Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The question of chief feature comes up when we discuss negativity. My friend Kathy (see yesterday's comment) frequently refers to this oft--forgotten aspect of the work. She sees it as a central question.
There's no doubt that an understanding of how chief feature manipulates us, and how it manages to remain invisible as it causes us anguish and keeps us in a state of fear, is helpful in beginning to understand that we don't have to be that way. I forget that sometimes, so I'm glad she's around to remind me.
One of the most compelling things about the work that Ouspensky and Nicoll did with Mr. Gurdjieff was that they continually reminded us that we have a right to not be negative. That is to say, negativity as we experience it is not a natural state for men. It looks like it is, because the world is immersed in a sea of it at most times, but that is a delusional impression. The world is also paved with an enormous amount of asphalt and concrete, but that is not a natural state. We have just come to accept it as one as we continue to destroy the environment which sustains us.
Jared Diamond had some pretty interesting things to say about that in his book "Collapse." Basically, no matter how degraded an environment becomes because of man's interaction with it, to the current inhabitants, it looks normal. So no matter how depraved our inner conditions are, by the time we get there, they seem to be entirely logical. The conditions, whatever they are, seem to be irrevocable and inescapable. And to compound matters, we engage in an elaborate inner dialog to sustain that impression.
Why is that? Why don't we want to believe that there is an alternative?
I've been pondering that. Simply put, sleep cannot see sleep. From within our negativity, from within our hypnosis, there is no alternative, and there is not even the possibility of doing much more than imagining one. Chief feature, buffers, denial -- put them all together, they are powerful.
We don't have to be that way. But in order to find anything else, we have to actually believe it is possible and wish for it.
Oddly enough, when I tell people that there is a way to begin to understand one's inner negativity, understand where it originates, and feed oneself so that one can begin to extinguish it, no one seems very interested. I have not figured this one out yet. All around me, I see people who are angry, depressed, frustrated. They snap at each other, they feel unfulfilled in life, they don't get what is wrong with them. A lot of them ask me why I am happy most of the time, especially at work, where we are all under a lot of pressure and the situation keeps changing in unpleasant ways.
In order to tell people why I am like that, I would have to tell them everything, and that takes a way long time. No one is patient enough to listen.
Besides that, no one wants to know all of this. Hearing that you would have to undertake a long-term work involving meditation and self-study seems too complicated to them. They want to get rid of their negativity by turning on the TV.
And of course, that works, if only for a little while.
Perhaps we could say that the first step is to take responsibility for our negativity. This is exactly what alcoholics learn to do when they want to recover from alcoholism. And in the end, speaking as a long time experienced alcoholic who has been in recovery for over 25 years, I can tell you that negativity is an equally addicting substance. It's powerful, it's exciting, it can be fun. I have watched people fall in love with their own negativity until it consumed them. It feeds on and ultimately destroys their essence.
Negativity works the same way as alcohol, in that it creates an incredibly powerful denial mechanism to keep itself alive. That is because this state keeps itself intact by feeding on higher energies that belong to other parts. It is strictly parasitic. Like all parasites, it is not particularly concerned with the effect it has on the host, as long as it can earn its livelihood.
Taking responsibility involves taking a cold, hard look at the negativity and admitting that it is ours. First we have to take possession, and we never do that.
Take a look -- isn't it true? Whenever we are negative, it is because of what someone else did, isn't it?
One can undertake a work that will lead one out of this mess. That much is certain. But, as I said before, people just don't want to. Their negativity is so much a part of what they are that they cannot conceive of themselves without it. It preserves their separation from everyone around them, from the rest of the world, and reinforces the ego.
This makes them feel important. And for most people, that's what it's all about.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.
quotation marks, and negativity
I'm in one of those conditions today where the absolute, tangible, penetratingly sensible roots of my consciousness find their origins in the spaces between cells.
The kind of energy that makes this possible isn't available all the time. Then again, nothing is possible all of the time, even though anything is possible some of the time, and everything is possible given enough time.
My mother always used to tell me, "make hay while the sun shines." According to reports, William Segal--whom I often saw, but, to my regret, never knew personally-- frequently told people, when they had to accomplish a task, to make due with what they had.
So the idea is to go with what's in the air. We have to build our temples and conduct our rites of prayer from what we have, not what we wish for.
How can I speak from within this connection? I mean, literally, speak, because as is so often the case, today I dictate this blog, so that the words spring directly from the act of speaking.
We are animals. I breathe. We breathe. Every single breath feeds every single cell. This is my condition. I am alive and made of flesh.
What is it, as Mr. Gurdjieff so often said, to be a man "without quotation marks?"
Quotation marks represent not the real thing, but a reference to it. Something someone else said; something someone else did, something that happened elsewhere, at another time.
A man with a quotation mark at the beginning and end of his existence does not live within the crevices in his cells. He does not walk on a planet, breathe a gaseous medium, absorb colors and sounds, taste food, touch hard and soft things. He thinks about these things. He analyzes them, classifies them, and defines them.
But he does not live within them according to the possibilities offered by his organism.
This organic sense of being is not an end in itself. It's just a beginning. What makes it valuable is that it raises so many questions about what we are.
Again and again, the more I practice, the deeper I dig, the more I see that we do not know anything about what we are or where we are. We are all a gargantuan mass of assumptions and associations. All of that has to be completely tossed out, thrown away, left behind in the immediate sense of being here, organically, in order for me to begin to see anything.
These are the moments when it becomes apparent that the entire intellectual and conceptual structure of the mind falls short of the mark.
On a day like today, I stop thinking. I just exist. Every event that arrives, arrives as it needs to arrive. Every response arises as it needs to arise. It's odd; everything that needs to be done is available in the doing. There is no need to worry about it. In business, a request is made, and even though the mind seems empty and stupid, the response is forever in the fingertips.
Where did it come from? I don't know. I do see that I spend an enormous amount of time packing myself with information, worrying in unnecessary ways, attempting to manage, when all of it is just right there.
When Mr. Gurdjieff spoke of tension, he spoke of tension in the body, which certainly takes a great deal away from us. But there is also a great deal of tension in the way that we think. It is only when we get rid of it that we discover how unnecessary it was in the first place.
I am going to take a left hand turn and mentioned something that occurred to me over the past few days which relates to the discussion I have been conducting on the question of unity.
Mr. Gurdjieff told his followers that there was one thing man could "do." That one thing was to not express negative emotion.
That teaching is often understood to refer to the external expression of negative emotion. That is to say, he was indicating that we can avoid acting negative, speaking negatively, and so on.
He furthermore intimated that this work was preparation for what he called "the second conscious shock," or, intentional suffering.
Let's forward an alternative point of view on this question.
To "express" can also mean to squeeze the juice out of, to extract a substance.
At this stage in my study of negativity, which has been conducted intensively for a number of years, it occurs to me that the place where negativity is "expressed" is within us. When there is tension between centers, pressure arises. That pressure squeezes energy up out of the system into channels it does not belong in: it "expresses" negativity.
Once this imbalanced energy is present in us, it has nowhere to go but outward, where it quickly becomes destructive. This explains why negativity has great power: it comes directly from substances that could have been used otherwise.
From this we see that non-expression of negativity must begin in a much deeper place. Trying to "block" it at the point where it exits the body is much too late.
To not express negativity is to discover how to create inner conditions that prevent it from ever arising in the first place.
All of the discussions I have conducted about the Enneagram and the nature of the six inner flowers relate to this specific question. According to my investigations, it is only through the formation of a new and more complete inner relationship that we can begin to work on the question of not expressing negativity. And this is the one work which Mr. Gurdjieff said man could "do."
So in fact, man is capable of one extraordinarily important -- I daresay invaluable -- work which any man can undertake if he wishes to.
Negativity, however, is just so darned exciting and interesting that the idea of absolutely, positively getting rid of it doesn't seem to occur to us.
After all, if there is one thing we have proven over and over again for thousands of years, it is that mankind is utterly fascinated by destruction.
In this, I am no different than you are.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.