Saturday, April 12, 2008

Struggle and relationship

If we just read Ouspensky's books, we might easily come to the conclusion that inner work is all about a struggle.

Gurdjieff certainly characterized work in that way many, many times. And there is no doubt that other traditions seem to present work as a struggle of one kind or another. The Zen masters, Dogen included, certainly emphasize struggle-- in their case, mostly with the nature of the mind, which makes sense--but it is still a struggle.

There is a continued emphasis on this idea of struggle in the Gurdjieff work. People come to the work struggling with their inner questions, groups exchange about the struggle they have in their ordinary life and with themselves, and often enough everything eventually starts to revolve around how difficult everything is, and how much of a struggle it is.

This reminds me greatly of why I left Alcoholics Anonymous about 24 years ago. I would go to meetings only to listen to people go on and on about how diseased they were. As though nothing else mattered. My own attitude was that people needed to get over it, accept where they were as alcoholics, and move on to something more positive. Dwelling on our known deficiencies does not move us forward. It is only an inner effort to overcome them by accepting them graciously that we can hope for any freedom.

Hence my oppositional reaction to the idea of the work as a struggle. To me, inner work is not, ultimately, about a struggle. Yes, of course it begins there, but that is because our understanding begins psychologically, and this is not the center of gravity for inner work. Ultimately it must go on to a completely new place.

Inner work is about a relationship.

The relationship that I speak of is an inner relationship with our self. If all we do is struggle with ourselves, we find ourselves in a perpetual internal wrestling match. This may appear to be what work is about, because it's compelling and has a lot of vigor to it. But all it actually does is cause us to run in circles and sap our energy.

Instead, we must be called to seeing not just how we behave--which is inevitably repetitious, because we are largely mechanical -- but how we are constructed within ourselves.

In seeing this, in seeing the nature of our inner sensation and our inner apparatus, we can be called to help make it whole. This is about creating an inner relationship between the parts: becoming less partial, fostering an inner unity.

It is an act of peacemaking, not the art of warfare against the lower nature we already know we have.

We must not bring the complaints we have about ourselves and our deficiencies to our work or to our self. At a certain stage in our work, it becomes vitally important to put those aside. We must recognize that struggling against our badness will not conquer badness; to do so is as though to believe one can erase sin one's self, instead of understanding, as the Alcoholics and Christians do, that only a higher power can do that for us.

In my many years in the work, I have certainly noticed a tendency among the members to dwell upon how we cannot "do," we are asleep, we cannot see ourselves, and so on. This continued emphasis on our inability does not serve us well. The idea of man's inability is well established in the work, and repeating it to each other over and over does not constitute work. It's just the expounding of doctrine. Speaking about it with a good deal of emotion certainly makes it convincing, but it is the impetus that makes that attractive. It's an illusion of meaningful movement.

Movement without direction is pointless. Instead of just becoming attracted to velocity alone, we must make an effort to become more interested in location, that is, inhabitation. We must become more three centered in our exchange within life.

I would like to change the subject here just a bit and offer an observation from this morning's sitting.

In an effort to more specifically establish this inner direction I speak of so often, there needs to be a new kind of inner sensation and a new kind of inner connection.

One way to help foster this is to conduct (somewhat in the way that alcoholics do) a fearless "inner inventory" of ourselves, an inventory not of our flaws, habits, and so on, but an inventory of our parts. These parts are structural and tangibly physical, not conceptual. We might call them our "inner Egypt." We need to "discover" these parts--brush the sand off them-- and know what they are. In order to do that, we must begin to sense ourselves within, not with the mind, but with the body.

I bring this up because this morning I noticed that no matter how adept one becomes at work of this kind, there is a tendency to take the inventory of the body with the mind. This is especially true because under ordinary circumstances, there is only a trickle of the kind of support needed to go deeper.

We need to sense our inner organs of perception with the organs themselves, with sensation, with a finer kind of substance which sometimes is called "attention," but actually does not have a name. That is to say, don't try to sense the body with the mind -- try to sense the body with the body.

I am offering the suggestion this week that readers participate together with me in exploring this idea of struggle versus relationship in all areas of our life.

Look at it in the family. Are we struggling, or are we in relationship? Look at it in the workplace. Is our workplace about a struggle, or a relationship? Remember, the outer is a reflection of the inner. The way we handle ourselves externally in relationship or struggle says a great deal about our inner posture. Just an effort to be aware of how we are, as we are, is already a step towards something more complete. If we bring this idea of relationship to each situation, how is it then?

Above all, especially, let us look at the inner state. Is this about struggle, or relationship? What is the difference? Are we able to see one?

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


  1. Lee,

    I have no idea who you are, or how I came across this post....and have just spent 30 minutes preparing a reply (pretty close to a manifesto!) only to erase the entire thing on purpose. Two words can actually sum up my comment.


    It came to me in a most timely fashion. I needed to read every word.....I did.........and will refer to it again and again.



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