“Well then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags it’s tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.” – Cheshire Cat in through the Looking Glass
Gurdjieff famously said that human beings perceive reality topsy-turvy. Well maybe the way to correct it is to look at the world through a looking glass, or mirror. In this way, what seems bad when looked at directly, will seem good when looked at through the mirror. What seems painful might be pleasurable, and what seems desirable might seem undesirable. This is not dissimilar from Gurdjieff’s claim that every stick has two ends. If something good happens for you, it almost certainly means that something bad has happened to something or someone else. When we walk into a nice air conditioned mall and buy a new shirt or dress at some discounted price, we can be pretty sure that the price paid was some unbearable sweat shop where kids are paid a dollar a week for working 12 hours a day.
So let’s start looking into the looking glass. Most people want inner peace. This above all things is what many people crave.
The self-help charlatans have concocted all sorts of snake oil to help us in this quest. Imported gurus from the East tell us it is all a matter of quieting the mind, and if you pay a thousand dollars or so to attend a course in mediation then inner peace may just be a lotus position away. It doesn’t work. Or another charlatan may suggest mindfulness – being aware of what one is doing at any moment of time and attempting to keep the attention on the task at hand. It doesn’t work either. And then there are new age types who might recommend chakra healing, positive thinking, visualization, astral travel, and any other hocus-pocus that suffering humanity is suggestible enough to pay money for. The problem with all these approaches is that, looked at in the looking glass, they go the wrong way. So here is how we might attain inner peace.
First of all forget about inner peace. Set your focus on the inner demons that are causing all the trouble. Of course our natural tendency is to want to annihilate them. Not possible. First of all you need to get to know them. This may disturb your inner conviction that you are a very nice caring person and that the demons are simply unwelcome visitors. I’ve got news for you. The demons are more you than your carefully constructed self image that is used to convince everyone else what a thoroughly good chap or chappess you are. So making friends with your hatred, your envy, your lusts, greed, jealousies and so on might offend your ego and cause some serious distress. The alternative is to go back to the snake oil salesmen. You will find that making friends with your demons causes them to be less problematic, and in turn you may start to experience greater inner peace. When a demon is troublesome simply put your attention on it. Don’t try to dismiss it. So when your friend starts boasting about a new job promotion and the envy demon starts to breath its hot fire within you just soak it up, and do not try and change it or deny it. So looked at directly the demons are something we would rather not have, but in the looking glass they are our best friend.
Maybe the suffering of the world is a issue for you. Looked at directly we might be led to the conclusion that new age love and light is the the kind of sentiment we should nurture. Not so, and by now I guess you might have realized that this is just avoidance. Looked at in the mirror we should head straight for the full horror that is life. Obviously this requires a certain amount of courage and honesty. The more a person is prepared to lift all the stones and look at the horrors that lie beneath the more we become aware of feelings of compassion and sorrow. And ironically we also become aware of the awful magnificence of the world we live in. Gurdjieff said the world is a struggle between joy and sorrow, and so it is. You will only reconcile yourself with the nature of existence when you have dared to look it straight in the face.
There are many more examples. People who want to feel secure build a fortress around themselves, and the more brittle the fortress the more easily it is destroyed. If you want security become random. Become toughened to the chaotic and random nature of existence, and then your security will be your power to deal with situations as they arise. If you want to be loved don’t try to be lovable. Just be yourself – be authentic with warts and all. People love authenticity. If you don’t want to feel fear then don’t indulge in hope. If you want happiness, abandon happiness and look at what is making you unhappy.
There is one central them here. Looking through the looking glass means giving up on hopes of gratification. The dumb way to live a life is to have some idea of what will satisfy and then go chasing after it. The smart way is through the looking glass. If a new luxury car is your idea of what will make you happy then go the other way. Look at that feeling of want and where it comes from. Joy, happiness, contentment, inner calm and so on, come on their own. All you can do is prepare the ground. Happiness that you acquire directly through your own efforts will always be short lived and invoke the opposite over time So that new luxury car will deliver some form of gratification until the novelty wears off and the next object of gratification comes into view. Don’t do it. Always look in the looking glass.