Thursday, July 30, 2015

The inner landscape

 When we talk about spiritual work, we rarely encounter the idea of our inner being as a landscape — that is, an environment populated by an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, all growing things in constant movement and interaction with each other.

Yet our inner life is a direct reflection of the outer world — or, one might even say, it is the other way around, but that is a more complex metaphysical question. Let's just say that our inner life displays many characteristics that mirror the environments and ecosystems of the outer world — it's just that they are all hidden, metaphysical entities, metaphysical in the sense that while they all manifest within the physical body, they create this field, or landscape, which we call consciousness.

Consciousness has to be cultivated, just as a wild landscape needs to be tended to in order to organize it, if a person is to interact with it in anything other than the way a wild animal does.

One could argue that the entire process of consciousness is a landscaping process, since the seeds of awareness, both self-awareness and societal awareness, need to be planted in human beings from a young age and then carefully fertilized, cultivated, tended, and pruned to take a particular shape or form. The ideas and knowledge, the understandings, that a child is introduced to are (one hopes!) carefully juxtaposed against one another to produce a desired result (responsibility, maturity, and compassion come to mind); and the way in which unwanted ideas and directions are pruned and trimmed, the way parents either root or uproot concepts in their children, is analogous to the tending of bonsai trees.

There is, in other words, a deep link between the ecosystems and biology of our outer world, and the ecosystems and biology of our inner world. They function in similar manners. No matter how much a parent prunes and tends the child, and no matter how much a gardener prunes and tends his plants, the plant and the child must always ultimately assume responsibility for their own growth and find their own way within the landscape. Parents and gardeners can be no more than guides, although they may be good ones; and the landscape itself is always informed by, and grows through, the light that falls on it and the soil it contains.

This idea of light (incoming impressions) and soil (already existing materials) are closely aligned with Gurdjieff's understanding of the blending of new impressions with what has already been received; the present is built on the work of the past, the action is always highly interactive, growth never stops, and spiritual ideas (conscious effort) can only take place in appropriate environments, just as you can't plant a shade plant in bright sunlight, or vice versa.

If we saw our inner being in its constantly transitional state, understood the organic nature of being which we have already received and dwell within, and the dynamic nature of the new incoming impressions of life, which feed us for further growth in the same way that the sun feeds a plant, we might have a new and more tactile impression of the complexity of our inner life and our outer being.

It's my impression that Zen landscapes were meant to impart such a teaching in the juxtaposition of the Zendo and the garden that surrounds it; and it is to this piece of territory that we will turn in the next post.


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