Friday, January 30, 2009

the question of hope

Yesterday, I proposed the premise of hope without naïveté.

In pondering the question of hope bit more, and considering the question of death, I cannot help but run up against the many comments Mr. Gurdjieff made about the nature of man's soul.

Gurdjieff maintained, contrary to standard Christian belief, that man does not have a soul unless he earns it. This idea also contradicts Buddhist beliefs about the eternal nature of consciousness, and the standard belief in reincarnation.

Gurdjieff was, of course, a rebel. He delighted in upsetting conventions and challenging beliefs. And he was well known for asking his students to do things which, on examination, they knew they should not do, only offering a "bravo" when they came to him and said: "No, Mr. Gurdjieff, I can't do that."

So we see that his practice included active misdirection, in the hopes that his pupils would find the strength in themself not be so influenced, but to find their inner backbone and stand up straight.

On top of that, I know at least one person (now deceased) who knew Mr. Gurdjieff personally as a young adult and was in his presence when she heard him answer a question about whether or not reincarnation actually took place. She repeated the story to me several times: Mr. Gurdjieff, when asked, said something to the effect that words could not properly explain what happens after death, but that it was "something like that."

So, from the horse's mouth, and not on sheets of paper, an admission that the idea of the soul may not be so ridiculous after all.

We can add to that Madame DeSalzmann's famous statement: "there is no death."

So is it possible, in the end, that Mr. Gurdjieff challenged our beliefs about the soul simply because he wished us to not approach the idea as "taken for granted?"

In most religions, after all, we grow up with the idea that the soul is an absolute. This idea is a peg that the hat of many different hopes in mankind gets hung on. Most religious belief revolves around it in one way or another. Even in religious practices which appear to be more "philosophical" -- Zen Buddhism comes to mind -- the idea of an eternal element which is ever-present in manifested consciousness plays a central role.

Perhaps the most characteristic feature of all these beliefs is that they are mechanical, automatic. Human beings who practice religions with such beliefs agree with them by reflex. They are not examined with a critical mind.

That's perhaps the most remarkable feature of Gurdjieff's denial of the "soul owned by default." He dared to look at the question and offer not belief, but a critique. A challenge to the established order which may, in the end, be as profound as the challenges Martin Luther issued to the church.

This, without a doubt, alienates many mainstream Christians, Buddhists, and so on. First of all, it is scary; it implies a finite end to consciousness which none of us want to accept. Second of all, it appears to be arrogant. Who was this one man, to swim against a tide so strong and ancient?

Did Gurdjieff challenge this belief in order to force us to stop accepting the idea mechanically, and to consciously discover and affirm what the soul consists of?

There is certainly a chance of this. In the process of transformation, a real, organic, and tactile awareness of this question must be developed, as opposed to a passive, intellectual, and unexamined one. And in the development of such a tactile awareness --ah! there lies the miracle of life itself.

As I said to my wife this morning, there is far more hope buried in the rich earth of the Gurdjieff teaching than anyone suspects. It is hard-won hope; hope that is not given, but must be earned.

Nonetheless, for all the effort taken to earn this hope, it is worth so much more than a hope that is born without eyes to see.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

intelligence, feeling, sensation


Intelligence, feeling, sensation.

These three words form the cornerstone of a unique inner understanding of ourselves that would be more whole than what we have now.

What makes them different than intellect, emotion, and body?

When we speak of intellect, emotion, and our body -- when we consider them, or even when we use them as "tools" in our ordinary life (and they are tools, because each one of them is a piece of equipment which we use to establish a relationship with external life) we treat each one as though it were a single thing.

As Mr. Gurdjieff pointed out, each of these "centers," that is, centers of gravity for functioning, has three parts in it. The intellect has an intelligent part, an emotional part, and a physical part. The emotions and the body are no different. Ecah one is an entity, a planet, so to speak, with an inner gravity of its own.

Because of the abnormal conditions inside of us, we almost never sense these parts that way. It takes years of study to even begin to have the beginning of an understanding of this question. An even greater challenge lies in the fact that the understanding of this question cannot be gained through the intelligence. One can hear about this idea, and even believe in it, and yet understand almost nothing about it. One might write a rather lengthy essay on technical matters connected to this idea. It would not, however, offer readers much progress in an actual understanding of the question.

This underscores the limits of technical explanations.

Nonetheless (forked tongue firmly in cheek) I find myself interested in a bit of technical explanation this morning, because I've been examining the consequences of my partiality from a number of points of view in the last month. All such questions are connected. Threads are beginning to come together to form a new bit of fabric.

Intelligence, feeling, and sensation are the cornerstone of real inner work. Each one of them represents a wholeness of the center in question. If the center is fully functioning with all of its parts -- if for example, the emotional part functions with both its intelligence, its emotionality, and its physical presence -- then that center reaches a different level of vivifyingness. A more simple way of saying this is that the center is more alive. Its level of vibration becomes much finer, because its parts are harmonized. It is very much analogous to an engine that is firing with all of its spark plugs in synchronization. Such an engine runs with much greater efficiency than an engine that is not properly timed.

One of our chief difficulties is that all of our centers function with very poor timing. Most of our lives, we don't even operate with even any one center fully functional. We are in a part of the center. For example, we find ourselves in the emotional part of emotional center, which (I suspect) offers us the ability to be sentimental, but not much more. Sentimentality is chiefly characterized by a failure of the critical part of emotional center.

Many ancient disciplines -- yoga, Zen, Christianity, Sufism -- have created forms and exercises that, without attempting any direct work on the organism, gradually change the tempo and functioning of the inner organism so that the centers begin to operate in a more harmonious manner. Man can't approach this work directly. When he does, generally speaking, he automatically tries to use the intellect for it, and everything collapses. One difficulty with our society today is that we try to use the intellect first to do everything. It may be a good effort, but it is too one-centered to produce any lasting results.

So we are left, from the point of view of our inner work, with the need to approach everything obliquely. That means, for my readership who are not experts in the English language, that we have to come at it from sideways and sneak up on it.

The moment that our mind sees what is going on, it grabs onto it, and automatically a part of one center -- the intellect -- which believes it has authority tries to take over and "do" things. It's worth considering this idea in light of Mr. Gurdjieff's famous statement: man cannot "do." That statement, of course, has many levels of meaning, but the specific meaning here is intriguing.

So our aim, through multiple efforts of different kinds -- prayer, the pondering of facts and circumstances, dance and movement, music -- is an effort to help each center find food that will help it to harmonize its functioning. When we rediscover ourselves in spiritual work, any kind of spiritual work, it's helpful to remind ourselves that every action we attempt with even a part of our presence -- and that's all we can do, we don't have a whole presence -- is an effort to feed ourselves. If we can assist the organism in acquiring the right kind of food, that is, impressions that fall more deeply into the correct parts of the centers that need to receive them, the centers function with increasing harmony.

When and if we function with real intelligence, with real feeling, or with real sensation, we offer ourselves the chance to be fed much more deeply with the impressions of our life. This work will eventually produce extraordinary results. But it takes many years of work to even have a real taste of it.

This means we must be patient, caring, and tolerant in our inner study of ourselves. We must demand enough, but not too much; we must critique, but not fault; we must discover hope without naïveté.

I will leave you with one other thought. This morning, when I awoke, and examined my inner connection, a prayer arose in me which is significant for me on this particular day:

Help me find a path to thee, oh Lord, from the depths of my iniquity.

Later this morning, after sitting, I was reading the last chapter of Mr. Gurdjieff's third series, "Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'," which I undertook following the recent request of one of my closest essence-friends in the work.

On page 159 (Triangle Editions, Inc., New York 1975) Mr. Gurdjieff reminds us of an ancient tradition.

After a man died, as his friends gathered to contemplated the inevitability of their own death, at certain intervals, the leader would say to all present the following:

"Do not forget how he has lived, whose breath has not yet vanished from this place, how he behaved unworthily for a man and did not accept the fact that he, as well as others, must die.

"After such an utterance by the leader, all those present had to sing together the following:

"Oh ye holy, higher forces, and immortal spirits of our ancestors, help us to keep death always before our eyes, and not succumb to temptation."

Earlier in this same chapter, Mr. Gurdjieff mentions the "noticeable coincidences" which take place in our lives.

This particular event was, for me, a "noticeable coincidence." Leaving me to ponder once again the mysterious content of life, as opposed to the obvious.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

attaining the marrow


Dogen and other Zen masters often used the phrase "attaining the marrow." It's understood to be a stage of work.

The phrase suggests the realization of a penetrating insight. Because of our habit of interpreting everything as something of the mind -- the intellect -- I believe that most of us, especially we Westerners, presume it means some kind of knowing that involves an insight of intelligence.

Of course, it can't be quite that simple. Like most esoteric allusions, it almost certainly has multiple levels of meaning. All we can do is explore the meaning of a phrase like this from within the context of our own direct experience--of where we are now.

This morning, while I was walking the Famous Dog Isabel, I had an experience that echoed what took place during my sitting this morning. The two moments, taken together, gave me a different impression of this idea of attaining the marrow.

That impression moved into deeper territory than just the idea of a more permanent and comprehensive connection to sensation, which I have mentioned before in this space.

If attaining the marrow is an attainment of intelligence, it is not the intelligence of the mind alone that participates.

It is a three centered experience: a moment where the intelligence of the mind, the body, and the emotions converge in such a way that the penetration of life, the physical penetration of the experience of life, into the organism becomes more fully integrated.

By fully integrated, I mean not just that sensation becomes so complete that it cannot be separated from experience of Being -- from "I". It also means that intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence coexist there within that same moment, so that a unity arrives which is born of and within our blood itself.

This intelligence I speak of, furthermore, consists of an inner harmony of each center, so that intelligence of the centers arises from the harmonious blending of their unique internal intellects, bodies, and emotions.

This unique moment of "three-centered intelligence" is where we may discover that we can breathe our life in and out; that the entire process of experiencing life is a form of breathing.

Just as the lungs have moments when they are full, and moments when they are empty-- just as the heart has moments when the valves are open, and moments when they are closed -- the attention and the sensation have their rhythms of opening and closing as well.

Under the ordinary conditions of our life, our three centers are not in synchronization. Allegorically speaking, when the mind is inhaling, the heart may be exhaling; or, the body may be inhaling, and the mind may be exhaling. So one might say that the objective is to discover a moment when the centers work together: they discover a rhythm of inhaling and exhaling in harmony.

Remember, this is an allegory. The experience does not lend itself to the words. In reaching for understanding, we must search with the wish, the sensory ability, and the intelligence of each of our centers, not just the one that reads the words.

So how is this possibility?

At a moment of attaining the marrow, we inhale our entire life, within one moment, in harmony; we exhale our entire life, within one moment, in harmony.

We discover, through harmony, that life is a complete vibration, received within this marrow of Being.

And why is it called the marrow? The marrow lies within the bone -- it is centered within the most solid part of ourselves -- and it is the richest part. The marrow, of course, is one of the most prized of foods. So if we "attain the marrow," we are feeding ourselves a rich and desirable food. To feed ourselves with this more complete sense of Being is to offer ourselves the most satisfying opportunity for growth.

Attaining the marrow isn't a destination; it's a process. It isn't an end point; it's a beginning. In a certain sense, everything interesting starts there. Where it goes from there is a mystery that can only be lived.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Monday, January 26, 2009

activity and association

I don't think we know much about our associative center.

For those of you not familiar with the term, by this I mean the relatively automatic part of ourselves that files, collects, and associates data.

This part works so automatically that we don't even notice it. Its work forms what might be called a consistent "drone," a background noise so ubiquitous and persistent that we filter it out during the ordinary process of life.

When I lost my job three weeks ago, what I didn't know ( it's so obvious I should have known it) was that my associative center had formed over seven years of habits in conjunction with this job. So when I lost the job, the associative center, which had a whole routine and pattern of things figured out, was left floundering around with nothing to tack itself onto.

Consequently, I spent several weeks watching my associations concoct an endless (or so it seemed) parade of events and circumstances that played out dream scenarios about the job and the past. The after-effects of that are still echoing through me.

The experience drove home a fact that it is easy to forget after many years of work. We are terribly habitual, and we don't even notice it.

Our automatism is a form of hypnosis, and this is what separates us from the real experience of Being. And it is not that we are in denial; we are, simply put, unconscious. It verifies something Mr. Gurdjieff said throughout the course of his life: we are not awake. Even when we hear that we are not awake, and think we are thus somehow more awake, we are not actually awake.

Even the information that we are not awake is processed through habitual formatory and associative mechanisms.

So our separation from God, from real Being, and from all the forces that might be able to help us live in a less partial way, is derived strictly from a lack of attention. It is derived strictly from our habitual and mechanical nature. If we could free ourselves from this tyranny-- it may be a gentle tyranny, but is a tyranny nonetheless --much might become possible. But the power of our habit overshadows us, even in the midst of our efforts to be more whole.

It strikes me that these observations may sound a bit dry after some of the deeper territory I have been delving into over the past few posts. But I think the point is important, and it is one that keeps coming back to me at this moment in my work.

How much do we really know? We flatter ourselves, that we understand something about "spirituality," and yet we don't seem to be able to penetrate the obstinate thickness of our own psyche.

The only path to understanding begins with a connection to the organism. This is a connection not manufactured by the mind, but arising through relationship. And it is only from within the context of this connection than any understanding can begin to form. We need to become less separate, in order to see that separation exists. Until that process begins, we live in a world of assumptions about ourselves.

On another note.

On Saturday night, I visited the Orchard Café, at 58th St and 3rd Ave in Manhattan, where I was fortunate enough to see a fine little film by friend Patty Llosa about the Alacitas festival in La Paz. (I understand the documentary is available by contacting thedoctank.com, but a quick visit to the website did not turn it up.)

Anyway, what struck me about the evening, above all, was the relationships between people as we gathered. Just as every moment in life can be a prayer, so every act of relationship can become something sacred. In the midst of our habits, this is too easily forgotten.

So in the midst of my habits, the mechanical nature of my life, I am touched by a vivifying vibration in the moment of relationship with another. And for this, I feel true gratitude. I am somewhat adrift in life right now: unemployed, moving from moment to moment without knowing what will happen next, and yet discovering joy and laughter in the midst of uncertainty. There is a peculiar freedom available in this moment of professional stasis, during which a bit more relationship can be discovered.

Perhaps the moment that best summed up today went like this:

We were at the Javits Center, at the gift show. I handed two women who were doing rather delightful lamps my personal business card.

They laughed when they saw that my job description said "Supervisor of Various Engines of Creation."

Everyone laughed even louder when I said,

". . . Mind you, it's not a high-paying position."

Well, there you are. We are all supervisors of various engines of creation. Every cell in us is an engine of creation, and whether we are good at it or not, ultimately, we supervise all of them.

If the factory produces enough laughter and joy, no matter what the pay, well, the work on the floor for that day has been good.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

trust


I have not delivered myself sufficiently unto thee, my Lord.
I know not how.

My "theme" for this week involves this prayer, which came to me spontaneously on Tuesday night.

The matter has become a personal point of work for me in the past two days. The prayer deserves a great deal of pondering, and perhaps even repetition, but not from a mechanical state. It arises--must arise--from a sensation in the bones of the bones.

A realization that, fundamentally, I do not trust, and that this is the greatest obstacle between me and an opening to something higher.

The arising of the question points to the intersection between inner and outer impressions, between inner and outer sensation, and the value of that intersection. As can sometimes be the case, an outer shock -- in this case, the loss of my job and the changing of life circumstances -- has triggered an upset in the associative center, which insists, even in dreams, on clinging to a past that has been definitively put aside. It has upset the inner applecart enough to raise questions that don't come up when everything is more or less comfortable (even my routine discomforts) and proceeds according to habit.

The shock has paradoxically created the belief in me that I can--or at least ought to-- control what happens, while at the same time amply illustrating that I, like everyone else on this planet, am firmly in the grip of forces that lie beyond my control.

Under such circumstances, yes, we all do our best.

But our best is not enough.

I found myself in our loft explaining that to my daughter last night. We are in the middle of a major paradigm shift on this planet, not unlike things that happen during wars. Most of the old rules and habits are inadequate--even our so-called "leaders" are frightened and baffled, grasping for understanding in the midst of today's economic and environmental circumstances.

So we don't know exactly what to do. The world invents itself in front of us, moment by moment, and we need to discover a new way.

That's the external condition.

The inner condition finds itself in the same state. The difference is that the inner condition, if it becomes sensitive, realizes that we are perpetually in front of this state. My outer impressions, and that part of me which forms my personality, forget this quite easily.

So now the inner condition has a possibility of coming into relationship with the outer condition, where I can perhaps begin to form a deeper understanding of reciprocity. And now, perhaps, I begin to see and understand that the forces that guide my inner life need to be trusted much more.

If I attract something from a higher level through work efforts -- of course, there are no guarantees, but more does become possible after years of work -- it offers a stability from the inner point of view that is not so subject to the law of accident. In the midst of outer circumstances, which remain bewildering and uncertain, a trust in the Lord can be formed.

This idea has been vulgarized to the extent that we even see it on our currency -- "in God we trust." But we don't trust in God at all. We just talk about trusting in God. And if there is any "trust" in God, it is devoted to outward circumstances, where we fervently want to believe that God will somehow "fix" everything in one way or another.

As Meister Eckhart points out, "fixing" what is wrong with me may well require terribly painful outer circumstances. For, after all, what needs to be "fixed" -- that is, made whole -- is my inner state, that essential part of myself which I pay so little attention to.

So there is a need for me to learn to submit. Not in an outer sense, submitting to the circumstance -- although inner submission does ultimately create an important relationship there -- but in an inner sense, where I acknowledge my lack.

This understanding of my lack, which is multifaceted, is expressed in the prayer I opened this essay with, in the sense of delivery.

It's traditional, in the Christian religion, to have prayers that ask for "delivery." We ask God to "deliver" us from sin, from trials, sickness, and any other adversity, and so on. Until we die, we think the Lord ought to deliver us from this, that, and the other thing. Then, at that last moment, we will deliver ourselves on to the Lord in death.

What I lack (among the many things that I lack) is an understanding that I need to deliver myself unto the Lord at every moment.

This ordinary self must learn to offer itself up in prayer at all times. That understanding is closely tied to the understanding of what it means to have a real attention. And in order to discover what that means, I must trust in a process -- and in forces -- that are beyond this ordinary level of understanding.

Yes, this exact level of understanding -- the one that I am writing this from, and the one that you are reading it in.

That's where my clever theories breakdown. That's where the paradigms no longer serve. For what I discover, as I stand in front of this understanding, and do not offer myself, is that I don't want to offer myself. Trusting the unknown is not a quality that can be born of my rational mind. (Rumi touches on this in some of his poems.) So different centers have to participate in order for trust to begin to grow.

This is where I learn the real value of a more three centered effort. In forming a deeper connection between the intellect and sensation -- between the body and the mind -- and leaving an opening where I see my lack, a call is issued to the emotional part to come and work. So with preparation, these three centers may discover one another, opening a door that allows the entry of a contrition and a humility connected to what Mr. Gurdjieff referred to as higher emotional center.

Well, once again, we have examined some rather delicate things together here. It's so difficult, to add words to a process that beggars the words themselves. In moments like this we sometimes turn to symbols to express the inexpressible.

And so, this poem, which serves as the verbal coda to a drawing I did many years ago:

The Dream of the Fish

The fish begins in silence,
Darkness, depth
With a wish to swim, unknowing, into light
Where dancing, rainbow spattered cells
Reflect a radiance too delicate to measure.
And then to find its wings --
To leave that womb of water --
Into places never seen, or sensed, or felt.

I have not delivered myself sufficiently unto thee, my Lord.
I know not how.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A constant state of preparation

Another cold morning. Seeing my own helplessness in the face of forces much greater than myself.

Many years of searching, punctuated by occasions where help was sent, have left me in the position of seeing how even my search itself has to be offered up.

I truly do attempt to press myself against the cloud of unknowing, but I realize that I don't even know how to do that. I am left in the position of being able to do no more than to offer, and to try and remain open.

I labor under the perpetual delusion that I can do something. Even after this persistent imagination has been conclusively and repeatedly falsified by the arrival of something real, I continue to believe in it. I am reminded, in my own life, of the characters in Tolstoy's "War and Peace" who firmly believe that they are in charge of events, when in reality, they are swept along like so many bits of wood in a tsunami. It occurs to me that if a man next to me were blown apart by a cannonball, I would probably continue to believe in my own immortality.

The only hope for me, in my work, is to continue to return to the touchstone of the organism, and to seek a connection with something that will remind me of the actual conditions I labor under, as opposed to my dreams about myself and my life.

Those moments are the moments where I see that I truly do press against the cloud of unknowing, and that there is no other recourse if I wish to grow.

To be helpless is not a bad thing. It is becoming as a child; it is truly sensing oneself as a child, as an infant that needs the help of the parent in order to grow. In the midst of my adulthood, my professional competence, my abilities in the creative field, I am intermittently touched by a force that suggests an organic humility; a humility that is born of truly seeing how small I am, how sacred this planet -- which we are relentlessly destroying -- is, and how each and every one of us is equally inadequate in the art of relationship.

The art of recognizing this situation is reflected in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Am I willing to surrender my expertise in the art of criticizing others? Unlikely. But perhaps I can remember, once in a while, that this sharp blade has no handle. When I pick it up, it cuts both ways. I am unable to see this from within my ordinary self. Only when a more three centered demand arrives do I see how abiding in silence would serve us all much better.

Well, that sounds good, but I'm a noisy type. I need to return a thousand times to the effort.

There is very little I can do other than to offer all of what I am, and where I am, up; to make an effort to remain in a constant state of preparation, in case help should arrive -- of course, from directions I am unfamiliar with, and at a time that I least expect it.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The role of sorrow

It's bitter cold here in New York tonight. My wife Neal is in the city, leaving me to noodle about on my own. I took the dog out, and when we were half way around the block, I realized it was too cold to walk the dog all the way around the block -- not for me, but for the dog.

We did the second half of the walk in double time.

A good friend from my group came over tonight to do some creative brainstorming, and I saw once again how difficult it is to be present, to have attention. Even with people we love and work with, there is a constant impulse to turn away. One has to keep pushing one's courage to the sticking point, as it were.

We all live through that, if we are observing ourselves. There is a different question I was looking at the same time tonight, and that is the force that comes from above, and the sorrow that inevitably accompanies anything connected to the higher.

This question has been in the air generally. Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who had an overwhelming emotional experience along these lines -- not sentiment, or pity, but a real sorrow that is sent, that arrives from above and penetrates deep into the body. A sorrow that is relentlessly cosmological in nature.

Mr. Gurdjieff certainly understood that one of the main purposes of man's work -- if he put in the effort to make himself available -- was to help share a portion of the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness. Gurdjieff was unique, so far as I know, in this particular religious understanding. Perhaps I haven't studied it enough, but I don't find it in Buddhism. Once again, I'm no expert on Hinduism -- perhaps rlnyc can help us here -- but it's not there either. Even in Christianity, which lays claim to the esoteric root of Gurdjieff's teaching, we don't really encounter this idea. There are certainly hints of it found in many religions, where humility and compassion play central roles.

But the idea of the essential sorrow at the heart of the universe, and the idea that man should help share that burden -- well, that's unique, isn't it?

This idea, from my own experience, lies at the absolute heart of any real religious understanding, and the sensation associated with it -- the emotion associated with it -- the intellectual understanding associated with it --are, for me, the highest aim that a man can have. There is no experience-- even religious ecstasy-- that compares to the sobering, sacred, humiliating, and deeply moving privilege of sensing even a tiny portion of this sorrow.

What is it that makes Gurdjieff's work different? Why is this idea found in his work and not elsewhere? Why does a diligent practice of his work ultimately bring us to these experiences?

I think the answer to the first two questions is somewhat straightforward. When Gurdjieff said that his work came from influences "C," that is, much higher influences than anything ordinarily found on the planet, he was telling the truth. He brought something from a higher level and offered us the chance to learn from it. Many people confuse his work with other spiritual works, as though they were roughly equivalent. That simply isn't true. Most spiritual work has been diluted, codified, and automatized until little of the real flavor is left in the soup.

This rather obscure man came along in the last century with a bag full of spices, and put the zest back into inner work. Those who know good cooking when they taste it are still eager to eat at his restaurant, even though few of the original cooks are left in the kitchen.

As to the last question -- why his work brings us to this state -- the answers cannot be so glib. Coming to this state of sorrow is no accident. I'm quite certain that Mr. Gurdjieff designed his work specifically because it would make this possible. What I am not certain of is where this leads us, other than to say that it leads us deeper and deeper into an understanding of what it truly means to be human.

In truly beginning to understand our humanity -- our organic composition, our connectedness to the rest of nature, our smallness and our need for help -- we can begin to understand the cosmos itself in a new way, because, as Mr. Gurdjieff reminded us, we are a reflection of it.

There are mysteries here that don't lend themselves to analysis. It's worth pondering the question of sorrow, and it is worth seeking the relationship with what comes from above, to see how vulnerable, how open we need to be to share. Real humility arrives with this force in a way that no theoretical understanding can convey. When we say that we wish to be open, I am convinced, this force and its consequences are what we need to become open to.

If we open ourselves to a force that transforms, we open ourselves to remorse. We open ourselves to suffering in an inner sense that has nothing to do with the ordinary suffering of the body within life. And if there was ever an image created to convey the depth of the suffering that we must all understand in an inner sense if we truly wish to develop, well, it must be the image of Christ on the cross.

That image is something we have become so habituated to that we don't understand it. If we do understand it, I think we understand it only sentimentally, emotionally. We never understand it the way a man who has been crucified could understand it.

But that man, Jesus Christ, actually had those experiences.

It is said he did so for us.

What does that mean? I ask myself that.

As usual, I have a lot of questions.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Prayer

It's another morning where I am up very early. Earlier, even, than when I was getting up when I was employed. I have had a cup of coffee, and done a brief skype video conference with a Chinese supplier.

Now I find myself here pondering the state of the energy in my body at this early hour.

Several things strike me about what is available. One of them is that there is an "unusual" intimacy and sensitivity that is available when there is a finer energy in the body first thing in the morning. The body creates some of this finer energy every night; seeking a contact with that energy -- in a gentle but attentive manner -- can help lay a foundation for a thread to follow me through the day.

The second thing that strikes me is the distinctly emotional quality of this energy.

Yes, sensation is present in a greater degree, and in a more organic sense, than is usually the case. Attention can help me to be present to this; attention, and an awareness of the breathing. I am in this body; all of the Being which awareness creates discovers itself within the context of this physical coating.

But sensation alone is only the beginning of what is needed in work. It is an emotional quality that adds to and deepens an understanding of how and why I need to work. When this quality finds itself in relationship with the intelligence and the body, a different understanding about the nature of life begins to arise.

We spend most of our lives immersed in coarser emotions, crude emotional substances that are powerful but without finesse. They are explosively reactive, and mislead us constantly.

It's the appearance of a force of a finer quality from the emotional center that can call me to a better sense of what I lack, of what is missing in me. What is missing in me is humility; what is missing is a sense of my smallness, and the need for prayer.

If a finer emotional quality arrives, the question of prayer becomes an organic question. Prayer is no longer a set of words or ideas; prayer is a state that arises within the body. It is a wish that has no words, but reaches out in silent urgency in the hopes of help from a higher level. Perhaps, then, it finds its words; it finds words of praise and thanks that arise spontaneously from the core of Being.

Prayer is the natural state of man--or at least it should be. The lack of a proper inner connection generally causes man to misunderstand prayer as a set of words, a group of formulas. If we can discover a silence within ourselves,--if we can inhabit sensation--if some finer substance begins to express itself in our emotional state--then we may know something real about prayer.

Until then, it's just an idea.

There is one true thing about this "work persona" I mentioned yesterday which lends itself some legitimacy in the midst of my justified suspicions. To remember to be in relationship using this set of habits gives me the possibility of staying a bit closer to this question of prayer. It is a reducing factor.

Reducing factors are elements of inner work, generated by finer substances, which help me to see how small I am, and to melt some of the crystallized arrogance that dwells in me.

I find that I would like to explain that idea more, but perhaps it's better to just leave it there.

As has been the case for several years now, I am called back to a sense of specificity and intimacy. The act of self observation becomes quite specific; what is observed is not the coarser outer manifestations, but the inner state: the state of the energy, the state of the connection, the state of sensation. The self arises from this energy in the body; self observation becomes the study of the energy itself, in action, in life. And this is an intimate activity; there is an opportunity to discover the deeper roots of being, that lie at the base of the organism's work, and tie this phenomenon of intellectual consciousness into the system of the body and the emotions.

So today, it's a return to this quiet intimacy that I wish to study. Every time I come back to myself, rediscovering this quality that resides in the base of the organism, I discover that sensation and emotion are indeed present, in a quality that I am not usually attentive to.

If I begin there, everything else in life has a quality that is unavailable without my attention.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The spiritual persona

We trust ourselves in ways that we shouldn't.

Primarily, what we trust is the outward part of ourselves, which consists largely of mechanical manifestations -- habits we have learned in order to deal with the outside world. These habits can be extremely effective, and we learn to rely on them. For example, I've noticed that I have specific ways of recruiting people to my cause by ingratiating myself with them.

On examination, they're formulaic. I've used them many times--watch myself using them-- and they usually work. They work so often that when they don't work, I find myself surprised and on my toes, having to invent a new approach on the spur of the moment. Those, of course, are usually the most interesting times, but they are much less reliable, because they require me to be more present, and I would rather rely on my habits in order to relate to people.

I was examining this question last night in general terms related to the persona I adopt when I am working. Like everyone else in the Gurdjieff work -- and in all other spiritual works, I would bet --I have a well formed persona that has many years of experience in knowing how to fit into the form. I put on that clothing whenever I relate to people in the work; more often than not, these days, I even wear it when I am on interviews with headhunters or other people, because the cloak does provide at least a tenuous connection to my work -- and even, sometimes, a real one. So the garment has proved to be quite useful.

This doesn't change the fact that it's a garment. It's not me; it is a habitual way that my being has of presenting itself in relating to other people. The truth is that it would be a good idea to be just as suspicious of this part of myself as the other parts. Not in a maleficent or destructive way; no, the idea is simply to remember that this part is a form of mine, just like all the other forms I have, such as the clever man, the joker, the intellectual, the sensitive guy, and so on. This particular form we might call the Man who Works. Conge refers to it in one essay as "our tenured professor of inner work." I find that description quite amusing, and it's on the mark.

The danger with these garments we wear for our spiritual work is that when we put them on, they may deceive everyone--even, and most especially, ourselves. Once we have the garment on--at times, I have cynically referred to it as a "thick layer of Work bullshit"--, we can pretend we work; we fall asleep within the belief that we have gravitas, that we are trying something real. We have covered ourselves with a layer of habits that present themselves as knowing and understanding, when really, it's just another, cleverer set of habits.

Buffered habits whose chief feature is a set of denials that convincingly says to us, "we're not habits!"

The habits may be connected to a better part of ourselves -- and from that point, they can serve us well. We might call them good habits, as opposed to bad ones. But the minute we start mistaking the habits for real work, we have blown the whole deal.

The idea of "remaining in question" -- which is a phrase that has been so aggressively overused it has, in many ways, lost its power to motivate us or illuminate anything at all -- refers to this challenge. We need to bring a critical mind to these spiffy, outwardly spiritual manifestations, and examine them very carefully, even as we engage in them.

The form allows us to "be present."

What is needed is to be present to being present.

My experience of this is manifold. I continually find moments within presenting myself in the form of the work, offering my working persona, and then discovering that in the midst of being there, I have to make a second, super effort at being there. The being there has to be there. Until that begins to take place, as Gertrude Stein said, "there's no there there." This dilemma, of discovering that I'm not there in the midst of being there, reminds me once again of what Ashiata Shiemash referred to as "the terror of the situation."

Even in the midst of working, I wake up and discover I'm not working.

Is it a shock, to discover that most of me is bogus? (By bogus, I mean here a fake and clever layer of personality laid over an essence that wants to become more whole.) Well, it shouldn't be. We are all like this. The top dogs in spiritual works get caught licking their private parts just like the bottom dogs. There's no use in pretending we're not dogs. It might not be a bad idea to remind ourselves a little more often of the Sufi parable about the magician's sheep. The sheep were hypnotized so that they all thought they were grand things; even magicians. But the chopping block was always right there in the yard with them.

The bottom line for me is that I need to keep an eye on things. If I want to stay in touch with that tiny grain of humility that is growing in me, and I want to offer a droplet of the sincerity in my tea cup, I need to consistently re-examine where I am and where I am coming from, not just rely on my habits to support my effort.

And above all, I need to ruthlessly question any imaginary belief I may have in my superiority over others.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Responsibility to the work

On Friday morning, I had a most extraordinary dream. I won't report the exact contents of that dream because it's quite private and personal.

It is the consequences of that dream I wish to examine today.

I mentioned about two weeks ago that I would be discussing the concept of biological "superorganisms" again in this space. That is to say, what we can learn from the way eusocial insect societies are organized.

Such societies rely on an intricate web of support. Every individual contributes to the welfare -- and survival -- of the community. Individuals know their tasks, and accomplish them selflessly. In return, they receive support and sustenance from the community.

Of course the model is idealized and simplified. Insects may think -- honeybees certainly do (See Holdobbler and Wilson's "The Superorganism") -- but they aren't capable of the perhaps unfortunately complex reasoning mankind is.

Nonetheless, the model serves as a fine lesson for those of us in spiritual communities.

The spiritual community is a gradually evolving, living organism composed of and fed by the efforts of its individuals. Collectively, we work to gather an energy, a force, which can achieve a critical mass and attract forces from a higher level that may help us.

Most of us, in our lives and in our spiritual work, spend a great deal of time thinking about what we can get for ourselves. I'm no exception. But there are moments in our work when we need to see, see very deeply, that we are members of a community, and that we owe that community.

We must be responsible to the work we are in.

This idea lies behind the concept of not mixing work. Those of you who have read Ouspensky or Maurice Nicoll will no doubt recall that they felt the commandment "thou shalt not commit adultery" referred specifically to mixing our work with another esoteric work. Today, the New Age movement, the availability of materials from so many different works, and our unbridled enthusiasm for discovery, has brought us to a moment where, I fear, we may be forgetting this principle.

I myself spend a good deal of time studying subjects outside the Gurdjieff work. This does not mean that I feel we should mix the work with other said works. We need to try and stay "close to the bone," so to speak, of this work, because it is a very specific work and was carefully constructed by a man in touch with conscious influences. It produces what needs to be produced if one sticks to the method.

The method is flexible, of course; and the understanding of the method changes as one practices. This does not mean that pouring it into a pot with, for example, tai chi and "pop enneagram psychology" and then stirring is acceptable.

It's not that there's anything overtly wrong with these other practices. But they are different.

If we investigate them to inform our existing work, that's one thing, but there is a very fine line which is difficult to see drawn between studying another work and mixing it in. I'm not quite sure most of us -- perhaps even any of us -- are able to see that so clearly.

The Gurdjieff work needs the support of its members in a deeper and more organic way. We need to develop a respect for this work which transcends our opinions and impulses. That respect needs to engender an organic wish to carry the work forward in the same way that it was given to us by those responsible beings who are now gone. This requires a measure of sobriety, and a dose of seriousness -- which, of course, needs to be leavened with the yeast of humor and nourished with the warmth of love.

The dream that I had called me, this weekend, to examine my responsibility to work more deeply. It's terribly difficult to hold on to a correct responsibility to this immense and magnificent work in the midst of the lack that I feel. I, after all, understand so much less than many of those who went before me. And, as I have said before, quoting Newton's famous words, "if I have seen far, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Nonetheless, like every individual who is serious about this work, I try to shoulder the very real burden of responsibility to breathe life into any corner of the work I am able to, to carry it forward with respect and intelligence, and to offer it on to those in my community.

This is much like the bees who carry nectar back to the nest and then share it. Often, the colonial insect that collects the nectar can't consume it in the state it's in. Sometimes it is even fed to the larva-- the younger ones -- who then digest it and regurgitate it in a state that can nourish the elders.

In every case, the collection of food and the feeding of the colony involves complex interactions between the various members, young, middle-aged, and old. In most cases, it falls to the oldest members of the hive to take the greatest risk (going outside) and collecting food, after which it is processed further by middle-aged or younger members. There are specialized foods for different age groups. The queen needs to receive a specific food of her own, and the reproductive organs of the hive can't function unless yet another specialized food is offered.

So the whole activity of the community--and the evolutionary success of the community-- is based around how we feed each other. If any of us become irresponsible, and fail to feed ourselves -- or others -- properly, everyone suffers.

This means that every day when we wake up, perhaps, our first question might be, how can I be responsible to the work?

If I don't try to lift you up, I cannot rise. My efforts may be minimal, or even mistaken, but I must keep making them.

In his fine book "Inner Octaves"-- which, I have learned, is not available for purchase in the United States, a situation which is truly, deeply regrettable -- Michel Conge discusses this need of ours to keep making efforts to bring what we have, even though they may fail a thousand times.

To succeed once is more important than a thousand failures, and we must collectively have the courage to fail together even ten thousand times, if any of us are to succeed.

This means, I suppose, that we must also learn to forgive each other our failures in an open hearted way, as we continue to share this fine work and the fine material that it makes available for us.

But let us all continue to stay close to what our elders have taught us; let us try to avoid too much wiseacreing; let us deepen our respect for this work and reaffirm our intention to preserve it and pass it on as intact and undivided as our various subjectivities will allow us to.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Love and understanding

By now readers may be wondering where I have been over the last two weeks.

There has been a great deal of preparation for the Gurdjieff name Day celebration. In addition, I lost my job last Tuesday, which created requirements that precluded posting to the blog. This is a planetary condition, and probably good to suffer under. Like war, our current circumstances are almost certainly created by tension between planets we don't know anything about. Pretending we are in control of it is a waste of time.

I am, however, over the initial hump (both emotionally and logistically) -- at least I think I am. And today, Sunday, I am not going to spend time worrying about a job hunt. I woke up very early (4:45 a.m.) and it seemed appropriate to spend a bit of time writing about questions of the heart. So I am going to ponder questions here, ponder them for myself, and we will see what emerges.

What is our real wish for our self? I get this confused all the time. The temporal and literal requirements of life often convince me that my wish is for money, success, and so on. This is true despite my acute awareness that there are two natures at work in me. Even being aware of this is not enough to guarantee that I will see the differences, or where my priorities ought to lie.

I don't know what my real strengths are. Almost everything I think is a strength springs from my ego-and is actually a weakness of one kind or another. It takes an unexpected blow to shatter my ideas of what my strengths are. Real strength in myself begins with support from a higher influence. That does not, cannot, come at my bidding, although perhaps it is attracted by my effort.

So this morning, I find myself immersed within the question of what the real priority is. And I see immediately that the priority lies close to my ongoing questions of sensation, of openness, of willingness to be available and to receive; of willingness to press against the cloud of unknowing.

The personal contacts I have had over the last week, especially since I lost my job, have reminded me once again of how vital relationship is to the exploration of life and its real meaning. Sleep -- that lack of attention that we so ardently study, but so rarely rise above -- takes us away from relationship. It is a forgetting of value. And, as is always the case, a good hard shock shakes that tree a bit and we see how our whole life, if we live in the right way, is built on a foundation of relationship, and, indeed, love.

And why do we work? If we'd don't work to acquire a real understanding of what love is, what else is there to work for? Immortality? To be immortal without the presence of love would be a curse. In fact, in all the romantic literature, it is love itself that is declared to be immortal. Of course that idea is driven by mankind's vast engines of sentiment, but there's a kernel of truth in it nonetheless. So perhaps there can be no separation.

This week -- today, now -- I am reminded of how incredibly fortunate I have been in my friendships and my relationships. I see how each individual I have formed a relationship with over the years--even the ones I detest-- has fed me. And I begin to see even more my own responsibility for feeding them in return with something that is better than just a mechanical response.

Am I able to do that? After many years in a spiritual work, I profess the ability, but do I understand it?

Do I understand how to love? Do I love understanding? And, perhaps most of all, this morning I ask myself whether it is possible to love without understanding. Is this question related to the question of faith? Surely, it must be, don't you agree?

Let us say that we meet. I come to you, arrogant, or naïve, or probably just indifferent and self-involved in one way or another. That's the way I usually am. But within that meeting, I feel an impulse to offer something better than the usual. It's born of a small spark of attention -- nothing big, mind you, I'm not capable of that -- but it remembers, that spark of attention, that each one of us is human, that we will all die, that all of us are on a treadmill of our own petty concerns and self loves. And it decides that maybe something more than the usual egoistic impulse may be possible.

In other words, a wish is born in me for relationship with you.

I don't know much about that relationship. In fact, it's clear -- you may be a friend, or someone at the supermarket scanning my groceries. Or you may even be my child or my spouse. But it's clear, I don't understand you. I stand in front of the mystery that is composed of my inner and outer worlds, and I see that I don't even understand my own inner world, let alone yours. The two of us are like icebergs, with our eyes and our senses only at the top. Neither one of us can see, down under the surface of the water, the immense mass that supports this tiny bit of us that sticks above the surface.

So most of us remains forever hidden from one another.

I don't understand you. But I see that the two of us are here together within this mystery, facing death -- we forget that all the time, but it never goes away -- and maybe needing support from each other, a support that is not jealous or greedy, but a support that offers part of ourselves to each other honestly. A support that is willing to say the encouraging word; to affirm, rather than to deny; to be gentle, rather than brusque; to acknowledge my own inability, even as I admit that you have abilities I don't.

So I don't understand you. I come to a moment between us where I see that it's possible to feel love towards you even without a real understanding.

And there arises the possibility of a faith and a relationship between us; the faith between two strangers that meet on the road and are willing to believe that they can help each other--rather than try to carve each other up with knives and rob each other of what little gold we have hidden in the belts under our robes.

Of course, until we meet, and have the opportunity to practice, this is nothing more than philosophy. It will never be anything more than philosophy if it just takes place in my head. It can't be real unless my sensation and my emotion participate: unless I meet you on the common ground of our own humanity.

So -- can we love without understanding?

We must love without understanding. We must have the courage to love before we understand, because we will never understand enough. It is the risk that love requires of us that begins to make us human.

Christ took that risk. He loved mankind, and it crucified him. He understood that that would be the outcome, because, unlike any of us, he did have understanding. And he understood, I think, that to be real, love has to be offered unconditionally--

even to the enemy.

That is a concept many of us can, perhaps, understand intellectually--but to understand it intellectually means next to nothing. It is the struggle to understand it organically that leads us towards what is real.

One final personal note. For those who may be interested, I've uploaded a wider selection of artwork and music from my earlier years to my page at www.doremishock.com.

Some of the older songs are from my years as a rock song writer. The material also includes a few amusingly gruesome pieces of art noire from my series of oil paintings "The Seven Deadly Sins."

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.