Sunday, October 31, 2010

payment, suffering, and offering

In the Gurdjieff work, we speak about needing to make payment.
We also speak about suffering.

In its "classic" form, this is one way Gurdjieff framed his work. We must pay, and we must suffer. Certainly there are plenty of Old and New Testament stories to support this perspective on man's position.

Nonetheless, the form concerns me. I say this with reservations, because there is absolutely no doubt in me based on years of experience than an enormous amount of payment and an equal amount of suffering must take place. Nonetheless, these are words, and because they automatically narrow the question down to certain points which are plagued by our associations, in my eyes, they can't possibly do the question justice.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that payment and suffering are ideas, and that they constitute a form. We hear them and we accept by default that they are true -- and we even have experiences that support that idea. But we don't question our relationship to them, what they really mean, or how we are "stuck" in our form.

Payment is for capitalists, and suffering is for victims. Offering, on the other hand, is-- quite simply-- human.

We are not trying to be capitalists or victims. We are trying to discover something much greater than these ordinary qualities. So when we label our efforts with such words, which are routinely associated with rather coarse lower activities, perhaps we are coarsening our effort itself.

Not only that, we are investing ever more deeply in the form, rather than letting it go. Payment and suffering may become a form of drama, rather than an act of contrition.

This occurred to me this morning when I was having a conversation with my wife Neal; she talked about how deeply our friend Eve who died last Thursday had suffered… and in another context, how all those who make efforts in their inner work must pay.

I was in complete agreement with everything she said (which highlights how questioning itself does not consist of opposition, but rather inquiry, a fact my competitive nature tempts me to forget), yet it occurred to me that what takes place, if it takes place, must take place voluntarily -- intentionally.

And there is a transformation implicit in the act of paying intentionally and suffering intentionally.

To pay intentionally and to suffer intentionally is, put in a different way, to offer. So if we need to frame our efforts, then framing them in a form that involves a giving, which is what payment and suffering are -- we give material and emotion to the quality of life -- offertory is a more powerful interpretive symbology, which contains both the giving and the intention.

Looking at this from yet another angle, payment is material, and we pay with the body. Suffering is emotional, so it connects to feeling. Where is the place of the mind in this? It must form the intention. If we don't, the offering is not an offering any more, it is simply an extraction.

Great nature can easily extract what it needs from us. Only we are able to offer what we have to a higher level. This is part of the question of what consciousness is... it contains and expresses an element that lies outisde the machine, that has the ability not just to suffer or pay, but to choose to suffer and pay.

One could conceivably argue that this discussion of offertory--as opposed to suffering and payment-- is a form of revisionism. Nonetheless, we must reinvent the teaching and the language, each one of us, in each generation, for ourselves--hearing what was said before and incorporating our own understanding. Otherwise we become, as I said recently, mere parrots.
In my view, to offer is a much more powerful paradigm that better describes my relationship to life and the effort that is needed to meet it. I am going to pay and suffer within the context of that offering, but I can focus not on what is given up and lost, but rather, my intention, which is in a direction that emerges from my aim.

If I am going in the direction of my aim, I am engaged in an act of sacrifice -- that is, the effort to make my actions align with the sacred by offering myself.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

1 comment:

  1. It seems as though you travel full circle, and "offering" becomes a catchphrase; a very good descriptor of what paying and suffering intentionally themselves actually mean. I know a man who was being dunned, called at all hours and asked for money he did not have, and he was angry, until one day he came and said something so remarkable I have never forgot it. He said: "THEY woke me up again, at 5:15 AM, but as they talked, something changed in me. I realized for the first time that they did not want my money -- they simply wanted their money, back!"

    He arranged a payment plan, and although it took a couple of years, he paid them back.

    I Recognize in the same way that my life is NOT mine... it is on loan and demands interest. I have to pay back more than I have been loaned, and my whole life and all the forces that run through it are part of this "loan".

    So I can offer my very self, but I mustn't forget the interest.

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