Principle 8 Comprehended Action 3

Principle 8, third week
Every month we focus one of the 12 Principles of Valid Action. These can be found in Chapter 13 of the book, The Inner Look. Each week we look at a different aspect of that principle. This week’s Principle is  #8, “The Principle of Comprehended Action, it says: “You Will Make Your Conflicts Disappear When You Understand Them In Their Ultimate Root, Not When You Want To Resolve Them”.

A few weeks ago we looked at the overall idea of this principle. Our focus last week was on how it applied in the present. This week it is on how the principle applied in past situations.  

I don’t have to look far to find conflicts in my present situation. Not only conflicts between myself and others — conflicts about values, things we want to do, about money, etc. Some of these are substantial, most (in my case at least) are trivial. I also find internal conflicts of varying degrees of seriousness. Most notable among these are perhaps the contradictions between what I think, what I feel and what I end up doing.  When we talk about contradiction we are pointing to a certain kind of conflict. Not all conflicts are contradictions. And while contradictions are an intractable source of suffering they aren’t the only one. 

As it says in chapter X of the Internal Landscape (the book I quoted here last week): 

X. Valid Action
1. Contradiction is not the only source of mental harm; any reversal of the growing stream of life is experienced as suffering. Yet while the empire of circumstance may allow many forms of suffering to be overcome, contradiction persists, weaving its dark web of shadows. 
2. Who has not suffered the loss of affection, of images, of objects? Who has not feared, been desperate, felt pity, or become agitated in angry rebellion against people, against nature, against all those unwanted but inevitable endings? But what was feared in darkness faded with the coming of day, and much of what was lost was forgotten. Yet that innermost betrayal of oneself continues in the past and poisons the future. 

In the previous chapter we read:

lX. Contradiction and Unity
1. Contradiction inverts life. The inversion of the growing stream of life is experienced as suffering. Thus, suffering is the signal that warns us of the need to change the direction of the opposing forces. 

It goes on to point out the need to learn to tell the difference from the difficulties, problems and challenges of life — which, as unpleasant as they might be nonetheless can help strengthen us as we deal with them. And contradictions which leave us stuck with no way out.

12. I believe you will know how to distinguish a difficulty, which is welcome for you can leap over it, from a contradiction, that lonely labyrinth that has no exit. 

From this point of view contradictory and unifying actions are the what out of which we actually make our lives. All the rest is decorative, secondary and only provisionally better or worse.

14. In daily actions difficulties are overcome, small objectives are achieved, little failures reaped. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, these acts accompany daily life like scaffolding accompanies a great building; it is not the structure itself, but it is necessary if it is to be built. It does not matter what material this scaffolding is made of, as long as it is suitable for its purpose.

A consequence of that vision of  life as an edifice you are constructing out of the material at hand (the material that fate, God, chance, etc has given you) is that:

15. As for the building itself, where you put defective material, the defect will grow; where you put solid material, you increase the structure’s solidity. 
16. The essential construction of your life is built of contradictory or unifying actions. You must make no mistake at the moment you find yourself faced with your actions, for if you do you will jeopardize your future and invert the stream of your life—and how then will you end your suffering?

So how do  I proceed and create something interesting out of my life. Certainly at the heart of answering that question the principle of comprehended action comes into play:

17. But it happens that at this very moment your contradictory actions are already many. And if everything from the foundation up is false, what can be done? Would you pull your whole life apart to begin anew? Let me tell you that I do not believe that everything you have built is false, and you should abandon any such drastic thoughts. They will only bring you greater misfortune than is already yours today.
18. A new life is not based upon destroying previous “sins” but upon recognizing them, so that from now on it will be clear how ill-advised are these mistakes. 
19. A life begins when unifying actions start to multiply, so that by their virtue they compensate and finally favorably overbalance the previous relationship of forces.
20. You must be very clear about this: You are not at war with yourself. Rather, you must begin treating yourself like an old friend with whom you must now reconcile, for ignorance and life itself have driven you apart.
21. You must begin by making a decision to reconcile with yourself and to understand your previous contradictions. Then you need to make another decision—that you want to overcome these contradictions. Finally, you need to decide to build your life with acts of unity, rejecting those materials that until now have brought so much harm down upon your head.
22. Indeed, it is advisable that you clarify—in both your past and present situations—those contradictory acts that truly imprison you. To recognize them, you can rely on the suffering that is accompanied by internal violence and the sensation that you have betrayed yourself. These actions give clear signals.
23. I am not saying that you should mortify yourself in exhaustively recounting the present and the past. I am simply recommending that you consider everything that has changed your course in an unhappy direction and everything that keeps you fettered and tightly bound. Do not fool yourself once more by saying, “I have overcome these problems!” Nothing has been overcome or sufficiently understood that has not been weighed against a new force that compensates for and overcomes the previous influence. 
24. All these suggestions will be of value if you are prepared to create a new landscape in your internal world. But you will be able to do nothing for yourself if you think only of yourself. If you want to move forward, you will one day have to accept that your mission is to humanize the world around you.
25. If you want to build a new life, free of contradictions, a life that increasingly overcomes suffering, you must be aware of two false arguments. The first holds that “I need to solve my personal problems before I can undertake any constructive action in the world.” The second leads you to declare “I am committed to the world!” while forgetting yourself completely. 
26. You may agree with me or not, but in any case I will affirm that this is the only way forward: If you want to grow, you will help those around you to grow.

I hope these ideas are as helpful to you as they have been to me. However, as we’ve discussed previously making them into more than platitudes only comes about by wrestling with them, and trying to weave them into a style of life with which to face daily life.

These notes have been sent to the email list of The Community of Silo’s Message Toronto Annex, and posted on Facebook, as well as on my blog at

We’d all love to hear your comments, thoughts about, considerations of, or artwork inspired by, any of this.