click here for the podcast version
Arrogance: "The taking of too much upon oneself as one's right; the assertion of unwarrantable claims in respect of one's own importance; undue assumption of dignity, authority, or knowledge; aggressive conceit, presumption, or haughtiness." (Oxford English Dictionary)
How much do I know about myself?
In pursuit of this very high aim of my work, this aim of understanding what real love means, I need to be able to see how I am. How I am stands in the way of my aim. And what chiefly characterizes me is my arrogance.
If I examine the definition of the word, it appears to be a description of what we call ego. As long as I live in my mind, as long as I think and think and think, I won't see this quality in myself. To truly stand alongside this quality requires an impartiality -- a connection between the centers.
It doesn't get rid of the quality; no, that would be far too easy. This quality is the center of gravity for what I call my "being" as it stands today. And it is only by becoming a companion, a friend, to it -- by doing what Gurdjieff calls "separating myself from myself" --by watching myself, that I can begin to discover how I really am.
There is much rich material on this question in the Bible, Luke, chapter 12. for example, Christ says to us in 12:37, "Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching..."
So I need to discover what it means to watch myself, not as a critic, but as an observer. And that watchfulness cannot come from within the intellect. The watchfulness has to be born from an active interest arising not just in the intelligence, but in the other centers as well. This means an active interest also from the body and the emotions.
Of course, for many years, this idea remains theoretical. We hear about it over and over again in groups, and from books, and we repeat it to each other even when we don't understand it properly. This doesn't mean we are incapable of such understanding; all it means is that it takes many years to truly understand. People who want to do weekend retreats and swiftly discover a new spiritual wholeness don't belong in the Gurdjieff work. It is a slow, deep work. There are other, quicker ways to arrive at something.
What that something is is open to discussion -- to a certainty, there are other real things one can come to, besides what Gurdjieff pointed us to. But the Gurdjieff work points (at least initially) at arriving at a very specific something. This "something" is a legitimate and grounded organic connection between centers that has a more durable nature. That connection in and of itself produces the possibility of receiving a new kind of material within this enormously sensitive tool called the body that can support a very deep and transforming kind of work.
Such work changes one's attitudes in a way that cannot change like the weather. It creates a part that stands aside from and slightly above the parts that change all the time. It creates a living experience that transcends the day to day reactions of the emotions, and the day to day instructions of the intellect, and even the day to day trials and tribulations and pains of the body. It summarizes all of these elements of life without eliminating them.
Could we liken this experience, which Gurdjieff would have referred to as non-identification, to what Buddhists call detachment? There seems to be little doubt about it.
Here we discover a synthesized experience that includes all of our arrogance, all of our emotional reaction, all of the temporary nature of the body. That summary of our nature, and the humbling experience of it as a fact, leads us in the direction of what we call, in the Gurdjieff work, real feeling.
And what is this "real feeling?"
Well, that is exactly the point. This real feeling is everything that arrogance is not. A human being who truly works, who submits to authority, who works and watches while they await the arrival of the master, will slowly have all of the arrogant qualities in them eroded, until they begin to truly sense their own nothingness -- not as an idea, but as a Truth.
Truth, in this case, as an organic experience of life that offers an inescapable and moment to moment understanding that I live.
Oh, I may say to myself, that's rather silly. I already know that I live.
But there is no truth in this. I only know that I live if I know that I breathe; if I can sense my cells as they participate; if I sense the way that this body receives energies I do not understand.
And that, that is just the beginning -- even this miraculous discovery is no more than the ground floor of understanding--or maybe even just the steps up out of the basement. Until I truly know that I live, which is an experience that is reborn over and over again within each moment of each day, I cannot begin to acquire any real humility in regard to my position in life.
Almost everything that goes wrong in my life, and almost everything that is going wrong on this planet, stems directly from arrogance. If one had to pick a chief feature for mankind, it would definitely be this one.
Arrogance acts in sheer defiance of this experience of a higher Truth. It is an appropriator of all that is good and true and loving. It gives permission to destroy without regard for the other. And how often have I exercised that license in my own life? I am perhaps fascinated by the idea of a movie character named James Bond who has a license to kill, but I don't see that this character is me.
So my aim, as I attempt to stand beside myself and see myself, is to gain an organic sensation of humility. This is the only force that can stand against my arrogance, and because it is rooted in the opportunity for real feeling, it is much stronger than arrogance. Arrogance is swept away like dust in the wind when this organic sensation of real humility arrives.
I see that I use these phrases has so often: organic sensation, organic sense of being. Perhaps it sounds repetitive. But there doesn't seem to be any other good way of describing an experience that arises not from my head's experience of my life, but an experience that arises from three centers within the organism. And it is, after all, only this experience that helps to create what we call "I am" in this work. An "I am" that is not born from arrogance and the ego, but from an experience of the fundamental unity we share with this planet, other life forms, and the creative force of the universe itself.
So today, as I begin -- and every day, I begin anew, let me make no mistake about that -- I hope to rediscover a connection between my parts, to re-member the severed limbs of my sensation, my feeling, and my intelligence, until there is a whole body available to me from within which to perceive the flow of this water called life.
May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.