Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On self-importance, part I: the sense of death

Detail of The Lamentation

The sole means now of saving the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant in their presence a new organ, an organ like kundabuffer, but this time having such properties that every one of these unfortunates, during the process of his existence, should constantly sense and be aware of the inevitability of his own death, as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes, or attention, rest. 

Only such a sensation and such an awareness could destroy the egoism now so completely crystallized in them that it has swallowed up the whole of their essence, and at the same time uproot that tendency to hate others which flows from it—the tendency that engenders those mutual relationships which are the chief cause of all their abnormalities, unbecoming to three-brained beings and maleficent for them and for the whole of the Universe. 

G. I. Gurdjieff, All and Everything, pgs. 1084-85

One of the things that strikes me more and more as I grow older, surrounded by dear friends and individuals determined, in one way or another, to advance a spiritual search, is how absolutely the belief that we are important is cemented in us.

The Romans made a concrete harder than anything we make today; yet I'm not sure that the buildings they made from it are, relatively speaking, as durable as the impression that we are important. 

I see it in everyone; there is a conviction that life leads somewhere other than death, and that triumph — what Gurdjieff called the Golden day — lies ahead somewhere on the spiritual path.

I think the reason that our good friend Beelzebub finished up his extravagant soliloquy to his grandson Hassein with the fine words I opened this essay with is that a person who constantly senses and is aware of the inevitability of death is fundamentally unable to prosecute this sense of self-importance very far.

As I have explained in other essays, the organic sense of Being imparts within its very nature and understanding that we die; it is, fully, life — yet it is also, indubitably, death, contained with in it, in an inseparable union. I don't expect readers to precisely understand this, unless they also precisely — that is, experientially — understand the organic sense of Being, and, in fact, have understood it for many years, since it takes at least a decade for this sense to produce the increasingly uncomfortable results that are necessary in order for us to see just how incredibly unimportant we are.

This life is temporary; in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the constant proximity of death and the lack of any miracle cures or drastic methods of resuscitation brought people, I think, to a much closer sense of this — a sense that has been deteriorating ever since.  People's sense of their own importance leads them to do terrible things; these young men who murdered the cartoonists and grocery store customers in Paris are an excellent example. These men— objectively violent and tragic to the rest of us — thought they were terribly important, and that what they were doing was terribly important. Perhaps that is the essence of terrorism — not the outward action, but the narcissistic tyranny of self that confers Godlike agency on us. It's one thing to grab an automatic rifle and kill people this way; yet I think that all of us, due to the action of this self-importance, indulge in thousands of tiny little acts of murder of compassion and love within ourselves all week long.

 It's this inner dilemma from which all the outer actions spring; everything outward is an expression of an inward action. All these inward actions begin with the belief that I am important; and only the certain action that I ought to focus remarkably on the present moment, because I will die, seems to be a dose of medicine that could counteract it.


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