Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why do we work?

Stained Glass
Grace Church, Nyack, NY
Dr. Welch was just about famous for opening up meetings with one of two questions: either “why do we work?” or “Why don't we work?”

 There are many answers for these questions. Everyone will come up with a different angle on it. Today, what strikes me is the fact that we work on behalf of those older than ourselves. We work, as it were, in three lines: we work for ourselves, we work for our community, and we work for the universe at large as servants of God.

These three lines exist within each context as well. When we work for ourselves, we work for the "I" that is currently manifesting, all of the "I's" that form our inner community, and on behalf of the higher self. And so on.

In the context of work for the universe at large, we must understand this question in light of the statement that Mme. de Salzmann made at the beginning of the Movements film from the 1980s which is, regrettably, not available to the general public.

As she put it, nothing stays in one place. Everything is always going up or down. One cannot, in other words, tread water in this life. There are no placeholders, no holding patterns, no cruise control. One has only two choices: one can work, and have the hope of holding things up, or fail to work, and watch, as it is said, "everything go down."

 The merciless Heropass, Time, manifests itself specifically through the action of entropy, that is, the tendency for everything to lose its energy and become more disordered. All of material reality is engaged in the struggle to counteract this force, which is, as the name implies, merciless and relentless. Even the hero cannot survive its onslaught.

Perhaps the name tells us something as it is. Heroes are heroes, whether they are triumphant or not. What characterizes heroism is effort in the face of overwhelming odds, courage when all hope seems to be lost. And if there is a call that has been issued to us in this life, it is to get up in the morning from the moment we awaken and work without rest until the moment we go back to sleep; to work on every line, in every direction, in every way we can bring ourselves to it, to go against the forces of entropy and keep things from going down. This work must be both inner and outer work. An unflagging devotion to effort.

This means we are responsible for working even when we are weary and want to give up. We are especially responsible for working when it seems as though our work is going nowhere and it's hopeless; the moment when everything seems impossible is what defines real work.

The hero redoubles his efforts even when it seems certain the cause is lost. Hence Jeanne de Sazlmann's admonition that we must, in our work, attempt to do the impossible.

We must support everyone, do everything. There has to be an inner attitude of responsibility that, as Mr. Gurdjieff put it, allows a man's efforts to sustain ten other people.

This doesn't mean working with fanaticism, or working with tension. And it doesn't mean we won't feel negative about the effort in our service at times. The tension will come; we must see it and go against it as best we can. The negativity will come; we have to see it, allow it to express itself, suffer that part of ourselves—the unwilling servant, who in the face of all the grace and beauty that has been given to him, still shirks his tasks and resents his work—and after we see it and give it its due, we need to move on.

Before Betty Brown, my teacher, died, in the last year for life, she felt quite weary. She said, “you know, my whole life has been one of work. I have always had to work, and work, and work.”

She never gave up. Even when she was tottering down the hallway at the extended care facility for elderly people that she ended her life in, she was making efforts to have an attention between the door of her apartment and the elevator.

There were tendencies in the other direction in her. We all have them. But we have to stand straight and shine our eyes at the sun, remember that we have a responsibility and a task to help the universe so that things do not go down. We are all warriors enlisted in the fight against entropy. In this battle, one is either for the forces that build or against them.

There is no middle ground.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.