Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Exactly as it is, part II—A Special Mess

New York Orchid Show, 2018
Bronx Botanical Gardens

One of the assumptions that I seem to hear a great deal from people is that we can become free of our negativity, that we can overcome the mess within ourselves, the turning thought, the monkey mind, the chaos of our lives and our ordinary being. This is actually an aim for most people in spiritual work; one wants to get better, one wants to fix one’s life so that one is deep, contemplative, relaxed, spiritual, wise, insightful, and whole. All of these impulses come from the ordinary part of our being, which desperately sees — if it sees anything first — all the confusing parts which we are told are there. Well, let’s admit it — we already knew they were there anyway, as if we needed Ouspensky or Gurdjieff to tell us about this. But when spiritual teachers tell us we are a mess, suddenly, it’s important. Before they did so, the mess was ordinary — and now it’s a special mess. I can do something with it. What I may be able to do is beside the point — the mess now has more meaning.

Yet in our rush to “understand” Gurdjieff’s point of view — in fact no one but Gurdjieff will ever precisely do that, because he, like everyone else, was an idiot, a unique individual that no one else will perfectly replicate — we forget that the whole point of life is struggle. As I put it to some others a week ago, all of these messy parts within us have a function. Even the mess they are in is part of that function. Without this negativity, without chaos, there is nothing to work against. As I pointed out during that conversation, if we look at what God did with it, we realize that chaos has enormous potential. In relationship to our chaos, we need to become our own gods, struggle with it, and form a universe with laws.

This idea that “a man cannot "do” has a certain truth to it, but again it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. One thing that a human being can certainly do is struggle; what we struggle with, if we understand struggle, is our negativity, our opposition. We are all filled with it. An impulse to try and become free of it fails to see the value behind the negativity. If it were not there as a spur, we would never try anything. So we need our negativity as much as anything else; and it is only in seeing it and positioning ourselves against it with intelligent effort and meaningful affirmation, that we generate an inner energy that can help create enough heat to fuse our parts.

That fusion happens organically and naturally if enough struggle takes place; but the struggle cannot just be in the mind. The struggle — which is not exactly a struggle, but a form of acceptance — must take place in all of the parts. There is a field of engagement in the thinking, but there is also a field of engagement in the body and in the emotions. In this field of engagement, which has both inner and outer aspects, I train myself to see my negativity as a fact. In order to do this, I cannot be identified with it; there has to be a separate part that sees the negative polarity in action. That part sets itself against the negativity; and this effort generates the force that is needed to attract reconciling influences to my inner work.

We are not, in other words, meant to become free of anything. We are meant to inhabit life and immerse ourselves in it, everywhere we go, not just in some special place. It’s absolutely critical that we meet life exactly as it is, where it is, as much as possible in order to experience this.

The idea that the only place we encounter an opportunity to come into relationship with a higher energy, an intensified sense of being, and work with others in that state is within our own special spiritual organization is a destructive one which should be wiped out. The “special conditions” we spend so much of our lives wishing for and relying on in order to encounter inner growth are supposed to be a ground for preparation. Not a place we go to to soak up higher energy and then just forget about once we walk out the door. We must make an effort to use our inner energy to be fully engaged in life first, and then go to the special conditions as a touchstone. What we are forgetting is that the real “special conditions” are in our life itself, in the ordinary part of it. Instead we are too often allowing ourselves to become hypnotized by our spiritual organizations.

This all too often may lead to the kind of hypocrisy whereby we profess a love for all mankind, but in reality love only ourselves. It's a trap many individuals who are otherwise sincerely devoted to their religious groups and spiritual practices find at least one foot stuck in. We acquire myopia through our inattention; and we rely on our forms to deliver our results, instead of our intelligence and intuition.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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