Last night, my wife and I went to see the movie "Up," which is, by the way, not just a brilliant masterpiece of comedy. It's also a masterpiece of magical realism, and a heartfelt examination of the human condition. Very highly recommended.
Before the movie, we went to a local restaurant so Korean that every other customer was Korean. Situations like that are usually a guarantee that the food is authentic, and it was.
During the meal, Neal and I pondered the question that everything that takes place in the universe is chemical.
If we take a planet like Mars, where there is not much running water (if there is any life, it is tiny, and very difficult to detect) we can see that there is not a whole lot going on in terms of chemical reactions. The range of impressions a living organism might take in on Mars is still vast, of course, but it is pretty much limited to rocks, wind, and gradual erosion. Go take a look at the pictures on the website for the Mars lander. You will see what I mean.
On Earth, on the other hand, there is an incredibly rich range of experience taking place in terms of chemical interaction. Chemistry has, so to speak, just about reinvented itself with the advent of organic life, in the same way, as Frank Zappa once put it, that Eddie van Halen reinvented the guitar.
You could take a look at the periodic table of the elements (like the guitar) see what it consisted of, and think that you pretty much knew everything.
Right up until stuff starts happening that you never expected. (click the guitar link for a demonstration.)
So we, as living organisms with an awareness, can take in an incredible range of impressions. And it is useful in this regard to understand every living organism as a kind of "pore," an aperture of awareness, into which and through which pour all of the sensory impressions of this rich interaction of chemicals and energies.
Each conscious organism is actually an individual and personal representation of the total force of consciousness itself, which permeates the universe and is a fundamental condition of reality. We are, individually and collectively, sensory tools assembled from an incredibly creative set of atoms and molecules; all of us in service to something much greater than ourselves.
Scientists argue about how this happened. Of course, the secular view is that it all took place by accident. That explanation now begins to look a bit thin to many people in the science community; it is, by now, becoming clear that there is something peculiar about the nature of the universe and life itself that suggests a much more active agency. (Those interested in the question of agency and its role in conscious experience might want to read Stuart Kauffman's superior "Reinventing The Sacred.")
Over the course of the last 3+ billion years, this planet has produced a vast body of conscious experience of life, all of which has been absorbed through the organisms that experience it and offered onward at the point of death, or, as Mr. Gurdjieff called it, "the sacred rascooarno."
Death is a necessary force, and yet it is impossible to understand it. Even Gurdjieff himself pointed out that there is absolutely no way for a man to understand what Death means until he experiences his own death.
So life itself culminates in an impenetrable mystery. Yet, as we stumble through this set of experiences, our ego causes us to insist that it belongs to us, and we presume that somehow it can be explained.
In the midst of this confusion, mankind razes forests, builds cities, piles up pathetic little mounds of things which he thinks he "owns," and kills his fellow men as though the process were necessary and routine
Mr. Gurdjieff wrote the lengthy book "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson" with a set of complex aims in mind, not the least of which was to disabuse men of of their pathological and criminally egoistic obsessions regarding the nature of their agency, that is to say, what we are here for.
The whole point of the book is that mankind doesn't get it.
What don't we get?
We don't understand why we are here. Everything that we do, in a broad sense, misses the mark-- the main message in Ecclesiastes.
Right in front of us, in the action of taking in impressions, we discover the essence of everything we are supposed to be doing on this planet. The badly deteriorated state of the internal connections in the organism prevents us all, in the course of day to day activity, from understanding any of this. And perhaps the greatest difficulty lies in the fact that, even if we agree to this premise -- which is far from a certain thing, for most people -- it is still entirely theoretical. One can wrap one's intellectual mind around this question day and night and not get anywhere.
That brings me back to where I began, which is, breathing and sensation. It's quite necessary to understand the organism itself in a new way in order to understand even the first thing about what we are.
Because of formal considerations, most readers will understand, I am unable to directly report to the public on the process or the contents of any meetings I attend at the Gurdjieff Foundation. There are, however, moments when it might be appropriate to pass on a broad question which was raised, and which, in the scheme of things, is always in front of us all anyway.
Like most teachings, the Gurdjieff work has "lines," that is, groups of people who work together that were originally formed by individuals who worked personally with Gurdjieff. One of the unfortunate consequences of this is that groups split up. (I remarked last week, in response to someone who was lamenting the continuous and often contentious fragmentation of the work, that the Giurdjieff work is a form of bacteria -- constantly undergoing reproduction by meiosis.)
I am in the Welch line of work. This means that I meet in a group that was originally formed by Dr. Welch, the physician who was in attendance at Gurdjieff's request at the time of his death. As a consequence, I had occasion to meet with Dr. Welch speak in person numerous times while he was still alive.
One of the questions he raised over and over again -- almost every time we met -- was, "Why do we work?"
This question was raised again last week in intimate circumstances. So I put it in front of the readership, as I put it in front of myself.
Why are we here? Why do we work?
It's not as though we are going to find any definitive answer to this question. After all, we don't get it. The whole world is, in a sense, missing the point, even those of us in spiritual works who have signed on to, and practice, complex cosmologies and intricate theologies.
It's not as though there are no answers. But the answers, such as they are, cannot be penetrated the mind. They arise in the organism in the context of experience, and cannot be verbalized.
Gaining an appreciation of this through a new connection with breath and sensation can lead us to the edge of an understanding that is new and different.
And the content of that understanding, in my own experience, always begins with the understanding that I don't understand.
May our hearts be opened, and our prayers heard.