Thursday, February 26, 2009

the necessity of death

In the process of living, death is the most necessary thing that we do.

It isn't necessary for anything to live. With or without life, the Dharma -- the eternal reality and is-ness of the universe -- is inviolable and perfect. If we study Beelzebub' Tales to His Grandson, for example, we are told that the only reason that the universe -- and hence organic life -- exists is because of the decay of the place of Being of His Endlessness due to the passage of time, or, as Gurdjieff refers to it, the merciless Heropass.

That, of course, is a complex myth, with many layers of meaning. In the immediate context of our own life, we can only study the existence of our organism along with other organisms, which is closer to home.

Take the example of fossils-- for example, the above specimens of Damesella, an upper Cambrian trilobite species. Now, we probably never think of it, but when we look at a fossil, it rarely occurs to us that the fossil is a relative. Not conceptually, but literally. It is absolutely certain that somewhere way, way back in time, we share an ancestor with this particular fossil. So we are intimately related to these strange creatures from the dawn of time by the fact that we had exactly the same parents somewhere along the line of evolution.

All of the lines of organic life are one line. All of the kingdoms, the phylums, the orders, the families, and the species are one family. When, for example, American Indians on the Pacific coast used to kill the salmon and referred to them as "brother fish," it sounds like an allegorical reference, or perhaps even an affectation, to we "modern" men. But it is quite literally true when one views it from the point of deep time.

All life is one life, and all life exists together. There is no absolute necessity for any single life. The process of nature demonstrates this. Watch swarms of caddis flies hatching in the spring; birds pounce on them and tens of thousands are devoured the instant they emerge.

The living is not necessary, but the dying is necessary. And it's necessary on many levels.

In the first place, let's be strictly practical. If nothing died, the planet would have become so crowded there would be no room many billions of years ago. So within the very act of living--the moment that the concept of living itself is born--dying becomes necessary and proper. One might even say it's one's responsibility to die, mightn't one?

Secondly, dying feeds a sacred process which we are unable to touch or sense with the ordinary parts of our being.

To die is to offer.

When I die, I will come before a moment where everything within my vessel is offered up to the next level. If I look back at the ancient practice of pouring libations, of letting liquid flow out of a vessel, I may intuit a symbolic representation of the way that all of the impressions of life flow out of the vessel the moment of death. This is a kind of food for the level above me.

I can't expect to penetrate that idea very effectively from this level. If I begin to sense myself more organically, I may begin to get a taste of it, but the true moment in which I will finally and properly understand this is the moment of death itself, and, as Mr. Gurdjieff pointed out, that moment is supremely unique for each organism.

The Tibetans have a tradition that all of life is simply a preparation for death. Mr. Gurdjieff himself, perhaps drawing on that understanding, pointed out that the first and perhaps best hope for a man was to not "die like a dog."

And what is the difference between dying like a man and a dying like a dog?

The dog has no choice in the way that he dies. The dog must offer his death without any ability to prepare, outside of the mechanical preparation that nature provides. Man has been put in the position of greater responsibility. It's as in the parable about the talents (Matthew chapter 25): men are given what they have because they are expected to use it properly. A man is meant to arrive at death having taken his material and made use of it in a certain way. The one who does nothing has failed.

In taking on the gift of a body, I acquire the responsibility to take in my impressions properly. That is to say, in order to serve, I ought to drink life deeply so that there is plenty of wine to offer when I die.

There is a passage in "In Search of the Miraculous" where there is a discussion about the idea that life isn't fair. The example that is given is that all things have to die, and that that is not fair. But it's perfectly fair. It's the idea of "fair" itself that is flawed, not the process of death. The process of death is justified and necessary; our attitudes towards it are not.

I do not in any way mean to whitewash the real emotional anguish connected to this idea. I think real and compelling emotional anguish in relationship to the process of death exists on every level of the universe. In fact, part of the sorrow of His Endlessness itself is intimately connected to the necessity of death. Not just the death of organic life, but, in a broader sense, the action of time on matter.

What I do ponder is the fact that I cling so desperately to life, when death is, in fact, the most important thing I will do. If I meet my death with the right material and with courage -- which is a question every one of us must inevitably face -- I will die less like a dog and more like a man. This modern business of pumping us full of chemicals and attaching us to machines and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep us alive for just a little bit longer is a form of insanity.

Our time and money would be much better spent on educating us in the matter of how to die properly, instead of how to help us stay alive in the wrong way for just a little bit longer.

Does any of this pondering help alleviate each of our own fears of death? Probably not much.

I recall telling my group leader Henry Brown many years ago that I was terrified of death. It's not appropriate to pass his response on, as it was made in the group. I will say that as I have grown older, even though the terror always remains, there is another part that grows at discovers a greater acceptance of this inevitability.

There is even a part that understands that death represents an opportunity, and that if I can meet it with dignity, that will make a difference. The organism itself, which is the vehicle for manifestation of consciousness on this level, fears death. That can't be expunged. But the other bodies that form in a man have the capability of a different relationship with the question.

If I am able to more thoroughly understand death as a necessity, I may begin to approach the acceptance that is needed if I wish to open my heart completely -- not just in the moment of death, when I will no longer have a choice in the matter, but beforehand, when an offering can be made from this vessel in the midst of life.

All the traditions say that to immerse ourselves in the matters of the flesh is a form of denial. Each man has to make his own peace with these matters.

For myself, I see that I must learn to pay in advance, and pay often.

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

a note to readers:
there's an additional new post at lee's other blog today, in response to a reader question from the last post.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Digging deeper still

In the Zen tradition, the process of ordinary life, and the associative thinking it produces, are often referred to as entanglements.

Gurdjieff referred to the process of being sucked up by life and its events as identification.

Here I am, in this rat's nest of associative identifications. The lower parts are not only thoroughly invested in them, there is a firm belief on their part that the entire process of life--everything that happens to us--is all about this: the temporal, randomized, and emotionally taxing process of dealing with "reality." Of arranging everything so that we are secure, comfortable, and can assure ourselves some form of rational continuity.

Is there such a thing as rational continuity? When I ponder the implications of nonlocality, I begin to see that there is what one might call an irrational simultaneity to the universe, rather than the rational continuity my temporalized and localized convictions produce.

And indeed, poised between intersecting energies in the body-- the higher and lower forces which meet here in this place called, for lack of a better word, consciousness--there seems to be a contradiction that can't be resolved without the abandonment of logical assumptions.

The acceptance of the nonlocality of the universe is just such an abandonment. To rationally accept the irrational-- is that possible? And is there a way to accept this with parts other than the intelligence of the intellect?

The suggestion is that within this moment, I am immediately and irrevocably linked to, and a fully realized part of, an instantaneous process of Being which permeates the entire universe.

This conceptualization is strikingly close to the Buddhist world view. It is equally in step, I believe, with what Gurdjieff said about the nature of things.

The idea raises questions about all of our assumptions, and directs me back to the header for this blog, which has been there since its inception:

"There is no "I", there is only truth. The way to the Truth is through the heart.

The jumbled twigs of our associations produce entanglements that obstruct a clear view of this question.

The sweet nectar that can feed us with the possibility of a nonrational acceptance of the nonrational is too overpowering to be swallowed in gulps. We must open our parts to it slowly, sip gently and intimately, in trembling anticipation of an opening far too profound for this ordinary self to bear.

And that, once again, is about being willing to suffer by standing naked in front of what we are, and what we lack. Only that willingness opens the blossoms that the nectar flows within.

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

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wet woods

This afternoon was gray and rainy. My wife and I drove about 25 miles up the Palisades Interstate Parkway, with the famous dog Isabel in the back seat, to Harriman State Park. We parked the car on a random guess in a place we had never been to, and took a trail we knew nothing about.

...It sounds like real life, doesn't it?

The woods were cold and wet, big fat snowflakes spitting down out of a leaden sky. We climbed up a ridge where the tips of blueberry bushes were painted a feathery, fairy white with a clinging layer of snow. At the top of the ridge, hidden from view until the last hundred feet or so, we came across a huge glacial erratic, a granite boulder the size of a small house, resting on top of table rock (that's a term for a flat expanse of bedrock that is left when a glacier scrapes it clean.) Yes, I should have had my camera -- and that should be the picture for today's post -- but I deliberately left the camera in the car, so I would not be distracted by that machine.

And there we were, with a stone.

The erratic was alone. It stood there in monolithic glory, dappled with green lichen, peach feldspar, and smoky gray quartz. This rock has been there since the last ice age; it will be there waiting patiently until the next one.

All around us, water; in front of us, a rock moved by water; we ourselves, mostly water.

When I feel the remorse of my own lack, on my cheeks: water.

No matter where I turn in this wilderness of life, lost in the valley of the shadow of death -- we are all perpetually in that valley, and under that shadow, although we prefer to forget it -- there is always water. One cannot understand Earth or organic life without water. It is what makes the planet uniquely what it is. It can manifest as a single salty teardrop, or a frozen force that moves stones so large I cannot grasp it.

And what happens next in life? There will be another path, unexpected; more water; more stones I did not know of and cannot comprehend.

My work is like that. I need to be prepared for what is unknown, and allow my vessel-- and the water of my impressions -- to support my Being as it meets what I do not know, and cannot understand. This water of which the vessel is made is capable of taking in the most delicate tenderness, and exerting enormous amounts of force, force that can move objects greater than I understand.

...How do I understand that?

Well, the simple fact is that I don't. I have relatively little understanding. The deeper my roots go, and the more my organism sings with life, the less I know and the more I live.

And I think, as I age, that it may be better to live fully and to know nothing, than to know everything, but not live fully.

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

Saturday, February 21, 2009

To intimately explore nature

How do I find a way, in the midst of this confusing life, immersed within technologies that consume us, to become more intimate with myself?

Intimacy is not a matter of thinking about intimacy. When I think about it, it doesn't exist. Intimacy begins before there is any intimacy, and ends after it is over.

In the same way that the universe is woven from threads of infinite love and compassion, so the very fabric of existence is an infinite fabric of intimacy.

This intimacy is so great that it refuses to obey the laws of physics. Nothing is local; everything exists together within one place, in one single time, entangled so that communication is instantaneous, not limited by the speed of light.

It's not the purpose to expound intellectually on this matter today, but those who are more interested in this subject are encouraged to read this month's issue of Scientific American. The article raises questions that definitely astound.

So.

It is one thing to write a scientific article about this matter; those of us who do inner work are intimately exploring the actual state of nature, not the idea of the state of nature.

What is the state of nature?
Do I know the state of nature?
Can the state of nature be known?

The body is an instrument for measuring the state of nature. The mind calibrates both the equipment and its results. The emotion takes measurements in. Together, three centered being--the initial expression of awareness within the bodhi-dharma-- has the potential to explore places Einstein himself did not even know existed.

These are the spaces inside us where the conceptual constructs of physics are in actual activity at all times.

The quantum level is not an idea or something that takes place outside us; I am that level.

Local reality is not something that takes place out there. I am local reality.

Man himself is an absolute expression of the absolute.

My separation arises from a wish for separation. It is not accidental; it is willed by the ego and the erroneous thinking of the conceptual mind. Only if I step past that--what Dogen described, in his enlightenment experience, as "dropping off body and mind" -- may I begin to discover how not-separated I actually am.

I stand perpetually, directly on the threshold of this understanding, and yet I cannot clarify the understanding.

Even to sit for many hours may not clarify the understanding. Zazen -- the act of seeing -- must take place always and everywhere. It must become intimate-- sexual, unforgiving and perpetual.

Am I up to this demand?

I cannot know with this mind; I can only work within working. Deepening intimacy, deepening compassion, until intimacy and compassion are surrendered completely, and there is a discovery of the intimate and compassionate silence that precedes intimacy and compassion.

How temporary! How ephemeral!
Clouds come and go within me;
The sun shines, and then it rains.

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

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Impermanence

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Tonight I ponder impermanence.

There are times when I try to see my whole life -- everything that has ever happened, all of the impressions I contain which have fallen into this vessel over the course of a lifetime -- at one time, and find a way to open a door within my Being to offer all of that upwards towards what Christ referred to as "our Father."

At this moment, it seems as though that effort is as close as I can come to an idea of what it is to live within the bodhi-dharma, the reality, the totality of truth.

In the midst of offering this tiny slice of the magnificence of this planet and all that takes place on it upwards--held in my two little hands like a wondering child overwhelmed by the beauty and newness of life--I feel sorrow.

The sorrow stems more than anything from a vibration within the organism; a trembling offertory, an emotional quality that emerges from parts that I am usually not sensitive to in the midst of what we call life. But everything about this sensation, this emotion, this perception, is for me more true than the dreams I routinely occupy myself with.

As I truly gain more sense of my impermanence, my mortality, my sense of responsibility to those around me undergoes a metamorphosis. It's all about the relationship; it's about discovering this vibration of compassion, and employing it honestly in an effort to support those around me. After all, all of us are doomed to die; what better thing can we do for one another than to attempt to offer a real support, a support that springs from a kind of love that does not try to take and own, but rather give and share?

To die fully within life is to live fully within death. This is not a state, but a process; in the finding of what is true, I need to shed the dry skin of what came before it.

How do I fully inhabit my life within the joy, within the interaction, within the reciprocal feeding that takes place in each encounter? How do I honor the other? How do I approach not with criticism, but with support?

Do I really examine this question within the moment of my life, as I know my sensation and I know my breath? Or do I just think about it sometimes?

I think a lot. If I look carefully, I see that even the thought, which seems so solid, is supremely impermanent. Many of the thoughts are incorrect, or even destructive. As I see each one of these thoughts, it is possible to know that they are not this Being.

The organic sense of Being becomes a yardstick against which the temporary nature of all arising and falling phenomena can be measured. The fact that I so frequently forget to take this measurement does not mean there is no scale, or that measurement does not exist.

In the midst of even this effort itself, there is a need to stop. To deepen the relaxation, to see that within this moment it is possible to let go of even more tension than I thought or knew I had. What wishes to penetrate has no path to travel if blocked by unconscious tensions. Acceptance needs to begin with a letting go in the body. In the same way that there is no compassion if there is no effort, no connection, help cannot arrive without acceptance. And in this case, the acceptance consists of a seeing, and then effort to relax.

Why do I try to control things? What ever I "do," life arrives anyway. It doesn't arrive the way I want it to. It just arrives. The objective nature of the Dharma, of bodhi, exists before I do. When it arrives, it clashes with my subjective nature. The resolution of this conflict can only lie at the place of intersection -- the place where the impressions enter the body.

I have no simple resolution for this conflict. I sense, as always, the need to present this awareness naked in the midst of relationship, so that more can be learned, more can be suffered, more can be taken in.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cold blocks of ice

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Gurdjieff dearly loved to use the expression "wiseacreing" to describe the furious--and largely pointless -- intellectual activities man engages in.

He was not the only one to note that the intellect is the chief distraction in the search for real Self. Dogen made the following comments in his Shobogenzo:

"The disciples of the Buddha should just learn the Buddha-Dharma. Furthermore, we should remember that from the beginning we have never lacked the supreme state of bodhi, and we will receive it and use it forever. At the same time, because we cannot perceive it directly, we are prone to beget random intellectual ideas, and because we chase after these as if they were real things, we vainly pass by the great state of truth... We should not think that the learning of these intellectual ideas is the right path of Buddhist practice. When we solely sit in zazen, on the other hand, relying now on exactly the same posture as the Buddha, and letting go of the myriad things, then we go beyond the areas of delusion, realization, emotion, and consideration, and we are not concerned with the ways of the common and the sacred. " (Shobogenzo,, vol. 1, Bendowa, p 8-9, Nishijima & Cross, Dogen Sangha press 2006.)

As usual, it is tempting to quote a huge chunk of Dogen. I had to aggressively edit this passage to keep the text length within reasonable limits.

Both Dogen and Gurdjieff clearly understood the limits of the intellectual mind in the pursuit of intelligence. Intelligence is a three centered practice; we won't encounter it here as we read, or find it anywhere online.

The only place that we can discover Intelligence is within our own consciousness, and that is only if we begin to bring our centers together. Real Intelligence cannot be manifested by a single center. The best one can ever get from that is one-third of Intelligence.

The matter is confused by the fact that both Gurdjieff and Dogen left vast intellectual structures behind them. In Gurdjieff's case, it was "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," which has been unfortunately adopted and used as though it were quite literally a Bible by some Gurdjieff adherents. The book can be subjected to extensive analysis, and it's certainly possible to ferret out many hidden meanings within the parables he offers.

All of that, unfortunately, becomes a remarkably clever intellectual game. It completely sidesteps the question of discovering one's inner presence, and in the hands of touts may actually begin to function as a hindrance to it. The book has consequently become a misleading tool in the hands of those who do not operate under auspices of a legitimate Gurdjieff lineage. In the formal lineages, the process is conducted according to sound principles established by Mr. Gurdjieff himself which are not available outside the legitimate lines.

In Dogen's case, the Shobogenzo has been enthusiastically laundered through the minds of countless brilliant Buddhist analysts. Dogen must have foreseen this happening-- he was an irascible sort, who frequently (and comically) insulted misguided individuals who he felt taught in an unacceptable manner. On this matter, in Bendowa he remarked, "...It is difficult to put oars into the hands of a mountaineer; nevertheless I must bestow the teaching." (p. 10)

There is an enormous amount of analysis of Buddhism taking place in print these days -- to a certainty, far more than any contemporary analysis of Gurdjieff's work -- and it is equally distracting.

So I must continually return myself to actual practice--not the analysis of the practice, and not the discussion of the practice.

The moment I seek to return to, and the sensation I seek to engage in, are not things belonging to what I conventionally understand as "this world. " The activities I seek to open to, and the air I seek to breathe in, are not the activities and the air that I imagine. In every moment of imagination -- which is to say, almost all moments -- I remove myself from Dogen's supreme state of bodhi.

The only reliable link I have to prevent this near-perpetual loss is the connection between the mind and the body in the form of sensation. If this becomes a living thing, I always have an anchor, no matter how much the boat swings in the current.

The precise examination of this question takes place in an organic manner, not an intellectual one. So I need to return my attention to the question of the organism and my relationship to it. This perpetual practice slowly builds up the substances need to make work more possible.

Reading work literature and discussing the work online cannot substitute for that work. If the work is not a living substance and an organic experience within life itself, it isn't work.

The vehicle of the mind must, in a certain sense, be discarded, and an effort must be made to strip the inner state naked, and stand before a darkness that cannot be measured.

This is within the scope of the practice of Zazen as Dogen understood it, and what we undertake today in the Gurdjieff work when we sit.

Without this warm, tactile, living, and immediate practice--with all of its messiness: the beating of hearts, the pumping of lungs, and the itching of skin --all the words, all the ideas, and all of the analysis are cold blocks of ice.

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

Monday, February 16, 2009

Receiving

In the Gurdjieff work, we sometimes discuss the idea that we are here to receive. And indeed, as I have mentioned to readership before, the first truly profound realization I ever had about the nature of life was that we are vessels into which the world flows.

The idea of receiving is a powerful one in Buddhism as well. Dogen frequently speaks of receiving the one-to-one transmission of the Dharma.

Such receiving ought not to be construed as an intellectual transmission. It is a receiving that takes place within the body and blood, the bones and the marrow of a man. In Christianity, we refer to this as receiving Christ in body and blood, a literal truth which is allegorically expressed in the Communion.

What is it we are trying to receive?

Here's one point of view. In Bendowa, first chapter of the Shobogenzo (Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha Press, 1994, volume 1 page 4), Dogen says:

"The sutras say that the many patriarchs and the many Buddhas, who dwelt in and maintained the Buddha Dharma, all relied on the practice of sitting erect in the samadhi of receiving and using the self, and esteemed this practice as the right way to disclose the state of realization."

What does this mean, to receive the self?

I think we can fairly say, no one knows the Self. Dogen uses the word to express something much vaster than the tiny perspective I usually inhabit. The "self," as it is used here, refers to an all-inclusive property of reality that we are not accustomed to referring to as "self"; it is composed of what the Buddhists called Bodhi-Dharma, truth-encompassing-reality.

It's reminiscent, isn't it, of Mr. Gurdjieff's comment that everything is, in fact, one single thing?

So there is an experience of self that transcends what I call ego. Attempting to refer to it from this tiny, personalized perspective of self is a patent absurdity; when I speak of the search for self, I don't even know what I search for. Not from within this self.

From within an experience of the organic sense of Being, however, one slowly begins to arrive at a more depersonalized sense of self that stems from a continuity within life, rather than the individuality of experience.

Tonight, for example, I was over at a friend's house while my daughter got a massage. I stepped outside the door to let his dog out so she could do her business; for one brief moment, awareness itself, unsullied by "me," took in the impression of fresh cold air and the constellation Orion against the deepening blue of the early evening sky.

The experience was just the experience. Not "me" having the experience. Within this lies the spontaneous clarity of existence itself, and a silence that provokes both joy and remorse, emerging at the same time within the organism as a single state of worship.

As I grow older, immersed within the experience of organic sensation in the inward flow of life, I begin to see that what I usually referred to as "self" doesn't exist. It is like the weather; a constantly changing environment, endlessly interactive and responsive, but not what this conscious experience is made of. It is an adjunct to conscious experience-- a byproduct of it --not the originating root.

That question of the original root of consciousness is the question in front of my state of Being.

Inevitably, a contradiction arises between my egocentric experience of reality and the understanding that that perspective is inevitably contracted. In the very act of seeing that there is something referred to as "I", as "the self," there is a tacit acknowledgment that what sees is different than this thing called self.

What is it that sees?

From this, also, there is a separation. To fully inhabit what sees would be quite different.

So, do I pursue the understanding of self, or do I relax and open to receive the understanding of self?

Is this connected to the idea in the Lord's prayer: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done?" Is that perhaps a prayer for us to open enough to "receive and use the self," as Dogen puts it?

There is a great deal available to be received. As Dogen puts it in the very first paragraph of Bendowa, "This Dharma is abundantly present in each human being, but if we do not practice it, it does not manifest itself, and if we do not experience it, it cannot be realized."

Anyone who reads Ravi Ravindra's "Heart Without Measure" will see that Jeanne De Salzmann was equally interested in this exact same question. The effort needs to be to penetrate the practice; and this practice is most decidedly not penetrable by the mind. We ought not analyze the practice, we ought not intellectualize the practice, we ought to live within the practice.

We must, in a word, receive the practice.

And we do not--cannot--receive the practice from another person. The practice is not something that we can "get" by relying on a teacher or outside forces. As Gurdjieff himself said, the only real initiation is self initiation. Something must change within us that turns us towards the famous wall at Shaolin which Bodhidharma faced for nine years after coming from the west.

This facing the wall is a willingness to stand in front of practice and suffer it, that is, allow it.

The parts of me that can receive what I need are closed. The experience of that has become an ordinary one, so much so that I accept it most of the time.

There is a danger in that. I have become complacent in my inability.

This is why Dogen, why Gurdjieff, and why Jeanne De Salzmann all constantly exhort us to adopt an active practice.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Information technology


Click here for the Audio Podcast

Reading this morning in "The Superorganism" (Holldobler & Wilson, W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), it seems evident to me that the model for insect societies is a good one for understanding the cosmology presented by Gurdjieff. Without getting into too many esoteric comparatives, simply put, the universe itself is a superorganism with emergent properties.

This, of course, is an intellectual discourse of the type that the blog has been engaging in a bit less lately. And if you want intellectual discussion of the work, there are many other places you can go, such as "What is the work?" at Ning.

Psychological and intellectual analysis of Work ideas is not always very helpful. Over and over again, I seem to find myself stressing that this mechanism is only good for just so much. That is in spite of the fact that I find great value in it. I think what we need to recognize, above all, that it is a starting point. The Work must penetrate much deeper than that to have a real effect on a man.

Today I want to examine a quote from chapter 6 of "The Superorganism" and discuss it in terms of our inner work. As this particular discussion develops we will seek connections between the intellectual ideas we encounter and the direction they point us in in terms of practical inner experience.

On page 168 of "The Superorganism," we find the following:

"The essence of social existence is reciprocal, cooperative communication. The study of communicative mechanisms is at the heart of research on social interactions, whether that communication occurs among the organelles of a cell, the cells and tissues of an organism, the organisms within a society, or the species within mutalistic symbyoses. This fundamental principle of biology has been articulated by Thomas Seeley as follows: "The formation of a higher level unit by integrating lower-level units will succeed only if the emerging organization acquires the appropriate technologies for passing information among its members."

This principle holds true on any level of the universe. It speaks specifically about the fact that there are levels, and that they only communicate with each other if the proper connections exist. The word "technologies" in this particular passage refers to actual physical mechanisms that evolution has produced for communication: in ants, specifically, a complex series of glands that produce pheromones; in bees, the ability to perform complex dances to indicate the direction of food sources and the need for workers of various kinds.

This may not, at first glance, seem to have anything to do with inner work, but it is exactly what Gurdjieff said about the nature of man. We are machines. Within us there are physical mechanisms -- "technologies"--produced by evolution that allow communication between lower and higher levels of awareness. In the same way that cells use the technology of proteins for communication, and organs use the technology of cells to organize themselves and perform their tasks, so the lower parts of man, that is, his ordinary psychological components, have all of the equipment that is necessary to communicate with a higher level of awareness. The equipment itself has deteriorated and fallen into disuse, but it is there.

So the essence of contacting a higher order of awareness lies in communication and the ability to use the parts that can do that. Hence Gurdjieff's reference to "impartial mentation," a way of perceiving that correctly uses all of the material connections available to us.

It's also important to note that the emergent properties within the universe only have meaning within the context of reciprocity. Whether we are looking at insect societies or the relationship between man and God, it is the exchange of what is inwardly formed within the community that creates a higher level of awareness.

Communication is a process of passing on information. Information is, in biology, quite literally that which is formed inwardly, in a material sense. Proteins are formed in cells. Cells are formed in organs. In each case we see that a material product results from the work of the machine, which can be used within the social network (proteins in cells, cells in organs) to produce a higher level of work.

This only takes place if what is inwardly formed is properly formed. If proteins, for example, are folded incorrectly, all kinds of diseases can result, and the cell does not work properly. If too much of one kind of protein is present, and not enough of another, chaos ensues. So what is inwardly formed at the beginning is vital to the ability of the emergent Superorganism, whatever kind of Superorganism that is, to function correctly.

The quality of man's psychological and spiritual nature functions in much the same way. When we see aberrant behavior -- for example, the Virginia University shooter -- we see quite clearly that what was formed inwardly was wrong. In extreme cases like this, it's obvious. What we don't see is that for the most part, we pay little or no attention to what is formed inwardly. When it produces what Jeanne De Salzmann called "bad results," (see Idiots in Paris by Bennett) it is a direct result of our failure to attend to what we form inwardly in a proper manner.

This need for greater attention, for greater discrimination, within the immediate moment of our life is an essential point for inner work. I think this point is well understood by the Buddhists, who wish to cultivate mindfulness. That practice also ought to be at the heart of Christianity, but even though I can say many good things about Christians, and am in fact one myself, I think that practice is somewhat lacking in the Christian church today.

Getting back to the specific practice, if we look at the way bees communicate, they use vibration. In almost exactly the same way, we have vibrations within us -- and vibrations from outside us -- that indicate in a relatively precise manner the direction that good food lies in, and how rich the food source is. If we learn to pay a good kind of inner attention, it will lead us to richer food for our spiritual life. In the same way, ants use scent to direct them as to how to behave. And it is in fact true that we can use inner "taste" and "smell" to know what action we could take that would serve better.

So what we form inwardly is critical. This has nothing to do with facts that we absorb; it is all about the intimate experience of life. It is, in other words, about acquiring this food of our impressions. You can pile up all the arguments and facts you want, they don't mean a damn thing relative to the tactile arrival of life at the threshold of our senses. That arrival consists of a nonverbal, yet nevertheless absolutely compelling, language which is the essence of the structure we must be sensitive to and reside within if we want to re-acquire the "technology" for communication which we have forgotten how to use.

I will refer readers once again to a passage from Mr. Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," page 1090, as follows:

"The second of the four personalities, functioning in most cases entirely independently of the first, is the sum of the results of data deposited and fixed in the common presence of every man, as of every animal, through the six organs called "receivers of vibrations of different qualities" -- organs that function in accordance with the new impressions perceived, and whose sensitivity depends on heredity and upon the conditions of the preparatory formation for responsible existence of the given individual."

Here we have a quite exact description of the technology that man has within himself for the receiving of impressions. Anyone who reads the passage in its entirety will have to agree that he is describing the emotional apparatus of man. And, indeed, the emotional apparatus is both the most sensitive organic receiver that man has, and the specific physical apparatus that receives the vibration of impressions.

When Mr. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky it was necessary to make a conscious effort at the moment an impression is received (In Search of the Miraculous, page 188) he was referring specifically to placing the attention within the organism at the point where the "receivers of vibration" receive the impressions. This is a point of work that every serious student must eventually turn themself to.

The transformation of the "water" of life--the inward flow of impressions into the vessel -- into "wine" eventually takes place if and when the attention is present at the point where impressions are received. This is the moment where what Gurdjieff calls conscious effort can make a major change in the quality of what is received and what it produces.

Of course, all of this, when transmitted by the "technology" we use today -- which consists, in this case, of written words, and electronic transmission devices -- amounts to nothing more than intellectual analysis. It is up to us to dispense with the analysis and the intellectualism, and to become much more sensitive and attentive to the actual work of the organism.

In Dharma Hall discourse 350, "Deepen Intimacy with Self and Others," Dogen says,

"Pleaser cherish your skin, flesh, bones, and marrow.
Knowing each other, intimate friends grow even more intimate.
When someone asks the meaning of coming from the west,
Bodhidharma faces the wall for nine years,
abiding at Shaolin."

(Eihei Koroku, translated by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications 2004)

The practice of inner intimacy is, in other words, a rigorous one. It is a search conducted from within a mystery, to discover a mystery.

We can, however, take heart.

Bees may dance in the darkness, but as they offer their experience to one another, it leads them together into the light, where the nectar is rich.

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

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Taking Good Care

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In Dogen's Extensive Record (the Eihei Koroku,) there are a number of discourses in which he ends his commentary by saying "I respectfully hope you will take good care."

I opened the Record this morning to find such a passage, and happened on "Dwelling Thoroughly in the Mountains" a talk given on New Year's Eve about 1249 a.d.

(nb. All of today's quotes are from pages 474-477, "Dogen's extensive Record", translated by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications 2004.)

You may agree that the beginning paragraph of this talk expresses an essential joy in practice:

"Great assembly, with more than three hundred pieces of empty sky I can buy one branch of plum blossoms at the end of the twelfth month, which, with auspicious clouds at the top of the cliff and the moon above the cold valley, contains spring and warmth promising sounds of laughter."

It is, as usual, tempting to quote the entire talk. Instead, I'm going to recommend you go get the book and read it. A penetrating study of Dogen--as opposed to snippets of quotes-- is well worth the time.

Today, however, we'll stick to the snippets.

Dogen says, "Right now, if you are someone who has the mind of the way, at first you should seclude yourself and dwell in mountain valleys." This strikes a note with me.

By practicing intimate perception, one comes to dwell in mountain valleys. Practice begins with sensing the roots of the mountain, not the views from the peak.

He also speaks to the assembly about the idea of practice being like a man pulling an ox past a window... the horns pass by, the hooves pass by, but the "tail cannot pass by."

"Thus we should know that if the tail has not yet been studied in practice, the horns also have not yet been studied."

Without, so to speak, giving the whole game away, I might point out here that a window is an aperture that things are seen through, and the "tail" means--among other things-- the base of the spine.

In taking good care, one approaches the practice of intimate perception. This is the study of the tail in practice. When the entire ox passes by the window, but the tail has not passed by, the way has not been fully engaged. The tail is the root of practice.

At the heart of this rich and complex parable, I intuit a rather simple message.

I seek the root of Being--within sensation, within breath, within mindfulness-- and feed myself with that impression. The search for that specific impression engages both within meditation, and within life.

By becoming more intimate with myself, with my inner life and this careful, caring sensation of the organism, I come to dwell in the mountains.

Why is it "taking good care?" Well, do I take good care of myself? How carefully, how delicately, how precisely and deliberately do I examine my inner state? Most importantly, how do I do this using tools of perception other than the intellectual mind?

I have mentioned before that the body has a mind which is equally capable of intelligent perception; the emotions equally have the same capacity.

If I recruit these intelligences to participate in my effort at inner perception, what new experiences might become possible?

I leave that to you, as you seek your own intimacy.

And may we all take good care together in that effort.

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The intimate act of perception


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Whether I sense it or not, I am closely tied to the planet. This means that the energy that flows in me is regulated by what one might call astrological conditions.

I don't say this in order to encourage the use of mumbo-jumbo astrology, although I have no objections to gentle speculation in this area. What I do say is based strictly on many years of specific observation within my own range of perception. The energy that is available to me for work depends to some extent on the phases of the moon. There are probably other planets involved with this, but I can't be more specific on that subject, because I don't follow the less obvious details of planetary alignments. And I am not going to offer observations about what's available and when, because even that varies depending on inner conditions.

In any event, I am closely tied to the planet. I am a part of biology, a part of animal life, a part of organic life on Earth, and the chief initial cause of my inability to see what I am arises, in large part, from my psychological and organic separation from this fact. Man's senses have, as Gurdjieff indicated, deteriorated so much that what the ordinary man ought to sense about his conditions -- what even a dog, in fact, is able to sense about his conditions -- is no longer available to him.

Not only that, the conditions that make it more possible for me to sense what I am organically are not consistent. So I have to learn how to work when energy is more available, and relax and not force things when it is less so.

Coming back to a more practical set of observations, over the last day I have been studying the availability of finer material within the context of impressions as it is connected to the active perception of breathing, not within meditation, but in the midst of ordinary life.

Bringing this study over into the first moments of awakening in the morning, I spent about five minutes this morning studying the intimacy of connection directly upon coming out of sleep.

I have recommended this study to readers before. The moment when I wake up is a moment when the associative center, which runs most of the show, has not kick started itself yet. In this particular moment, it's more possible to observe the roots of the connection between breathing, sensation, and perception.

It's particularly important, I find, to study and attempt to understand this impression, because the root of sensation itself lies here in this foundation. One might say that the very act of being itself is born within the very fine and very precise vibrations that arise at the fundament of this act of perception.

I point myself back to this because it reminds me once again of the delicate intimacy which is needed if I wish to study the organism. Crude, gross impressions -- by gross I mean impressions of a "larger" nature--and psychological impressions are all very interesting and distracting, but for myself I find it is these very fine, intimate, and precise impressions at the root of being that I need to understand. I am studying a very complicated organism, much like an old-fashioned watch with many tiny gears, and I can't appreciate the fineness of the mechanism unless I am willing to put my attention quite specifically on the clockwork.

Despite many years of a good availability of these impressions, their intensity varies, and there are periods where such impressions are much less available. I no longer ascribe this to a failure of my attention. That would be akin to believing that I control everything. I feel quite certain that availability depends on these planetary conditions I began with. So I need to wait patiently, trimming the wick of my lamp, so to speak, for the moment when something becomes more available.

Then I turn my attention, first thing in the morning, towards this specific and intimate understanding of the relationship between breathing and sensation of the body. I discover a support that arises within the experience which I may be able to come back to later in the day.

In "Heart Without Measure," Jeanne de Salzmann implied to Ravi Ravindra that the act of carefully collecting such impressions and nurturing one's self with them would help the lower energies in the body to establish a better contact with the higher ones.

Speaking from my own experience, she was definitely correct on this point.


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

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The deep search

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Today I want to abandon what I know and everything I think I am, and search for a place within myself that does not have any words.

I want to discover my being within a single note, one note that penetrates everything.

In order to remember the true self, I need to forget what I am, and discover a newness of being that is not based on the presumptions I have formed during the course of a lifetime.

This is so difficult. My inner habits and the momentum of the associative center are powerful. I need to keep turning my attention back to this act of abandonment. Within each moment, I must constantly discard what is, and turn towards everything that isn't.

I don't know what I am turning towards, and I keep falling backwards, out of Grace, and into the familiar. So I have to come back again and again within myself to the certain knowledge that I don't know where I am, that my aim is weak, and that I need help. This needs to become an inwardly formed fact, so that it is no longer just knowledge, but an organic understanding.

There is a confusion and an uncertainty. I know that I am missing something; after many years of inner study, careful examination of the organism and its condition, its partiality, I see that I have not begun to understand the question properly. I have to throw away everything, to revert to sensation in the immediate measurement of what is available. I have to abandon my theories and abandon my exercises and lay my unknowing out on an inner altar as a sacrifice.

Something may come. I understand that. It is the very presence of my ordinary self and that understanding that stands in the way. This conundrum cannot be defeated with the mind. It arises in it.

To open one flower would be a great deal. But I am not able to open flowers. I can only stand as a witness to their opening. That is a privilege I may earn, if I discover enough contrition within myself to peel off the skin of what I am and stand naked before that which is.

So I stand at the threshold of my day. How can I become more naked, within this day, in order to stand in front of relationship and allow it to penetrate me in a new way? How can I hold a connection to this fundamental question of sensation of the organism? How can I approach life from within this possibility of intimate sensitivity, instead of the habitual force that my ego brings to all my manifestations?

I don't know that either. I don't know anything. It's standing in front of this cloud of unknowing that offers me the possibility to see what I lack. Within each moment, I am offered an opportunity to discover the inadequacy of what I am and what I understand.

Every moment that I remain open to that, a call goes out from the depths of my soul for help.

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

Friday, February 6, 2009

information underload

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I labor under the perception that my life lies outside of me, and is something that happens to me.

This perception arises because of my partiality, that is, because my inner connections are not well formed. If they were, I would always see that my life arises within me, and is something that I both contain and inhabit.

We are vessels into which the world flows. We contain our lives within this organic state of Being, this state of Being which we are asleep to. In order for us to understand this question of vessels, something entirely new needs to begin to happen in us. This is what Christ was referring to when he said:

"Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." (Matthew 9:17.)

It's an irony that we live in what we call the information age. This is an age in which so little is formed inwardly. Our bottles are old and they leak, and what gets served as wine so often turns out to be vinegar.

I usually don't see that everything that takes place in life is received by me within the organism, and that all of the responses to it arise within the organism. If I saw this, something real would begin to form inwardly. I would understand that life is not just what happens to me, but much more importantly what I am in relationship to it.

I need to learn to take an active responsibility for the inward formation of Being. I must meet my life differently.

This understanding relates closely to the question of inner and outer sensation, of inner and outer perception. My inner world is disorganized because it has lost contact with the organism. The first touchstone in an effort to correct this is sensation of the body. Of course that begins as a somewhat mechanical exercise, but it becomes a deep and living in experience of the fact that I inhabit this flesh. The body receives the impressions that arrive; with attention (the practice in which we bring the attention to the point where impressions enter the body) the impressions can form something more whole inwardly.
This question becomes particularly important in the current environment. We are all awash in an atmosphere of fear. Instead of offering messages of hope and courage, our leaders worldwide are spreading the panic, with the eager assistance of the media. If all of mankind just turned off their television sets and stopped reading newspapers for a few months, this insanity might stop spreading. It's a disease of the emotions.

So I need to make an inner choice of my own. I'll give an example of that from yesterday.

I read a very depressing article about how the housing market in Florida has collapsed. I was taken by it; there was a strong reaction that I saw arising. Yet nonetheless, this article was not the immediate truth of my life in that moment. And I needed to step up and take responsibility for what was taking place in me. Because of my passivity, I saw, the words were actively forming something negative in me--they weren't just attempting it, they were "mechanically succeeding" -- and the only way I could change any of that was by taking active responsibility for my inner state. By being more aware of where I was, who I was, and what was happening.

In other words, I have to become more clearly responsible for what comes into me. It is not what arrives at the doorstep of my awareness that determines what is formed inwardly at all. It is the manner in which I meet it and the way in which I take responsibility for it that determines the state of my inner life. One excellent book on this subject is Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning."

So for all the information that cascades into us -- this cacophonous avalanche of supposedly important material gathered, documented, and regurgitated by these machines we inhabit and the machines we have invented called, respectively, bodies and computers-- we end up with garbage. When I am not present to discriminate amongst my impressions, and I am not present to digest them , nothing of any permanence forms inside.

Back, once again, as always, to this question of sensation. I can't stress this to myself, or anyone else, enough:

Without a connection to the organism, without the clear and present knowledge that I inhabit this body in this life, nothing can form inwardly.


This is because it is only when connections between the centers become more whole that the organism can begin to digest this food of impressions properly.

Of course, there is no way to "achieve" a connection with sensation. If it is invoked mechanically, it will remain mechanical. It needs to become a living thing that arises and meets me. I can seek this; I can prepare for it; but the forces that make it happen are not susceptible to control by the parts that I usually inhabit.

This is why I need to continue to search, continue to cultivate a pointed, intentional, and specific inner intimacy, and remain open to the possibilities that will, with diligence, arrive.

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

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wealth

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I see I am confused about wealth, and I think we all are.

Mankind has become obsessed with the imaginary proposition that wealth consists of little numbers on sheets of paper. We've created vast institutions based on this premise, and the entire world economy, with all of its power and so-called "growth" revolves around it.

In the midst of this delusion, we have completely forgotten what real wealth consists of. Last night, I was in the kitchen with my wife, and I looked at her and said, "The real wealth in the family is here in this kitchen, right now."

Real wealth has nothing whatsoever to do with digits and paperwork. It lies in relationships with other people. Our wealth lies in having clean air to breathe, and fresh water to drink. It lies in a connection with ourselves that acknowledges our organic nature, our connection to the rest of the planet. Generally speaking, however, the enterprises we engage in value sheer fantasies, which collapse under their own weight in spectacular ways.

One poor person who is able to feel a real inner gratitude for a bowl of rice knows more about wealth than all of the financiers on the planet put together.

In the same way that all of the universe is perpetually at prayer, so we all dwell perpetually within the body of God. We are not apart from this body; we are not apart from the eternal act of prayer that takes place within this universe. Yet by the misuse of our imagination, and the stubbornness of our own will, we set ourselves apart from that body and believe ourselves to be both powerful and important. We lose both our sense of value and our sense of scale.

Because we are so addicted to "doing," that is, following the dictates that arise from ego, we never allow the will of God to be done in us. Two vital phrases from the Lord's prayer indicate the condition we must seek: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done." We have an opportunity to allow the kingdom to dwell within us just as we dwell within it, but we don't leave any room for that to happen. If we did, the will of the Lord would be done within us, that is, we would eliminate the separation between us and the universal state of prayer.

My possibility for the discovery of real wealth lies in rediscovering the fact that I inhabit this universal act of prayer, that my organism itself has the potential for reconnecting with the body of God, which my ego has separated me from. And it's very important for me to remember that the intellect cannot accomplish this work.

In fact, absolutely nothing I can "do" can accomplish this work. The very belief that I can work stands in my way. This is a case where to be active actually means to attempt to learn how to do nothing at all, since everything I "do" is a source of interference.

An active state, for me, consists of learning to become very quiet and still, and to wait.

Perhaps earnest and introspective prayer is a part of that quietude and stillness, but only if it arises spontaneously from the depths of my being as I acknowledge my insufficiency, and see that I lack.

In the depths of my prayer, I come to the altar with a tiny offering of this tiny life; it is nothing. Yet this life is all I have to lift up unto the Lord. Even though my offering is small and worthless, there is the potential that I can be forgiven, if my remorse is real and I find a way to offer unconditionally.

And in every act of submission, every effort at surrender, I move myself a little bit closer to a deeper understanding of what wealth is.

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

on the question of prayer

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What is the nature of prayer?

Prayer is a search for relationship. A request for relationship, since it has a wish behind it: a desire to discover a new relationship which can help us to understand.

Prayer arises in a man when he sees that he doesn't understand. Generally speaking, he feels helpless in the face of confusing and difficult conditions and sees his own inadequacy. So from the narrow perspective of man's consciousness, prayer is often a way of trying to get something. The difficulty for we men is that prayer becomes a prayer from ego, where we want to grasp, rather than receive. We are blind to this factor in our own nature. So we usually don't see the grasping nature of our effort.

There is, however, a much larger context to view the question of prayer from. From the moment that the quantum level resolves itself into classical reality through an act of seeing, of observation, every packet of energy, every atom, every molecule, every vibration between them, is an engaged in an act of seeking relationship. That's the nature of energy in this universe; it seeks relationship. Energy is made that way. You can argue about why it's made that way and whether there is a motive force -- a "God" -- behind it all you like. It is a fact that energy seeks relationship. And, contrary to the laws of entropy -- which don't seem to function very well in many places -- that relationship organizes.

So prayer, in the form of seeking relationship, becomes an act of searching for a way to participate in order. Hence, even deducing from the straightforward physical properties of the universe, we arrive at a place where the way in which man uses prayer makes perfect sense. He uses it because he wishes to participate in order, and he doesn't know how. So he puts himself in the position of unknowing, and offers himself to that unknowing.

What's the point of that?

Well, for as long as we presume that we know what relationship is, that we know what is possible for us, we don't bother to open ourselves to possibilities that lie outside that range. We close ourselves. The many remarkable aspects of relationship and possibility that lie beyond our understanding are close to us, because we refuse to consider them. This is so typical of mankind it hardly bears mentioning, but I mention it anyway.

In the Gurdjieff work, we speak of becoming more open. In a definite sense, this action is an action of attempting to participate in the universal act of prayer which all matter and energy is engaged in. Without being stupid about it -- without believing in subjective silliness -- we attempt to connect with the organism, relax the barriers, become intimate with our perception and our sensation, and discover what we don't know.

The ego is frightened by what it doesn't know. It wants to be in control, and it wants to feel confident. It's quite sad that it doesn't understand that not knowing can be a wonderful experience. It takes the pressure off us. Instead of presuming that we are military commanders in charge of a vast operation which will succeed or fail based on our own efforts and intelligence alone, we discover that we are fragile, delicate creatures participating in a dance that spans the Cosmos.

That may sound sentimental and romantic, but there is nothing sentimental or romantic about it. This dance is not a dance to make nice. It is a struggle to create. There is a great deal of mercy, and love, and wonder in that struggle-- an infinite amount, in fact -- but that mercy, love, and wonder are exercised at levels much higher than ours, and in manners that we cannot hope to understand. Our perspective is too narrow.

Prayer, for us, assumes a more pointed role. In the structure of the cosmos, it is an inherent property. Its very inherency renders it passive and automatic. This serves, in the same way that so much of the universe is built to serve automatically and mechanically.

Once one reaches the level of consciousness, however, our level --this emergent property of matter which contains self-awareness-- a different set of responsibilities arise. Both the perception of and participation in prayer need to become more conscious. We can no longer just pray for the stuff we want, or salvation from trials. And we can no longer pray like an automaton, presuming that chanting a set of words will advance our inner cause. Prayer must become, instead, an effort that leads us to understanding.

Prayer becomes a matter of information. That is to say, it becomes an investigation that helps us to form something inwardly. This idea of information as something inwardly formed becomes quite important in the work. Every single event and circumstance we counter -- all of which are, according to this perspective, prayer -- is meant to help us form something inwardly. The act of relationship is meant to help us form something inwardly.

If we just let everything happen to us willy-nilly, and are passive as that goes on, very little is formed inwardly. If, however, we are more active in relationship to the prayer that takes place all around us constantly, if we form our own prayer in relation to it, then something begins to form inwardly that receives this impression of prayer at a deeper level.

That can serve as a point for the beginning of transformation.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Creationism

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One of the premises of Stuart Kauffmann's "Reinventing the Sacred" is that the universe is an endless fountain of creativity.

On examination of this idea, I see that, like all ideas, I perceive it as being outside myself. The intellect has a habit of creating a separation between the thoughts and ideas that arise in it, and the world as it actually exists. So I generally fail to see that I live within this condition of creativity.

There is definitely an irony in that, because I've spent most of my life as a creative person. Yet this creativity has been mechanical and habitual. It's driven by something real, that's probably true; nonetheless, being touched by the real, it corrupts itself and turns in to more of a reaction than an action.

This morning, I find myself examining the question from the point of view of sensation and vibration in the body, and I see that I am not apart from creativity. Creativity is a force that permeates the universe from the quantum level on up. Atoms are creative. Molecules are creative. and every structure that they aggregate to build, no matter how massive, including suns and galaxies and universes, is creative. Even the forces we perceive as destructive are actually forces of transformation, that take what has been created and create something new again.

So we live within creativity. Every action that we take cannot be separated from this condition. Every force that acts upon us cannot be separated from this condition. The universe and every manifestation in it is in a permanent state of creation. Scientists and religious fundamentalists can argue all they want to about why it is this way, but the fundamental fact is inescapable.

This philosophical premise is able to encounter an actualizing factor through the medium of consciousness. If we become more aware, more awake, if our centers participate more in our lives, the premise of creation is no longer a thought. It becomes an experience that does not need to be analyzed by the mind. It is simply what is.

The older I get, the more distinct some impressions I have are. One of them is that we all talk too much. The other one is that we all try to think things out with the intellectual mind too much. If we want to receive life and experience it more deeply, I think we need to talk less, and think a bit less with the intellectual mind. The intellectual parts of our other centers, which we are singularly unfamiliar with, need to do a bit more of the thinking.

This question I ponder quite often -- the question of inhabiting my life --continues to be paramount. Inhabiting my life is quite different than just living. It requires attention and intention. It requires intimacy on my part, and a willingness to be where I am. Every time I take an inner step closer to this relationship, I am one step closer to an experience of eternal creativity.

All of us are both servants and representatives of that force. Each one of us participates, whether we want to or not. The question is whether we participate willingly and actively, according to our own efforts.

Where do we find ourselves within this eternal theater of creation?

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

Monday, February 2, 2009

the role of our ordinary parts

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This morning, my wife asked an interesting question that led to some general thoughts about the nature of our ordinary parts.

Her question was, is it possible to study conscience without studying sensation?

The simple answer to this question is no. Any study whatsoever becomes a study from the intellect, and of theory alone, until more than one part participates. Sensation -- by this I mean a full, organic, and living sensation of the body -- is the foundation of any legitimate study including more than one center. This is why so much emphasis was placed on it by Jeanne De Salzmann.

The question of sensation occupies a unique place in the Gurdjieff work. One will not find it discussed in these terms in most other works, because, so far as I can tell, few of them have a clear understanding of its relationship to the nature of the human organism and its parts.

In any event, it's very important to study this question carefully and specifically understand what it means to study a question with more than one part.

In the same way that we can discover an organic and living sensation--thus discovering what it means to be more fully vested, or clothed, in one of our centers -- we can also discover an organic and living experience within the emotions, and within the mind. In each case, these are just the beginning of something real, even though the initial experience of it will be that we have "arrived" somewhere quite spectacular.

But it probably isn't until we experience living sensation in a dynamic manner, interacting with our ordinary life, that we realize how deficient our experience of our various centers is.

There is a tendency, in spiritual work, to always shoot for the moon. Instead of becoming much more interested in this rootedness in the body, which is an exercise of foundation, we have perhaps a few experiences of a miraculous nature related to the action of what Gurdjieff called higher centers. The next thing you know, we want to be there. Ordinary life seems drab and colorless compared to these miraculous experiences. --Or, on the converse, if we have never had a very miraculous experience, we at any rate believe in them, and are convinced that the way we are now is inadequate.

On top of that, we live within a wide range of spiritual disciplines that tell us how we are now isn't so good. There are many things wrong with us. What is often forgotten is the fact that these are exactly the conditions we need to be working -- a place where there are many things wrong. Life on Earth is arranged in that way for a reason. If everything were perfect, and we were all comfy, there wouldn't be any work to be done, and there wouldn't be any evolution, either inner or outer.

So our ordinary parts, and a deeper and more thorough investment in them, are essential to any work that leads us towards a real understanding.

Each one of the centers can provide a spark for the tinder that lights a fire and transmits the energy from a higher level into our ordinary life. Ordinary emotion is not so far apart from higher emotion. Under the right circumstances, if enough material has been formed in a man, a moment that begins at one might call the "top end" of emotional center touches what one might call the "bottom" of higher emotional center, and a transmission becomes possible. Some of us may have had one or two experiences of this kind.

In any event, it is exactly the investment in ordinary life, and forming a more solid and substantial, and more material, connection with our ordinary parts that creates a firm foundation for further growth. Of course it's possible to do this in other ways. But the church built on an unstable foundation is always at risk. The biblical recommendation to establish a church on a rock is a good analogy for this question of establishing a foundation of work in the body.

Coming back to this question of conscience.

Speaking from my own experience, conscience is feeling, that is, an emotion that comes from a place higher than our ordinary emotion. I have never been touched by this experience before an organic sense of Being was already present. There may be those who will tell me that it's possible without that, but I've never experienced that way.

In my own experience, the nature of a three centered awareness consistently expresses itself in the following manner.

The sensation lives, and forms relationship with mind. Together, the two see that there is something missing. They may even have an understanding of what it is that is missing, but they are able to do little about it.

They find it necessary to prepare for the arrival of that third force, emotion, by remaining aware of one another and cooperating as best they can, while putting the question out in front of them as to why they lack the participation of that third force.

In the act of seeing that emotion does not participate, and in the act of preparing a place for it, should it choose to participate, conditions are created that can foster the eventual union of all three centers.

Work of this nature takes many years. It's intended to form a harmonious balance within man that, instead of shooting him in a rocket into a "spiritual sun," allows a groundedness, so that what may eventually reach the sun and receive the light does not topple over.

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

Sunday, February 1, 2009

temples and being

The object of my search is so foreign to me that I cannot recognize it.

I can recognize my search; it's familiar, a part of the temple I build inside myself, inevitably connected to my intellect and my personality. But the quality that the temple reflects lies beyond the structures I build.

As I approach this quality, this quality of Being, the closer I get, the more reverence I see I need. Eventually I find myself on my knees, lost within an effort that I myself am incapable of, and asking for help.

What do I ask for?

When Solomon was made king, God asked him what he wanted, and he asked for understanding and discrimination. He didn't ask for riches or immortality. He asked for qualities that would help him to serve, and he did this strictly because he saw immediately how small and inadequate to the task he was.

In seeing that he had no understanding, he understood, and God rewarded him accordingly.

So, I ask for understanding, an understanding that comes not from the temple, but from the place that the temple refers to.

And, in spite of myself, sometimes something is sent.

When Being touches me, in that brief brushing up against me that no words suffice for, again I see my smallness, and my inability to submit. The seed of understanding is born; an understanding that I do not understand submission. A force that transforms wishes to discover a relationship with me, but too many parts of me are out of sync and in conflict with one another. Some of them say yes; some of them say no. Some of them are lazy and confused, and others don't even care.

Somehow, in the midst of this cacophony, a voice that says yes must be born. I hear the faint echoes of that voice at times, but the voice is weak.

All of me must be recruited to this effort, and because I am partial, that task is difficult to achieve.

A root must grow down into me.

That root must dig in to the temple, down into the very foundations, and draw nourishment from it, at the same time that it reaches towards the light. It cannot grow in one direction.

Paradoxically, as it grows, it slowly consumes the temple itself, breaking it back down into the bones of the Earth from which it came. It's not a loss; as the temple crumbles, it assumes an unearthly beauty more appropriate to it than when it was well constructed and adorned with clever offerings.

So much of my work becomes a deconstruction. It's a process that changes everything, that calls all of what life is into question. What is this life? I cling to it so firmly, yet somewhere in my heart of hearts, I know that it is just a reflection of something magnificent that lies well beyond the grasp of my intelligence.

It does not, however, lie beyond the potential grasp of my experience, and this is what I seek to open to.

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