Sunday, December 11, 2011
Death and the Devil
Death is much on my mind lately. We are so asleep, we rarely remember that we are on a planet, with all of the extraordinary implications that carries. We certainly don't sense our own death: death is a theoretical prospect at best. Oh, we pretend we know death is always near us; but the fragility, the temporary nature, of life is almost invariably unseen.
I'm sick this weekend, which has presented an unpleasant struggle; in the few moments I've felt OK and my fever was down, I've had to run a few brief errands, because my wife Neal isn't at home this weekend. (Lucky me... or, as it happens, lucky her!) Just tonight I was standing in the driveway, in the first real chill air of the winter, looking up at Jupiter- which has been a prominent presence in the night sky of late- and thinking to myself that I won't be here on this planet forever, able to take in that impression.
I felt it in my body.
It gave the impression a weight and value, a taste- an inner sound- that it wouldn't have had without that pithy, organic realization. I'm not here forever.
Getting intimate with the devil can mean, among other things, getting intimate with death. The devil, they say, is in the details; the devil is in my flesh, my bones. These are the details for man. Maybe the "devil" actually is material reality itself: that is certainly the implication we encounter when we see Christ's temptation in the desert. Everything the devil offered him was of this earth, material. Our temptation arises from the carnal; and yet we do not know it well, this flesh of ours, although we are called to.
How often do I dare to truly sense what I am? Not with the mind–that's too easy. Thinkers think about what we are all the time. It is never enough. I mean to sense my existence with my feelings and my body, to truly sense the intensity of vibration that causes flesh, blood, bone and marrow to hang together. The encounter with sensation is, in some cases, an encounter with the presence of death itself. It is also, paradoxically, the encounter with the astral body. The actual sensation of self as a living thing is connected to the astral body, born of what Gurdjieff would have called Hanbledzoin. Sensation actually takes a certain kind of courage; I'd rather turn from it and sleep.
This sensation, as has been explained at length in other essays, is directly connected to breathing. It is almost pointless to engage in any kind of a "breathing exercise” (something astute followers of the Gurdjieff method will know he generally forbade) that does not begin with an understanding that the aim of being attentive to breath is to develop a permanent connection to sensation.
This is where mortality begins. It is also where the inner sense of gravity arises. In the last set of essays, I examined the question of the moon– which helps to anchor us– and the devil, which is the mortal and material expression of life which we must become intimate with in order to know anything about what we are.
Our anchor is not an intellectual premise, and our carnality is not an intellectual premise. Yet without a real inner work, we cannot encounter either one of these forces that regulate our inner solar system.
If these things are just ideas, there have not been enough shocks. Martin Benson points out, in the very fine book “Martin Benson speaks,” that a man cannot actually do anything without shocks. We need to be shocked. We need to be shattered. This is the only way that we may begin to let something new enter us that changes the dire situation we are in.
Benson says you can't go out and get shocks; life needs to deliver them. In my own experience, that's true. We are all far too comfortable, and it is only when we encounter the great shocks that something softens and real forces may begin to penetrate us.
Those are the moments when pondering becomes more than this armchair exercise of the mind, and begins to rest in the sensation of the flesh and the feeling of question, rather than the idea of question.
I'm accustomed to having my mind ask questions. I am good at it. I show off at it when I am around others. Yet the body can also ask questions, and the feeling can also ask questions. These are the questions that need to be brought into the moment, because the questions that the body and the feeling ask are not connected to all of these words, forms, ideas, and concepts.
They are not subject to argument.
In this era when investments go bad everywhere, the one investment that can be relied on is an investment in one's Being. To invest means to clothe, to be clothed in. So we need to invest in our carnality, and our feeling– our inner life, the sensation of ourselves. To be clothed in the sensation of self is the beginning of knowing that one lives, and that one will die. The only way I know that in my mind is as a theory.
This practice of sensing is the one way I know of to begin to understand this question differently.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.