My 35th anniversary of sobriety is today.
Nothing humiliates a person so much as discovering how weak they are through an admission of addiction to alcohol. I learned my own nothingness the hard way, early on; and it has served well throughout a lifetime. It put the ego in its place, even if the ego is — and it always is — resilient.
We alcoholics not only hit bottom; we bounce off it for the rest of our lives.
Now, on to the subject.
Inner work isn’t an intellectual exercise.
It isn’t an exercise in exercises.
It's an exercise of love.
Love lies at its root, and love should guide every action that takes place within it. This is too easily forgotten; it often becomes a complicated, stiff and inflexible esoteric practice of one kind or another, with too many rules and rituals, conventions and requirements.
I think all of this garbage ought to be thrown out in favor of an essential humanitarian understanding.
This is a work of human beings, with all of their strange and disorderly habits. Isn’t that the whole point of Gurdjieff's magnum opus, All & Everything? We must make efforts to become real human beings, and if there is a reality of Being — any kind of reality of Being — if it is not firmly grounded in an effort of love, why bother?
What other value can there be?
Some students of esoteric lore may say that we are too crude and undeveloped to love, and that we can't approach that question yet, because we have to do all these other things first. Love, this odd creed suggests, ought to come later. Must come later — because we are no good at it yet.
But this simply isn’t true. If we can’t love, we ought to at least behave as if we can love.
Of course this would require us to treat each other decently, and that would be difficult. People would much rather indulge their cruelties and find excuses for them.
But I would counsel each person in any spiritual work to ruthlessly scrutinize their attitudes towards this question. I think most of us will quickly find that we spend little time, very little time, attempting to understand how to love. We will attempt to understand almost anything else first, such as how to understand complicated philosophical questions, how to have more power than the other person, how to get more money, how to achieve the desires that gratify us, etc.
We may even claim that we want to understand ourselves: and I suppose this is laudable, insofar as it goes.
Yet the whole practice of outer considering demands, more or less, that we try to understand the other: that we get out of ourselves and attempt to discover empathy and sympathy for the other person — a fundamental requirement, if one thinks about it, of discovering what it is to love.
When we consider the phrase, consider outwardly always, inwardly never — it suggests that we ought to love the other and not ourselves.
Some may want to argue the point and tell me I am wrong, but in my eyes, this means that we ought to forever strive to exercise the best example of loving behavior we can towards other people, which we must inevitably find will grate horribly against our egoistic impulses. Outbursts of unloving behavior may be the inevitable consequence of a guilty soul; but we cannot wallpaper over it and move on. We must pick ourselves up and make amends.
Admittedly, those who have not practiced sobriety against the objective evil of alcoholism for many years may not understand this practice of making amends the way we sober alcoholics do; but others, I think, ought to learn it.
We truly need to practice a more active form of love in our spiritual work. An intelligent effort of love. One that continually reminds us to put ourselves second when we always want to put ourselves first.
We may never win this battle, but it does not mean we shouldn’t fight it.
Essays on the Molecular work of Being will resume Nov. 17. There are two more essays in that series.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.
But, my friend, abstain from evil, and do what is good, and believe in the Lord with your whole heart and your whole soul; and the Lord will love you and give you love for what you do and faith in what you believe. Then you will do what is good because of love and you will believe because you have faith, which is confidence. And if you persevere like this, a reciprocal partnership with the Lord will develop and become permanent. This is salvation itself and eternal life.
If we did not use the powers that have been granted to us to do what is good, and we did not use our minds to believe in the Lord, what would we be except a wasteland or a desert, like ground that is so utterly dry that it repels rather than absorbs rain? We would be like a sandy field where there are sheep that have nothing to eat. We would be like a spring that has dried up, or like stagnant water around a spring that is blocked. We would be like a home where there is no harvest and no pond; unless we left there immediately and looked for an inhabitable spot elsewhere, we would die of hunger and thirst.
—Emmanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity, vol. 2; page 23