Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ownership and circumstance

Today I'm going to extend on a conversation I had Thursday night with an acquaintance from the work who I happened to meet on the Piermont pier, which stretches far out into the Hudson River not far from where I live. We walked back from the end of the pier while she grappled with a question about just who she is.

Too often, I see, I perceive a "higher state" as another place- a gate I must pass through, a different place I must go to. It's a tough place to get to, too: guarded by demons and only attainable through an epic "Ouspenskian struggle," a way fraught with pitfalls and difficulties.

It is the classic quixotic journey.

It's too easy to forget that there is no "other place." The place is always here; and here is where I am not.

Zen master Huang Po says this in a number of different ways. He succinctly explains that the very idea of enlightenment itself- "another place" from which to perceive life-- is a mistaken one, the result of a dualism born of this level.

In the Gurdjieff teaching, I am reminded that all levels co-exist. That is to say, every level of consciousness, from the lowest to the highest, interpenetrates. There is, and can be, no actual separation. As the Zen Buddhists say, any perception of separation is artificial.

Nonetheless, I have this perception, and it seems real to me. There is no simple way to free myself of it, either; only through grace can a different level of understanding arrive, at which moments I instantly see that there is no difference in the location. Instead, there is a difference in perception, which still arises right here, in this moment, and within. The experience is such that it becomes apparent the existence and possibility of this perception is perpetual and eternal; it is a deficiency within that causes the separation.

And exactly what is that deficiency?

In the case of the "lower" or automatic states of consciousness--the ordinary ones I usually find myself in, ruled by habits and what Gurdjieff called mechanicality--I am identified, that is, I "am" what is taking place. "I" ceases to be because it is not "I", it is "it"- it becomes the events, the circumstances, the subject of what takes place--hence, a state of subjectivity, rather than objectivity. So what I call "I"--consciousness- confuses itself with the level it resides within. (The subject of what takes place is a victim--the object is a participant.)

This is an inherently natural state, but within man consciousness has reached a level where that confusion, that seamless merging of awareness with what takes place, is no longer necessary. Man's third center--the intellect--has offered him the chance of separating from levels and standing between them.

I say "standing between them" because consciousness has the possibility of standing within itself and seeing itself as separated from both the lower and the higher level.

I think this is an important point, because my consciousness is unable to understand the idea of any kind of consciousness without interpreting it from the perspective of my current identifications. That is to say, I think that if there is a higher level of consciousness, then I will experience that level of consciousness by identifying with it, becoming it, in exactly the same way that I am identified with this level and become this level. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Put in other terms, I believe that I can "own" this potential new level of awareness, that I can go out and get it, and then it will be "mine." This produces the error Huang Po was trying to point to: I "believe" there is a "thing" called "enlightenment," and that I can "attain" it.

This mistaken impression is an almost indelible feature of awareness on this, my ordinary, level, and there needs to be a very long and gentle process of seeing how this is not so, of gathering impressions, letting them penetrate, and sink into the deepest parts of the organism. As this takes place there is the possibility of eventually recognizing, with more than just the intellect, that something very different is possible: something so different, in fact, that it stands apart from my conceptions.

This long work of allowing parts other than the intellect to be penetrated by a different understanding is essential, because the possibility of transformation lies above all in the gradual awakening of these other parts, who also need to understand what the intellect has crudely grasped and mistakenly formulated, but in their own language and according to their own art of perception, which is much less confused that the intelligence. Both Jeanne De Salzmann's emphasis on sensation, and Gurdjieff's direction towards the awakening of conscience--parts within us which have not yet been badly damaged by the destructive distractions of everyday life-- are allusions to this process.

So, as I have pointed out before, every product of my awareness that strives to become something, every aspect of what I call my "wish," is a product of this level, an artifact--an artificial construction--that presumes an understanding, instead of having one.

Above all, perhaps, what escapes me is the essential understanding that I do not, will not, and cannot own the higher or the lower level of awareness. They are not properties made for me to covet; they are experiences I am designed to take in, impressions that the human organism evolved to receive. "I"--the experience of awareness itself-- must stand between these two levels in order to do the job it was assigned, not "become" one level or the other. This is what Gurdjieff meant when he explained that man's consciousness (along with the rest of organic life on earth) was a shock meant to to fill the interval between two notes--and not the notes themselves.

So everything I "think" about working is wrong. The process must be redirected, into places that are quieter, and less subject to my subjectivity.

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


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