Conduct and observance

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cows and kittens

Gurdjieff once said to Ouspensky, in the context of the wish that things in life were different, that "in order for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different."

It is not in the nature of the universe for things to be different. Things are as they are. They are always exactly as they are. They always will be exactly as they are.

This state of "exactly as they are" follows precisely and irrevocably from everything that has already taken place, beginning at the quantum level, and extending up to the level of galactic interactions. An inexorable force consisting of an (for all practical purposes) infinite number of already completed events stands behind each and every moment.

It is an illusion, a vanity, to believe that anything can be different. In any given moment, if we abandon the imagination, we may begin to see that things are exactly this way now.

It is useless to wish that they can be any different than this. The only thing that can be different in a moment is our relationship to it.

I'm sure some readers will find this assessment pessimistic, and argue that this eradicates the concept of freedom of choice, free will, and all those other supposedly "free" things that we so fervently believe we have or can get.

In the popular imagination, "freedom" is a supposedly inalienable right of man. We talk incessantly about freedom of every imaginable kind: political "freedom," sexual "freedom," spiritual "freedom." Men have relentlessly killed each other in the millions for thousands of years in order to obtain this thing we call freedom.

Way to go, guys.

Freedom of what? Freedom from what? "Freedom" is an imaginary object, a psychological chimera; it constantly changes its nature, depending on the experience of the subject.

Let's just examine this exact moment here in front of us. For me, it is this moment as I write: for you, it is this moment as you read. They are two different moments, but it is all part of the same moment.

Can this particular moment really be different than it is?

Are we "free?" If so, how?

It is just as it is, isn't it? For it to be different, something would have had to be different before this, and it is too late to make that happen. This is worth pondering; there is an implication within this that our entire perception of reality is erroneous, based on the idea that we have a choice about what we confront in life.

There is no choice. We always confront exactly what we confront, not what we want to confront. No bargains with reality can be made. (Read Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical thinking" for some thoughtful, well considered pondering on this subject.)

In this universe of absolute physical and chemical laws, every moment is born directly from the foundation of every moment that preceded it. To argue that what takes place within any given moment could be different than just exactly what takes place--or, even more amusingly, that human beings can somehow control it- would be to argue that cows can give birth to kittens.

The only thing that we can do with this moment that might actually make this particular moment different is that we can attempt to inhabit it.

That term carries within it the implication of various degrees, various potential " levels of consciousness," as Gurdjieff would put it, but that is the only thing that could be different. No matter where we are and what happens, what comes at us and enters us is what comes at us and enters us.

This effort to inhabit life is the place where real freedom-- inner freedom-- might lie, but it is a freedom that is practiced in a special way. It can only be discovered in the context of obedience, because the point of space and time which our consciousness inhabits and experiences exists only within the context of universal law.

Every creature, every organism, every event, is bound firmly into the matrix of this reality that is experienced. Each conscious creature, organism, and circumstance is an expression of intelligence.

Taken together, everything that arises in every moment, taken in its sum totality, is the expression of the single Universal Intelligence.

Christians call it God; Dogen would call it the Buddha Dharma; Rumi, in his simple and disarming way, just referred to it as the Lover.

So there we have it. Freedom through relationship: born of intelligence, practiced through obedience.

May your cows give milk, and your kittens take naps.

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