Monday, March 16, 2009

Collapse

The emotional state needs support.

Just like the body needs a certain amount of food if it's not going to experience exhaustion, the emotions also need a certain kind of food in order to stay positive. In the same way that we often don't feed our body with the appropriate food -- resulting in various kinds of disease -- we often don't feed our emotions properly either.

Unfortunately, there aren't any nutritional charts for emotion. You can't look at the three major food groups for emotion and decide which one you are low on. So emotional management becomes much more difficult than just eating bread or vegetables.

Every once in a while, I reach a point where the emotions don't have enough support, and I feel very low. Sometimes this is the result of disease; a viral infection will often produce a low point in the emotions, especially when it is beginning. At other times, after weeks and months of stress, sometimes unacknowledged, I hit a low point.

We talk about not expressing negative emotion in this work, but that is a lofty goal. There are times when I have to be honest with myself and see that I am negative, and allow the ordinary parts to express that in one way or another. Not with raging or destructive behavior, but rather, simply to verbally express the anguish and ask the questions that the state puts in front of me. Many years ago, my group leader Henry Brown mentioned that it is very important not to repress negative emotion. I think the bottom line is that there are times when I have to let the tea kettle vent a little bit, lest it explode.

Jared Diamond has written a number of very good books, the most famous of which is probably guns, germs, and steel. In his book Collapse, he writes about why societies fall apart. In reviewing this question of emotional support, I believe there are analogies between his analysis of what societies do and what we do with our inner lives.

One of Diamond's central arguments of collapse is that resource depletion has led to the destruction of many large societies. As societies grow larger and larger, they cut down more and more trees, deplete more and more soil, and eventually reach a tipping point where the ecological infrastructure can no longer support the population. Of course other factors are involved -- disease, climate, and so on -- but in most cases, we can see that the initial weakness in large societies was overpopulation and resource depletion.

I think that our personality -- or, if you will, our ego -- functions in much the same way. It grows larger and larger over the course of a lifetime, aggrandizing itself with its arrogance, and using others to get what it wants. By way of analogy, we are overpopulated by our ego. It is crowding out our life. Take a look, for example, at Bernie Madoff, the villain du jour-- perhaps a prime example. We love to blame men like this, but he is just ourselves writ larger. The ego appropriates everything growing around it in its zeal for expansion. In the midst of grabbing everything around us, we exhaust the inner resources needed to support a positive emotional state.

There is a perpetual belief that outwardness is what feeds emotional well-being. I meet this in people constantly. Everyone I know usually asks me to measure my satisfaction in life based on how much I like my outward conditions. I have reached a point in my own work where that measurement no longer seems applicable. No matter where I am, or what I am doing, my measurement of satisfaction --that is, how well I am fed -- arises from my inner relationship first.

So yesterday, the wife of a good friend asked me, "How do you like being unemployed?", and immediately I saw that I did not know how to answer her properly.

I don't "like" or "not like" being unemployed. Here I am. This is my condition. Whether I am employed or not, I meet my life every morning as I get up. I have to breathe in and out, and attend to my responsibilities, whatever they are. There are good moments and there are bad moments, from an external point of view. There are even moments like yesterday when my emotional state isn't well supported.

In the end, it all adds up to living and experiencing life within the context of consuming impressions.

This enterprise we who attempt to work are engaged in is quite different than liking or not liking this or that composer, or enjoying a walk along the banks of the Hudson River.

In examining my inner state this morning, I see that there is a mistaken impression in me between the work I undertake and the life I lead. There are a tremendous amount of resources--an overwhelming amount of resources -- devoted to the idea that the external events in my life, and my manipulation of them, are what matters. When I sit in meditation and attempt to turn the soul towards God and engage in an act of surrender, prying the ego loose from this state is like trying to pull a limpet off a rock with nothing but my bare fingers.

That's well nigh impossible. There's no point in using force; I have to be patient, sit quietly, and sneak up from underneath in order to wedge anything into the problem and let go.

The amount of inner resources that I use to support this devotion to outer life is tremendous. It's the equivalent of racing around cutting down all the trees in the immediate vicinity to build houses and burn fires. That activity looks important, but in the end it takes away what I need for my inner growth. If I live in a small and intimate way, in a way that is more contained and involves more attention, I use a lot less resources. I have less of an impact on my environment, and so I am not engaging in the resource depletion that exhausts my emotional state.

Well, this sounds great. The fact is that it is often next to impossible to avoid strip mining one's life. One has to do one's best to attend and accept the fact that there is going to be a good deal of waste. Every moment that the connection with my sensation is not actively attended to, I am spending resources I ought to be conserving.

All this leaves me with the question of how I meet the moment of collapse -- that moment when my inner resources are weak, and I can no longer muster the emotional support needed to stay positive in the face of the hammering that I take -- that all of us take -- when confronting the ordinary and often difficult circumstances of life.

This morning, in asking that question, I am brought once again to a very simple phrase which seems to contain everything one ought to understand about this question.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done."

This simple phrase is the non-identification of Mr. Gurdjieff's effort; it is the nonattachment of the Buddhists; it is a call to me to surrender myself to a force of love that descends from above and can help me. Of course, I don't know the hour or the day when this force may arrive; I am left in the position of having to offer myself unconditionally, and with faith.

This idea of faith often sticks in the craw of the dogmatists in the Gurdjieff work, but if we don't have faith, nothing is possible. Mr. Gurdjieff himself advised us to have faith of consciousness. In my experience, this is a call to us to invest ourselves in a more active openness that may call that greater love I speak of down to us.

Why "Thy kingdom?"

Well, strip mining my life and depleting my inner resources in a desperate effort to shore up my earthly enterprises is all an investment in my kingdom. I suppose I can't avoid this; I'm not a monk, I don't live in a cave.

Nonetheless, I see there must be a wiser way to use my inner and my outer resources, so that the temple is a solid structure with clean floors, patiently and attentively awaiting the visit of an authority that offers a support I cannot manufacture for myself.

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

1 comment:

  1. You know that I love you. Remember the only time I SAW Patty L in the State of real Holy Grace was when she came downstairs from changing her parents diapers.

    The painting does not wish to be a masterpiece but the artist scrapes it anyway. The sword cries out in the forge and on the anvil; "Please don't hammer me any more!" I am fine as I am, but the master blacksmith continues to hammer, and reheat the sword, until it has a fine edge and is strong beyond it's knowledge.

    Then the Blacksmith places it in it's scabbard and gives it to the Royal Prince. The Prince never takes it out of it's scabbard to look at it and the sword gets some blessed rest. When the prince rides into battle, he takes out the sword, which sees the battlefield for the first time. The Prince raises this sword and the swords clash. ONLY THEN does the sword thank the master, because it cuts other swords like butter, and THEN, it feels it's power, made strong through suffering. There is NO other way.

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