Thursday, March 27, 2008

Community

At this time of year the light gradually arrives earlier and earlier, and the birds at the feeder sing more exuberantly. The other evening, in blue-gray, deepening dusk, we saw the primeval silhouette of a great blue heron against the twilight sky, headed for the salt marsh at the mouth of the Sparkill.

I continue reading Paul's letters before sitting in the morning. Paul is an interesting character from my point of view, because it seems undeniable that he underwent a unique enlightenment experience.

The letters seem to me to be particularly apt reading for people in the Gurdjieff community. Paul, after all, was writing to a small community of seekers, certainly outside the mainstream of life in his day. And he consistently spoke to the necessity of developing inner qualities as opposed to outer ones.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 we find him saying, "... aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one."

Paul reminds us here of the need to avoid causing trouble which may stand in the way of our inner work. We are all bad mechanics when it comes to ordinary life; our emotional impulses usually rush us into situations where we say and do things that would not cause us trouble if we just kept our mouth shut and exercised a little patience. Our tendency with life is to reach out into it and interfere, rather than allow it to flow into us and inform us.

Living quietly certainly means living with less tension, with less agitation. And minding our own affairs certainly lies in the direction of staying close to ourselves and seeing how we are, rather than focusing on other people and how screwed up they are: an activity that I myself, and I think, indeed, all of us are much too involved in, and ought to pay much closer attention to. The "default" within us needs to be to continually come back to our own work, rather than an involvement with outer life which distracts us from it.

A few paragraphs later, in 1 Thessalonians 5:5-18, we come across the following text (italics mine):

"...you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing."

"But we appeal to you brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, gives thank in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

I cannot imagine a more compassionate, intelligent, or supportive direction. There needs to be an effort that arises from within the inner life to treat every other member of the community with respect and compassion, even if we don't agree with them, even if we think they are wrong or misguided.

We cannot build a sound community structure on criticism, suspicion, accusations, and feelings of superiority over others. This is the way of the outer world.

As I have said to others before, one of the big questions in the Gurdjieff work -- as in any spiritual work -- is "what do I have to give up in order to work in this community?"

Community, after all, is not structured according to what I want. It has to meet the needs of the many, and I will definitely have to give up many of my ego-based assumptions, some of my attitudes, and some of my individual authority in order to participate.

In fact, if I show up in any community with the intention of being a power possessing being, or a "teacher," or someone important, or any kind of being that is going to show everyone else what to do and how to do it, I am already off base. My intention should be to participate and offer to the best of my ability. This is how I try to conduct myself at the office. It usually works out a lot better than the way I used to do things when I was younger.

I'd like to make an addendum to the exchange about teachers and teaching: this is a reply I wrote to David's comment, which I want to publish to make sure all readers see it:

Hopefully readers will understand that we all have to weigh and measure what others say through our own experience. Anyone who doesn't "verify for themselves" fails to follow Gurdjieff's primary directive. So, hopefully, no one will ever "take my word for it"-- but will only tuck my observations under their belt and then go out to live their own lives and do their own work.

I believe that's the aim: not to mechanically and habitually listen to or follow others, but to discover how to actively listen to ourselves, from within.

In this way we discover our own personal authority, instead of that conferred on us by outer circumstances or other individuals.

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

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