The Shaking of the Foundations

silhouette of friends jumping in sunset at beach

Sometimes I feel stuck. Probably most of us feel that way these Covid-19 days. Stuck in our house and in our habits; tied down to old ways of thinking, feeling and doing. Yet we also know we stand for more than that—with something to offer the world that we were meant to share. Call it potential. Are we living up to our potential? Probably not. As Jungian analyst James Hollis likes to ask, “What wants to come into the world through you?”

So is there something I, we, can do about that at this very moment? Or at any moment? Let me share a recent discovery with you.

 Early in life I learned from Gurdjieff’s teaching that we need to be shaken out of our complacency, our sleep. In fact his Work in Life is work to develop a center of gravity in oneself, a place from which to be present and perhaps serve a larger purpose, amid the chaos of life as we now live it. That way, we might sometimes avoid the results of what he calls the Law of Accident.

He compares each of us to a scientific retort full of powders that are shaken up this way and that all day long by our life, inner and outer. That’s our situation right now, in spades! No idea what’s going to happen next—to self, to family, to country, even to the world. Yet Gurdjieff insists that this shaking is a good thing.

He says woe to anyone whose powders might settle into a permanent arrangement. That’s an aspect of what he calls “the Terror of the Situation.”  Who wants to be stuck in “an endless hesitation in the same place,” or an ego drive to acquire power over others. Such a fate turns us into robots or automatons, repeating ourselves over and over in the same way. No hope for change.

So we learn that on the one hand we need to be shaken up. On the other it is urgent that we uncover what Gurdjieff calls our magnetic center, a place in our Being that resonates to the sound of truth. Where objective conscience lies buried.

In midlife I discovered Philosopher Paul Tillich’s book, The Shaking of the Foundations, which speaks to the same need. What’s more, Tillich lived in times somewhat comparable to ours, in Germany just before World War II, where he met the Terror first-hand. An early critic of Hitler, he was barred from teaching in Germany in 1933, so he emigrated to the United States, and soon began teaching theology here and writing some powerful books.

In The Shaking of the Foundations he speaks not only to Christians, but to all serious people, about the truths of the human situation. While the book contains sermons that cover the Beatitudes, holiness, providence, witness, acceptance, history, and death, it also applies to our current situation. He writes that, “If the foundations begin to crumble, cynicism itself crumbles with them. And only two alternatives remain — despair, which is the certainty of eternal destruction, or faith, which is the certainty of eternal salvation.” Then he adds: “This is what we should call religion, or more precisely, the religious ground for all religion.”

So here is one of the most influential philosophers and theologians of the twentieth century saying that all religions are based on the Ground of All Being—and that proprietary ways of thinking about them need a good shaking. In other words, bigoted, intolerant, self-righteous spiritual views have no place in a world under attack by Covid-19, by climate change, by authoritarian leadership.

So when I recently began to study qigong with Master Robert Peng, imagine my delight to discover that he insisted on beginning every practice session with that very shaking of the foundations! In ardent search of developing vitality, compassion and wisdom, we bounced and shook as if jumping on a trampoline. While I’d never before thought of stirring up my thoughts and emotions by physical shaking, it suddenly made whole a lot of sense.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: if I choose to shake up whatever situation I’m in at any moment in the day, my fixed, heavy, or airy moods or attitudes may well dissolve into a sense of my own presence here. Happy or sad, angry, upbeat, or down in the dumps, here I am on my own two feet, alert to whatever’s taking place rather than lost in what I was thinking, feeing or doing. So I began to include a few minutes of shaking at odd moments, times when I felt tired, or downcast, or when my aging brain had trouble focusing on what I was doing.

Why don’t you try it, too? Whatever mood weighs you down, whatever heaviness of body or mind has overtaken you—when you wake up to it, shake your Body Being to re-energize body, mind and feeling. You could stand at your kitchen sink as I sometimes do, holding onto the narrow front edge for balance. Or in my study, facing the computer, the sometimes cause of an aching back. I also shake myself up in my living room, facing the tree out the window, or my daughter’s beautiful painting that serves as the cover of my latest book, Awakening Body Consciousness.

But Peng takes it even further, and I invite you to follow him in this, too. He calls on us to imagine that we are little children in the playground as we shake ourselves, humming and muttering child-noises as we bounce around.

All together now, let’s bounce on our toes, shake our knees, stir up the spinal juices, and shift away from whatever we were reacting to or thinking about! Sounding and shaking, we waken the young energy that is still available to us when we open to it. The child energy that is still deep in each of us—with an openness that can make everything fresh and new.

So let’s shake the body, shake the psyche, and shake up the monkey mind as we joggle the old ways of thinking, feeling and doing.


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