Friday, September 30, 2011

Suffering and sorrow

It's come to my attention some readers may be taking my recent posts on suffering and sorrow in the wrong way.

One mustn't under any circumstances confuse these ideas with ordinary emotional states. The action of higher energies has a transformational nature that creates a very different relationship in the organism with these ideas.

I use the words "suffering" and "sorrow" because they are the closest approximations we can reach using the language we know. In reality, to suffer in the Gurdjieffian sense of the word means something quite different than what our ordinary associations tell us; and to feel sorrow also means something quite different.


Sorrow and joy are, as I've mentioned in the past, joined together perfectly. This simultaneous and reciprocal relationship are anything but apparent from our current perspective; to experience this truth directly is what is referred to as religious ecstasy.

Sorrow, furthermore, is not sorrowful at all. Sorrow is a product of Love, not some difficult or self-centered emotional experience one must endure. In fact, it stems directly from Love, and could not exist if Love did not come first before it. When we feel sorrow, in the sense of the sorrow of His Endlessness, it is not an ordinary emotion, it is a higher emotion. It is a privilege, and something to be deeply grateful for, not something to feel miserable and bad about.

It is furthermore not a personal sorrow in any sense of the word–it does not have a subject and an object as we usually understand them.

If one feels real sorrow, a higher sorrow, one hungers for it in the same way that one hungers for God, if one has ever been so touched.

One does not hunger for it out of some misplaced sense of masochism, or because one wants to be miserable, or due to self pity, but because the whole body instinctively senses that it is the right position to be in, and that it is an absolutely natural product, consequence, and servant of Love.

Sorrow is, in other words, not only a three centered experience, but an experience that begins in the action of a higher center. It is an organic action, a whole thing that is not subject to reduction or division. One might call it a thread that reaches directly from our mortality towards the divine.


A great deal is said in the work about what Gurdjieff called "intentional suffering." Despite presumptions, which abound, even the best of us have a poor understanding of what he actually meant by this, and the term itself is wide open to all kinds of perverse and incorrect interpretations. Speaking as I do through my own set of limitations, I'm only able to report my own definite impressions of this question. Every reader has to form their own judgment on the matter.

As I understand it, to suffer in Gurdjieff's sense of the word has absolutely nothing to do with feeling bad emotionally. Of course, when we speak of ordinary life, if someone endures horrible trials, we say that they have suffered. But this is a temporal and a horizontal suffering, not a suffering related to the suffering of the soul.

The soul suffers only in proportion to its own experience of itself, and its inadequacy in meeting the tasks that God has assigned to it. This has something to do with Jeanne de Salzmann's repeated insistence on making an effort to see our lack.

Any kind of personal remorse or self-pity in regard to this question is entirely beside the point. To suffer means to fully take in the world and what we are, without judging ourselves, but in truthful seeing of ourselves.

Higher emotions do not assume the personal aspect that ordinary emotion does. Anyone who spends any length of time in legitimate self observation ought, without too much difficulty, to be able to see "how one is" in an ordinary emotional state, unless they are just a plain old dunderhead. Thus, all this talk about how difficult self-observation is is nonsense. Ordinary self-observation is, as Ouspensky and his fellow seekers discovered, pretty straightforward. It's a collecting of facts on this level.

There's a great danger of getting stuck in this technical aspect of the work and swirling around in it for years, thinking that the routine observation of how I am is going to teach me something new. This may well trap me in an interesting but ultimately fruitless psychological analysis of my state, rather than a transformational intuition.

Higher emotions are unmistakable and have very little to do with ordinary emotions, our own ego-based perceptions of ourselves, or the little miseries we endure. This is why they are called higher emotions. Although we are born into and live within a personalized universe (in many senses, of our own making) phenomena that emanate from higher levels have an unambiguously depersonalized nature that can't be mistaken for what we are in our ordinary state. One could go on at some length about how this relates to all the ideas of abandonment of the ego and so on, but perhaps that's not so useful.

What is left to understand is that there is a clear distinction between all of what is ordinary and everything that comes from God. All of us, as far as I can see, are habitually prone to mistaking the ordinary for the extraordinary, confusing them, mixing them in every possible way, and above all believing we know much more than we actually do about these matters.

These are grave errors, but we all commit them–I am no exception–and I suppose this is a fact we just have to live with as we stumble onwards in our individual works.

May our prayers be heard.

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