"To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstacy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.."
I am out with Cynthia Bourgeault this week for one of her wisdom schools, this time a first time ever “in-gathering” in her hometown of Stonington, Maine; a quaint fishing village as hearty and weathered as the driftwood on the rocky beaches.
This may be a town that vacationers come to in the mild months, but the locals are stout sea-people and they live a rhythm of life known only to those that commune with the ocean: out at 3 am (no matter the conditions) and back with their hauls at 2 pm at the earliest, a grueling “dual citizenship” orientation of life that is grounded as much on the ocean as it is on land.
Watching the lobstermen yesterday morning, I marveled how easily they move about on deck, seeming to locate their center of gravity with a fluidity and flexibility that comes from decades of experience on the water. I don’t have that kind of experience, and I can queasily recall one particular sea-leg intensive on a ship when I was kid crossing the Baltic Sea in the midst of a terrible storm. Needless to say we were fairly bruised and nauseated when we finally made it off that boat, and the rolling sensation remained for days, long after we made it to land. I think we all bent over and kissed the dry land when docked… composing arias for the gift of solid ground and appreciating the more predictable sensation and weight of gravity of our “land legs”.
When the seemingly "solid" ground beneath us gives way, we become desperate for something to tether us to “familiar land”, don't we?
We cling to our own narratives and stories to orient ourselves and to give us a sense of meaning in our lives. We grip our history, our traditions, our institutions and take pride in how we hang on to them, using words like “foundational,” “steadfast,” and “immutable.”
For all of our claims at scientific knowledge, however, we're ironically forgetful of the fact that even what appears solid to us (our bodies, the ground, the table I’m sitting at) isn’t "solid" at all.
At the quantum level—and at the meta-level of deep time—everything is in motion and in the process of becoming through evolution.
It is understandable, therefore, that we are a regularly a little nauseated and wobbly, running into each other and trying to find a way to steady ourselves. So, we medicate the symptom rather than understand the reason behind our "sea sickness." We look for things to tether ourselves to, something seemingly we can "stand" on…an “object” we can become the subject of, or as Gurdjieff would describe it: an identification.
Identification is any time we act out of a need to establish or assert a sense of who we are in the world. While pop culture clearly praises this trait, Gurdjieff is adamant that it is a major block to our spiritual development, and surefire way to muck up whatever we are doing in the world. Rather than touching upon the fluid sense of true selfhood that comes from experiencing personhood, a word which stems from the latin "personare" (meaning: the whole resounding through the part), we become stuck in the smaller self of personality, which is run by the tyranny of the ego. So while we think we're out there establishing our identity in the world and doing all sorts of good things, we're actually just slaves to the drama of competitiveness, insecurity and anxiety that our binary mind creates.
Our authentic selfhood is like a boat that is meant to be in the expansive, fluid and dynamic freedom of the ocean, but we keep launching ropes and tying knots to tether ourselves to the dock, defining ourselves in the smallness of a pier of our own making.
It reminds me a little of the movie “Contact” starring Jodie Foster. In the futuristic sci-fi movie, aliens make contact with earth, and send a handy map to construct a spherical space ship that could take Jody Foster’s character, Dr.Ellie to the furthest corners of the universe to meet them. Everything was going swimmingly until the humans noticed that the aliens seemed to have forgotten a seat for Ellie to sit in.
(Stupid, aliens. Don’t you realize we need seats to sit in and harnesses to keep us safe?)
Sidestepping the apparent oversight of the aliens, the humans built a sturdy looking seat with proper harnesses that would keep Dr.Ellie “safe” during the journey.
Of course, as she takes off Ellie is being violently jerked and jarred in her seat, the struggling structure making a deafening noise. First as a viewer you think “yeah, I mean she’s traveling at lightspeed in an alien ship…so that’s probably not going to feel good and be super jarring.” But as she’s getting her ass kicked by seat’s tremors, she suddenly notices that a necklace she had brought with her is floating peacefully next to her face, suspended in air. Ellie immediately un-straps herself to the seat and in relief floats up within the sphere, utterly safe and comfortable in the fluid microgravitational force created by the spherical space ship.
(Stupid humans. Don’t you realize the aliens had a leg up on you in aeronautics?)
We are moving into “uncharted” territory as human beings right now: technology and life are evolving at the speed of light, institutional forms of religion are giving birth to much more fluid forms, and the pace of change is making us desperate to cling to anything that gives us a sense of solidity, belonging, or identity. With all this whiplash, it’s not wonder we try to make sturdy little seats for ourselves and strap into something we can use to create a false (and ultimately jarring) seat belt.
Whether in our day-to day lives, as well as on a meta-scale in evolution, what we need now is not to hang on to our identity tethers or construct another familiar structure, but rather develop capacity to trust a different orientation all together.
Cynthia described the transition that we are in the midst of religion as “finding our sea legs”: moving from a static God and cosmology, to a dynamic, evolutionary and relational paradigm. In this constant moving evolution, the only unchanging principle is change itself…and rather than looking for “solid” things to tether ourselves to, we ourselves need to become inwardly dynamic and fluid so that we can move with evolution.
How do we work to create inner fluidity so that we don’t tether ourselves and entrench into old ways of thinking that create (as the Contact movie illustration) unnecessary jarring and nausea?
How do we develop spiritual sea-legs and stop tying ourselves to the dock?
On a practical level it begins with an honest inventory of our identifications: the many “tethers” we use to establish or assert a sense of who we are in the world, both individually and collectively.
What do I identify myself with? In other words, how do I create an identity and tether out of what I do....or with an institution, cause, or ideology I belong to?
Observe yourself today and see how often we cast outside of ourselves and try to rope ourselves to “solid ground” for a false sense of security in identification. A tell tale sign that we’ve roped ourselves in is when we catch ourselves using or thinking in terms such as "I am a person who...", or any time that we become inwardly insistent that things need to proceed in a certain way.
Keep those knees bent and your joints flexible, sea voyagers….if we’re going to learn how to understand ourselves beyond the tyranny of personality and permit evolution to move us beyond our addiction to familiar forms, we’re going to have to reorient our gravitational center and find a new way of standing to our feet in this world:
with the fluid flexibility of un-identified spiritual sea-legs.
Then, and only then, will we be ready to break out together into the freedom of uncharted waters of potentiality.