Monday, September 1, 2008
Recognition and ambition
Ambition, one might say, is the chief tool of the devil. It is neatly paired with recognition: the ambition to be recognized. To recognize literally means to "become aware of again," but another meaning is that of a wish to be seen by others.
Together they become the twin elephants of our personal terrain: huge animals that roam around, gobbling up all the nourishing vegetation, and trampling both our inner and outer landscape until it's all about them.
When examining the premise that absolutely all of the activities of what Gurdjieff called "false personality" center around bolstering the ego in one way or another, one begins to see that the chief need of ego, of false personality, is to be recognized. That is, to be seen as having significance, having meaning, in the eyes of others: to have a value.
In this action, we all unconsciously subscribe to a belief that value, meaning, and significance derive from the approval of others, or the achievement of external goals in life. We fervently believe that our value is not inherent--as Christ clearly implied in the sermon on the mount (see Matthew6:25-34.\)--it is acquired. And it is in the effort to acquire value that we fall into blindness.
The ambition to be recognized--even if that, oh-so-very-subtly, consists of an ambition to recognize ourselves--is what drives men forward in life. We don't stop to see how utterly self-important this renders us, and how each one of us unwittingly casts ourselves in the role of a slave to our own little recognition-achieving group of rules and conditions.
The most frightening thing about this, perhaps, is that if this feature of our inner landscape begins to go, there doesn't seem to be much of anything left. Are we truly willing to risk that? To accept the nakedness that comes with a realization that the value is already there, within us, and that we have nothing to do with making it or bestowing it? That there is no need for the ambition to be recognized?
And isn't that the central, primal, and supreme argument of revelation we find in the final verses of Matthew 6?
One would think that to recognize inherent value would be a singular act of liberation. After all, if we start out valuable- if we are already valid--it's an amazing thing. A burden has been lifted from our shoulders. That frenzied search for meaning, for value, for significance, is over.
We already have it.
This, of course, is directly related to the idea of "primary enlightenment" which we encounter in Buddhism: that is, the concept that we are already enlightened, already perfect, and just don't realize it. Christ was saying almost exactly the same thing in the last verses of Matthew.
There ought to be a tremendous relief in this idea. But there isn't.
We don't want it to be this way. Ego and false personality--having handily usurped the job of God, as prime movers, motivators, and controllers of the illusory universe of "I"--would immediately find themselves jobless if this premise of primary enlightenment were acknowledged. That just can't be allowed. Too much of what we think we are has formed around this idea. So the entire mechanism of false personality is chiefly turned toward the task of preventing any such understanding.
A friend stopped by yesterday to sit on the front porch. He began to ponder those cosmic questions we love so much: why, why, why. I was all but compelled to respond: we must try, after all, to meet one another's need. Nonetheless, the episode seemed less important, less fraught with inner and outer significance, than an earlier, simpler moment of the day, when I found myself doing nothing more than holding the famous dog Isabel, wet, on a leash.
In our grasping, the why is perpetually lost. We can't think our way to why.
The dog is wet. That's enough to know.
What do I mean by that?
We can, in the simple moments of life, discover each other in relationship, on the common ground of our own humanity. After all the theories are retired, and all the conjecture is abandoned, this alone may be enough to help us discover the true nature of our inner work, and what we actually serve.
Hence the "secret" of Gurdjieff's "obyvatel"- the good householder. He isn't trying to be real--in just honestly being, he is real.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.