All Men are Dead, Except those that...

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

As my first teacher in the Gurdjieff Work, Tom Forman used to say, quoting Michel De Salzmann:

"All men are dead, except the ones that know. All men that know are dead, except the ones that have good intentions. All men that have good intentions are dead, except the ones that work responsibly. And they are in very grave danger."

The recursiveness of our consciousness is evident. We build our knowledge in layers one upon the other, that establish the unsaid context for what we know, and know that we know. So it is that one who knows and also knows that he or she knows is a conscious person to that extent. This inclusion of the knower with what is known by them is analogous to the observer who includes their act of observing in their observations. But even this is not enough, because there is no solution to all the problems of life. It remains to be lived for each of us. It is our need to deal with the problems of life that keep us engaged in doing all the time.

Nature has ensured that we will be occupied with something. How else could we learn from the experience of our living life other than by constantly doing? Our aim is to become an observer of our own life, so as to be a knower of it. Yet all of this is done in the service of our need to stay alive, for which we must take endless actions.

In so doing, to be a conscious person is to act with consciousness. This is not a state of being, but rather a result of a kind of attention with which actions can be taken. One who knows their personal history, and also the limitations of it can act informed by it. If this were not the case, there would be no learning.

However, our past does not solely determine our future. We have the possibility to create a new history for ourselves and for others around us. This is creating a new future, according to the degrees of freedom we can accomplish within our endless cycles of necessary actions. It is also because we begin to have options. One of these is doing to help others to develop their self-knowledge by self-observation in the same way. Once we have assured our own survival we can be of help others as well.

This is how an evolving culture is reciprocally maintained, by the intention and effort of people, despite the automatic way that people habitually live out of necessity. It is thus, for our own sake as well as for others, even those others not yet born, that we strive to know and to work responsibly with good intentions. That is an ethical life. Consequently, it is not enough just to know, or to intend, or even to be responsible. It is necessary to do so in uncertainties of daily life bringing all of these efforts together in our work.

But for this, a change of state is required. One is trans-formed, trans-substantiated, and trans-figured often without awareness of being aware of it. This comes through reflection. Big ideas to chew on. We are taking a vocabulary from the spiritual domain to apply to our ordinary daily life! We can do that because words can be appropriated to other uses. That is part of how we learn from what we already know. In the spiritual domain, these ideas are bigger than we are. They are ideas on the scale of the Absolute. Yet we live our lives in ordinary life, and we can bring these ideas into that specific area of life as we live it. Human beings are not just animals like the other animals on Earth. We are different because we are conscious and possessed of language which allows us to make distinctions about ourselves and our world.

No one knows how to 'do' this work of transformation, transubstantiation, and transfiguration. One can only become realized this through living while practicing a kind of observation in life that offers these understandings. There is no certain path toward it, though there is a way that is available to move towards it. Such a realization can happen in the life of a person, and it must be constantly supported by the right actions and environment or it may never happen. For it to occur, one must give up who he or she knows themself to be, habitually, and in the process observe themselves in all that they do, and by so doing, to know themselves in their growth and unfolding as an evolving person.

In the end, we may become something we did not start as, as we realize ourselves in the transformation, transubstantiation, and transfiguration of the domains that we inhabit through our living in them, by our own process of living. It will not save us from death, but it will save us from a life lived without our own presence involved in experiencing an environment that is vastly greater than our own personal domain of our life. However, we do not just live alone. It is always in living together with others that we live our daily life with. When we experience this, it impacts the experience of others in our life as well. As our presence evolves, the possibility for presence expands for others, just by virtue of the ordinary daily life we and they live together and alone.

Michel de Salzmann 's quote (taken from one of Sufi origin) when seen in the light of Plato is interesting, because of Plato's discussion of the Good, and of the Pythagorean origins of his ideas. Pythagoras was said to have said:

"Do not assist a man in laying a burden down, but help him to pick it up"

This is what we do when, in our coordinations of doing with other people, we together serve our common good. By helping others to shoulder their burdens of life, we are helped to shoulder our own. Is it only in what we are currently doing, or have been doing recently or have done in our past personal history, that the good is attained? Does living in the world together with others, working with them, with responsibility, good intentions, and knowledge call for doing something new or different? In so doing our adaptation together is assured, but the outcome and results of our efforts are not certain. We must live with the hazards of what we don't know that we don't know, and of our developing human capacities from our human frailties. By that pathway, we can learn together to inhabit a different world by virtue of what we are doing; how we are doing it; and, as a result, to cause who we become. But we must work, taking the risks of life and facing these uncertainties, as a community of people living together, and we must produce something by this work that we do.

© Copyright 2020 Robert Fertman, All Rights Reserved

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