Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reality check

I dedicate this post to my old neighbor, Susan Brooks, who died of breast cancer yesterday.

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When we inquire–when we attempt to discern what is formed inwardly, when we seek to see this–what we seek, I think, is an understanding of what reality is.

I'm using the psycho-scientific Western word–reality– but one could just as easily use Truth, or the Dharma. Whatever form we choose, whatever linguistic box we try to stuff this understanding into in order to make it comprehensible, there is a belief within us that there is some fundamental root. A bottom line. Something that is real, fundamental, not invented.

What this prompts me to ask of myself is, what is real in me?

When I meet with others in relationship–and perhaps most especially when I meet with them in groups–there is an artificial construct present. Ever notice that? It is false personality at its best–a manifestation that actively conforms to expectations, that has learned how to fit into each situation and cover itself.

I see that there is no relaxation or freedom in this construction. It's completely invented; it poses as real, but is entirely imaginary. It has pretensions of spirituality, compassion, concern--and it pretends to be listening–but in fact, I'm nothing like that. At least much of me isn't.

In my immediate circle of spiritual friends, I observe others around me and I see that for all of us, there is a huge gap between the way that we behave when we are meeting, and the way we behave in "real" life. In other words, everyone has constructed a functional lie--essentially, if you will, for display at group meetings. Even more interesting, what we think is concealed may not be that hard for other people to see... a rather disturbing thought, eh?

Well, perhaps I'm being a cynic, and perhaps I'm being too hard on all of us.

After all, we do this everywhere in our life–it's just that it becomes more apparent when we sit down together in groups and pretend that we know how to work, that we know what spirituality is, when in fact, we are all sitting there together because we know nothing of the kind, and in our heart of hearts we have a desperate question about that.

Do you remember that story Ouspensky told in “In Search of the Miraculous”, in which he reported that Gurdjieff challenged them to all be absolutely honest in their meetings-- at which point they discovered that this was categorically impossible?

No trust.

As I recall, Henry and Betty Brown more than once said of us, “When we walk in the door, we all bring our best lie.” This may have originated with Dr. Welch. In any event, it's an astute observation, and one that we earnestly forget in our zeal to work together.

There is a need, when meeting with others and exchanging, to just be as normal and natural as possible. This is incredibly difficult--unless, that is, we make no effort to be present whatsoever, which is basically unacceptable by any measure.
Ah, and the habits-- the habits! I am thoroughly indoctrinated, polluted, with year upon year of exchange in which I use the same language as other people; repeat the same expressions; cover my back by using the same qualifiers to preface each statement I make–among them, the classic “it seems to me," which I mentioned a few weeks ago.

Even worse, I am passive. There is a need to be more active–to engage in the exchange, even when it is risky or dangerous. There has to be a willingness to get it wrong–if I don't get it wrong, I will never learn anything new! Conge makes a wonderful observation about this:

"When I move toward a more authentic attitude in myself and want to put it to the test of an encounter in life, and especially an encounter with another being... in a flash, everything is destroyed! Nevertheless that's what we'll have to experience, little by little. What does it matter if I fail every time! I have to come back to it, I must go towards it, I mustn't let myself be discouraged or stopped by the fact that it's almost impossible. It will be almost impossible thousands of times. Then, suddenly, perhaps something will become possible I don't know on what day, at what moment, or even why. If I don't attempt the experiment I do not allow the condition that is necessary for this latent possibility to be fulfilled. This form of work is very painful... And yet, it's impossible to escape. I must go through that: put something to the test, exposing, risk it. And risk it knowing that I will lose every time! ("Inner Octaves," Michel Conge, Dolmen meadow editions, P. 98)

There has to be a willingness to engage in friction, perhaps even conflict–it's only when I am up against my actual negativity (as opposed to my denial of it) in an exchange that I have to truly confess how I am to myself.

The fact is that I am reactionary and confrontational. I have a powerful ego (or at least I flatter myself that I do.) I am also kind of snotty a lot of the time.

This all reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine in the Gurdjieff work, who also happens to be a doctor. I was talking about a pain in my neck (which is thankfully gone... unlike the ones I give to other people) and likened it to my gluteus maximus (a muscle in the buttocks) which, when it spasms, can sometimes be relieved by using acupressure.

My doctor friend pointed to his neck and head and said, being very practical, “...but there's no gluteus maximus up here.” To which I responded, pointing at my own head, “No... you're right... but I'm pretty sure that in my case, there's an asshole."

No matter what I wish to believe about myself, those are the facts. It drives a lot of what goes on; even when I'm pretending it doesn't, that, too, comes from my ego. Trying to sterilize those qualities and isolate them so that they don't show up in exchanges with others is pointless. That's just a new kind of dishonesty. It's rubbing up against the sharp places that causes me to learn something new about my inner life and my relationship to myself. If that doesn't happen, the buffers just get thicker and thicker, until I am thoroughly lulled to sleep in the fervent belief that I am working.
It may seem obvious to say it, but this artificial construction that I present to others which selectively edits out my faults isn't at the root of Being.

And Being isn't a different, magical quality of existence that stands apart from ordinary manifestation. It includes ordinary manifestation.

It is the awareness of what I actually am–and the suffering of it–that can produce something closer to the question of what is real.

If there is any legitimate taste of reality to be had in this life, it begins there.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

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