Wednesday, June 6, 2012
In the Service of Being
I've been pondering this since yesterday, while I was browsing through C. S. Nott's Further Teachings of Gurdjieff, in particular, the poignant chapter entitled "The Last Visit to the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man."
In it, he reminds us, “how futile it is to be attached to, identified with houses and land and all the things pertaining to the planetary body which, though necessary, are ephemeral." (p. 72.)
This chapter also contains a description of Gurdjieff and his all-too-human participation in the descent of an outer octave of his life, one in which he suffered enormously. The picture, for me, underscores the man's compassion and his essential humanity, as well as his nearly superhuman efforts to build something real on a level, and on a planet, where the norm is for everything to steadily decay into illusions.
Nothing characterizes humanity so much, on the level of individuals, as the propensity to believe that we are important.
In particular, society as it is arranged today, and has been for many thousands of years, depends on the fact that people think they are significant. We think the politics we engage in is important; we think the way we plunder resources is important. We think our churches, museums, literature, art, and sciences are important. And each one of us is important because we participate in these activities. The more active one is, the more recognized, the more important one is. And the more one “achieves,” the more one's self worth becomes inflated.
This is a dilemma, because one cannot do nothing. A dedication to outward activity is a necessary requirement. Yet this does not truly defined the way in which we are actually important, which relates to the way we take in impressions.
Gurdjieff insisted that a man must first know his own nothingness in order to become anything. As in so many other instances, he turned the cart upside down and left the wheels spinning in the air. What we think we are is pretentious, arrogant; what we might become is unknown. Yet there is a call that comes from the unknown that, no matter how perverted it becomes, leads to all of the expressions we think are important. A paradox? Indeed. I feel it every day. Yet I, like everyone else, am—if my awareness allows me—invested in the irrevocable fact of mortality.
This sobering presence does little to put the brakes on the insanity mankind engages in; sometimes, it seems to press the pedal down harder. Nonetheless, a thinking man or woman can't help but give themselves pause if they sense this question.
The essential fact is that we are here to sense, to perceive. All of the ways in which we think we serve a sacred purpose—mostly in our imagination—are eclipsed by this singleness of purpose, which is a forgotten purpose. The organism has forgotten how to sense and how to perceive. The mind has forgotten how to sense and how to perceive. And as for feeling, well, this finer quality is well-nigh unavailable in ordinary life. Only years of inner work can help bring a person to the point where something of this is sensed.
Gurdjieff's admonition to Ouspensky was to put the attention at the point where impressions enter the body. This is perhaps the axis on which the whole premise of the chemical factory as recounted in In Search of the Miraculous turns. We are here to perceive. We perceive on behalf of something higher. And only to the extent that we perform this task can we feed our organism with anything that might help us acquire Being.
Without an active participation in perception, everything else is conjecture.
Outwardness has an insistence that must be tamed in the service of Being. It can't be tamed through punishment; although many may try this way. Being requires the cooperation of outwardness, not its subjugation. Seeing outwardness—and all of the automatic, unmindful manifestations that accompany it—as the enemy only creates more obstacles. Outwardness can become a support to work, as long as one understands one's own essential nothingness. It's the encounter with outwardness that actually helps create Being. Only our identification with it prevents us from making it a useful factor in this sacred task of perception.
I think what we lack, actually, maybe a right attitude towards outwardness. We're always trying to either be outwardness itself, in an absolute absorption and identification, or trying to push it away and deny it so that we can be "pure."
Yet it isn't the outward form, the world, that contaminates us. It's our relationship to it. And much of the problem with that relationship begins with the fact that we think we are important.
If I want to suffer what I lack, pondering the questions in this piece of territory are a good place to begin.
I respectfully hope you will take good care.