Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Remorse of conscience

What is real remorse?

Feeling bad about the things we do is just scratching the surface. This, while it's a beginning, is a mere externalization of the issues and the problems. We might apply the old saw from psychology here: "the rejected gets projected."

Remorse over things we do reduces the argument to one of the outer: if we behave better, we will be better. Doing good and being good, however, do not necessarily have anything to do with one another. This is a matter of what is perceived, rather than what is innate.

It is not in works that we will know God. Understanding that leads in this direction must be inner, that is, innate, not "created" by the outer practice of virtue. What inner work leads us towards is an inner practice of virtue, which may be quite different than what is taking place within our outwardness. Here we meet with the Christian idea of prayers offered in secret, which are rewarded in secret.

We could get into further philosophical discussions about this, but I want to avoid that, if possible. Instead I prefer today to turn inwards, to examine what the question of remorse means from the point of view of the organism, and my relationship to myself.

Remorse is a form of payment.

It is connected to an inner work, not the outer world. Yes, it involves my relationship with the outer world, but the payment is made from within, in terms of my relationship to myself, and my relationship with God. Remorse springs directly from my lack--the way in which I fall short of my wish.

In the course of ordinary life, living in contact with my ordinary being (the outer self, or personality, which we have talked about a great deal over the last six months) my "inner self " becomes progressively soiled with the negativities and poisons of my insufficiency. Under ordinary circumstances, this seems so normal I am not even aware of it. It's possible that this ignorance is directly connected to the absence of what Mr. Gurdjieff called "an organic sense of shame," a term that is, so far as I know, unique to him. He asserts that humanity lacks this quality, which ought by rights to be inherent.

This progressive poisoning of the inner state is linked to the ideas of "karma" in Buddhism and "sin" in Christianity, but words can never quite touch the reality of these "dirty things" which fill me so completely in my ordinary life.

Do I see them? Do I suffer them? No, I celebrate them.

It's only when the inner hammer falls, when a force demands that I be relentlessly honest with myself, that I begin to sense what I am actually filled with. Because of my blindness, I don't even know it, but this is what I always work in the hopes of: to find myself directly on the anvil, willing to suffer the blows that are needed to re-shape the soul into a tool more useful than a blob of slag.

By myself I cannot even come close to doing this. It is only when an outside force descends to intervene that it becomes possible.

If the blows are hard enough, and I truly sense my sin, a real remorse of conscience for what I lack may arise.

Real humility may show itself.

Real compassion may come to visit me.

It is in the remorse, the tears, "the horror of the situation," as Mr. Gurdjieff would call it, that I can cleanse myself in preparation for something better than what I am now.

This is the refinement of gold, the heating of the crucible, the driving out of what is impure by the fires of sorrow. It is a process of transubstantiation, the alteration of inner substances into something altogether new and subtle. It is a work of the body, and the emotions:

the mind cannot grasp it.

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


  1. Obviously, Lee, you are transmuting "lead into gold" when you create posts of this quality. And for your blog, that's saying something.

    It is painful when we require outside shocks virtually all the time to bring us to true remorse. I have wondered--is it best to have more of these, or less? I suppose if we are truly unconscious, more is preferable, as long as we can still feel them.

  2. Lee, you should really talk about the "shock" process sometime. I am running into so many people who see "intentional suffering" and "conscious shock" as synonymous with martyrdom -- by which I mean, as a looped experience.

    In reality, each shock functions on a spiral, where you encounter them with an incrementally greater awareness, they are the engine of realization, not a slave driver. I am not particularly responding to the post by zosima, just that it has occurred to me at this moment that it is particularly horrible to see oneself caught in a loop of shocks that have no light at the end of the tunnel (and hey, how about that mixed metaphor, eh?!)



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