“The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more about the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance.”
This striving appears in most ways to point towards an understanding of outer, cosmic laws; and indeed much intellectual muscle has been exercised over the many decades since it was published trying to understand the work ideas, the book (Beelzebub’s Tales, that is) and perhaps even Gurdjieff himself from this point of view.
I don’t at all agree with such a limited interpretation of this striving, however; for while it has a definite validity, I have grown increasingly convinced over the course of my life that this striving refers above all to the laws of inner world creation and inner world maintenance. Only when these laws are so understood and attended to can any outer law begin to make sense.
Outer laws, such as we see them, are mechanical, a point Swedenborg made all too clear in his very useful distinction between natural understanding and spiritual understanding. To understand the material universe and how it works is natural understanding; yet this is only ever a mirror for the truly higher nature of spiritual understanding, which is arrived at through an inner experience of the laws. Indeed, it might be said that no law ever means anything to a person (even if he is clobbered over the head by it) unless he or she has had a direct inner experience of it.
When I attempt to understand the laws of inner world creation and world maintenance—the concomitant question of responsibility ever-present, looking over my left shoulder—I see how little I really understand. As my work grows more and more inner, I see more and more how truly disorganized and unformed my inner world is. It is only in the context of my sensation and feeling capacities (the aim, so to speak, of the first two strivings) that I begin to see the possibility of a new and meaningful inner order—a sense of verticality, as Frank Sinclair has so often said.
It’s this sense of verticality, which does not belong to or come from me, that begins to restore an inner order; and indeed the laws of world creation and world maintenance do in fact turn on this receiving of a higher influence (or inflow, as Swedenborg called it, a term I myself prefer) if a new inner order is to be born.
It is precisely this understanding of how a higher influence acts that this particular striving alludes to; and “to learn ever more and more” means, simply enough, to come ever more and more under this influence through a direct, experiential recognition of its presence and action. The inflow teaches; we learn. This examination of the matter helps, perhaps, to highlight how much difference there is between the inner and outer understanding of these strivings.