Friday, October 19, 2012

An Extraordinary Sorrow


Today marks the first anniversary of my sister Sarah's death.

 This may seem like a morbid note; but morbidity per se is not on my mind. Last Friday, we hosted a Parabola event at the Orchard House cafĂ©; editor Tracy Cochran and I told some of our personal "ghost stories," which, although they contain elements of the paranormal, really serve as indicators that we don't know much about this life, and the nature of living and existence itself. As Mme. de Salzmann said, "there is no death," and although we are, of a certainty, unable to understand this fully, there are tastes of it from time to time.

 It does not, by the way, taste like pumpkin.

The question of death always brings me back to my search for God. Ever since I was a child, I was terrified of death. The idea that I could somehow stop being and not exist any more seemed monstrous. Later in life, after some years in the Gurdjieff work, my group leader Henry Brown — a  very quiet and truly extraordinary man who never would have called himself a teacher, although he certainly was one, for me — told me that he, also, had once been afraid of death, but that as he grew older, he realized that it represented a great hope.

I move a bit closer to that. But I move closer to it not through any certain knowledge; in fact, I move closer to it through unknowing.  And that unknowing is suffused with an extraordinary sorrow.

 I've brought this question up before; and yet, it is impossible to understand the difference between extraordinary sorrow and the ordinary sorrow we experience at the death of a loved one, except to know that the ordinary sorrow may — may — serve as a touchstone that, if contemplated long enough, and deep enough in the soul, bring us to this extraordinary sorrow, but only then if the grace of God allows it. Only then. This is because, as the author of the quote points out, nothing but the grace of God can bring us the true sorrow which is needed to expiate sins of the soul.

Much of Gurdjieff's teaching was aimed, ultimately, at the expiation of sin, although he never put it in quite those terms. He didn't need to; for those who listen, his allegories and admonitions will suffice. A diligent practice of the teaching leads a man relentlessly in the direction of an understanding that the influences in him are destructive; and, as is framed within what might be called the climactic chapter of Beelzebub's tales to His Grandson (insofar as the book has a climax) a man must purify himself: live through both the transcendent pleasures and the unbearable anguish of the Holy Planet Purgatory. Gurdjieff's understanding of the need for purification was so profound that there is even a specific movement (Multiplication number 1) that illustrates it in detail, for those who know how to understand the language.

 Gurdjieff's emphasis on the materiality of sin caused him to assign its origins to a physical organ (kundabuffer) rather than a psychological aberration, underscoring the concrete nature of these otherwise abstract concepts, and the need for an organic, that is, systemic, understanding of the need to become whole and cleanse oneself. The idea of intentional suffering is intimately tied to this question, as it is to the material drawn from The Cloud of Unknowing in the quote at the above link.

 Perhaps this seems to stray a long way from the death of a family member, but one can't encompass grief without understanding its place in life; and one can't wrestle with an understanding of life unless one comes to terms with grief.

Grief, a necessary emotion, is a name of God belonging to the lower orders, no matter how rightfully intense it becomes. Perhaps this is why the Masters (Meister Eckhart comes to mind) emphasized so thoroughly why the terrible things that happen to us, and the consequent emotions, are nothing more than a Grace sent by God to help us.

 Ah, but I resist this so!  When terrible things happen, I would rather blame God than love Him. I worry more about the clothes Mercy is wearing than its action. And as long as my attitude is like this, how will I know Mercy if it comes? We say, Lord have Mercy, but we truly know not what we ask for. Mercy does not always come dressed as a rich man; more often, She comes in the form of a beggar.

For as long as I rely on appearances, I may not know Her when she comes.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.




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