Thursday, August 2, 2007

Ordinary, energy, knowing

I recently became interested in the exact meaning of words we use in discussing inner work. My impression is that words get used a great deal without anyone carefully considering what the meaning of the words is. ...After I've heard particular words being slung about like hash on dinner plates long enough, well, being the cantankerously inquisitive person I am, I begin to wonder just what the hell it is we're all talking about.

Figuring this out requires attempting to think with some precision, rather than associatively. Let's expose my soft underbelly and see how I do.

Mr. Gurdjieff himself pointed out that an exact language was necessary, simply because different people often use the same word, and mean entirely different things. The specific example I recall here is the use of the word "world" (as expounded upon in P. D. Ouspensky's "In Search of the Miraculous".)

Today let's consider a few other words.

We sometimes hear discussion about the "ordinary" self, "ordinary" life and the "higher" self. There are questions raised about how to value the "ordinary" self and how to value what is ordinary in general, as opposed to this effort to become real, to acquire being, which we all view as somehow being "special."

We will get back to that question of special. For now, let's ask, just what does "ordinary" mean?

The first definition given in the Oxford English dictionary for the word is "conformable to order or rule." Referring back to yesterday's blog, I think we can see that the entire universe and everything that exists falls under this definition. Therefore, everything that exists everywhere is in fact "ordinary." Interesting, when we consider it from that point of view, that we all seem, well, perpetually dissatisfied with the ordinary. The whole damn universe, apparently, is not good enough for us.

Other definitions for the word "ordinary" include regular, normal, customary, of the usual kind, not exceptional, not distinguished by rank.

Let's be clear: it appears that every other additional definition of "ordinary" involves subjective judgments and invokes an artificial relativism. I will leave you to ponder the implications of that on your own.

Now we come to the word "energy." I have heard this word used so many times in the Gurdjieff work that I feel it has been beaten to death. But what exactly do we mean by this word?

The dictionary describes energy as force or vigor, exercise of power, power actively and efficiently exerted, or, the ability to produce an effect.

I think, however, that the very best definition of energy --for our level, at least -- which I encountered in the OED is the one that is used in physics: the power of doing work possessed by a body or system of bodies.

Taking the two words together, we encounter the suggestion that the "ordinary" -- that which is conformable to order or rule-- has the ability to do work. That is, inherent within the manifestation of the material world is the possibility of effort. That would be true for every level. If energy passes from one level to another, it does so in the interests of making work possible.

In pondering this further, it occurred to me that ordinary is considered as an adjective, and energy is generally used as a noun. I am wondering if we have that backwards. After all, from the point of view of physics alone, I think most would agree that energy describes the properties of materiality, rather than materiality describing energy.

So everything is noun-ordinary, and everything is described by its relationship to the properties of its adjective-energy.

So. Is there a "higher" energy? What does that mean? If I experience a "higher" energy- let's be more specific, and call it a particular form of less familiar sensation--, is it really "higher?" We may call it higher energy for lack of a better term, but what is it, really?

Is it, perhaps, the material expression of compassion? And if it is lawful, emerges and manifests in an organized manner according to level, and penetrates all of reality, isn't it, in fact, not "higher" or "special," but-

ordinary?


Or should we, as Dogen seems to suggest, avoid pasting any names whatsoever on the un-nameable?

I wonder.

Now we come to the third word: to know. What does it mean to know?

Dictionary definitions include: to perceive directly, grasp with the mind with clarity or certainty, to regard as true beyond a doubt, to have a practical understanding of through experience, to be skilled in, and finally, to be fixed in the mind.

I would like to generalize and suggest that to know means "to become aware of." That which is unknown lies outside the sphere of consciousness; anything that enters the sphere of consciousness becomes known. To me this is a simpler and more understandable formulation.

Human beings, groups, and cultures consider themselves "special" if they think they know something that others do not know. This attitude is so ingrained in all of us that we don't even notice we have it. Nonetheless, even the most brilliant among us, who ought to know better, think that because they know some things, they know everything. In Plato's apology, Socrates bemoans this (in his world, quintessentially Athenian) habit. Or take, for example, Richard Dawkins, who based solely on his expertise in biology has decided he "knows" that God does not exist, and embarked on an evangelistic mission to sell this prospect to the rest of the intellectual world.

Don Quixote was being more realistic when he went up against the windmill.

Every single living organism is in the same boat on this question. Nothing is "special"-- everything is ordinary. Everything falls under the rule of law, and it is categorically impossible for any single point of consciousness to know anything more than what it knows from its own point.

True, within the context of expansion of awareness, more can be known, but compared to the total of what is knowable--which we can quantify, in our apparently infinite universe, to be equal to (or greater than) infinity-- it amounts to next to nothing. If we want reassurance on this point, we can take note of the fact that many of the higher beings in Beelzebub, despite their impressive levels of development, don't seem to know how to manage the mess here on earth. They misconstrue. They misjudge. They miscalculate. Put bluntly, they keep screwing up in major ways.

It seems that ignorance is endemic, no matter what level we find ourselves on. If that's not a humbling factor, I don't know what would be. This may well be one of the fundamental conditions that consciousness of all kinds will always have to suffer in, relative to its manifestation within the known universe. Knowingly or unknowingly, consciousness is forever pressed against the cloud of unknowing.

I think that we human beings all consistently fall victim to the last definition of the word to know: to be fixed in the mind. In man, the acquisition of knowledge has the unintended consequence of rigidity. To know is, all too often, to become enclosed in an exoskeleton.

This morning, while walking the famous dog Isabel, I formulated it thusly:

In order to know the unknown, we must un-know the known.

...Yes, you are probably thinking to yourself, "but these are all just word games."

You're correct. They are word games, but this is part of the way we work to understand. If we are going to slog words around, perhaps we should point the mind at them with some acuity and attempt to understand what we are actually saying. It is all too easy to say things that sound important-- any idiot can manage it. In fact, even parrots can be taught to utter profundities.

If we really wish to work, what is said must be examined more closely to see if it actually means anything. All too often, it turns out the Emperor of the Mind wears no clothes, and does no exercises.

Of course, there are alternatives to life in this lonely, lazy nudist colony of the intellect.
Another way of working is to discover how to ask questions without any words, and open our hearts to the possibility of responses that carry no name. We can attempt to keep the lips and tongue still, but become aware of the breath, which remains in movement.

In the end, the worst thing we can do, I think, is try to become special.

How can we avoid contaminating our wish to be with our wish to become something?

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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