Is it possible to develop greater being and not become a more loving and generous human being? Some esoteric paths don’t concern themselves much with conventional morality. According to Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann the Fourth Way is a demanding and exacting work. “The level of being is determined by what enters into one’s Presence at a given moment, that is, the number of centers which participate and the conscious relation between them,” writes Madame de Salzmann in an excerpt in the current Parabola, “The Future.” Establishing a conscious relation between the different realms of the mind, body, and emotions (the different “centers”) is an extraordinary inner accomplishment, requiring who knows how much patience and diligence. And yet…and yet…there is another way I understand the cultivation of a spiritual life and that has to do with the giving up and giving away.
The Buddhist writer John Tarrant writes that bodhisattva path, “in which we want everyone to share in the joy of understanding….comes from losing things more than from gaining things. If you lose everything, you may also be lucky enough to lose who you thought you were, along with any fear and despair that goes with that identity. It might be that what we have to learn is to play in the world like someone who really did run away to join the circus when she thought about it as a child. We are part of something vast, and generosity is an effortless consequence of discovering that.”
In times of grief and loss, there can be moments of wild freedom, a loosening of the slip-not of identity, a sense of play in every sense of the word, of give. When I’ve lost who I thought I was, I’ve also noticed the arising of a desire to be generous and kind. Since the Christmas season is upon us, I will go ahead and call it a Scrooge-like awakening–the realization that grave awaits us, that everything we usually cling to turns out to be impermanent, and that our real purpose and meaning is not fixed but fluid, relational. All I truly want to be such a moment (“if I get out of this alive”) is useful as I can be, one more pair of hands on the bucket brigade in this burning world.
What does this ordinary kind of insight or wisdom have to do with the realization that a master like Madame de Salzmann achieved? A great deal, actually. At the end of her book, she speaks of love and about discovering a real “I” that knows that we are not independent, not alone. Her work ultimately has to do with becoming available and with being useful in life.
Why not always include this attitude, this intention in our efforts? Is it ever too early to learn to lose?