Bowl with central fish motif
Iran, 13th century
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
I was left with a reverberating series of impressions of the remnants of ancient civilizations; thousands of objects, fragments of existence, bits and pieces of things that touched millions of lives on their way through time—including my own.
The journey of these objects through time is not over yet; and every life that created them, almost all of the lives that they have touched, are over. Almost everyone associated with them has died.
A little later, standing outside the Gurdjieff foundation with a paper cup of espresso in my hand. It's late afternoon; a balmy spring day, over 70°, a rare temperature on this side of March in New York. Looking up, on the corner of 63rd St. and Lexington Avenue, twenty or more stories up, far over everyone's heads (and few heads are turned upward here) sunlight is falling in soft rose and yellow on the elegant and distinctively ecclesiastical architecture.
This moment sinks into me. I am deeply impressed by the quality of this life, these impressions; the people I encounter, the circumstances I inhabit. More often than not, the external parts of me are critical or perhaps even disdainful; yet the inner part, the one that has the capacity for seeing life with feeling, sees that there is an enormous generosity in everything that is received.
This life is given generously; its capacity for receiving objects, events, circumstances, and conditions is very nearly unfathomable. One could speak of all the invisible forces around us; yet we are given senses beyond the eyes that can sense the invisible, so we see things not just with the literalism of our vision, but with an inner vision that extends to the limits of the universe we can see in the night sky.
Taking in this impression, I ask myself what I deserve. Do I deserve to be here, seeing the sun fall on this building in this way? I haven't earned it. It is freely given, along with this life which I examine. Do I appreciate that?
What kind of effort do I make to understand myself and this world?
In reality, despite a perpetual belief in my own entitlement, I don't “deserve” anything. I've been given an extraordinary abundance in this life, far more than anything I can earn, because I am so much smaller than the forces which create me. Really, they hardly need me—there are 7 billion or more humans like me out there—so I am disposable, dispensable.
Yet even in the midst of my objective nothingness, I'm called to be present to the circumstances around me. I didn't arise casually; the planet has spent billions of years working to produce beings with the capacities that this life has. I'm responsible to that; how do I fulfill the conditions that gave rise to me by honoring the impressions which reach me?
What does it mean to understand something? It may not be an understanding of the mind; the body understands things that the mind cannot, and the feelings understand things that neither body nor mind can fathom. Each one of them has a separate capacity for its own understanding, an invisible process that, once made visible, no longer conveys quite what it was that happened. The process is miraculous; intimate, sacred, a process that belongs only to and within the life of a single individual, and forms a covenant between that individual and God.
In its entirety, that covenant consists of an entire life. No other but God can never know the whole content of that covenant with a man or woman.
Perhaps the greatest mistake we make is that we think of life as property, as something that we own. We need to become more aware of the fact that we only have it on loan; we must take good care of it, because in the end, there is an accounting.
I respectfully hope you will take good care.