Sunday, November 22, 2009

Politics

The Chinese have a proclivity for placing ostentatious examples of heroic sculpture in the center of their cities. Despite their overstatement, sometimes they are pretty cool. They are even more interesting when, as in this case, a snapshot juxtaposes a reflection in an accidental, but entirely appropriate, place relative to the sculpture. The whole package works.

Sometimes we forget that politics is mostly about show. That it is about ego. We begin to take it seriously, and we think that the politicking is the core of what government is about. In America, the politicking has replaced what it is meant to lead to, that is, intelligent action on the half of the greater whole. To be fair, that may well be the case in many other parts of the world.

I'm not sure that any of us see that that is also the case in most religions, and even in esoteric work.

The politics of inclusion and exclusion pollute the Gurdjieff work in the same way that they pollute all the other facets of life. The whole affair is treated as a power struggle. The next thing you know, what group you are in, who you work with, who you take movements with, and who notices you is what is important. The ego wants to be placed in a heroic position where it is visible, where people value it, appreciate its "work," and think it knows what it is doing.

In the worst cases of this disease, we begin to think we do know what we are doing. We take on airs. We pass judgment on other people -- inevitably, I suppose, it's a human condition. We become aggressive, as though we think we are more developed than the next person.

We forget that we are all on this level together, that every one of us suffers under the same set of conditions, and that death is the great equalizer.

Of course, forgetting in this way is quite normal in the ordinary world. There is, however, an absurd presumption afoot in esoteric works that somehow those who work and (supposedly) have a spiritual connection of one kind or another transcend such nonsense, but nothing could be further from the truth.

On that point, I have watched for years as supposedly "developed" individuals in positions of power invested time and energy in politicking "promising" golden younger people into privileged positions only to have them pick up their bags and leave the work (sometimes even selling out precious material, such as movements instruction, which they had been given) while much more solid and reliable--but less glossy and exciting-- individuals who never had the spotlight cast on them trudge on loyally without any chance whatsoever to advance.

Before she died, my group leader Betty Brown mused to me about this on more than one occasion, wondering what good all that power did for them.

In my view, along with all the self remembering--a drum that is beaten with great vigor but tends to make little music--there is one thing that everyone ought to do their best to forget, and that is the politics.

This disease contaminates every inner activity. The instant that one is worried about where one stands, who one knows, and whether one was or wasn't invited to some "special" event, one has forgotten oneself and one has forgotten how to work. I've been there myself many times, so I feel qualified to speak about it.

If our work really depends on these outer things, then we have no work. If our work depends on what others think of us-- if it depends on whether or not we are given access to some secret text that has been hoarded away from the general public so that only the elect can read it-- if it depends on whether so-and-so has invited us to participate in such-and-such, or whether or not we have been asked to do something "important," we are doomed.

I watch the gremlins attached to this at work at me every time someone asks me to do something or participate in something. The ego's work is quite insidious, really. It's always there, chirping contentedly about itself. It leaps at compliments as eagerly as a dog begging for scraps. Only the man or woman who actively sees this and becomes deeply suspicious of it begins to see how much of his or her life is driven by such nonsense.

The only thing that real work can depend on is an organic connection within the self, and an attempt to cultivate that connection and re-order the inner state.

As such, politics starts out far from the point of real inner work, and marches away from it briskly with as much energy as it can muster, dragging us along by the hair.

If we let it.

The choice of where our center of gravity lies in our work is up to us. There needs to be an attention to the outer conditions and an understanding that real work does not lean on them as a crutch, any more than it leans on sitting silently like a monk for four hours a day. Real work lies in the middle, between the inner and the outer. It may be driven by the ego -- in all likelihood, a weak ego will never develop much of a will to work -- but it must not be owned by it. It may participate in politics, but it does not have to be taken by them.

So, if not politics... then what?

A few days ago, my daughter and I were discussing a personal situation related to her graduate school work. I pointed out to her that generosity in any situation is rarely misplaced.

If we have to be part of any political process and make any political statement related to our inner work, let us make it a statement of generosity. Rather than trying to get importance for ourselves, to seek position, to bask in a false limelight or acquire tans from the bogus light of artificial suns, let us offer ourselves unstintingly to the conditions and the individuals around us. Let us give what we have, in the hopes that we will receive in return.

We need not give stupidly or recklessly, but give we must, because if we do not feed one another in a real and honest and generous way, we will all starve together.

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

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