Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A deconstruction of the second striving, part III: rabies

Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author
To have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfection in the sense of being.”

—the second obligolnian striving, G. I. Gurdjieff

 What is the point of self-observation?

There is only one actual self-perfection in the sense of being, and that is to become perfectly loving.

Without love, nothing else matters; love is at the foundation of all things. So if we wish to become perfect in being — a ridiculous wish, perhaps, but in the face of all other possibilities, the very best one — we must become perfect in love, because no other perfection is an actual perfection. Unless being is perfect in love, all its other perfections become imperfect, because love is in all things, gives rise to all things, and without it, everything else always fall short.

The reason we need to observe ourselves is not so that we can see we are mechanical, understand our habits, and so on.  We observe ourselves for one aim alone, and that is to see that we are not loving.

The whole point of seeing and suffering is to see and suffer this fact that we are not loving; and because we are so frequently not loving — perhaps almost always — we need to see it over and over and over again, and suffer it more and more deeply, before we can understand what we are. We are unloving creatures; no matter what else we are, no matter how high our achievements are in any other area, if we remain unloving, we’ve achieved nothing. To love is the only achievement that matters; and yet it is an impossible goal for all of us.

Gurdjieff managed to ice skate around the perimeter of this lake throughout the course of his work without, I feel, laying the simple point out in plain enough words. I'll admit that after more than 40 years of studying his teachings, sometimes (even now, remarkable as that seems to me) with people who knew him personally, it appears as though this obfuscation may have somehow been necessary. Apparently we cannot look at the truth of ourselves straight in the eye and just say what we are. I’m moved to recall Martha Heynemann, who said to me some years ago, “after all the beating around the bush, why don’t we just admit to ourselves that what we’re all working to receive… this “higher energy”… is love?”

I'm not sure if it's too painful, if we are not prepared for it, or if we take it in too intellectually, but it takes a lifetime of work to actually see in a real way that I am an unloving creature. I have come to this realization over and over again in successive waves of understanding, each one appearing to be some new and higher, perhaps penultimate, level of awareness about this problem, but every one of these new levels of awareness of my unloving nature turns out to be a chimera, a pastiche of features that do not unify themselves behind a truly deep (read here, instinctive?) understanding of my unloving nature.

It doesn't matter how many books I read about this problem. Attending to the words of Christ or the Buddha don't help either. Only this lifelong practice of self observation and the anguish that it brings as I see this over and over and fail again and again helps to penetrate this dense flesh I live in. There is, in other words, no substitute for self observation on this subject; yet I need to know why the core practice is important, and as far as I can remember, with all my teachers, all the books, etc., etc., I don't recall anyone looking at this beast right in the eye and just saying it out loud.

We are unloving. That is my core issue; it’s the core problem of mankind; and until and unless every single one of us looks at ourselves straight in the eye and admits this in the same way that the drunk admits to himself he is an alcoholic, we will never engage in the confession and contrition, the remorse of conscience and the suffering, which has to be laid out in payment in order to get past this fundamental fact and move into a piece of territory where we can begin to understand how to become loving.

Humanity has a form of rabies; we foam at the mouth about ourselves and bite each other. If we don't see this, see it remorselessly, relentlessly, and without mercy towards ourselves — then where have we gotten to in this life?

Is mankind just destined to live in a sewer filled with consumer goods?

Or do we dare to challenge ourselves to love?


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.


  1. You are raising your own high bar of eloquence here. And you are so right. Pauline de Dampierre, who was no fool, never actually said this. It was all about observing our mechanicality - and even Mme de Salzmann talked about the world needing this higher/finer energy (with that downward move of her hand as if something was coming down into the skull) - but not about love. But G did perhaps in the wartime talks....which you have quoted.....

  2. altho to be fair to Pauline and others, the L word might not have worked initially in group meetings...altho that is what she objectiively manifested, with romanticism :)


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