Thursday, December 24, 2015

Becoming zero and letting the love through

 Adoration of the Magi
Jan Mostaert
 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
 photograph by the author

A friend of mine recently had the following comment about the question of self observation and suffering (I am paraphrasing her comment a wee bit, but it is presented almost exactly as she made it.)

You say the aim of self observation is to see how we are unable to love, and then to suffer for that.
I feel uneasy about that-- that there is some kind of misunderstanding at work here, some kind of invisible egotism. I suspect it's the same as with goodness: Only God can love--IS love. If that's the case, what's up to us is to become zero and let the love through.

 This friend, unfortunately, has not read any of the very extensive material I've written on the subject, and took that one comment out of context and (before even discussing it with me) passed it on to another individual, illustrating for me the great danger of trying to take another person's understandings and pass them on before one has actually understood them for one's self. 

This is a habit I see around me again and again as I grow older: people take complex subjects that need a great deal of study to understand, read a few lines gleaned from the material, and proceed as though those few lines illustrated something important which they understood and could pass judgment on. This is very typical of all of us — I myself have been guilty of it at times — but every time I see it happen around me, it reminds me that I ought to sit down and read something quite thoroughly if I want to better understand the subject. Attention spans around the globe are growing ever shorter, and nowadays people want to read a single sonnet and claim they understand Shakespeare.

In any event, what my friend was talking about — she is a brilliant and deeply experienced student of the Gurdjieff ideas in her own right — is essentially true. But she blithely skips over the vast piece of territory one has to cover before one can "become zero and let the love through." When one reads it, if one has any kind of critical facility at all, one realizes that this is on the order of a lyric from a Beatles song. We can just all run around singing, " become zero, let the love through, yeah yeah yeah," and presto! All our spiritual aspirations will be rewarded and the problem of our lovelessness will be solved.

 It's a Disneyland kind of thing. Disneylanding — the process of turning absolutely everything in the world into a theme park event of one kind or another — has become a universal external activity. I fear it is on the order of becoming an inner activity as well.

I come back again to the passion of Christ, which has been the subject for a good part of the fall season in this space. 

Do we all really think that that illustration of God's love and what it takes to embody it is just some casual fairytale? 

Do we really think that we can excuse ourselves from the kind of effort that Christ made on our own behalf? 

Do we really want to think that Christ's selfless and extraordinary act—meant to illustrate what is required of all of us—was some form of invisible egotism?

Ignoring or expunging the understanding of Christ's sacrifice and the relationship to the interval between si and do  tosses out the baby, the bathwater, the bath basin, and the washcloth, soap, and shampoo. If we are going to take Christ into ourselves, as Gurdjieff advised his students to do (see Frank Sinclair's Without Benefit of Clergy)  we must take the suffering into ourselves as well — all of it — which is an action very closely related to taking on a portion of the sorrow of His Endlessness.

I'm quite concerned here, after reading my friend's remarks and understanding the consequences of talking about suffering in this way, that I may have somehow accidentally left the impression in readers that the kind of suffering I am speaking of has something to do with egotism... or myself. So I think I will treat that in a few additional posts after the Christmas season.

In the meantime, may God's utmost blessings fall on earth, and all of humanity, on this Christmas Eve 2015.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

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