Sunday, March 2, 2008

The unexpected: anguish

The most difficult thing that stands between each of us and a real inner discovery is our expectations.

Gurdjieff was surrounded with people who expected things to be a certain way. By all reports, he continually confounded those expectations. It was as though he knew that everything people expect, all the opinions, habits, and desires they have are fundamentally, irrevocably off the mark.

It is not just our expectations of ordinary life that are off the mark. It is our expectations of what our inner life is, ought to be, could be. We don't know anything about what we are asking for in the work we undertake. Its results themselves will defy explanations, and cannot be put into words.

I was reminded of this today by the story from John that we heard in church. It's the story about Christ healing the blind man by spitting on mud and rubbing it on his eyes.

The man whose sight was healed understood that a power that could achieve this this had to come directly from God, but no one else wanted to admit it.

The Jewish authorities were upset about the whole episode: it took place on the Sabbath, which was all-out wrong to begin with, because no one is supposed to do anything on the Sabbath. The laws -- you will recall our discussions on this in the last week -- forbid any kind of work on the Sabbath -- even healing someone. On top of that, no one was supposed to have that kind of ability.

Enlightenment and miracles, it turns out, are the tools of troublemakers. Even the man's own parents didn't want to get involved.

Christ's miraculous deed (as in the case with others) defied all expectation. It didn't fall within the known range of experience -- the blind man himself said, "no one has ever done this before in history."

I wonder -- is it possible for us to throw everything away on our own? Can we detach from, free ourselves of our own associations and expectations?

Or must that be done through an outside agent?

Traditionally, gurus play the role of the one who gives the shock to the disciple in spiritual works. This is done in order to free them from their associations. There's a long-standing tradition in Zen, for example, that ranges from asking people impossible questions to beating them with sticks in order to get them to think outside the box -- that is, to stop thinking, as I said yesterday.

Because it is the thinking that produces all the expectations. In some ways, it would almost be better to be stupid, to be without any thoughts at all, to just be blank, so that something different, something entirely new could arrive.

What we are now is so thoroughly crystallized, so absolutely set in concrete, that it has to be broken for us before anything new can start. From this point of view, every trial and tribulation is of value, and even disaster itself may be our friend.

As we deepen our commitment to our work, as we place one inner foot in front of the other on a journey down a staircase that descends into the depths of the soul, we may learn to value the things that go wrong. After all, we learn things from sorrow and from grief and that cannot be learned in any other way.

At the heart of every real contact with the divine lies not just bliss, but a limitless sorrow, an anguish so great that to receive it is almost impossible for the soul to bear. It's a good thing that this does not touch us too often, or for too long. We would never be able to bear it. We are much too small. Such anguish is a gift: not what we expect, but what is sent. Through it we learn humility and we cleanse ourselves of our egoism and our arrogance.

In it lie the roots of what man calls joy, but it is a different kind of joy than what makes us laugh, dance, and sing.

In abandoning expectation, and deepening the inner search, perhaps we can seek the scent, the sweet perfumed musk of that anguish, as a hint of sorrow in the air that we breathe in and the body that receives it.

I will be traveling to China over the next two days, and it's quite likely posting may be interrupted. Once I get there, we will resume our mutual efforts at exploration.

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

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