It's not really possible for any of us to absorb--in any way, shape or form--just how many human beings have lived on this planet before us, or how vast even the supposedly smaller, "less important" civilizations than our own were.
Nothing hammers that home more than traipsing for days through jungle-covered ruins where countless lost cities used to stand, a thousand years ago and more. Everything these people built for, all that they believed in--
utterly and irrevocably gone.
Yet we dare to believe we are somehow different than they were, don't we?
No human being is, in their ordinary state, capable of seeing or understanding much more than their immediate impulses or environment. Gurdjieff, recognizing this, called on men to attempt to consider the "worlds" they inhabit from as many points of view as possible. It was one way of understanding our own nothingness--our own insignificance--in the face of time and space.
Nonetheless, we find ourselves sucked into life by forces that insist to us that what we're doing matters, that the whole world turns around the tiny little axle of our own ego. The conviction in all men is that our external actions are what life is about.
Contrast this with Gurdjieff's contention that all along, man has always served to feed something higher than himself: at one time, the development of the moon; now that mankind has been freed from that responsibility, another and perhaps greater purpose. Our life is not a life to be led enslaved by external conditions; instead, it's a life aimed (should we understand its true purpose) at Being.
Being, in the truest sense, meaning to fully experience our inner state and its relationship to the external. Jeanne De Salzmann unfailingly reminded her pupils of this, over and over, during the course of her lifetime.
Despite a lifetime in the Gurdjieff work (if we are in that work, rather than some other--but I think it applies regardless) we suddenly see--as my wife said tonight while we were soaking our tired, pyramid-tested muscles in a hot bath-- that if we admit it to ourselves, we don't actually work much. Oh, we talk a good game, as Frank Sinclair often points out-- but when the tire hits the pavement, there's no pavement or tire there. That is to say, we do everything we can to avoid friction (even and perhaps especially when exchanging amongst one another) even though friction is the only thing that can create enough heat in us to motivate.
This week, ostensibly on vacation--but in reality plagued by all the stress-filled moments one gets when one is not on vacation--I see how absolutely necessary suffering is, and how absolutely necessary it is to play the role of a negative pole, here in this life, here on this planet. Working, in the context of being present to the individual suffering we encounter and rubbing ourselves up against that friction, over and over again, is the only way in which we can help prepare conditions that may attract the assistance of a higher force that can actually help us.
Do we believe that? No, we do not.
All of us live life doing everything we can to make sure the way is paved as smoothly as possible. Even the consolations of philosophy end up being a form of what Gurdjieff called "the evil inner God of self-calming." It's only by staring down the barrel of the gun, as it were, when we point ourselves directly at ourselves and confront ourselves with our own mortality-- that we begin to realize we don't have any answers, we don't know what the hell we are doing, and, furthermore, that we are far more comfortable with that than we have any reason to be.
So-- I don't want to flatter myself with the idea that I am working much. I'm lazy. I don't try very hard. It's only when I stick my hand--by accident-- into a bee's nest that I wake up for a moment and see how little I work, and how very much of me simply does not want to work.
A few summers ago Peggy Flinsch mentioned to us, during an informal gathering, that there was a time earlier in the work when she and others questioned everything.
Her inference was that we have somehow lost that ethic, if ethic it is. Perhaps it would be better to call it a practice--and to recognize that that practice very quickly falls into disrepair if we fail to exercise it.
So-- for now, at least--perhaps you will join me in wishing that we not get comfortable with any ideas about how diligent and sincere we are in our work.
May the living light of Christ discover us.