looking into the marsh, Tallman State Park
The Reconstruction of the Soul
While this particular essay is not meant to be a part of my book by the same title, I thought I would wrap it up by explaining how the molecular sense of being relates to the reconstruction of the soul, since that is where said reconstruction begins.
There is a soul, an essence, an identity.
Just as the universe began unformed and had to discover its form — through the law of chaos, which as it begins to exist already wishes to create form — so we begin unformed. Even our soul, which preexists our living condition simply because it is part of the great expression of Being which the cosmos rests its foundation on, must rebuild itself and gather its responsibilities (it’s abilities to respond) back onto itself throughout the course of a lifetime. It is this gathering and concentration of received material that life is all about; and that is motivated by care, or sorrow. The example of Christ’s passion was meant to provide the most powerful possible demonstration of this principle; but we need to recapitulate the experience of grief and lamentation, sorrow and suffering, throughout every life, because we do not care if we do not suffer. And if we do not care, we do not attempt to walk the molecules back up and down the chains of our personal DNA and repair what is broken. Because make no mistake about it we are broken things, just as the cosmos is a broken cosmos.
The reconstruction of the soul consists of the intelligence, the sensation, and the feeling of life coming together and building a new personhood, a new being, with more care in it. The soul, if it is reconstructed within a lifetime, has the capacity for compassion; it may even begin to touch what is called real Love—a love quite different than the one we want for ourselves. But that Love is a greater thing—an essence—a material that flows into the prepared vessel of Being if the sensation is ready to receive it.
Gurdjieff spoke of the soul as something that does not already exist when we are born; he said it is a luxury that a human being doesn’t necessarily have to have in order to complete a lifetime. Yet it can’t be true; because every human creature arrives on this planet with an identity that can already seen in its eyes the day is born. That identity is the true self, or, as the Zen Buddhists have it , the face we had before we were born. It’s the reconstruction of our identity, the bringing back together of it, that matters — because in any given lifetime, we begin dissipated and must concentrate ourselves most powerfully in order to re-acquire our Being. This is, in point of fact, a sacred responsibility for human being, because a soul cannot help to participate in the caring — the grief and sorrow, the lamentation and the anguish — of the universe and of God himself unless it is reconstructed and gathered together enough to participate at this level of sensation, of feeling, of intelligence. This is the whole point of the religious life as Gurdjieff understood it; and, as I discuss in my book, it was the whole point of religious life during the Middle Ages, when human beings thought, felt, and sensed their lives in a quite different way than we do today. They were, of course, under the great influence of the Virgin Mary at the peak of her last great actions on the planet, during which all of the Gothic cathedrals were built. At that time in the course of Western history, everything that was known about the reconstruction of the soul — including the scale of the cosmos, and all of the subjects I’ve been discussing these essays — was encoded in the cathedrals and the art that they held. We are left with mere vestiges of that today; and we gaze on those structures understanding there is something special about them, without being able to penetrate just what that special property is.
The molecular sense of Being is the beginning of the reconstruction of the soul. It is an action grounded in and founded on a willingness to experience the anguish of life itself. This anguish — the word means narrowness, in its original root — cannot be rightly received unless the molecular sense of Being is awakened. It’s this willingness to engage so intimately with the cellular nature of our Being — which will powerfully remind us of death itself in every moment that we experience it — that prepares us to receive the feeling we need to receive in order to develop emotionally.
Of course much more could be said; but I will leave it at that for now, having said quite enough for one day.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.