Thursday, December 6, 2007

Judgment, compassion, choice

In the Gurdjieff work, we encounter the concept of inner considering and outer considering.

Inner considering is, roughly stated, the act of getting caught in one's own internal evaluations of everything. Outer considering is the act of putting oneself in someone else's shoes. His advice to his followers was, "consider outwardly always, inwardly never."

I have been pondering the question of inner and outer considering for the past week or so. It seems to me that there can be little question the practice of outer considering is, in fact, Gurdjieff's own way of stating the need for compassion.

Compassion is the effort to put oneself in the emotional shoes of the other, and in most religious disciplines it's considered central to the understanding of inner practice. Jesus Christ called on man to exercise compassion in every situation. One of the central practices of Buddhism is compassion. There is a general understanding that we are supposed to meet the external world with compassion.

The other possibility for men is judgment. If we examine the concept of inner considering, we may see that it almost always consists of some form of judgment. It is either the judgment of ourselves, or the judgment of others, but in almost every case, inner considering consists of one kind or another of fault finding.

We are immediately reminded of Christ's admonition, "Judge not others, lest ye yourself be judged." In the Old Testament, we see a God of judgment -- a deity that disperses fire and brimstone according to the whims of his anger. The teaching that Christ brings is new: it transcends this form of inner considering, of negative judgment, and replaces it with a practice of outer considering, or compassion.

In the Old Testament, the accepted practice was to stone an adulterous woman to death without remorse. In the New Testament, we are asked to drop our vanity, our pride, and see that we are all adulterous women. This act of self remembering -- our cognition of where we are, of the fact that we are flawed -- stays our hand, and instead of judgment, the opportunity for compassion opens itself.

This tension between the question of judgment and compassion, between inner and outer considering, is a key consideration in the question of inner work. In the same way that we can either judge or love another, we judge, or love, ourselves.

Many years ago Henry Brown mentioned to us that as we hear the Commandment "love thy neighbor as thyself," we always seem to hear the "love thy neighbor" part, but forget the part where it is recommended that we loves our Self. We cannot grow if we spend all our time finding fault with ourselves.

Compassion, which is generally understood as an outwardly directed attention, must also be directed inwardly. This is, perhaps, a step in the direction of what Gurdjieff called "conscious egoism."

Judgment can be seen as paralysis, the lack of movement. Judgment is a frozen attitude which lives within a cave, and relies on the texts of the past--or, if you will, associative thought -- to apply punishment to those who sin. It is static, the rough equivalent of being stuck in one location. One never describes those who sit in judgment as being openhearted; au contraire, the one who judges is closed. He is determined to exclude the other, who is different than he is, and definitely not as good.

Judgment is the tool of habit and association.

Compassion is dynamic, the embodiment of movement. It takes the current moment into account, and examining it from multiple points of view. The openhearted way can only be practiced from the compassionate point of view. It includes the other, offering kinship and brotherhood instead of fear and division.

Compassion is the tool of openness and attention.

Which one do you think would do a better job in the service of producing inner unity?

In a moving universe, judgment finds its roots in fear and denial, in the wish to keep things from changing--to stop moving.. It stands in direct opposition to compassion, which embraces movement as inevitable.

When Gurdjieff asked us to consider outwardly always, inwardly never, he was asking us to make a choice between movement and stasis. (one might argue we see an echo of this in his two most famous body exercises: the movements, and the "stop exercise.")

The question of choice is the key. We are here to make a choice, in the same way that the quantum state needs to make a choice in order to manifest reality. Every human being's task in their life is not to do good, but to inhabit the present moment, and to make an effort to choose between judgment and compassion.

It is true that we are all crippled and often unable to make an effective choice here. Nonetheless, in its current stage of development, it's clear: mankind perpetually finds itself stuck on the far end--the judgment end-- of the line that unites judgment and compassion in Truth.

This is, I think, why for mankind the path must always point in the direction of compassion.

If we direct our search inwardly, and earnestly seek the flower of our heart, we may learn something much deeper and more intimate about this question of inner compassion towards ourselves. In this action, we may encounter our mysterious other self-

...that very one we are supposed to be remembering.

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

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