The question of the place of women in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson came up in the last post; and I suppose that it throws down the gauntlet of a challenge to the validity of a book that dares to call itself All and Everything. Viewed from this perspective, that moniker is laughable; and we must view it from this perspective, because we are supposed to question everything. Everything.
Given that the upcoming issue of Parabola Magazine (Spring 2016) is The Divine Feminine, the question continued to reverberate in me; and I am writing an article that may appear in that issue as a consequence.
At the same time, one of the things that I ask myself personally on this question is how, as a man, I experience the feminine within myself.
We live in an age of "gender discovery;" and we seem to celebrate the peculiar manifestations of sexuality: homosexuality, transsexuality, dual gender identity, and so on. Very little examination of ordinary heterosexuality seems to be on the table these days; it's almost as though heterosexuals aren't worth noticing or speaking of. This minority emphasis may be distracting us from important questions about heterosexual identities, for those of us who are not in one of the minority sexual categories.
I've never felt an absolute need to identify with or express machismo; although I've never been in any doubt that I am strictly male and strictly attracted to females from a sexual point of view, when I reached my teens I discovered that I enjoyed dressing flamboyantly, in what some would consider more feminine attire.
I still do it. I never really got interested in wearing dresses and women's underwear — the idea just doesn't appeal to me — but I do like wearing colorful clothing, as anyone who knows me would tell you (ikat woven Thai silk jackets and the like), and I see no reason not to put on a good-looking piece of jewelry, although my indulgence in this is on the minimal side of things.
In earlier centuries, the idea of men dressing in finery, wearing feathers, brocade, embroidery, and even elaborate jewelry, was an acceptable one, especially for the upper classes. It's difficult for me to see where we crossed the line into the sterile, intensely unimaginative mode of formal menswear we see today, where everyone is supposed to be in a suit and tie. I always felt this was wrong, ever since I was a child. It smacks of a kind of conformity that stifles the soul.
Yet these outward modes, as Wilson van Dusen points out in The Natural Depth in Man, always reflect our inner attitude: so apparently, there is a deeply feminine side of me that, although it isn't connected to my sexuality, is a part of my Being. When we combine this idea with the fact that I'm an artistic "type," emotive, and allegedly creative — there is certainly some evidence to suggest that, whether my creativity is worthy or not — it seems as though the female side of me, the one that receives the world and gives birth to something through that receiving, has a certain animated life to it that being male has not managed to suppress.
I come, thus, in this roundabout way, to the question of how I experience the divine, and especially the feminine nature of divine — if I experience it that way — directly, in my personal inner experience. Because it is in this ground, where I experience femininity within myself, yet embodied as a man, that the interesting questions arise. If I am going to measure what femininity means to me outside of the outward, the ordinary, and the obvious attractions to and attachments to the female sex, this is a different thing.
Gurdjieff always said that sex, measured from the biological and physical point of view, was a function — that is, he equated it to the process of elimination. It was, in other words, mechanical; and mixing it up with other parts of our spiritual life was a mistake. He did allow for the possibility of sex as a spiritual process under special circumstances, but those allusions were not central to his teaching. And he certainly allowed himself sexual liberties.
How do we take a look at this question of sex within spirituality and divinity from a personal point of view, in our daily practice? That's what I'm going to take up in my next essay.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.