Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Technique and Consequences

Broadly speaking, in writing about inner work, we find bodies of material that speak about techniques, and bodies that speak about consequences. Sometimes they blend; but the principal interest in the Gurdjieff work is often one of technique, because we are focused on “how” to develop our inner lives, not on why one might do so.

My recent series of essays has taken, in broad measure, a look at consequences, because one needs to know where inner work is aimed and why one undertakes it in the first place.  It brings us back to the original question that caused me to start writing this blog. I've always been pretty open about the fact that I study the Gurdjieff method; and what I tell this to people who have never heard of it, they often ask me, “What do you do that for?” I think, actually, that it's a reasonable question, but every time someone asks it, the vast number of reasons that I “do” what I do seem impossible to recount. Five years of writing essays about it proves that impression out.

 Man has a thirst for knowing why we are here, and what we are up to on this planet. This is part of the “why.” Now, it's true, there is a paucity of contemporary explanation in the Gurdjieff work; aside from Gurdjieff's masterful Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson,  and the darker Victorian sediments of In Search of The Miraculous, not much is explained, and the overwhelming emphasis on technique in the Gurdjieff Work, both in its personally exchanged form and in subsequent literature, is evident. Aside from that, what we have is mostly anecdotes about Gurdjieff, and how it was working with him. These purport to convey a taste of what the master was like, but that is the past.  Everything about it ends up being cryptic, and Gurdjieff cannot be resurrected.

We can't afford to make the world too technical—and inner work cannot be made too technical either, or it dies. To be technical means to apply techniques, to have a predetermined formulation, a predetermined understanding. In so much of what we do, we admit that we lack of understanding, and yet then we try to develop understanding through technique, and apply it in a technical way, to reach a place which we already know we don't understand.

 The irony of this is lost on most of us. We talk about a living, breathing work, conducted within the moment, but then we try to use boilerplate to create that work. What ought be continual investigation—the investment within a situation, being clothed by the situation—becomes rote. What ought be improvisational becomes predetermined, according to a set of rules which may not even apply to the moment in question.

This is one way in which the habits of ordinary life take over our work and run it, without us even suspecting that it's so. Freedom is not a technique; it's a state of Being. So there is no technical approach to freedom. Freedom arises in, and as a gift solely from, God. Any freedom we create for ourselves is just another version of slavery.

 There is, of course, a freedom that arises from ourselves, but it arises in us. It is not created by us; our belief that we can "do" is what makes us believe we can manufacture an inner state of freedom.

 When I write about consequences, I do so because in my eyes this gets away, in some measure, from all the emphasis on techniques. We are interested in where we are going, aren't we? Yet so few of us consider ourselves empowered to look at the road ahead and describe it. Perhaps that's because understanding is lacking; it's evident, one without a good understanding cannot give a good explanation, and perhaps we all fear that our understanding is poor. It is; even spiritual geniuses such as Al Arabi and Meister Eckhart recognized and perhaps even emphasized the inevitable limitations of man's understanding.

 This does not excuse us from the effort to know. It's true that we need to know with parts of ourselves other than just the mind; and it's also true that we need to understand the consequences of inner work just as much as we understand technique. There is a hunger in us to understand, else we would never begin to seek ourselves, and a higher principle, in the first place.

Gurdjieff cited the third obligolnian striving as "The conscious striving to know ever more and more about laws of world-creation and world-maintenance.” 

If our work does not, in the end, cause us to shed light on the great questions of mankind, why bother?

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

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