Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pondering purgatory

Night Blooming Cereus, Sparkill, NY
Photograph by Lee van Laer

Beelzebub describes The Holy Planet Purgatory as a magnificent place, a planet filled with the most miraculous and marvelous creatures and landscapes—plants and trees, flowers, every imaginable form of glory. 

Yet this is a place of enormous suffering; and he says that every sentient being ultimately ends up purgatory.

We speak about purgatory as though it were an afterthought,  a future experience, a place that the spirit gets to maybe after many thousands of lifetimes of trials and tribulations; and indeed, maybe it is something like that. 

But this morning, just for a moment, I asked myself whether purgatory isn't inside of me, right now. Right here, where I am.

Is it possible?

I'm not sure; but over the last few days – and this is not the first time, by any means — I've experienced a nearly comprehensive understanding of how extraordinarily rich and magnificent all the impressions that come into me are; how they create a universe, populated by all the wonderful things I have seen over the course of a lifetime. 

If I am, as I indeed think is the case, a planet that things fall into and onto, then these wonderful things are part of me as much as anything else – including the external. 

But, all in all, what I'm left with is the personal sense of an extraordinary inner planet, much like the one that Gurdjieff described in Purgatory. This is a textured, colorful, finely grained and intimate entity, a tangible universe of being within the context of body, mind and emotion. It constitutes an ocean my Being sails on; and as with all oceans, I only see the surface of the water and the occasional, apparently miraculous, sometimes terrifying creatures that break the surface from time to time. 

So here I am in the midst of this glory, yet blind to it; I inhabit a landscape populated, in an inner sense, by the most fascinating and beautiful creations in the universe, an entire life, a comprehensive Being, filled not only with promise, but also the very truth of living, and—yes, even this — reality itself, which is reciprocally formed with it, and which I am relationship with.

In this sense, I am—we are— the perfect mirror of a celestial inner heaven which corresponds to the outer one; it lives within me. It is a real thing, not an allegory; it is where I live my life. Suffering, unable to reach God, yet catching a glimpse of Him from moment to moment, when He chooses to exercise His presence on this level—

that is, within me. 

I'm left wondering about this part of myself Gurdjieff speaks of—the one I can't cleanse, that can never attain a level of reunion with God. A part that cannot blend with what is real, with the most sacred and most divine parts of myself — and the universe. 

I had a dream last night – details don't matter that much — but it was a dream in which I was, for all intents and purposes, in hell. 

In the dream, I don't know why I am in hell; it seems entirely fitting, yet I don't know why I belong there. Surely I’m a creature poorly suited to the trials of hell; I don't have the right attitude for hell. First of all, I’m weak, and then my sins, such as they are, seem relatively trivial. Perhaps, it occurs to me, I am not even bad enough for hell. Wishful thinking, perhaps; but all my intentions instinctively steer me away from this place.

So why do I dream of a process of purging, of anger, of hatred and destruction; and why do I find myself in it, locked in conflicts that I don't understand, attacking people I don't know, with weapons I don't want to use? 

There aren't any easy answers for this one. I woke up at 4:30 after the dream, and the one thing that occurred to me was to pray to God that I don't end up in hell. I lay there for a good bit of time in bed living most directly through my sensation, and invoking just such a prayer.

Later this morning, I realized that we are the architects of our own hells; we put them together brick by brick with our desires, each one of which seems justified, although, probably, almost none of them are. 

All of these desires distract me from the glory of the life I've been given; and yet I focus on them, as though the goal were always one step further out, one step further away, but in any event, not awaiting me inside myself, in the celebration of life as it stands. 

I don't want to go to hell; but perhaps I'm already there. I just don't know. But the idea that this inner life of anguish is what Gurdjieff meant by Purgatory makes some sense to me.

If this life is a life that offers the opportunity to know myself, I seem to be failing even that.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure u r right:
    ' a task which consists in this: ultimately also to prove, without fail, theoretically as well as practically, to all my contemporaries, the absurdity of all their inherent ideas concerning the suppositious existences of a certain "other world" with its famous and so beautiful "paradise" and its so repugnant a "hell"; and at the same time to prove theoretically and afterwards without fail to show practically, so that even every "complete victim" of contemporary education should understand without shuddering and know, that Hell and Paradise do indeed exist, but only not there "in that world" but here beside us on Earth.' G. p.1238.


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