Sunday, December 16, 2007

the positive way

As regular readers know, I not infrequently refer to Jeanne De Salzmann in my postings.

I did not know her well, but I saw her in person on a number of occasions, and a number of the people I know worked closely with her. She not only changed the Gurdjieff work with the intense and undeniable quality of her own work, she left a legacy we all owe a very real debt to.

Just yesterday, I mentioned her phrase "staying in front of our lack." And this morning, my wife used that phrase again. The phrase gets used a good deal, and with good reason.

However, this morning, I raised some questions about it.

I wonder whether it is time to erase the blackboard. When we use the phrases that other teachers left us, it is good, but we always fall into the danger of allowing it to become habitual. This particular phrase -- whose purpose I value -- has been used a great deal. Today, I am pondering whether or not it belongs to what is called the "via negativa." (Coming to what God is through negation—what He is not.)

That is to say, it focuses on what we do not have. It presumes inability, deficiency.

The inability may indeed be there, but it is only half of the question. There are also abilities. We could look at the other half of this question and offer the idea of “being within our lives." This offers a positivist point of view on our work.

After many years of immersion in the Gurdjieff work, which, combined with my devout Christian practice, is undeniably the heart of my own search, I am concerned about the danger of focusing on the negative -- what we cannot do, the way in which we are unable, all of the defects and deficiencies which we have. It may be time for all of us in the Gurdjieff Work to look at the question of affirmation. The via negativa cannot be all there is -- it is only one half of the question. If Gurdjieff was the great master of the 20th century in this way—perhaps Paramahansa Yogananda was the great master of the via positiva. And I believe that we need to discover a synthesis of the two ways in order to find a work that is whole.

Anyone who spends enough time on inner work will eventually discover that glorious, beautiful things can blossom in us. Nothing is all bad. We are not solely constructed of a lack. There are things we have as well as things we do not have. We need to learn to value the things that we do have, as well as perceive the things that we do not.

I may have mentioned before that it is necessary, on occasion, to completely erase the blackboard. You can absolutely fill it with equations that define exactly where you are, as my math teacher at Phillips Academy in Andover used to do. There is a moment, however, when everything has to be erased in one instant in order for an entirely new paradigm to arrive. If we do not erase the blackboard of our inner work, both in its form and its substance, the blackboard never has room for anything new to appear. So while we use the valuable phrases that our teachers left us, let us sip their nectar with caution, rather than chug-a-lugging them in the hopes of an elusive, highest-possible high.

I do have one other comment on the question of staying in front of our lack. This phrase has more than one meaning. In a sense, all it is is preparation for a much larger moment. As I pointed out yesterday, we do not know the stranger -- we do not even know what we lack. We continually define what we lack by what we think we lack, and what we think we lack is imaginary. Do we really know what we lack? That would be a very big realization indeed.

Eventually, the skin of imagination has to be peeled back by something greater than what we know now.

When that peeling of the skin occurs, we are faced with a real Moment in which we truly discover what we lack, an experience that is given, rather than created by our own effort. And in that moment, we discover what it actually means to lack, rather than what we think it means to lack.

In other words, the question is much larger than the words that form it.

This is often the case with questions, and it pays to remember it.

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

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