I began this blog with the intention of writing something quite specific about repairing the past. As I came to the middle of it, I found that the train of my thought had led me to something which Mr Adie had said several times, always using the image of the “tail of the tiger”. However, I had almost forgotten it, and I have not yet found it on any of the recordings. To me, this gives great hope, because it means that it is possible to direct our thinking and arrive at a point where our thought corresponds to that of a higher level. So I commence this blog the way I had written it, but section 2 is new. Incidentally, this sheds light for me on what hope can be.
Gurdjieff said that the present exists to repair the past and to prepare the future. The concept of repairing the past is critical to the Gurdjieff method, and even to his hopes for the world. If the past can be repaired, and we are the past, then humanity has a future worth the having: it may even be able to really come to know, love and serve God.
But in order to repair the past, we have to be present. More, we need to remain present while we recall our mistakes and transgressions, and long enough for our conscious confrontation with the past to have an effect. Generally, our memories of the past have no beneficial effect upon us: either they are lightly dismissed or they arouse acute suffering. In either case, there is no good effect.
The most notorious case of dismissing the past I ever saw took place when I was appearing at the sentencing of a family of social security cheats. I am sure that the same thing happens within myself all the time: I know that I have awakened, as it were, to realise that something I had done in the past was wrong, but I am only now realising it. But this example was crystal clear, and anyone can grasp it. The father of this family of five had led the entire clan (with the exception of only one daughter) into a lucrative scheme of defrauding the government. They were receiving unemployment benefits to the degree where they were living, more than comfortably, in a nouveau riche seaside suburb in Sydney, with all the creature comforts.
What shocked not only me, who was the prosecutor, but even others present in the court-room, was how, when I was cross-examining the old man, I asked what steps he had taken to make reparation to the government. He replied, with outraged righteousness, in words to the effect of: “What would be the use of that? I can’t undo the past.” It was stunning because he was patently blind to the reality that he could in fact pay back what he had stolen. That he could not travel back in time and do differently what he had then done was not to the point: the effects of his crimes were still with us because the treasury was still out of pocket. Were it repaid, then that at least would be put right.
Why could he not see that? Was it an unwillingness to disgorge the proceeds of crime? As it was, we had legislation to get that back, anyway. But had he voluntarily repaid it, it would have been taken into account at his sentencing, and could have been used as evidence of contrition.
I suspect, however, that there was something operating at an even deeper level. I wonder if it was not an arrogant unwillingness to admit to that he had done anything wrong. He had admitted that he had defrauded the Commonwealth, but he saw no moral dimension at all in it. For him, it was simply acknowledging that he had pretended to be different people from time to time in order to obtain the money he wanted to keep himself in the style to which he had hoped to become accustomed. He knew that it was against the laws of the land, but he did not feel that it was at all wrong, only illegal. Had he taken steps to repay the money himself, that would have been conceding that he had no title to it, and that would be but one step from declaring that what he had done was morally a crime. I doubt that any of us are entirely free from any of these features.
But there is another extreme: reacting too vehemently to our remembrances of the past. The very violence of the reaction displaces my presence, even if I had been present but the moment before. Even if I become present the moment afterwards, the opportune moment has been lost.
This does not mean that I have no chance. As Mr Adie used to say, if I desire to awaken to these horrors, then I will come present a little more quickly when the memories return. Eventually, I shall see the tail of the tiger as it disappears around the corner. Who knows for how long I shall see only the tip of the tail? But at least I shall know that it is not me, it is an animal which displaces me. And I shall know that it operates at a low level. It is not to be believed. Not to be trusted.
He would say that eventually we shall see more of the tail, and maybe one day see the tiger itself, until that happy occasion when I can be present quickly enough and to a high enough degree to appear while the tiger is still approaching: and then my presence shall displace it.
That is the condition in which I can face the past while balanced, admit it to myself, and make it passive. I use its memory to remind me. I learn whatever lesson I can from it. But I no longer identify either with the past, or with that memory (two different things), or with the person through whom these things were enacted.
A great light is shed on the action to take in “It’s a Painful Truth” at pp.283-284 of the book, George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia (2nd edition).
Joseph Azize, 2 September 2016