Thursday, February 21, 2008

comfort levels

It's inevitable that every single one of us, as we pursue our lives and make the effort to become more aware (and consequently more human) will run into the conflicts, frustrations, and negativities that ordinary life puts in front of us.

In my experience, seeking escape from the actual conditions of the ordinary is pointless. I tried it with drugs and alcohol, and it didn't work. Sobriety, of course, didn't lessen the demands any: instead, they became greater. No matter where I go and what I do, life keeps battering me in unexpected ways.

Nor, in my experience, does affecting, cultivating, or even actually discovering a rapturous inner aloofness makes sense either. I've watched others try to pull this off by adoption, and it almost invariably collapses when it collides with reality. As to the discovering- well, I had a set of extraordinary experiences some years ago, but ultimately determined that wallowing in a cloud of inner bliss isn't the answer either. I intentionally renounced that particular set of conditions because it appeared to me that more is required.

Not sure about the rest of you, but I didn't get born here--"acquire this body difficult to acquire," as Dogen would put it--in order to sit on my ass feeling marvelous about anything, and next-to-nothing, 24/7.

In my own experience, and by my choice, I see it is necessary to ruthlessly (that is, without rue) confront the realities of my existence and engage with them. That is--once again, in the words of Dogen-- "to practice as though extinguishing flames from around my head."

As his imagery so graphically suggests, this is anything but comfortable. I am required to take both my inner and my outer resources and bring them together at a point in front of me where things may not be going well at all. At such an instant, I see, it is likely that my outer senses, my outer resources, my habits, reactions, ego, and opinions are already dominating--or at any rate want to. The trick is to bring something else to that moment as well, so that there is more of a balance.

The inner senses can be present in such a moment, and not be negative at all. They are forced at that time to confront the reality of what the outer senses create in us, and the friction between these two states may wake me up. At a minimum, if this happens, I actually see that I have two natures, and I see how they are at direct odds with one another.

Achieving a better inner connection and achieving a state in which there is regular support from a part of myself which draws water from a different well does not in any way excuse me from the ordinary conditions of life, nor does it cure me of what I am. If anything, it requires me to meet life with at least as much force as I did before, but with the addition of a substance--

called conscience.

This substance is, according to Gurdjieff, the one part of man's psyche that, having been submerged beneath the thick layer of his so-called "conscious" personality, is still relatively intact. Despite all the damage done by lives dwelling in dissolution across generations, he maintains, there is this one part inside man that is still relatively whole and healthy.

Conscience can change the way we express ourselves and how we react to other people: maybe not much, but certainly enough to make a difference. It calls on us to act in the interests of the situation and the other people, not just our own interests. It requires us to use our force.

When one looks at spiritual teachers like Gurdjieff, who did things that appeared to be at best peculiar, and sometimes controversial, distressing, or even abusive, one begins to suspect that he was acting from conscience. He was aware enough to know that what a person wanted done for them was not what was good for them, in the sense that what they wanted was likely to impede their growth, rather than foster it.

We are all in that position in regard to ourselves and our own inner work. If, in such a moment, we actually see a relationship between our inner nature and our outer nature, and we see that there's a division, we will often see that what needs to be done is something "we" do not want.

We do not want it because it contradicts our outer nature, which we have been invested in so thoroughly, for so long, that we have forgotten our inner nature: as Gurdjieff says, we have "forgotten ourselves."

It is only when we begin to make the choice to contradict our outer nature -- that is, as Gurdjieff advised us, to go against what "it" wants, to go against habit --of our own volition that we begin to understand that we cannot wait for someone else to tell us what to do.

Our work begins here, now, in front of us, in ordinary life, not in an idealized set of conditions where things are arranged so that we can be mellow, calm, and groovy.

Moments may not call for serenity--they may not call for a laid-back approach or a forgiving, laissez-faire attitude. They do not call for a manufactured spirituality, based on supposition and imitation, which so many bring to life. No matter how impressive they may be, such faux-enlightened attitudes are ultimately the manifestations of sheep.

Life in action, life taken "directly from the heart," so to speak, calls for a new kind of involvement. It may well be involvement in a way that makes us uncomfortable, that makes everyone uncomfortable, simply in the interests of helping us all to meet a little more friction, be a little more awake. A life approached and engaged in this way may be crude, it may be gritty, and it certainly won't be pretty. But it's the discomfort that matters.

Being "comfortable" does not help us learn or change. All it does is teach us to be complacent and lazy.

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

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