Plate depicting a woman playing a tambourine
Turkey, Iznik, Ottoman period, ca. 1600
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
I think we can all agree it's clear that we don't value things rightly. If we take a look around ourselves, we see that we systematically destroy not only individuals, societies, and even the very ecosystems we depend on to survive, we also destroy relationships—and, as those of us recovering from addiction will attest, even ourselves.
This is because our valuation has no gravity. It's established in our external self, our personality—not our essence. And we don't understand that right inner valuation, a sense of the self as an organism, is in fact essential if anything else at all is to be rightly valued.
How much, for example, do we value our inner work? Not much. The way I forget myself is an old story; I talk about it a lot, as though it were a casual matter, good for reporting. I bring it to meetings and discuss it with others so that I will have a picture to hang on my wall, something to chat about. The sense of urgency? It's not there. I don't see that life is slipping away, that the sand is running through the hourglass, and that there is only one urgent matter to clarify.
If I don't clarify that one urgent matter of who I am, inside, in myself, in my essence, I will never value anything properly . We may say the words, “I am,” but the words are very nearly meaningless, a robotic action. The words “who am I?” are the ones that have the motive force. No amount of “I am” will go anywhere if it exists only within the inertia of my personality.
Hence the emphasis on establishing a right connection with the body. The body, at least, has a better sense of the fact that it exists than my mind does. There is nothing abstract about having the lawful requirements of chewing food, breathing air, and excreting imposed upon it. It knows it will die. The rest of me, I might well argue, doesn't. Or, at least, doesn't consider this fact significant enough to render any action necessary.
This one urgent matter is a matter of wholeness, of sensing that thread that runs through one's Being. There is something; we are. And all of our wish, all of the longing and caring that we taste in ourselves for a return to something more real, more vital, more true, stems from an echo of this urgent matter, ringing through all the accreted layers of ego and our personality, rising up from a source so deep and so ancient that we have forgotten its name.
Yet we still recognize its tone.
As long as I don't care, as long as I don't value rightly, as long as I don't sense the absolute vitality of this thread that runs through me, nothing goes anywhere. This should be a question that I wake up with every morning, and a question that follows me through every minute of every day.
At a certain point, it's time to stop fooling around. The intellectual, the philosophical, the psychological games must end. And I need to use the very critical faculties that Gurdjieff referred to in his aphorism to see that. The critical faculty is there to dress down this tendency to think a lot with one part. Thinking needs to take place actively in all three parts; yes, the body can think, and the emotions can think. When they do, a great deal of the nonsense that gets bantered about is put to rest.
Instead of fooling around, I need to live. To directly inhabit my life. This isn't a question of analyzing my parts, of cataloging the various aspects of my personality, or reaching conclusions (which I have learned to disguise as "questions") about how I am this way or that way. Forms, disciplines, and literature may all give me a context for believing that that's the aim of inner work, but it isn't. The aim of inner work is to live—to be alive. Artificial constructions of the mind aren't going to achieve that.
So there is this one urgent matter: to live. To inhabit life. What animates me? What animates my wish? What am I going to do today—what am I going to do now—to remember to live?
I respectfully hope you will take good care.