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  • Charles White

Our two natures: to question, to seek, to find -- 1



Photograph by Minor White: Gallery Gully, Capital Reef National Park, Utah, July 1963
Gallery Gully. Photograph by Minor White *

In his early talks, Gurdjieff said, “For an exact study, an exact language is needed”. (Views from the Real World, p. 60.) A search for truth, for meaning and purpose in our lives, requires that we examine the meaning of the words we use. In this piece, I will explore what it means to question, to seek, and to find.

 

From where in ourselves do questions arise? Let us suppose that, as taught by Gurdjieff, it is true that humans are born with two natures. Each nature has distinct, potential capacities that need to be developed in order for us to fulfill the purpose of our existence.

 

Our First Nature

 

The first of our two natures is created to navigate the unfolding external life on this planet. I say “external life” because it is the tangible, visible life in which we live our lives. It is the life to which our attention is initially attracted. This part of ourselves is equipped with a body, a mind, and emotions that function with enough awareness to protect and nourish us, and to interact with others. (Gurdjieff gave us detailed ideas about how the functions relate to each other and how they interact with life, but these ideas require separate discussion.)

 

During early childhood, we develop our first nature. We learn from our parents, our educators, and from observation of the behavior of others. We form habits of movement, emotions, and thinking. We form an idea of ourselves. We come to believe that we are separate, conscious individuals with free will, and with the ability to do as we like. We learn to seek our happiness and worth through affirmation of the idea of ourselves, who we believe we are.

 

From this perspective, we have questions about practical matters, about our behavior, about how to improve our situations, and about how to interact with others. How can I be a better person? How can I earn more money? How can I be happier? How does the human brain work? How can the energy of the sun be harnessed? Can humans live on Mars?  We seek answers in our thoughts. When I find an answer, I think I know, I have knowledge, and I believe I understand.


We learn to seek our happiness and worth through affirmation of the idea of ourselves, who we believe we are.

 

If we observe ourselves objectively, we see that our consciousness is limited. Obvious examples are familiar to all of us: walking into a room and not knowing why; driving past a freeway exit I intended to take because I was talking or lost in a dream; meeting the same life problem continuously and not understanding why. What is missing?

 

Our experience is often narrow, shallow, imaginary. When we have a moment of reflection, we often feel dissatisfaction with our lives. How could it be otherwise? Is there a deeper life that can be experienced, in which we can participate? Certainly, there is.

 

Our Second Nature

 

As I see it, the second of our two natures is provided so we can develop a capacity to experience higher levels of being that serve as a bridge between our first nature and finer energy that descends from above.  The second nature doesn’t develop without a special inner effort, an effort that cannot be learned by the usual methods of education.

 

The development of our second nature begins with questions --  wordless questions -- that are felt. They may surface in us when we are young adults or  later in life.  These are questions that seek understanding of the meaning of our lives. They don’t arise from our ordinary thinking, but rather from a place deeper in us, from that mysterious place that is open to a current that calls us to search for meaning and purpose.

 

Though this state of questioning is wordless, we are human and we try to describe our experience in words. Words, oftentimes expressed in questions, can be reminders that help us return to this state of inquiry. What is missing? Why am I here? What is life about? Who am I? Yet it is also too easy to get lost in thought or analysis, in the ordinary habitual processes of my first nature, dreaming about possibilities, or thinking that I can work out the answers to these questions in my head. This approach leads nowhere.


They don’t arise from our ordinary thinking, but rather from a place deeper in us, from that mysterious place that is open to a current that calls us to search for meaning and purpose.

 

When such questions arise, I have a sense of being more present. My attention is called inward.  In that moment, I may discover a new understanding of who I am.   

Real understanding is given. It is not something I possess. It is fluid and evolving. It is the understanding that is revealed when I am present.


This is when I know that I am alive.



Read part 2 on March 8th.


*Gallery Gulley: The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art, Bequest of Minor White

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