Sunday, May 18, 2008

Work in Life, a bit more specifically

coral root orchid buds, Tallman State Park, NY

As best I can determine, this very peculiar looking plant is a dwarf variety of saprophytic orchid (I have been unable to identify the exact species--if any reader knows what it is, please let me know) that spends most of its life growing under leaf litter. It doesn't have any leaves, and it doesn't use sunlight to produce chlorophyll. It grows completely hidden until the moment in the spring when it blooms. As such, it is a highly atypical, almost magical flower.

In the context of this post, it represents that which is hidden within us, which emerges to bloom when we least expect it. It doesn't look like we expect it to, it doesn't behave like we expected to, but when it arrives, it flowers.

The phrase "work in life" comes up a lot in the Gurdjieff work these days, although one can't really find it per se in the traditional Gurdjieff literature--for example, Ouspensky may have used the phrase, but if so, I don't recall where.

There are multiple levels of meaning in this phrase.

Before we can say we know what "work in life" means, we have to say that we know what "work" means. And most of us don't really know what "work" means, most of the time, because we are trapped in our psychological understanding of what work means. We actually have to throw that away -- to be daring enough to not know what we're doing -- in order to start knowing what we are doing. The entire form and context that we attempt to frame our "work" in is wrong, because it all springs from an interpretation, rather than arising from the experience.

One might say that our aim is to discover what it means to "work" without quotation marks.

So if work means having the immediate experience and being within it, in the absence of fundamental interpretation -- which is an extremely high practice indeed -- then "work in life" means being right here, right now, not knowing what the hell is going on, and being comfortable with it.

Actually, being uncomfortable with it, and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Being within this moment involves seeing that there are two forces at play for which we stand between. One of them, which is overwhelmingly powerful, is the set of actual events and circumstances of this life, which keeps seizing us by the scruff of our neck, picking us up, and shaking us like some kind of prey. And in a very real sense, life is a predator, and we are the prey. It eats us at every step we take, sucking our energy and our being out of us and consuming it for its own purposes. If you were wondering what all those bizarre images of Tibetan and Hindu demons with a billion arms and mouths and sharp teeth, belts hung about with skulls, are trying to say to us, what they are saying is, "life devours us."

The other force that we stand next to is within us, and for almost all of us, it is usually much more delicate. Actually, it has a tremendous power, but not in the way that it is currently expressed. It is a finer energy that arises from what the Chinese would call the Tao. Christians, Sufis, Hindus all have different names for it -- the Holy Spirit, love, prana -- no matter what you want to call it, it is ultimately nameless.

The point is that we need to have a more conscious relationship to that energy as we stand here in life.

We forget to do that all the time. Even though we know that there is something that can feed us from another level, we rarely stop to sip that particular glass of nectar. Our outwardness takes us in almost every circumstance.

I am in the midst of that experience on a constant basis right now, because despite most of a lifetime of inner effort, I am confronted right now with health issues and many personal demands of a professional and responsible nature that are pressing me very hard. They are generating a good deal of friction and fear in me. Not only that, because my body isn't getting the right kind of nutrition, and I speak here of just plain old food, the chemical substances needed for support are in scarce supply.

In the midst of this, I repeatedly see that there is another part of me that is not attached to this particular set of circumstances, and is working on completely different questions in a completely different way. All of these questions are inward, and all of the work being conducted by "the other half" is also inward. Because of the separation between inward and the outward -- I am not bringing them into relationship sufficiently -- the inward work, which has an undeniable power, is unable to provide much support to the outward question.

So once again, I see that I am standing in front of my lack -- in front of my inability to bring two worlds together and stand in the middle of them.

It is not a bad thing to be ruthlessly confronted with my own weakness and inability. It is terribly trying from an emotional point of view, but I consistently see the value, and I know that it is slowly breaking down the ego-assumptions which I have carried with me for a lifetime.

So this idea of work in life is a call to see how I stand between my two natures, and to be willing to stand there. Above all, in the midst of this maelstrom called life, I need to understand that there is a hidden nature within me which is growing, and to value it properly.

I need to touch that more often, in the day--to nurture it, and to never forget that its blossoms will become available,

in their time.

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

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is "Bravo!"

    Your outer life has brought you conditions of great suffering, which ought to be considered as a blessing. Diamonds and other gems are created by incredible pressure over long periods of time. The Pearl, which in some cultures is called the tears of suffering of the oyster, is created by a constant irritant to the oyster which tries to cover it with the layers and layers of that substance which turns it into a Pearl. Great suffering over a considerable period of years to the oyster.

    Mr. Gurdjieff DID often say that the work was "for life," that it was not a monastery or ashram but that the fourth way occurs within life. All that the Gurdjieff foundations can provide are little oasis wherein one can practice and learn the principles whereby one will take the work into life. In all of Christianity there are very few so-called "Christians" that do not leave their Christianity behind the moment they leave church on Sunday, excepting for the fundamentalists, who are already extremely unbalanced and mentally ill. A slight detour to explain that Jesus called fishermen first -- they get up before everyone else, they prepair their tackle and bait, they don't wake anyone in the house up as they leave, and they do their fishing quietly, letting the bait sinker and floater do the work. There is a saying among fishermen -- a noisy fishermen catches only sick fish. As men are morons to begin with, and pigs by nature, governed by the lower animal nature, there are plenty of sick fish in all religions, even in the Gurdjieff tradition.

    My first contact and teacher of the Work knew Mr. Gurdjieff, had been in the work for 50 years, spent five days a week at the Foundation, and never did I smell a whiff of authentic sanctity coming from her until both her parents were dying, one of Alzheimer's and the other of various other illnesses. She had to change their diapers literally and clothe and feed them. At the same time she had an outer job which pressed her to the wall at that particular time. She also kept up her obligations to the Gurdjieff foundation.

    One day I was scheduled to have a meeting with her. She came downstairs from dealing with her parents and was visibly worn out. But as she turned around to pick up something from a table behind her I saw something special; a whiff of the same spiritual integrity and sanctity that I had seen in Madame De Salzmann's back, and first catching a glimpse of her in one of the movement's films. Then I had been thunderstruck by the BEING that I recognized. Here with my own teacher in front of me was a little tiny bit of it.

    I told her so, and she was grateful for my assessment and agree that she was at that time in the middle of a number of very trying situations.

    Suffering, whether intentional (created by ourselves so that we ourselves suffer some indignation or other) or voluntary, when life squeezes us for the oil of negativity and the instead we use the pressure to create enough heat to melt the metallic powders in the alchemical retort, it makes no difference to the result. But if we make any attempt to escape such sufferings, we lose all opportunity to engage in the true alchemical "Work," and after the temperature goes down from 100°C we return to our ordinary state.

    Mr. Gurdjieff once said to some of his students the following words:

    "I could bring you to 100°C but you could not stay there, and would return to your ordinary state. You must bring yourselves to 100°C and stay there. My work is not cheap, but requires many zeros on the check."

    It sounds to me like you have a great opportunity in your current suffering. I pray you seize it, suffer it conscientiously, and do not allow any of it to leak out of your alchemical vessel. Then there may be an opportunity for permanent change inside the vessel full of metallic powders. Only when they have been melted into a stable larger group of chunks can they be magnetized and so on.



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