18. Between Two Thieves
We start off with a reading from Bishop George de Charms which seems to be talking about the Work:
A knowledge of the human mind is important to the life of religion. Indeed, if one is to apply intelligently the teachings of the Writings concerning the process of Regeneration on which the New Church is founded, you must seek an ever clearer understanding of the human mind. It cannot be otherwise because the inner world of the mind is the real world in which we live.
The real objects of our world are not the material things in our natural environment, but rather the ideas we have concerning them, the way we feel about them, their significance to us in terms of thoughts and affections. It is commonly supposed that everything we think and feel is produced and determined by physical sensation. Man often believes that if he could completely control his environment, remove everything from it that does not please him, and order the rest at will, he could find peace of mind, contentment and happiness. Through all the ages the illusion that the source of happiness and the cause of unhappiness may be attributed to the material world has been the prime factor of directing the lives of both men and nations. Even those who intellectually recognize that this is an illusion, nevertheless think and act as if it were the truth. This is the case in spite of the fact that the combined testimony of Revelation, reason and daily experience is against such conclusions.
On reflection we cannot fail to recognize that the children and the parents dwelling in the same home live in distinctly different worlds. People observing the same event often receive diverse and opposite impressions. Tastes differ widely and what gives pleasure to one may give pain to another. Things once pleasing may become utterly abhorrent even to the same person, solely because of the change of the mental state. From this it becomes evident that if anyone is to obtain true happiness they must learn to control not only the material environment, but above all the inner world of the mind itself. Nor can this be done intelligently unless the laws that pertain to that realm of the mental life are clearly and accurately understood.
Furthermore, the human mind is the arena wherein alone regeneration takes place. Here is the field of conflict between good and evil, truth and falsity. Here it is by means of conflict that man's character is formed, the principles of his life arc formulated and his religious conscience is determined. For this reason, the knowledge of the human mind is not an abstract science reserved for specialists. It is a matter of deep and practical concern to every individual who is seeking a rational answer to the problems of his own life. It has daily applications to all our relations with other people and to any successful cooperation with others in innumerable uses in society. It is vital to the proper education of our children and the young people entrusted to us. It has a most important bearing on the maintenance of our physical and mental health. Above all, it is indispensable to the intelligent cooperation with the Lord and with His Providence and in His work for the salvation of man. This is the primary reason why it is so fully treated of in the Writings. (George de Charms, Growth of the Mind)
What especially strikes me in this passage from Bishop de Charms is the emphasis on seeking an understanding of the human mind. He speaks of this not as something reserved for specialists, but rather as something we must all do because our individual salvation depends on it. It is vitally important for us to observe ourselves!
For a long time I thought observation was a cold unemotional unsentimental place. I thought if you get into observing life you get away from the feelings of life, and you might lose part of life, such as strong affections and the enjoyments. But what Bishop de Charms points out here is that observing 'I' is motivated by the love of truth. It is not a cold, unemotional state, but rather an ardent love for truth. It wants truth for truth's sake. It is capable of looking down on man, seeing the loves and the thoughts and the feelings, but it looks down because it really wants to know the truth of what's going on, because it has a love of truth for truth's sake. And I think the new will develops there. It is there that you start to experience the joys of life in a different way. I think there is an aloofness to begin with, and they say truth appears to come first, but in fact good produces that desire for truth. And later, I think you come in touch with that ardent love of the truth. So, I think there is a period when it doesn't appear to be very ardent, but it really is. Let's hear more about it:
Reason is a more interior kind of imagination. It is a faculty of reflection, calling into view the images formed by the imagination, placing them side by side, analyzing by comparison and contrast, their relation to one another that their distinct quality may be seen. Especially is it the ability to recognize the relation between cause and effect. Genuine reason or the rational thinking, is inspired not by the love of a specific object, but the love of truth for its own sake, that is, by the passionate desire to understand. This love releases the mind from the binding chains of any particular affection or from an emotional bias and enables one to compare various affections calmly and critically, and so to measure their individual qualities against some standard or criteria of truth. Phrasing in the imagination in the light of this higher love, is what is called rational judgment. It is the corrective whereby one may distinguish truth from falsity, good from evil, and the real from the unreal world. (Ibid)
I want to talk to you briefly about the context in which you take the experience you are having, the context that gives your experience meaning.
If I said to you, "It's a hundred and twenty-five degrees out today," what would your emotional response be? Would you respond, "That's hot!"? Perhaps you would say, "I don't want to be in here!"
Of course that was just one piece of data I gave you, saying it is one hundred and twenty-five degrees. What if I told you it's one hundred and twenty-five degrees and you are in a car, stuck in rush hour, in Texas, and you've worked a nine hour day and you know you are going to miss supper if you don't get home. Now what is your emotion or your response? Frustration? Anger? Depression? Everyone has a pretty good idea what their response would be to that situation.
Now let's say it's one hundred and twenty-five degrees out and you just came off of the skiing slopes where it was 6 degrees and you just walked into a sauna where it is so very hot, and you have a nice towel and you just paid three thousand dollars to have that sauna or spa in your own room....Now what is your response? "Whoa! All right!" Do you feel a little superior to the people who don't have one? Feel pretty lucky, and so forth? The temperature is still one hundred and twenty-five degrees, so the context has some meaning on how you determine to respond to that one particular impression coming into you which was just temperature.
Now you could say, "Well, I have other information like the traffic jam, and the car, or the sauna...," but if you closed your eyes you would just have that one experience, the heat.
Let's take a recent experience of mine. I got off the train after having put in a long and difficult day. At work I had to commit someone to the hospital that I liked a whole lot, and when I got home I was going to have to go counsel a client, with only ten minutes between the time I got off the train and time to counsel. So I got off the train and my car wasn't there - I had parked the car somewhere else! I called my wife Roxanne and she wasn't there and my daughter wasn't home either, so I had a response to that! (You can see where my lectures come from.)
Of course, I immediately sensed. So I'm walking through the golf course, sensing, because that's all I could do. Then I stopped thought completely and there was zero context. There was only the external five senses; I could hear, I could see, smell and so forth, but there was zero context.
Then I noticed it was a golf course I was walking through, the trees had grown quite a bit. And what I was formerly calling a cold wind, (because I had wanted to make it the most miserable situation in the world so I could really feel bad) was really only a cool breeze.
Then I decided, here I am at zero context and it is peaceful, so what if I put a positive context to it? So I pretended my heavy briefcase was full of geodes I'd found...and I was glad it was heavy because I had found a lot of geodes! I envisioned I was walking in Bavaria through the pines of the Black Hills and I was on vacation. I had been down picking these geodes where it was very hot and this cool wind was just what I wanted! Of course I was very pleased.
Now of course I was swinging back and forth between what I thought was the real context and this phony one, but I really did notice a different experience depending upon what context I decided to have that experience within.
You may say, well, you had worked a long day etc. So let's take a context that's real, but different than the initial mechanical reaction to that situation: I could say, "Well, I'm walking home from a good job. I'm walking to a nice home. I have a nice family and I live in a free country. I'm well fed, well dressed..." etc. All those things are true in the context, but they give you a different experience.
Now if you make a level shift up to, "I'm being cared for by the Lord, Divine Providence sees everything and the Lord always gives me the absolutely best experience for my eternal welfare, He's really present, and there's nothing that He would allow me to go through that He can't make benefit me," now that is a true context at a higher level.
So my experience differs depending upon the context in which I experience what I am experiencing. If you take an experience mechanically in the context that appears to be the most true, on the natural level closest to the sensory, then you get to be real angry or some other negative emotion. If you do no Work, then you get what the Hells give you for free. If you use no effort and no attention you get it free of charge and there is a lot of delight from societies in hell. Boy, did I feel self-pity and suffering! I received their delight, which is delight in self-pity and suffering.
There is something in the Work called taking impressions and digesting impressions to make higher energy out of them. The impressions I had were: the golf course, the wind, the feeling, the brief case, and so forth. "Digesting" an impression is not just taking it how it comes in, but rather, it is going through the effort to experiment before accepting it. Make a zero context, perhaps, and see how that feels. Then go through a pretend context and see how that feels. Then make a larger context, or a level shift context.
So by the time I got home I didn't only have the experience of just getting off the train and being really angry and arriving home upset. I had maybe five different experiences in the different contexts. I had digested them and gotten something that I never could have gotten if I hadn't gone through some effort - some effort and attention. And that is what is called using the impressions to digest them, and making them higher energy. Then, the next time around when you try doing it again, you'll have that Work memory and you'll have the choice to have a zero context or make it up etc. You start to gain the opportunity to do other things beside have the negative emotion. You begin to understand something about context.
Let's read from Nicoll about taking impressions, the law of the pendulum and so forth:
One of you had some thoughts about the pendulum, that to be in the center between swings might be flat or boring - a tepid bath. But you felt maybe it was your desire for extremes that made it sound like a tepid bath. It is not just remaining in the center that is the desired state, it is being able to see both, or be aware of both swings at the same time. You can be aware of having a tremendous amount of anger and not be angry. You can be aware it is there, if it is over on the side that you are holding it. You can be aware of getting really excited about going on vacation but you don't attach to it because you have learned that if you do, you are going to have the opposite side. So they are both there for you, both swings, but the
main point in being in the middle, where the Lord was on the Cross between the thieves, is to know that neither state is yours; to really come eventually to where you can have an influx of an entirely different kind or experience.
Bishop de Charms referred to this experience as understanding and talked about man's genuine rationality which loves truth for truth's sake. In that state you are going to have an experience that is not nothing, but which is an experience that can only take place in that center. Heaven is not a stock market that never comes down. Heaven has no soul in the stock market so nothing of heaven can enter. It can only enter from a true understanding of the entire picture and remaining in the same and not identifying with the joy and not identifying with the upsets.
The poem by Rudyard Kipling called "IF" reads, "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same..." A true athlete goes out and he wins a match and says, "Thanks a lot, I did my best." And he loses a match and says, "Okay. I did my best." I've seen that. I respect the boy who can do that rather than the one that is all excited when he wins and all furious when he loses. It is not that the boy who is a good athlete didn't enjoy the win, or that he isn't sad if he loses, it is that he doesn't put his Self there. His entire humanity is not based on the one swing of the pendulum or the other. There is something besides that swing and the sport he plays, something that is more important to him. His entire identity is not tied up in his sport. He is a human being capable of regeneration who happens to be wrestling, swimming, or whatever.
Gurdjieff said that attachment to things, identification with things, keeps alive a thousand useless 'I's in man. These 'I's (or states) must die in man in order that the big 'I's may be reborn. But how can they be made to die? They do not wish to die. To awaken means to realize one's nothingness. That is, to realize one's complete and absolute mechanicalness and one's complete and absolute helplessness. And it is not sufficient to realize it philosophically in words, it is necessary for man to realize it as a clear, simple and concrete fact. When a man begins to know himself a little, he will see in himself many things that are bound to horrify him, for so long as man is not horrified he knows nothing about himself. He decides to throw it off, stop it, put an end to it, but however many efforts he makes he finds that he cannot do this, that everything remains as it was. Here he will see his impotence, his helplessness, his nothingness. In feeling his nothingness a man should see himself as he really is, not for a second, not for a moment, but constantly, never forgetting it. This continual consciousness of his nothingness and of his helplessness will eventually give a man the courage to die. To die, not merely mentally, or in his conscience, but to die in fact, and to renounce actually and forever those aspects of himself which are unnecessary and prevent his inner growth. (Nicoll, Com. Vol.1)
I want to tell you a reaction I had to the sermon this week. They were talking about the Lord going through the last days leading up to the Cross. He asked the Father, "Please take this cup from me, but nevertheless Thy will be done." And I was thinking about that in relation to His disciples thinking He was going to be an earthly king, and also the Jews thinking He was going to be an earthly king. Then when He wasn't an earthly king, of course the crucifixion took place.
I was thinking that in terms of the Work, we have the feeling that if you do the Work, if you observe, you non-identify, you do all those things required, that somehow that is going to produce peace in you, and then, when you don't have peace and all the negative states don't go away, you think the Work has failed. But that is not what the Work is for. The Work is not to make peace in our external world (and I don't even mean the outside external or physical world). Our thoughts and feelings are very external compared to the world of spirits. They are truly the external man. And the Work is only to allow troubling experiences to be used by us to see what the Lord is talking about - to see the truth of what He says in the Word and in the Writings - and by using what we see from Doctrine, to allow experience to purify us. He is not going to take turmoil away, but by means of it He will bring us closer to Him. I don't know if that is true, but I believe it is true.
I find so much frustration in people who say the Work is failing. For instance, a lot of you say, "I didn't do the task," or, "I couldn't do the task," or "I forgot." All those remarks are about what the Work tells you that you will experience! That is what Gurdjieff just said: "You will find you are hopeless and you are helpless." That is what the Work tells you. It doesn't tell you that you will remember the Work, and you will be able to forgive. It tells you that you will fall asleep, and that man alone can do nothing. So what we find is that it confirms the truth of what esoteric teachings are telling us, and that confirmation allows us to start to be nothing and allows the Lord to lead us through experiences.
The task is to do just what I was talking about earlier: change the context in which you are having an experience, until you change the experience. When you have picked one that is giving you a negative experience, just change the context, perhaps by going through zero context to begin with, then perhaps to a phony context, (you know, here I am in the sauna,) or you may then want to go to a larger true context, by making a level change in your thinking. It doesn't matter which you practice. But the task is to take a typical negative reaction which you have in a certain context which you think is true, and change the context until you change the experience to a more positive one. Then you will have a choice between the two contexts. When you know you have a choice between two contexts then you will know you have done the task.
Change the context in which you have a negative reaction until the experience is changed to a more positive one.