Saturday, September 15, 2012

Shock therapy

Madame de Salzmann was the designated successor of Gurdjieff. The person commissioned to continue, develop and expand 'the Work'.

In 'Heart with Measure' Ravi Ravindra, through his journal excerpts, gives an account of his encounter with her and his pursuance of spiritual transformation.

It is a remarkable document.

First because of its transparent honesty. We see what Ravi saw and, more importantly, failed to see.

Second because it gives a portrait of de Salzmann that shows her as a remarkably persistant, available and wise teacher.

Third because it focuses so intensely on the practicalities of change. Here is no speculation about what might be or picture painting of what ought to be but a consistent focus on the next step.

Three things struck me most forcibly.

One was Ravindra complaining about the failure of a meditation group and de Salzmann asking him about what contribution he had made to helping the group acquire the right direction and spirit? To which the honest answer was nothing. How often I thought do we in a group ask what is in this for me and fail to ask what is it that I offer? Can I offer an attention, an attitude that would transform the possibilities of this particular coming together? I was reminded in this regard of an Orthodox priest describing the way a congregation can coalesce and help one another in prayer if particularly attentive and receptive but how so often we simply worship as if for ourselves.

The second was the realisation of the compulsion of habit. Am I simply the sum total of my habits? It is a classic question of Gurdjieff: who are you really? Is your precious 'I' merely an assemblage of reactions? To which the answer is, honestly, yes mostly!

The third, related to the second, is Ravindra's recognition of how much energy it takes to hold together this performing self and as you see this a wave of exhaustion passes through you yet on you go! Resistance to transformation is strong! Ravindra notices how de Salzmann's use of 'the body' (as terminology) resonates with St John's Gospel's reference to 'the flesh'. It is not simply the physical body but the whole habitual body-mind complex. This is what must be transformed and the truth that does so must find a container that can withstand it, as much as understand it and the 'flesh' is most weak and inattentive.

It is a sobering book and yet one that invites you to work - to find a deeper presence to self and others, a greater attention to all the many ways that you fail that presence; and, a consciousness of the lack between who the 'I' is now and who I am and, if you can do nothing else, de Salzmann encourages you to stay with an acknowledgement of that lack of connection in you.


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