We trust ourselves in ways that we shouldn't.
Primarily, what we trust is the outward part of ourselves, which consists largely of mechanical manifestations -- habits we have learned in order to deal with the outside world. These habits can be extremely effective, and we learn to rely on them. For example, I've noticed that I have specific ways of recruiting people to my cause by ingratiating myself with them.
On examination, they're formulaic. I've used them many times--watch myself using them-- and they usually work. They work so often that when they don't work, I find myself surprised and on my toes, having to invent a new approach on the spur of the moment. Those, of course, are usually the most interesting times, but they are much less reliable, because they require me to be more present, and I would rather rely on my habits in order to relate to people.
I was examining this question last night in general terms related to the persona I adopt when I am working. Like everyone else in the Gurdjieff work -- and in all other spiritual works, I would bet --I have a well formed persona that has many years of experience in knowing how to fit into the form. I put on that clothing whenever I relate to people in the work; more often than not, these days, I even wear it when I am on interviews with headhunters or other people, because the cloak does provide at least a tenuous connection to my work -- and even, sometimes, a real one. So the garment has proved to be quite useful.
This doesn't change the fact that it's a garment. It's not me; it is a habitual way that my being has of presenting itself in relating to other people. The truth is that it would be a good idea to be just as suspicious of this part of myself as the other parts. Not in a maleficent or destructive way; no, the idea is simply to remember that this part is a form of mine, just like all the other forms I have, such as the clever man, the joker, the intellectual, the sensitive guy, and so on. This particular form we might call the Man who Works. Conge refers to it in one essay as "our tenured professor of inner work." I find that description quite amusing, and it's on the mark.
The danger with these garments we wear for our spiritual work is that when we put them on, they may deceive everyone--even, and most especially, ourselves. Once we have the garment on--at times, I have cynically referred to it as a "thick layer of Work bullshit"--, we can pretend we work; we fall asleep within the belief that we have gravitas, that we are trying something real. We have covered ourselves with a layer of habits that present themselves as knowing and understanding, when really, it's just another, cleverer set of habits.
Buffered habits whose chief feature is a set of denials that convincingly says to us, "we're not habits!"
The habits may be connected to a better part of ourselves -- and from that point, they can serve us well. We might call them good habits, as opposed to bad ones. But the minute we start mistaking the habits for real work, we have blown the whole deal.
The idea of "remaining in question" -- which is a phrase that has been so aggressively overused it has, in many ways, lost its power to motivate us or illuminate anything at all -- refers to this challenge. We need to bring a critical mind to these spiffy, outwardly spiritual manifestations, and examine them very carefully, even as we engage in them.
The form allows us to "be present."
What is needed is to be present to being present.
My experience of this is manifold. I continually find moments within presenting myself in the form of the work, offering my working persona, and then discovering that in the midst of being there, I have to make a second, super effort at being there. The being there has to be there. Until that begins to take place, as Gertrude Stein said, "there's no there there." This dilemma, of discovering that I'm not there in the midst of being there, reminds me once again of what Ashiata Shiemash referred to as "the terror of the situation."
Even in the midst of working, I wake up and discover I'm not working.
Is it a shock, to discover that most of me is bogus? (By bogus, I mean here a fake and clever layer of personality laid over an essence that wants to become more whole.) Well, it shouldn't be. We are all like this. The top dogs in spiritual works get caught licking their private parts just like the bottom dogs. There's no use in pretending we're not dogs. It might not be a bad idea to remind ourselves a little more often of the Sufi parable about the magician's sheep. The sheep were hypnotized so that they all thought they were grand things; even magicians. But the chopping block was always right there in the yard with them.
The bottom line for me is that I need to keep an eye on things. If I want to stay in touch with that tiny grain of humility that is growing in me, and I want to offer a droplet of the sincerity in my tea cup, I need to consistently re-examine where I am and where I am coming from, not just rely on my habits to support my effort.
And above all, I need to ruthlessly question any imaginary belief I may have in my superiority over others.
May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.