Saturday, April 23, 2011

What is necessary and what is possible

One of the interesting and definitely unique features of Gurdjieff's teaching is that he assigns “numbers” to man. That is to say, there is a progression and a hierarchy of development, delineated in what one might call a scientific manner. One hardly encounters anything quite like this in other systems.

One part of me finds this system fascinating; the other part finds it annoying and even pretentious. Likely, there is some truth to it; yet, we are all men. Even Gurdjieff's legendary saint Ashiata Shiemash, Jesus Christ and Buddha were incarnated specifically to discover what it was like to be a man. So the condition of being human is a leveling condition, no matter what “number” a man is.

One of the distressing fallouts irradiating the Gurdjieff community is the habit of referring to man numbers 3, 4, 5, etc., as though anyone knew what they were talking about, or were actually able to distinguish clearly. In the worst cases, posers and con men have declared that they are man number 5, or 6, or whatever, in order to fleece their marks.

All of this numerical hierarchy stands in stark contrast to the intriguing Buddhist contention that there is no “enlightenment.” The declaration sweeps aside considerations of how to arrange a man in a line from bad to good, and calls us to just live. Gurdjieff himself remarked on more than one occasion that there was, in fact, only “one thing.” That being the case, even the divisions between men, real as they may be from a temporal point of view, are artificial.

Everything is part of the Dharma. It can definitely be sliced and diced up according to law, and understood in its minutia and particulars, but that does not change the fact that it is all one whole entity. And this habit of spiritual reductionism, as I have pointed out in other essays, is terrifically attractive to human beings. I pick things apart and think that that makes me able to understand them. In understanding the part, however, I invariably fail to understand the whole, and the whole is, in fact, composed of connections between all the parts, a number of connections so nearly infinite relative to my ability and my consciousness to understand that the process of trying to do so is inevitably doomed.

In any event, I am stuck with this man-numbering system of Gurdjieff's.

In the context of it, I was thinking yesterday about his point that the way of the Yogi–one would call it the way of man number 3, if one did such things–was superior to the way of the Fakir or the way of the Monk, since the Yogi–if he did reach "true attainment" (whatever that is)– would know what was necessary to complete the other two ways. Because the way of the Yogi is the way of intelligence–of the intellect–it has an ability to understand that that is not available to the other two ways.

So the intellect is essential in work. I cannot afford to be vague or refuse to exercise my mind. It is perhaps the most essential component of inner work, yet my mind is quite weak.

I don't know what is necessary. This is clear enough. I encounter what is possible in inner work; one of the classic mistakes, in my experience, is to encounter what is possible and think that it is necessary.

Not everything that is possible is necessary. Man has a huge range of possibilities in front of him–both inner possibilities and external possibilities. It's clear enough even from fairy tales (eg. the sorcerer's apprentice) that not everything which is possible in the sense of inner achievement and "power" is necessary. It's equally clear that outer life provides many possibilities that are hardly necessary.

Yet when I encounter a powerful inner experience, a real experience, which verifies itself, it is quite possible, because of my lack of development, that I will be inclined to believe that it is somehow necessary. This can cause me to reinforce false ideas that lead me off the path and into the forest. It is an incredibly common phenomenon. If what is possible is not congruent with my aim, to pursue it–no matter how fascinating or alluring it may be– is a distraction.

And yet, on the level I am at, not everything that is necessary is possible.

This is perhaps one of the central features of the Gurdjieff teaching. We have enormous possibilities that cannot be realized, because many things lie beyond our ability to “do.” All of the religious traditions place man in a scale, where help needs to come from above in order to facilitate his development. The enneagram, in its succinct depiction of the law of three intersecting with the law of seven, emphatically defines this situation in a visual manner.

There is a question of discrimination at hand here. One needs to conduct one's inner work with a sensitivity and intelligence in order to see what is necessary. One could even say that seeing itself, as I understand it, is in fact the act of active and intelligent discrimination to understand what is necessary.

To see may be to encounter the necessary.

One thing is quite certain. I am likely to get confused between necessity and possibility. Many things that are necessary are rather uncomfortable, and I tend to shy away from them. At the same time, what is necessary is what I need to point my aim at.

Let's examine one tiny microcosmic example in order to see how this functions.

I have heard in this practice of inner work (no matter which flavor I choose) that negativity is wrong. It's bad. I shouldn't have it. Yet the fact–the indubitable fact–is that I do have it. It is a real process, and it is well-nigh inescapable. Should I try to expunge it because of its badness? There are huge swaths of practice devoted to this kind of thing. It does produce compassionate individuals who are not outwardly negative.

Maybe this is terrific. I don't know. I admire such people, I have respect for them. However, I am in a work that is conducted in life. It doesn't have a set of rules or lists about how to conduct myself, as such. It asks me to be present to what I am.

So, if what I am is negative, I must be negative, and be present to it. This is most uncomfortable. I am forced to encounter myself exactly as I am, without any special layers of frosting that make the cake taste better. I have thousands of different flavors of inner frosting at hand–I am a professional baker, a frosting specialist– so to resist applying them is nearly impossible.

So there I am. It's possible to adjust my behavior so that I don't appear to be negative. This is, in fact, the way that society generally operates. Thick layers of frosting are spread over everything, wonderful words are spoken, World Peace organizations are formed, and then everyone proceeds to kill each other the instant something goes wrong. It's possible to not be negative, but no one has done what is necessary–which is to look deep inside and experience the negativity face-to-face.

My impression here–as in many places in life–is that we are in love with the possibilities, not with what is necessary.

I had an encounter with my 20-year-old son a week ago when he got a flat tire. He came to me asking me what to do.

He hasn't had to deal with getting a new tire for his car yet. He's smart, and very capable, so I basically told him to do it himself. He got very upset with me. This didn't look like help to him.

After we worked through it, I had to sit him down and explain to him that in this particular case, help consisted of having him do it himself. He needs to learn how to take care of these things within the context of his own life, without anyone else there to guide him. As I pointed out, I'm not immortal; I am not always going to be there to take care of these problems for him. If I deprive him of the effort of problem solving for himself while he is young, he won't be able to do it later when he is old.

I went on to explain to him that help, when it arrives, may not look like we expect it to. In this case, making him do it himself was help.

In the same way, in our inner work, what is necessary may not look like we expect it to. Once again, we are called to this act of an active and intelligent discrimination as we conduct our observation of ourselves.

What is necessary? What is possible? And what is the difference?


May our prayers be heard.

1 comment:

  1. Sitting here on Sunday afternoon (Easter Sunday to be specific) reading these words is touching and evocative for me. But the questions which ring VERY high in the body such as 1)What is necessary? or 2) What is possible? or 3) What is the difference? do not interest me today.

    My own original guide in the Gurdjieff Word, James Wyckoff, would ask, What is True For Me NOW? often. That's the kind of question that brings me down in the body and away from the typical ruminations.

    And what is true for me NOW is the Stillness in this room where I sit now writing these words. Time has stopped. There is the feeling that I have moved up an iota in the Ray of Creation, if only momentarily. I am playing my assigned role.

    I AM. Yes, I AM. I, breathing in, and AM, breathing out.

    Something deep in the body is fed when time stops like this.

    What is true for me NOW?? Rest in peace James Wyckoff. I thank you and Lee Van Laer for this moment and thousands of other Gurdjieffians all over the planet.

    Don

    April 24, 2011, AD

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