Nyack, New York (banded area)
June 24, Shanghai
It's quite interesting to me over the course of a lifetime to see how persistent and strong the working of inner negativity is. It has so many different features; and it spends so much time trying to tell me destructive things about myself or the world around me.
Why do human beings have an entity within themselves that attempts to destroy the positive meaning and value in life? This is an essential question. It is so deeply tied to all of our suffering, both personal, social, and existential. And it seems so unnecessary, perhaps. Do animals have a feature like this? I'm not sure. Certainly one can see some forms of pessimism and depression in some animals, especially when they are taken out of their natural habitat; and perhaps this is a clue to where some of our depression and negativity comes from.
I see in myself a strong urge to goodness, a belief and even a sensation and a sensitivity for what is good. When I say sensation and sensitivity, I speak of an organic urge to goodness, not a philosophical one. That organic urge is a feeling – urge, one based in the feelings that goes directly against the negativity that arises in them. So there is a polarity in my feelings which I struggle with, that is, my conscious awareness is required to position itself between the positive and negative feelings about life and myself, and to make a conscious effort to choose the good. That is to say, I can't just sit there and watch. Within myself, I must choose to affirm the good if I want the good to prevail.
This reminds me distinctly of Jeanne de Salzmann’s comments at the beginning of the (still unreleased! Alas) movements film of the 1980s, in which she said that everything is always in movement, either going up or down. We cannot stay in one place; we must choose either one or the other.
This is interesting when considered in light of Gurdjieff’s comments to the effect that one cannot just go up; one's awareness must also go down:
“The broadening of man's consciousness and the intensifying of his psychic functions leaking into the sphere of activity and life of two other cosmos is simultaneously, the one above and the one below, that is, one larger and one smaller. The broadening of consciousness does not proceed in one direction only, that is, in the direction of the higher cosmos sees; in going above, at the same time it goes below.”
— In Search of the Miraculous, P.D. Ouspensky, pages 206-207.
There are complexities to this statement that deserve entire books; yet in the narrow focus of this essay, to a certain extent, he implies here that our awareness must extend not just into the good, but also the bad.
If we study Sufi ideas (I am, as always, thinking of Ibn al Arabi) or the observations of Meister Eckhart, we see that bad is a necessary thing in order for us to understand good; and that the lower, that which goes against God, is provided so that we can have a choice and exercise it. In other words, we can't go towards good if we don’t have evil to see and discriminate against. The downside of this is that we cannot just have evil outside of us as something objective which we watch and comment on; we must also have it inside of us. Because of this necessity, the devil comes in the door; and we must cohabitate if any real choice is to be made.
In a very practical way, I find myself observing these two opposing forces in the active arising of my awareness; and I see that my rational thought, my “coarse” thought, that is, ordinary thinking, has little power over the negative. It is feeling-based; and feelings have a great deal more power than rational thought, no matter what rational thinkers think about it. If rational thought had the power, human action in the outer world would reflect rationality; and we can see that it rarely does.
Note; it does not work that way. It is feeling that has the greater power in it, and feeling is dominated by polarity of the kinds described here, not by rationality. Feeling, in point of fact, generally manipulates rationality to get whatever it thinks it wants; and it is this one-centered localization of ego and being within feeling— not thinking, as is so commonly believed within some spiritual disciplines — that creates the force of destructiveness both in an inner and an outer sense. It's not just that we have everything "coming from the head,” as Gurdjieffians so dismissively summarize it; things actually come mostly from the feelings and then use the head to explain and rationalize them.
This action of an active relationship to feeling, whereby I see not only the negative feelings but then see the rationalizations that attach themselves to them, is important. I have to be willing to dwell within the devil in me and form a relationship with Him first if I want to understand anything about being less negative. In the first place, I have to allow Him to be negative without reflexively deciding that this makes me a bad person. In a way, I can allow the negativity in myself to be expressed without becoming that negativity; that is to say, I acknowledge it and its place and admit that this is truly how my negative part is, but that there is an alternative. Yet I can't just think my way to it; there must be a safe place, a piece of neutral territory, in which a spiritual action can take place that does not succumb to the negative action.
The organic sensation of Being provides this opportunity, because one can reside in the Being of the body, the cellular and molecular sensation of life, in an objective sense that is not attached to feeling or thought. There is actually a fundamental and subtle joy in this capacity; it provides a support that does not attempt to establish a philosophical or moral value, but rather an organic sense of truth that is based in reality, that is, the physical truth of being. The physical truth of being has no inherent negativity; it has an objective sense of life. This objective sense of life can be of great help in coming back again and again to a quiet center of gravity that stands against my negativity.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.