Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Around Every Man

Around every man streams an atmosphere that influences his experience.

- Albert Steffen, Meetings with Rudolph Steiner

* * *

I rummage in used book stores. It has been a constant therapy for me since I first left home. The thing with used book stores, as opposed to a book store devoted to new releases, is that you can't walk in with a plan. You are always thrown back on your memory, on vague memories of authors' names that you might have once come across, or a title someone once recommended to you and there, somehow, on the shelf was a book you couldn't have sought, but are deeply satisfied to find. Such is Meetings with Rudolph Steiner. Steiner was a philosopher, lecturer and public intellectual when that sort of thing was prized and respected. He is part of the welter of German arts that roughly coincides with Rilke and Hesse. He was, by all accounts, generous with his time and driven to understand man's spiritual life in scientific terms which would lead to an evolution in man's being, creating freer, more fully complete human beings, which would then bring about societal change because we'd all be so damned free.

You have to respect such hope.

I have been aware of Steiner's name for years. He started the Waldorf Schools and I have friends who sent their children there. He is the father of bio-dynamic agriculture that goes far beyond mere organics and is the holy grail of wine producers. He founded the Anthroposophical Society (an off-shoot of Theosophy) and spent his life writing and teaching his ideas in such a way that thousands were drawn to him and in time, after his death, the Nazi's sought to blot out his name. Steiner believed, man. He believed in his systems, his thought, the, to him, logical extension of that thought into every realm of man's endeavor. He wanted and expected us to evolve into something better than we'd shown.

You have to respect such hope.

And so rummaging in the used book store this book caught me eye. How odd, how wonderfully odd Steiner was and here was a book written by his protege about the great man. Had to have it, but I put it back on the shelf as its cost was greater than I allow myself. But then my daughter went into the same store two weeks later, found it and made it an early Father's Day gift. 

You have to respect such things.

* * *

Around every man streams an atmosphere that influences his experience. This atmosphere can be personal, idiosyncratic, familial, part of his community, nation and most broadly, his or her time. It is colored by personal acts, as well as events far removed from one's daily life. It is easy to imagine this atmosphere as being layered, colored, weighted by what occupies the mind most: personal loss, societal rage, money, faith, family, sex, work that does not insult, etc. This atmosphere, this mist of influences accompanies us everywhere we go and we are no longer able to see it in ourselves, but only in the actions of others. This atmosphere is light or dark depending on the time of day, the day of the year, the year in the life. It is the air we breathe.

You can understand all that as being an albatross, a fated unhappiness. You can also understand it as being the very thing that sustains you, that feeds your next step. It is neither. It is both. It is and what is made of it, how it is used and understood (if considered at all) will determine the rough shape of your days. It is impossible to not be influenced by one's family, or lack thereof. Impossible to not feel the shifts in the society one is born in and then grows into. And we, here, today, are moving in an atmosphere of upheaval, violence and the disintegration of civil discourse. Just like it always has been, only this time it is our turn to make our way through and we are horrified by what we see - regardless of which side of the political spectrum you sit on you are angry that it is so.

The ease with which we can vilify and dismiss anyone who is not of our mind is breathtaking. Social media allows for punches to be thrown, but from a distance. No one is eye to eye which makes throwing that punch, throwing shade, throwing aside any civility that much easier. Better to create a snark filled meme than imagine things are more complicated than that. What is the rise of Trump other than snark and anger made manifest to the world?

Around every man streams an atmosphere that influences his experience.

There is a second line to that quote. It reads: How can one tear him out of it?

But that is a useless thing to ask, for it can't be done. Horses to water and all. No, the answer, if there is an answer, lies elsewhere and it is deeply unsatisfying: if our experience is colored by the atmosphere that surrounds us–from the personal to the societal–then the task set before us is to live in such a way that the manner in which we live shifts the weight and color of the atmosphere of those closest to us, and they in their turn do the same. If you want a more just and free society, then you must be just and free to the darkest hour of the night. If you seek a return to white, male hegemony then you will follow that path and you will influence those around you. You will particularly influence those who stand opposed to such retrograde doings. You will engender the protests that will, in time, be the undoing of such chains. Here's why: the atmosphere that surrounds us is changeable, not fixed, regardless of any propaganda that says otherwise. The arc of history is long, but it bends to justice and along the way the atmosphere has been polluted by those who imagine the past is better than their present and who fear the future. Yet, despite world wars, despite holocausts on every continent, despite cruelty and fear, the atmosphere changes and hope and history rhyme.

* * *

Steiner was a lunatic, a beautiful, kind lunatic who believed in the spiritual evolution of mankind. He believed that nature revealed itself to man in such a way that man, too, could reveal his truest self to his brief time and so move, by degrees, closer to a perfection, a completeness that had yet to be accomplished except, for Steiner, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Steiner believed, man. He believed and his works live past him, have been taken up by others, added to and edited and shaped by new hands. These works spark creativity and autonomy in children, produce healthy environments that yield clean foodstuffs. By feeding off the atmosphere that surrounded him, his own story with the story of his time, he changed the atmosphere for others and it continues almost 100 years after his death.

Listen, love, you don't have to be Steiner to do this. You have to be who you are–complete, with no part left out. The things you say and do today can and will influence others unknown to you, as yet unborn. Your actions will be the atmosphere they are born into, that they start from. So, what will it be? Will you join your time and fight and work and live from what is essential in you, or will you let it slide? 

As Rumi says, everything depends on this.

* * *

I wish you well.


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