Tuesday, May 7, 2013

impulse and preference

 Gurdjieff famously said, "like what it does not like."

But what is it? And what does it not like?

"It" is our mechanical impulse. Impulse arises from ego; and ego wants for its self. If one spends any time watching the way one behaves in an inner sense, one sees that there is a constant movement towards the satisfaction of ego. It manifests itself in thousands of different ways during the day; and each one of them, if carefully examined, is selfish. Impulse, left to its own motivations, almost always moves one in the direction of ego-satisfaction; a disregard for the other, in favor of regard for one's own preferences.

What the ego does not like, above all, is unselfish action — action that goes against the impulse of ego. So when we say, "like what it does not like," what we are essentially saying is that one should develop a preference for unselfish action.

This sounds like a noble cause of some kind; and it could be construed that way. But it's much more personal than going out and doing good for others in a public or community sense. What it involves is seeing one's own selfishness in every moment and action, and being acutely and uncompromisingly aware of it; uncomfortably aware of it, even agonizingly aware of it. The idea here is that one must develop a comprehensive awareness of the way that ego acts as a lever for almost every personal situation. One must see this over and over.

It's good to see this; and it takes a certain amount of organic presence and effort. But it is not enough to just see it. One must learn to say no.

This is more or less what a stop exercise is all about, in an inner sense. One says to one's impulses, one's mechanical ego manifestations, "stop." One does not do this in a violent manner; but one does it firmly, intelligently, deliberately. There needs to be an effort that takes a certain kind of strength of will that overcomes these impulses, over and over again. Of course, will isn't strong enough in us to overcome these impulses in general; we are going to blurt out angry things, feel frustrated by the fact that we aren't getting our way, and so on. Yet we need to keep exercising our attention to go against these things that happen which we don't like — these things which impact our selfish and egoistic impulses.

One must learn to say no over and over again, all day long. Because the ego is a dominant force, it needs to be refused frequently and reminded constantly that it is not the center of the universe. This intimate inner action is something that needs to be practiced over a lifetime; and the ego needs to be recruited, through training of this kind, to a new kind of patience—obedience, if you will— that can tolerate being held to heel on a leash. We develop inner strength by liking unselfish action; by going against our lower nature. Our lower nature isn't defined by the material quality of our sins; there is nothing inherently sinful about sexuality, or eating, or having an emotion. It is the relationship of that materiality to ego-satisfaction that becomes a problem — it's essentially selfish in nature. One might, if one wishes, put it in terms of Buddhism, and say that it is our attachment to it — yet that does seem to absolve us of responsibility, somehow. And we are responsible.

True responsibility consists of unselfishness. The response to our ego impulses, our mechanical wish to satisfy ourselves, must be to say no — to say no is to acquire responsibility. In a sense, we need to learn how to say no, and to like saying no. Our satisfaction needs to come from going against ourselves, not in order to punish ourselves, but just because we are able to say no to ourselves.

 One of the best places to learn how to do this, at least initially, is in battling an addiction like alcoholism — a task I undertook for myself over 30 years ago. This kind of task never ends; and once one learns that one can say no to an addictive habit, one begins to discover that one can say no to many different things, all of which are impulses that do not edify one's Being.

 This idea of unselfishness is tied to morality. Unselfishness is essentially moral; devotion to God and one's fellow man is a higher calling by far than devotion to oneself. Only in the surrender and the dissolution of oneself can one begin to discover the deep blessings and Grace of unselfishness; and these deep blessings, along with the nearly limitless Grace that flows from an increase in unselfish action, are abundant.

It seems like an appropriate place to remind readers of the ideas I offered in the concentration of being, an earlier post.

 May your soul be filled with light.

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