Thursday, May 25, 2017

Conflict and Cooperation, part I: a selfishness of Being

A while ago, I encountered questions from someone about how forces act. 
This person was reporting that from what they saw, the many different forces that manifested in them were competing with one another.

Of course this comes on the heels of various conversations about tension, relaxation, and so on. Everyone knows we have a certain amount of tension; this is even necessary. But we also know there's a point at which it becomes a drain on us. At that point, we change the word, describing it as stress, even though it is more or less the same kind of tension — two opposing forces which meet each other and can't resolve their differences. 

Friction arises. So whether we call it tension, stress, or friction, there are oppositional forces. I think we all recognize that. 

This description of us as being composed of forces which compete is of interest. The OED defines it as  “The action of endeavoring to gain what another endeavors to gain at the same time.” The word is derived from two Latin roots, -com, together, and -petere, to seek. So the word, in its fundament, means to seek together. And two very important points need to be made in regard to this. 

First of all, this seeking can add take place either consciously or unconsciously: parts of ourselves can be aware they are both seeking, or they may seek without knowing each other at all. 

Secondly, this seeking may take place in such a way that one gains at the expense of the other; or, on the other hand, it is possible for it to take place cooperatively, in such a way that both gain.

In order to simplify the second term, let us say that it is a question of conflict versus cooperation.
Therefore, competition can be conscious or unconscious; and it can be a process of conflict or cooperation. Generally speaking, because we are unaware of the fact that we are made up of many different parts (we incorrectly assume, by default, that we have an inner unity that is in fact almost never present) whatever we seek in ourselves is unconscious. Our parts — our intellect, our body, our emotion – are selfish, and seek only for themselves. Now, I think we can see immediately that this is a very important point, because it reveals that the root of our selfishness, which is the chief feature that causes the egoistic downfall of Being and the degradation of the soul, lies in this piece of unconscious territory.

Let's call this a selfishness of Being. The selfishness of Being arises because the parts are unaware of one another; and although this does lead to spiritual corruption, it's not by default "sinful," because the parts are unconscious and unaware of their failure to behave properly. Yet the moment someone attempts to awaken their inner Being so that the parts become more aware of one another, such selfishness becomes sinful — because now the parts known one another and ought to operate on behalf and in support of one another, and yet still don’t do so. 

This sheds new light on three of Gurdjieff’s aphorisms:
8. If you already know it is bad and do it, you commit a sin difficult to redress.

21. Only conscious suffering has any sense.

29. Blessed is he who has a soul, blessed is he who has none, but woe and grief to him who has it in embryo.

I could explain this further, but I'd like readers to think this over more for themselves. While doing so, consider the proposal that all of the aphorisms are actually about this question of the relationship of inner centers, that is, the entire set of aphorisms is an allegory about our inward state, and not our outward one. I think most will agree that they read quite differently if one considers this question in light of the idea of conflict, cooperation, and competition.

An understanding of selfishness is critical, because if our inward parts aren't educated towards cooperation and unselfishness, it’s impossible for us to discover cooperation and unselfishness in outward manifestation. The beginning of ourselves, the way that our being is arranged, is unconsciousness and broken; and before that is repaired, all the manifestations that follow it will be equally unseemly.

Let’s examine this for a moment in light of Gurdjieff's ideas about the harmonious development of man. In harmony, wave forms don't compete with one another; they complement one another. They support one another. That is to say, there is a cooperation between them that produces a fluidity and beauty that is simply not available if they compete. 

In a conceptual sense, scant millimeters mark the distance between harmonic conflict and harmonic cooperation. The slightest deviation from proper tuning of harmonics puts musical notes into competition with one another. While it’s true that the competition increases if the disharmonizations takes place across a broader range, the finely tuned ear can detect dissonance at the moment it comes into being. So when we speak about listening, this is quite important. We have to “hear” the inward tuning of these harmonics of Being within the range of awareness in order to bring them into harmonic cooperation. Otherwise we find ourselves in a state of inner dissonance. 

One ought to be clear, we can't get rid of the forces in us; they are there whether we want them to be or not. At the point of awareness— that distinct and glorious point of mindfulness, which can bring so much even though it seems so small —it becomes a question of tuning the forces so that they don't compete, but rather cooperate. 

This is what we could call a cooperation of inner Being. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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