Thursday, August 4, 2011

Desires and non-desires




One of the well-known remarks that Gurdjieff's saintly protagonist Ashieta Shiemash made to his followers was as follows:

"And so, only he who consciously assists the process of this inner struggle, and consciously assists the "nondesires" to prevail over the "desires," behaves in accordance with the Being of our Common Father Creator Himself; whereas he who consciously assists the contrary only increases His sorrow." (Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, P. 340).

This of course reminds us of Gurdjieff's premise of non-identification, or, if we are Buddhists, the cultivation of detachment; and Christian asceticism is not far off this mark either. Nonetheless, followers of the Gurdjieff method continue to question each other and themselves about exactly what was meant by this.

Returning once again to the character and nature of the two conscious shocks, and the prayers associated with them, we can perhaps begin to develop a deeper perspective on this thorny question.

In the preceding passage, Ashieta Shiemash lays out what could be considered an encapsulation of the forces in action on the opposite sides of the enneagram:

"'And we must be suffering, because this being-impulse can come to its full manifestation in us only through the constant struggle between two quite opposite complexes of functioning issuing from two sources of quite opposite origin, that is to say, through the constant struggle between the processes of the functioning of our planetary body and the parallel processes of the functionings arising progressively in accordance with the coating and perfecting of our higher being-bodies within this planetary body of ours, which processes in their totality actualize every kind of reason in three-centered beings.

"'Consequently, like all three-centered beings of our Great Universe, we men existing on the Earth, owing to the presence in us also of the factors for engendering the divine impulse of Objective Conscience, must always inevitably struggle with the two quite opposite functionings arising and proceeding in our common presence, the results of which are always sensed by us either as "desires" or as "non desires." (ibid- Italics are mine.)

If we understand the "two opposite complexes of functioning" as referring to the two opposite sides of the ennegram, we can see that the desires belong to the right side of the diagram, which represents both the physical incarnation ("the functioning of our planetary body") and the involutionary forces of self-affirmation. The non-desires, on the other hand, clearly represent the evolutionary forces of surrender (intentional suffering) represented on the left side of the diagram, which represent the higher centers.

In other words, the struggle between desires and non-desires is a representation of the struggle between the self and Godhead, in which the self must be utterly surrendered in order to complete Gurdjieff's second conscious shock. The action, in fact, has little to do with man's involvement with the external world, but is rather an inner interaction that has been progressively misunderstood and literalized until the exoteric interpretation focuses on our outward behavior, emotional tastes, and moral compasses. (Hence Beelzebub's contempt for man's ideas about good and evil. See pages 1040-1046 in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson--which, by the way, includes a remarkably compelling description of the involutionary and evolutionary forces under discussion in this series of essays.)

The question of the struggle between desire and non-desire must ultimately draw a man much more deeply into the nature of his personal manifestation relative to a higher authority. Once again, we encounter a taste of Meister Eckhart's direction here. Or, to put it in Christ's words, once a man gains the whole world (his ego, his self, and his relationship to the external) he runs the risk of losing his soul in the process.

If we were to extrapolate any further, we might surmise that the impulse of divine conscience, also mentioned in this particular passage, represents the reconciling force or "do" that mediates all of the interplay between these opposing forces. It is, after all, a specifically designated divine force active in all of the three brained beings of the universe, qualifying it for that role. Hence its position in the diagram that opens the essay.

What we see in the Enneagram is a map of the vast cosmological engine in which energy, on its involutionary path, is separated from its parent source–the Father– undergoes a painful process of individuation–and then discovers that this must be surrendered if it is to return to the source. The entire process is a divine process–not belonging to man, and mediated entirely through the assistance of the divine, who must intervene (by way of the conscious shocks) on both sides of the process in order to help it along.

Thus, in a peculiar yet instructive paradigm, God intentionally causes man to fall away from him, and helps in the process, but then assists in his return. Echoes of certain sophisticated Christian theologies abound here. Sin–the involutionary force–is necessary. Without it, there is no polarity, and without polarity, the movement of energy is impossible.

Here we furthermore encounter a powerful and comprehensive image of one of the basic Gurdjieffian practices: we forget ourselves, and we must return to ourselves.

The Enneagram has this basic principle of inner work built directly into its visual language, inserting the principle into the workings of the cosmos itself. We may feel alone and desperate in our perpetual forgetting of ourselves, forgetting of our Divine nature, forgetting of the principles of inner work.

Yet, seen from the point of view of the Enneagram, the cosmos is manufactured with this challenge built into the very fabric of its own existence.

Even God, apparently, cannot remember himself sufficiently–perhaps, in the end, the price that He paid to create the cosmos, and one of the sources of His endless sorrow.

May our prayers be heard.

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