Mithraic cult statuary, Ostia Antica, Italy
photograph by the author, 2001
One of the most amazing things about Mr. Gurdjieff was how incredibly simple and pragmatic he was. Anyone who reads Views from the Real World will pick up on how straightforward his comments to people were. There was no BS allowed; and that in a BS world. Human beings began by worshipping the bull; now we worship its crap.
The point, I think, is that all of us make things far too complicated. Simple ideas, like the idea that many things aren't in and of themselves bad—that we make them bad with our attitudes—escape us, because they are so straightforward and go directly to the heart of the question.
No one wants to go there anymore. In the modern cult of the self, the public admission that one is wrong has fallen very far out of favor.
This morning, my wife and I were discussing the subject of making things bad, and she wanted to go to the root of it. I suppose this may be interesting, but we know already that the root of this habit is fear. That is a huge question, a global and universal question, and we are unlikely to be able to come to grips with something that massive in our day-to-day life. We can, however, see when we are trying to make things bad by applying a mechanical attitude to them.
For myself, I can tell you that I get up every day with a tremendous amount of resistance to everything. I don't want to work; I don't want to get out of bed, because I'm still tired. I could think of 100 things I have negative attitudes about without trying too hard.
I have to muster my forces to surmount these 100 different kinds of making things bad before I even get to breakfast. Some of them win; some of them don't. The fact is that I have to fight this battle because I am not a good person. it doesn't mean I'm not a valuable person, or that I have low self-esteem; it means that I am essentially sinful, in a habitual part that resists the inflow, the divine contact with God.
In a way, the worse one is, the better it is for one's work. If you are a truly horrible person, and you learn to go against it constantly, you are engaged in a much more serious effort than someone who isn't so bad and doesn't have to try so hard. It is the measurement of our going against the bad within us, the tendency to destroy, that determines how good we are. Good is always only measured in proportion to bad, and if there is a lot of bad, and one pushes back at it hard, this is a lot already.
It's difficult to explain the exact difference between thinking one is a bad person and going against the sin in oneself. They aren't the same thing at all; and I don't know how to explain this very accurately using words. The bottom line is that one has to come in touch with the area in the deepdown where one is in essential touch with the divine spark that creates one's being. From this point, a quality can emanate that suffuses the being and gives us the ability to choose the good. But we have to come into contact with it first; and that is suffering, because we don't really like being in contact with something greater than ourselves. It is that exact point — that we don't like it — upon which the question turns. Our desire is to turn away from God; and this is why Gurdjieff said our non-desires must prevail over our desires.
The good has to be chosen; and this is what we are passive about.
We want quick fixes. We want slogans, philosophies, and complicated explanations for everything. The simple, direct, and unembarrassed actions that alone could help us — the admission of how we are — are both too painful and too obvious to be bothered with. Recovering alcoholics will know what I mean; the whole point of Alcoholics Anonymous (an organization which Peggy Flinsch, as I have pointed out before, thought was real, far more real, and in many ways, than our various safe, polite little parlor groups of inner studies) is to bring us right up against the simple realities.
We have to, as alcoholics, see exactly what we are, and not squirm away from it; and we have to go against it quite directly, using simple tools, in every moment of every day. An alcoholic in recovery who makes it last and succeeds in staying away from the bottle will be able to tell you exactly how this is; but the majority of students of inner work, because they haven't come up against a life-and-death struggle (or, that is, they don't think they have, even though the struggle for being is exactly that kind of struggle, and fought on much more treacherous territory) are like alcoholics that want to go to meetings and stand up and admit that they are alcoholics, but then sneak out for a drink as soon as the meeting is over.
The simple action of seeing how one makes things bad through one's attitude on a moment to moment basis can bring one to a sense of oneself that one has never seen before.
I can personally recommend it.
May your soul be filled with light.