Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Equilibrium

It strikes me that we are forever seeking equilibrium.

I see that my mind wants things to be quiet and calm, both inside and outside. It somehow wants everything to reach a state in which not only all outer circumstances are under control--the inner state ought to also be reliable, predictable, and serene.

What I actually want to do is exist in a blissful self-crafted bubble of perfection.

This idealized view of what my inner and outer states should be like is comparable to the idea that there is a "balance of nature." That phrase was used a lot in the beginning of the environmental movement, until biologists intervened and made it clear that there isn't any "balance" in nature at all.

Everything in nature is locked in a perpetual struggle (the classic phrase is "nature, red in tooth and claw.") The norm is for ecosystems to constantly veer off unpredictably in one direction or the other. Any impression we get of a steady state is mistaken.

It's true, there is some evidence that on a global scale, there are some self-regulating mechanisms that produce a kind of balance -- for example, the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have remained relatively constant for extremely long periods of time. Nonetheless, measured on geologic time scales, this has not been the same either. There was a time when there was very little oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. At that time, it was toxic to life as we know it today.

Another example is sea levels. Mankind has treated the coastline for the past several thousand years as though it were a fixed entity, whereas lessons from geology tell us that the coastline has moved about a very great deal, depending on fluctuating sea levels. There have been times when the ocean was more than 100 feet deeper than it is today; there have been other times, during major ice ages, when it was very much shallower, and the coastlines were miles from where they are now. 10,000 years ago, for example, the ocean was hundreds of feet shallower, and most coastlines were many miles further out from present shorelines.

That leads us directly to an obvious and interesting conclusion: all the major civilizations from that era, which were surely, like today's, concentrated along river banks and coastlines, are now deep underwater. When we presume that the earliest civilizations are the ones we've found and excavated, we exhibit a laughable naïveté. The very earliest settlements we have found-- for example, Çatalhöyük in Turkey--were almost certainly small provincial backwaters, well away from the coasts.

All the major ancient cities are deep underwater, where no one has ever looked for them. Atlantis never sank below the ocean; the ocean rose up and engulfed it when the ice melted.

So the equilibrium we presume on our coastlines as we build today's huge cities is illusory; given current trends, for example, it's very likely the city of Shanghai will be completely underwater in a few hundred years. This is the real question we are faced with when we discuss global warming, a question which is so difficult for us to confront that we would much rather squabble about whether or not it is even happening, than start planning to deal with the very painful realities that will arise as a consequence.

How much of our inner work is affected by a similar belief in an equilibrium that does not actually exist, and the delusional presumptions it provokes?

I recall that in the beginning of one of the Movements films, Jeanne DeSalzmann points out that everything is always in motion. Nothing ever stays in the same place; it is always moving up or down. If there is an equilibrium, it is system-wide and circulatory in nature; that is, equilibrium is perceptible only on a macroscopic scale, at the universal level, when all of the bumps and inconsistencies of the fabric of space and time are "evened out" by an all-encompassing understanding.

In the meantime, here on our level, our efforts to fix things at points in time and space amount to naught. This isn't just true of the external physical circumstances we attempt to control; it's equally true of our inner states.

I see this frequently in myself. In an effort to correct my partiality and bring the parts into a greater state of relationship, there is a presumption in me, if I reach a state where several parts or centers are more "balanced" in relationship to each other, that this can somehow be maintained.

It never actually works out that way, however; in the end, any equilibrium attained is fugitive. Almost the moment it establishes itself, it must inevitably move on to the next stage, whatever that may be. If I try to hold it in place, I damage it. The only way for me to participate in its life, in this life, is to move forward with it. It's not unusual for me to try to hold onto something only to discover that it has moved forward several steps past where I am. And perhaps this may be one of the lessons that Gurdjieff's movements try to teach us.

The difficulty is that every perception of equilibrium automatically invites what is perceived to become a fixed substance; I want to hold it there. The state, what ever it is, is satisfying, and I want to own it, to keep it, preserve it, and to have it at my disposal. I have "arrived" at something, and I would just as soon sit there with it. It is a lot safer than whatever may come next.

And that's the crux of the matter. I don't know what will come next. In order to progress within the context of the energies that flow within me and outside of me, I constantly have to be willing to take that next step into the unknown. I don't like doing that. Whether the known is blissful, or comfortable, or satisfying, or even just plain-old-pedestrian predictable, it is what I prefer.

Once again we come back to this question that we have investigated so many times over the past months, this question of faith. We have to be willing to trust in the process of movement, and apply our faith-- which is a form of trust -- to the point where the next step has to be taken.

I, like everyone else, am consistently filled with a wide variety of fears. This makes it difficult for me to take that step.

All of this reminds me of the moment many years ago when I finally admitted to myself that I was an alcoholic, and that something needed to be done about it. I had to take a terrifying step into the unknown, into Alcoholics Anonymous.

Once I took that step, I was asked to trust the process. To just show up, and trust the process.

In alcoholism, nothing is theoretical. Life and death are immediate issues, and the choices are our own to make, not ones made by authorities, politicians, or enemies. Confronting this disease takes us to a place where we have to stand naked in front of ourselves. There is no allegory; there's nothing beautiful here to romanticize about.

If you want to see group work conducted in a real-life situation, Alcoholics Anonymous may be as good a place as any Gurdjieff Foundation. The people in AA aren't safely playing roles in a pink-cloud game of spirituality. They are dirty, shuffling, irreverent herds of struggling animals, desperately trying to find their way in a nightmarish environment where they woke up one day to discover that the enemy is themself.

In a word, they are human beings.

What we call "real life" is a form of alcoholism. We meet what we call "real life" and chug-a-lug it down by the gallon full, staggering chaotically from one event to another, spending money, swilling food, spewing sex. In front of us we always carry the invincible shield of denial, and a carefree will to crush the obstructions in our path.

The ego is an alcoholic. It doesn't need booze to keep it stoked. It is, by its nature, self-stoking.

If we saw ourselves more from this perspective, as ego-drunkards staggering through life like fools, we might smack ourselves in the face and try to sober up. Indeed, I think awakening consists a bit of this. If we really see ourselves, we may be reminded of the famous statement Orage made: "when I first saw Orage, I realized that hanging was too good for him."

It's a well known fact in AA; alcoholics drink to try and establish equilibrium: a good drunk. It's the holy grail of the disease. So in adopting the allegory, we can be suspicious of the practice.

There is no equilibrium. Don't wish for it.

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

3 comments:

  1. It is interesting that you mention Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a place of real suffering, and that suffering in the rooms of AA serve a hidden and sublime purpose -- exactly that kind of suffering that saves the world, the world being nothing but a reflection of the Self.

    Being an alcoholic myself and a drug addict in recovery, and having spent 15 years connected with the Gurdjieff Foundation before severing my connection with them last year, I am in a unique position. For a time, after finding the Gurdjieff Work, and having left AA, I would've said that AA was kindergarten suffering, where people share their self-pity and personal troubles in a semipublic space.

    But now, after being in the "Work" and returning to AA I see differently.

    There is a story of how the famous French author René Daumal entered the work: he was in a café with several of his friends having an animated discussion of spirituality. Andre DeSalzmann (one of the most important disciples of Mr. Gurdjieff and husband of Madame DeSalzmann) came into the café, and looking very interesting, was asked to join the group. He suggested that they raise their arms to horizontal while they talked. One by one the friends of Rene dropped their hands until only Andre and René at them up. Andre looked at René and said: "you, you I can use." This was the beginning of René Daumal's association with the Work.

    Going back to AA. Carl Jung had an invisible hand in the formation of AA, when he saw an alcoholic patient and after a year dismissed him, saying that he would die of alcoholism. The man begged for some advice, and Dr. Jung told him that he needed a total personality conversion -- a collapse of the ego, and that the only place that these conversion events were well-known were in religion. So he advised him to find religion. Religion is Latin for to reattach, from the word for ligament, which attaches the muscles to the bones. One might say that this is equivalent to how the emotions (muscles) are connected to the frame of the physical body.

    What Jung did not say was that he understood that alcoholism was a misguided search for spirituality, because the word for alcohol in Latin is spiritas, so the alchemical formula that he used was "spiritas contra spiritum," or, it takes spirit to conquer the spirit.

    I often think that one of the first questions that should be asked of someone who is trying to get into the "work" should be: "how have you suffered?"

    Mr. Gurdjieff used to say that his Work was not cheap. And he said to Ouspensky that clearing the conscience would entail enormous suffering, but afterwards would bring unbelievable bliss and the arrival of Man's true potential.

    Untold numbers of people want enlightenment, but they do not understand that the light is not kind. It is radiant beyond measure, and we are asleep. If your leg or foot were asleep, then you feel pins and needles and tremendous agony as it wakes up.

    Everyone has had that experience. and waking up from the hypnotic sleep of life under the auspices of Great Nature and her narcotics is also a tremendous agony. Sometimes I think that only a heroin addict or full-blown alcoholic could possibly understand what it would mean to "wake up." It would entail a tremendous withdrawal, and human beings rather want spiritual bliss and a removal of suffering. They want to feel "special".

    Mr. Gurdjieff called this the devil of self calming -- one of our biggest enemies.

    As to your posts lately, I say, as Mr. Gurdjieff would sometimes say --"Bravo!".

    -rlnyc

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  2. it's not that we shouldn't look for equilibrium - or even attain it; it's that we shouldn't become attached to it. Attachment consists of those props that we think offer the balance, but they do not.

    subtle but very important difference.

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