NGC 6744, as imaged by the Hubble telescope.
Part of the series of notes to myself, May 2018
Notes on May 31.
I was in Manhattan driving west last night.
I saw a ConEd utility pipe belching steam out of the ground near Central Park West.
It came to me there, in that place, that we have to stop assuming we understanding things before they even begin, if we want to see where we are.
Another way of putting this—this is exactly what the unspoken words in me were— is that I have to begin to doubt everything I know.
If I could actually stop knowing anything, stop having the ongoing impression that I have an understanding of what things are and how they operate (for example, the steam pipe: what is this thing?), everything would suddenly be quite different.
Then I might actually see.
Inwardly, I’m forever on the edge of this.
This came back to me even more forcefully later as I sat in a room with a group of people struggling to understand what they are. Some of us, at times myself included, think we may know what man’s purpose is, that it’s this or that destiny or calling, and that we have to do this and that thing in order to fulfill that destiny. We explain stuff.
But I'm not sure about that at all. Last night, as I took in this impression, there wasn't really a lot of thought. There was nothing to explain.
Things just are.
It occurred to me that we are more or less pores. Impressions come into us; expressions come out of us. We can learn a lot about how these things operate from thinking about pores on the surface of a cell; and if that cell is consciousness, then our conscious Being is an aperture, through which things enter and leave. One ought to consider carefull how pores on a cell operate and understand how closely similar, on our own scale, we are to pores—apertures—in the mind of God.
God lives through us. He sweats through us. The point is that there is a porosity, and a reciprocal action.
We are meant to receive; we’re not agents, but receptors. The agent lies hidden from us; we call that agent God, and I think that is as good a word as any, because God is quite personal – a being, a person, not a thing or a place or a concept, but a personhood.
God has an agency that creates.
The agency that creates is all around us. We see it in everything; we see it in the rocks, for example, of the Palisades, the ancient basalt I drive by every morning on my way to work; and we see it in the branches of the trees and weeds, and the raindrops, and the way the grass grows (we don’t know how or why.)
There’s agency in all of this; it arises from an inherently creative force that remains completely mysterious to us. Of course it’s all part of the birth of the movement of God's realm; but that doesn't resolve what our place is or what we ought "do" about it.
This causes me to reconsider Gurdjieff's comment that man cannot "do." There are many different layers of meaning this statement; and of course many of them refer to egoistic attitudes towards ourselves, our work, and our life — for example, the idea that we can ”control” the energy in us, or what’s done with it. (A distinctly Hatha yoga concept, if ever there was one, but we certainly believe it.)
Anyway, what I'm getting at here is that man cannot "do”—in the sense that we were not created as creatures that do.
We are created to be creatures that can be.
To be is to do. In being, we take in what arrives. This is the crux of our existence, to receive. If we receive existence objectively, without interfering with, and have an honesty — a willingness to not lie — in the way that we manifest, already we are ”doing” awful lot, but it doesn't have any special result. It is simply an action of participation, and not of doing.
There are times when I sit within myself, closely observing the sensation in me, and I think quite carefully—without using my mind or my thought—about precisely what is already given. I want to see it quite accurately, not for what I think it is—I don’t know anything about it and my thoughts are relatively worthless—but what it actually is.
What is given, as it is, before I even come to it.
This force of life is given; I didn't make it, I can’t ask for it, and I am not in command of it.
My manifestation, my experience of myself and of life is given.
My sensation, no matter how acute or dull it may be, is given.
My thoughts, no matter how sharp or dull they may be, are given.
All of life is given; and my awareness, to the extent that I exercise it, is centered around experiencing what is given, not presuming that I give, or I can get better.
I'm to a large extent driven by this idea that I can get something better. I notice that a great deal of my automatic thinking revolves around the idea that I can get better things than I have—better possessions, better relationships, more money, a better job, etc. In observing this thought process, I see that my imagination is actually defective and disconnected from what’s already given. There is an enormously rich practice in inhabiting what is given, as opposed wishing there were something else. It reminds me most powerfully of one of Epictetus's maxims: for a man to find happiness, he should wish for things to be as they are.
I won't take any position on the question of happiness here — that could mean many different things. What I will take a position on is the idea that inhabiting what’s here is the most real and feeding thing I might experience.
Everything that I actually need is right here with me now. I don't need to improve. I need to experience.
All of my thoughts about improving interfere with my ability to experience. And I don't see that. It's quite strange, really—my aspiration is what destroys my effort. The thought that came to me is that ambition can be a terrible thing when it comes to spiritual work; instead of gifting, it may punish.
We should think about this carefully, I believe, because ambition is not our ally in such a case; it’s the enemy.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.