Wednesday, December 3, 2008

what is "doing?"

Over and over in the Gurdjieff work, we encounter the famous phrase, "man cannot do."

It sounds very impressive when repeated. As though we knew what we were talking about, and perhaps even had a broader grasp of the real issues, than those in other works. It's not uncommon for us to flatter ourselves in that way. Despite our wish to be, we certainly remain vulnerable to our vanities.

Today, pondering my existence and effort from the perspective of China, I asked myself, what does this phrase actually mean?

What, in other words, can a man not do? And perhaps more to the point, what should a man do? What should he want to do, and what would lie within the range of his abilities if he could do?

I'm not sure any of us know the answers to these questions. The idea of doing implies an informed agency--the knowing of what is required, and the direction that needs to be taken. Surely, none of us are quite clear on these issues, are we?

In examining my own inner state, I see, I understand little about doing. What little I understand relates to the question of how to better serve forces higher than myself. "Doing," in other words, begins with serving something other than my own egoistic purposes. If I wish to "do," my "doing" must begin with a wish to "do" according to a set of laws that comes from above my own level. It begins with coming under a different set of influences.

The most prominent religious instruction I can think of that speaks to the question of doing comes from the Lord's prayer: "Thy will be done." Here I encounter the idea that "doing," understood from the esoteric viewpoint, involves allowing a higher power to express itself through us.

How this might differ from our ordinary conception of Gurdjieff's "doing" remains unclear, and is worthy of examination.

In the context of my remarks about coming under a different set of influences, G's implication of the need for a powerful and consciously expressed individuality only makes sense to me if we take the meaning of the word "individual" in its most literal sense. A Being which is undivided, hence, acts in unity with a higher Will because it is not separated from it.

This idea presumes a clarity of purpose that echoes Meister Eckart's proposal of a complete emptying of the will of the ordinary self--all so that the only will remaining is a Divine Will.

In other words, to “do”—whatever it is—means something very much other than what I can conceive of from my ordinary state, which is the perspective I am all but forced to examine the question from.

In our spiritual effort, Mr. Gurdjieff advised us to make sure that we had an aim and kept it in front of us. Is our aim to "do?" What do we want to do?

In further pondering, last night, before I went to bed, a radical proposal occurred to me. What if real "doing" consists of nothing more than taking in all of the impressions of our life in a right way, so that we transubstantiate the electrochemical substance of causality and effect -- that is, the events and circumstances of consciousness and being -- according to the requirements of a higher power?

In the chapter "Beelzebub's opinion of war," Gurdjieff says the following:

"...I learned that these sacred substances, 'abrustdonis' and 'helkdonis,' are precisely those substances which enter into the formation and perfecting of the higher being-bodies of the three-brained beings--that is, the 'kessdjan body' and the 'body of the soul'--and that the separation of the sacred 'askokeen' from the two other substances proceeds when beings, on whatever planet they may be, transmute these sacred substances in themselves for the forming and perfecting of their higher bodies, by means of conscious labor and intentional suffering...

"In this connection, the following personal opinion was formed in me: "If only these favorites of yours would seriously ponder all this and serve Nature honestly in this respect, their being-self-perfecting might then proceed automatically, even without the participation of their consciousness..."

We probably have nothing more than the tiniest of intimations about exactly what Mr. Gurdjieff means here. The passage does, however, call the question of what precisely "doing" means, in a way different than the way we usually take it.

It seems apparent that if man is supposed to "do" anything at all, it's connected to the mysterious process he describes here, and not to our ordinary conceptions of the matter.

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


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