Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reverence and Shame

Print factory, Changshu, China
Interestingly, I began this post, pasted over it, thought it lost, rewrote it, and then recovered the original.

I thought it might be interesting for readers to see both versions, so here they are.

 Version one first.

When I speak of reverence and shame, I generally tend to think of them outwardly. I have a reverence for this person or that idea; for this piece of artwork or that institution. I have inward shame in regard to this or that outward deed I did.

These are real; but there is a different kind of reverence and shame, and those are the inner experiences, that relate to a lifetime of self-observation and the cumulative impressions of how my inward attitude is formed, and the way it conducts itself.

There is a reverence that is born from a genuine understanding that there is something higher than us. Like all alcoholics who enter AA, I took a major step on that path when I began my journey to sobriety 33 years ago. It is a founding principle in the program; and it is a shocking thing to come to it young — I was 26 — since, generally speaking, we spend entire lifetimes, for the most part, believing that we are the highest thing there is. That is true even if we claim we believe in God; for everyone reserves a small part of themselves—we all have a little box in which we keep the thought that we are greater than God locked up in, ever nursing it, and never showing it to anyone. No matter how deeply spiritual I am, I still keep that hidden succubus of mine on life support.

Once one understands, however, that there really are higher energies, angelic forces, and that the Lord is real, not an imaginary factor, one begins to develop a reverence for them: not a reverence that one has of oneself, but a reverence that is born of contact and an irrevocable acknowledgment. This is real religious experience, and this is what everyone who speaks of and seeks religious experience actually wants: something that goes beyond belief and into knowing, something that brings Grace directly into me so that I can no longer deny it. Just like my alcoholic self, after all, I am perpetually in denial about all of these things — but the reverence brought by real Grace allows me, for once, to know organically, within the sensation of my own body, that God is real.

This is where shame comes in, because that confrontation between truth, and what I am – which is, basically, an elaborate and colorful lie, in so far as my personality goes — brings me to a sense of real remorse. 

I wrote the following to my dear friend and mentor Patty de Llosa earlier this week —

There is something subtle I don't understand about the emotional capacity we have for sorrow, which seems so vital to truth and our inner work.
Sometimes I think if this capacity in us really connected with the parts it ought to educate, things inside would truly undergo a meaningful transformation.
At this age I see more and more how essentially selfish I am, and I see more and more how I don't trust the Lord, now matter how good I am at mastering the words; which is a source of great distress. 
Somewhere in all of this there is the potential for remorse of conscience to arise.


and now, version two:

When I approach the ideas of reverence and shame, I generally have a reverence for outer things — institutions, ideas, artwork, or special people — perhaps, even, a spiritual work. And when I have shame, again, it's generally shame for outward things I did.

Gurdjieff spoke of organic shame, which is a shame of inward nature. I think both reverence and shame need to become much more inward for me to understand what is real. Generally speaking, I may have reverence for outward things ad infinitum, but inwardly, most of my reverence is reserved for myself. I think every human being has a little box in them, a secret lockbox buried deep inside themselves, in which they protect and keep the idea that they are the most important thing in the world — more important, even, than God. This lockbox is the lockbox that contains our selfishness — and we protected at all costs. If you peel back the layers in all the great teachings, you will see that this lies at the core of them. Meister Eckhart, Ibn Arabi, Swedenborg, Gurdjieff— they all wanted us to see this.

So the reverence that I have is superficial. Only if I encounter real Grace, which teaches reverence by exposing me directly, organically, to the influence of the Lord, am I willing — no matter how great the humiliations visited upon me by the outward, I don't learn directly from them — to submit. And this submission, this genuine reverence born of a knowing, and understanding — not my beliefs, which are a pastiche of things I have heard from others — is what I need. If I understand that, then there is a real reverence.

A real reverence brings real shame. The shame, comes from knowing my own selfishness, inwardly, which is an organic shame. 

So reverence and shame, for me, become an inward process. I come back to these questions of what that inward experience is, again and again, as my wife moves forward, trying to understand more about my relationship to the Lord, and what is required of me. (This, of course, is the one great question which Orage said every human being must confront.)

I've mentioned this before, but at this point I am called to remember once again what Lord Nelson said at the Battle of Trafalgar as he lay dying.

I have done my duty.

I think that this is the greatest aspiration we can have in relationship to the Lord; to do our duty. Hence Gurdjieff’s Being-parktdolgduty; the word means, literally, duty—duty—duty.

In a certain sense, for a three-brained being, it encompasses the whole world of our Being.


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