Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts on our nothingness, part one

Light in the cathedral, Semur-en-Auxois, France

Having tolerated several interruptions this morning, I come to a moment when I try to pull together a point that has solidified for me.

When Gurdjieff says that we should come to a sense of our own nothingness, I suspect it is often taken the wrong way. 

The point is to come to a sense of our own nothingness in an objective manner. This means we cannot come to a sense of our nothingness through an emotional understanding of lack (another aspect of inner work from Gurdjieff’s protégé Jeanne Salzmann, also perhaps often misunderstood) or any overwrought or deeply emotional way whatsoever. We can’t come to a sense of our nothingness with the wish to purge ourselves of what we are; it is not an ascetic action, it is not an abject surrender. It is a factual and experiential inward flowing of where we are, stripped of external opinions.

Of course it’s difficult to understand this, because any such experience immediately becomes personalized and the ego seizes it to use it in one way or another... it’s even possible, for example, to sense one’s own nothingness and use that as a way of feeling superior to others. Believe me, the ego knows how to do things like this all too well! 

I think the point is that my nothingness has to be absorbed as though I were a sponge and it was a fluid that penetrated me. The sponge and the fluid are two different things; and the sponge doesn’t have opinions about water, it just takes it in. 

So much of life ought to be like this.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time over the last few months examining, in detail, the many tiny parts of the inner machine that have seeds of evil in them. Much of us is built of these gears which turn constantly in directions that do not edify our constitution; yet we don’t see them. It can be quite shocking to discover how much of what wants to turn the wheels on our car is made of petty and even hateful things.

In any event, even this becomes too personal. And the fact of my nothingness is impersonal. It is simply true. I want to grasp vast facts about the cosmos, but I am unable to manage the simplest life tasks when it comes to compassionate and decent treatment of other human beings. This is incredibly common, especially with people in spiritual works… no one wants to suffer what we are without doing it personally. 

And it is that impersonal suffering which is accepted as a fact, as the ground floor of our condition, which must be examined and absorbed.

I shall try to say a bit more about this in the next few days.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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