What I do not wish for — what I don’t care about, don’t see, or have little or no concern over — represents a vast, in fact unimaginably vast, piece of territory, because I am in a state of objective anguish, or narrowness.
This very narrowness is created by my desires; and, in a nod to contemporary (if not Gurdjieffian) Buddhist philosophy, my suffering is created by my desire. It arises from my limitations, my inability; and all of those things arise, in turn, from my egoistic refusal to engage in community and to go beyond my own desire.
The action of outer considering and intentional suffering are both practical undertakings that attempt to help me move past the limitations of my own desire. Yet, paradoxically, I have to desire those things in order to work on them; so there is a need for certain transformation of existing desire, insofar as that is possible. Anyone who is attempted to work on this knows how extraordinarily difficult it is, and how resistant we actually are to change. In our imagination, we have a range of capabilities that can be deployed to change our inner desire; yet in reality, we usually fail. Most readers will know that I struggled with alcoholism and became sober; there is an example of a real change in desire, but the cost was quite frankly staggering, and a relatively small percentage of alcoholics are ever willing to pay it. I also recently had an exchange with a dear friend who is in love with an alcoholic, an extremely destructive relationship which they have cut off for a long time now, but cannot let go of. Their desire keeps turning them obsessively back towards the situation, even though they have no contact with this destructive and objectively tragic individual and that person's own struggle with their desire.
The point is that this individual is very nearly unable to make any change in the state of their desire; it is a fixed entity, and keeps forcibly turning this person back towards the desire itself. Desire, in other words, acquires its own impetus and a tremendous amount of force, and will do almost anything to keep itself alive — even kill the individual it arises in, which is how addiction often works out.
Now, we usually think of desire in limited and benign terms, emasculating it so that we can grasp it and preserve the illusion that we have some control over it. But if we understand that it is the force that ultimately leads, among other things, to suicide if and when it happens illustrates the unusual nature of the beast and the danger it presents. It relates to the idea of the monsters in us. (See An Organic Sense of Being.) Our desires don’t just limit what is possible for us; they enforce it. There is, in other words, an active quality to desire that causes it to function in an exclusively selfish manner, drawing the whole universe in around it. It manages to do this while at the same time remaining almost completely invisible, because I am identified with it — I have formed myself in conjunction with desire. While I may manage, if I see its destructive forces, to imagine myself outside its range, to practically place myself outside its range is an extraordinarily difficult action requiring a superhuman feat of will. That superhuman feat of will involves the action of all three centers.
In a certain sense, we might say that Gurdjieff’s fourth way has always, in its own way, had the aim of helping a human being overcome the limitations of their desire and finding their way to non-desire.
The situation reminds me of the remark one of Gurdjieff’s followers once made about his work: that he was trying to change the stars people were born under. He was, in other words, trying to reverse the situation where we are under the stellar influences of the male, the brother, the literal part the part that consists of earthly desire; and make no mistake about it, those are also stellar influences. What he wanted us to do was come under the stellar influences of the sister, the higher, which must lawfully blend with the stellar influences of the brother, but on an equal footing — which is almost never possible when the desires of the brother prevail.
Although this set of essays has been titled, collectively, the starry world of our desire, its nucleus is this question of limitation, and humility. If I see where I am, if I acquire a real humility, I begin to acknowledge these limitations. I begin to see how they emerge from my desire; and I begin, perhaps, to see how my non-desire — that which is not me, that which represents the unselfish side of being, has the potential to move beyond the limitations.
To go beyond the limitations the meaning of both true suffering — what Gurdjieff called intentional suffering — and love, which only arises as a result of the experience of intentional suffering.
For each individual who arises and has being of any kind, a universe arises with them. This is equally true for a gnat and an elephant, a human or a devil or an angel. That universe is a starry world that represents the entire sum of their being, on whatever level it is lived; and it always stands as a fragment of the great world of manifestation that represents the thought of God. We find ourselves on the razor’s edge between the worlds of our own desire and God’s desire; between the descending forces on the right side of the enneagram and the ascending forces on the left one.
We inhabit a metaphysical circulatory system; and the symmetry gives us insight into the nature of being. Both are lower and our higher nature are constricted by law, which takes on (both in the diagram and according to the lawful force arrangements of the cosmos) an identical geometric form — hence the reflection of the diagram along its vertical axis, so that the left and right sides mirror one another. The law of seven can also thus be referred to as the law of symmetry; and indeed, this was one of its names in ancient times, although that is now forgotten. The point is that there is a balance between the ascending and descending forces; they are mutually dependent, and just as our desires inhabit the descending arc, our non-desires populate the ascending one.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.