habits and social prejudices, his way of life totally changed, and his way of looking at the world radically metamorphosed into a cosmic- “physical” perspective. We ought not to underestimate the depth and amplitude of the shock that these changes could cause, changes which might seem fantastic and senseless to healthy, everyday common sense.

To present philosophy as “training for death” was a decision of paramount importance. As Socrates´ interlocutor in the Phaedo was quick to remark, such a characterization seems somewhat laughable, and the common man would be right in calling philosophers moribound mopers who, if they are put to death, will have earned their punishment well. For anyone who takes philosophy seriously, however, this Platonic dictum is profoundly true. Philosophy as an exercise for death should be understood as the separation of the soul from the body. Linked to meditation upon death, the theme of the value of the present instant plays a fundamental role in all philosophical schools in Antiquity. In short it is a consciousness of inner freedom. It can be summarized in a formula of this kind: you need only yourself in order immediately to find inner peace by ceasing to worry about the past and the future. You can be happy right now, or you will never be happy.

The magnet of attraction, which the ego (the painbody) is controlled by – (the ego´s identity with the material world: instincts, sexuality, emotions, desire, collective ideals, ownership, personal power) – will in the spiritual exercises lose its attraction (note how the new thought movement demonically has turned the magnet of attraction into an object of spiritual worship). Investments in the material world´s ups and downs, its demands, temptations and dramas, become undramatized, uninteresting, even meaningless, in relation to the consciousness´ opening direction in towards its spiritual essence: the now, the Wholeness, life itself, and finally: the eternal Otherness, from where the good, the true and the beautiful are streaming as grace and forgiveness.

In this movement in towards the source you begin to ask philosophical questions in a meditative-existential way. In this way the grab, which the material world has in your mind, is automatically reduced. It is dying before you die. 

Therefore, as I point out in my first book Meditation as an Art of Life, asking philosophical questions is a meditative state of mind. I used the expression:

“Asking philosophical questions in a meditative-existential way is the wordless silence within a strong existential wonder.”

The ability to wonder (or to be skeptical, critical) is the philosopher´s basic virtue.

Sub specie aeternitatis (Latin for "under the aspect of eternity") is, from Baruch Spinoza onwards, an honorific expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the temporal portions of reality. In clearer English, sub specie aeternitatis roughly means "from the perspective of the eternal". Even more loosely, the phrase is used to describe an alternative or objective point of view. Consciousness is akin to the Wholeness. When you move in towards the form of consciousness you begin to see things from the perspective of the Wholeness.

We are now dealing with two concepts: on the one hand, the concept of philosophy as a means of achieving spiritual death, and, on the other, the idea of philosophy as the ascent of the soul into the celestial heights. Plato developed these ideas and concepts in a specifically Platonic direction, but in and of themselves they are not specifically Platonic. Rather, they are to be found in all the ancient philosophical schools, be they Epicurean, Stoic, or Cynic.

In other words, in all schools - with the exception of skepticism - philosophy was held to be an exercise consisting in learning to regard both society and the individuals who comprise it from the point of view of universality.. This was accomplished partly with the help of a philosophical theory of nature, but above all through moral and existential exercises. The goal of such exercises was to help people free themselves from the desires and passions which troubled and harassed them. These needs and desires, it was thought, were imposed on the individual by social conventions and the needs of the body. The goal of philosophy was to eliminate them, so that the individual might come to see things as nature herself sees them, and consequently desire nothing other than that which is natural. We can say that, within each school, philosophy signified the attempt to raise up mankind from individuality and particularity to universality and objectivity.

Man is in habit of seeing the things from outside, fragmented. You observe the tree as something separate, you observe your wife or husband, as something separate, the office, the boss – everything in fragments; that is to say: from outside as something cut off. Meditation is about seeing the world, which you are a part of, completely, as a complete whole and not divided; that is to say: where you fully and totally exist, and the important is present and real; without letting the past and the future separate the Ego, the observer, who places himself outside the observed, which is life itself.

In the same way, you can look at all the questions of life as a whole, and not as isolated parts. All this is the complete perception, where you not are outside, but in the middle of life itself. And then you truly are a Life Artist.

It is therefore completely central for the Life Artist to investigate the nature of experience, the way in which you can observe, listen, see. As a Life Artist you must try to find out, whether it at all is possible to see with more than just one side of your being: sight, intellect or feelings. Is it altogether possible to observe very closely, without that there happens a distortion? In the Life Artist it is worth the effort to investigate this. What will it say that you see? Can you observe yourself, observe what you in reality are: desirous, envious, worried, fearful, hypocritical, deceitful, self-assertive – can you quite simple observe this without distorting it?

It of course requires, that you learn what it is to see in philosophical sense. The word philosophy means love of wisdom, or love of learning. To learn in philosophical sense is a continual movement, a continual renewal. It is not ”to have learned”, and see on the bases of that. Usually we see on the bases of a memory about what we have learned, and have experienced; memory is the starting point. This is therefore not to see, not to learn in philosophical sense. That something is learned in philosophical sense presupposes a mind, which each time learns anew. There must be a creative emptiness. The mind must therefore always be new and ready to learn, just like a child. For that reason it doesn´t interest the Life Artist to worship memory, but rather to observe, see and experience what really happens. As a Life Artist you must try to be extremely aware, awake, so that the seen and learned don´t become a memory from which you see, and which in itself is a distortion. You must see each time as if it was the first time!

Imagine making art, not with paint or clay, but with life itself as your medium. A “life artist,” or “Lebenskuenstler” as the Germans would say, is someone who finds beauty in the colors life puts at their disposal, someone who makes do with the brushes they’ve got and doesn’t pout over a few mistaken strokes.

On the website Lebenskünstler, a Life Artist connotes a person who approaches life with the zest and inspiration of an artist, although he or she may not be working recognizably as an artist. He is a Lebenskünstler. Someone who pieces together his living from various activities that, collectively, bring in just enough money to live. No office, no suit, no boss, no rules. German has a word for such people, the website claims, and English doesn’t. There’s even a higher form of Lebenskünstler, the website says, and that is the Überlebenskünstler, or “survival artist.”

Lebenskünstler – one who recognizes opportunities in life and takes advantage or makes use of those opportunities to make the most out of one’s own life; one who lives life deliberately and to the fullest capacity (concept from Henry David Thoreau of “living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life”); one who gambles with the outcome of his/her own life by seizing opportunity; one who makes living an art.

So, the German word Lebenskunstler means ‘an artist of life’. It acknowledges that being an artist is not, in the first instance, about what you produce, but about your contribution to your environment based on the way you live. As creative entities, we can share our creativity in many ways. By how we dress or decorate our homes, by what we cook, by how we educate our children or entertain our friends, by how we dance and make love, by how we speak about our lives.

The website says that Lebenskünstler refers not so much to people who turn their life into a piece of art, and that it is not for nothing that Berlin has been dubbed a graveyard for ambition. The German capital has a particularly impressive record of attracting those eager to make a living as artists, many of whom succumb to the many initiative-numbing charms and morph into Lebenskünstler ,

Oscar Wilde once purportedly said “I put my talent into my work, but my genius into my life.” 

The website focuses on the Lebenskünstler of Berlin. Going back to the 1970s – or maybe even to the 1910s – there has existed a decadent, artistic underground in Berlin which has placed little value on “making it” for the sake of making it. The king of decadent Berlin is the “poor but sexy” Lebenskünstler, an archetype who has had a huge influence on culture and nightlife here till this day. The Lebenskünstler cares little about his next record deal or art opening or publishing deal. Instead, life is his art. Only “now” matters and how you can make the most out of each moment. Screw success and any concept of “the future” because for decades Berliners – think of WWII, the Cold War etc. – have felt there is NO tomorrow (and they are right of course – we will all die).

The Lebenskünstler’s dilettantish self-expression might have no audience other than his circle of friends or 30 people in some tiny Kleinkunst venue.

So with the concept of the Lebenskünstler we actually have a quite good idea about what it might mean to be a Life Artist. We´ll soon find out that the term fits very well to many other people than the Lebenskünstler of Berlin, and in that connection we will ask whether the Life Artist is a person who creates himself through his will, or whether he is letting an external source of creation work through him.

You can not stop the thoughts through meditation. You must replace them with a spiritual remembrance. You must learn to replace negative automatic thinking with flexible thinking, learn to see things from all kinds of alternative Bohemian viewpoints

Life is the journey of the soul. So, as the first thing, you could see yourself as a traveler, or a pilgrim. The next is to simplify your life, so that you can go out traveling, either in imagination, or in real life. Imagine yourself as Buddha sitting in the dawn of creation, or as Walt Whitman, writing with sunshine, or as Chagall, painting with moonlight.

A lot of the Bohemian travel stories are imagination in this sense, but they are not delusions, since they are grounded in the above-mentioned spiritual exercises and metaphysics. They will lead to concrete experiences of liberation and life changes, and will give an overall release from negativity. They will lead to universality and objectivity.

Rather than  imagination they are related to dreams. In the Traditionalist School we have no problem with nostalgia. In the view of the ancients, even the most insignificant dream was a separation of soul from body, in the course of which the soul could rise up to celestial heights. The same happens in the concrete moment of physical death. Dreams are the intermediary zone between the Inner Side and the Outer Side, or between the Divine and the Human.

 Spring Scattering Stars, by Edwin Blashfield

Replace every negative thought with Bohemian alternative thoughts. You will discover that this breaks the thought-pattern up from inside. The thoughts are grounded, not only in a personal history, but also in a collective and universal history. By replacing your negative thoughts with alternative Bohemian thoughts, the whole of this structure begins to flower. You will feel immensely liberated and inspired.

Begin to find inspiration for this new way of life in everything, in books, movies, or everyday events. You could also begin to create concrete art. It is not a goal, because you are already a Life Artist by nature. You are following the doctrine of Plato: according to the myth of the Phaedros, the soul is provided with wings by nature. Prior to its incarnation in a terrestrial body, the soul is thus able to rise up to the outermost limits of the heavens and follow the procession of the winged chariots of the gods. We see his roots in shamanism, probably something which  was taught to him by ancient Egyptian priests.

Philosophical death for the Platonists consisted in getting rid of one´s passions (separating the soul from the body), in order to attain the autonomy of thought. For the Stoics, philosophical death consisted in putting oneself in accord with universal reason, the all-embracing Logos, both interior and exterior. There is no more reason to interpret this as obsession with death or morbid complacency than when, in the film Dead Poets´ Society, Robin Williams makes his students study a picture of the school´s old boys. Williams´ character is trying to make his charges understand the meaning of the Roman poet Horace´s statement, carpe diem ("seize the day"), the irreplacable value of each instant of life, and it is with this goal in mind that he emphasizes that all the faces in the class photograph, so young and alive, are now long dead. May all educations be Dead Poets´ Societies.

Thus, in each philosophical school we encounter one and the same conception of philosophy. Similarly, in each philosophical school we find the same conception of the cosmic flight and the view from above as the philosophical way per excellence of looking at things. They are all rooted in shamanism. In particular, Platonists, Stoics, and Epicureans all discovered, in addition to their theoretical physics (not in scientific sense), a practical physics, which was conceived of as an exercise in which the imagination speeds through the infinite vastnesses of the universe. Especially for the Platonists and the Stoics, the goal of this lived physics of the universe was to attain the greatness of soul, and in all schools its function was to teach people to despise human affairs and to achive inner peace.

In his philosophical diary, Meditations, book 9, Marcus Aurelius says: "You have the power to strip off many superfluous things that are obstacles to you, and that depend entirely upon your value-judgments; you will open up for yourself a vast space by embracing the whole universe in your thoughts, by considering unending eternity. In book 7, he admonishes himself as follows:

Watch and see the courses of the stars as if you were running alongside them, and continually dwell in your mind upon the changes of the elements into one another; for these imaginations wash away the foulness of life on the earth. When you are reasoning about mankind, look upon earthly things below as if from some vantage point above them.

Pierre Hadot believes that we here see the reason why Goethe considered true poetry as an exercise consisting in spiritually elevating oneself high above the earth. For Goethe, poetry (included storytelling) in the truest sense is a kind of physics, in the sense we have defined above: it is a spiritual exercise, which consists in looking down at things from above, from the point of view of the nature of the all.


Meditation as an Art of Life - a Basic Reader (free Ebook)

Sûnyatâ Sutras (free Ebook)

Also related:

The Peter Pan Project (free booklet)

The Art of Pilgrimage (free booklet)

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