Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A divine comedy: inner and outer relationship

It's difficult to reconcile my inner and outer relationships.

On the one hand, there's a sensitive (well, hopefully it's sensitive!) part that comes into contact with something intimate: discovering itself inside the body, inside the breath, in a relationship with the cells-- and perhaps even the very marrow of my bones. It's a current -- a flow of energy.

This part is what I would call a "secret" part -- it definitely isn't to be put on display, in fact, to stick it out on a platform where the rest of the world could see it would be very nearly criminal. Work with this part needs to be done in private and without any fanfare. It is devotional in nature -- it lies close to the heart-search for love and for the higher.

In the other hand, I have this animal--this monkey--which is used to doing almost everything in ordinary life. He looks cute, but when you get too close to him, it turns out he is a suspicious (and maybe even dangerous) bastard. He has nasty teeth and claws he wasn't showing you before. He snaps, he hisses and bites, he tries to grab food away from others, and he wants to screw all the females.

Well, okay, I'm probably not quite that bad -- after all, my mother did teach me some manners -- but all in all, the animal is an animal. There is no way to get around that. And the animal has an attitude that it ought to be in charge of everything--even the sensitive part.

This is, once again, a current -- a source of energy that flows with great vigor, and is only on public display. And it's all very confusing, because this appears to be the more compelling of the two forces within life. It's got all the capacity for pleasure, all the stuff.

And if I cooperate with it and work the pump handle hard enough, I can have that stuff.

A struggle arises.

I have to be outward. I have to conduct business, be tough on people, offer opinions (which I may or may not agree with or believe in, but have to offer anyway, since most of what I do involves adopting the protective coloring of a multitude of lies I am forced to pretend I agree with in order to move things in life forward.) And so on.

Yet the bottom line is that I have had a taste of what the other current can bring me, and I know that it is so much sweeter -- so much more refreshing and restoring, even in the smallest measure, than every single thing that the outward life can bring-- that I long for it, even as I relentlessly and perversely contradict that impulse with my animal nature.

"I"--whatever there is of me-- stand in this place where "I" am responsible for the meeting of these two currents. One of these draws its power and movement from an undeniably sacred source:

"The rays and motion of the holy lights
draw forth the soul of every animal
and plant from matter able to take form;
but your life is breathed forth immediately
by the Chief Good, who so enamors it
of His own Self that it desires Him always.

(Dante, Paradiso, Canto VII, lines lines 139-142, Mandelbaum Translation.)

The other current is made of considerably coarser material.

As Dante would have it (and I believe he's quite right) all that coarse material is moved by love as well, only it's love turned in the wrong direction. It has (as both Virgil and Beatrice explain it) cast its eyes downwards towards earth, instead of upwards towards that glorious heaven of which I have been given sufficient evidence.

Invested as I am, for the most part, in this coarse matrix, it's difficult to believe in the gem. There is a general forgetting that gems occur, for the most part, in crude and unforgiving ores, or that both the gem and the ore spring from the same source.

The idea that everything has love as its motive force (an idea I explored in my essay on chakras and the enneagram) is a powerful one if I can remember it. It suggests that in every ordinary, coarse life situation I encounter, if things are going wrong -- inside me, or outside of me -- the current that flows through them is the same. It is the relationship that is failing, not the power behind it. There is always the chance to make a choice from the heart that can turn things around.

I don't trust my heart a lot of the time. Maybe I shouldn't. The monkey is notoriously unreliable. But that doesn't mean that the monkey doesn't have potential. The monkey can sometimes be brought into relationship with a terrifically powerful resource that is much wiser. If he just gets a little closer to that, all kinds of remarkable things might happen. Compassion and humility might arise. Admittedly, it's a long shot, but it could happen. It could happen any time. All of the elements that can produce that in me are right next door. They are right next door all the time.

I just don't go visiting the neighbors that often. I like it more where I am.

This question of forming a better relationship -- a friendlier, more accepting relationship -- between the monkey and my inner resource is an important one.

It represents hope.

Sometimes people ask me why I bother with this obscure practice called the Gurdjieff work. Admittedly, most of the time I'm at a loss. What am I going to tell people? That everything inside you can change until you are no longer the same person, and that miracles become possible?

I could say that. It would sound like baloney, right?

There are, however, aims and values that might be easier to put in front of another person. And if there were, they would speak about a wish for understanding compassion, understanding humility.

These two qualities are the greatest qualities a man can acquire in life. (Call that an opinion if you need to... it's okay.) If he really, actually acquires these as organic qualities, he has achieved almost everything that the Lord wishes for us. All of what is truly necessary in the life of the soul proceeds from the understandings that these qualities bring.

They are, of course, the outward and inward manifestations of real Being, which is made of nothing more or less than pure love, breathed forth-- as Dante so eloquently says--from the breath of God Himself.

And-- borrowing another idea from the Divine Comedy--

If my aim does not always have its head raised high and its sight set on this goal, why should I even bother living?

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

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