Friday, September 21, 2007

Self-ishness


Another one of those days when energies that cannot be described and do not have names show up in the middle of the day and make decisions that cannot be brokered.

I wanted to write a blog about the subject "never mind anyone else," that is to say, the idea that we should not pay attention to other people and how they are, but pay attention to ourselves and how we are.

How are we for ourselves, to ourselves?

Like many early-morning formulations, it turns out these questions, while good ones, do not relate to the present state. And I think perhaps the whole point of undertaking an enterprise like this one is to at least be honest enough to make sure that the writing corresponds to the present state. If one can.

We do not know what we are, or where we are.

We speak of the self as though we know something about the self, but no one has ever seen the self. It might as well be dark energy, a term physicists use to explain properties of the universe that cannot be explained in any current model without invoking a deus ex machina. ...Dark energy has never been seen, and no one can tell what it is. Nonetheless, scientists speak about it as though its existence were a certainty--in the same way that the religious people they so often disdain invoke God to explain properties of the universe that nothing else seems to come to grips with.

Does science have a poor nose for irony? And are the seekers and searchers of truth any less imbued with hubris, as we banter about the dark matter of the self?

Self observation, self discipline, self control.

What is the self?

The self is not something that can be grasped or held; a trillion words will not describe it; no container can hold it, no mathematical equation can describe its arising, position, direction, or momentum. When one thinks it over a bit, it's quite amazing that we have developed so many words to grapple with the concept of being, which is a quality that can only be inhabited within living consciousness, and dies the instant it is pinned down in the killing jar of analysis.

Yet here we find ourselves inside our own personal killing jar. Everyone has one. Or, drawing on my most current analogy, our own personal cement mixer. Everything comes in, we cast it in cement, end of story. In this way, everything that arises in us becomes a funeral monument.

Great to look at. Useless for practical work of any kind.

In the beginning of one of the Gurdjieff movements movies (not, unfortunately, unavailable to the public, a very nearly criminal oversight on the part of the powers that be in the Gurdjieff Foundation) Jeanne DeSalzmann says to the viewer that everything is always in motion, everything is always going up or down, nothing ever stands still.

If we hear this, of course we nod in sage agreement, as though we knew what she was talking about.

But we don't.

Every single one of us is trapped in cement mixer mode. The flexibility that is needed to treat life in a manner other than as a solid object just isn't in the inner air. When and if new and truly flexible things come along within us, they are bewildering, inexplicable. So of course we try to calm down and tame them, and explain them.

More dust, more water, more cement.

Even more criminal on our own part, perhaps, is our insane belief that everything of value that we might find is incredibly delicate. If spirituality, if a real relationship with whatever "self" may be, is that ephemeral and that weak, let's face it, it doesn't stand a chance in this brutal world.

On Saturday we drove upstate and strolled along a relatively undeveloped stretch of river bank on the Delaware River. I watched a monarch butterfly take off and fly away from the riverbank over the trees.

We look at butterflies and see that they are extraordinarily delicate creatures, you can squish them in hand with little or no effort. They weigh so little that any wind would seem to buffet them off their course; they are just the right size to be a snack for a bird. Beauty, yes. Magnificent, delicate, ephemeral, short-lived beauty.

Of course, our impressions of these butterflies are all completely wrong. This butterfly flew off with a strength, a speed, a determination and an aim that would have put some small aircraft to shame. This creature was strong. Not only that, constantly in motion, it travels thousands of miles to winter over in Mexico, a journey that a human being would find terribly difficult without aircraft or motorized vehicles. Far from being defenseless, it is poisonous; there is nothing nice about eating one of these creatures. So nature has endowed beauty with strength. Amazing, flexible, mobile strength that drinks nectar from flowers.

As we engage in inner work, our essence is a caterpillar munching away on the milkweed leaves of our ego. Eventually, if we are lucky, it will form a chrysalis, and something inside it will begin to change a very great deal. When it emerges, when it bursts through the protective skin under which it has wrought its changes, it will not be a weak, delicate thing. Being is tough, resilient, resolute. These are the qualities that attracted people to Gurdjieff. He was as robust as his teaching.

If there is such a thing as self, self lies beneath and within all the qualities that give birth to everything, from the leaf to the munching caterpillar to the chrysalis to the butterfly. Self needs to be expanded to encompass everything, even the moments before self and the moments after self.

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




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