Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Questioner Within Me, Part IV — My Life and the Living Of It

Merode Altarpiece (Detail)
The Cloisters, New York 

When it comes to my weakness for confirmation bias, perhaps what I need to understand is that what I confirm—what I want to verify—represents my desires. 

My desires don't represent, in other words, a wish for what is true and what is right—they represent a wish for what I wish for

They are, in other words, of the self, and selfish. If I want to understand the idea of my non-desires prevailing over my desires, I have to be willing to pursue the via negativa—to go against myself. 

That means being suspicious of what I want to be true.

There's a fine line here, because eventually one develops, in the spiritual life and in the spiritual parts (in the organism) an instinctive sensation of what is true and right. This is different than an intellectual theory or opinion about what is true and right. Gurdjieff spoke often about this capacity for an organic, or, shall we say, integrated and essential understanding of what is true and right which first of all does not belong to me, and above all causes me to instinctively shy away from that which is untrue or wrong; and in this area, we can't treat it in quite the same way.

One can tell when the active sensation, the objective faculty, of discerning the right and the true, is present when all the following conditions are fulfilled:

1. One feels through abject and sincere humility the absolute fact of one's own nothingness;

2. One understands through direct sensation (not just thought) that one understands nothing, seeing one's own helplessness;

3. One feels an organic and sorrowful love for all of creation;

4. One understands that one must never take actions that will harm other living sentient Beings;

5. One experiences profound and comprehensive remorse of conscience for all of one's life and actions (organic shame);

6. One feels an anguished and irrevocable nostalgia for reunion with God.

When all of these inner conditions are fulfilled at the same time, one can know that one is in a state where the right and the true can be discerned. All of the above factors stand in contrast to my desires, which—unlike the above—are essentially selfish in nature. 

We can equally recast this question in terms of liking what "it" does not like—"it" being my ego. 

Somewhere within me there needs to be born a seed of perpetual return; and what it perpetually returns to is this sensation of my own nothingness, which engenders respect for life and for what is around me. 

Absent this respect, what I respect is myself alone, and that obsessive-compulsive reliance on self obscures both my life and the living of it.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

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