Thursday, October 23, 2008

questions of authority

Every one of us in a spiritual work has come up against some “higher,” power possessing being who opposes us at one time or another.

Spiritual work is just as subject to corruption by matters of the ego as any other area of human life. The hierarchy of almost every spiritual work, however, cynically poses as though this weren’t possible--at least for them. It's altogether mandatory.

As I have pointed out before, the highway to enlightenment is littered with the wreckage of those who called it wrong. Every spiritual work has seen individuals who were invested with a great deal of trust and authority abruptly abandon and repudiate their teachers and sell out by teaching outside the work. So the fact is that there have been many thousands, even millions, of cases over the centuries where highly placed, powerful and self-confident individuals made remarkably bad calls about who could be trusted, and how much.

I've seen it happen myself.

You would think such things might shake their confidence, but they don't. These same individuals who make these erroneous calls continue to possess power and make sometimes erroneous judgments.

Because esoteric spiritual works have a strong tendency to morph into oligarchies after the master dies, there is no way to correct this situation. We all have to make our peace with it.

I bring this up because there is an important question here about the difference between service to the work and service to outer authority.

Every one of us who makes a choice to engage in inner work is serving a much bigger entity than the hierarchy. We serve a higher purpose in a work that is worldwide, and linked together by tendrils of energy that have nothing to do with the "ordinary" work we engage in on this level.

Confusing hierarchy and "authority" --much of it opinion posing as authority-- with real Work, inner work, is a mistake. Nonetheless, almost all of us get drawn into this. Hence our egos get confused, bruised, and battered by people who are placed where they can exercise authority over us. Good, solid people routinely get passed over because of badly mistaken perceptions. And a LOT of people who get passed over again and again eventually leave works out of sheer frustration.

One can hardly blame them. "Leadership" in any organization can often appear to be clumsy men with thick gloves on, handling porcelain. Spiritual work is no different, in the end.


The real measure of a man or woman in this work is not the position that they occupy in the hierarchy. The real measure is whether or not we serve the work, regardless of position.

In other words, in real work, it is absolutely necessary to continuously and ruthlessly work to put ego considerations aside and just keep showing up to work with others, even if our work is to clean out the toilets or sweep the floors. (AA does a good job of teaching people this, but it starts on a ground floor with far more humility in it than the Gurdjieff work. In the Gurdjieff work one works to acquire humility--in AA one arrives with it smeared all over one's face.)

And it is very important to understand what it means to serve a work, rather than one's own ambition.That kind of understanding involves sacrifice. It involves attempting to understand what we must give up, and how much we are willing to pay. And all of that is an inner transaction that cannot be traded with in the outside world.

As I've pointed out in other essays on judging, no one on this level really knows what is important and what isn't--although a lot of posers act like they do. Every once in a while, you get a more developed individual who knows a bit of the difference--at least some of the time. That, however, is rare. In general, the power-posessors who choose “who” gets to do “what” and how worthy each person is are often playing a game based on guesswork, colored by ego and vanity. More often than not, life being what it is, they eventually get hoisted on their own petard.

And that's really no surprise, considering what a mess humanity is in. Can we really rely on anyone? Hardly. We live in a world that rewards the development of a decidedly negative and distrusting attitude against others, simply because it is an excellent defense mechanism in a dog-eat-dog world.

This decidedly outward struggle, which we all love far too much, goes absolutely nowhere. In order to deepen and open, we need to become much more interested in our own personal work and the work of our own inner being in regard to level. We must become much more attracted to the specific nature of our own work, rather than any external circumstances. We can only begin real work for ourselves once the center of gravity of our struggle turns itself away from the struggle with others -- which is what every struggle over hierarchy, power, and authority consists of -- and we turn our struggle inwards, towards our self.

I run into many instances where I get into conflicts with people in the work. They take up a lot of inner time, and they generate a lot of inner considering. This never changes.

My attitude towards them, however, gradually does. I begin to see that I have to constantly turn back to myself and how I am, drop these conflicts, and ignore them. Each one of them is a distraction that takes up energy I could use better in another place.

How much time does each one of us spend struggling with authority -- in our family, in our job, or in our spiritual work -- that could be better spent elsewhere? If we truly look at this, we see that it is a lot. We see how helpless we are against our inner considering -- we see how it rules us. And at a certain point, if we see enough, we may say to ourselves, "Well, this isn't productive. I need to do my own work for myself, and not worry about these other folks and what they think of me."

So then we turn back inward. This action, this turning back inward, is so much more valuable--why do we forget it?

Last night, just before movements, I ran into a woman I had a big "work argument" with this summer. (Celebrity death match: my "authority" versus her "authority.")

...We encountered each other alone, in a darkened corridor behind the movements hall, pulling cushions off the shelf.

I went with my heart and took the risk.

"...Are you still mad at me?" I asked.

She broke out in an expansive smile of relief and said, "I am so glad you said that!" I opened up my arms and we gave each other a big hug. Just like that, we dropped all the crap on the floor and we were real human beings for a second.

Now that was a real moment. A moment where instead of the negativity, the competition, the holding on to nonsense, we unconditionally just made a decision in the moment to treat each other decently. We went past the questions of power and conflict, and into relationship.

How different would the world be, if we did more of this in our work?

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

Melanie's disclaimer: "Any resemblance between events described in this blog and events in the real world is purely coincidental. No Gurdjieffians were harmed while writing this blog."

Thanks, Melanie.


  1. Great Post. I have been lax in reading your marvelous blog, and making my usual comments, but I have been super busy over at WITW on Ning, trying to help create a "real group" on the Internet.

    This of course some people say cannot be done, but WITW is the closest to achieving it that I have ever found and I think it HAS to be done, as the Internet is not going away, and the "Work" must conform and change to accommodate whatever conditions exist. It can, and it will. The "work" is much more powerful than to be hampered by anything; any obstacle or conditions. I notice you are a member, but have no activity over there, but we NEED you Lee, please revisit and at least make me a friend, so we can talk through that site. Thanks, rlnyc

  2. Yes, Mr. van Laer, authority is always a problem in Life and in the Work. And it could not be otherwise because Life is the Work and the Work is Life. The tragedy is that we all need a teacher:

    “Our COMMOMG-FATHER—ENDLESSNESS is only the Maker of a three centered being. The genuine creator, however, of his essence during the period of his preparatory existence is his ‘Oskianotsner,’ namely, he whom your fgavorites call tutor or teacher.”

    Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, p. 818


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