Friday, June 6, 2008
Today, while I was at the supermarket, I met a very congenial man named Jesse. He's this short, round dark man with a huge round face. Nonetheless, his smile is up to the task of filling all that space the instant he turns it on.
Turns out that Jesse comes from Palau, famed island Nation of the South Pacific. So I initiated a chat about Carl Safina's book, "Song for the Blue Ocean,", in which Carl has an encounter with the chief of Palau. (I'd love to talk about that more today, but we won't. Go read the book. You won't regret it.) We had a great exchange.
What struck me as I walked away from this very touching encounter with this man was how we instantly took to each other. What was the reason for that? Maybe it was because I was present in myself when I encountered him, and I took the time to see him, not as a thing, but as a human being.
It was a certain kind of magnetism that arises from an effort at presence that connected us, and he felt the connection.
It may sound peculiar to put it this way, but love arose spontaneously in this brief and initially impersonal encounter, because we both suddenly became human beings, encountering each other as human beings, and not just as objects with a transaction to complete. The quotation marks around the word "man" dropped away from the two of us for just a moment.
At the end of our conversation, as Jesse had to stop and service other customers, he turned to me with some real emotion, and said, "Hey, we'll definitely talk again next time!" I reached out to shake his hand, because I agreed. We had had a real moment together.
As I walked away, it touched me that two human beings from two so completely different cultures and backgrounds can encounter each other and discover that our humanity transcends the differences. All it takes is enough time to recognize the fact that the other person isn't an object. In this particular moment, I had offered myself, and something came of it.
For some odd and not quite explainable reason, I saw, felt, and sensed this impulse arising in me: "I can die, and it won't even matter, as long as I continue to offer myself."
Unfortunately, I see that I treat many people -- perhaps even everyone -- as things most of the time. I rather suspect this weakness exists in every human being, and gives rise to a great deal of the misery and suffering we cause each other. We don't try to be present; we don't see each other as subjects, we all become things, and things are only meaningful in terms of how we can manipulate them.
Well then, I began to ponder this idea that we call "objectivity" in the Gurdjieff Work, and what the word objectivity means, and what the Word "object" means.
"Object" can mean a material thing, it can mean something we aim at, or it can be something that opposes us. Oddly enough, it turns out that in a way this word encompasses the holy law of trinity:
A material thing that exists -- holy affirming,
Something that opposes us -- holy denying,
something we aim for -- movement, direction, holy reconciling.
I had never thought of it that way before, but it occurs to me all of a sudden that when Mr. Gurdjieff told us that we needed to become objective, perhaps he chose that word more consciously than we suspect. Of course we all agree that he meant we should do three centered work, but it's very interesting to see how this word contains those three concepts within it.
In exploring this a little further, I see that if I treat someone as a human being, a real manifestation before me, I affirm them. they become more concrete. They are objects, but objects in a new sense -- that is, animate and interesting. This is what happened with Jesse.
If I treat human beings as things that oppose me, I deny them. This is, perhaps, a state where externally directed negativity arises.
And yet, if I treat them as an aim -- someone to connect with, someone to be in immediate relationship with-- it reconciles these two opposing tendencies. The polarities of Being and non-Being come together at the juncture between active sentience and passive sentience, and I stand as both a witness and a mediator of the transmission of energy from one to the other.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.