Friday, December 14, 2007

forgive us our tresspasses-sealing the vessel, part 2

Today I am back in Hangzhou- the looming presence of the lake seems larger than life in the darkness, and the hotel grounds are awash with Christmas lights, something one sees more of every year in China.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

This phrase has a specific meaning in relationship to the idea of containment, which is the inner practice of sealing the crucible of Being, the vessel we dwell within.

Containment is a practice in many religions. Why it needs to be a practice can be explained by proper understanding of the enneagram.

Every negative emotion we have- every judgment, every inner movement arising from ordinary being which, in our nearly perpetual state of inattention, faults or devalues the existing moment, person, or thing—is a trespass.

The word “trespass” is a more accurate word than “sin,” which is what the modern version of the prayer uses. This because when energy which belongs in the right evolution of the octave “leaks” out of the vessel, it trespasses the boundaries of the octave it belongs in and collapses into different, repetitive, state.

Gurdjieff’s practices of non-expression of negative emotion and outer considering, Christ’s compassion, Buddhism’s mindfulness, are all practices specifically aimed at containing energy within the vessel. Intention and awareness--conscious action, or third force—are required in order to avoid such “deflections of the octave.”

To reject, to be negative, is to fail to take in what arrives. Each judgment or negative emotional impulse, spits what must be accepted—allowed, or suffered—back out into the world, instead of allowing its energy to enter the parts that perceive so that it can feed us. So in judgment, in rejection, we unconsciously force the very food we need for our development out of the vessel—it’s a form of inner “vomiting.”

“Lead us not into temptation” refers to our habit of inviting such negativity, of actually encouraging such leaks; “deliver us from evil” refers to being granted the grace of having an inner wish not to act on such impulses.

A careful examination of the inner process during daily life will help us to see just how often we engage in activity which “breaks the seals” on our vessel. Our habits are unconscious; taken from a certain point of view every unconscious action becomes a trespass.

This is why Gurdjieff said that man is constantly losing all the energy he needs for his development, and why he urged us to go against our habits—the idea has an inner, as well as an outer, meaning, after all. Our outer habits are bad enough, but they pale in comparison to our inner ones. We can change outer behavior all we want, and create the appearance of goodness and change, but if we do not change our inner behavior, nothing can really ever change at all.

Of course it sets an impossibly high standard to expect of ourselves that we remain forever conscious. We cannot “do” that—and, indeed, the prayer itself recognizes that. This is why this particular passage begins with a request to forgive us our trespasses. The understanding that we will trespass is implicit.

The further understanding that help is available in this matter is also implicit. The very structure of the enneagram itself shows us this visually in the form of the triangle—the law of three-in its role as vehicle for arrival of the energy that gives the shocks required to allow the evolution of the scale.

The only way in which we can ultimately understand and integrate all of the ideas in the Gurdjieffian oeuvre is by understanding the enneagram. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that men used to judge each other’s level of development by what they understood about this diagram. That’s because if taken properly, every single idea in Gurdjieff’s teaching can be understood from the point of view of the diagram, and integrated into one’s overall understanding of Being and its relationship to the cosmos.

I cannot stress this enough: in my experience, I'd say, if we rightly understand the diagram, it explains everything that is necessary for our inner development. That right understanding begins with the understanding that we are the crucible—that this diagram is a picture of our inner process. It’s how we work.

That is where our responsibility begins: how do we fill our vessel, and with what?

We’re not judged by the contents of our vessel so much as held accountable.

The whole point of life is that we reach the moment of death with the contents of our crucible—whatever they may be—completed. At that moment we are what we are. If the crucible is full of excrement, that is what we will have in our hands when we face the moment of accountability. Accountability is the principle behind karma, and it—rather than the cruder understanding of judgment as offered by the old testament—is the principle behind the global meaning of sin in Christianity.

Gurdjieff’s work approaches this set of ideas by offering the concept of responsibility.

The word is the choice of a true adept: it synthesizes the essential Buddhist concept of action-within-life with the Christian idea of accountability and illustrates a relationship in life—work within life—in the sense of the response that we offer as we discover ourselves within each “point” or note on our inner octave. Responsibility is the antidote for trespasses: as was pointed out yesterday, to be aware, to be responsive, is to begin to apply the required hermetic seal.

Hence Jeanne De Salzmann’s famous adage to “stay in front of our lack.” This effort creates a moment when we bring the requirements of our inner work—the attention to integrity of the inner, emotional vessel—into contact with the inflowing impressions of our outer life.

In itself, this is action within life—work within life—which helps seal the vessel.

And hence, of course, the ongoing emphasis in the Gurdjieff work on “work in life.”

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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