Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fear and compassion

 Another picture of the blue-gray gnatcatcher

One of my correspondents— the person who was talking about not feeling very social — brought up the question of how much we fear interaction with others.

There is, I think, a surprising amount of fear behind all of our interactions with others. It's often buried under an enormous pile of other material, but if you dig deep enough, it's in there. By and large, people have two simple ways of dealing with this: overcompensation or undercompensation. Overcompensators are called extroverts; undercompensators are called introverts. 

These two modes produce contradictory inner reactions. In either case, there is an attempt to overcome the fear using an artificial personality construct — that, in brief, says much about our personality itself. It is a mechanism used to defend ourselves from one another. We don't see that it is a shield we hold up in front of ourselves, constantly, to avoid being honest with ourselves and others. 

I've been deeply involved with some individuals over the course of a lifetime where this aspect of their Being is absolutely overwhelming and dominates everything they do. The more so an individual is like this, the more we label them — bipolar, autistic, and so on. The afflictions and affectations are real; but the psychological and spiritual mechanisms underlying them aren't well understood. They all, I find, stem from this inherent terror we have of being seen for what we are.

This, of course, only applies to people where the organ of conscience is still alive; in some souls, it is either so deeply buried that it can't function, or it is extinguished and for all intents and purposes extinct. Individuals of this kind are a different order of being, not the subject of this essay. So here I'll just continue to speak about people who still have a conscience. 

The conscience knows what is true; that is its primary feature. That is to say, it is able to intuit — inwardly pay and inwardly teach — an individual what is right, measured by cosmic, rather than human, standards. Now, there are such standards, which Gurdjieff called objective standards — and those who would reason them away with constructed philosophies are lacking the organic sense of life that is needed in order to actually live.

In any event, knowing what is true, we see the collision between our selfishness and our ego and the outside world, and we are afraid of being seen. We forget that God can see everything; and we forget that angelic forces will inspect us and reveal every aspect of our life and our Being once we die. These things are known intellectually, but the organic sense of them that instills an appropriate respect for the sacred has atrophied in mankind. If we are ever contacted by such forces, it can certainly change us; yet that is what sleep is all about, that is, one is not awake to these influences. This is why, as Swedenborg explained, death comes as such a terrible shock to many individuals, who discover after they die that all of their intentions are inevitably revealed to everyone.

The question is how much we can, in this life, become honest, align ourselves with our right force, and develop intentions that are selfless, compassionate, and real. This kind of spiritual action in life requires a tremendous courage. It involves developing a kind of trust that overcomes the fear we have. This theme of trust is essential to all spiritual development, and yet, aside from platitudes such as "trust in the Lord," it does not get mentioned enough. 

We can't trust ourselves; we can't trust one another; and with good reason. We are duplicitous beings.

The most recent issue of Shambhala Sun magazine is devoted to the idea that mankind is essentially good. I am not sure at all that that's true. I am certain that heavenly forces and God are essentially good; yet I do not think that humanity, mankind, is of that level, or even in regular contact with it. My impression is that we are at a larval stage where we might or might not become good. 

Of course, the Dharma teachings the magazine reveals say that as well, in their own way; they argue that if one peeled away enough layers one might get to the essential good at the bottom of everything. Gurdjieff did not necessarily see it that way; in the same way that he said we need to develop a soul, I think he was saying that we need to develop the capacity to be good; that is, we aren't born with it.

This question is part of a longstanding philosophical argument that reaches back into the preclassical age; no one will settle it here. But it is worth pondering as one goes through life, because an essential turning towards compassion and goodness seems necessary, especially when we don't want to do it. As I said that my wife the other day when we were walking the famous dog Isabel, compassion that is easy to exercise is worthless. It is only the compassion that costs us something that is really worthwhile, because if we want to offer anything real to people, we need to pay for it. It's only then that we realize our action has a value — we have sacrificed our selfishness.

in any event, what matters isn't whether we are essentially good or not. 

What matters is whether or not we can manifest and emanate goodness. 

It ain't easy.


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