Thursday, November 6, 2008

Circumstance and Being

In examining the situation we all find ourselves in, we discover, as we work, that there is an inner and an outer, a theme I have come to many times in this blog.

This week I formulated a slightly different way of expressing this, which is framed in the questions of circumstance and Being.

Circumstance is that which lies around us. We have a "stance," an existence, a place where we stand, which consists of this organism, taking in all its impressions of this life. That "stance" is surrounded by all the external events that affect it. Hence, circumstance.

What is affected is Being. One might say that this is the "stance" in circumstance, but that is only the case if Being deepens. In man's ordinary state, all that is there to receive life's impressions is personality, and so everything external affects personality. Essence, the emotional core of man's being, is buried and has little legitimate interaction with the impressions of life.

I bring all of this up because I became interested this week in the difference between grief that is experienced through circumstance, and grief that is understood through Being.

All of us encounter a great deal of suffering in life. The suffering produces grief. This question of suffering and the way that it affects man was, of course, one of the main interests of the Buddha. He wanted man to become free of suffering.

Gurdjieff, on the other hand, offered us a bold and magnificent inversion of this idea that can only be appreciated through an entirely different order of experience.

He said that man needed to suffer more, only in a new way. His teaching said that man needs to learn how to take on a portion of the sorrow of God, who he referred to as "His Endlessness."

Under ordinary circumstances, the way we usually are, as we encounter suffering and grief, we encounter it only through circumstance. Everything that we learn about it, we we learn through external events. That is to say, our grief and our suffering is cause-based. Someone dies, and we feel bad. We see an individual we know in distress, and we grieve for them. The laws of cause and effect continually deliver such experiences to our doorstep.

A great deal of this kind of grief and suffering may end up looking senseless to us. Men encounter calamity and disaster, reach their hands to the heavens, and ask "why?" I've done it many times myself.

More often than not, no answer is heard. This sometimes leads us to presume that the universe is devoid of answers, and that any God there might be is an uncaring God.

There is, however, a completely different way of encountering suffering and grief, and this is part of what Gurdjieff called intentional suffering. That subject is actually an extremely complex one with many levels of understanding, so we will have to just barely touch on it. What I want to bring us to is the idea that suffering and grief, if they cease to be understood through circumstance, are related to the question of remorse of conscience -- another central concept in Gurdjieff's work -- and taking on some of the sorrow of His Endlessness, or, the universe itself. And this act can become intentional, if mediated through the effort of real inner work.

Being itself is capable of encountering grief, sorrow, suffering, as a substantive or substantial experience, that is, based on an actual experience of a certain kind of material energy. The energy is independent of circumstance. By this I mean that it is not produced by good or bad things that happen. It is, for lack of a better description, "atmospheric" in nature, that is, it exists within the vibration of the fabric of the universe. (I hate to put it that way, because I'm not into descriptions that express what might be consdiered a cosmological "New Age" attitude, but that's the best I can do.)

The encounter of suffering and remorse through Being, rather than circumstance, can only be achieved through a great deal of inner work. If, however, it touches us even once, we begin to have a completely different understanding of many ideas that we have heard but don't know much about. Compassion, for instance, can only be truly understood once it is mediated by these forces. Humility and remorse of conscience are water drawn from this same well of grief through Being.

This week, I became a bit more cognizant of the understanding that all of the key emotive forces which can help our work must be connected to the ability to take in grief and suffering through Being, rather than circumstance. This is directly connected to a great deal of what I have said in the past about understanding the difference between the inner and the outer.

This question of circumstance and Being touches in every way on our confusion about life itself. We think that circumstance is life. We don't understand that life springs from Being, and not from circumstance. We think that the water produces the well. Our societies are arranged to encourage this, and we spend very little time pondering it from an organic point of view.

Only an inversion of this habitual understanding can begin to lead us into the darkness that the water actually comes from.

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

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