Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An intimate action

It's all very well to talk about cosmological theories, an endless sea of bliss and love that awaits us all, the unity of all things, and so on. I'm all for it... sometimes.

Perhaps my own difficulty with these well-meaning spiritual cheerleading activities is that they don't necessarily give me much insight into where I am, and how I am.

My aspirations and intuitions, which do legitimately seek, and perhaps even touch on, levels higher than myself, inevitably end up colliding with what I face in external life.

There's a story from Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism that comes to mind:

“Marpa was very upset when his son was killed, and one of his disciples said, “You used to tell us that everything is an illusion. How about the death of your son? Isn't it an illusion?” And Marpa replied, “True, but my son's death is a super-illusion.” (Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism," The Guru," Page 41, Shambhala publications, 2003.)

Perhaps one of the most compelling features in Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann's teachings is the insistence that we do indeed inhabit this level; that we are subject to its laws, and that above all, we must become grounded in our humanity--not don white robes and float. (Trungpa's other comments about Marpa stress the fact that an earthy humanness characterized his practice.) There is a comment in Lord Pentland's Exchanges Within in which he points out to a questioner that if you are not born with the 32 signs of Buddhahood, you are unlikely to become a Buddha.

So here I am. This is the reality. There is an inner and outer life; there is an intersection. But, as Jeanne de Salzmann repeatedly points out, I am “taken.” That is, outer life dominates me, and under ordinary circumstances, my reactions to it–all of which tend to be associative and reactionary–determine everything that is possible for me.

I have no freedom from external events. They rule me.

It's quite important to study this question right now, because I think we all recognize that external events are, so to speak, “worse than usual.” That is to say, planetary conditions are deteriorating, the psyche and physical surroundings of mankind are not in healthy shape, and it is affecting almost everyone in one way or another. I want to “do” something, but the simple fact of the matter–as Gurdjieff explained it–is that on this scale, I can't really affect anything. The events that are taking place are in accordance with the development level of mankind at large, as it currently stands. No individual at my level, at our level, can really make a decisive difference. (Now, maybe some of you out there think you can–if so, bravo. I hope you are right!)

The situation calls the question of aim, of inner conditions, of what work means, into the spotlight. What am I working for? Am I trying to save myself? The planet? Do I want to arrange outer conditions so that they are better, or do I want to rearrange inner conditions so that they correspond to reality, rather than my own visions, dreams, and fantasies? There are a lot of choices open to me here. Almost all of them are ambitious. Few of them are achievable in my present state. I recall here my own teacher Betty Brown asserting, towards the end of her life, that we were somewhat arrogant to presume we could achieve anything. This little video of the relative size of things may help put us in perspective.

Think that one over for a while.

Aside from the obvious dangers of living with delusions about how much power I may have over the external world, there is an ongoing danger of mixing levels. That is, I misunderstand the nature of inner work, and I begin to believe that somehow it is there to fix what is outside me–or even that I can "fix" something that is outside me. The idea, of course, is laughable–if I am truly working, I quickly see that I can't fix anything inside me, let alone outside, even the smallest thing.

I have no authority. To turn yesterday's analogy from Dogen on its head, I am sitting adrift in a boat without any oars... and I have filled it up with mountain climbing equipment.

In my current condition, I have no freedom. A new inner order–a new alignment-- might offer the possibility of freedom, but it involves changes in the way that my machine works, such subtle and profound changes that they are actually beyond my immediate understanding in any ordinary moment. It falls, in fact, under the comment that Gurdjieff once made to Ouspensky: “for one thing be different, everything would have to be different.”

So everything in me has to be different. And all of this depends on my permeability, my willingness to surrender, my openness to a finer quality of attention, which doesn't belong to me.

My ordinary attention and my ordinary mind are unable to conceive of such an attention. Well, perhaps that's not fair: I can conceive of it, but only within the context of my ordinary attention and my ordinary mind. The fundamental paradigm of understanding, in other words, is flawed from the outset.

Above all, as the external world continues to deliver one blow after another–and they are falling everywhere, on everyone–the essential task is to realign the inner mechanism so that it can receive something more real. Without this, my Being is all soft tissue–no backbone, every impact damages me, and I am perpetually in reaction. Only by working can I create a stillness that might receive something to strengthen my Being. Of course, it's quite difficult for me to see this. I can talk about it; I can write about it. But the living, intimate action that is required–well, this is mysterious, and I am prone to ignore it most of the time.

Readers who read through the material on solioonensius earlier this week may have noticed that Mr. Gurdjieff said the process has the potential of affecting us such that “the need for evolving, in the sense of acquiring Objective Reason, increases... by itself.”

Translated, I would suggest that what we are being told is that the energy that is sent during such periods supports our wish.

Since my wish is generally weak–often so weak that I cannot even find it in myself–periods like this one represent extraordinary opportunities.

Above all, I feel the need to study the question of seeking help, of becoming more open to a finer quality, as a reality–not a theory.

There are forces that act within me which clearly touch on this direction. I'm not in a proper relationship with them. A more intimate action is required. How can I become more sensitive to that?

May our prayers be heard.

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