Friday, February 22, 2008

acceptance, engagement, withdrawal

We've visited the subject of accepting conditions on a number of occasions.

This practice involves awakening to the active exploration of our immediate environment, our inner and outer circumstances, in what is called an impartial manner: that is, according to what Gurdjieff's Beelzebub would call "sane being mentation," or, "objectivity."

All in all, it means that we make the effort to meet the present moment without identification, without attachment, without a set of egoistic opinions and assumptions that stem almost entirely from personality. That's a tall order, perhaps, and yet a new understanding of inner order--inner unity, the wholeness of the inner enneagram--may help take us in that direction.

Accepting conditions does not mean passivity. It does not mean stepping back and just letting everything be. If we accept conditions, we are invested in conditions; clothed in them, inhabiting them. It means we implicitly acknowledge things, now, as they are: not coloring them, but rather allowing them their own color, which is the vibrant color of life itself: the color not of our interpretation, but the color of the dharma.

This is a color that has no cast, or tone, or hue; it is the color of light itself, which contains all colors, just as the essence of each moment secretly carries within it the entire truth of the universe: manifest, whole, and undivided. The fact that we are, in our current "unenlightened" state, unaware of that does not change it.

The true nature of things cannot be separated from itself by ignorance.

Here we find acceptance-practice, as opposed to acceptance-concept. Acceptance-concept is intellectual and psychological; acceptance-practice is emotional and physical. I say emotional because it requires us to suffer the conditions emotionally; physical because it involves sensing the rooted nature of mind-in-body, and using the inner gravity of physical sensation to ground the Being in the reality of what is taking place now.

There aren't any prepackaged responses in acceptance-practice. Far from allowing us to sit in the back seat as mere observers, efforts at acceptance may well thrust us into the moment when real courage and decisive action is required. Acceptance doesn't mean bowing to abuse, or ignoring inequity or evil. In acceptance, every Christian heart needs to be tempered with a bit of Roman iron.

Acceptance relieves us of no requirements, removes no obligations; rather, it calls on us to deepen our sense of responsibility to our lives and ourselves. After all, in every tradition, the universe (as embodied in personages, God, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) is not seen as calling on us to sit around doing nothing. In every case, there is a need to act, to manifest Being within the context of engagement. It's in the relationship of action to action and in interaction that the presence of God is made manifest. Not through an artificial repose. Hence Dogen's emphasis on the reality of cause and effect.

This is true from the ground up: the physical world is built of relationships made manifest, starting at the quantum level. Are we arguing that the practice of acceptance has something to do with that? ...We don't need to argue: yes, it does. Every single manifestation within the known universe is a functional subset of quantum interaction: all of it arises because of choices that are made at the root of reality.

This brings us back to questions of earlier postings: the nunnery, the hermit, and a point I want to make about them.

The traditional model of withdrawal, of disengagement from the ordinary world, which over centuries has been repeatedly literalized into a practice of retreating, even of renouncing the world and sitting in caves or cells, is a fundamental misinterpretation of what disengagement means.

It is an inner withdrawal that is called for, a detachment from the allure of the outer senses, which must be practiced within the context of ordinary life.

What do I mean by that? Isn't it necessary to actually, physically withdraw, to literally renounce all the sensory pleasures of life, if I want to practice non-attachment?

...Isn't it my outward behavior that determines and feeds the level of my spiritual state?

I recall a good friend of mine who once told me that she wanted to get rid of all her things in order to practice non-attachment. I had to patiently explain to her that it doesn't work that way; you have to keep all the things if you want to practice non-attachment to them, because if there aren't any things, there isn't any practice.

All you've done in that case is put yourself under artificial conditions of deprivation to imitate a state of non-attachment.

In the same way, a literal practice of withdrawal--physically hiding in caves or cells-- only imitates the inner withdrawal that is necessary in order to begin to see the distinction between the inner and outer sensory apparatus, and the inner and outer awarenesses within one's Being.

Think about it: does going on a spiritual retreat sound like a way to advance?

The "spiritual retreat" must become an active part of everyday life, and the retreat must be not a physical one named as spiritual, but a spiritual one conducted as physical. In this practice the force of our Being, what we breathe in through our life--within acceptance--is contained, held back, conserved. (This idea is connected with with what yogis call pranayama.)

The power of Gurdjieff's "Fourth Way" is the power of acceptance: the power of acting within life, of not trying to artificially escape the conditions, manipulate the conditions, or re-create the conditions that man finds himself within, but to accept the conditions in an active manner. Acceptance, in Gurdjieff's world, does not mean letting all remain as it is, or being passive in the face of life; it means engagement.

In this regard I will always recall one particular image of Jeanne de Salzmann at a January 13 celebration many years ago: spontaneous, fiery; enthusiastically keeping time with the music being played, both arms waving in the air like a dervish : in one word, living.

There was nothing passive in her there, in that accepted moment; instead, what instantly came across was her ability to live wholly, fully, directly from the heart.

For those who are interested, try Heart Without Measure, by Ravi Ravindra, available through By The Way books-- a moving report of his personal experiences with Mme De Salzmann.

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

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