Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Negativity and Chief Feature

In the Gurdjieff work there is a thing called Chief Feature.

Chief feature is a part of ourselves around which everything else forms. In Gurdjieff's teaching this part is understood, generally speaking at least, to be an inner obstacle. That is, it's a major part of what blinds us to ourselves. As he said to Ouspensky, "Every man has a certain feature in his character which is central. It is like an axle round which all his 'false personality' revolves. Every man's personal work must consist in struggling against this chief fault" (In Search of the Miraculous, Harcourt Brace, p.226)

Chief feature is probably not "all negative." We actually need it. After all, in our relatively crippled ordinary state- we are all so partial we limp along through life without any inner unity, and are constantly trying to compensate for our lack of inner connection- we need at least some strong part to help us along. Life is always unexpectedly battering us in one way or another, and if we can't meet it in a right way- with balance and unity- then we better have a few defenses to deploy.

It is a deal with the devil. Chief feature becomes a steel shield formed at the very front of our being to protect us. Our conduct in life all takes place from behind this barrier. After we've finished forming it rather early in life, nothing really gets in, and a lot of our real essential self can't get out. No matter what happens, chief feature is right there, advising us, reassuring us, rationalizing, and making sure that we're comfortable.

Even if what we are comfortable in is a big pile of our own excrement.

The price of relative saftey is this imprisonment. Life is held at arm's length, producing a state referred to in various ways such as sleep, lack of relationship, attachment, or identification.
Dwelling behind this wall of our own making, we all convince ourselves that the view from the little slit through which all our exchanges take place is a damned good one.

In fact, the view is so good we don't even know we have a wall.

Chief feature is invisible. So invisible that Gurdjieff advised us if we are told what it is, we will most certainly deny it. I know a little about how this works because of my experience with denial in alcoholism. What little I know is scary, because what I do know is that I was absolutely delusional about my drinking.

The implication is that chief feature causes us to live in an equally profound state of delusion about ourselves. It takes great effort to see through a veil that thick.

A lot of what keeps chief feature "functioning within acceptable parameters" (as my favorite character on Star Trek- The Next Generation, Data, used to say)- is negativity.

Why does chief feature remind me of Data, you might ask? Well, first of all, he's a construction- a piece of hardware made for practical purposes. Like those who we call sociopaths- thank God he's not that type- he's not even human, even though he appears to be. Hiding behind our chief feature puts a little sociopath in all of us.

Data, however, is a very sympathetic character- for a robot. He's humorous (unintentionally, of course, but that is part of his pathos,) filled with facts, eager to contribute, always calculating, and has an earnest desire to understand these confusing, illogical beings called humans.

The problem is, robots don't have the equipment to do that. Like the cowardly lion of Oz, Data has no emotions- no heart. Above all, Data is a machine, and as we viewers all know, machines can't be human beings. Because he's a machine, important facts about humans completely escape him.

Ever feel that way about yourself? I sure do. I think we're all like Data, except that- lucky for him!- he doesn't have the capacity to be negative. Maybe that's why we feel sympathy for him.
(And perhaps it's not such a bad thing to have a little sympathy for our machine- which is the subject for a future blog under the heading 'sympathy for the devil.')

In the absence of any real emotion- real compassion, real empathy, reaf feeling, all of which our inner barriers actively exclude-, the machine of chief feature gets to work to devise the best substitue it can. And most of the time, unfortunately, that seems to be negativity. Negativity is much easier to manufacture than real feeling, because it can be effortlessly produced from the natural friction between our wall and the outside world. And there's always friction, isn't there?

The problem is, that friction generates heat.

Inside this inner fortress, we live in a perpetual state of fear. This fear is created by the very presence of the wall itself, which blinds us to 99% of what we need to know about what is going on around us. Over time, our fortress fills up with all kinds of volatile chemicals. Every so often the friction produces enough heat and the whole thing goes kablooey.

We all know what that feels like. The results of this repeated accumulation and detonation of inner negativity destroy everything we work for. If we don't come to grips with it, no matter what we try, we keep finding ourselves in the middle of a pile a rubble that- just a few moments ago- was supposed to be the foundation of an inner temple.

I probably don't spend as much time as I should studying this thing called chief feature. It's the core of what self-observation is all about. So- along with the study of my negativity- it could be interesting to make this a more active part of my questions about myself in 2007.

If anyone else reading the blog is interested in exchanging about their own experiences and work with their negativity- either privately via e mail, or in this public forum- I'd welcome hearing from them.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what today's photo is all about, that's moose at the entrance to Pompeii. Draw your own conclusions.

May we all feed well on this rich food of impressions called "life" today-

love to you all,


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