It is generally assumed that the human organism can best be developed and kept fit by all kinds of sports. Exercises are of course necessary, particularly when they are carried out in pure air. However, opinions do not agree as to the nature of these exercises. It is also surmised that the main harmonious development should take place in the nervous system and not only in the muscles. Once the nervous system is balanced and the nerves have regained their normal tension, we can achieve much that muscular development alone could never accomplish.
Everyone recognizes that any highly specialized sport, which only exercises a certain set of muscles, is limited and therefore not the best form of training.
We have, first of all, to wisely use the prana present in pure air; also certain motion is necessary that is natural to the human organism. If such motion does not disturb the nervous system and flows without violence, it will be a most fitting means for the development of the body and spirit.
It is a well known fact that a man under nervous strain proves to be stronger and more persevering than the trained athlete. Artificial, limited tension tends to produce limited thinking. The "golden mean" of thinking can only come from the harmonious equilibrium of the whole organism. When one thinks of all the marathons of today, it is deplorable that in this or that absurd occupation hours and hours are needlessly used up.
It can be asked who is made wiser or happier by a situation in which a human being senselessly dances for seventy-two hours, or more, exhibiting signs of ugliness in such a performance? Who benefits from a spectacle consisting of couples kissing one another for hours, which also reveals signs of ugliness?
In analyzing these modern marathons one is convinced of a profanation of the classic ancient name instituted by the Greeks. Moreover the Greek runners after participating in the marathon were accustomed to frequent the Academy where they could listen to and hold discussions with great scholars and philosophers. Thus, theirs was no one-sided-profession befogging the senses.
Many researchers will tell you that violent bodily exertion is not needed for a harmonious development of the nervous system. We know that the members of the Peripatetic school of philosophers during their walks discussed the higher sciences, thus harmonizing their physical and spiritual prowess.
If we compare the decadent games of the Roman circus with the classical sports competitions of Greece, we shall get some idea of the ugliness of all purely physical contests. The Greek games demanded neither cruelty nor blood, which were part and parcel of the Roman circuses.
Alas, even today a public execution would draw an immense crowd. In Germany they have again begun to decapitate women criminals, and although this takes place in the prison courtyard, yet if such a spectacle were to be transferred to the public square, you would find in this "civilized" age of ours that a space as big as an amphitheater would be packed with spectators. As a matter of fact, if admission were charged, the gate receipts would probably exceed all the sums that go to philanthropic works.
We once heard that some ladies were vexed because capital punishment by hanging had replaced that of being burned alive. Obviously it is evident that such monstrous sentiments are due to a limited development of only some centers and instincts. A great deal of the degeneration and savagery are the result of precisely ugliness and narrow limitations. Certain muscles have become swollen, producing an abcess of sadism and savagery, the pus of which has poisoned both heart and brain.
In opposition to such an ugly physical development there is a theory that with a proper education of the nervous system one can control and develop the muscles and all the organs. Indeed, it is thought that sets in motion the muscles and also all other functions. Yet there are many people whose thinking is so limited that they do not realize this simple axiom. Nevertheless anyone who wishes can become convinced. We have often met people who gave little time for physical exercises, but who were nonetheless in the full bloom of their mental and physical abilities. By aspiring toward higher matters and taking an active interest in life, their organism became well-balanced.
Value the gifts of life. In desiring to live a life of labor and usefulness you will have acquired a great impulse which will do more to keep you healthy than all the vaccinations and massages. Conscious mental massage can pump fresh energy into a weakened organ. The simplest pranayama, which consists in inhaling prana and directing it to any spot, which is in need of strengthening, and development, is a very instructive example.
Every day one hears of the most awful methods of prophylaxis. Someone fears insomnia and finding nothing better takes narcotics or alcohol. Another, because of some symptoms incomprehensible to him because of ignorance, begins to smoke or take drugs, oblivious of the fact that such indulgence will only prompt their increase.
We often hear about the joy of dedicating one's life to service, but what joy can there be in the agony of narcotics, nicotine, and alcohol? They will not help us toward the joy of growth and ascent, but will only lead to a shameful retreat into darkness.
Physicians are well aware of many illnesses which originate in an addiction to modern sports, and it is quite common to hear of this or that serious illness, often incurable, caused by overexertion in sports. Different organs may be stricken and one meets most of all with overfatigue of the heart. Cardiac neurosis and other serious heart diseases are experienced throughout the entire life and they may lead to a fatal ending.
Specialized athletes are hardly fit for average physical activity. They can be likened to hothouse plants, which are fit only for a special way of life. If any profession causes a limited way of thinking due to specialization, it is more so with sports, which make thinking lopsided and ugly. If one listens to the interests of prizefighters and other similar professionals and seekers of prizes, one very soon begins to question contemporary civilization.
Lately, it would seem that bullfights are beginning to lose their keen attraction, but perhaps it is only wishful thinking, since crowds still gather and roar in pleasure as they applaud this cruel sport. Of course no one will associate these professional distortions with the healthy Boy Scout movement, in which leisure time can be healthfully employed. The golden mean has been often and variably reiterated, yet perhaps the valuable essence of it has been rarely understood.
As we rise steadily in our ascent toward the spiritual heights of Monsalvat1 we shall find very few sportsmen or prizefighters among the pilgrims. Those who aspire untiringly to these heights are very different in character. Physical prowess is not enough if we are not to fear the mountain paths and overcome the hardships and dangers on the way. The aspirants to Monsalvat generally have the necessary physical and spiritual strength not to cowardly swerve from the determined path. And the required physical strength will not be drawn from a desire for prizes. All those whose hearts are aflame with Monsalvat will ascend these heights in beautiful equilibrium, without any harm to their spiritual growth.
Monsalvat is ordained. It is a name known to all languages. In constant growth let us avoid all that is terminated and finite. But we shall err if we accept bodily achievements as the goal of life and the crowning glory. It has been ordained that spirit alone shall receive the crown.
Let us ponder how the idea of Monsalvat was conceived. The educators will not forget when and how this guiding concept entered life. As we approach it we are once again aware that nothing is finite in the great relativity. Many a time will every teacher have to repeat this simple truth to those who enter upon the path of labor.
To those engaged in life's daily routine the heights of Monsalvat may seem remote and inaccessible. Many will save up their possessions saying with tenderness, "They will be needed when I go there." These people are not misers infatuated with earthly possessions, they are falcons spreading their future wings. They know that when the time comes, they will be permitted to go. And, above all, in this realization they will have overcome the oppressive feeling of loneliness, which terrifies all those who dwell in ignorance.
Lofty expressions alone are suited to the heights, for base, commonplace words do not naturally gather about lofty concepts. Those who desire to see behold many things. For those who wish to hear, voices are already ringing.
Monsalvat is ordained.
April 14, 1935
1 Montserrat, also called Monsalvat. In the Middle Ages the mountain was thought to have been the site of the castle of the Holy Grail.