Monday, January 12, 2009

Responsibility to the work

On Friday morning, I had a most extraordinary dream. I won't report the exact contents of that dream because it's quite private and personal.

It is the consequences of that dream I wish to examine today.

I mentioned about two weeks ago that I would be discussing the concept of biological "superorganisms" again in this space. That is to say, what we can learn from the way eusocial insect societies are organized.

Such societies rely on an intricate web of support. Every individual contributes to the welfare -- and survival -- of the community. Individuals know their tasks, and accomplish them selflessly. In return, they receive support and sustenance from the community.

Of course the model is idealized and simplified. Insects may think -- honeybees certainly do (See Holdobbler and Wilson's "The Superorganism") -- but they aren't capable of the perhaps unfortunately complex reasoning mankind is.

Nonetheless, the model serves as a fine lesson for those of us in spiritual communities.

The spiritual community is a gradually evolving, living organism composed of and fed by the efforts of its individuals. Collectively, we work to gather an energy, a force, which can achieve a critical mass and attract forces from a higher level that may help us.

Most of us, in our lives and in our spiritual work, spend a great deal of time thinking about what we can get for ourselves. I'm no exception. But there are moments in our work when we need to see, see very deeply, that we are members of a community, and that we owe that community.

We must be responsible to the work we are in.

This idea lies behind the concept of not mixing work. Those of you who have read Ouspensky or Maurice Nicoll will no doubt recall that they felt the commandment "thou shalt not commit adultery" referred specifically to mixing our work with another esoteric work. Today, the New Age movement, the availability of materials from so many different works, and our unbridled enthusiasm for discovery, has brought us to a moment where, I fear, we may be forgetting this principle.

I myself spend a good deal of time studying subjects outside the Gurdjieff work. This does not mean that I feel we should mix the work with other said works. We need to try and stay "close to the bone," so to speak, of this work, because it is a very specific work and was carefully constructed by a man in touch with conscious influences. It produces what needs to be produced if one sticks to the method.

The method is flexible, of course; and the understanding of the method changes as one practices. This does not mean that pouring it into a pot with, for example, tai chi and "pop enneagram psychology" and then stirring is acceptable.

It's not that there's anything overtly wrong with these other practices. But they are different.

If we investigate them to inform our existing work, that's one thing, but there is a very fine line which is difficult to see drawn between studying another work and mixing it in. I'm not quite sure most of us -- perhaps even any of us -- are able to see that so clearly.

The Gurdjieff work needs the support of its members in a deeper and more organic way. We need to develop a respect for this work which transcends our opinions and impulses. That respect needs to engender an organic wish to carry the work forward in the same way that it was given to us by those responsible beings who are now gone. This requires a measure of sobriety, and a dose of seriousness -- which, of course, needs to be leavened with the yeast of humor and nourished with the warmth of love.

The dream that I had called me, this weekend, to examine my responsibility to work more deeply. It's terribly difficult to hold on to a correct responsibility to this immense and magnificent work in the midst of the lack that I feel. I, after all, understand so much less than many of those who went before me. And, as I have said before, quoting Newton's famous words, "if I have seen far, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Nonetheless, like every individual who is serious about this work, I try to shoulder the very real burden of responsibility to breathe life into any corner of the work I am able to, to carry it forward with respect and intelligence, and to offer it on to those in my community.

This is much like the bees who carry nectar back to the nest and then share it. Often, the colonial insect that collects the nectar can't consume it in the state it's in. Sometimes it is even fed to the larva-- the younger ones -- who then digest it and regurgitate it in a state that can nourish the elders.

In every case, the collection of food and the feeding of the colony involves complex interactions between the various members, young, middle-aged, and old. In most cases, it falls to the oldest members of the hive to take the greatest risk (going outside) and collecting food, after which it is processed further by middle-aged or younger members. There are specialized foods for different age groups. The queen needs to receive a specific food of her own, and the reproductive organs of the hive can't function unless yet another specialized food is offered.

So the whole activity of the community--and the evolutionary success of the community-- is based around how we feed each other. If any of us become irresponsible, and fail to feed ourselves -- or others -- properly, everyone suffers.

This means that every day when we wake up, perhaps, our first question might be, how can I be responsible to the work?

If I don't try to lift you up, I cannot rise. My efforts may be minimal, or even mistaken, but I must keep making them.

In his fine book "Inner Octaves"-- which, I have learned, is not available for purchase in the United States, a situation which is truly, deeply regrettable -- Michel Conge discusses this need of ours to keep making efforts to bring what we have, even though they may fail a thousand times.

To succeed once is more important than a thousand failures, and we must collectively have the courage to fail together even ten thousand times, if any of us are to succeed.

This means, I suppose, that we must also learn to forgive each other our failures in an open hearted way, as we continue to share this fine work and the fine material that it makes available for us.

But let us all continue to stay close to what our elders have taught us; let us try to avoid too much wiseacreing; let us deepen our respect for this work and reaffirm our intention to preserve it and pass it on as intact and undivided as our various subjectivities will allow us to.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.