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.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, you write that when your friend visited you felt "almost compelled to respond."

    And here I am, or here am I, finally compelled to respond. I told myself that this time I would not respond -- that there is nothing to respond to. Your post is very simple and easy to understand. Its points are salient and cogent. Why respond?

    Several reasons. I respond in order to maintain a relationship with you and your readers; to render service by commenting and in some cases making technical observations, but today I respond because you have waited me out -- your posts for whatever reason have not been daily. Personally I think that speaks something very important about your own growth, that you are not compelled to write endlessly. It is clear that you have found something, just as I have, and that something which has been found is indescribable, un-expressible, ineffable and profound. It reminds me of the Tao:

    He who speaks does not know; he who knows does not speak.

    I have recognized something about value. Certainly there is outer value in relating with each other through external considering. That's not the recognition and ambition you are talking about, but rather the ploy of false personality to be applauded. It is rather something of a joke that something which actually does not exist except in the imagination wishes for recognition and approval. It's one of those games I talk about being in the basement of ourselves that we play by candlelight because we haven't dared to explore the house and all of its rooms and machines and books etc.. Instead we sit in the basement and we play the games. You have named some of them actively. The game called "Recognition"; the game called "Ambition". These fit nicely along with the games I have discovered: "I am Mature"; "I Am an Adult"; "I Am Important"; "I Am Pretty"; "I am Handsome"; "I Am Successful". The list can go on and on and on -- meaningless games to keep this in the basement of ourselves.

    But when you write that we have inherent intrinsic value I urge caution. While it may be true it is also completely untrue following the law that Mr. Gurdjieff calls "every stick has two ends." This is the game that the pseudo-Hindu Advaida Vedanta plays -- Advaida meaning "not two" and Vedanta meaning "end of the teachings." They sucker people into believing that nothing subject to change is real, so nothing is real, and everyone is perfect and all they have to do is realize it and poof, all their problems are solved. They mistake acceptance with laissez-faire, and they mistake the work with "going with the flow".

    Man is a bent nail. He has no intrinsic value as he is and is meant for the slag heap. Only by almost superhuman suffering and rightly directed work can he become truly of value.

    That value is inner and invisible. It seeks no recognition, no approval, no ambition except to serve the ray of creation.

    Mr. Gurdjieff was asked by Mr. Ouspensky if conscious man could be recognized and Mr. Gurdjieff said that maybe he would look like the most mechanical man you ever saw. Only those with being can recognize those with being, and the rest is mere speculation. Anyone who looks like he is conscious is probably deeply hypnotized. You know that thing that is called the "work face". It is a dead giveaway like a tell in poker, that that person is very far from the work.

    The real work begins with the second conscious shock, oh, and what a shock it is -- to see that the entire universe is suffering and to enter into that suffering like a man diving into a pool of ice water. Those with a work face haven't even found the first conscious shock -- they are just marionettes looking for Giuseppe.

    They think that Mr. Gurdjieff and Madame DeSalzmann are Giuseppe, and they have hidden ambition in the work disguised as visible humility and much flapping of the gums even without the mouth moving.

    Ah, you have tricked me. I have commented once again upon something which required no comment.

    Touché Lee!

    --rlnyc

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