Saturday, February 23, 2019

Resolution and Being, part I

Menhir of Conozoules

I was driving across town last Wednesday night, headed towards the Gurdjieff Foundation. If New York City is the heart of the universe on earth, The Gurdjieff Foundation is at the heart of New York: an open secret, a place of intentional stillness at the heart of the great city where everything pauses, where the silence of the soul quietly makes itself heard.

How can I describe these December evenings, which contain perfections too sublime to measure? One drives through Central Park, stone walls looming up on either side, the bright lights of the city glittering like stars through the bare branches of the trees… it's always an experience filled with atmosphere and mystery, a bubble in the midst of time between places.

East side, West side. 
Job, Gurdjieff work. 

A moment of suspension. Eternity defined not by its expanse, but by its limitations.

This time around, however, for a moment a different dimension opened around me. Everything that could possibly be was in this dimension, all of it in movement, somehow simultaneously compressed into a single instant— and also opening expansively throughout time and space, as if it included, with ease, the entire nature of the universe. 

I don't like to use overblown phrases like that, but it seems necessary in order to describe just how deep and wide this dimension of existence was.

In this single instant, I had the distinct impression that nothing could be resolved. Not just in this one moment, but ever. This was a doorway into another universe, a comprehensive dimension of existence and understanding that opened for one nanosecond and then closed again: but within it were all things.

In order to explore this moment in more detail, I resolved to take a look at what the word resolution means in the first place. I did so; and I was surprised. So, etymology first, and other  impressions afterwards.

The word resolution quite literally means, in its own right,"re– solution," in the sense of something that is dissolved, broken into parts. It derives from the past participle in Latin resolvere; and that, in turn, is related to the Latin solvere, which also means to disperse, dissipate, and loosen. Hence we have a word which means, in English, to find an answer to (solve) or wrap up (resolve)– both implying a bringing together of various disparate elements into a whole—which had a nearly opposite meaning at one time.

We can reconcile the apparent contradiction by understanding that if we take many different elements, let's say, different soluble powders, and put them together in water–a solution – they are unified. They become whole in a new way. Yet the word resolve is far more complex than just that; it evokes many questions about just what we actually mean when we use it.

It's an unusually rich word. Running through the definitions in the Oxford English dictionary, we discover the following meanings:

1. To melt or dissolve, reduce to a liquid or fluid state.
2. To disintegrate, to break up, separate into constituent or elementary parts.
3. To soften. To disperse or dissipate.
4. To slacken or relax, as in the limbs.
5. To cause to pass away.
6. To separate a thing into its component parts.
7. To reduce by fundamental analysis into more elementary forms principles or relations.
8. To pass into another form or into simpler forms.
9. To reduce, transform, or change to something else.
10. To untie or loosen.
11. To answer or to solve, as a question or argument.
12. To remove, clear away, or dispel– for example,  as in doubt
13. To decide, to determine what's up.
14. To determine or decide upon.
15. To free from thought complexity; to bring certainty, clear understanding.

The way that I conceived of the word’s meaning on Wednesday night related to the idea of solving problems, of reaching an end to things. An ending in which things are explained, in which satisfactory answers are found, in which loose ends are tied up and one finally knows or understands something. 

In order to attempt to get to the bottom of that, allow me to explain a little further.

There’s something in me that thinks, with all of my being, within all of everything that is happening to me, that the various situations in life can be resolved. I’ll get the merchandise I am manufacturing shipped; I’ll make the money I hope to make; I’ll have the conversations I want to have, feel the feelings that are satisfying, eat a good meal that is properly cooked. 

In a nutshell—I’ll get the girl. 

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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