Monday, March 27, 2017

The territory of the soul, part II

Great Wall, March 2007
photograph by the author

All of us in Nova Scotia on that afternoon in 2000 entered—for those few precious, timeless moments—just this territory of the soul through the vehicle of Gurdjieff's music, Karel’s deft and deeply emotive interpretation, and the collective inner efforts of all the people in the room. 
The togetherness, the relationship, and the entry into that world came to us through feeling; and it illustrates in every way the other half of that search for Being; the definition of the place where we are. 

“I am” cannot exist without a home; and that home is resident within love. So when we work to understand feeling and to understand love, we work to build a house in which we can live. We work to discover a place where we can find both our location and our self.

The reason this is such an essential activity is because we must see our place in relationship to God. This is been said in many different and — superficially — psychological ways when it is described as “seeing my lack," “recognizing my own nothingness," and so on. Each of these tropes, so well-known to Gurdjieffians — and, in all fairness, not at all foreign to Buddhists and esoteric Christians, either — talks about seeing how tiny we are; yet we only see how tiny we are in relationship. When we see that we are tiny in relationship to God, our smallness is not a smallness of physical scale; it is a smallness in terms of feeling. It is a smallness in terms of love. The real measurement of the landscape of the soul takes place, as Swedenborg said, using love as the yardstick. It is our lack of love that defines our infinitesimal smallness.

Interestingly, one might note that seeing my lack or recognizing my own nothingness are said to have to come first in the search for self; so in fact, we are told to search for the location of the self first, before we presume that it could be discovered. 

In other words, before we can know “I am” we must first know where we are. Being cannot be known if one does not know where it resides. Yes, perhaps it resides in feeling, and we read this and say we somehow now know it; but we do not know it truly, because we do not know where and what this true, this sacred, territory of feeling is.

Discovering the territory of the soul helps us to find ourselves and where our selves are located; where we live, where we walk, where we stand up and lie down. The lion and the lamb are both parts of our emotional life, our feelings; and they lie down together within the landscape of the soul, where — if I know what my location is — there can be peace between them. 

Yet this, only if I know my place: it’s the earth of my Being which I seek.

It's true that all three of the centers — intellect, body, and feeling — each have intelligence of their own. Yet the whole point of the emotional center is that it is an instrument for seeing. While the intellect can see using thought, and the body can see using sensation (as well as ordinary organs such as the eyes) only feeling can see through love; and only then, when it is awakened so that it participates actively in Being. This faculty of feeling is the tool that can help us discover not just “I am,” but where I am. If the Self does not know where it is, it remains lost, even if it is inhabited. The boat is adrift. Knowing the place of the soul in its own landscape is the anchor that prevents it from drifting wherever life takes it.

For this reason, I need to enter the landscape of the soul through feeling; and this is not just the simple emotion of ordinary life. I have emotions; but I receive feelings. Feelings, if they arrive, are part of the emanation of God himself: particles of God which are deposited within Being. This is the reciprocal nature of the relationship between God and a human being, which is above all a relationship. The soul has a relationship to its place; and the place has a relationship to God. In every case, from a spiritual and metaphysical point of view, that place is defined by love and feeling, not by the measurement of any physical distance, and not by the location of any theoretical heaven or hell.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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