Thursday, January 8, 2015


Inevitably, the attacks in Paris, in which cartoonists — arguably among the most harmless, trivial, and amusing of social agitators — were brutally murdered will leave some people wishing for revenge. We all, I think, share such instincts to some extent.

There is, as a Jewish German friend of mine— my closest and dearest childhood friend, in fact — says, a great danger that Europe may now swing even further in the direction of intolerance. There is a very thin line, he knows, between intolerance for Muslims, intolerance for Jews...

and intolerance for  civilization itself.

This morning, as I was meditating, it occurred to me that I need to understand how I am in relationship to this question; and I was reminded of Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights.

 The painting, like everything else outside me, appears to be an object separated from me, and depict a process separated from me.

I easily forget that the painting shows the way in which divine influences are corrupted in me myself; it looks like an exotic and sensuous world in which surreal events take place and horrible things happen to (or inside) other people.

I easily forget that the divine influences which created me undergo a steady process of degeneration and decay — which is what the painting, in its entirety, depicts — and how I end, within myself, in the same abysmal territory depicted in the right hand side of the triptych.

This is the easy way to go. It is the way the world is arranged; and the instincts for self-preservation, the preservation of those close to me, and survival perpetually tempt me to betray the divine impulses of love and mercy. By the time we transit the entire painting, these forces seem to have completely evaporated; and by the time I transit events within outer life, such as these appalling murders, they are at the same great risk.

This is the question that we are challenged with, not just as a society, where the violence manifests itself writ large on an international canvas; it is a question we are challenged with inside ourselves, very directly, in every passing moment of life. Seized in the grip of these things, we often don't see them; the compelling sensuality, the confusion, the sheer intensity of life drags us along into the chaos, and whatever instincts we had towards the good are pulled with it. There is good, to be sure, that can be found even in chaos; but it is slight. The general tendency is towards degeneration, an increase in entropy. Things fall apart.

Gurdjieff, he said, wrote All and Everything "To destroy, mercilessly and without any compromise whatever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world. "

 The other night, while rambling about the nether regions of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York, I mentioned to a friend and longtime reader of this column that I think he did this in the hopes that it would leave room for something good to come in.  

 It is in times like these, more than ever, that I need to remind myself that the violence, as Krishnamurti said, begins in all of us — not in a Northern Renaissance painting, not in the streets and offices of Paris, but here, inside me, where I am today.

I am reminded, in the end, of the general confession from the Episcopal Book of common prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Father; 
We have erred, and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. 
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. 
We have offended against Thy holy laws. 
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; 
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; 
And there is no health in us.

The confessional, of course, opens the question of where redemption lies.

This becomes, like the question of our inner violence, a highly personal one; and it lies not, Meister Eckhart suggests, in our outer works, but in our state of mind.


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