Saturday, March 19, 2016

We all die

Chakmultun, Yucatan
Photograph by the author

I was walking down the street in Shanghai yesterday and saw folk walking towards me; complete strangers, all of them, but all of us present within the irrevocable fact of our own humanity, and our own mortality.

I'm reminded of a meeting I was in many years ago at the Silver Lake Conference Center, where I made the remark that we all meet one another here on the common ground of our own humanity. Typically, because of our exaggeration of outward circumstances (which is an entirely mechanical and absolutely relentless process) we all forget this, and think that because of our fine clothing, the money in our pockets, or the power we exercise over others, we are better than other people. Anyone who does not see themselves engaging in this activity regularly is not doing any actual self observation, but just chatting about it over tea.

Yet we aren’t better than other people. This common ground of our own humanity is an absolute foundation; nothing we do and none of the external things we achieve mean anything relative to how we inwardly conduct our relationship with one another and our fellow human beings. I see for myself that I'm poor at this; I consider myself to be better than others at many things, and perhaps there is an objective truth to this, but I have no right to consider myself as a human being better than another human being because of this. I'm lucky; or I'm blessed; in either case, it's not because of me, it is because God gave gifts that I am not deserving of and abuse in my egoism. What I ought to do is throw all of that aside and come to each human being on the common ground of this humanity we share, attempting to compassionately open myself to them through an organic experience of who they are — something that is for the most part quite elusive, obscured as it is by the inexorable expression of my mechanical parts, that seem determined to crush everything and everyone in front of me and extract some bitter substance I will nonetheless  perversely savor in my effort to feel superior. It's quite a relief, really, when something more active is capable of discarding that nonsense so that I can truly honor another person for themselves.

 We all die. This inescapable fact levels the playing field; and Mr. Gurdjieff reminded us in a number of different ways that this one thought can have a major impact on our spiritual understanding, if we come into an active and intelligent relationship with it. To me, that means sensing my life organically and having an intelligent, that is, thoughtful and mindful, relationship with this living, breathing body that contains the logic of its own death within its living action. When I am present to this question, life and death are there at the same time; and they are not distinct from one another. If I bring this sensitivity and sensibility to my interactions with other people, I understand the complex and intimate action of relationship as it exists in the present moment. I often see that I don't know how to respond to people, and, sometimes, that I don't even want to. I even, as my wife pointed out (in regard to herself, but it could be in regard to any of us) find other people annoying. The idea that they might be different than me is an irritant. 

I ought, instead, to honor them; and that brings me to another question.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.


  1. Thank you for that. But there's more :)

  2. Of course it's never that simple is it? We have G writing about 'will-less parasites' (and other occultists), those whose 'conscience has atrophied', and of course the majority of humanity as 'slugs' - the living dead. So it's not really a level playing field.
    And the Gurdjieff foundation led by his long term partner, and esp. his son, exhibited a quite obvious elitism and disdain for ordinary humanity. Why was the nyc foundation so despised by so many - precisely becaused of this arrogant disdain for ordinary people..- it is clearly evident in 'The Next Attention'. Those new age supermarket shelves...which we have to protect ourselves from. And god forbid that anyone should see the movements films with the headbands and suntan. :)


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