Wednesday, March 18, 2009

rolling rocks down hills

I have spent the last two days in intensive work of various kinds at the Gurdjieff Foundation. When I got home this afternoon, I felt like I needed some good old manly exercise. So I went up on the hill behind our house, a very steep wooded hill, and began to put in stone steps up to the storage shed. There is plenty of stone to work with; the area I live in is called Rockland Cunty, because it's littered with an unholy amount of glacial till.

This is the kind of exercise I absolutely hate doing before I have started it. I always hesitate and stare at the stuff in front of me and part of me says, forget it. Don't bother. This is going to be hard. I stand there like a professional exhaustionist who gets too worn out just thinking about doing work.

At some point or other, something in me commits. I begin.

Once I get started, I get deeply into the rhythm of it and am so satisfied with the demand that I just keep going and going. I will work without rest, deprive myself of food and water, and push myself to the point of exhaustion before I stop. Honestly, it's ridiculous. I often catch myself in the middle of these situations and ask myself why I don't stop and rest.

If ever there was a good illustration of different "I's" at work in a man, this is one of them.

Perhaps I should explain here, for readers that don't know this, that I am a rock hound. That means I collect rocks, mostly crystals and fossils, but I also have a weird and obsessive relationship with rocks of any kind, any size, shape, color, or provenance. In addition to my intense attraction to biology, I have never met a rock I didn't like. I pick up misshapen, unlikely, objectively valueless rocks and form relationships with them. To me, a rounded piece of granite looks every bit as good as a diamond. There is nothing rational about it, and perhaps that is one of the things that makes me enjoy it so much. This obsession with rocks compounds the project, because anything that involves rocks is twice as likely to become a subject for identification.

Well then. Having started this project with my beloved rocks, I saw other things that needed to be done with big rocks at the same time -- I'm like that. So I gradually began to move each separate project forward, as appropriate, given the materials directly at hand. The projects all eventually involved moving impractically large rocks. It's not good enough, you see, to just move little, reasonably manageable rocks around. The aim is to find rocks which it would be objectively insane to try and move, and then find a way to move them.

Ahem. Anyone who wonders why and how Stonehenge and the pyramids were actually built need only reflect on people like me.

We did it.

At one point, I decided it would be capital to move a huge rounded boulder into position next to our compost dump. The boulder was much higher up on the hill, but it looked like it would roll easily. As it happens, it must have weighed 250 pounds, well out of any reasonable range for a single man to move in any other way.

I managed to move it.

It did roll easily. It moved so easily, in fact, due to its very round shape, that it rolled all the way down the hill.

To my absolute horror.

There are lots of things at the bottom of our hill--for example, cars--that you definitely don't want giant rocks to hit. To compound the problem, the hill comes with some fairly high walls at the bottom which are perfect platforms from which said rocks could conceivably launch themselves majestically into the air ...if some idiot rolled them downhill.

I swiftly discovered that any round rock this big has a mind of its own once it gets moving. I found myself chasing it down the hill in a panic, realizing as I did so that even if I caught up with it, there was absolutely no way of stopping it.

I got lucky. The rock hit bottom and just rolled around in the driveway harmlessly, having done little damage. Even the delicate little boxwood tree which it ruthlessly rolled over on its way down seems to have sprung back up quite happily.

I'm not quite sure why I am telling you this story, but it seems that once in a while -- at least once every five or six hundred essays -- there ought to be an anecdote that is passed on just because it happened.

Are you disappointed? Shall I contextualize it for you?

Okay, it's not difficult. If you want to know how small and helpless you are, get a really, really big rock and start rolling it down a hill towards valuable possessions without any control over the path it takes. You will soon realize how basically helpless we all are when confronted with the realities of physics, let alone the relentless arrival of life at our doorstep.

...Another thing took place today that completely surprised me -- an absolutely unexpected event. I won't go into any details, other than to say that it was about a matter that has been worrying me for 10 years (no exaggeration, really) related to my divorce which, yes, was almost that long ago. The matter worked out in my favor, and instantly erased about 10,000 moments of inner considering I had devoted to trying to figure out how to handle it.

There was no way to have predicted this. I did absolutely nothing, but for some perverse reason I am left here with the feeling that I have accomplished something. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. As usual, I am reacting to life, not acting.

Perhaps we could call the relief of the pressure of inner considering an accomplishment, but it is an accident, not an intentional event. Even my intentional attempts, like rolling rocks down hills, don't work out that well.

So I need to see that my intentions, like my emotional state and everything else, are at the mercy of events much larger than me. Rocks are constantly rolling down hills in my life, and the best that I can do is try to ground myself in the gravity of my body and the vibration of my sensation in preparation.

I will leave it at that for today.

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

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