Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A New Box

We are awaiting a big snowstorm here in New York.

This morning, we walked the famous dog Isabel along the banks of the Hudson River, as the sun was rising.

Red bellied woodpeckers trilled to one another; golden light flooded out over the salt marsh. It was perfectly calm; the phragmites (salt marsh reeds) were eerily still. Not even a breath of wind disturbed the woods. Now, however, the sky is gray and overcast.

Consequently, I wanted to see something colorful at the top of this post. Hence a picture of my kite vendor in China. She and her husband sell all kinds of terrific kites; I brought this one home with me and will be flying it over the Hudson River on the Piermont Pier later in the spring, for anyone who wants to join me.

As cheerful as the picture looks, it appears in the context of an awful shock.

Less than a mile from here, this afternoon at 1 PM, it appears a decent young man killed himself. He was just out of high school; a personal friend of my son's. He was depressed because he had trespassed and broken a security camera belonging to the federal government while horsing around (as young men will) and they prosecuted.

He was facing a jail sentence.

One wonders how all the adults involved in this, who eagerly wanted to show this young man how much more powerful than him they were, feel about it now.

In any event, it thrusts into brutal highlight the fact that all we have is this life. Every one of us runs around flailing about as though we were important and understood things, but the only thing that we actually know is that we live.

In a supreme irony, that is the one thing we forget in the most aggressive manner possible. We don't pay attention to our lives; we don't pay attention to who we are and where we are and what we are doing. Instead, we allow ourselves to be hypnotized by every external factor that arrives at our sensory doorstep. All we do is react. The idea of right action is so foreign to us. We take actions that can lead to terrible forms of destruction, all the while thinking that what we are doing is absolutely correct.

Then, suddenly, something absolutely disastrous happens. "My goodness," we think to ourselves, "I certainly had all of that wrong."

But by that time is far too late.

Mr. Gurdjieff mentioned on more than one occasion that we need to remember our mortality. If we look at others and see, with sympathy, that every one of them is going to die--as we also will-- that everything we desire, all our wishes and hopes, will be taken away from us -- then we begin to understand, perhaps in a tiny measure, what real compassion could be. What real love might be.

The only thing we know is that we live. This is a precious thing, a real thing, and yet we become so confused that we forget we are alive. It's so obvious it becomes uninteresting. How is that possible? For a certainty, the instant one comes close to death, one sees how very interesting indeed the ordinary act of being alive is. I know that for certain, having survived a very severe car accident. Nothing looks the same after that.

So. Here we are in the midst of this very ordinary act, right now. Me, as I dictate this piece. You, as you read it. We are separated in time but together in the investigation of these ideas.

How are we?
What are we?
Where are we?

There are probably a trillion-- 10 trillion -- suggestions that claim to represent answers to these questions, but there can be no final answer, because each one of these questions states itself in relationship to a process in movement.

How we are is always changing.
What we are is always changing.
Where we are is always changing.

We are not "in" an ideology. We are not "in" a cosmology. We are in a process called life. It is idiosyncratic, messy, unpredictable, and refuses to fit properly into any of the boxes we so carefully make for it.

Caution dictates that we not make too many boxes, and that we not make them too large, or too small. Our boxes should not be too simple or too elaborate; they should be appropriate for the moment, and we should always understand that we will soon need a new box.

Over the weekend, we worked with a group in another city, and I had occasion to speak with a few people that are quite new to the work. The occasion reminded me that the simplest tools we have are still, after 30 years and more, the best ones.

An effort to attend to where I am.

In the midst of all the fancy complicated thoughts and plans, in the midst of the triumphs and disasters, in the midst of the ideologies of the cosmologies, these three things remain quite reliable.

So. Self-remembering doesn't have to be that complicated, folks.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

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