Tuesday, December 9, 2008

a bit of dis-ease

I have been on the run for a lot of this trip, working 14 hour days stacked on top of jet lag. It has finally caught up with me, as it sometimes does: I have a sinus infection.

This has left me tired and without as much energy as I sometimes have. Paradoxically, it has also left me perhaps a bit more open to certain smaller aspects of life that I don't always notice.

I'm about three hours north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province. We drove across the new bridge that crosses the estuary; it has done away with the charm of the clanking ferry which regular readers may already be familiar with. Instead, there is a brave New World that rises 200 feet or more above the waters, taking you across the whole affair in under five minutes. It's like this everywhere I go in China: everything is bigger, newer, faster. Just as we paved over our farmland to erect shopping malls, so they are paving over theirs in order to make the stuff we fill the malls with. One would think we have given ourselves the impression we don't need to grow food anymore.

We get so distracted by the outside, you see, that we forget to feed ourselves properly. Our conditions provide food if we are present to them. Otherwise, they provide a kind of empty stimulation that excites us but does not feed us. We have to begin to live more intimately within ourselves in order to feed ourselves properly. Otherwise, we're paving over the farmland of our essence with the shopping malls of our personality.

So, even though I'm not feeling well, I try to remember to return to an intimate sensation of my cells. To remember -- with their help -- that I am made of cells, and that each one of them is a living being in its own right. I have this false perception of myself as an individual -- actually, I'm not undivided at all -- but what I really am is a community. And it's the moments when I recognize that in a more organic way that I begin to realize there's far more to life than the building of malls and the gathering of stuff.

Gurdjieff certainly understood this idea of community in an inner sense. Nowadays, we cheerfully refer to the statement Michel DeSalzmann made, "the community is the teacher," and we think that it means the community of our fellow Gurdjieffians.

And perhaps it does.

But it also means our inner community. Mr. Gurdjieff did not refer to deputy stewards, stewards, and so on as an idle concept. A good householder attends to his inner household. It's a community.

Do I see that? This is certainly related to Jeanne DeSalzmann's admonition that we have to see our partiality, see how we are made of parts. Do I do that? Or is everything just a question in the head?

Being sick can help us. If by this we are drawn back to a more intimate relationship with the body, perhaps we see that there are individual parts that work together to make us what we are. Now, one of them doesn't work so well: maybe it's the nose. Maybe it's the lungs. Maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, I have an opportunity to see how the various parts support each other, and how rarely I acknowledge that.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

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