Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Form and Process

The title of this post reflects another entry in my series of essays on the question of outwardness and inwardness.

Form is an outward process. Form exists outside of us; in man, it is the intellectual center that imposes form. Form exists as a thing in itself (a "Ding an sich," as Immanuel Kant would have it) but it is an unlimited form, that is to say, the structure is so great that it is--as Dogen might say-- ungraspable by the mind.

The intellectual mind in man is specifically designed to shrink form down to what appear to be understandable relationships. This is kind of like taking 99% of the pixels out of a photograph so that we can comprehend it better. We may see what little is left with a great deal of accuracy, but there is so little left that we don't actually know what we are seeing anymore. The mind routinely does this when it comes to form.

A good deal could be said about how differently the emotional and physical minds in man perceive form. They don't take it in in anywhere near the same way that the intellectual mind does. They are, as it happens, more attuned to a perception based in what will be discussed below, that is, process. Animal strength and intuition is not based on form. It arises from an inner engagement with process, uncomplicated by the interference of an intellectual center.

In the process of shrinking everything down to fit within this relatively small neurological complex called the brain, we begin to believe that the representations it creates are the real world, and not just representations. (Gurdjieff called this process identification.) To be sure, it creates practical models, but only to the extent that it allows a certain kind of technical functioning within specific contexts. Everyone knows that almost every model eventually meets its own special moment of failure, because it failed to take the other 99% of the picture into account. Evolution, for example, is able to prepare a creature for almost everything it encounters in ordinary day-to-day existence, but it cannot prepare a species for asteroid impacts. (Not, at least, at the high level of violence and irregular frequency with which they occur on earth.)

Our own intellectual, emotional, and physical lives are much like this. Our forms are eminently practical, but invariably inadequate.

We never live within forms. Forms as we create them are abstractions. They are static. We only live within the organism. We live within a process, and process is in movement.

If we are engaged in the process -- if we do not apply forms so much, but rather, attend to the organic process that takes place within us -- we begin to live. We are not planning to live, we are not conceiving of how to live, hypothesizing how to live, or Monday morning quarterbacking how we have lived.

We are living.

The process of living life includes having the forms. It does not include relying upon them, solely, as an accurate guide. They are merely reference points; we are not the form. We are the process.

Process contains form, but form--although it may help describe process-- cannot contain it. Process exceeds form because it is not a static entity.

In Buddhism, and in other practices -- even in some of my earlier essays, as it happens -- the idea of abandonment of form is discussed. This sounds pretty interesting, but it isn't possible. Not in the way we think of it, at least. "Abandonment" sounds like it means "elimination," but form can't be eliminated. Instead, abandonment involves non-identification with form, non-attachment to form, not the elimination of form.

If we wanted to romanticize it, we could say that the aim is to live within an infinite variety of forms, accept them all, yet adopt none of them as ourselves. Our being is independent of form, except to the extent that it does consist of inhabiting the form of being.

To be is to live within process.

There has to be a level of trust in us in order to do this. The idea of living outside of form, of not relying on the external and our manipulation of it, but living rather within ourselves, and from an inner process, is at this point quite impossible. It requires a revolutionary rearrangement of our inner state, and that cannot take place overnight. It is a long, arduous process which must be undertaken gently and with sympathy towards both the organism and the conditions. If it's rushed or forced, it can actually damage us instead of helping us.

There is an energy available to man that can help him become more inward. All the teachings point towards this. Every single one of them, unfortunately, has become a form, and begins within each man to serve -- according to his nature -- as a crutch, rather than a limb. That is to say, the form is pasted onto the organism, it is artificial -- it is not an organic part of the practice. True "form"-- the Ding an sich of form, the a priori nature of form--is universal and infinite. All of the form that we attach to through the process of ordinary intellect is fragmentary, fractional. In this fragmentation, form has disconnected from itself.

Nonetheless, if form truly becomes a limb instead of a crutch, it is no longer a dogma we lean on. It develops a thread that reconnects it to the living process. And our work -- which is, in the end, everything we are, if we make it so -- is our form.

Our work needs to be a living thing.

How do we make our form become an organic part of our practice? What does it mean to deepen the relationship in the organism so that there is enough intimacy? How do we attend to the details of how we are within ourselves? Do we have respect for these questions?

Do we even remember that they are questions?

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


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