Sunday, October 28, 2012
Oh, dear. There's something wrong there, isn't it? Everything in me is being driven by urges or extracted by force. I think that the ego generally deals with these issues this way, don't you?
While I was on a retreat recently, one of the questions I pondered was the question of respect, and exactly what it means. This pondering came up because I was treated by another individual, a power possessing being who supposedly has some kind of authority (I don't see much of it, though others firmly claim to) disrespectfully.
I spent time and money to go work with others, and in general, the idea of working with others, at least in my narrow little universe, involves compassion and respect for the other. Not snotty and outright dismissive remarks coming from people of supposedly meaningful spiritual status, of which I saw more than a few over that weekend.
Don't these people, I asked myself, know they will have to stand before God at the end of their lives and answer for this kind of behavior? Sometimes I think people in spiritual works assume that because of their imaginary elevated status they will get some kind of a hall pass from God, a little slip of paper that will let them off from their sins. People in positions of authority begin to dream, inevitably, that their authority is real. This disease spares no victims.
Anyway, what is respect? I asked myself that because I was trying to understand whether what took place was actually disrespectful, or just a set of my own egoistic reactions. To be sure, it's very possible that both were in operation.
The word respect means to look back. That's its literal meaning; to go over something again, to reconsider it. Of course, we don't necessarily understand it in exactly that way; it often manifests as some kind of deference, or even a fawning belief, in the case of some person of authority, that they are higher than us.
I think respect first has to stand its own ground. If it fears or demands, it isn't respectful. If it is anything, it is examination; and examination need not fear or demand, because the impulse in examination is to see, not to be afraid, or to want.
I do recall that in the moment when I felt the person who spoke to me didn't have the proper amount of respect, I saw the situation. I didn't fear him; but probably, there was something in me that demanded he do better than he did. So in fact I was in the grip of a reaction, no doubt, and it repercussed through me for several days. But the place of respect — looking back — is a different question, and I find that for me it's actually grounded in the action of compassion, not just seeing.
It's just like the question of sensation — these things are not unrelated. You can sense all you want. You can sense everything in your body. But this isn't enough. You could sense totally and be stupid and lack compassion; what good would that do you? You could be incredibly intelligent and lack compassion — and what good again would that do?
In each case, being a man with all the great powers of a perfect Fakir or all the great powers of a perfect Yogi, if you lack compassion, your capacity for destructive action is enormous. And there are many people and authorities who develop significant amounts of inner power without having the requisite amount of compassion needed to use them intelligently. Yes, intelligently. Because compassion is a form of intelligence.
When one looks back, when one sees, when one ponders and considers carefully, not in the sense of inner considering, but in the sense of evaluating and discriminating, one eventually comes to see a person or situation from many points of view. And in this insertion of the self into the multiple points of view, one sees how confused and fearful and discriminating we all are. This arouses, if it's rightly sensed, a compassion. So respect is, above all, compassionate, because it does not condemn or judge the other, it recognizes our congruently. It acknowledges our quality.
As I consider it carefully, looking at a photograph of my teacher Betty Brown, who watches me all day long from the one-inch margins of a little picture frame at the edge of my desk, I recognize that she had respect. It wasn't that she didn't come down very hard on me; in fact, she did things to me that were much more anguishing and terrifying in an inner sense than anything that was done to me over the past weekend. But she always did it compassionately, that is, with love; and when we know each other well, we can do that.
But the myth of the other, the complete stranger, who walks into the room with magical powers and instantly knows us?
They say Gurdjieff was like that. Maybe he was. But I have never met anyone in the Gurdjieff work that was truly like that; I've just met people who thought they were, and in the end, I've watched more than a few of them do damage to those around them because they were arrogant, in the end, and didn't actually act with compassion or respect.
Over the years, those of us who work in a certain way have developed the capacity to love one another in a different sense; and we all recognize, collectively, our inability. How much more sensitive this is, how much more sensitive it is becoming, than an organization where there are leaders or followers, slaves and masters, sheep to be shorn by those who think they are good with scissors.
I must say that this particular retreat benefited me enormously. I came up with a whole new appreciation and valuation of all of those generous and wonderful souls who have respected me and tolerated my manifestations, even though they've often been of a lower than necessary quality. We may all be idiots; but if we have to be idiots, let's be compassionate ones. If we don't start there, we are all doomed.
The two principles that struck me as being essential for understanding coming out of this experience were first, everyone else first. That is, I should make an effort to see everyone else as coming before me, and defer to them constantly, in order to remind my ego that it is a small thing. Second, above all do no harm. Each truly (or, even marginally) conscious action should be informed to the extent that I see it will not harm the other. I should not harm myself; and I should not harm my fellow man. My verbal cruelties and my impulses are often harmful; I need to see how I am in every moment so that I regulate these matters and do not express them.
These are practical and intimate practices. When Gurdjieff called such practice "non-expression of negative emotion," I think he used a term more suited to the Victorian sensibilities of his Ouspenskian pupils, than any language we can understand today. The concept, today, would most likely be called mindfulness, and I think that many Buddhists are perhaps a bit better at practicing this than people in the Gurdjieff work.
They have a deep wish to understand this need for compassion. We could learn from them.
I respectfully hope you will take good care.