Saturday, October 8, 2016

Notes from Shanghai, October 6

Granada, Spain
Photograph by the author

There will be more bacon served soon.

This morning it occurs to me that in each day, I only know what I know for that day.

It may be that knowing and understanding are cumulative — we certainly seem to agree to that, in terms of how we build meaning in ourselves and in societies. 

Yet I only ever understand what I understand right now, in this moment; and things only acquire meaning now, even if that meaning is in a context that includes the now of past experience and the now of associative flow within the mind. (We all dwell forever in this now.)

I know that sounds a bit complicated. 

What I am getting at is that I start each day all over again, trying once again to start from a zero — awakening from sleep — and re-creating my being, myself, my day, my world, and everything that proceeds within me and outside of me for this day. 

That re-creation of self, although founded on what is already here, is nonetheless a task and a responsibility that has to be met every day. It’s true there is someone already here; it’s the same as when a baby is born, it comes into the world with something that is already there. Yet the responsibility always becomes one of now; and although now can discover itself through past experience and a reservoir of what is already known, it cannot trust those things to fully equip it with what is necessary for this moment.

So “I am” now; and I try to re-create myself in this day.

What is missing?

I don’t know how to love. 

I avoid love. I fear relationships with other people and I’m not honest. These are all true things about me. What is missing most, I see this morning, is a true devotion within this moment now to Christ’s admonition: “love one another as I have loved you.” I ought to be applying this daily, to my own parts first, and then to all those around me, using an effort to be positive. I don’t do that. There is a selfishness in me that is consumed by obsessions with my own welfare, my own opinions, my own anger. In now, I become responsible — obliged to respond — to go beyond that. The possibility of being positive and loving lies just one step past the selfishness in me, and yet I am not awake enough, aware enough, caring enough to take that one step.

I’m reminded of Gurdjieff’s discovery — as he recounted in “life is only real, then, when I am” — that despite his yogic powers, he was not present. He could not remember himself, even though he spent a lifetime teaching people that this was necessary. 

Now, we can have arguments about what “remembering oneself” means; yet I feel certain that it has a great deal to do with what I am mentioning here — that is, the propensity to be self-aware enough to act from love and not selfishness. 

That is not something that comes naturally or easily to any of us, even Gurdjieff himself — it takes an effort to go against a descending force, a downward movement, that insists on its own interests rather than an objective love for others and for the good.

 When I read the quoted passage from Gurdjieff (at the above link) which I am well familiar with but, it turns out, don't quite understand — or at least I didn't — this morning, it occurred to me that many of the processes he describes here are nearly identical to processes taking place within me at this stage in my life. I wonder if he wrote it at the same age — in his early 60s? In any event, so much of it was familiar. 

This passage is, to me, incredibly touching, because it is here that he acknowledges his essential humanity and reminds us that we are all in this mess together.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting as usual - however I suspect that G and many of his contemporary followers do not think we are in it together - they are elitists - as was his son. And G, altho he helped a lot of people during the war didn't really care who won - a kind of apoliticism - like not caring who wins the presidential elections. He was also quite happy to exploit people's gullibility (see 'The Material Question' in Meetings..)

    "I not interested in who wins war. Not have patriotism or big ideals about peace. Americans, with ideals, kill millions of Germans, German kill--with own ideals--English, French , Russian, Belgian--all have ideals, all have peaceful purpose, all kill." He might have regretted saying that..but probably not...


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