Thursday, March 5, 2015

Death and thoughtfulness

Christian doctrine more than any other in the whole world demands love and thoughtfulness, but… there are not many people who live up to it…  
...the Lord’s church is spread throughout the whole world. It is universal, then, and consists of all individuals who have lived in the virtue of thoughtfulness according to the principles of their religions.

—Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell

 I had occasion to review this particular chapter of Heaven and Hell (Non-Christians, or People Outside the Church, in Heaven) early this morning while working on my new (as yet unpublished) book on Hieronymus Bosch, specifically, the significance of the negress in the Temptation of St. Anthony.

What struck me here, aside from his very interesting comments on the heavenly fate of those from religions other than Christianity — which are extraordinarily open-minded— were his repeated remarks about the virtue of thoughtfulness.

Clearly, he means mindfulness; yet a kind of mindfulness of the spirit, specifically, a mindfulness of what Gurdjieff would have called outer considering.

Here's a passage from that chapter about the Chinese:

One morning I heard a far off chorus. I could tell from images of the chorus that they were Chinese, since they presented to view a kind of woolly goat and a cake of millet and an ebony spoon, as well as an image of a floating city. They were eager to come closer to me, and when we were together they said that they wanted to be alone with me in order to disclose their thoughts. They were told, however, that we were not alone, and that the others were offended that they wanted to be alone, since they were guests. When they perceived this feeling of offense in their thoughts, their mood changed, since they had transgressed against a neighbor, and since they had claimed as their own something that belonged to others (in the other life, all our thoughts are shared). I was enabled to perceive their distress of mind. It involved a recognition that they might have injured them, and a sense of shame on that account, along with other emotions characteristic of honest people, so that you could tell they were endowed with thoughtfulness. 


The citation is, perhaps, unremarkable, in the sense that anyone who has read Swedenborg in detail will realize that he wholly anticipated (and perhaps exceeded) most of Gurdjieff's teaching, in considerable detail, by several centuries. As I point out in the new book, this is because the teachings — and Bosch's paintings— spring from the same esoteric source, which is deeply informed by a true teaching imparted from higher levels. 

Such teachings cannot fundamentally vary.

In any event, I wonder how thoughtful I am. Living requires a very deep and long thinking about each day, and all the events in it — and everything that flows into one's Being needs to be carefully examined and digested. This is a process that begins, like the process of eating ordinary food, at the moment impressions come in; there are digestive fluids of experience, much like the saliva of our salivary glands, that "lubricate" impressions in a metaphysical sense and allow them to come deeper into us. It is only a bit later that they enter our being in deeper places where true digestion can take place; then the thoughtful mind, which participates with all three centers, contemplates the impressions of a day — or a week, or a month, or a lifetime — and blends them with all previously received impressions. 

Of course Gurdjieff explained this; yet the action needs to be participated in directly in order to understand it properly. It isn't like ordinary thinking. 

It is thoughtfulness.

 Gurdjieff would have called this pondering; pondering, in fact, the sense and aim of one's existence — which can only be undertaken in the context of impressions already received. This must always and forever be undertaken with a healthy dose of outer considering.

Sometimes, a particular set of impressions that has great emotional power — when I say power here, I mean depth, not force — can help in this process. These impressions are often the ones that represent the greatest suffering and the greatest loss, in the context of one's whole life. The death of one's parents is a good example; and this is why Gurdjieff said that if your parents die, it leaves a hole where God can come in. 

For me, that hole was created by the death of my sister and my father; and I feel strange and inexplicable sense of gratitude for these events, since they have helped me to so clearly form a deeper respect for both their own existences and the trajectory of life itself, which must include events like this: not, so to speak, drawn from the horrors of the evening news, but instead a direct appreciation of what is, quite simply and irrevocably, true. 

Death needs to occupy this place of truth in us; it assists in the development of thoughtfulness. I am not sure that we can be mindful without death; so I am grateful for it.


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