Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ice crystals


There's a hard layer of icy snow over our stretch of the Hudson valley this weekend- flat, perfect, unforgiving. This morning my wife and I trudged across it with the famous dog Isabel, leaving barely a print on its surface.

As we passed the crystalline block of lake ice you see above this text, I was reminded of the fact that the state of a matter is always a question of temperature. Under the right conditions, for example, silicon dixoide is a liquid- but we know it better as quartz.

Solid, liquid, gas- three states. The universe began as a superheated gas- cooled to a liquid plasma- crystallized into planets. We're not that different. DNA- the very stuff that forms us- is a crystalline structure.

The word crystal itself derives from the Greek "to freeze," or congeal. Crystals, however, don't just represent the end result of a loss of heat energy- they also represent its retention in a structured form. So crystallization is a way of preserving information. In separating themselves from their environment crystals preserve what they are, but it is at the expense of relationship and further change.

You'll perhaps recall that I prefer to understand the word information as not meaning data, but rather that which is formed within us. So, as Gurdjieff mentioned, men crystallize as they acquire material. Wrong crystallization is a real danger- once something inner is formed and crystallizes, the only ways to re-form what results are to break it or melt it. Either way the process is painful.

Does that sound kinda weird? People can crystallize?

Think it over. One of the definitions of "crystallize" is to give a definite or concrete and permanent shape to.

This idea isn't so foreign to our ordinary life. We all know that overcoming inner attitudes is incredibly difficult and usually involves a lot of pain and suffering. As we grow older, important parts of us get cold and hard. They become incredibly resistant to change, and to others, they stick out from the rest of our being just like the block of ice you see in the picture. In other words, those parts that solidify become prominent. In many cases we actually rely on them to "get the job done"- whatever the job of the moment seems to be. We all know how that is- no matter what comes up, whatever situation we confront, we may tend to repeatedly tackle it from the same part of ourselves. Even if it's apparent that part is inappropriate, or even disfunctional. Psychologist call it "playing tapes."

Those of you familiar with the Gurdjieff Work may see a similarity between this idea and the idea of "chief feature." No coincidences here.

We fall in love with those parts of ourselves. They can even be (s0mewhat perversely perhaps) very attractive to others. Crystals are bright and clean and pure and glittering. The fact that they represent a frozen state where the possibilites of change are all but gone is lost on us. The beauty of these solid, no longer mutable masses hypnotizes everyone. Before you know it we're all polishing up our inner crystals and holding them up to the light, exclaiming to ourselves about how groovy they look.

We forget that we are trapped in them.

Smashing the crystal is one way of changing, but almost no one is able to do that to themselves. It takes a terrible shock to do that and the results are unpredictable. Take a look at what happened to Humpty Dumpty.

Best not go that way if we can avoid it, huh?

The good news is, there's fuel in us. We have also stored a great deal of material that can be burned to produce heat. This material exists in the form of the experiences we take in over a lifetime. Those experiences are laid down in us like layers of peat, or solid trunks and limbs of wood.

So, in work, if we take that material of life, and we seek that spark of inner fire that God leaves forever burning in us, we can light a flame. With time we may be able to slowly melt that solid material in us. Become softer, more penetrable, bring ourselves to a state where a new chemistry can emerge. One that includes many important elements we left out of the original reaction.

I sense we need our whole lives for that- all the parts of it, every moment we have ever experienced. It is the whole that contains what we need to re-form ourselves.

How can I touch that wholeness of my life, of my being? It includes the past- the present- the future in ways I am unable to understand. There are moments when I brush up against that and sense the vast, mysterious nature of this thing called my life.

Perhaps, as in AA, I just have to go forward, be open, and trust in the process.

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