Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and Apple pencil
Although the inward effort to suffer myself is a good one, as I pointed out in the last post, it's selfish; and ultimately, in order to take on a portion of the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness, I must surrender my selfish action. It's important to see Mr. Gurdjieff's comments about bearing the negative manifestations of others without complaint in this context.
Again, in the last post, I explained how we are reflexively trapped in reactionary, mechanical expression of inward contradictions, lies, and negativity that we seem helpless to control. These are self-perpetuating mechanisms that become increasingly destructive over the course of a lifetime if we don't struggle with them. And every time we manifest negatively in an outward way, if we still have a conscience, it becomes more and more anguished, helpless as it is to affect the situation.
When I encounter the negative manifestations of another person outwardly, if I suffer them without complaint, I truly take them in in the deepest way — and this involves seeing this inexorable inward mechanism in the other person. Through an organic impression that falls through personality and penetrates my Being into essence, I see how the other person suffers. That is to say, I gain a direct and compassionate understanding of their negativity, which they themselves are as helpless in opposing as I am in going against my own. This is a critical point; because they are just like me. We are mirrors that reflect one another on this question. If I really understand the other person, by baring their negative manifestations without complaint, I become willing to inhabit their perspective not just from the point of view of their outward negativity, and the personality-based justifications and mechanisms that drive it, but also from the point of view of the terrible suffering from within themselves that drives them to behave this way.
I take on, and other words, a portion of that same work I am attempting within myself on the half of them. I empathically suffer on their behalf for what they are and the fact that they cannot help the way they are behaving.
Now, this is a tricky thing, because one can't invent it or think it up. It requires a deep emotive participation in the life of the other; and it requires the perspective of age and an understanding that we are all trapped in these dilemmas together. It is an advanced work that I do not think one comes to as a younger person; yet I explain it here because I believe it might be important for everyone to know that this is the goal. If and when I suffer intentionally and unselfishly, I suffer by suffering for others and taking on their own suffering for them, since they are unable to do it.
By now, astute readers may realize that we have arrived at a very interesting point. This is, after all, exactly what Christ did for mankind. The act of intentional suffering in the way that I describe it is, in other words, the absolute and essential core of Christianity; and so we discover that intentional suffering — a phrase that doesn't seem to have anything to do with Christ's religious practice — is actually what His practice was all about. And it reflects, quite perfectly, Mr. Gurdjieff's adage that our inward task ought to be to take on a portion of the suffering of God. We practice this first through outward considering; then, inner seeing of how we are; third, through the conscious labor of bearing the negative manifestations of others; and, fourth, by unselfishly suffering for others as they treat us with contempt and derision.
This encapsulates countless romanticized ideas about monks, hermits, and idealized spiritual figures, all of whom somehow tolerate awful treatment of themselves with equanimity. In all of those tales, the noble spiritual hero appears to be — well, a hero. Yet that heroism contains, at its core, a seed of intentional suffering whereby one takes on the suffering of God Himself. We practice on others in order to learn how to take on a portion of God's sorrow; and that practice has to become entirely unselfish, which is by far not the focus that our inward work begins with.
This unselfishness has to be the end point of inward work, in which I suffer — I take in — the terrible struggle which results from the manifestation in the material, where all things want to be for themselves and not for God.
I am like that too; and yet it might be possible to be different, and grow back toward something that has more of heaven in it than hell.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.