Baby puffer fish, pet market, Shanghai
I'm headed back to the United States today, after another two weeks in China.
This routine has become so much an ordinary part of my life, that after 30 years, it seems normal. Yet day before yesterday, walking around the streets of Shanghai, I came back to myself at one point and said, what am I doing here?.
The question seemed locational, in some senses, that is, what am I doing here on the other side of the planet, in an Asian city, wandering around far away from my friends and family? — but it was, on the other hand, existential, because the instant that I had the thought, it occurred to me that the question is universal.
I am, after all, still on this planet, no matter where I go — and it is that question, what am I doing here on this planet?, that occupies me.
I've spent a lifetime of stuffing myself full of theories, facts, and ideas. All of these are outer things, and yet they take up residence in me as solidified substances. They are nodules of precipitated matter that don't dissolve any more in the liquid of life, but affect the way it flows. Like the conditions of my outer life, which I have grown so accustomed to that I accept without noticing them, these "inner nodules" which precipitate from the inward flow of outward action are so routine to me that I don't bother noticing them, let alone questioning them. I accept them as the conditions and the facts, even when actual outside conditions and facts contradict them. I know I'm not alone in this, because I see other human beings doing this all day long, every day.
When I was in my mid-40s, I encountered a force that transcended all the other (and not inconsiderable) "supernatural" forces I had been in contact with over the course of my then short (and still short) life. This force of Being, this finer vibration, creates a perception of life that is quite different than the nodules that precipitate in me. It has, in fact, absolutely nothing to do with those nodules and exists apart from them, arising in a realm that is unknown to my own life, except that I contact it.
There is no explanation for that mystery; yet it irrevocably affirms that something is going on on this planet which lies beyond my understanding — and, by extension, that thing which goes on, this action of Being, lies outside the known and created realms. Being in relationship with that and coming into contact with that is what concerns me now, every day. It doesn't fix a damned thing in my ordinary life — but it does give me the opportunity to live in a different and new way, every day.
Every day, I have to deal with the nodules—Gurdjieff probably would have called them crystallizations — that precipitate in me from my interaction with the outer world. They are persistent and abrasive. Yet there is always the opportunity for me to invest in the sensation, the organic sensation, of Being, and that seems to me, without any doubt, to be what really matters.
Everything that I actually (not theoretically) know about those forces I call love, beauty, goodness, and so on, is contained within the action of Being. None of those forces are actually present in material things, except to the extent that conscious relationship is active within the material. So it's Being itself that imparts character to what is otherwise meaningless — and this property is, without any doubt, a divine one.
I am not divine, but if I make spiritual efforts, I am invited to participate in that which is divine.
If this is the only useful thing I have learned in my life — and there are times when I am certain it is —
it is one big thing, like the puffer fish.
The danger, of course, is that like the puffer fish, I am all too prone to develop an overinflated sense of myself through understandings that touch on this; it is a known hazard. One has to be on one's guard. Yet there is one piece of luck here: even though the ego is forever dedicated to the proposition that one ought to puff one's self up, the energy of a finer vibration is forever dedicated to deflating that selfsame action.
Being has, in other words, a way of teaching me my own nothingness; and I recognize it most, perhaps, by this property, which has an inherent rightness to it.