Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Coal at a factory, Changshu, China

May 17, Shanghai.

The title of this post is drawn from the famous horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's body of work — a terrifying tale about a man who brings the dead back to life. 

It works great — 

the only problem is that all of them are irrevocably, horrifically insane. 

The story was the inspiration for a camp black-humor movie version, which is hysterically funny—if you enjoy the truly grotesque.

The idea for the post, however, came from this Disney video, which shows how Disney recycled animation sequences over the years. One of my best friends, JM, who I call my older brother — the one I never had — pointed out to me that this video is a terrific metaphor for our lives. And he's right.

Gurdjieff’s points about the way we rely on habit, and our tendency to do the same things over and over again not only in the small, but also the large, trajectories that we follow, is reflected here. We dance in this ballroom we inhabit — the costumes change, the characters look different, but the movements are always the same. This repetition can be helpful in many ways — a routine supports inner effort, if it is adopted in order to put a demand on a person — but I also allow it to lull me into a false sense of complacency, one where I assume things will keep going the way they always have.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, on this trip to China (today, I finally go home) a young woman on the staff here at the hotel died, shocking me, and everyone else touched by her death, out of our usual routine. Nothing rivets the attention so much at breakfast as the news that this day is not like any other day — that the dance has been permanently interrupted, shut down.

You know, I am sure that all of us would conduct our affairs and our attitudes towards others differently if we understood this is how it works. We really don't. We just don't. We talk about it, we write about it, we sagely nod our heads at one another about the gravity of life and death, but we just don't understand it until it hammers us again and again and we begin to see that the charades we engage in — I am speaking of each of us, individually, not the grand theater of society, which is an even greater sham — are hollow actions that fail to reach the level of sobriety that ought to attend to a life this brief, and needs this real.

When I speak of needs, I speak of the emotional need to bring myself to a situation and offer myself in a genuine way to others. In a way, this is exactly what Meister Eckhart, Gurdjieff and Swedenborg were asking us to do — to form a genuine intention, one that comes from a real part of ourselves, from the soul, towards others. 

An unselfish and loving intention.

It may seem like a reach to extrapolate from recycled animations to the idea of unselfish and loving intention, but I don't see it that way. It is this very recycling, this reliance on what I already know, that prevents me from offering what is needed as I meet each moment in this great unknown I face. 

If I just reach in to the baggage I am already carrying — well, maybe I packed clothes for today, but maybe not. Perhaps therein lies the exact lesson Gurdjieff sought to teach us with his legendary unpredictability.

There is a nakedness of truth that meets us in life. We are equally naked in front of it, when the grave circumstances meet us — and it behooves us to meet them with an appropriate degree of reverence and shame.

More on that in the next essay.

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