Thursday, May 1, 2008
Swallowed, Submerged: Gurdjieff's Atlantis
Yesterday I mentioned that Atlantis never actually submerged beneath the waves; in fact, what most likely took place was that the waters rose as the ice from the last Ice Age melted, and swallowed the city. This may seem like a unique (and is certainly a non-Platonic) interpretation, but the historical background of coastlines renders it all too plausible. There may indeed be the remains of a vast civilization out there somewhere under the ocean, waiting to be discovered.
Another analogy that comes to mind when we think of entities (people or cities) being swallowed is the Biblical parable of Jonah being swallowed by the whale.
In "Monster of God," David Quammen examines the premise that men evolved in an environment where carnivorous predators were a constant threat, looming so large in the landscape that they took on mythological proportions and assumed the aspect of gods.
This suggests a connection with the tendency of ancient religions to present the concept of God and Gods as fearsome, often animalistic deities, angry and vengeful, capable of consuming man if he did not cooperate. The God of the Old Testament may not have had the head of a crocodile, but He certainly had "sharp teeth" and a very bad temper. The defensive mechanisms in man's psyche evolved as much in response to this legitimate fear of predation as to any other danger surrounding him. And, distracted and absorbed by the very process of survival itself, men ultimately confused an animistic and animalistic literalism with the real, and invisible, higher forces that surrounded them.
We might even propose that the break between the old and New Testament --the "new covenant" between God and man--was in the casting off of this primitive, dualistic religious skin of predator/God and human/prey, so that man could step into a new set of spiritual shoes based on relationship and unity, rather than separation and conflict. (a question recently examined in the post "Struggle and relationship.")
In the allegory of being swallowed versus that of submerging, we encounter the difference between disappearing and becoming hidden. In being swallowed, all significance (or, if you will, information) is lost. In being submerged, the significance is preserved, and merely becomes hidden. Modern physics mirrors this question in its ongoing investigation of whether or not the matter, or information, swallowed by a black hole is forever lost to our universe. (See wikipedia entry, black holes: last paragraphs, entropy and Hawking radiation)
Swallowed versus submerged: it's the difference between nothingness and invisibility. Nothingness is a negation of Being; invisibility is the concealment of being--perhaps even for its own protection.
Atlantis, of course, is always perceived as having been submerged in traditional mythology. There's a logical reason, of course, for interpreting the disappearance of Atlantis as submergence (preservation) versus swallowing (destruction.) It serves the myth by invoking an unspoken implication that somehow, even after all these thousands of years, the city is still with us.
Or within us.
Covering the subject of Atlantis at great length in "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," Gurdjieff uses the analogy of submergence to indicate concealment, not annihilation. Considering the allegorical possibilities, we can liken the sinking of the continent of Atlantis to the submergence of man's conscience into his unconscious parts. Gurdjieff explains that when this took place, the conscience--an essential part of man's Being-- was insulated from the damaging effects of man's mechanical manifestations, and thus survived nearly intact in him while other vital parts of his psyche steadily deteriorated.
Let's speak about this idea of being swallowed in relationship to identification. Identification is a process of losing our self in the outer world; when we identify, what we call "I" is swallowed by the external. The world eats us. One might say that the world feeds on us, rather than us being fed by the world. This is certainly implied by the analogy of Jonah and the whale.
The supreme irony, of course, is that man sees himself as the big fish that will swallow life. This inverted delusion, which is actually a powerful buffer in humanity at large, causes him to arrogantly swim right up to the jaws of his nemesis, who dangles all manner of fleshy enticements in front of him like the lure of an anglerfish.
Gurdjieff's recommendation that we learn to "separate ourself from ourself" -- a practice that is commonly understood to take place through developing an intelligent habit of self observation -- is an effort to find a way to take one step back from life, that is, the forceful agent of ordinary reality which devours.
In separating, we attempt to learn to discriminate in a tangible and material manner between the inner and the outer conditions of life.
I think it's very important to focus on the fact that this discrimination must be tangible and material. It is based on the actual substance of experience, this immediate experience, not a conceptual analysis of our situation. The conceptual analysis of our inner situation is the enemy; the physical contact with how we are and what we are, the intimate sensational and vibrational relationship with the body we inhabit, these are the real tools for our spiritual development.
In reaching for these tools, we reach down into our self for help from something which is hidden. It has submerged itself for our own sake and for its own protection; it lies within us, dormant, awaiting a moment where our own efforts may create enough gravity to allow it to participate.
It's been said by some that because we live under the law of reciprocal feeding -- which runs the universe -- that all of us eventually become food for one thing or another.
Returning once again to the classic Pauline theme, which delineates the most essential parameters of both Paul's Christianity and Gurdjieff's esotericism, we must make the choice in this lifetime of whether to swallow the Spirit, or be swallowed by the flesh.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.