Friday, June 18, 2010

Chief Feature

This morning, after a week that included a hectic and intense one day round trip to Cambodia (which in sheer defiance of all odds still provided the time to stop and climb a sacred peak where a number of kings were buried) I am back in China, and find myself with the time to ponder questions that have been percolating for quite a while.

The title of this post is a bit of a trick, because it involves a play on words. I've been thinking about the question of ambition, position, and hierarchy in spiritual works.

In his first conversation, Brother Lawrence made it clear that he only had interest in working with people whose first, and only, intention was to serve God.

This question of service is critical to all of us, because we presume, in ordinary life, more or less two general things. First of all, we presume we are going to serve ourselves; and then, we presume we are able to serve others.

Because I believe that I am able to have an action and an effect -- in effect, that I am able to "do"-- I presume that these two possibilities are active and available to me. I do, of course, have this lofty, generally abstracted, and sincere belief that above all, I want to serve God, but if I am honest with myself, I will see that that comes third at best. There are probably times when it finds itself even further down the list.

Above all, I want to be in charge of things. I want to be in charge of myself. I want to be in charge of other people by "helping" them (and let's remember that all tyranny begins with a twisted, but sincere, belief that one knows best what others should be up to.) So I want to be important. I want to be significant, meaningful, to others and to myself.

In short, I want to be a chief.

I want to be in charge of the tribe. I want to have authority, respect, even love. It doesn't matter whether I can or cannot take any external actions that make me deserving of such privileges; in my mind, and my rational analysis, I firmly believe that I have already done so. And I think I have earned a place at the top.

The old saying is, "too many chiefs -- not enough Indians." Everyone has this disease of wanting to take (or be given) a place in the hierarchy that is meaningful and important. I forget that if the tribe is all chiefs, and there are no Indians, it's not a tribe. And although it may be simplistic, there, in a nutshell, is a disease that affects humanity in almost every one of its many aspects, and perhaps the main reason that we see everything around us constantly collapsing into chaos and violence.

This question becomes ever more important in a spiritual effort. It has been said that when the Dalai Lama enters a room, he tries to see himself -- and to understand -- that he is the lowest status person in that room. Everyone else sees him as a great chief, but he is attempting to discover himself as an Indian -- as nothing more than a member of the tribe.

The Zen tradition has its share of parables about succession where a very ordinary monk who no one paid any attention to, and spent most of his time in the kitchen sweeping floors, turned out to be the chosen successor to the abbot when he reached the end of his days. And of course we have the classic Gurdjieffian parable of the Obyvatel, the absolutely ordinary good householder, who never sets out to "achieve" anything special in life, but merely attends to responsibilities, and consequently turns out to be quite extraordinary, simply because no one else around him behaves that way.

In examining my inner life, I constantly see this impulse to attach myself to external affairs and to discover a way to be a chief. I observe many of my friends and family members trapped in this same little hell we all create for ourselves. None of us are special that way: all of us are internally--and eternally-- jockeying for position.

It occurs to me that I have failed to understand something fundamental about the question of service.

I need to step directly past the ideas of hierarchy, position, reward, failure, importance, significance, respect, and every other concept that infers I deserve more than what I have. I need to see exactly where I am, as best as possible, without any of the color that these various qualities apply to the situation. It can become quite simple. I am just here. This is just now. That's all there is. I don't have to be more or less important, I just have to be.

Of course, that's a theory. Once again, we discover ourselves wading around in a mass of words which may or may not have anything to do with what we are able to bring to ourselves and our situation in an inner sense. And, as is always the case, it is only our connection to our other centers -- feeling and sensation -- that can help inform us as to whether the effort we try to make has any validity.

The question arrives in me of whether what I have right now is, in fact, exactly what I deserve, all that I deserve, and not only what I deserve, but what is necessary for me. If I hold that question in front of me, it allows for the possibility of exploring what is immediately in front, instead of rejecting it because it isn't sufficient to my supposedly higher status, which of course all the idiots around me fail to properly recognize.

Over the years, I have watched many people attempt (and sometimes succeed) in their efforts to climb the ladders in our organization and become important. It doesn't seem to have done much of them any good. Everybody ultimately ends up humbled and dying, and that process tends to reduce perceived achievements back down to a single point as it reaches its end. This single point being the question of whether or not one has served God. I've also watched people leave the Gurdjieff foundation because they get their work, their self-image, their ideas about themselves and their lives all tangled up in this struggle to rise above the pack and be appreciated, to be recognized.

We fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between inner growth and outer circumstances. Until we resolve that misunderstanding, our inner work will always be drained of some of its valuable energy. In other words, we need to discover the satisfaction available in being an Indian. The Indian is actually more important than the chief.

Without Indians, there can be no chief.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

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