Alhambra, interior ceiling detail
“Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body.”
—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
I suppose folk are often frustrated by all this metaphysical stuff... this detailed thinking... based in inward experience, about the nature of life.
One wonders what use it may be.
The difficulty here is that we human beings fail to see the significance of life until it's too late. Having put my mother in home for the elderly, and seeing the consequences that inevitably flow within Being (developed or undeveloped, no matter) towards the end of life—myself reaching already the age of 61—I see that only God matters. That is to say, all outer things eventually become worthless. One will die; and this fact ultimately eclipses all the possible material actions one may complete. It is, of course, possible to live right out to the very end of the thread focused on the outer; yet generally speaking, unless one's spiritual capacities have been irrevocably damaged, one sees that this simply isn't enough. One is left alone, as life goes on, with Being. It is the state of one's Being, over the long trajectory, that determines the value of life: and within the value is embedded all the meaning.
The death of loved ones helps to bring one into closer contact with this Truth; and death may serve in this way as the greatest educator. In Medieval times that was much better understood than it is now; the vanities of technology and medicine insulate us, through imagination, from our inevitable end. In an exquisite irony that very same end, viewed as it so often is through the cold and narrow lenses of those same forces, looks far less human than it ought. No one, after all, grows up hoping they'll die under florescent lights, surrounded by machines; yet so many of us do.
If we don't develop a solid, an intimate, relationship with Being to serve inwardly over the course of a lifetime, we fail to muster the inner resources needed to impart an overarching and final value to our lives. That value ought, for every human, to be an unceasing effort to open the heart and soul to God so that He can flow inwardly into us and help effect a Divine transformation and regeneration of our spiritual nature; a secret, sacred, and intimate transformation.
In this sense, even throwing away the philosophical and metaphysical explanations and arguments, one needs to grapple in practical ways with the understanding that everything turns to dust.
Life can't be poured from concrete or hammered out of metal; it can't be rendered in CGI. The achievements of the soul, such as they are, are the only durable substance we can take with us through life and into death.
Everything short of life itself—Being itself, lived inwardly—is thus a misrepresentation that lawfully mirrors that same misrepresentation that begets the fallen nature of material reality. Gurdjieff's organic, instinctive shame is thus not just a human condition, but a universal one—as he indeed explains in Beelzebub's Tales.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.