Friday, April 20, 2012

What ought to be done about it?

 One of the introductory features of group work in the Gurdjieff organization has often been the assignment of "tasks" by group leaders.

What is the point of a task?

Well, I remember my early years in the work, when every week, there was a task. I recall year after year of sitting in groups and listening to people talk about how they did do the task, they didn't do the task, they did it a little, a lot, saw this, that, and the other thing, etc..

A great deal of it, in my admittedly feeble recollection, revolved around what ended up being psychological analysis of how we thought we were, and what ought to be done about it.

This question of thinking that we can do is insidious. We think we can do. That's just a fact. If we walk about saying, in parrot-like fashion, “Man cannot do,” all it does is leave a little fog on the surface of our mirror, which quickly evaporates. In reality, ego and personality are firmly and absolutely convinced they can do. It's only in their "dropping-off" absence that the idea can finally disappear.

So here we are, locked within this rigid concept of doing. Perhaps it makes sense to just relax and understand that we are stuck in this box, inhabit it, and see how we try to do. One might suggest that that's the real point of tasks; in a task, where one is asked to do this, that, or the other thing, the point has nothing to do with doing the task. My heretical proposition—here it comes, be prepared to be outraged—is that focusing the attention on a particular point, which is allegedly the aim of many (if not all) tasks, isn't the point at all.

Even the effort to focus the attention stems from the belief that we can do. And, as I've pointed out in other posts, focusing the attention from the perspective of ego and personality (which is the only place it can emanate from under the circumstances) is an ersatz kind of attention, a faux attention which may, with luck and under the right circumstances, attract something real, but which is generally just one more gesture of futility in the midst of a sea of complementary work-induced delusions.

 What, then, is the aim of a task? (Yes, I know that I have asked this question twice.)

Tasks have nothing to do with being able to do anything. They are simply a prearranged set of conditions to inhabit. It's the inhabitation of conditions that is the aim; and perhaps we might suggest that this inhabitation of conditions—which does not presume the ownership of anything so lofty as a "real" attention—is an invocation of Presence. I actually liked this word more—and certainly, it is in vogue, having been firmly minted in chapter after chapter of The Reality of Being.

 No, we aren't able to do. But Presence, a quality that trickles down from a higher level, can manifest, because it has a different quality than our ordinary self, that is, the routine ego-self under all the laws of this level.

Presence comes under the laws of a different level. Essence and the thread of being I have spoken of many times over the last six months are connected to this understanding. It affirms possibilities outside the Devil's triangle of our day to day life, where every vessel of consciousness we launch seems to quietly disappear over the horizon, never to be seen again. Or it hits an emotional iceberg, and goes the way of the Titanic, accompanied by spectacular uproar.

This point of Presence can be a useful one. We may be able, with some sensitivity, to see that it exists on a sliding scale, that is, there can be more or less of it. It's not an either/or proposition; it is a quality of assistance that arrives in varying measures. And it can encourage us to be gentle in our efforts, rather than hammering away at them with an intellectual fanaticism that serves nothing and no one.

Tasks have nothing to do with doing the task. They are always about seeing how we are. It brings us  back to this essential question: who am I? The moment of a task is the moment where I have made an appointment with myself to come back to myself and ask myself, who am I? Not, how can I do the task, am I doing the task, did I do the task? It's pointless to focus on that. The task is simply a framework within which to ask a question.

 We presume that as we grow older and have many years of experience, we don't need these little frameworks anymore. Ah, yes! We have evolved. Well, maybe,—and maybe not. Perhaps we have just grown complacent. Any older person will see enough of that in themselves to become rather suspicious, if they spend any time looking. As a general rule, the more confident we are about our inner work, the less we are probably working.

The whole aim of the process is to eventually reach a point where inner work is alive enough that it is always there in the corner, keeping an eye on things. It becomes the motive force for everything we do, if enough energy of presence animates our Being.

With or without the consciousness of self, mind you, everything gets done anyway—life goes on inside us and outside is whether we are there for it or not. But it is the being there for it that represents the manifestation of Presence, of Being—and each manifestation of Presence and Being, incremental though they may be, represents a moment of service.

Every moment of service is a moment in which valuation assumes a right orientation.

So, you see, all of these ideas are firmly connected and intricately woven into a web. Starting with something as rote and seemingly idiotic as a task of one kind or another, over the years, our understanding of working begins to assemble itself into a seamless whole where everything fits together. My old group leader Henry Brown often used to sit in front of the group, make a spherical shape with his hands, and remark that it astonished him to continually discover that the work was a whole thing.

It is astonishing. We live on a broken planet, in broken societies, within broken selves—and yet, everything is whole. The Dharma is still there. Christ is still manifest.

 This means that no matter how bad outward conditions may seem—and, we can be assured, they are going to take a great turn for the worse, given the Armageddon that overpopulation is aiming us towards—there is still hope.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to an inner work must keep working, because part of the responsibility for that hope rests directly in every heart that beats with a thirst for God.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.


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  2. We always called those tasks "Convincers", because the purpose of the task was never to "DO" them, but instead to verify for ourselves how fragile a hold we have over what we call "Our Will", which is of course ludicrous.

    We have no will and are semi-somnabulant almost the entire period of what we call pour "waking hours".
    If only they really "waking hours" instead of being hours when we assume ands think that we ARE awake, perhaps we would come to something. Instead we are vertical, able to move on our vehicles of motion (legs), wave our arms around and grasp at our "desires" or "hatreds", and barely if ever do we consider that we might just be under a spell.

    A Holy Man was asked who got to God quicker, the devout or the criminal and the Holy man surprised the questioner with the following answer:
    The devout need seven lives to reach God; the criminal needs three lives to reach God"

    How can this be? Asked the questioner, and the Holy Man replied, the devout man thinks of God some of the time; whereas the criminal thinks of God ALL the time. As Gurdjieff said, The devil can lead you directly to heaven; God can lead you directly to hell.

    Oh what an uproar that caused!


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