Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ten thousand times


One of the guilty pleasures (if there are any) in presiding over an operation like this blog is the occasional opportunity to just muse to oneself, out loud, in the privacy of one's own hotel room (or wherever,) about whatever one is pondering at the moment. One begins in a particular place: one does not know where one will go. The flow of associations weaves together a new and unexpected story, unlike anything that might have been planned in the midst of the usual wiseacring.

Sometimes it produces material of a certain quality; sometimes, it doesn't. It is taking the chance that matters. The fisherman never knows whether the fish will bite; but he has to put a line in the water and risk failure if he ever wants to catch fish.

Looking out over the densely packed skyline of Shanghai, out across the river to Pudong, over the tops of the hundreds--nay, thousands-- of skyscrapers that have been erected over the last 20 years in this city, I see shreds of green–a few trees, a few parks. Really, hardly anything natural.

This stands in stark contrast to the neighborhood where I live in the United States, on the banks of the Hudson River. There, I'm surrounded by trees and nature–nature, to be sure, with plenty of development, and sadly affected by man, but nature nonetheless.

The difference between these two environments reminds me of how impoverished this planet becomes as we develop it more and more. We don't sense that we are actively destroying the environment that we are supposed to be taking in impressions of.

The nature of the human organism and of the human psyche is such that it's designed to be in direct relationship with nature. The organic roots of consciousness cannot feed themselves properly when nature is sterilized and removed. It seems that man's sense of himself has become so deadened that he is unable to realize what this is doing to him. It engenders a pathology that leads us headlong into ever greater destruction of what we need the most.

Our lack of a three centered relationship within ourselves actively removes the possibility of having a feeling relationship with life. It is well within the range of man's possible experience to have an immediate understanding of the enormous blessings we have been given in our lives, an immediate understanding that is three centered–not just a sentiment, not just a thought, not just a rush of physical pleasure. Without inner encounters on the order of this three centered experience, it is impossible for us to begin to develop a perspective on what life is and why it is valuable.

Our Being needs to become rooted in sensation, rooted in nature, rooted in relationship. This is not a metaphorical premise. We need to quite literally grow roots within ourselves that connect the parts. They are physical roots, not an imaginary structure or a set of thoughts that appear to link things. These roots can't grow if impressions don't come in in a right way; these roots can't grow if we continue to constantly feed ourselves an overload of impressions consisting of quantity rather than quality. It is better, in fact, to do nothing at all than to do things which do not feed us in the right way.

(It may sound like a paradox, but that doesn't mean that being fed in the right way involves endless discrimination about what we expose ourselves to. In the same way that Gurdjieff's carriage was meant to travel over uneven and even rocky roads in order to be properly lubricated, we are designed to encounter a wide range of impressions–even the ones that aren't so good for us–and be able to respond to them and correspond to them in a meaningful way. One might even surmise that it is our correspondence to the "worst" kind of impressions–those which are apparently least edifying for us–that offer us the greatest opportunity. The reader will have to decide for themselves on that issue.)

An attendance to sensation and to these roots is where a real inner work might begin. My sensation must become much more active, so active that it supports my effort. I can't force it to do that; years of work are required in order to create a depth of patience and stillness that can make enough room for real sensation to become permanently active--a living thing--, rather than passive, as it almost invariably is.

Even then, it does not at all have enough intelligence without the support of my mind–my active attention–to help create a nurturing environment for the appearance of feeling. That also requires years of preparation, and a devotion to prayer which is little understood and even less practiced. Such practice is indispensable, because it is categorically impossible for a man to by himself create the conditions necessary for the beginning of inner unification without help from a higher place.

All of the religions and all of the ancient practices well understood the need for this kind of devotional prayer. It would seem that despite its central role in Gurdjieff's Work, in the form of hesychastic practices such as the "Lord have mercy" prayer, and numerous sacred movements, the understanding of the need for this kind of work is rather limited. An extraordinary amount of devotion and surrender is required. I say extraordinary, because nothing ordinary can suffice in this area, that is, nothing that comes from this particular order–the level we are on.

It is the recognition of that insufficiency alone that can suffice. Hence Jeanne de Salzmann's admonition to us to "stay in front of the lack."

Walking through the park here in Shanghai this morning, watching the elderly do their tai chi exercises, it struck me that there are all kinds of wisdom. There is every kind of depth of being and personality.

But there is only one way to share in the sorrow of the Lord, and (in a certain sense) only one kind of prayer, in the end, that acknowledges what we are and where we are.

The entire book of Ecclesiastes was written in order to make this point.

The depth of the physical and emotional relationship that is necessary in man is barely understood. This work calls me, at the very least, to see that I barely understand.

And I need to see that ten thousand times.

May our prayers be heard.

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