Sunday, January 5, 2014

The essence of choice, part I

This morning, my wife asked me how consciousness relates to intention in Swedenborg's world.

This is an important question. Individuals in the Gurdjieff work use the words intention and consciousness with abandon, often without carefully thinking about them or understanding them. It's easy to adopt these words and repeat them without examining the exact implications.

There is no point in having consciousness or intention without understanding the nature of choice. And there is no point in self-awareness unless one understands its relationship to choice.

Gurdjieff famously said that man is a machine. This piece of information would be more disturbing if we didn't concurrently understand that he said the whole universe is a machine; nothing ever escapes mechanicality in toto, it can only be escaped relative to the level one is on. But this is a subject for another essay.

To be mechanical or to be asleep is to not be self-aware. That is, one acts automatically and without regard for the consequences of one's actions and deeds. 

This type of action is essentially egoistic and selfish. It arises, that is, from what we would call the self, lower case "s." It does not emanate from Eckhart's Divine Self, and it has no capacity for a freedom of choice, because it cannot see that there is a choice between selfish and unselfish action: the only action it sees is the selfish one. Swedenborg made it quite clear that all action derives from an inner intention; and while Gurdjieff did in fact state this, both explicitly and implicitly, Swedenborg went into far more detail in explaining the exact particulars of this issue, which any serious student of his works will already know. The excerpt barely scratches the surface of his comments on the situation.

 The inner intention is essential to choice. Without a self-awareness, that is, an awareness informed by Divine Love and Wisdom, that is, the higher Self, it is impossible to see choice. When choice cannot be seen, all action is mechanical. 

The instant awareness is informed by a higher energy, however, choice becomes the critical issue, since choice involves the expression of the inner in an outer form, or act. At this point, what one chooses determines the nature of one's Being — whether it is unselfish, or heavenly, or selfish, and thus of hell. Hence Gurdjieff's eighth aphorism: If you already know it is bad and do it, you commit a sin difficult to redress. (as published in Views From the Real World)  This statement is directly related to Swedenborg's teachings on the matter, and speaks to the question at hand.

The aim of intention and consciousness is to address this issue. The essence of choice lies in self awareness, which is, in its simple and uncomplicated form, related to consciousness. We often speak of consciousness like it were some overarching lightning bolt of angelic Presence, whereas it is actually a simple matter of knowing where one is and what one is doing. How many times have any of us been in a situation where we saw that an action we were about to take might harm another person, and stayed our hand? Or, equally, in a situation where we didn't see this, did the harm, and then immediately, with a shock, realized that we had done something that was quite inexcusable in the end? 

I believe this moment is familiar to everyone, and it is a direct, hence less complicated, explanation of consciousness, a concept we more often than not snarl up like balls of nylon fishing line.

Consciousness begins with an inner awareness. As Swedenborg explains in the excerpt at some length, all outer action is a functional and essential expression of inner states. He made this point repeatedly and in many different ways, often expounding on the relationship between higher principles such as Love and Wisdom and their organic expression through the neural and physiological anatomy. He and Gurdjieff actually had great consonance on these matters. Swedenborg was, however, a professional scientist with a great deal more depth of learning on anatomy than Gurdjieff, and the things he says about these questions were, like Kierkegaard's philosophy, at a level too sophisticated for the audience of his day. We can come to them now, however, informed by Gurdjieff,  and better understand their implications.

Swedenborg, like Gurdjieff,  saw that outer action (the result of expressing inner intentions) created something permanent (see the Swedenborg excerpt, section 216.) Gurdjieff called this a "sin difficult to redress"— making it quite evident that he saw the question the same way Swedenborg does.

It is our awareness of the choices we make and the way we express the inner outwardly that makes the difference in the growth of our Being. 

Anyone who studies this question will begin to come up against an indelible taste of the lack which Jeanne de Salzmann asked us to study in ourselves.


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