Monday, February 1, 2010

Going The Distance

Let's face it, there are times when any and all of us feel distant from our work.

No matter how magical our experiences -- no matter how deep our commitment -- no matter how serene our countenance -- it is impossible to live a life where the inner tone is forever the same.

I don't think we would want to, anyway. We need the challenges that life puts in front of us. We were incarnated into these bodies and into these lives because we needed those challenges. And of course, some of the challenges are temporal in nature, that is, they are challenges in terms of money, jobs, raising children, and so on.

But there are also inner challenges.

Those inner challenges need not arise, of necessity, in relationship to the external challenges. Sometimes they are challenges that arise within the organism, of the organism, and in the context of the organism's relationship to itself.

That is, no matter how our life is arranged -- good, bad, indifferent -- the connection to one's work is lacking. Lacking, that is, more than usual.

That is not all up to us. Planetary conditions determine, to a greater extent than we can imagine, what is available for us to work with in an inner sense. So we need not feel that it is all "us" if things are going poorly in terms of our inner relationship. Some of it is the weight of that juggernaut Mr. Gurdjieff called "the ray of creation" bearing down on us. We are, as he pointed out, in a very low place. A small, dark corner of the universe. And at this time, in the northern hemisphere, solar energy is at an ebb. So some of the support we can receive just isn't available right now.

There is a temptation, at times, to feel despair in moments like this. For myself, I find myself questioning what my work is, what I have understood, what I can really bring to life. In moments like this, I am not sure of any of that. At other times, a certain form of ego -- confidence imparts the belief that I have "mojo" -- that something real is going on in me, that there is forward motion (as if such a thing existed -- does it?) and that I am, in the vulgar sense of things, "getting somewhere."

If nothing else, it is good to bottom out at the humble floor of the keg, where I sit in the dregs of what I actually am and see that I actually cannot "do." It's not up to me -- I am, in fact, just one of those helpless little "slugs" that Beelzebub spoke of so often.

I don't think we can rediscover our own effort, redouble it, make it real, if we don't constantly bounce hard off the bottom of what we really are. It's only this repeated pounding of ourselves into the floor of our lives, with the consequent pain and doubt, that begins to render us porous enough for something higher to enter us. I know for a fact, in my own case, that it was only years of being battered by objectively horrific personal circumstances than anything opened in me. (It reminds me, in a perverse way, of the way that I pound veal on the countertop until it is nicely flattened.)

So the low points are not a bad thing.

Habit and routine can help get us past the worst of these situations. The whole point of developing a discipline-- a discipline of sitting, a discipline of reading, a discipline of doing the dishes properly -- is so that when we are incapable, the discipline keeps us on track.

Today, my wife and I took the dog up the hill along the Hudson River. We do this walk almost every day. It is about 2 miles long, and it goes up a steep hill along the Palisades. The park is usually empty -- astonishingly so, for a place so close to Manhattan. We are 30 minutes from the city driving time, and here we are in the middle of a vast open space looking out over the Hudson River with a salt marsh in the foreground.

There is not a soul around us. Just trees, rocks, ice, and the odd muskrat scampering around in the reeds.

Climbing the hill is always an exercise in determination. About two thirds of the way up the hill, there is a temptation to just turn around right at the top, without going around the little circle that represents "completion" of the top end of the walk.

This is so tempting, to cut that little detail off -- to make the walk just a little bit shorter, to cheat.

Every time I do this walk, I have to force myself to make that extra little effort to go around that circle.

This is what going the distance in my inner and my outer work is like. I always want to make these grand efforts, to engage in an act of self-calming where I show myself how sincere and businesslike and capable I am, and then right at the top of the hill, when the moment of truth is in front of me, there's this temptation to not go the whole distance. To cut off some significant part of what is required, and pretend that I have done the job.

This tendency is in me all over the place, not just on walks with the dog. I have to go against it constantly -- with the dishes, with yard work, with my children, and so on.

When I hit the low points in my inner effort, and it seems as though there is no energy to do anything -- not even any energy to help me do anything -- going the distance involves being patient enough not to give up. To remind myself that I will not feel this way forever. To remind myself that there is real help out there, and that it will find me again -- find us all again -- as long as we keep to our efforts.

As we get older -- I have many of my friends are now firmly in middle age -- these low points become more daunting.

We need to collectively pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and remind ourselves ever more firmly that our efforts are not in vain.

May the Living Light of Christ discover us.

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