Detail from Hans Memling's Annunciation
the Metropolitan Museum, New York
photograph by Lee van Laer
These questions regarding conscience — which speaks to an inner spiritual presence quite different than the well-meant "spiritual – but – not – religious" attitude so often cited in today's aspiring souls — center at first around our capacity for an organic sense of being.
This is because real feeling, that is, feeling connected to what Gurdjieff called the higher centers (i.e., the soul — Gurdjieff had a distressing penchant for obscuring straightforward things with complicated sounding names) is grounded in the awakening of sensation, that is, an active, living energy (referred to as prana in yoga, or chi in Asia but, in Christianity, the Holy Spirit) that can receive finer material that emanates from solar influences — and, ultimately, God.
Without an awakening of this capacity, the angelic influences that seek to have a direct material effect on ordinary life do not enter into Being. Swedenborg spent many hours and wrote many words trying to explain how human beings can develop enormous intellectual capacity for discussing these things without ever actually understanding them from a practical point of view; and even if the organic sensation of being awakens — one can see how rarely that happens from how seldom the actual phenomenon is specifically discussed or described in spiritual literature — it serves as nothing more than a beginning.
Perhaps one of the chief values of Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann's teachings and work was that it put this forgotten question (especially in the case of de Salzmann) front and center, so that it could no longer be avoided. This resulted in an esoteric core group of persons, especially those closest to de Salzmann (and, later, the larger readership of her notebooks, as (substantially) edited and published in The Reality of Being) who struggled — & who are still struggling — to directly and practically understand the question of the organic sensation of Being...
which is a beginning practice.
I say it is a beginning practice, because after this sense awakens, it takes many years of intense and sincere work — decades, in point of fact — for the finer materials of the Holy Spirit which are necessary for receiving the particles of the sorrow of God (which are unadulterated Love itself) to deposit themselves in Being. There is no doubt that those for whom the organic sensation of Being awakens think they're "somewhere special;" and to some limited extent this is true; yet the only truly special thing is that much more suffering becomes necessary. That can be a disappointment to people who are looking for spiritual ecstasy, inner peace, an expansive sense of love, and so on. Each one of these attractions is definitely available and presents itself; and all of them serve as instruction and reward, again, to a limited extent; but the spiritual seeker who has the organic sensation of being awaken, and becomes more directly open to angelic influences, is put under much more serious laws and conditions, in which a great deal more suffering is needed.
Why is that the case?
Well, it isn't complicated or mysterious. One has to understand that in order to come to true feeling — which is actually a higher level of sensation, directly connected to the organic sensation of being, but which takes place on an even finer scale than the cellular one of the organic sensation of being — one has to be prepared to suffer a very different and much more devastating kind of sorrow.
That's because the particles of the sorrow of His Endlessness carry, each one of them, an exquisite and impossibly anguishing energy. It would not be going too far to say that each one of these particles carries, in its entirety, the entire passion of the suffering and crucifixion of Christ within it. With the receiving of every particle, as it is deposited, this sorrow becomes more and more present and more and more excruciating; and under ordinary circumstances, a human being is not psychologically prepared to absorb, process, or accept sorrow of this level.
We secretly flatter ourselves by thinking that we're strong; but we're weak. If we want to participate more directly in the passion of Christ — which, in both an allegorical and a practical sense — is what is being spoken of here — we need to prepare ourselves over the course of not just one lifetime, but the entire span of a soul's existence on every level.
This is not something to be taken lightly, or read about in books. It isn't even something to be taught about by others, because it is a deeply personal and intimate experience that requires a kind of suffering about one's own existence that can never be undertaken by another soul. Each soul has its own very delicate, specific, and demanding work in this regard; and almost every soul would prefer to avoid it, since it involves a confrontation between parts — specifically referred to in the previously cited passage in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson — that no one can possibly enjoy undertaking.
In the process of confronting this, everyone has to see what they desire. Anyone who undertakes this will eventually discover that it is an obligation they must undertake, but can never, ever become comfortable with.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.