It's bitter cold here in New York tonight. My wife Neal is in the city, leaving me to noodle about on my own. I took the dog out, and when we were half way around the block, I realized it was too cold to walk the dog all the way around the block -- not for me, but for the dog.
We did the second half of the walk in double time.
A good friend from my group came over tonight to do some creative brainstorming, and I saw once again how difficult it is to be present, to have attention. Even with people we love and work with, there is a constant impulse to turn away. One has to keep pushing one's courage to the sticking point, as it were.
We all live through that, if we are observing ourselves. There is a different question I was looking at the same time tonight, and that is the force that comes from above, and the sorrow that inevitably accompanies anything connected to the higher.
This question has been in the air generally. Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who had an overwhelming emotional experience along these lines -- not sentiment, or pity, but a real sorrow that is sent, that arrives from above and penetrates deep into the body. A sorrow that is relentlessly cosmological in nature.
Mr. Gurdjieff certainly understood that one of the main purposes of man's work -- if he put in the effort to make himself available -- was to help share a portion of the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness. Gurdjieff was unique, so far as I know, in this particular religious understanding. Perhaps I haven't studied it enough, but I don't find it in Buddhism. Once again, I'm no expert on Hinduism -- perhaps rlnyc can help us here -- but it's not there either. Even in Christianity, which lays claim to the esoteric root of Gurdjieff's teaching, we don't really encounter this idea. There are certainly hints of it found in many religions, where humility and compassion play central roles.
But the idea of the essential sorrow at the heart of the universe, and the idea that man should help share that burden -- well, that's unique, isn't it?
This idea, from my own experience, lies at the absolute heart of any real religious understanding, and the sensation associated with it -- the emotion associated with it -- the intellectual understanding associated with it --are, for me, the highest aim that a man can have. There is no experience-- even religious ecstasy-- that compares to the sobering, sacred, humiliating, and deeply moving privilege of sensing even a tiny portion of this sorrow.
What is it that makes Gurdjieff's work different? Why is this idea found in his work and not elsewhere? Why does a diligent practice of his work ultimately bring us to these experiences?
I think the answer to the first two questions is somewhat straightforward. When Gurdjieff said that his work came from influences "C," that is, much higher influences than anything ordinarily found on the planet, he was telling the truth. He brought something from a higher level and offered us the chance to learn from it. Many people confuse his work with other spiritual works, as though they were roughly equivalent. That simply isn't true. Most spiritual work has been diluted, codified, and automatized until little of the real flavor is left in the soup.
This rather obscure man came along in the last century with a bag full of spices, and put the zest back into inner work. Those who know good cooking when they taste it are still eager to eat at his restaurant, even though few of the original cooks are left in the kitchen.
As to the last question -- why his work brings us to this state -- the answers cannot be so glib. Coming to this state of sorrow is no accident. I'm quite certain that Mr. Gurdjieff designed his work specifically because it would make this possible. What I am not certain of is where this leads us, other than to say that it leads us deeper and deeper into an understanding of what it truly means to be human.
In truly beginning to understand our humanity -- our organic composition, our connectedness to the rest of nature, our smallness and our need for help -- we can begin to understand the cosmos itself in a new way, because, as Mr. Gurdjieff reminded us, we are a reflection of it.
There are mysteries here that don't lend themselves to analysis. It's worth pondering the question of sorrow, and it is worth seeking the relationship with what comes from above, to see how vulnerable, how open we need to be to share. Real humility arrives with this force in a way that no theoretical understanding can convey. When we say that we wish to be open, I am convinced, this force and its consequences are what we need to become open to.
If we open ourselves to a force that transforms, we open ourselves to remorse. We open ourselves to suffering in an inner sense that has nothing to do with the ordinary suffering of the body within life. And if there was ever an image created to convey the depth of the suffering that we must all understand in an inner sense if we truly wish to develop, well, it must be the image of Christ on the cross.
That image is something we have become so habituated to that we don't understand it. If we do understand it, I think we understand it only sentimentally, emotionally. We never understand it the way a man who has been crucified could understand it.
But that man, Jesus Christ, actually had those experiences.
It is said he did so for us.
What does that mean? I ask myself that.
As usual, I have a lot of questions.
May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.