I think we all live lives in which we can bring up many examples in which we weren’t treated decently. We tend to carry these around in large suitcases, dragging them behind us in case we need to unpack them to justify some misdeed we have committed or plan to commit. Yet these suitcases take a tremendous amount of energy to drag around; and isn’t the point to forget about all of that and just try to treat people decently? I can only go forward. The bad things that were done to me in the past are over and while I am allowed to feel anguish about them — after all, every child of God is allowed to have a wish for goodness and anguish that they have not encountered it — I am not allowed to inflict that on others. It must become my own burden and I must learn from it in order to remember (and so often, almost always, I forget) and not do it to others. It is a cross, in other words, that I must carry to my own crucifixion, where I give up my identity — all the sameness of what I am and what I have always been — in favor of something that is new and more human. I want to be decent — which, in the original Latin decēre, meant to be fitting, proper, or suitable. If you think about this you will see the connection between identity — habit, repetitive behavior, and the way that the bad actor doesn’t know how to fulfill his role — and decency, which is a state in which the actor exactly fits his role by being fitting, proper, or suitable. So if we trace the roots of these words and thoughts we see how interconnected they all are.
In order to wrap this little discourse about my ponderings over the last month up, it becomes necessary to take a look at the word desire.
This word has surprising origins, and opens up a universe of meaning that would take more than a day or two to write about. But the short version is this: it is borrowed from a Latin phrase which (and this derivation is considerably compressed) comes from dē sidēre, which means, from the stars or constellations.
This is where the English phrase “when you wish upon a star” and the poem “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight” comes from. Desire is wish, and it is related to the starry world, that is, the astral level.
This opens up, as I alluded, to a very complex discourse about the nature of the astral level and how it has been depicted throughout many thousands of years of human history, right up to the present day. My friend Richard Lloyd's essay on the subject—available at this link—covers the subject in considerable detail and is well worth reading as an adjunct. Some of what follows is an expansion of his observations.
The question of desire is related to our connection to our spirit and our astral being, and to the influence of solar energies. Yet the word does not just allude to the higher levels of desire, which are connected to real being; when Gurdjieff speaks of desires and non-desires, he is speaking of the desires and non-desires that relate to our identity, which are directly opposed to the desires of the soul.
When a human being is born, two sets of desires exist side-by-side. Neither one is developed.
One of them is the desires of the spiritual being, which has just incarnated and needs to acquire its energy from the reconstruction of the soul, that is, the concentration of responsibility – the ability to respond.
The second is the desires connected to the physical body, which are all carnal and absolutely necessary in order for the body to develop. These two sets of desires are like fraternal twins, a brother and a sister, and many of the legends about brothers and sisters in religious mythology are related to this question. The point is that the sister is the desires of the spiritual being, which are receptive, fecund, and can receive energies from a higher level and give birth to a new kind of being.
The brother, however, is male and dominant and, although the brother’s role was supposed to be exclusively to nurture, nourish, and protect the sister while she grew up — she is, after all, the weaker of the two in many ways — and he takes over. Not only that, once he assumes his identity — his habitual sameness — he decides that he has to run everything and often even forgets the sister.
My own relationship with my late sister explains this to me in much more detail, which is how I now understand it and I’m passing it to you. One has to understand the relation between these two sets of desires and the way that they mirrors a sibling relationship in order to see how, in relationship to our ordinary life, our desires belong to the brother and our non-desires to the sister. This situation is perfectly mirrored in the sister, whose non-desires are the desires of the brother.
And it is the sister whose desires relate to the starry world, the astral level, the spiritual influences above us which we can receive. In a certain sense, the Virgin Mary is the representative and protector of the sister, and if her influence enters our life, the sister has a chance to recover from her inferior position so that the “non-desires” — the influences from the stars which only she has the capacity to receive — can help the spiritual side develop.
This is always at the expense of the brother, who is and has always been expendable. He lays down his life for his fellow man (in this case, his sister.) It is an act of love and sacrifice, and again, there are many religious traditions and stories that relate to this.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.