I've recently been reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "One Hundred Years of Solitude." This is a magnificent piece of literature -- if you haven't had a chance to read it yet, I recommend it.
One of the characters in the book is Ursula Buendia, the matriarch of the family, who persists in living until her sight finally begins to fail. She conceals this by discovering other senses that help her to understand the process of life, and in doing so, she makes a few telling observations about those around her.
On page 247 of Gregory Rabassa's translation (HarperPerennial Modern Classics, 2006 edition,) the author informs us:
"Quite simply, while the others were going carelessly all about, she watched them with her four senses so that they never took her by surprise, and after some time she discovered that every member of the family, without realizing it, repeated the same path every day, the same actions, and almost repeated the same words at the same hour. Only when they deviated from meticulous routine did they run the risk of losing something."
A bit later he observes:
"...the search for lost things is hindered by routine habits and that is why it is so difficult to find them."
I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I have noticed that it is not uncommon for me to repeat the same things, the same conversations, the same subjects. Marquez has this exactly right: our habits dominate us with the unobserved tyranny of comfort. In addition, it is our habits themselves that prevent us from reconnecting with what we actually are -- which is, after all, what we have lost in this life of routine.
Marquez' Ursula presents us with an accurate snapshot of how we are: machines. Our mind continually represents to us that we are otherwise; we may observe others, and see their flaws or faults or habits, but we, of course, are better than they are. Every single one of us inevitably, unconsciously, habitually and mechanically puts ourselves above those around us. There are very few individuals that do not have a hidden inner dialogue that speaks to their own superiority. The more arrogant the dialogue becomes, the more invisible it is to us, and the more visible it may be to others.
We are, in a nutshell, frauds. All of us are frauds. This refers me back to the talk of Mr. Gurdjieff's which I heard this summer in which he said we are all entirely composed of lies. On the whole, despite the fact that I rejected it while I was hearing it, I find that he was entirely correct.
The corollary to this observation is that we firmly believe we are not frauds. Most men spend most of their life assuming that they are sincere -- maybe even protesting that they are sincere, and that their motives are selfless and good.
I think the moment in our work when we become suspicious of everything is the moment when reality first begins to appear in front of us. I am reminded of an elder person -- a very elder person -- in the work who mentioned this summer that in the old days, members of the work questioned everything. With emphasis.
That's the bottom line that we need to come to in regard to our self. Not to critique the self, but to examine it carefully, understanding that it is a misrepresentation, an automatized collection of nearly inescapable habits and assumptions. Those of us in the Gurdjieff Work hear this -- but do we really believe it with anything but our minds?
Of course we don't. Our essence is lost in this jungle of repetition. If we develop a better connection to our sensation, we at least have a chance of lifting our head above the foliage from time to time, but the fact is that we remain in the dense underbrush, lost, most of the time.
Once we discover an inner uncertainty, it can serve us. It is our certainty itself that encourages our mechanical nature. So if you are bewildered, unsure of your work, unsure of your thought process, unsure of what you are or where you are or even what you are doing, it's a good place to be. It occurs to me as I sit here and dictate this that no one knows what the hell is going on. Once in a century someone like Mr. Gurdjieff might come along who has a better idea than the rest of us, but even he was probably bewildered by a lot of what he saw. The way that human beings conduct themselves is, without any doubt, incredible -- scarcely to be believed.
Off-subject, one small coda to that comment--an impression from today.
This morning I took my usual trip down the New Jersey Turnpike, passing through the sad remains of the New Jersey Meadowlands--which used to be one of the most abundant and productive salt marshes on the East Coast. (Salt marshes, for those of you who don't know, produce more biomass per square meter than a tropical rainforest. The health of our fish populations absolutely depends on them.)
Human beings are relentlessly, mindlessly destroying the planet. By now, it's almost certain that we will collapse our ecosystems and that a catastrophe resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions and perhaps even billions of lives will take place. By now, there is no way to avoid this. Nonetheless, we keep on merrily destroying, labelling it with the euphemisim of "development."
Construction crews with gargantuan machines were digging up more of the (federally protected, LOL) salt marsh this morning, scooping up huge piles of rich, steaming peat--festooned with wetland plants, notably the beautiful salt marsh grass Phragmites--and dumping it in trucks to cart off and dump elsewhere.
In the distance loomed not one, but two brand-new, gargantuan stadiums built on the same formerly rich and productive land, so that we can madly entertain ourselves with sports and concerts while the planet dies.
It is a sobering reminder for each of us who does personal work to value our resources. Our body and our sensation, our breathing and our emotional contact with our inner state, are what give richness to life. Not things. Not sports stadiums and music and cool new clothing. If we can discover the richness of the impressions and experiences, these things become much less important.
And it is up to those of us who can make these discoveries to do so, because it is most certainly a dying art.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.