Statue of the Virgin from Hacienda Yaxcopoil
As I live and breathe, I think that I am this— or that, or another thing; whereas all of these things that I think I "am" — all of these collected personalities, desires, and so on — are actually a reflection of the influences I come under.
Actually, that idea is pretty clear; Gurdjieff and J. de Salzmann both said that a human being will always be under influences; what they need to do is choose which influences they will be under, insofar as they are able. My own teacher Betty Brown also frequently talked about the fact that we fall under good or bad influences.
Influences are the things that flow into us; and although we prefer to think of influence as something more or less always coming from outward life—politics, society, employment, and so on (whatever it is that's bothering us, pushing us, or pulling us in a material sense from moment to moment) influences from within—influences that come from other levels, from spiritual places—are actually far more important.
In this sense we can refer to Swedenborg's observation that it is the spiritual influences that summarizes what we are; our outer life is actually reflection of the spiritual influences we are under. There are other ways of saying that; but what I'm getting at here is that I am only good to the extent that the influences I am under are good. I cannot be good — I can only come under good or bad influences. It's my choice in which influences I place myself under, how much effort I make to do that, that determines whether there is good or bad in the way that I express things, because I am ultimately no more than a mirror of these spiritual influences, reflecting them outwardly into the world. I’m not an agent representing myself. The influences are already there; I participate.
This may seem a little difficult for me to absorb or even admit; after all, I egoistically want to “be” myself, not a reflection. Yet this imaginary picture of myself as an independent agent is patently false from the beginning; even taken from a strictly biological point of view, I react to what is around me, and am, in the sum of things, an indivisible part of the whole of being, which is ultimately cosmic in scale. The fact is that I’m designed to blend inward and outward influences and conform them in one way or another. It's my choice as to how I conform that makes the difference.
So it isn't my nature that makes me good or bad, although there are probably inclinations and predestined attitudes. It’s my choices that make me good or bad — the direction in which I orient myself when confronted with influences of varying quality.
This raises some questions about the nature of the prayer, "I am — I wish to be."
If I’m just a reflection of the influences around me, what position does this prayer occupy in that range for me?
More on that in the next post.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.