Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Saying No to No

Back in Shanghai, where a crisp impression of both newness and continuity with the moment was available this morning. Up early (at 5 a.m.) I walked down Nanjing road, into places, sights and smells which I already know, but are also new, fresh, and different.

When I am away from a place, its existence becomes a faded memory, a shade of approximation. It's only in the immediate presence of the actual impressions of a place that I can understand that place; before and after that, its existence is purely imaginary.

I saw this morning--as on many mornings-- that there is a negative polarity within me that actively opposes the meeting of life. I have inner parts, or pathways, that construct dialogues of doubt and of "no;" parts that do not want to meet the mystery of life--its ever-present quality of active manifestation of the unknown into the knowable. They oppose the idea of meeting life at all. Like a sulking child, those parts seem to want to stay home and hide.

We sometimes call this "resistance" in the Gurdjieff work. I suppose the word "resistance" is sufficient, but the concept doesn't speak to the depth of its roots, or the question of why "parts"--tendencies-- which, for all intents and purposes, don't even want to live, form in me.

Where do they come from? Many mornings it seems I find myself having to say "no" to this incessant, plural "no" which arises in me. That's necessary first, before I can begin to undertake even the ordinary work of life. My working hypotheses for a number of years has been that this negativity arises because of a lack of decent connection between centers. It's more prevalent in the morning because the various centers are not up to speed with each other yet.

It occurs to me to examine this in the context of Mr. Gurdjieff's adage, "Like what it does not like.". In this case, "it" does not, it seems, like much of anything at all. "It" mechanically resists engagement; constructs a fabric of "cannot;" refuses to discover even a benign neutrality. "It" embodies an animated rejection. Perhaps it's just here that I can discover what that mysterious "it" consists of. "It" isn't even alive. It is just this... thing... inside that seems to want to drag the effort downward. To stop me, what lives in me--the parts in me that need to be responsible and to act--before I even begin.

And I can see how it is an "it." "It" wants to become what I am, it wants to be "I am," even though it has no right.

The church fathers called such "inner voices" the work of demons, or even the devil himself, and in an odd way this makes sense. This impulse towards "no" is a reflexive one, automatic and mechanical; it mirrors what Gurdjieff thought of as "evil," that is, that which is not conscious, is merely mechanical. And I think he had this one right. It is, after all, the banality of what we call evil, its utter stupidity and ordinariness, that is perhaps most shocking. In the movies, when we create villains, it's not uncommon to polish them up with some kind of glamour, but real evil is not like that at all; despite the proclivity it has for creating drama and excitement, its origins are all too frequently almost clerical and clinical in nature. It feeds on rationalization, and clothes itself in the routine.

As Krishnamurti said, such qualities are not the qualities of "others." Such things begin right here at home, in each of us. These automatic impluses towards "no" are the embodiment of a real, manifested force that works against wish, and against the vibrant force of a real inner life. They give me a very practical opportunity to see my mechanicality from a slightly new perspective.

The effort to bring one's self into positive awareness as an opposing polarity to this "impulse towards no" is part of what it means to become more actively inwardly. Not only do I make the effort to see where "I am," I also make a choice to affirm my possibilities. Here I discover yet another meaning of the phrase, "Use the present to repair the past and prepare the future."

The negative polarity works hard; it is always engaged in an effort to dominate the inner exchange. But it's possible--perhaps--to measure this from the perspective of opportunity, instead of pitfall. My inner life would become flabby and weak, were there nothing to exercise itself against. This reminds me of what I have been discussing in the past few posts; life is not about my happiness. Life, everywhere, is a struggle. We see this in biology, and we see it equally active in the evolution of inner psychology. By struggle I mean efforts; I am here to make efforts. Not to be happy. It's true, happiness can arise from efforts. Real happiness may not be able to arise from any other locus.

There is one thing that is certain, the habit that mankind has developed of trying to avoid effort in an effort to create happiness -- to achieve, as it were, "effortless happiness" -- is a futile one. Real satisfaction arrives in the organic investment in the act, whatever the act is. The inner impulse towards "no"is an impulse to negate action, to try and stay in one safe and comfortable place. Of course, no such thing is possible. It's only within the context--the exquisite anguish -- of action that I can discover the resolution of the polarity between yes and no, in the intervention of the reconciling force. I say "exquisite anguish," because it is the uncertainty of the present moment, and my wish to avoid exactly that, that has to be faced.

So even as I dwell, appalled, within myself, surprised at this wish NOT to be, and discovering (all over again, each day) the need to resist the resistance, there is a pivotal moment where this inner angel I wrestle with is overcome, and "I am- I can" arrives within.

That is perhaps a small moment of liberation, but a real one.

may our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

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