Photograph by the Author
This morning, I spoke to my wife about a moment of real humility I experienced last night, where I felt a deep and abiding remorse of conscience for my entire life and all of the many failings and shortcomings I have expressed during my existence, from childhood onward.
One could go on about that; but let it be. The point is that she asked me what the value of such an experience is. Does it last? Does it have any long-term impact?
We had an exchange about this. My impression is that all of us try to measure everything on the short curve, rather than the long scale of time. That is, we measure individual experiences within the context of a day, or week, or a month, whereas every experience needs to be measured within the context of an entire lifetime. It is over this long curve of many decades — should God, in his mercy, choose to give so many decades to us — that we ingest and digest the impressions of our life; and it’s only across this long curve of an entire lifetime that one can measure value or, if you will, progress.
The real value of such an experience of remorse is measured in relationship to the coating of our higher being-body parts. Each experience of genuine remorse gently abrades, dissolves, and removes some portion of that calcified material that presents us from truly receiving our lives as they are. Our ego and our personality are softened; and in that softening, something real of life can penetrate. This makes it more possible for us to live according to the adage of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, "love one another as I have loved you.” That, in a nutshell, is what Gurdjieff's outer considering is all about; seeing the other for themselves, and understanding an organic compassion in relationship to them. We just don't do that; the mechanical parts of ourselves are incapable of it. Only through a conscious awareness of who and what we are can we begin to tiptoe up to that understanding.
This coating of the higher being-body parts— that was Gurdjieff's term for it, there could be others — is a highly physical process whereby very fine substances are deposited in parts of the body in order to spiritualize us. This renders us much more sensitive to receiving even more fine substance, in the form of vibrations from the sun. The more such material we receive deeply in ourselves, at the molecular level of the organism, and the more we sense that material — in other words, and encounter it through our inward sensation — the more remorse we are capable of expressing. Truly, a human being’s inward aim ought to be to experience remorse of conscience in such a way that one is, such as one is, destroyed by it. Only by the shattering of everything-against-God within me can I hope to change. This is the real meaning of a holy war, a war on behalf of God, which is always conducted against one's own being as-one-is, on behalf of sacred forces.
Paradoxically, the great weapon in this war is always the weapon of love; and annihilation of the enemy does not mean destruction, but rather an inward conversion from resistance to submission — which is a second secret and esoteric meaning of Islam. We submit, of course, to Christ, who is God.
In any event, the value of remorse of conscience needs to be measured over the long curve; and it needs to be understood as an organic process, not a thinking of myself out of one non-compassionate box into a box that is more compassionate. The action must be within the organism and rooted in sensation; the action must be transformational in terms of feeling. A philosophy cannot bring me to this work. I have to come to it with all the parts of myself.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.