Monday, March 1, 2010

Natural and Supernatural

The so-called "great debate" between science and religion these days seems to hinge on the question of whether or not there is anything "supernatural" in the universe -- that is, are there forces that cannot be explained within the context of natural law, and nature itself?

The presumption on the part of science is that all natural law is, at least, knowable, even if it isn't known yet. This presumption is based on the idea that there are a finite set of natural laws -- which is, in and of itself, a unproven (and possibly unprovable) hypothesis.

Abandoning, for the moment, this apparent flaw in scientific reasoning, let's just go with the idea that the set of natural laws is very, very large. That seems like a pretty safe bet.

Hypothesizing within this context, one would have to suggest that the collective knowledge of mankind -- no matter how large it grows -- may be unable to grasp the full set of natural laws and their manifestation. If that is true, there may be phenomena that are completely natural and yet will forever remain inexplicable.

Science has absolutely no compunction about using vaguely deistic concepts -- that is, concepts that have absolutely no proof of any kind behind them-- such as dark energy and dark matter to explain unknown phenomena. We have seen many things in the universe that suggests that dark energy and dark matter exist, but we have never seen or physically measured either one. We simply presume they must exist because of the way things behave.

This isn't at all different than the way people believe in God, but scientists aren't really interested in buying that.

There is no reason to suppose that God, presuming such a force exists, isn't completely subject to natural law like all other forces. This, of course, limits the scope of God's abilities, which will not sit well with many religious people. At the same time, such a God is exactly the kind of God that Gurdjieff proposed in his dialogues with Ouspensky, invoking the theological student who advised his professor, "Even God cannot beat the ace of spades with a deuce."

So those of us who subscribe to the Gurdjieffian cosmology find ourselves straddling the fence between the scientists and the fundamentalists, in that we propose a God, but a God who is part of, and subject to, natural law and natural forces.

Gurdjieff proposed this in some detail when he explained that there were no "miracles" or "magic," but that all such phenomena were the expression of laws from higher levels that mankind simply wasn't familiar with.

In this cosmology, therefore, nothing is "supernatural." The universe is natural, God is natural, consciousness is natural. In summary, one might say that this bears a relationship to what the Buddhists call the Dharma-- truth, or, alternately, reality.

Gurdjieff, as Ouspensky reports, went so far as to report that everything is alive--so much so that one would have to go down to an almost unimaginably low level to find anything that was not. The universe, in other words, is a natural field of living consciousness. That phrase seems to me to be about the simplest way to put it.

Coming once again to that moment when we try to bridge the gap between theory and practice, we may ask ourselves in what way we act as representatives of that natural field of living consciousness.

Speaking for myself, I see that it is almost impossible to encounter or experience anything in this life without having it filtered through ego. Ego, as my friend Patty Llosa succinctly pointed out, is an insidious force that manages to contaminate everything, and, especially for those of us on a spiritual path of one kind or another, specializes in engaging in elaborate masquerades to conceal itself and convince us it's not there.

Of course, in this particular work, we are pragmatically told that we need our egos -- not much can go on unless there is an ego motivating it. It becomes more interesting, as we work, to work from within ego and see how firmly we are always within ego. There's no point in getting depressed or frustrated about this -- it is both lawful and inevitable. But if we truly begin to inhabit the ego in a new way, we begin to learn about it as a real aspect of ourselves, rather than a theoretical one which we study as though we were not already constantly identified with it. The ego, too, is a part of natural law, an inseparable part of the field of consciousness, and not susceptible to extermination -- at least, not in the romantic way that we think it is if we sign on to various scripted paths to enlightenment.

Perhaps the trick is to avoid having ego become too dominant. We can be playful with it; we can acknowledge it, accept it, allow it its due even as we search for other parts of ourselves that can participate in our work. If the organic sense of being joins the ego -- well, this might represent considerable progress. I think the point I am making here is that the path is unscripted. One of the central ideas behind the Gurdjieff work-- the idea that everything must be questioned-- demands the deconstruction of scripts. It suggests that we treat every moment as a moment where we are launching ourselves forever into the unknown.

And you know, dear readers, I increasingly see that my life is exactly like that. In every instance, I move into a new unknown, where there are an infinite number (okay, I'm guessing, but it's approximately infinite) of unknowable--yet completely natural--laws affecting me.

I find myself in a paradox where, although I am fundamentally limited by the effects of these laws, truly extraordinary possibilities that I don't know about or understand are also out there.

So in each ordinary moment of this ordinary life that we ordinarily live-- where things can be counted and measured, where much of what happens is expected and predictable-- perhaps we can remember that we stand forever exactly at the edge of a wave that naturally, gracefully, breaks onto unknown shores, made of water that can travel to places, high and low, which lie beyond the realm of our imagination.

Let us hope that all of us engaged in this enterprise of self-knowledge may, with sincerity and effort, reach past that imagination--

and into a more natural state of reality.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

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