Tuesday, October 13, 2009

ego and essence

I had some encounters this week with a young man who has a powerful ego. They were wearying; one forgets how damaging ego really is until one sees it at its worst. The delusions are exaggerated, grotesque; and it's easy to forget that we all have this same problem. Instead, like any substance abuser pleased to find a person with a problem worse than their own, we think to ourselves, "what a jerk that guy is."

The bottom line is that personality is in a perpetual state of denial. It is an addicting substance that feeds itself. I suppose we need it; without it, many of the ugly little things we have to do to stay alive -- the compromises we make in relationships, in business, which are largely compromises between our little selves and any legitimate morality -- would become unbearably painful. It acts, in other words, like a convenient mask, a big soft covering of felt that we put between us and the reality of where we are and what we are doing.

The alternative, we are taught, is something that Mr. Gurdjieff called "essence." Now, readers familiar with the Gurdjieff work -- probably most of the readership -- will be familiar with this term.

But are we really familiar with it? What do we understand about essence?

It's easy to get drawn into theoretical discussions about essence. It takes a different kind of inner work to actually come into contact with essence, to discover how different it is than personality, and how much deeper inside the body it lives. We don't hear about this particular question in most other kinds of work. Not, at least, in the (relatively) specific terms we do in the Gurdjieff teaching.

Descriptions of essence are one thing. You get them in the texts. To have, on the other hand, an actual organic sensation of essence-- which is an entirely different entity than personality-- is a revolutionary experience. I say revolutionary, because until one has this sensation, one has no idea that there is anything other than personality. From a certain point of view, one might as well be discovering America. It's this huge, unknown continent, rich in wildlife and unknown resources, which has been there all along with no one to attend to it. And, if we are lucky, it may issue us an invitation to open its doors and explore it in person.

This is probably one of the reasons it is so difficult to transmit the ideas in the Gurdjieff work to people outside of it. Think about it. It is actually difficult to transmit the ideas to people inside the Gurdjieff work.

That's because "transmitting the ideas" isn't about transmitting ideas, it is about slowly and gently bringing people towards a state where they have a real experience of something new in themselves. This is a rare thing indeed. A very rare thing. The mind, personality, and intelligence, are exceedingly clever and persist in presenting experiences as "new" in order to defend themselves. There are any number of ways that mental or theoretical insights, connected to a set of impressive associations, can convince a person that they have achieved some new level. All of these things are, of course, delusions of one kind or another.

One experience of essence is enough to begin to strip away the delusions.

And what do we find then? Essence and ego are, for all intents and purposes, nearly opposed to one another. The growth of essence will mean the diminishment of ego. Not that we will lose ego; not that it will be destroyed. What will happen is that it will begin to shrink and assume its right place in a structure it was usurping. That happens naturally, as awareness resides more within essence, and less within personality. There is no need to "make" it happen. (That does not need we should not take care. No ego shrinks with any reasonable degree of willingness.)

So how, one might ask, do we come into contact with this mysterious property of essence? We need to do that though a connection with the organism. In order to do that, we need to study the organism.

Unfortunately, a great deal of what we all engage in when we try to attain what we call "self-knowledge" is the study of personality. We look at how we think, and our automatic behavior, ad infinitum -- we quantify them, analyze them, pick them apart and whine about them. All the while, the part of ourselves that we need to know -- the "self" that we truly can acquire something new by understanding -- goes begging.

That part, which can only be sensed by creating a stronger connection between the mind and the body -- a more intimate connection -- is asking for a kind of self-knowledge that isn't produced in the books or our ideas.

This study of the essence is, in other words, much more closely related to our study of sensation than we may suspect. Essence is not a theoretical entity. It is a living force in our bodies that we can encounter. It has an intelligence that takes in life very differently than personality.

The transmission of this "idea" usually takes many years and requires a good deal of patience. One has to work well past one's frustrations and one's perceptions of inability and negativity in order to touch something real--one must go, in other words, well past the point where one wants to give up. And in this regard, community and relationship become important supports -- a matter which is well understood in many esoteric works.

Above all, the transmission must take place between individuals working together in person. All the words in the world will not effect this transmission. This is why we need to seek each other in real life, and be together in real life, after we have read the books and the posts on the Internet.

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

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