Detail from St John the Evangelist and St John the Baptist with donor
Joan Mates c. 1410
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
It’s as though I were the stem or the leaves of a plant and saw my roots, but could not feel that they were part of me, even though they were what sustained me.
This idea that my lack is in fact part of what sustains me and creates me and gives me my possibilities is an important one, but I’ll have to get back to it later. Right now, for myself, the point is that my insufficiency is now. My lack is now. I am inhabiting my insufficiency and my lack at this moment. I can’t speak of it as though it were somewhere else, a thing to be dealt with later. I need to inhabit it now.
I go through the objectively troubling circumstances of outer life, which whip me back and forth like a flag in a stiff wind, not seeing that I actually cannot do. When I hear Gurdjieff’s words to that effect, I always think that they apply to some other person, or all other people – but not me. Me, myself: of course I can do. I do all the time. Ha ha. I’m blind to this infection of hubris.
I’d like to establish a much deeper and much better sensation of this insufficiency, this lack. That is to say, I’d like to sense its immediate presence in my presence. If I could establish a proper connection with it, a lively insight, and understood that it is a companion that saturates my Being, I might get a little closer to understanding. This idea of it saturating my being reminds me of the way that Original Sin began to saturate the universe after the Chootboglitanical period, during which God’s emanation of the law of three became blended with that of his creation and its own identical, although microcosmic, emanation.
Of course understanding it from that point of view is theoretical and would take some time, research, and study — I’ve done that, but readers may not have — but the point here is that I am saturated with this lack, it penetrates every part of my essential being. It’s not just in my personality. If our essence were not equally lacking, no matter how developed it is, there would be no need for Gurdjieff’s holy planet purgatory, a place of purification.
Ah, there I go again. I’m intellectualizing. It’s a bad habit of mine. I love to wander off into these thickets of association which are magically dense and have wonderful blooming flowers in them. The point is that I seem to think my lack and my insufficiency are somehow not quite part of me—something held at arm's length— whereas all of me is exactly that.
So this question:
— Exactly what I am, right now —
Which isn’t phrased as a question, but just a statement that allows inquiry relative to its premise, is the essential one. It’s useful to investigate it from the premise of this lack; the danger there is that I’ll engage in confirmation bias by seeing lack everywhere. Perhaps in this particular case, that will be true; but I don’t know. First I just have to see exactly what I am right now. Not where I am — what I am. Exactly what?
That could be undertaken in so many ways, but undertaking it from the perspective of sensation and feeling, in combination with intelligence, seems to be the priority.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.