Monday, April 26, 2010

the depth of work

This year we find ourselves in the midst of struggles. Friends are dying too young. Parents are growing older. The question of what we are doing here -- why we are here -- is more urgent than ever.

So many people reach the end of their life in confusion and dismay -- not knowing why they lived, what it was all about.

Mr. Gurdjieff once said that one of the aims of the work was "to not die like a dog." Living an entire life without any questions -- without a search for what is real -- reaching the end of it, even with wealth and achievements, and having nothing to show in one's inner life, never having formed anything real in oneself -- that is to die like a dog.

At least, it seems to me that that is what it is.

The possibilities in the Gurdjieff work have expanded far beyond anything we can read about in Ouspensky's "In Search Of The Miraculous." So many people have expended so much effort that the "miraculous" has become far more tangible. Those who work now benefit from an enormous reservoir of previous effort. Every one of us has a deep and awesome responsibility to that. We cannot drink from that water, take something, and then walk away without having to pay for it somewhere.

Of course, there are people who do that, but it is only possible if one is lacking in conscience, and furthermore has not, fundamentally, understood what it is we are really working for.

Make no mistake about it, there are many such people. We can't be responsible for them; the only thing we can do is attend to our own work and to take it as seriously as possible. Those who acquire something -- anything -- real in themselves, who have even one moment where they understand what the organic sense of Being consists of, who even once taste the real world -- well, then life becomes much more serious. It's possible to see what is at stake here.

We need to acquire a new kind of depth in ourselves. We must attend to an intimate part within us that contains the seed of real being. Yes, of course -- we must use our intelligence (such as it is) and think hard and long about many things -- cosmology, biology, physics, religion -- but then we must also sense with our bodies in a new way, and we must feel with our emotions in a new way.

This idea of using all of the parts of ourselves to meet our life is a unique and remarkable idea. Where else can you find it? Take heart! There is no need to die like a dog anymore.

Speaking of dogs. This morning, my wife and I were walking the famous dog Isabel--an occasion, regular readers will know, that more often than not leads to serious reflections--and I got onto the subject of the two great commandments. Mostly because I wanted to make a point about valuing ourselves, which is part of the second Commandment, but this evening I am going to write about something slightly different.

The first great commandment, of course, is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."

Gurdjieff rather famously said that man as he is utterly incapable of this--men can't even love those they know, how can they possibly "love" God, whom they do not know?

But how could that be? This commandment is, in the end, nothing more or less than a call to work with all centers to know God. We can at the very least try to do that.

The second great commandment is to "love thy neighbor as thyself." So the Commandments upon which, as Christ put it, "hang all the law and the prophets" both turn on a single quality.

The quality of love.

If Gurdjieff was correct, and man is fundamentally incapable of love -- in his present state, that is -- then Christ's words were wasted. He was asking humanity to start on a rung so far up on the ladder it couldn't be reached. That is what Gurdjieff implied--but I don't buy it.

The reason I am bringing this up is because Gurdjieff's pervasive pessimism about man was not so much a set of facts as a challenge. He was famous for demanding impossible things of his pupils and then giving them a quiet but heartfelt "bravo" when they informed him that what he asked for was unreasonable--or even wrong. Not only that, back in the old days, he wasn't canonized yet. Reading C.S. Nott's memoirs we discover that people had arguments with him-- loud, public arguments. He didn't want people to be sheep. He surrounded himself with people who struggled, who challenged, who didn't take everything he said for granted -- and he even gave misdirections intentionally, in order to see whether his pupils had the gumption to think things out for themselves.

Here we are, more than half a century later. The master has been converted into a saint. I attend events where his brooding, bald-headed picture presides over ceremonies like the Pope.

A work where people used to question everything has turned into a form of religion, where challenging what the master said is heresy... what, you don't think that's true? Just try it in a group sometime and see what happens.

Things are nowhere near as bad as Gurdjieff painted them out-- not, at least, for the individual who has a search within them. Our possibilities are real. And it is lawful that if we work and ask for help, it will be sent. Not only that, the capacity for discovering an inner force of love that will work on our behalf is far from gone in mankind.

Every one of us who searches has the capacity to search within ourselves and discover the seed of that force. Never doubt it.

In "In Search Of The Miraculous," Gurdjieff told Ouspensky "...if anyone desires to know and understand more than he knows and understands, he must remember that this new knowledge and this new understanding will come through the emotional center and not through the intellectual center." (page 235, Crompton hardcover edition, 2004.)

So Gurdjieff made it quite clear that in the end, that "third force" of yoga, the Bhakti yoga of the emotions--in the end, of love--was the only thing that could bring a new understanding to man--the only force that could truly foster inner growth.

Once again, we discover that the curmudgeonly old master never strayed too far from his Christian roots. And, perhaps more importantly, what he offered us was a chance -- through our own effort, our own questioning, our own work -- to make the understandings and ideas of the great religions our own, by causing them to come alive in us as real understanding, rather than just words that we profess a belief in.

The difficulty, you see, is that all three centers have to understand these questions. As man usually is, the only part that takes these ideas in is the intellect. For anything more real to form in a man, they also need to penetrate the body and the emotions -- an extraordinary process that takes many years, and cannot be undertaken directly.

Through that process, the impossible is achieved: things that before could not be true become true.

This is a very subtle work. Until we suffer and pay for all of these things, they are just concepts. As we suffer, and we pay, we discover many things -- and not all of them may be according to the canon.

Some of them may, in fact, even directly contradict what Mr. Gurdjieff said: and he may have intended it exactly that way. We can't know unless we work.

Above all, we should remember that the legacy he left us is as rich in parable as the Gospels -- and we all know how badly things go with mankind when they take those too literally.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

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