- Robert Frost
You're searching, Joe,
For things that don't exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings—there are no such things.
There are only middles.
—Robert Frost, "In the Home Stretch"
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
"Do you think the universe is trying to tell you something?" a friend asked as I relayed a situation that was presenting difficult and inscrutable obstacles.
The question gave me pause, as I considered what the universe might be trying to impart. I reviewed the unfolding events, scrutinizing my conduct for signs of manipulation, and considered the hindrances for hidden messages.
The phrase from the I Ching—"Perseverance furthers"—began resounding in my mind like a pulse. But in what, I asked the voice, am I to persevere?
Faced with the problem, any problem, I see myself squirm not knowing the solution. I watch avoidance strategies come in to fill the void. Per Eva Pierrakos's brilliant formulation, they can pretty much all be classified as domination, submission, or withdrawal.
In Pierrakos's model, everyone gravitates toward one or another of these means of dispatching the discomfort of relationship. Some tend toward forcing a situation to match an image or agenda; others find comfort through acquiescence, giving in to a forcing current; still others seek satisfaction by stepping away altogether. Though they may not look like common impulses, these are all forms of self-defensive contraction.
These impulses to avoid relating are oddly disguised as modes of engagement. They pretend to offer solutions, but really only give temporary relief. More directly, they are a means of avoiding real contact with events or people. All three reactions are automatic, knee-jerk habits that are not essential responses to the situations at hand, but survival tactics for the ego.
All three impulses have as their center of gravity what Gurdjieff calls "the inner evil god self-calming"—the impulse not to be bothered placed on an inner pedestal to be worshiped and served.
Indeed, if we look not only at ourselves, but also at world events, we find endless war and enslavement promulgated for none other than this selfsame impulse to avoid egoic discomfort. All of our highest ideals are easily trod underfoot when challenged in this way.
What else could lead Christianity from Jesus's teaching of unconditional love to the inquisition and crusades? There are manifold examples of manifest higher impulses hijacked and rerouted by those identified with form, and lacking the capacity to know the spirit.
If domination, submission, and withdrawal are a negative triad to avoid relationship with the impulse to remain in an undisturbed hypnotic, waking sleep, then there must be a positive triad with a different center of gravity.
At its center would be the aim of awakening authentic, genuine being—of allowing the essential self to make contact, and be available to engage with life.
That being is like a child locked in the trunk of a car, occasionally catching glimpses of light and scenery and endlessly craving freedom from the shackles of a body of habit to avoid.
With the aim of awakening comes the willingness to face the real impact of experiences. And nothing in life requires this kind of impulse to authenticity. It can only spring from a deep wish and decision.
With the aim of awakening, it is that presence that perseveres—a perseverance of watching in the face of every impulse to dominate, submit, or withdraw. That presence is free from spasmodic reactions; it is free from doubt, impatience, grasping, and self-love. These qualities sound like high ideals, but they are real and extant, just as the qualities of waking sleep are very real dramatizations of negativity and destruction.
Life circumstances and "problems" present endless opportunities to choose between staying comfortably asleep or following the aim of awakening.
Here's a portion of an unattributed collection of practical principles that support the emergence of presence in the face of problems, with an introduction:
Life puts problems before us to challenge us and to further our growth. By overcoming problems we gain substance and knowledge. A principled approach will save us from being ground under the wheel; and will sometimes reveal that there was no problem at all.
Remember That You Are Not the Problem
Start with the Whole
Go from What is Most Important to What is Least
Don't Enhance Its Difficulty
Don't Mix the Levels
Solve One Aspect at a Time
Stay Out of the Way of the Solution
When Done Never Look Back
THE MEANS MUST BE CONGRUENT WITH THE DESIRED END.