Asking, Setting Priorities, and The Spiritual Life
[This is part of a letter. Naturally, all personal references have been omitted.]
At one point in your letter, you write that you never ask Mother, or God, for anything, just as “you and many of your writings have taught me.“ I fear that you may have misunderstood us on a point which we believe to be crucial to the spiritual process. You need to ask Mother for EVERYTHING in your life, everything.
We have discovered from our own experience, and all the Teachers teach, that asking is essential. In order for the giving process from God (or from anyone else, for that matter) to take place truly and effectively, we must first ask. It is our asking that sets the giving process into motion.
Most people do not understand this concept, even in their dealings with other people. They never learn to ask with an open heart. Instead, when they ask, they do so in a bargaining manner. And then they are surprised when the world, or God, does not respond as they want it to. It is a law: As you ask, so shall it be given. It applies to our lives in a spiritual sense, and in a very practical, worldly sense as well. In fact, this law is the real key to prosperity. Again, very few utilize it, and thus, very few find real bounty in their lives, worldly or spiritual.
Your faith is not dependent upon your willingness or ability NOT to ask. Quite the contrary, your faith is defined by your ability TO ask, and to assume, and to KNOW, that your request will be answered. THAT is what faith is.
HOWEVER, when you ask, which you need to do consistently, and always, confine your request to a resolution of whatever problem is at hand, and ONLY that. With faith comes the confidence NOT to insist upon a particular resolution, that your request be answered in a manner that you dictate. Faith permits God to resolve the problem as God sees fit.
Often, our prayers go unanswered BECAUSE they are not based on faith, but instead they are demands, willfully made, or made with the complaint that the problem was not resolved as “I” think it ought to be. That is not prayer, and neither is it faith. That is whining, egocentrically based upon our self-interested view of what we want. It allows no room for God’s work, which is infinite, bountiful, loving, broadly based, and never egocentric, but wholistic.
Living spiritually means consistent, heartfelt turning to God in ALL areas of life. It is leaning upon God, and communing with God, at all levels, even as regards the worldly activities we undertake, and remembering, again consistently and vigilantly, that God is the source and substance of all that we experience in life. THAT activity, in turn, creates and sustains faith, and that faith, in turn, helps us to maintain that communion. With each increase in faith, comes more of all the rest, including abundance, prosperity, and the good life. However, it doesn’t necessarily happen in reverse order! That’s what is meant by “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” [Matthew 6:33 KJV] This is not just religious drivel; it is a fact of life.
Now, to the problems you mentioned in your life. Some problems (if not all!) are simply a test of faith by God, part of the curriculum; others are openings toward new opportunities; still others aren’t even really problems, but only perceived as such; and, of course, some problems are created by ourselves, usually because we are willful, insisting that things go the way WE think they should, as opposed to the way God, in Her wisdom, knows they should.
Far too often we blame others for the difficulties we encounter. We shift our inability (actually, unwillingness) to flow with the situations in our lives as Mother presents them to us, by mumbling such things as “people can’t treat me that way.” Yes, indeed, people CAN, and unfortunately people WILL, treat you that way; that is the human condition. But instead of complaining when these kinds of things happen, the more growthful or spiritual reaction might be to assume that “Mother, in the disguise of a human being, is trying to teach me something here,” and then go from there. ASK God to show you, to reveal to you, what the lesson is, and then WAIT. And then accept the lesson when it is shown to you, instead of retrenching, or stone-walling, against the lesson.
As we see it, that is what the spiritual process is about, and that is what faith means: The ability and willingness to take what arrives at our feet with love, and with certainty that it is good for us, no matter what its disguise may suggest to the contrary. Notice that this approach does not allow for “indignation,” righteous or otherwise, a state of mind human beings revel in, only because we feel small, isolated, and vulnerable, and indignation allows us, for a brief time at least, to feel less vulnerable and more powerful. However, from a spiritual standpoint, it does not serve us well, whatever the brief rewards may be from its expression!
Finally, living this kind of a spiritual life assumes that the activity we undertake in the world is done not for the sake of the activity, but for the growth it will provide us. And THAT is true of ALL the activity in our lives. Growth is realized through the lessons each activity provides us about ourselves, lessons about who and what God is, lessons about God’s omnipresence in our lives. Again, no activity is about itself. Sometimes, activity will provide us with satisfaction and/or remuneration. Sometimes it will give us positive joy and delight. But none of those is its ultimate purpose. From a spiritual position, all activity is undertaken only for the sake of transcending that activity and pointing ourselves toward God.
All of this relates to my point about setting priorities. When you make your choices (and all of life is about making choices), please remember that choices have consequences, even NOT making choices has consequences in our lives. Every moment of our life we make a choice. And each choice, at that moment, has priority over all other choices. That is the way the system works. We may THINK we have multiple priorities that co-exist; but in fact, at any moment in time, the process of consciousness allows for only ONE priority. If you doubt this, just look at your life, and see how, moment to moment, a chosen priority manifests in your life. That is how things are accomplished and goals are met.
So, each of us needs to set our priorities. When this is done, and we are consistent in maintaining the SAME, single priority, then life falls neatly into place, perfectly, and increasingly effortlessly. From my own personal experience, I know that, to the extent that one is consistent in maintaining a spiritual priority, ALL OTHER “subordinate” priorities are equally met. That is the wonder and miracle of the spiritual priority taking precedence over all others. I have also found in my own personal experience that setting any other priority ABOVE or BEFORE the spiritual commitment does NOT work. Everything gets muddled: some things get accomplished, others don’t, and those that do, are seldom fulfilling or satisfying for much more than a momentary high. It’s just a fact. We like to think it isn’t, but it is. Thus, if for no other reason than that it works better, one is well advised, in my opinion, to embrace spiritual goals over and above all others. This doesn’t even begin to cover the other benefits that one derives from setting God over and above all else.
The choice to do so is ultimately up to each individual. No one else can make it for us. Neither can any of us make it before it is time to make it. That is part of what I call Grace.
Well, I had not meant to go on so long with this. Maybe it helps to clarify things for you somewhat. I hope so.
Gurdjieff, Commitment, and Making Choices
I recently re-read P. D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” a formidable book covering G. I. Gurdjieff’s process of spiritual and psychological evolution. Ouspensky was an intimate disciple during Gurdjieff’s most prolific years, and faithfully recorded his experience under G’s tutelage (Gurdjieff is often referred to as simply “G”), as well as his observations and conclusions from that discipleship. [For more about the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspenksy and related matters, please visit http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/1236/]
This book was one of the first I encountered on the spiritual path, and I recall reading much of it on faith, since at the time I could make very little sense out of much of its esoterica. In the years since that first reading, I have consistently had to admit the correctness and truth of the book’s observations, and been sometimes astonished at the similarities between my own conclusions and Ouspensky’s. Consequently, for those who take the path of knowledge or understanding, as opposed to the path of devotion and surrender, I believe this book to be important and pivotal to one’s progress along the path.
One of the main tenets of G’s system was the requirement that all his students prove their merit before acceptance as a student. This requirement meant that those seeking to be accepted by G had to have excelled, or at least succeeded, in activities of a more worldly nature prior to acceptance. Originally, I thought this requirement was elitist and arbitrary, but I must admit now that there is a certain amount of logic, indeed, necessity to it. In fact, even teachers who follow the path of devotion, indirectly and sometimes directly urge, cajole, or insist that, their students pursue excellence in everything they undertake.
It is clear to me now why this is so. If one wishes to succeed at the spiritual process, which is more difficult and trying, in many ways, than even the most demanding of worldly endeavors, then certainly that individual must be capable of succeeding at the worldly activities he or she undertakes, since he or she is built, arranged, and destined to worldly matters by the very matrix of his body and mind. If he or she has not honed those traits and talents in the worldly arena, he or she is probably bound to fail in the spiritual arena. The spiritual process takes enormous energy, discipline, renunciation, the ability to delay gratification, satisfaction, and to persevere without consolation. The capacity to go against the crowd, to walk a different path, to withdraw from the world’s conditioning and demands, to stand firm, are essential perquisites. All of this can be gained and polished through worldly experience. And absent those capacities, the walk is very unsteady and uncertain. Of course, again, the path of devotion may not require as much prior worldly experience. And yet, that too demands an unwavering commitment and total surrender, both rare and precious qualities, and both often only attained after much suffering and dissatisfaction with many years of worldly activities previously engaged in.
In the spiritual arena, there are many kinds of students and many motivations within those students for entering the spiritual path. These include an inability to contend with the world, a lack of capacity to compete or even to survive in the workaday world, to a true yearning for knowledge and understanding about one’s capacities, a genuine inner call to put down the world’s rewards and turn one’s face toward one’s God. Within these extremes, there are of course many combinations and variations. Indeed, often the impetus toward spiritual seeking is a simple transference of the seeking for power or control over one’s world, to a more spiritual expression of that desire. (Sometimes it is not even that subtle; sometimes it is simply seeking power over the world. Often, this reach for power is the bait for getting caught in the spiritual process. In this case, as Gurdjieff might put it, in his deep Russian accent, “Now, you is ruined!”)
Whatever the motivation, each one is sacred and legitimate, for we all express our own tendencies according to our individual capacities. The key here, of course, is to find a suitable and qualified teacher who meets those unique capacities and needs. Too often, we seek the teacher with the most glamour, and what we believe to be the most power, instead of deliberating on our own capacities and needs, and finding the teacher to those. (Or, from the opposite perspective, waiting for the appropriate teacher to find us! It happens like that, you know.) This, I believe, is why many of us fail in our spiritual work. Instead of considering our own needs, our true desires, we embrace those of others, and often those of a kind that does not necessarily suit our own needs, and consequently we find ourselves frustrated, angry, or disappointed in our choices. Often, but not always, we project that disappointment onto the teacher we chose, instead of understanding the failed dynamic, and recognizing that our choice was either premature or simply wrong for us.
It is to this fundamental choice that Gurdjieff addressed himself in his stringent requirements for the accepted student. It is to this choice that all great teachers address themselves, which may explain why the greatest teachers are often (but not always!) the most difficult to address, to reach, or to “get to.” It is to this dynamic, the exchange between student and teacher, that the great teachers keep a keen eye on. The teacher can be the wisest, best, most enlightened in the world; but without a receptive and capable student, he or she will be wasted and totally ineffective. Of course, this does not apply only to spiritual teachers; it applies in all areas of teaching. If a student of music, for example, has not got the muse or musical rhythm, the sound of music within, or at least a commitment and ardent willingness to awaken it, even Mozart’s lessons will fall on fallow ground.
However judgmental this may sound, and it surely did to me early on, it is not. Rather, it is a matter simply of observing, and taking into account, the capacities and tendencies of each individual. To expect, or worse to push, a fish to swim on land, or a bird to swim in water, is unnatural and even cruel. But to expect, even to demand, that a fish swim in water, or a bird fly, if that creature is otherwise able, is natural and proper.
Thus, a teacher will judge a prospective student based upon the student’s capabilities and tendencies. Also, a good teacher will direct a student to the appropriate teacher, if he or she is not the one for that student. To be sure, there are Teachers whose capacities are so immense, even infinite, that they can successfully accept and teach all comers. The historical Buddha and Jesus are two examples. However, even Jesus acknowledged that some seeds fall on barren ground.
How, then, does all of this apply to a spiritual seeker today? I think it applies to a student’s expectations of himself or herself as well as the expectations that student applies to the teacher. It can help us avoid missteps, failed efforts, disappointments, resentments, misunderstandings, and delays in spiritual growth. It simplifies our choice of a path, and helps weed through all the information out there about the spiritual process. Finally, if we evaluate ourselves honestly and with intense objectivity, that very process gives us insight into our own concepts of what God encompasses, what expectations we have about God and the spiritual process, and also enlightens us about our own tendencies, motivations, beliefs, expectations, strengths, and weaknesses.
There is, perhaps not surprisingly, tremendous resistance to doing this kind of self-evaluation. Many reject it out of hand because it seems to deny “spontaneity.” G himself spent many hours dealing with his own students’ objections about loss of spontaneity, maybe because of this reluctance? Whatever the reason, his conclusion about spontaneity is correct, I believe. “Spontaneity” in the unenlightened is simply an excuse to flow with one’s present conditioning. Ultimately, then, it is self-indulgence, and inevitably interferes with the spiritual process, which is, after all is said done, about de-conditioning. That alone ought to be reason enough to delve deeply into all of one’s motivations and choices, spiritual and otherwise. Don’t you think?