Solitude and Community
June 26, 2011 § 60 Comments
I’m beginning to suspect that the quality of a life is defined by how you deal with the gap between what you want and what life gives. What did I want when I dropped all my work and went off on a retreat last week, agreeing to work in the kitchen all week no less? I knew the working in the kitchen part would be a challenge, and believe me it was. I think I went hoping for an insight or two that would help me open more to life, to be more creative. Yet what I saw took me by surprise. I realize has to be this way because moments of real insight–of really seeing into life–descend on a person like grace. You can’t predict such moments because they aren’t on the same level as thought. They come unexpectedly–and often, maybe especially, when we feel bereft inside. Blessed are the poor in views and opinions. They may glimspe a larger world.
One such a moment came to me when I found myself into a bee’s nest of reactions about the food and the cooking and the sense that I was perceived to be falling down in the junior managerial role I was expected to play. The food was very lovely, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Too much of it seemed precious, chosen from the pages of magazines, overly complicated, expensive. The approach to the cooking itself seemed based on a chain-of-command model–and I was just not the first mate the captain expected. I realized that I wanted to do way more with way less–to not not have all these complicated desserts (after lunch and dinner!)–to just work together and explore. In a nutshell, my feelings were hurt and I reacted.
Then something happened. Night after night, I lay sleepless, wondering why I was there. I meant at a work period in the Catskills. But Iwas also wondering what my life was for, what my real purpose or role might be. Did I even have a role? There came that electrically charged space between doubt and faith, when it seemed that it was all a mistake, coming here, investing any kind of hope or meaning in life–and then the existential angst of the situation actually opened into a kind of vibrancy and freedom. I was free from the burden of expectations.
Like someone else who commented here while I was gone, I too feel restive and uncomfortable when people talk too much and too reverently about what THEY say. As extraordinary as our teachers may be, there comes a moment when we have to find our own next step.
The secret of motorcycle maintenance according to Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—and of living a life that has value—has to do with drawing our attention to the quality of what confronts us here and now. No matter what we are thinking about or doing, according to Pirsig, we can cultivate a double awareness—attentive to our thoughts and the work we are doing, yet sensitive to the quality of what is happening, to what is unknown. The “dark night” moments I experienced last week were charged with a sense of the unknown. It was like seeing a glow on the distant horizon. There is more to know and more to be in this life, than are to be found in our fanciest thoughts and philosophy.
Sometimes life delivers great shocks that give us a taste of what it means to be open to quality, or a new quality. Sometimes we just volunteer for the kitchen team. Now I’m going to seem to contradict myself. I had the incomparable gift of seeing that my perceptions and projections are not reality but I also came away with questions about the form, at least for me. I have a question about solitude and community. There is such an emphasis on the need to work together in the Gurdjieff Work, yet I need to know myself in solitude as well. It seems a bit like breathing in and breathing out, like giving and receiving, like the tides. At any rate, I feel that certain solitary pursuits like writing and walking lead towards that same unknown.