Wednesday, September 17, 2008

spiritual circumcision

I come once again to the question that Paul poses in his letter to the Romans (chapter 2.)

Paul speaks mysteriously of a circumcision of the heart, of the Spirit. Now, we could try to understand this from the literal point of view, simply saying that it is a symbolic and abstract act of consecration, allegorically related to the Jewish practice of removing the foreskin.

I prefer to understand it from a more inner point of view.

Speaking again from this question of becoming naked (a metaphor I have invoked more and more frequently of late) to the truth of our condition, what is it to circumcise the heart? To circumcise the spirit?

In order to open to something that is real, we must be willing to expose our most intimate and sacred parts by removing the thickness that cloaks them. In our ordinary state, they are covered up with the thick foreskin of our personality. Personality as we have it today in the Western world is in excess; it prevents our intimate parts from breathing. Unclean substances build up in us as a result. The only way to counteract this is to shed our personality so that something more real and more intimate can come into contact with the forces that wish to help us.

In order to do this, I need to find a way to inhabit my humanity more thoroughly. That inhabitation needs to take place through feeling and sensation, not just the idea that I should inhabit, which arises in my mind.

My mind cannot take me there. It needs the participation of the other parts if it is to make any progress.

Everything that I am, all that I manifest as, is what Gurdjieff would have called "habit." It is a build up of layers that have been acquired from outside. Each one of those layers insulates me both from Truth and from the influence of forces that could help me. By now, I am so accustomed to being separated from those forces that I think I don't need them. I think I can hide. I cover my most intimate parts in the same way that Adam and Eve did when they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. They no longer exposed the reproductive parts of their spirit to God; they discovered shame.

We still have that force of shame in us. To pretend that we don't would be absurd; none of us have escaped from the human condition that man fell into as a result of that allegorical set of circumstances. Gurdjieff referred to a lost sense of "organic shame." One doesn't hear this term discussed much any more, and I haven't heard too many people venture to suggest exactly what that means.

He did suggest that we needed to rediscover this lost quality. I believe that it relates to this question of spiritual circumcision.

Why do I believe that?

I believe that because in my own work I see that this wish to hide, this refusal to expose my most intimate part to God, essentially arises out of shame and fear. Whether or not it is true that I am "originally perfect" -- whether or not it is true that everything is "inherently good" -- we don't understand these things. They are philosophical arguments. We can, however, understand what happens when we encounter a force higher than ourselves and attempt to surrender.

What happens then, in my experience, is that I see how corrupted and unclean I have become in my personality. Hence the shame; hence the fear. Can any of us say, if we were truly honest and presented our self to God, that we would not tremble in fear in the admission of sin? At best, the very best of men can only see how very much more is necessary; the rest of us naïvely think we have done enough.

I cannot fix this problem myself. As they say in AA, the only way that it can be fixed it is to "believe that a power higher than myself can restore me to sanity." And of course, I can't be restored to sanity if I am unwilling to offer my most intimate self to the powers that are above me.

Paul calls us to a mystery. Mr. Gurdjieff's work contains an essential part of that mystery. Once we walk past the signposts of academic argument found in "In Search of the Miraculous," we encounter the extraordinary, rich, byzantine alleyways of Beelzebub.

Here, we slowly enter an uncharted territory where the call of the Mullah to evening prayer carries more meaning than the rule of laws and how to escape them. This is the point where we have to take an emotional risk in our work, rather than relying on how clever we are to carry us forward.

No wonder the Muslims bow their heads to the carpet. What else is left, when one finally admits that one cannot understand the majesty of God?

The act of spiritual circumcision that Paul calls us to is identical to the act of Islam -- submission. Only when we are naked in the eyes of the Lord -- only when we have agreed that we are nothing -- can anything else take place. It's reminiscent of Meister Eckhart's contention that every single last shred of our own will must be stripped from us before the will of the Almighty can emerge.

Mr. Gurdjieff, of course, said a good deal about submitting to another man's will. All of that as practice for being ready to submit to the will of the Almighty.

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

1 comment:

  1. "Mr. Gurdjieff, of course, said a good deal about submitting to another man's will. All of that as practice for being ready to submit to the will of the Almighty."

    What Mr. Gurdjieff actually said was that we have no will, or rather no single will, but a confluence of desires which either strengthen or cancel each other out. In physics this would be called wave interference. In music it would be called phase coherence or cancellation.

    And then Mr. Gurdjieff said that at a certain point it is necessary to surrender one's "will" to one who HAS will, so that one could grow one's own "will." But not forever -- only such time as is necessary.

    There is no surrendering to a higher power something which we don't have, even if we imagine that we have it. First we have to develop will -- and this takes incredible pressure and suffering, just like the formation of a diamond. That is why in Tibetan Buddhism you have something called the Adamantine Path, adamantine meaning diamond-like: hard, impenetrable, solid, imperturbable etc...

    While I appreciate what you are trying to say, I think you are getting a little ahead of yourself, or at the very least, ahead of your readers, who may think that they can "circumcise the heart" and surrender their "will" to the Almighty right away, just by "turning over their (imaginary) "will".

    Not so quick, my fine feathered friends. You may not soar like angels and till you have dug down into the ground and born the pressure of the negativity of the whole world, which only pressure can create Will.

    If you get that far (and for millions that try several succeed), then and only then will you have something to turn over, and by then, if you have worked correctly, when you turn your well over to "God", he will give it right back to you, because you will already be in his service.

    Again we find allusion to Christianity. Through Mr. Gurdjieff and his ideas and teachings we can understand Christianity, but through Christianity we cannot understand Mr. Gurdjieff and his ideas and teachings.

    Therefore I fear another set of 12 comments, as all the disciples render their opinions -- some deluded, some half-realistic, and some real. Just like tricks, half tricks and real phenomena.

    And the only disciple who was strong enough to act on his masters behalf and direction was Judas, who has earned only scorn and derision for his bravery. It is said that Jesus at one point in his passion sweat blood.

    This has been proven to be an authentic physiological manifestation of extraordinary stress and fear. I'll bet Judas sweat just as much.

    So you see your shame and desire to hide yourself like Adam with Eve, who hid in the shade of the afternoon while God went looking for them, this is already a very good thing. But as I sometimes say:

    "If you want to know God, you'd better make very good friends with the Devil, because they are in cahoots; have always been in cahoots, are now, and for ever will be."

    As the devil is OURSELVES uncovered, of course we want to hide. But only by removing the veil of Scheherazade, which is a chimera anyway, do we stand a chance.

    Blessings and sufferings to you all.



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