Monday, January 22, 2018

Vanity and Self Love

Frieze from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II
Metropolitan Museum, NY

Nov. 26th, 2017

A long-time and most valued friend in the work reminds me,

The two biggest enemies of a man in the Work, the two giants never spoken of, are Vanity and Self Love. "Our greatest enemies" warns Mr. Gurdjieff. Jean Claude exclaims this every time he comes to New York. They "go ahead of us," these two giants and, the Work says, "they prepare everything," the elephants in every room and yet never seen.

These two enemies are self-created forces, that is, they are forces within being that have an action on its center of gravity.

While there are a lot of ways to look at this, and many snazzy quotes could be deployed, perhaps it's useful to understand it from a cosmological point of view and then relate that directly to practical work.

It’s true that “I” am exactly like this, these forces are active in being within what I call myself. But these forces are not myself. They're usurpers that form a kernel and then grow themselves within being in order to manifest what we would call lunar forces. That is to say, they are forces from the descending ray of creation, which moves from the top of the universe, where love is infinitely abundant and powerfully concentrated, down towards the bottom, where there is relatively little of it (that is, it is poorly concentrated) and everything needs to be fed constantly.

Lunar forces have a certain kind of greed to them. They are takers and keepers, not givers and sharers. This is a rightful action in a certain way appropriate to their place in the universe; they have a real and objective need for what is sent, and they wish to grow from it. The problem is that the wish is a selfish one in human beings. A planet like the moon can perhaps be more objective in what it receives, because it is at such a level that it doesn’t have an intellect of the same kind that we do; its intellect is more mechanical and has no free will. This is, perversely, a better and easier condition that mankind finds itself in, because it is governed by mechanical laws that prevent vanity and self-love from becoming the destructive forces that they are in a human being, where choice has become far more active.

So I have come under lunar forces. The fact is that I am under them anyway, and must serve that part of the ray of creation whether I like it or not. The point is how I serve it.

If we look at ancient Babylonian art, we see, for example, eagles — rapacious predators — anointing the tree of life (which is a model of the universe and the energies that flow in it) with the pinecones of wisdom. They pay homage to the structure and the laws, and understand their place. Put in biblical terms, they render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. So if we were aware of who we are and what our role is, we would render unto lunar forces what is due to them; but instead, they seize us and more or less extinguish our consciousness, which is weak, with their own impulse, which is strong. Unless I am willing to watch this process relentlessly over course of many years — not work weeks or weekend yoga workshops — I will not be able to see how active this is in me, or how much it influences me.

Then again, let’s suppose that I spend all of these many years observing this. Of course it’s essential; and eventually I begin to understand that there's a difference between this thing called self-love and this thing called vanity which act within me, and my own Being, or "real self." (I put it in quotation marks because the only Real Self is God.) That is to say, I see them as forces rather than as who I am. For as long as I'm identified with how beautiful I look and how wonderful my manifestations are, I think that’s who I am. Once one creates a separation of self from self then one sees that these forces are active, and quite a mess; and perhaps one even manages to develop a sense of shame about them, at least at some times. Epictetus reminds us that we must not put the center of gravity of our being in forces like this. The idea of stoicism is to develop a sense of skepticism towards subjective forces.

There is another force which I need to come under, and that is the solar force.

This force comes from above me, not below me, and emanates a higher energy which feeds Being. Unless the molecular structure of my body becomes more receptive to this, I can't acquire and concentrate the force that is needed to understand more clearly the difference between myself and my vanity and self-love; and once I do acquire this capacity, I will quickly see that when I am apart from the energy, I am helpless.

This is a moment in which I truly understand my own nothingness, because I see that I am subject to forces larger than me — whether they be selfish or unselfish, lunar or solar — and that I am required to act as a servant, whichever capacity I discover myself in.

I can serve unconsciously, that is, through self-love and vanity and lunar forces; or I can begin to serve more consciously by developing the capacity for accepting solar influences more actively, sensing them physically, participating in the remorse and humility that they bring, and understanding that my role must be one of intelligent compassion.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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