Sultan Ahmed Mosque, interior
Photograph by the author
We live, as Robert Bly pointed out, in The Sibling Society; yet we fail to see that a great deal of attitude in inner work is either childish or adolescent.
Bosch did an excellent job of outlining this in the tantric circle of his painting of the Adoration of the Magi in the Metropolitan Museum in new york; the first two kings we encounter express attitudes of exactly this kind. And this is where the problem begins: we think we’re kings. It isn’t until our inner Being is stripped of these fine royal trappings and brought to its knees (again, see the interpretation of the painting) that we begin to understand anything real.
Adolesence in inner work is marked by an attachment to individuals rather than the ideas themselves. It is, of course, a double edged sword, marked by either a blind acceptance or a blind rejection of outer authority- as is typical of adolescents. The correct position in regard to authority, an adult position- measured objectively and without overt attachment- is a rarity. What we get instead is cults of personality, which I have encountered over and over again in the Gurdjieff work. Almost every single one of them has, so far as I can see, been relatively crippling in one way or another to the work of the individuals who signed on to them; yet they persist. There’s a peculiar human wish to recapitulate the myth of the hero by finding a heroic Teacher; we all have this subliminal, and profoundly misleading, urge. Each time we follow it we betray the search for our own inner master, the deputy steward or steward of Ouspensky’s rather old-fashioned, but accurate, summary in In Search of the Miraculous.
If you want to see the real teachers around you, look for the people you don’t like.
Adolescence is equally marked by the desire to pretend to be grown up while leaning on or taking from others. To grow up is to take risks; to leave the safety of the known, to see that no one else has the inner answers I need for myself.
Another feature of this inner adolescence is a certain kind of self- involved narcissim. It manifests as retreating into one’s self and hiding from the world; for example, taking on heroic meditation efforts, going on retreats in which one actually does retreat, instead of working in life (which is what the Gurdjieff work is actually all about), etc.
Speaking as one who knows a bit more than the average person about religious bliss, bliss is no answer. If you think you can hide inside yourself in a heavenly haven of nothingness and call it work, you’re welcome to do so, but be forewarned this in no way answers the much deeper calling we are expected to strive for in inner work. Bliss is only for those who want to get off the train at that stop. It is, I’ll admit, a lovely place. But it is not, as it were, Grand Central Station. Children and teenagers seek bliss; adults seek challenges.
To stand between is to suffer. This isn’t a work where we seek happiness. We seek consciousness; and while consciousness contains bliss, this is far from all it contains.
May your soul be filled with light.