Earlier this year, a person I know who is struggling to better understand their work expressed confusion about the disconnect between their inner work and ordinary life.
What I heard from this person, and what I hear from so many people, is that their inner work is weak, they always find it possible to work together with other people groups or at meetings, and so on, but the minute they are out there in the world on their own there is a disconnect; they forget about working. They see that their work is weak and has no force or strength unless they are leaning on others. And of course, one of the conclusions one reaches — which is not entirely incorrect, as it happens — is that one can only work with the help of others.
I say this is not entirely incorrect, because it is partially incorrect. Obtaining the help of others doesn't need to consist of being a parasite and feeding on the collected energy that we can bring together. When we work this way, I ought to think about what I can contribute, not what I take away; and when I am relying on everyone else to help provide the energy that can get me to work, I actually have it backwards. I need to come to an understanding that everyone else is relying on me to bring my energy to work. In other words, it's never what I can get that comes first; but always what I can give. I have to discover a strength that contributes, not the creature that feeds.
It's very easy to enjoy the benefits of working with others and become a parasite instead of a commensal organism. But anyway, let us get to the meat of this particular observation which I wish to offer.
In order to understand the connection between one's inner work and the world, it's helpful to understand that on this entire level of being, which is expressed physically and has a very concrete materiality, my being is composed of particles. These are very finely grained particles and don't necessarily relate to any of the specific levels of material reality as we understand them in terms of quantum, atomic, or molecular structure and substance — although of course they are quite dependent on those phenomena and have important correspondences. Let's forget about those literal structural concepts, which are very functional in terms of scientific understanding, and simply understand that as "I" am, the manifestation of my Being is composed of these finely grained particles, which I am able to sense if my sensation is properly connected.
The particles are clumped together. Under ordinary circumstances, they have become heavy and claylike and are glued together so solidly that nothing can penetrate them properly. As Mme. Salzmanm said to a friend of mine many years ago, "you are too thick."
These particles are the soil of our being. Our whole life on this level is a form of soil. This correspondence is not just allegorical; because biology reflects spirituality quite perfectly in all of its correspondences, the being of ordinary life is a fine or coarse soil, depending on my level of responsibility. A plant is meant to grow in that soil; but if the soil is thick and impenetrable, if the particles are clumped together and resist the flow of water, if the particles cling too strongly to one another and don't yield nutrients, it's very difficult to get a plant to grow. And this is what I am trying to do. My soul is a plant that needs the nourishment from the particles and soil of my being; and it can't grow unless the soil is properly prepared.
This means that I need to come into a much closer and more intimate relationship with this soil of my Being, to sense its particles and help loosen them up. That happens very slowly over a very long period of time; the soil not only needs to loosen up so that its grains are finer and finer, and I sense that fineness as a living vibration; there are also many kinds of beneficial "bacteria"—we might call them the intimations of higher feelings— that also need to penetrate that soil and breeding it, and they won't do so unless it rains regularly, the temperature is correct, and so on. Eventually, if I do the kind of work (which Mr. Gurdjieff called conscious labor and intentional suffering) that prepares the soil, my higher Being and my inner work begin to grow roots down into this soil.
There's nothing allegorical about this process. I need to understand it quite literally, from a spiritual point of view, because the sensation and the feeling of these roots is literally that of the growth of roots. Once the plant starts to grow roots, it connects my inner work to my outer life, and there's a much stronger connection between my work and the way I live. But I think you can see from this description that it's quite impossible to think this up and make it happen. You might as well go put a seed out in your garden and try to think it into sprouting. Which is what we, of course, do try to do — and it's an entirely wrong conception. The entire point of inner work needs to be reconfigured in us so that we stop trying to be philosophers and start trying to be gardeners.
This reconfiguration takes a long time as well, so it would be best to get started.
This subject will be of interest to those interested in studies of the enneagram and the question of why Gurdjieff said man has six—and not five—senses.
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The Sixth Sense
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.