Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Just how smart are we, anyway?


"The obstruction of the path by the mind and its conceptual discrimination is worse than poisonous snakes or fierce tigers."

-Ch'an Master Ta Hui, writing to Lo Meng-Pi (Swampland flowers, translated by J. C. Cleary, Shambala Publications 1977.)

...Or maybe frozen rocks.

Ta Hui goes on in a letter to Hsu Tun-Li that the Dharma is "the imponderable, the incalculable, where there's no way to apply intelligence or cleverness."

Combine this with Dogen's rejection of intellectualism- in his Shobogenzo, he makes the point that Zen practice has nothing to do with being stupid or clever- and we end up in what is for most of us a very unfamiliar place.

After all, we have constructed societies founded upon the premise that being smart is important. In the middle class- or what little is left of it as America's greedy CEO's slowly suck up all the money on the entire planet - our incomes usually depend on being smart.

To be sure, celebrity carves out some space in which to be successful and stupid, but it's not a good kind of space.

Is it now?

...And we could mention politics, but for the sake of what's left of everyone's sanity, let's not go there.

I live in America, where one of the sports among educated, competitive males of middle age is to one-up each other in a constant sparring match to see who's smarter, wittier, cleverer. In circles like this it's all about how swift and sharp your intellect is. This kind of intensely egoistic social exchange is wearying to me, but I participate when necessary. Of late I have tried to find ways to soften it where possible, because as I get older I can just feel myself getting stupider, almost by the minute, and it occurs to me that even though I'm considered to be quite smart, I'm just not going to be able to compete on the terms these other, immensely smarter guys are setting.

Our technology, our media, our institutes of higher learning- all of them worship intellect. Business, commerce, the internet- everything is about information exchange. We're swamped by what Ta Hui calls the conceptual discrimination of the mind; it's all we encounter in the average day.

But he's telling us we've got it wrong. In fact, just about every Zen master says we've got it wrong. And it's not just the Zen tradition: In the cloud of unknowing, the author states "You cannot know God with the mind." In Gurdjieff's work he finally told Ouspensky that some things had to be taken on faith- that is, they could not be grasped intellectually. Ouspensky got disgusted - I could be more polite and say dismayed, but I won't- by what he felt were Gurdjieff's increasingly religious leanings. He left him to pursue his own course- which, incidentally, ended in what was according to some accounts a downward spiral into excessive use of alcohol and depression.

As smart as Ouspensky was, I guess that didn't work out to well, huh?

In the end, the mind leads us in circles. I increasingly find that what is tangible isn't intellectual, doesn't consist of lists of facts and figures. It doesn't consist of creating or analyzing, either; it's not made up of thinking, or "doing," or knowing. Not the intellect's compartmentalized type of knowing, anyway.

It's made up of being and understanding. These stem from a deeper part of the organism than the part that's writing this- or reading it. It's what sinks into the bones.

Recently, for me, that can be briefly summarized in the following:

One green bottle of water,
One golden orchid against a blue-white vase,
Falling snow in the morning darkness,
The sensation of breath in the body,
A single leaf turning in the wind.

Those are the facts I have collected in the past two weeks. They won't do anyone but me much good, but they weigh more than thought, and I can still taste them and the way they went down when I swallowed them.

Tomorrow we'll return to more analysis.

or maybe not.

I have something cool to say about the location we inhabit and just how limited it is, but maybe it's not so important.

See you later

and- Love to you all

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tailor

Tailor

No mattter how tattered
This cloth of being is
By care and woe
That comes and goes-
We have this tailor's skill at our command:

The needle best applied is wit,
And thread?- the joy of laughter.

Sewn with song,
And tied with knots of gratitude,
Any garment rended

Can be mended.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Trees, water, wind, stone

Distill this separation, come.
Are you afraid to die?

We can surpass that carnal need
And seize the cathodes of creation.

Trees, water, wind, and stone-
What sustains them?

Love.

There is but one agreement-
One sustaining force.

Are we spinning-roaring-silent-still
In this magnetic Sea of Being?

All of the above?
Fear not.

Music, Chemistry, Vibration-
What sustains them?

Love.

In the midst of this confusion
Love knows the way.













Sunday, January 28, 2007

Not really about Gurdjieff's Enneagram

I had occasion to work on some artwork incorporating the enneagram over the weekend. It turned out nicely, so I have newly incorporated some of the results on this blog.

However today what I had prepared to write about is Dogen, so. Instead of Gurdjieff we will be getting a little Buddhism. Call it false advertising if you will.

In Dogen's Shobogenzo, "Uji"- "existence-time"- Dogen says the following:

"We can never measure how long and distant or how short and pressing twelve hours is; at the same time, we call it "twelve hours." The leaving and coming of the traces and directions [of Time] are clear, and so people do not doubt it. They do not doubt it, but that does not mean they know it. The doubts which living beings, by our nature, have about everything and every fact we do not know, are not consistent; therefore our past history of doubt does not always exactly match our doubt now. We can say for the present, however, that doubt is nothing other than time. We put our self in order, and see [the resulting state] as the whole universe." (P. 92, "Master Dogen's Shobogenzo," Translation by Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross, Dogen Sangha books 2006.)

What is a state of doubt? A state of not being sure. As it would be put by those in the Gurdjieff Work, a state of questioning.

I happen to dislike that last phrase, because the formal branch of the Gurdjieff Work I am in uses it so habitually it has become, in my eyes, entirely mechanical and all but lifeless.

Nonetheless, it's very useful here. So let's give the devil of questioning his due.

"We can never measure how long and distant or how short and pressing twelve hours is; at the same time, we call it "twelve hours." The leaving and coming of the traces and directions [of time] are clear, and so people do not doubt it. They do not doubt it, but that does not mean they know it.

What is twelve hours? It is nothing other than experience. A collection of impressions drawn into the living vessel. They exist- we know this- but they have no real measurement outside the context of the vessel. There is no twelve hours in the universe. There is, and can only ever be, only twelve hours in man. It is sheer artifice.

We label it with conviction nonetheless. "Twelve hours." Now-having dispelled our doubt with a name- we think know what Time is.

"The doubts which living beings, by our nature, have about everything and every fact we do not know, are not consistent; therefore our past history of doubt does not always exactly match our doubt now."

Even our present doubts are inconsistent. If we do not even know how to doubt, we cannot know how to not doubt. We are not consistently in question- we make assumptions. In our everyday experience, Time itself is an assumption. We are forever assuming many things about time: there is too much (we're bored), not enough (we're harried), it's running out (there's only a fixed amount, damn it) and so on. The one fact that escapes us is that we don't really know anything about time.

"We can say for the present, however, that doubt is nothing other than time."

Here Master Dogen reduces the entire question of time to the act of questioning itself. His suggestion seems to be that we remain within question- a state of not making assumptions- as we take in this flow of impressions we call time. There is an direct implication of unconditionality about this act.

"We put our self in order, and see [the resulting state] as the whole universe."

Here we are at the subject of yesterday's blog. "We put ourselves in order." In the act of attempting to become whole, to form an inner unity (something described by the symbol of the enneagram, by the way) , we are attemtpting to reach a state where we gain the insight that everything- including time itself- is a function of the experience of consciousness.

There isn't room for that kind of experiential thinking within the ordinary self. It is on the order of prophecy, this act of seeing all time as one time- and as Christ said to the congregation that loved his graceful words (right up until he said this one last thing, that is,)

"A prophet hath no honor in his own home."

That is, the congregation within us wants to have consciousness on its own terms, whereas there simply are no such terms to be had. After Christ said this the congregation decided it might be nice to throw him off a cliff. Fortunately he escaped.

The implication is clear enough to me- my inner congregation, set in its ways of misunderstanding, labels and rejects. In this way I trivialize time- in my imagination, I turn this great mystery into a thing I can manipulate with ease. Even dismiss with contempt, as in "I have not time for that."

If there is participation in the form of always asking a question about where I am and what is- the presence of doubt, the banishment of mere assumption- then time changes into a living thing to be experienced, not a static entity marked with numbers on the face of a clock.

And in the end it's always my lack of relationship that breeds the death of living, breathing experience.






Friday, January 26, 2007

working towards inner unity

In the meditation I practice, I make a specific daily effort to knit the inner parts of my being together.

I begin with the understanding that I am partial- that is, my inner parts or centers do not work in concert. One does the work of another. So I make an effort to sense them consciously and to bring them into relationship with one another first thing in the morning.

Often there is no result- that is, specific aims I have set for myself at this stage of my work don't materialize. I walk away from the sitting with the impression that it was kind of "dry,"
unsatisfying.

This belies the truth of the situation. It's very common for the energy I am seeking to cultivate to show up unexpectedly, later in the day. That's because the action of knitting the inner centers together is a generative one. First thing in the morning, they need to be re-introduced to one another, reminded of one another's existence, and the lawful relationships of energy exchange that exist between them need to be reinforced by a gentle, attentive form of reminding. It's later in the day that the benefits of this morning meeting show themselves- when I most need them, in daily life.

A careful long term study of Gurdjieff's enneagram can lead to a much better understanding of what these lawful relationships are. It's not within the scope of this blog to explain that in detail. However it is worthwhile to note that if I cultivate a right relationship between the inner parts, they remember that they are part of a system and they begin to become more interested in working together.

At that point, having found a (heretofore forgotten) common ground, they do a certain kind of work without the need for my conscious supervision and that work produces much more of what is needed to sustain an effort through the rest of the day.

This doesn't happen without my active participation in the initiation of the process. That's what the morning meditation is all about. My individual centers, you see, are entirely used to working on their own and each one of them rather likes being in charge. All of them have to give something up in order to work together. At first it's very hard to help them see that the sacrifice confers a greater value that what is being given up.

Gurdjieff pointed out that there are many potential states of consciousness:

“Your principal mistake consists in thinking that you always have consciousness, and in general, either that consciousness is always present or that it is never present. In reality consciousness is a property which is continually changing." (In Search Of The Miraculous, P. 117)


A study of the diagram of the human chemical factory (same book, p.190) depicts the wide range of higher substances which can act in man. The action of each one can result in a different level of consciousness. Let's just say the subject is even more complex than the diagram, and it's easy to achieve something very remarkable indeed, and yet not realize it's just a small part of the whole. This is the reason the world breeds a wide variety of Yogis with varying talents, displaying extraordinary strengths combined with puzzling- and even unfortunate- foibles.

Putting it a good deal more simply than the diagram, the different states we experience are a consequence of how partial we are. The more unity we can help foster within the inner system, the greater the possibilities. That effort to establish more inner unity is a critical part of the process of awakening. The whole organism has to awaken.

I see that when my centers operate more collectively, I become a very different kind of person. Compassion and inner peace are no longer psychological states: they are substances.

In order to experience this, I have to become a bit more of an inner mechanic and a bit less of a psychologist. If the machine doesn't work right, its by products- my conscious manifestations- are faulty.

That's the way I usually am. Getting up early and meditating helps change that over time.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Aim, meaning, prayer

This week was a bit overwhelming for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the cruel axe of corporate cutbacks- whose wicked swings fortunately missed yours truly. Instead, friends were vocationally decapitated-quite traumatic enough, thank thee kindly. The sobering "there but for the grace of God" moments are still reverberating.

Less lumberjacks- more logs to jockey. I have had little time to post, and now that I do, I have a somewhat rambling collection of musings rather than elegantly organized thoughts. So please bear with me while I kind of think out loud and touch on a number of things that have been milling around in me over the past four days.

Today at about noon, as is my habit, I took a cup of coffee and sat down in the cafeteria room at work. I pulled up a chair and looked out the window at the faint ghost of the sun, partially obscured by clouds, but nonetheless overpowering.

As soon as we leave the atmosphere of this planet, I thought to myself, we are dealing with cosmological forces on scales that humans merely pretend to comprehend. The universe is vast- as my web home page, the astronomy picture of the day site, continually reminds me- but even this solar system is vast.

This ever-shining sun of today, and the planets, do their work without regard for the intense dramas being played out in Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. In fact, taken all at once together as a single entity, the frenzied activity of all mankind is a small force. It only seems large to us. As Gurdjieff mentioned to Ouspensky, man is a "microcosmos" (In Search Of The Miraculous, P. 329.)

We're tiny. Yet we assign ourselves tremendous importance. It is certainly true of me, anyway- I am arrogant and competitive and don't see how beholden I am to forces greater than myself. It's only as I have grown older that I begin to acknowledge this, and accept the fact that I am in service to something greater than this small thing called self. I'm merely one infinitesimal (yet functional) part of this massive engine called the cosmos.

I perceive myself as separated and intact, but I am, in a grand paraodx, both connected and fragmented.

Why do I say that? I'm connected because I am a particle of this vast ocean of matter, and I am fragmented because I fail to see or sense my connection to the whole.

As usual, I have it backwards.

This may sound theoretical, but to me it is not. In the midst of this confusion, where do I seek my own meaning and where do I find it?

Another way of saying this might be, what is my aim?

In life, everything just happens. No matter what we do our how we organize it, the unexpected arrives. How do we get our bearings in a sandstorm like this?

As Gurdjieff puts it, a man must have an aim. And I think every aim consists in a way of an attempt to acquire not just knowledge, but also understanding.

Ha! You say. That's utter nonsense. And you're probably right.

So let us say just this: in any event, in my opinion every aim should consist of just such a thing. That is, to acquire the raw metals of knowledge through the organism, test them in the forge of experience, and hammer them into understanding on the anvil of being. It's a physical act, this thing: not the way of thinking myself into meaning, but of digging into the earthy ore of meaning with my bare hands.

An ore found without prejudice both inside and outside the vessel of this organism.

Perhaps my efforts are too organically based. I don't know. Whether that is true or not I can't say. I only know that it's strictly through the direct experience of sensation, living within this organism, that I seem to be able to acquire anything approaching meaning. And what is acquired by that means does not lend itself readily to definitions.

I read a lot of spiritual literature, but don't find much said about the efforts to grow a root of being down into the deep mud of the body. Where are the comments about this effort? Where are the texts about developing the shimmering sensation of being, the organic vibration of the marrow that verfies we are alive?

Perhaps this type of experience is too ordinary--or even too obscure-- to be considered transcendental. For myself, I don't think so. The heart of the ordinary beats with the most extraordinary of forces. The vibration from which we arise penetrates every instance of reality. Our Father can be sensed with the body.

I use the Lord's prayer every morning at the beginning of meditation. Over time, its meaning keeps changing for me. This week I see that the whole of the Lord's Prayer is a call to relationship.

My study of this prayer has, over time, helped to provide me with both aim and understanding.

It reveals its treasures slowly, but they are glorious.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Negative emotions

Gurdjieff intimated that there is no center in man for negative emotions.

I've pondered this for some time without reaching any clear conclusions. I can verfiy that there are localized physical centers for all kinds of other arisings and phenomena, but negative emotion seems difficult to get a grip on. I do not see exactly where it arises or manifests in me: I see that it exists but I do not see how it can mastered. Once they arrive, my negative emotions are like dog turds in the front yard that cannot be removed.

To begin with, without any work, I am in the yard with the turds. It seems like they belong there and I make up a lot of excuses for why it's not only perfectly OK for them to be there, but even how absolutely great and even necessary the turds are. I brag on them.

Eventually, as I have gained some perspective on myself- and this is the work of many lifetimes, to be sure- let's say I go inside and view the situation from the living room window. Eventually, as I get a bit of distance from the rich and compelling stink of their presence, I get to see that the turds are... well, turds. The Lord of the Flies, throwing a party for His maggoty offspring.

The bottom line, folks, is that I'm full of shit.

OK. This is progress, I think to myself. I can now see these damn turds a bit better, with a bit less identification, from the picture window of my perpetually-under-construction inner house.

Kinda ruins the view, but there you are. We might say, "Thank God for the view, no matter how bad it is."

Unfortunately, now, I can't seem to find a way to get outside and clean up the mess. I realize that despite the fact that they playfully litter vast tracts of my inner landscape, I know next to nothing about turds. When I am out in the yard with them I automatically love them. When I get into the living room and see them for what they really are, I can't reach them.

Their very nature is mysterious to me. I don't know where the animals that gift me all these turds are (due to my congential blind spots, I can't seem to see them anywhere in the yard) and I can't figure out how to get rid of them.

It's like a bad dream- no matter where I turn in my inner landscape, there they are, immovable, almost immortal.

Why do I say that? -"Almost immortal?"

Because, unlike most of the other parts of my psyche, which are weak and fleeting and do not have a lot of attention, negative emotion has tremendous staying power. Once a turd of this kind occupies its chosen place in the front yard, it just isn't leaving. Even if I use its own weapons of rationalization and inner argument against it to try and weaken its internal logic of self-justifcation, it is well-nigh unbeatable.

It is akin to obsessive-compulsive disorder: once negativity on a subject seizes me, everything I think and see and feel and do keeps defaulting back to it like a vinyl record with a big old scratch that keeps skipping back and playing the same infuritaingly annoying riff over and over.

Why should negativity have such power? In fact it seems to have all the power I wish I had for my inner work.

This tells me a couple of things:

First, the machinery is flat-out broken. There's just no way things are supposed to work this way. I am certain of that. In fact I believe freedom from this tyranny may always be much closer than we think.

Second, we do have the power to focus our inner work. Our negativity routinely inverts it and steals it from us. If we could turn that situation around everything might be quite different in us.

I know from experience that Grace can confer freedom from negativity. I do not know how to "do" it on my own. This, for me, underscores the fact that I cannot do. That raises a whole additional set of questions.

Two years ago I realized that if there was one single task, one aim, I wish to achieve in the next five years it would be to learn how to become free of negative emotion.

In hindsight, I that this a much too big a task. By the time one achieves this kind of freedom one has, in a certain sense, achieved everything. Nonetheless, it seems like it is still at least a good idea to make one of my daily aims the study of my negativity.

I'm going to try to be optimistic here. If I have to live with them, then keeping the turds under an intense spotlight may at least dry them out, kill off the maggots, and lessen the smell.

Not only that, if I can ever figure out a way to carry them out of the yard, they'll weigh less.

Anyone care to join me?


Friday, January 19, 2007

Time, and places in the heart

During some discussions with friends, the subject of time- and our perception of it- came up this week.

We often discuss time as though there isn't enough of it. Time, however, is essentially unlimited. It's our experience of time that is contained within limits. And that experience is coarsely abbreviated by our inattention.

We fail to pay attention, and time flies by like the wind. Because we are asleep time seems to evaporate. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it?

The evaporation of time frequently leads to a sense of pressure, and eventually desperation. There isn't enough time in the day to get things done. Whatever we're doing seems to be taking too long and we get frustrated. We're all in a hurry to drive fast and get somewhere else. While we're there we're worried about what the next place is we have to get to. In our negativity we squander our experience of time like a rich man who feels he can afford to be careless about small change.

We constantly forget that this wealth has a limit; it is framed and constrained by the reciprocal debts of birth and death.

When we shrink wrap time with impatience, bad attitudes and inattention, we do it an injustice. In fact, every human being crosses vast landscapes of time within a single day. We just don't see it that way.

Our impressions of life need to sink deeper into the body. This slows time down. In fact I suspect that if impressions fall into us to the deepest possible point, we attain a clarification of the mind-essence that expresses, conveys, and contains the eternal.

Buddha Dharma, Christ consciousness.

No time. Just life.

So how can we change our perception of this thing called time?

Only by forming a clearer picture of our inner state can this begin to change. Self-observation does not consist solely of observing the external, psychological manifestations of being-our thoughts, words, and actions. It consists above all of observing the organism. All thoughts, words, and actions arise from the organism, so when we begin to deepen our inner study and turn to observation of the inner state- the inner conditions of the organism, we go to the root of our manifestation.

Beware. People engaged in inner work tend to get hung up on the psychology of life and chase it down. It offers endless opportunities for analysis. This can keep anyone busy for a lifetime, and it does.

Study of the organism, on the other hand, does not yield revelations definable in words. It begins with attention to the breath, and to the careful preparation of the body to receive the breath. Gurdjieff, you may recall, told Ouspensky that time is the breath of the universe.

It's the breath of our inner universe as well.

If we work in this way we can discover what it means to prepare a place in our heart for the Lord. That is a strictly physical work that must be discovered and labored on in places too darkly sacred for intellect to penetrate. It belongs to minds we do not yet know, and sensations we have not yet had.

In preparing to receive our lives in this manner, we may drink a moment of this precious thing called time more deeply.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thursday morning, 6 a.m.

This morning we were up at 6 am and walking the dog Isabel along the creek. The idea of service came up.

All of life finds itself in service. It's one of the conditions of existence. The chain is magnificent; suns serve to create elements. Elements serve to create planets (and more suns.) Planets serve to create life. Life serves...

what does life serve, anyway?

In order to approach this question I will be digressing in multiple directions. Apologies.

According to Gurdjieff, organic life serves an intermediary role in the life of planets. It helps to receive and then transubstantiate certain arcane energies in the service of planetary evolution.

This is pretty heady stuff. I used to really get into studying and analyzing the massive encyclopedia of ideas in the Gurdjieff work about these matters, and I still retain more than a fair amount of it. I also like to flatter myself by believing that I understand more than a good bit of this material.

Alas! My egoistical indulgences are in vain. The Gurdjieff work contains so many vital ideas, and the subjects that it touches on are so vast, that by the time one begins to understand any of it- that is to say, understands its context within a relationship of inner vibrations rather than just with the intellect alone- one realizes that one doesn't understand anything.

It gets worse. The things that can be understood turn out to be gloriously subtle and all but impervious to the reductionist battering of words. Leaving us all in a hell where what perhaps needs to be expressed the most cannot be touched by what we use the most to express things with.

Hence, we may presume, all the apocryphal tales about teachers teaching their work with their backs.

Or perhaps even their backsides. After all, much of what is taught to mankind is so obviously taught by asses.

As I get older, it becomes more and more difficult to expound on ideas. There is simply so much that needs to be said that can't be said effectively. On top of that, the tendency in the Gurdjieff work is, all too often, to cleave to the form and adopt an imitative tone drenched with the same victorian overtones that colored the admittedly great works of Ouspensky and Nicoll. That doesn't work for me- I urgently feel we need something more tangible, more immediate.

I often think that as much as we may respect them, we cannot rely on the work of dead people to carry us forward. Hence this blog, which tries as much as possible to speak in my words, from my experience, about these matters in a contemporary manner that may somehow touch people from today's work in today's life, not from the work of yesteryear.

Probably it's arrogant. In addition, it's almost intimidating to go to the myriad other web sites and blogs which brilliantly recycle, reprocess, and regurgitate the Gurdjieff material in a thousand different ways more clever than anything I think I could ever come up with.

I think to myself, "maybe I should be doing that." But I'm not.

OK, now I'm done digressing.

My morning impression of this idea of service is that we all have to serve something. In this life, in this moment, I am in service of forces greater than myself. We all are. If you want be strictly scientific about it, you could say we are in the service of evolution. Or, in other words, Great Nature, as Mr. Gurdjieff calls it.

Now, we can be in service involuntarily- out of fear, with the pressure of our animal needs driving us forward like lambs to the slaughter- or we can choose to be in service voluntarily, that is, with acceptance.

To serve as animals, as slaves to nature, the highest art we bring is patience. But patience needs exercise, and has its limits.

Acceptance has muscles that never lose their tone; it knows no boundaries.

Patience is a human virtue: a cautious, beautiful woman confined within the borders of the self.

Acceptance is a solar force: exploratory, expansive, fearless. It slays ego where it stands with a sword forged of compassion.

A friend of mine named Red Hawk who writes poems has a collection called "The Art of Dying." (He writes in a powerful, uncompromising voice- go buy it and you'll see what I mean.)

I think that acceptance is a big part of the art of dying- dying to myself in order to discover a willingness to just say "OK" to the conditions of my life-

instead of resisting it at every turn.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Eating life, one bite at a time


It's easy to understand what we chew and swallow as food. It's not so difficult to understand that air is food. But it is a bit more difficult to understand that the actual flow of life itself is food.

If it's difficult to understand that conceptually, it's even more difficult to experience it tangibly, that is, to have physical experiences of life that enter us deeply enough to see that they are actually food.

Nonetheless, the effects of the food of life are obvious enough. People who take in the wrong kind of impressions are often damaged by it. More often than not, the emotional state suffers- we become depressed or negative. This is one reason why it's important to practice some discrimination in life- that is, we should be a bit choosy about the kind of impressions we take in. And we should actually make an effort to take in right impressions.

Sometimes a few right impressions can make all the difference.

Last night I was exhausted and negative. I'd had a difficult day and I have been working a number of days straight through on top of jet lag and what have you. So we might say I was just about fed up with the flow of impressions- it was too relentless, for too many days in a row, without any down time. I was overstuffed and cranky. On top of all this I had to go into New York for my Gurdjieff group meeting and movements class. On the drive home I was inattentive and burnt out. The thought began to dawn on me that perhaps I'd skip, despite the fact that I had already missed two weeks of meetings in a row.

The day had started out with my movements shoes missing, which made me just a little nuts. I had to initiate a wild goose chase to buy shoes during my lunch hour. I was now racing home, crappy mood and all, hell bent for leather in order to re-engineer this marginal new footwear with suede and epoxy so that the satanically rubberized traction-rich soles wouldn't stick me to the floor of the movements hall like glue.

I came home to an equally crabby wife. I think the planets must have been out of kilter last night. We traded a few snarly words, I slugged down an espresso, climbed upstairs, slapped newly cut suede soles on the offending shoes, and let the glue set.

It was time to go in to the city, but by now I was just so damn tired I felt negative about the whole idea. When you're even feeling crappy about participating in your spiritual work you're hitting some kind of bottom for sure.

Something in me insisted on overcoming this.

I got in the car, dammit.

I grumbled into the city.

During the course of the evening, as I sat in my meeting and then went to the movements class, something changed in me. This was just the kind of food I needed. By the end of the evening the experience had soaked in like a drenching summer rain. Time itself opened up to leave room for the details.

By this morning I was positively reverberating with the impressions. The tone it struck inside me lasted all day long.

It was making the extra effort- the super-effort, as Mr. Gurdjieff might have put it- that I was able to become available. I offered myself to my life- and it offered something priceless back.

I'm grateful for this food of life. For the people, the work, the possibility of effort.

To all of you today-

Bon appetit.

Monday, January 15, 2007

This daily life- this daily bread

The Thai have this delightful habit of erecting small shrines in the middle of daily life.

They pop up everywhere-as evidenced from the picture, which was taken at the Chatuchak market in Bangkok. In each case they serve as a reminder that I am surrounded by the sacred everywhere I go, and no matter where I find myself. Because everything is sacred- every single thing- every single moment and circumstance and conjunction of events.

It's nearly impossible for us to understand this in our ordinary state, especially when something truly horrific happens. It takes the genius of a Viktor Frankl ("Man's Search for Meaning") or the spiritual depth of a Meister Eckart to help us gain insight into how even the worst events are sacred.

Still, most of us can recall some event in life where something that started out appearing as awfully bad eventually turned out to be very good. Not only that, all of us are familiar with the paradigm of the hero, who can never be tested and proven without the trials he faces.

The Thai practice reminds me that I don't need to just focus on peaks and valleys. This ordinary life, all of the mundane aspects I encounter in a day- each one of them is extraordinary. There isn't anything ordinary, in fact- the simplest, dumbest things are imbued with a hidden grace. Only by breathing my life in and out can I begin to get a sense of this. The entire universe is an expression of sublime and extraordinary divinity.

Even cigarette butts in the gutter are part of this immense and awe-inspiring event called creation. The fact that we have trivialized them (or anything) by using them, discarding them, and then defining them as worthless makes no difference to the universe. They still have the inherent value they began with as cosmic substances. The atoms they are made up of, forged in the furnaces of stars, are every bit as miraculous as they were before we puffed them into a conglomeration of tar-soaked dead leaves and and ash.

How like this thing called consciousness! No matter how battered and abused, it nurses a spark that simply cannot be extinguished. Even if, in this particular life, it appears to be corrupted and defeated, the essential inner light of Truth which comes from the heart cannot be destroyed.

It's hard to remember that when we meet our life with the inevitable mass of definitions and dismissals we are filled with by what we call "education" and a habitual disinterest born from years of overstimulation. We forget that this daily life is that daily bread Christ advised us to pray for. Each and every impression of life is a food to be grateful for.

In the making of that effort, may we dare to hope?- we may be discovered by something called Grace.

I found, when I was younger and rowed boats more frequently, that rowing seemed monotonous and tedious- unless I invested myself in the rythym and forgot about the destination. It was in the physical experience that I learned to appreciate every pull of the oar for the pulling itself.

Dwelling within the moment shrinks the distance between the heart and the object of its wish.
It is within this world of small, ordinary things that I discover a universe.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Gratitude, responsibility, and awareness

I have spent the week at a trade show in Germany. During the show there were a lot of rich impressions, but above all there were many opportunities to make the effort to be in relationship with other people.

This is a difficult question for me and perhaps for all of us. As I have noted recently, I often seem to be absent from relationship- first with myself, then inevitably with others- much of the time. This is such a signature feature of our state that Da Free John (who now calls himself Da Love Ananda) said the key question for all of us in life is, "avoiding relationship?"

I don't much hang my hat on this particular guru's work, but I think he has a real point.

In my experience of this week there was a lot of sharing on a very simple, honest and practical level. Nothing special. Just human beings making the best effort they can to meet their lives in a responsible way, with sensitivity to others. I saw a number of old friends- one of whom I haven't seen for many years. It was very feeding and I was left this morning with an enormous sense of gratitude for this life I have been given.

Life is a very precious substance and a terrific responsibility.

Why do I say this?

Consider this carefully, deeply. Meditate on it:

Awareness creates reality.

In my experience, we all belong to a force much larger than what we perceive as "ourselves." As the custodians of our own consciousnesses, which locate themselves within this immense field of forces that creates reality, we are given the vital task of receiving and transmitting the impressions of the world and our lives. Collectively, this force we call consciousness creates the world: without consciousness to perceive it, there is no world.

I have pondered this for some time after asking myself the questions, "why should there be something rather than nothing?" and "can there be nothing?" That is, is it even possible for there to be nothing?

The only condition under which there can be nothing is if there is nothing to perceive it. Existence cannot exist independent of perception. So reality is created by and arises from awareness.

The physicists can sit about arguing this one all they want to. If there were no consciousness then the possibilities of classical reality, quantum mechanics, and string theory, all of which seek to explain why there is a reality, would not even exist. Consciousness comes first.

Perhaps this insight is too simple to satisfy the scientists-or perhaps it is just that it will never succumb to their arsenal of mathematics.

Every one of us acts as a universe-creator within the field of our own awareness... ahem. Did I just refer to this idea as simple? My bad. The implications of this are too vast to swallow with the mind and I won't bother expounding on them here. (Go read a lot of Dogen. He expounds most wonderfully.) Instead I encourage readers to examine this proposition to see what is true. What does this mean in terms of our own responsibility? If all conscious beings are Gods that individually create the truth of a world through perception, what kind of Gods are they?

And what kind of Gods do we wish to be?

Speaking only for myself: in this awesome effort and act of understanding- physically, emotionally, and intellectually- that I both participate in the creation of, and reciprocally belong to, something much larger than myself, my being and my body resonate in oceans of sensation.
Waves of humility, gratitude, and devotion arise, all within this most ordinary, horizontal, daily thing we call existence. A sense of scale without magnifies itself within.

How am I responsible to my awareness?

With this thought I send love to all of you- today, most particularly, a certain special friend at school in Florida ...but hey, you're all special!

God bless

me

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

impressions and scale

We're told in the Gurdjieff work that there are three kinds of being food: material food that we eat, air, and impressions. Each of the foods is necessary, but air and impressions are at higher rates of vibration- that is, air is a finer food than what we chew and swallow, and impressions are a finer food than air.

There is a major, lifelong work to be undertaken in understanding the matter of ingesting impressions. I won't get into that here. Suffice it to say that there are moments- rare, to be sure, but as real as the day is long- when we can experience the ingestion of impressions much more tangibly. In such moments, the physical impact of impressions is quite different and we can experience their materiality in a different way. When this happens our centers take impressions in more deeply. They reach parts of us that they usually can't connect with.

Today I had such a moment at breakfast when I saw scale. For a brief moment I saw how absolutely tiny we are.

In that moment I was observing myself observing the bustle of the buffet at the hotel we are staying at here in Germany. We're at a big trade fair and there is a terrific amount of loose, ambient energy. A lot of it is sex energy running, like an animal, wild and free, but there are finer energies present too. Huge gatherings like this attract such energy, and some of it is just up for grabs.

Anyway there I was poised between healthy spoonfuls of pasty German Muesli- grains and oats with yoghurt- when all of the frenzied activity struck me as being on the level of bacteria.

I often think about the world of bacteria -for example, the immense wars that are fought ought within our own bodies. A mere pimple represents heroic unseen battles fought between foreign microorganisms who invade our pores, and the macrophages (white blood cells) who, in their role as selfless warriors on behalf of the organism, slay them wholesale using a wicked array of molecular weapons.

To us, the pimple is an annoying blemish. To that tiny world within us, it represents a killing field. Millions and even billions have fought and died on that swollen battlefield, and it is filled with the pain and anguish of that trial. As clumsy and insensitive as we are at this grossly larger level, we can still can feel that.

Our whole body is like this. All our trillions of cells are continually engaged in hyperactive explosions of activity which we can't even see. If we sit in Zazen and meditate to the point of a supreme and infallible inner stillness, on the microscopic level our inner state is still one of unrelenting, urgent movement and exchange. Our immune system does not have time to sit zazen. One moment of lapsed vigilance could spell a cold- or the flu- or cancer.

Human activity looks way large to us. This morning, everyone I saw before me appeared to be big, doing big things, going about big lives. In fact my perception of myself is that way- I'm big and important.

At the same time something came into me with the impression which measured it in a way I cannot fully explain and I saw that all of the activity was extremely small. There was a fleeting understanding that we are all bacteria- or perhaps even less. For a second humanity was in relationship to the planet in scale and it could be seen from within this level. This is perhaps the equivalent of a cell knowing how big it is and where it stands in relationship to us.

The whole idea became- for a moment- more than an idea. It was physically tangible, more real-

TRUE.

This raises many questions for me about what we are and how we live. In my more connected states, the entire collective, crazed enterprises of human life seems completely invalid to me. At least our immune system and bacteria seem to know what they are doing. I'm not sure we are even close to them in approaching that kind of understanding about ourselves and our place. In its delusions of grandeur, humanity forgets the humility appropriate to tiny creatures.

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers us a powerful set arguments that all of man's ordinary activities add up to one thing: vanity. That is to say, everything comes from ego. Looking at my experience of my own inner United States of Reaction, I'd tend to agree.

Ecclesiastes doesn't leave us groping. It concludes with the statement that only one task in life is truly important-

to worship God.

Making a more active effort to sense the scale of my life might help to remind me of that occasionally.



Monday, January 8, 2007

The location of consciousness

I like this picture of a bromeliad because it has these three little blossoms spiking up from the center that remind me of baby chicks with their mouths open, wating to be fed.

Our ordinary consciousness is in its infancy, poorly fed, and consequently very localized, but through practice, at least some part of it (hopefully) learns to stay poised in its nest hoping for a decent worm or two.

Gurdjieff mentioned to Ouspensky that man's development can in some ways be measured by just where his consciousness is located- for example, most of us have it in our heads, but some might have it lower down in their body, for example the chest or the solar plexus.

Recently books have come to my attention which "advocate" what the best location for consciousness is, arguing that in Japan they value a consciousness that resides in the belly, not the head. Some people use expressions for this such as "being more grounded."

It's true, there are such experiences, and they are good. But this does not mean that an experience of consciousness in the head is not good. That idea probably stems from the tendency we all have to devalue the familiar, and assign an artificially high value to the unfamiliar.

In my book, any experience of consciousness is good relative to no experience of consciousness. If you find it in the head, be grateful! However there is a broader aspect to this question.

There is a consciousness of the whole body. It is composed of the assembly of the awarenesses of all the inner centers- all seven of them. So to speak of any one(or two, or so on) centered consciousness as "good," or "bad-" or whatever, misses the point, because it tends to direct us towards yet another partial experience. Of course a new partial experience is very interesting simply because it's unfamiliar, but if we buy into it as the whole ball of wax we're still getting short changed, just in a new and more exciting way.

Undertaking the development of a consciousness that penetrates the entire body is a different and more whole way to approach this question. This is an effort towards a balanced awareness. Gurdjieff's enneagram is a geometric picture of such an awareness. It is interactive, dynamic, and complete.

As I have mentioned before, the material needed to feed the development of such an awareness is acquired through the long term study of conscious attention to breathing. Zazen is one vital tool in initiating such a study. We need to be working in the mud and roots, as Dogen puts it. More on that later.

I'm going to be at a trade show overseas for the next few days so my entries my be somewhat abbreviated, but I'll do my best to keep the journal functioning.


love to all,

me

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Gone fishing


January's tired of wearing
Cold thin garments made of ice
Time to dress like April,
Break out those fishing rods
And trample barefoot towards the river.

Astonishment ensues!

We're more impressed with changes in the temperature
Than death.

But death-
That's a change of weather, too.
Back to January
Who forgot herself
And thought she ruled the spring.


Today, while walking Isabel, my wife and I were on double duty doing neighborhood cleanup, picking up roadside garbage.

Lo and behold! As I lifted a scrap of flattened aluminium, what should I find but a salamander. A salamander in January, up and around, as frisky and alert as July itself. Wine-dark and delicate with moisture, with a graceful ripple of tiny ribs defining its sinuous body.

This glorious little creature allowed me to hold it for a brief moment , eye to eye, before seeking mother earth in a lithe twist of fear.

I haven't seen a salamander in the wild in years. I'm no longer at an age where I splash through streams turning over rocks and digging holes in rocky woodland- although, it occurs to me, perhaps I should be doing these things, regardless of age- just because I can.

No matter. What is amazing is that the absolute last time of year anyone would tell you to go out looking for ambient salamanders in New York is January. They just don't come out at this time of year.

Warm days, warm animals, warm hearts.

It's gratitude for these small blessings that shapes a life.


Thursday, January 4, 2007

horizontal and vertical
















There's a passage in Dogen's Shobogenzo I liked a lot when first I read it:

"[Someone asks] "...What can a person who has already clarified the Budhha's right Dharma expect to gain from Zazen?"

I say: We do not tell our dreams before a fool, and it is difficult to put oars into the hands of a mountaineer; nevertheless I must bestow the teaching." (Bendowa, P. 11, Nishijima &Cross, Dogen Sangha, 1994)

At first I thought this reply was quite humorous. "Ha, ha," I gloated. "What an idiot this guy is to ask the master such a question."

As if I'd know any better. Eh?

After thinking it over for a few weeks it suddenly occurred to me that Dogen's reply- of which I have cited only the very first line- contains an unexpected depth.

He may perhaps be indicating, in a uniquely clever way, that the questioner is clumsy and lacks understanding. That does not really matter. More importantly, in this one simple line, he is expounding an extensive commentary on our nature and what is needed in our work.

What are mountaineers like?

Mountaineers climb heights. They are brave and well meaning people, perhaps, but they are concerned primarily with the vertical- always looking upwards, reaching for the higher. They don't feel like where they are is adequate; only a higher point with a greater view will do. They are desirous and willfull and grasping; ambitious in the face of challenges, arrogant about their own abilities; confident of their superiority, urgent to prove their mettle against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They take unnecessary risks for no obvious reason. They have, to be perfectly blunt, pretty huge egos- in many cases, approximately bigger than Mount Everest, as it happens.

Maybe they feel this is the only way to create a value for themselves; I don't know. For those who are interested, the journalist and mountaineer John Krakauer has written several fine, questioning books about this type, including "Into The Wild" and "Into Thin Air."

I think the overall point is that when our gaze is always directed upwards we fail to see what is around us. Like yesterday's blog, that's the story of my whole darned life.

With a single wry comment, Dogen points us instead to the oarsman, whose work is fundamentally and irrevocably horizontal. The work of the horizontal is broad and tangible; the oarsman spreads out his effort though the entire span of the level he lives in and is crossing.

He's not reaching for heaven. The oarsman is diligent and ordinary; under most circumstances, no one is going to see him as amazing for rowing across a lake. Rowing isn't glamorous or heroic, charismatic or amazing.

It's just practical.

If this isn't a picture of work in life, I don't know what is. Dogen says elsewhere we cannot separate practice and experience; they are one. Our experience of life is our practice. Our practice is our experience of this life.

The oarsman inhabits his environment. The mountaineer tries to conquer it. Perhaps if we look inward- and around us- instead of upwards, we may catch a physical glimpse of ourselves in ordinary life:

An oarsman afloat between heaven and earth, seeking the place of the heart.

I will leave you all to ponder on that further . I have to descend vertically from the blogging loft to deal with the more horizontal aspects of dinner.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Contact

It's interesting to me what kind of effort is needed to really have contact with other people.

So much of the way I behave and manifest towards others is automatic, habitual, that I rarely bring enough of my presence to the exchange to really honor them. I repeatedly see in ordinary life that I don't look at other people and don't value the contact with them enough. There is something inside me that turns away, even when interacting with people I really love, or people I am in regular relationship with- at work, for example.

I was talking with my teacher about this last night. She is 86 years old and still encountering precisely that same set of habits in herself- and still questioning it. I think no matter what we do, no matter how old we are, there may always be parts of us that just outright fail to make the effort to be in relationship. As Gurdjieff said, "Man cannot do."

Certainly this can improve over a lifetime, but only if I see it and study it.

Back in the years when I was, supposedly, an artist, I put art in front of people. That is, doing artwork was more important than being in relationship with other human beings. As though the canvas and sheets of paper somehow transcended life and breath. I finally put the artist thing behind me, at least for the most part, and now I spend more time with people and value them more- yet I still have this question about whether or not I am really there with them.

It seems to me to first take a more fully formed inner connection to myself if I want to be there with and for others. My lack of interest doesn't start with my lack of interest in other people; it starts with my lack of interest in myself. There are a lot of very interesting things going on inside this environment I call a mind and a body. I could pay a great deal more attention to them if I wanted to.

So why the indifference?

I think it stems above all from a disbelief in my own mortality. Whenever enough of me gets together to perceive anything real- after there is an organic sense of this state called Life, and Being- one of the first intuitions I receive is a tangible sense of how impermanent everything is, of how this moment will not come again. When the energy to sustain that kind of vision arises within me, there is a greater appreciation of the uniqueness of each moment- a uniqueness which is denied by the disconnected state I usually live in. That translates directly into a compassion for the other person.

None of us is here for long. A new understanding of value emerges.

What is it? In-formation. To form an inner connection so that one can perhaps welcome and entertain a guest by the name of deep appreciation.

That guest introduces me to a more three centered kind of work: the active, gritty physical act of seeing; the effort of intelligence to comprehend it; the feeling of gratitude that values it.

Here, within this formerly fallow earth of Being I can begin to reclaim a more organic experience of my life. A more ordinary experience which is extraordinary in the sense that I live so much in denial of it.

And- if I am fortunate enough, today or tomorrow, or the next one, to awaken to this sensation of inhabiting my life, then perhaps I will find you there with me.

In all other situations, my sheep are perpetually lost in a wildness of my own construction.

Love to you all,

me

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Attend, observe, scrutinize

Today, at home, this orchid is in bloom, the night sky is clear, and the moon is full. All of them are aspects of one singleness of being called a universe.

...Oh, yeah. I'm here, too.

I repeatedly see in my own practice of self observation that there is the potential for a greater unity of being. At the same time, in my experience, that unity is lacking.

The question for the moment is what can produce a greater unity. Dogen empasizes, above all, Zazen: just sitting.

Perhaps this is because in sitting all of the complications that clutter us can begin to fall away.

Something else gradually emerges.

The experience of self is fundamental, and there is nothing fundamental about my usual distracted state of being. It's very partial: one part makes decisions and another part knows nothing about them.

What's left when I sit is not much: just the body and the experience of breathing in and out. Of course there are the gymnastics of the mind, but they are hardly significant once I accept them. The monkeys in the tree make a lot of noise, but when the monkeys leave, the tree is still there. And even monkeys cannot chatter incessantly. It just seems that way.

There is room, in sitting, for the development of a physical sense of rootedness that arises, very specifically, from the act of breathing. I do not use the term roots allegorically. We speak here of actual, sensible roots that grow into the physical substance of the body. The organic sense of being.

The simple work of attention to breath is the source of the energy that re-connects body to the mind. Careful attention to an unmanipulated, straightforward and practical experience of breath leads us to a subtle, detailed study of our inner parts and how they are informed by breathing.

One of the esoteric meanings of the Zen expression "attaining the marrow" is the development of a new, much deeper sensation of the body. In such a state of sensation there is a magnetic vibration that connects the mind to the body- right down to a very fine, molecular level of resonance. That sensation waxes and wanes like any tide, but in attaining the marrow, the ocean is ever-present.

A certain kind of greater sensation can definitely be, to an extent, willed. There are specific exercises for this. More importantly, however, the connection between breath and sensation can awaken to become a living thing in its own right.

This specific point of work is an important point because it transcends any ordinary understanding of willed attention to breath and sensation. In this case, breath and sensation understand us. It is not a case of us making an effort through will to sense and breathe. It consists of sense and breath simply arising, simply participating.

Human will is still required, to be sure, but it has a quite different place in this particular equation.

In this awakening of breath is already a different experience of the unity of body and mind, and an understanding of our mortality- without morbidity. It is a complete inversion of our ordinary understanding of breathing. We no longer own our breathing.

It owns us.

Such understanding feeds a growing unity of purpose between body and mind, and cultivates the inner garden.

Which brings us to the six practices:

Attend,
Observe,
Scrutinize.

Grow roots,
Draw nourishment,
Let flowers bloom.