The word comes from vastus, waste, and devastāre, to lay waste. (OED.)
To devastate is to lay waste, ravage, waste, or render desolate.
Moving further, we discover that devastating means, of course, that which devastates; it also means very effective or upsetting; astounding, overwhelming, stunning.
So we move, in the context of the deepest inward religious practice, to that which lays waste. The word waste, by the way, is also related to the word vast, both of which derive from descriptions of the desert.
So that which is absolutely devastating does not just destroy: at its root, it leads us into the desert — into the emptiness, into the place where there is sand beneath our feet and stars above us, and a great emptiness that causes us to question our existence. We are rendered desolate; there is no place to rest our head. Filled with questions about Being.
We are astounded; we are overwhelmed, we are stunned.
The inflow, and the devotion to God through receipt of The Sorrow, is a sacred duty that can only be understood through the organic participation of Being. It is useless to have arguments or discussions about this or try to convince people of it, because only a direct practical understanding can teach people anything regarding this intimate sacred practice. There are no instruction books for it. And in fact, through a lifetime of searching, the Gurdjieff practice may be the only one I have ever encountered that has an intuition for this work — that is, an inward teaching that can awaken it.
Human beings are obsessed, all of us, with the idea that our achievements in the outer world are what matter. We literally stake our lives on it. Not one of us suspects that everything we do here is nothing more than preparation for something much more intense, much greater, much more demanding, that will require a Love from us – and give a Love to us — that eclipses our life on this earthly plane. So we constantly think we should do this, or that, or the other thing, never seeing that the only real coin of the realm is our relationship within Love.
So I need to be devastated. That is to say, my life as I see it needs to be destroyed—everything I believe in must come crashing down. Only when nothing but God is left in me will something true emerge. And only a penetration to the bone, the marrow—the continual absorption and acceptance of this Sorrow that lies at the root of Being—can help make that possible.
I have tried to explain throughout the entire trajectory of my writings, as my understanding of this deepens, about this Sorrow at the root of Being. It is no ordinary Sorrow; and so of course, when people hear the ordinary word, they think that this is a terribly depressing idea and that pursuit of such things must be stupid and pointless, when one could pursue beauty and glory and so on.
Humanity does not suspect that beauty and glory, like every other phenomenon, are born in Sorrow and die in it as well. That is the condition of the material world, which has an obligation in this regard too subtle to lay out in texts.
I would be a fool if I claim to fully understand this mystery; and I doubt anyone does, in a lifetime. To be penetrated by it is not a burden, but a privilege; and unless we make God the central part of our practice, we cannot earn that privilege, no matter how good we may be towards others.
It is, in other words, ultimately the question of exactly what we serve on a higher level that determines what we can be on this one.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.