Back from a work week, with many new impressions.
One of the peculiar effects of conducting a public enterprise regarding the Gurdjieff Work (this blog) is the need for compartmentalization. According to well-established Work principles, which in my conservative set of shoes I definitely follow, I can’t make public any substantial exchange or discussion that took place. Furthermore, more than once during the week, I found myself having thoughts about my experience—and the work itself—which required a decision. I either had to keep such material private, in order to later make it available to this readership, or speak about it in the course of the week, in which case I would be under obligation not to write about later.
Standing between the public and private faces of the Gurdjieff work in this manner creates questions of responsibility that cannot be encountered under alternate circumstances.
This forced me into a much more intensive examination of what was required in terms of exchange during the week. Fortunately, the distinction between what was appropriate for the moment and what was appropriate for later quickly became clear enough. And there are, of course, some quite ordinary events that took place during the week that fall under no reasonable formal strictures.
Following the past week’s observations, there is little doubt left in me as to whether we in the Gurdjieff work take both the enterprise and the activity too intellectually, and too theoretically. It quickly became apparent – distressingly so, to myself and some others- that we cannot even stand up from our seat at dinner and get as far as the kitchen without losing our attention and forgetting to remember ourselves.
I don’t say this by way of judgment. It is just a heartbreaking and humbling reminder of everything Gurdjieff said about our inabilities. Unless our work becomes more organic, as I’ve said many times, and obtains the support of both the body and the emotions in order to function better, the mind is in no way strong enough to keep us on track. If we don’t learn humility here, on the ground floor of this effort, we won’t learn humility at all. And I do believe our humility is fundamentally lacking. We may well be following in the footsteps of Martin Luther’s adage—since we must sin, sin boldly—but I think we are taking his advice a bit more enthusiastically than necessary.
During the week, I ran into a number of ordinary conversations on the subject of saving the planet. Right minded people in the Gurdjieff work, just like those in other spiritual works, are very concerned about this. We all have this perception –undoubtedly correct –that the earth is being desperately damaged by our activity, and that something must to be done to fix it.
I share this concern. On the other hand, the lessons of this week made it quite clear to me that, for the most part, we can’t even get the dishes done with attention. We want to save the whole planet by heroic effort, but we are unable to carry an intention from one moment to the next. If we’re unable to attend to ourselves, how can we attend to the needs of an entire planet? The situation reeks of the contradictions Gurdjieff pointed out, the huge gap between human aspiration and human ability.
The belief that man can “save the planet” is both anthropocentric and grandiose—certainly, at least, if we take “saving the planet” in the outward form that it is conventionally meant. It is a conceit, a vanity, that puts us (as usual) at the center of events—a fundamental misunderstanding of our scale, our location, and our role.
The real question in front of mankind is whether the earth can save man.
Man was placed here to serve a specific purpose which he is, at this time, in apparent danger of failing. The overall level of consciousness in humanity doesn’t seem to be increasing—at least to me. The species appears to be caught in a downward spiral in which we are degrading both our cultures and our environment. The loudest spokespeople of the moment are, perhaps all too appropriately, the suicide bombers.
In order for man to be saved—to be preserved so that he can serve a higher purpose—he has to be worth saving. This isn’t a new concept: the idea that the hero has to first be worthy is a very old one. And in order for man to be worth saving, viewed from the perspective of our work, he must make an effort.
We can’t be sure—but we do know that Mme. De Salzmann indicated that the future of the planet depended on the quality of our work. If man can’t contribute what is needed by the earth for its own work, it may well rearrange things so that man no longer occupies the position he is in now—because the earth will take steps to obtain what is needed by whatever means necessary.
In other words, we are far less important than we think we are.
We all need to redouble our inner efforts, first for our own sake, but second and third for the sake of humanity, and for the sake of the planet.
In the coming days, I’ll be introducing a number of essays—as yet unwritten—that relate to these questions. Readers will encounter new structural insights that recast my earlier work on the questions of the enneagram, relationship between the centers, and the dynamic of inner and outer impressions in a different, and hopefully more integrated, light.
At the same time, we’ll try to remember together that our collective effort must always be to absorb the theory and then move well beyond it, into practice—as always, the territory where the bones discover their own flesh.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.