Will matters and your will is free.
To speak more on mortification of the flesh practices, they often show that there is more to us than our desires. Practices served as rites of passage, much like tribal ritual scarification. It still is practiced in the Opus Dei. They are flagellates, if I recall. Opus dei, work of God in Latin.
Some say work of crazies? Well, in fact, we will touch on that. Some form of mortification of the flesh is even practiced in non mystical sectors. It can be argued that whenever you ignore the biological needs of the body you are practicing mortification of the flesh. According to the scientific understanding of thought and mind, there should be no natural motivation for ignoring biological needs, but it seems a very wide spread behaviour. It is as if some part of ourselves prioritizes something else much higher.
So you’re saying that many of the practices during Lent would qualify? Yes, I would say that. You mean fasts? Yes, fasts would count. In Christianity, it stems from what is called the Manichean heresy. A concept that was picked up late in Christian history that states the flesh is inherently sinful and the spirit inherently pure. The idea that flesh and created reality are evil. Original sin basically, though in fact those aren’t directly related concepts. If anything, it seems to be rather obvious heresy, because in the book of Genesis it’s repeated that what was created was good. The Gnostic texts seem like valid spiritual insight to me, but got buried under politics. Many of the Gnostic texts were disregarded by the church and have been themselves declared as heresy, though taken in the context of cannon they fit. It was the papal bull of about 900 ano domini that established cannon and it was to fit their agenda.
People thought that if one could divorce one’s self from bodily desires, it would be easier to be “good”. They believed that starting on the “animal” desires would make you lose control, and due to a variety of factors and stresses it may have seemed a sure road to insanity.
What made them think you couldn’t get control back? Well, through educational limits and not understanding things like the commonly used intoxicants etc., they saw the mind as being otherworldly and easily susceptible to corruption by outside forces. Even our own understanding supports this isn’t absolutely wrong, but it is at best a half truth.
Does it seem wrong to think there is a path to act perfectly at all times? I myself favour the Taoist view that the perfect path is the path of our own natures. Not one we can create or can follow based on some abstract idea. We are perfectly ourselves.
Many mortification practices were pursued because they are mind altering, and they aren’t all painful. Extreme exhaustion would be a mortification practice, and that can be arrived at quite pleasurably. The Kama Sutra is a guide to mortification of the flesh. Before the age of psycho pharmacology, pain could give one access to certain natural hormones that when heavily produced induce what are thought of as spiritual states. Now many dabblers see that as license to engage in what are ultimately foolish practices. The origin of modern tattooing was ritual scarification, but they didn’t do it for amusement. It was a meditative practice/rite of passage, and it wasn’t aimless cutting. It was focused on patterns of spiritual symbolism and on specific regions of the body/mind. Often not undertaken without the right type of blade and the right herbs on hand. These herbs often having antiseptic qualities.
Supposedly, we in this enlightened era have gotten away from the old superstitions. This seems blatantly false. We just leached any meaning or wisdom out of them reducing them to psychosis. Jung delved into mystical practices, ancient symbolism and systems of thought because in his practice of psycho-analysis (despite it being a supposed age of reason) he saw these forces and practices still reproducing themselves, even without guidance or tradition to preserve them.
Part of being in a living culture is that practices change and develop new meaning. Indeed, the original meaning is unaltered, but it becomes an action without intent. How often do people say, “I didn’t mean to say that” or “I didn’t mean to do that.”? Does that seem healthy even if it’s common?
The ideas are still there, so the spirituality is still there? They are there beyond us as well as in us, and the spirituality is there perhaps for some. I can’t count how many people I know who get tattoos for whim only, little thought. Yes, we aren’t inventing it, though there has been concerted effort to abolish it. Neo paganism isn’t a fad that people created. New language and tradition, but same root spirit. My point is that the spirit of a practice matters, and an action taken with proper will has all the same power it originally did.
Can’t practices evolve and change and grow? They can, but we stand on the ground of our spiritual roots. They can de-evolve as well.
Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.