Wednesday, May 14, 2008

where do we find ourselves?

Due to circumstances beyond my control, it turns out I have time to do a post today anyway. And as it happens I really like this photograph, so am recycling it.

I've been through a series of digestive health problems over the past month that have been, to say the least, debilitating. You can't possibly realize how utterly mechanical we are about eating and digesting food until every meal you eat makes you feel bad. It reminds me of when I had very severe sciatica in college, at which time I found out that we all take ordinary things such as walking for granted.

I see that the energy that this is taking out of me has left a very little in me for emotional support. As a consequence, I see a definite negative trend developing. At my best moments, I'm pretty darn good, but at my worst, I am a whiner and a moaner, in need of a change of diapers.

This negative reaction is all taking place in my ordinary parts. The self that is separated from these parts still seems to be quite healthy, and--to my great surprise, gratitude, (and even resentment at times--I won't bother trying to explain that)--is very busy working on its own agenda.

I get these two parts confused frequently, because I forget that they are really quite separate things, and that whatever "I" am currently calling "I" stands in the middle between these two natures. There is an inherent tendency in us to try and pollute our two natures with each other. ...Is "committing adultery" mixing the higher with the lower, or the lower with the higher? I wonder. That phrase has numerous esoteric meanings, but that one hadn't occurred to me until just now.

If I have learned anything from this humbling experience, it is that we need to see ourselves within life exactly as we are now, as objectively and honestly as possible, without mincing any words or beating around any bushes. We need to see that we are emotionally fragile. We need to see that we are not strong.

This reminds me of something that my old group leader Henry Brown (God rest his soul) said to us once: "The work is not for strong people. We are here because we are weak, and we see it. Strong people don't need the work."

His comment reminds me of the need to admit that we are powerless in alcoholics anonymous. And that leads us back to Psalm 51, doesn't it?

It's this learning of humility, of seeing our place, of seeing that we are not very developed, that is so essential. Only by constantly coming up against the humbling circumstances of my life do I put aside the ego-aggrandizement that I constantly create for myself. It is in these moments of real human existence that I see what is true about my life.

This morning, as I was being wheeled into the operating room to have a minor procedure done (they looked inside my stomach with an orthoscopic device, which sounds so cool it seems a pity I had to be unconscious for it) I was deeply touched.

I was touched by every human being I encountered; each one of them a real person, making an effort -- no matter how mechanical -- to serve other people. In those few moments, the relationships with these strangers were what fed me. I truly saw how all of these people are there to help support us and to work to try and help us be healthy. I must say real tears came to my eyes as I lay there on the gurney and saw my fragility, my rather petty minor fears, and the support that these people working around me were trying to offer.

One could accuse me of just being sentimental about this, but there was something much deeper taking place. This is my life. This is real life, this is how my life is. How often do we really stop to see that? To consider where we are, and who the people around us are? To actually be there for what is happening, to sense it with the body?

It's a difficult thing, to experience this human life. If we really want to open ourselves, and accept it, we have to accept the emotional blows that we hate.

We have to suffer our suffering.

So I come again to this moment that has happened to me often this year where I see how delicate my emotions are; I see my weakness; I see how necessary it is to be honest with myself about this. At the same time, I see that there is another side to this life, a part that, although it is also weak, is trying to develop a connection with something much deeper and more sincere than my ordinary parts.

And I see that forces higher than myself are willing to support me and feed me

...only not according to my own agenda.

My confusion in the midst of this is no surprise. I don't know much about the higher; I don't know much about the lower. I have spent so little time inhabiting this place between them in any real way that I am bound to be ignorant. It's much easier to be identified with the lower, where the machine knows exactly how to respond to everything, and there is no responsibility on my part. And it's much more difficult to find a connection with the higher, which exceeds my ability to understand, and which I generally would prefer to use or abuse in an incorrect way when it touches me.

These conditions are humbling. As my own teacher told me last night, "we reach this moment where we see we haven't developed very much." We need to be honest about that. Believing that we have achieved something, that we have somehow become amazing, compassionate, powerful creatures, is perhaps the greatest delusion that we can engage in.

For myself, all of this hammers home the famous statement by Jeanne DeSalzmann, "I must stay in front of my lack."

Consequently, it seems to me at this moment that daily practice might best be turned towards the inner contemplation and outer experience of these two words:

Open. Accept.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun

1 comment:

  1. I am sorry to hear of your digestive health problems, however, illnesses afford us an opportunity which otherwise might never be gained.

    I myself have had pleurisy, and the injection of a very large sized needle through my back and into the plural sack to drain infectious fluids. I thought that it was a wonderful opportunity to feel like being stabbed by a fencing foil, and although it was painful in the sense of my body sending me signals of the invasion, it was rewarding as pure experience. I had a blood clot from a heart infection travel to my kidney where it lodged and caused severe pain and problems. I was injected with a radioactive dye which allowed me to see this big hole in my left kidney quite plainly on the television which they used to monitor the radioactive imagery.

    My wife tells me half jokingly that I am the only man she knows who is aware of both the position and the condition of all my internal organs.

    Most men do not want to know anything about their internal structure. It is completely left to the instinctual center and the personal unconscious to run the show without bothering them, so that they can attend to the horizontal "world" and their various desires, aversions and diversions.

    When they eat something, as soon as it is swallowed, they don't want to hear from it again, and they view its digestion and elimination of unusable portions as distasteful and disgusting.

    They are completely happy to never know anything about their insides until something goes wrong and so to say, knocks on the door of their consciousness -- passing the threshold of entering the minimal consciousness that man thinks that he enjoys. Then he has a health issue and goes to a doctor in the hopes of suppressing the symptoms or alleviating the condition so that he can go back to the sandbox or amusement park which is his life.

    There are only two places that I know about which reverse this ignorance and lead a man to a knowledge of his inner workings and structure. Those are in the world of Yoga and in Chinese Alchemical Medicine.

    I will use a metaphor: in the film "Lawrence of Arabia" they touted that they had filmed the first actual mirage. It is a scene where Lawrence is looking into the horizon and sees the heat rising off of the desert in waves. Slowly he begins to make out a shape, but he does not know what it is. Painstakingly he continues to try and make out what it is. After some time it becomes clear that these are men on horseback, but Lawrence does not yet know whether they are friend or foe. It is only after they emerge from the mirage that he realizes who they are and what they are up to.

    Each of us man have this horizon and a mirage, and our own death is headed towards us but we do not know of it. It is still hidden in the waves of heat which is the mirage of our ordinary life.

    It is only the Yogi who enlarges his consciousness and descends into the body like a man spelunking into caves who knows.

    There he meets with his internal organs and learns their language. From this conscious work can come even an understanding of his own death -- aside from the issue of accident, when and how he is to die. One may also say with some certainty not only that, but that the Yogi who has attained to such interior knowledge becomes free from the law of accident. For him there are no accidents, only events.

    In Chinese alchemical medical thinking, there are 10 paired organs, Yin and Yang, and the five Yin organs are the solid organs: the liver, the heart, the spleen, the lungs and the kidneys. This is differentiated from the Yang organs which are hollow, like the stomach and intestines.

    It is said that these five Yin organs store the emotions:

    Liver stores anger
    Heart stores joy and glee
    Spleen stores worry
    Lungs store grief
    Kidneys store fear

    All of these emotions have both beneficial and adverse characteristics. To take an example, according to the ancient Chinese alchemical thinking, anger is an appropriate response or tool which can be used to remove obstacles to ones will, if it is thwarted. Of course most men don't have real will but only a confluence of desires, so their anger is not only useless but destructive.

    All the other emotions also have positive and negative attributes. This is somewhat different from Mr. Gurdjieff's concept of positive emotions, which cannot turn into their opposites and which can only emerge and recede, but it provides a very good model of the emotions and how they ought to be utilized in life. Mr. Gurdjieff himself was famous for his rages, where he would scream at the top of his lungs and his entire head would turn purple; at the next second, he could turn to another person and radiate love and compassion almost beyond belief. This is using the emotions without identification. A rather big achievement indeed.

    Not as an absolute certainty, but your stomach illness may be due to a surfeit of worry -- fretting over something or other either consciously, subconsciously or unconsciously. But I am not a doctor of allopathic medicine, so it is presumptuous of me to make diagnoses, even if they are alchemical.

    And yet your latest blog posts have been very much on the mark of something quite real. And as our personal e-mail correspondence has slowed down, and our attempt at a community blog in DoremiShock has ended, I feel fortunate that I am able to comment on your own blog, which deserves a wide audience -- although because of the subject matter, is not likely to garner one.

    All sorts of people think they want enlightenment, but they forget a most important axiom:

    "The light is not kind."



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