Wednesday, November 24, 2010

within the living of it

Today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. In keeping with my tradition from earlier years, I'll be changing the sign off I end every essay with.

This morning, I decided to drop kick this particular post–that is, speak directly from the moment, without any preparation–so I have no idea of what that sign off will be.


It's a time of transitions. It's been a year when several people we knew died; others got cancer; some lost their jobs, and the world has been unsettled and quite difficult. We are all influenced by this. People who claim that they are not must be made of better steel than me.

I'm called to the question that Jeanne DeSalzmann consistently brought and put in front of us: what is there in me–can there be anything in me–that is stronger than this influence of outside life?

On a daily basis, I see that there are two currents working in me. One of them is an inner current that is connected to and arises from the formation of an inner solar system. The other is the current from within my associative parts, which is strongly formed by all of the things that happen around me. I'm quite attached to that.

Yet there is always a thread that connects me to sensation and reminds me that I live within this body.

I don't follow these threads that bind me to an active inner work very effectively. Even though the organic sense of being is perpetually available, I don't pay legitimate attention to it. This is a real question, because at this stage in my work and my life, there is a powerful underlying force that does not leave; it tugs at me all day long, physically reminding me that I ought to make an effort within my life. I suppose there are many who work who think that if they had such a force, it would fix things, and they would actually work instead of sitting on their asses.

Unfortunately, as I can attest, it does not happen that way. Such miraculous forces can and do indeed arise; yet I am terrifically resistant to them. (This is not all that surprising: the Bible recounts example after example of men being personally visited by God and categorically refusing to follow His instructions.)

My mechanical influences and my slavish devotion to external life-- including the repetitive obsessions and the childish pleasures–have a lot of muscle. They have been building up for a lifetime, and the forces in me that are more alive and connected to something higher have nowhere near that much practice. I find myself sitting in the middle between these two sets of influences and discovering that I am almost powerless, at many times, to go towards what is more inner, and what feeds me more.

For example, last night at dinner, my daughter Rebecca was back from Brown University and I took her out for dinner along with my son Adriaan and wife Neal. It was very ordinary, and yet I sensed at all times that there was a demand I was not meeting. There was a blank spot in me that ought to have been filled with something–that I wanted filled with something–and what it wanted to be filled with wasn't inner effort. It was external stimulation and a conventional, understandable, predictable and known set of facts, circumstances, and relationships.

I was sitting there with absolutely nothing in me except what was in front of me, and I was not invested in it.

I wasn't satisfied.

I saw all of this. It left me flailing around in an inner sense. It's easy to talk about having the wish to be in front of the unknown, and we encountered this idea constantly in “The Reality Of Being.” The fact, however, is that we have no such wish–and the unknown is something we prefer to avoid at all costs. When I discover myself naked and alone in front of a situation like the one I was in last night, I see how empty I usually am. And the first thing I want to fill the emptiness with is not Being, but doing.

This is a conundrum. Even with experience, and with help, we are relatively helpless. If we climb 3 rungs of the ladder, we are still close to the bottom of the ladder. The view is a little better from here, but we are a long way from the roof. A lot of climbing is necessary, but exhaustion sets in very early on.

I think one of the great dangers in inner work is to attain anything whatsoever. The instant I attain, I think I am higher up on the ladder–higher up than where I was, or higher up than other people. I think I can stay there; I think I can reproduce it; I think I “am” something. In other words, delusional behavior sets in very early on once energies are active within a being.

The only way to Work is with a great deal of suspicion and the willingness to renounce, in an effort to see more and to move further.

All of this may sound harsh to those who feel they have attained nothing, or those who feel they have attained something. Either way, I think we have it wrong. There is no attainment. There is only existence; there is only living. Life, and being, is discovered within the living of it. It is always in movement; only the living act of a question in this moment is in the direction of Being. And it's always a direction; it isn't a state.

So, on this eve of our great festival of Thanksgiving–a festival which should be devoted exclusively towards thanks directed at His Endlessness, the creator-- I have these questions about my helplessness, about my attraction to the lower, despite unambiguous and unrelenting support from a higher level. I suspect that this may well be connected to what both Gurdjieff and the Christian fathers described as sin–knowingly going in the direction of the lower, with the conscious knowledge that one ought to be headed the other way.

The Christians, for their part (regular readers will know, I count myself among them) subscribed to a dogma that says man's inherent nature is sinful. I don't think that this dogma means we are bad; rather, it means that we are consistently attracted to the lower, and are all too willing to be dragged down. My experience bears this out.

In reading both Gurdjieff's texts (in their massive entirety) and "The Reality of Being," I'm struck by how consistently DeSalzmann and Gurdjieff insisted that our efforts fall short. The optimist in me believes that we have possibilities; I could even say that the realist in me understands and knows that we have possibilities.

The difficulty is that I believe in the optimist a little too much. We are, collectively, in front of a very difficult struggle with limited resources. We take the support we get too much for granted, and we rest on our laurels more often than we should.

Self-flagellation is no solution either. I have to get out there and face life from within this organism in the best way that I can; even if I fall short, it is the effort that counts.

May our prayers be heard.

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