Friday, September 27, 2019

The North Slope

Notes from Aug 17/18, part 8

Gathering together various threads of this discussion, we propose the following:

  • Organic sensation arises from the concentration of finer substances within the human body (Gurdjieff)
  • Said sensation constitutes an intelligence of its own (G.)
  • This sensation, unattached to intellect, is objective (virtuous— Hadewijch)
  • It has a grounding effect (H.)
  • The combination of objective sensation and critical ( self-observing) intelligence opens a pathway to feeling (G.)
  • Feeling is also an intelligence of its own (Organic feeling—G.)
  • This feeling arises to balance the objective and subjective faculties (sensation and intelligence—G.)
  • Said feeling is rooted in charity and love for the other—i.e., deeply organic (H.)

  I’ve attempted to outline the process of inner development as simply as possible here, drawing the connections between Hadewijch and Gurdjieff and attributing, quite roughly, each of the ideas to its source. It’s worth noting that the idea of charity, care and compassion towards the other, is exactly mirrored in Gurdjieff’s teaching as the practice of outer considering, which he considered essential. Given his definitions of inner and outer considering, it seems reasonably certain that these furthermore exactly mirror Swedenborg’s principles of selfishness and unselfishness. 

Gurdjieff's inner considering is above all essentially selfish. Examining this point makes the connections between Gurdjieff and Swedenborg’s cosmology clear; they emerge from the same root.

Yet this entire process, which would be easy to lay out on the enneagram as a circular process that begins in selfishness (the right side) and ends in the surrender of selfishness (the ascent on the left side) somehow encompasses, in its entirety, what Hadewijch refers to as love. She uses this word repeatedly throughout the course of all her texts; and it's distinct from what she calls “sweetness,” which is a benefit of Grace and can, according to her, be received either selfishly or unselfishly. This issue is easily discovered in any close reading of her material.

Hadewijch, like Gurdjieff, insists that great effort must be undertaken in order to avoid the selfish path:

To put it briefly, low-minded men are all those who are not enthralled by eternal Love and are not continually watchful in their hearts to content Love. (Letter 12, p. 70.) Compare "continually watchful" to Gurdjieff’s emphasis on self-observation.

In other words, God himself commands that we nevermore forget Love, either sleeping or waking, in any manner, with all that we are, with heart, with soul, with mind, with strength, and with our thoughts. (Letter 12, p. 73.)  Compare this to Gurdjieff’s adage to at all times, and in all places, remember yourself.

A friend and I frequently used to climb the Palisades in Tallman State Park at the entrance just off Ferdon Ave. in Piermont. It’s a short climb – probably no more than 300 feet up — on a very rough trail. We used to call it the North Face, because this section of the Palisades in the Sparkill Gap faces north. It is, of course, a reference to the traditional path of Everest – an ascent to the top of the world. In like kind, the left-hand side of the enneagram represents the North Face of spiritual work: a climb from the base camp of Being towards God. Rene Daumal equally likened such inner work to mountain climbing in his classic work, Mount Analogue.

Hadewijch offers equally intense descriptions  of the rigorous nature of this effort:

Oh! wisdom leads very deep into God! So there is no security of life here except in the deep wisdom that seeks to touch him. Alas! He is always untouched, and so deep to touch that he must be moved with compassion because so few men seek or long, with eagerness or by the force of ardent works, to touch him even slightly in his mystery: who he is, and how he works with love. (Letter 6, To Love Christ, p. 52.)

  Note her emphasis on the idea of no security in life – a theme to which she often returns, in which the idea of repose and comfort and a wish for ease of living yields obvious comparisons to Gurdjieff’s “Evil inner God of self-calming:”

“This strange trait of their general psyche, namely, of being satisfied with just what Smith or Brown says, without trying to know more, became rooted in them already long ago, and now they no longer strive at all to know anything cognizable by their own active deliberations alone… they themselves were personally to blame for it, and just on account of the abnormal conditions of external ordinary being-existence which they themselves have gradually established and which have gradually formed in their common presence just what has now become their inner ‘Evil-God’, called ‘Self-Calming’. 

Beelzebub’s Tales, First Edition, pgs104-105. Also see pages 610, 624-25, 783. 

We must be continually aware that noble service and suffering in exile are proper to man's condition; such was the share of Jesus Christ when he lived on earth as Man. We do not find it written anywhere that Christ ever, in his entire life, had recourse to his Father or his omnipotent Nature to obtain joy and repose. He never gave himself any satisfaction, but continually undertook new labors from the beginning of his life to the end. He said this himself to a certain person who is still living, whom he also charged to live according to his example, and to whom he himself said that this was the true justice of Love: where Love is, there are always great labors and burdensome pains. (ibid, p. 58.)

  Although they lived at about the same time and attained spiritual maturity in the first half of the 13th century, it’s impossible to imagine Hadewijch having had any contact with the supreme Sufi master Ibn Arabi. Yet look at how similar what they say is:

“Know that since God created human beings and brought them out of nothingness into existence, they have not stopped being travelers. They have no resting place… Every rational person must know that the journey is based upon toil and the hardships of life, on afflictions and tests and the acceptance of dangers and very great terrors. 

“It is not possible for the traveler to find in this journey unimpaired comfort, security, and bliss. For waters are variously flavored and weather changes, and the character of the people in every place where one stops differs from the character at the next. The traveler needs to learn what is useful from each situation. He is the companion of each one for a night or an hour, and then departs. How could ease reasonably expected by someone in this condition?

“We have not mentioned this to answer the people fond of comfort in this world, who strive for it and are devoted to the collection of worldly rubble. We do not occupy ourselves with or turn our attention to those engaged in this petty and contemptible activity… Masters… are scornful of this ambition because it is a waste of time and a loss of true rank and dissociates the realm with that which is unsuitable to it.

… So it would be better for you if, at the time of your contemplation, you were engaged in labor outwardly, and at the same time in the reception of knowledge from God inwardly. You would then increase virtue and beauty in your spiritual nature, which seeks its Lord through knowledge received from him through works and piety, and also in your personal nature, which seeks its paradise. .. So it is until the last breath, when you are separated from the world of obligation and the round of ascending paths and progressive development. And only then will you harvest the fruit which you have planted.

—Ibn ‘Arabi, Journey to the Lord of Power, Inner Traditions International, 1981, p. 27-29

Both of these 13th-century spiritual authorities are highly significant predecessors in the line of spiritual teaching that Gurdjieff brought; and both of them indicate how much great effort needs to be made in the direction of surrender of selfishness. Indeed, if we substitute the word “selfishness” for “ego,” it immediately gives us a much clearer picture of what the essential problem ego in all its varieties consists of.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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