The Truth—Will it Set You Free or Will it Completely Fry Your Ass and Undo You?


Your life is the mirror of what you are. It is in your image. You are passive, blind, demanding. You take all, you accept all, without feeling any obligation. Your attitude toward the world and toward life is the attitude of one who has the right to make demands and to take, who has no need to pay or to earn. You believe that all things are due you, simply because it is you! All your blindness is there! Yet none of this strikes your attention.

None of this strikes your attention because you have no measure with which to measure yourself. You live exclusively according to “I like” or “I don’t like,” or “I feel like” or “I don’t feel like.” You have no appreciation except for yourself. You recognize nothing above you—theoretically, logically, perhaps, but in actuality no; you submit to nothing except your own desires and subjectivity. That is why you are demanding and continue to believe that everything is cheap and that you have enough in your pocket to buy everything you like. You recognize nothing above you, either outside yourself or inside. That is why you have no measure and live passively according your impulses and likes and dislikes.

Yes, this lack of appreciation for anything and anyone except for yourself blinds you. It is by far the biggest obstacle to a new life. You first must get over this threshold, this obstacle, before progressing even one step further. This crux alone is what divides human beings into two kinds: the “wheat” and the “chaff.” No matter how intelligent, how talented, how gifted, how brilliant a human being may be, if he does not change his appreciation of himself, there will be no hope for real inner development, for a work toward honest self-knowledge, for an awakening. He will remain such as he is now for his entire life.

The first requirement, the first condition, the first test for one who genuinely wishes to work on oneself is to change his appreciation of himself. And he must not do this theoretically—he must not imagine, not simply believe or think; rather he must do this in actuality: he must see things in himself which he has never seen before—which he has never had the nerve or courage to see before. And he must see them fully. A person’s appreciation of himself will never change as long as he or she sees nothing new and untoward in himself.

Today we have nothing but the illusion of what we are. We do not respect ourselves. In order to respect myself, I have to recognize a part in myself which is above the other parts. And my attitude toward this part should bear witness to the respect that I have for it. But so long as I treat all parts of myself equally, I think too highly of myself and I do not respect myself, and my relations with others will be governed by the same caprice and lack of respect.

In order to see oneself, one must first learn to see. This is the first initiation into genuine self-knowledge. In order to see ourselves realistically, we must see all the ways in which we habitually over-estimate and over-appreciate ourselves. But you will see that to do this is not easy. It is not cheap. You must pay dearly for this. For bad payers, lazy people, parasites, there is no hope. You must pay, pay a lot, pay immediately, and pay in advance. You must pay with yourself; you must pay with sincere, honest, conscientious, disinterested efforts. And the more you are willing and prepared to pay without economizing, without cutting corners, without cheating, without falsifications, the more you will receive. Because from that moment on you will become acquainted with your nature. You will begin seeing all of the tricks, all the dishonesties that your nature resorts to in order to avoid paying with real cash, real effort, real expenditure, real sacrifice, real cost to oneself. Because up till now, you like to cheat, you like to cut corners; you like to try and pay with your readymade theories, your convenient beliefs, your prejudices and conventions, your “I like” and “I don’t like”; you like to bargain, pretend, offer counterfeit money.

Objective thought is a look from Above. A look that is free, that can see. Without this look upon me, seeing me, my life is the life of a blind person who goes her own way, driven by impulse, not knowing either why or how. Without this look upon me, I cannot know that I exist.

I have within me the power to rise above myself and to see myself freely—and to be seen. My thinking has the power to be free.

But for this to take place, my thinking must rid itself of all of the garbage that holds it captive, passive, unfree. My thinking must free itself from the constant pull of emotions. My thinking must feel its own power to resist this pull—its objective capacity to separate itself and watch over this pull while gradually rising above it. For it is in this moment that thought first becomes active. It becomes active while purifying itself.

If we cannot do this—if we refuse to do this—our thoughts are just illusions, something that further enslaves us, that we use to numb and avoid ourselves, a snare in which real thought loses its power of objectivity and intentional action. Confused by words, images, half-truths, fantasies, falsehoods, it loses the capacity to see. It loses the sense of “I”. Then nothing remains but an organism adrift, a body deprived of intelligence and seduced by any- and everything, and wholly at the mercy of “I like” and “I don’t like.” Without this inner look, without this inner seeing, I can only fall back into automatism, and live under the law of accident and nature.

And so my struggle is a struggle against the passivity of ordinary thinking, being seduced and led astray and obliterated by it. Without struggling against ordinary thought, a greater consciousness will not be born. At the heart of this struggle—to create order out of chaos—a hierarchy is revealed—two levels, two worlds. As long as there is only one level, one world, there can be no vision. Recognition of another and higher level is the awakening of thought.

Without this effort, without this struggle, thought falls back into a sleep filled with seductive and consoling words, images, preconceived notions, approximate knowledge, dreams, fantasies, and perpetual drifting. This is the thought of a person without any real intelligence. It is a terrible thing to realize that one has been living for years without any intelligence, without a level of thinking that sees what is real, with thinking that is without any relation to the real world. It is a terrible waste to think this way.

But without realizing this—without realizing that perhaps one has been thinking for years without intelligence—there is no hope for awakening.

Try just for a moment to accept the idea that you are not what you believe yourself to be, that you overestimate yourself, in fact that you lie to yourself. That you always lie to yourself every moment, all day, all your life. And that this lying rules you to such an extent that you cannot control it any more. You are the prey of lying. You lie, everywhere. Your relations with others—lies. The upbringing you give, the conventions—lies. Your teaching—lies. Your theories and art—lies. Your social life, your family life—lies. And what you think of yourself—lies also.

But you never stop yourself in what you are doing or in what you are saying because you believe in yourself. You never doubt or suspect yourself. You must stop inwardly and observe. Observe without preconceptions, accepting for a time this idea of lying. And if you observe in this way, paying with yourself, without self-pity, giving up all your supposed riches for a moment of reality, perhaps you will suddenly see something you have never before seen in yourself until this day. You will see that you are different from what you think you are. You will see that you are two. One who is not, but takes the place and plays the role of the other. And one who is, yet so weak, so insubstantial, that he no sooner appears than he immediately disappears. He cannot endure lies. The least lie makes him faint away. He does not struggle, he does not resist, he is defeated in advance. Learn to look until you have seen the difference between your two natures, until you have seen the lies, the deception in yourself. When you have seen your two natures, that day, in yourself, the truth will be born. You will finally be born.

– Jeanne de Salzmann, abridged and adapted and at points modified from “Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings,” pp. 2-6.

Advertisements

Learning to Love Oneself and the High Cost of Not Doing So—of Not Waking Up & Not Being Honest With Ourselves


What does it take to grow/mature as a person emotionally and psychologically and intellectually?

One of the most important first steps is that we must be able to identify our feelings—especially our negative emotions and feelings—what feeling is driving us at this moment and what’s behind that feeling, what’s motivating it—what fear, what insecurity, what past transference, et cetera.

For example, when we’re out at a restaurant with our spouse/partner and children and we’re feeling overwhelmed and getting stressed out, are we able to identify in real-time what we’re feeling—stressed, overwhelmed—and are we able to identify in real-time or near-real-time why we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Is it because our kids are driving us nuts and we sense our partner to be getting uptight or, just the opposite, that he or she is being too lackadaisical and uninvolved? Or is it because we’re out in public?—the kids are acting up, and we’re stressed out because we think everyone is looking at us and secretly thinking bad negative nasty things about us in their heads, and so what we’re really afraid of is the sense of shame and embarrassment and of being criticized by “all” of the restaurant’s other patrons that is lurking beneath the surface of our awareness and that we’re trying to stuff out of our awareness because what we really don’t want to have to deal with is feeling like we’re being invalidated or criticized or thought of poorly or thought of as a bad or incompetent parent. And so we get angry at our kids not because it’s necessarily the right thing to do or in our children’s best interest to get angry at them, but rather, we get angry because we’re so stressed out by and so afraid of a roomful of strangers thinking badly about us and or giving us condescending looks and sending us nasty-grams with their eyes, and we have great difficulty dealing with and tolerating and metabolizing feelings of shame and inadequacy and not-OK-ness because we haven’t yet learned to self-validate and self-soothe very proficiently, and we don’t yet realize that it’s not what other people think about us that really matters nearly as much as it is what we think about ourselves; and that the best way to think independently and well of ourselves is to live life nobly and honorably, which in part means consistently doing what is right for our children and correcting them lovingly and helping plant and nurture the seeds of good virtues and principles in them.

And so that moment is also about realizing that right now, at that very moment, we are reaping what we’ve been unknowingly been sowing—both in ourselves and our children—for years, and that what we’re reaping is the product of past unconscious seeding or past neglects—that we haven’t been planting and nurturing enough seeds of perspective and self-discipline and self-soothing in ourselves—we haven’t been reading enough decent books, writing, journaling, meditating—and we haven’t doing enough inner work. And we haven’t been practicing for eating out at restaurants by using mealtimes at homes as practice sessions for proper behavior, good manners, learning please and thank you.

Neglect costs. Neglect exacts its toll, one way or another. And if we try to play games of denial or postponing paying up or passing off the costs and consequences onto others of our neglect, we make matters even worse for ourself—our future self—and make the costs of our neglect even higher and more difficult to pay and manage.

LARGE part of loving ourself means learning to love ourself not just right now, in the moment, but also learning how to love and be good to our future self and not saddle him or her with a bunch of debt incurred in the present moment because of our fears and denial and lust for comfort, escape, immediate gratification.

Whenever we give into irrational fears and or we opt for immediate gratification in the form of indulging our want of escape and denial, we are giving a big eff you and who cares to our future self. It’s a cry for help, really. Every time we opt to neglect thinking about our future self and refuse to be aware of why we’re really angry or feeling stressed out and instead indulge these emotions by acting out on them instead of investigating them mindfully and honestly, we are not loving ourself—either now, in the moment, or in the future—our future self. Instead, we are either hating or neglecting or being callous to ourself—for certain our future self, and in all likelihood, our present self and our present relationships as well.

To love ourself means to love our future self, to treat our future self like a child, and thus to parent ourself wisely right now, in the present moment, so that we can make that better life for ourself in the future by doing what is most necessary and required: making a better and wiser and more loving and courageous and honest self of ourself right now. That is how we love ourself—by loving ourself both now and in the future, and integrating those two selves, by making good choices now, by working harder on ourself right now than we do at our job or our schooling or our leisure (“Work harder on yourself than you do on your job”–Jim Rohn)—that is the indisputable way that we show our love for ourself—by how much we are willing to work on becoming a better version of our self—a more honest, courageous, noble, patient, virtuous, kind, trustworthy, giving, gracious self.

Why Are You Pissing Your Life Away Asleep and Living as if Life Goes on Forever?


How do you view yourself and your life?

Do you see yourself and your life and your actions as an ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil, darkness and light, within yourself?—your good and healthy inclinations versus your unhealthy and bad inclinations?—your inclinations to stay comfortable and have an easy life opposing your inclination to grab life by the stones, to wake up and live courageously and much more honestly and with heart- and mind- and eyes-wide open?—to get yourself up out of the muck and mire and live in a much more ennobling and virtuous and wise and—dare I say it—”Godly” way?

How do you see yourself and your one little precious life?

Some of us are very good people, some of us are very bad, even evil, people, but the vast majority of us are somewhere in between.

We might therefore think of human good and human evil as a kind of continuum. And as individuals we can move ourselves one way or the other along the continuum. With sustained effort—right effort—we can move ourselves more and more toward the good, and with sustained denial and neglect and abnegation of responsibility we can move ourselves further and further away from the good and closer and closer to the bad or toward evil.

Just as there is a tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, so too there seems to be a tendency for the good to get better and the bad to get worse, the wise to get wiser and the foolish and unhealthy to get even more foolish and mentally unhealthy.

(Adapted and elaborated on from M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil,” pg. 88)

So what accounts for this?—what is necessary or required for us to move ourselves along the continuum in the right direction, from less healthy psychologically to more healthy psychologically, from less goodness to more goodness? 

Two things, in my estimation.  The first is awareness—call it mindfulness, self-awareness, self-consciousness, being “awake,” leading an examined life; it’s the capacity to realize what we we’re doing while we’re doing it.  Without this capacity, life is either a senseless blind descent into the ground, or always lived in retrospect and only understood by looking back, never by looking clearly at what’s in front of us and where we are right now.  This sort of awareness requires intelligence, as well as tremendous honesty and inner grit/courage, and a good bit of humility—swallowing our pride and denial, not being afraid to admit when we’re wrong, not being afraid of feeling ashamed, embarrassed, inadequate, less than; because if our self-esteem is so low that we are afraid to take these hits—bear these narcissistic injuries and slights to ourself—then we will continue on the path of excessive and malignant emotional self-protection—avoidance of feeling badly about ourselves at all costs, even when it means hurting others and forcing them to take the hit emotionally rather than ourselves

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15: 13)

And some degree of external necessity.  Few of us will come to great levels of self-awareness and wakefulness and wisdom by virtue of inner necessity alone; we will need to have our hand forced, compelled, or even guided by something outside of us—Grace, a teacher or mentor or guru, a path, a religious or spiritual path (meditation, the Dharma, a twelve step program), a great loss or series of losses, great pain, a near-death experience, a cancer-scare or heart attack, something along those lines that will force us to cut through our crap and start the habit/discipline of looking squarely and directly at ourselves and leading much more honest and examined life.

Some people—a very small minority— are compelled by inner necessity to wake up and get serious about living much more honestly and sincerely.  They are graced (cursed?) with powerful, even horrifying, glimpses of their own impermanence and fragility and brevity—the impermanence and fragility and brevity of all things—that there is nothing in this world to cling to, that we are born without any real idea why we are here or for how long (“I stick my finger in existence—it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How did I come to be here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? And why was I not consulted?” – Søren Kierkegaard), that talk of God and an afterlife is largely some combination of hand-me-down stories and inner wish-fulfillment and desperation.  And a glimpse such as this—all at once searing and piercing and terrifying—of oneself and one’s lot is enough to get some people to cut the crap and to get busy living more honestly, sincerely and in a much more awake and responsible fashion.

But most people are not graced—or cursed—with such experiences or glimpses into the way things (likely) really are.  Instead they live asleep behind a curtain of words and ideas and social conventions and expectations, anesthetizing themselves on drink, relationships, Sunday church, a Monday through Friday routine of 8-5 work then a commute home for dinner and an evening in front of the TV, conversations about sport, gossip, politics, and other trivial matters, facebook, web browsing, dissipating and numbing themselves constantly in a thousand different ways all so that they never have to come up against or feel and face the likely truth of their existence.  Instead they’d rather “tranquilize themselves on the trivial” (Earnest Becker’s term, from “The Denial of Death”), focus on the little happy sounding things in life—building self-esteem rather than character, being happy rather than being good, being comfortable rather than being awake and fully born, being content rather than having a mature conscience and an active soul, fitting in the status quo rather than growing up as much as one can emotionally and psychologically and spiritually.  It is these people who will require some sort of external inducement or aid to help them wake up and live more sincerely and honestly and mindfully.  They will require a guru or teacher, or some sort of calamity, or hitting rock bottom in some way, before they will have the impetus to get living in a more courageous and noble way.

“If you will but stop here and ask yourself ‘Why am I not as pious as the first Christians were?’ your own heart will tell you the answer: that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.” – William Law

Our capacity to choose changes constantly with our practice in life.

The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions (i.e. taking the easy way out, the path of least resistance—choosing the easy wrong over the difficult right, choosing the easy and quick-fix wrong over the difficult and more long-term right, choosing comfort over truth, opting for half-baked solutions and easy answers, scapegoating, abdicating responsibility, blaming others, spinning out emotionally, refusing to look at ourselves, being hypersensitive to honest criticism and scrutiny, et cetera)—and refuse or are unwilling to see our decisions as such, the more our heart will harden (our heart will have to harden in order to keep out the light and keep us in the dark and keep us in denial).

On the other hand, the more often we make the right (courageous, noble, virtuous, honest) decision, the more our heart softens—or perhaps better, comes alive.

Each step in life which increases my courage, my honesty, my integrity, my conviction, and my wisdom also increases my self-confidence, my discernment, and my capacity to choose the desirable alternative (the difficult right over the easy wrong), until it eventually becomes more difficult for me to choose the undesirable wrong (the easy way out) rather than the desirable right.

On the other hand, each act of surrender and cowardice—each time I blame/scapegoat others and or life and refuse to master myself and my own reactions and emotions and avoidant (drapetomaniacal) tendencies, and instead reactively opt to abrogate or abnegate responsibility—weakens me, opens the door to further acts of surrender, and eventually freedom is lost.

Between the extreme when I can no longer do a wrong act and the extreme where I have lost my freedom to right action and parent or govern myself in a healthy and conscientious way, there are innumerable degrees of freedom of choice.

In the practice of life, the degree of freedom emotionally (limbically) and psychologically to choose is different at any given moment.

If the degree of freedom to choose the good is high, then it requires less effort from me to choose the good.

However, if the degree of freedom is small, then it requires either favorable circumstances, help from others (borrowed functioning, emotional support, other-validation, encouragement), or it requires great effort on my part—grit, self-mastery, a productive character orientation, honesty, courage, inner reserves and resourcefulness, a strong conscience, a strong and well-developed ethics of personal responsibility, and so on.

Most people fail in the art of living not because they are inherently bad or so without will that they cannot lead a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see when they stand at a fork in the road and have to decide.  They are not aware when life asks them a question, and when they still have alternative answers.  Then with each step along the wrong road, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to admit that they are on the wrong road—most likely because that would require them (a) to admit to themselves and others that they are on the wrong road and (b) that would further burden them to admit that they must go back to their first wrong turn, atone and make their amends and reparations, and (c) accept the fact that they have wasted a lot of unnecessary energy and time living pridefully and in fear of feeling ashamed, embarrassed, not good enough, et cetera.

(Adapted and modified and elaborated on from Erich Fromm’s “The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil,” pp. 135-138)

.

The resolve to awaken requires the integrity not to hurt anyone in the process.  Dharma practice cannot be abstracted from the way we interact with the world.  Our deeds, words, and intentions create an ethical ambiance that either supports or weakens our resolve.  If we behave in a way that harms either ourselves or others, our capacity to focus on our work will be weakened.  We will feel disturbed, distracted, anxious, uneasy, and our practice will less and less effect. . . .

Ethical integrity requires both the intelligence to understand the present situation as the fruition of former choices, and the courage to engage the present moment as the arena for the creation of future consequences (karma).  It empowers us to embrace the ambiguity of a present that is simultaneously tethered to an irrevocable past and yet still free for a future that is not wholly determined.

Our ethical integrity is threatened as much by attachment to the security of what is familiar and known as by fear of what is unfamiliar and unknown.  It is subject to being remorselessly buffeted by the winds of desire and fear, doubt and worry, distrust and anxiety, fantasy and egoism.  The more we give into these things, the more our integrity and resolve are eroded, and the more we find ourselves being carried along on a wave of psychological and social habit.

(Adapted and modified from Stephen Batchelor’s, “Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening,” pp. 45-48)

Gurdjieff on Self-Deception and Truth


One must learn to speak the truth.

This may sound strange to you.  It may seem to you that it is enough to wish or to decide to do so. 

But it isn’t.

People comparatively rarely tell a deliberate lie.  In most cases they actually think they speak the truth.  Yet they lie all the time—both when they wish to lie and when they wish to speak the truth.  They lie all the time—both to themselves and to others.

Therefore nobody ever understands either himself or anyone else.

Think about it—could there be such discord, such deep misunderstanding, such animosity and hatred towards the views and opinions of others, if people were able to understand one another? 

Of course not.

So people cannot understand because they cannot help lying.

To speak the truth is the most difficult thing in the world; and one must study a great deal and for a long time in order to be able to speak the truth.  —The wish alone is not enough.

To speak the truth one must know what the truth is and a lie is, and first of all in oneself.

And this nobody wants to know.

(G.I. Gurdjieff, in P. D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” pg. 22)