Monday, April 6, 2015

Decency, Part III— a profoundly uncomfortable place

This essay is illustrated with a
photograph of an Apsara from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.


 So I think, when it comes to this question of decency, that we are, perhaps, all drunkards; and what we are drunk on, the addiction we serve, the draft we cannot stop swallowing, is ourselves.

It's often said that money is the root of all evil; but this is merely a foolish adage we repeat to ourselves to distract us from the real problem. 

Love of self is the root of all evil; and it is terribly difficult to pull up.

We live in an age of self worship, where self-fulfillment is supposed to be the most important thing anyone can hope for; and yet how utterly barren that territory turns out to be. How, the society and the media ask us, are we to fulfill ourselves? By buying stuff, piling up money, and partying. The partying takes the form of wine, women and song; wealth, expensive vacations, golf games, ski trips, and fast, overpriced cars; but no matter how it is pitched, fulfillment always consists of consuming outward things, like the coneheads from Saturday Night Live.

In the end, after the binge is over and the lights get turned on, there is nothing in the least fulfilling about any of this; and, in what is perhaps a faint but hopeful sign, some people are beginning to wake up and smell this rotting flesh, even though they cynically try to replace it with a new pile of flesh that hasn't quite started rotting yet. 

There is only one kind of higher calling, and one kind of fulfillment worth having. 

It doesn't come from corporations.

It comes, as Swedenborg so often pointed out, not from love of self, but from love of the other and of God.

 The unfortunate difficulty in this begins with the fact that we always try to love the other and love God from ourselves, that is, from our self-love. This is exactly like alcoholics that show up at an AA meeting drunk to profess how anxious they are to be sober. It's an old story; and a true one. The fact that it is a bizarre contradiction doesn't stop it from happening countless times around the world every day. In the same way, I get up in the morning thinking — with my intellect, the weakest part of myself — that I ought to love God, without coming in touch with my sensation of the body and my feeling, which are absolutely necessary in order to even begin taking any inward action towards the love of God and the other. 

So often, I just think about it — whereas what is actually necessary is to discover the organic humility that arises at the base of one's Being: an organic impulse towards decency that begins with my own shame and my own sin. 

Even then, discovery alone is not enough. Should I discover it, I then have to live within that organic experience of humility— Gurdjieff's organic sense of shame, a profoundly uncomfortable place, to be sure — perpetually and without respite in order to begin to understand why I ought to be decent to others.

I see, that as I am, I can't be any other way, other than this person who cares only for themselves. It is only the Lord that can remind me of my smallness, my nothingness, through His Gracious Presence. When this Presence is available, I suffer; but I suffer gratefully, because it at least makes it possible for me to see what I am, and I can't discover any inner humility towards others unless that happens.

Hosanna.

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