Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Parabola

Just a brief update for readers.

I have been writing a lot of poetry lately. This week, parabola magazine featured one of my more recent efforts on its website. Click on the link to read the poem.

Most of us, myself included, are addicted to our inner search. It is a passion, a thirst for the cosmic. The mind -- in my own case at least -- forms an image of the cosmic that lies outside of me, or, in any event, in some abstract space, an elaborate formulation. There is a belief in the cosmic, a belief in grand scales, a belief in transcendentalism.

Where is my attention in relationship to what is immediate? I am unable to drink anything as vast as what confronts me when I try to understand the cosmos. I see myself as distinct from this question, and trying to acquire relationship to it, rather than discovering myself within the question, and accepting my relationship within it.

Yesterday, as I was walking the famous dog Isabel, friends stopped their cars in the middle of the road to speak to me. Tree branches crashed down. Bees gathered around puddles of rain water.

Throughout, each event was miraculous, imbued with an energy higher than the energies I imagine or crave. It's the small things within the immediate that constitute the food for the soul -- these simple impressions that we can take in with a part of ourselves that is able to value differently than the cruder parts I usually meet life with.

So perhaps the key within life is to turn the sensitivity of perception towards the immediate, towards the simple, towards a yellow sheet of paper lying on the desk, or the curve created by my eyeglasses. The sacred, the divine -- all that is cosmic -- as expressed here within the immediate. It is always that way. I am what is lacking.

I wrote a poem about yesterday's walk. I'm including it below.

Bee Pond
From The Hudson River Series

Late afternoon walks itself down river roads
With no help from me,
I am here only to discover friends discover me.
Bright faces that lie past my appreciation,
In the realm of love, which I thought I had forgotten,
Or maybe never knew.

Past the junipers, and into shaded gaps-
A flood tide gathers at the base of quickening reeds.
Palisades turn their blind, indifferent faces towards
Dead branches,
Crashing down like poltergeists.

These are strange events I cannot measure with the mind,
Filled with the energies of time, and notable coincidence.

Take the power of legs, of breath, of air,
And climb hills tamed by asphalt,
Into the realms where ice was dug into the rock,
Saving itself for the dog days of July.

Here the squirrels still remember how to leap and pray;
Bees gather at the edge of tepid water,
Worshipping the wetness of the dirt.
The call of the ocean
Has not left their veins
For six hundred million years.

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

Monday, July 27, 2009

a question on negativity

An anonymous reader asked the following, which I think is a quite extraordinary question:

"Lee, I've been wondering in terms of the real flesh we seek to inhabit....what is the actual relationship of negativity to the silence we seek and in turn its relation to dharma by way of the possibility of being three centered rather than one or two centered?"

These are difficult questions.

I will answer them to the best of my ability, from the state I am in, within the context of my own experience.

Readers are also urged to evaluate these same questions in a similar manner, on their own terms.

We speak about silence, but we don't know what silence is. Even when we are in the midst of silence, we do not know its nature, although it may know ours. Silence is higher than any state we know from this ordinary moment; we might call it the Lord. The Lord does not submit to measurement. All of the instruments at my disposal are unable to probe this question; they must all, in fact, be utterly put aside.

In a certain sense, everything that I am in relationship to this is the negative polarity. I exist within the sphere of the negation of the Lord. So what I am, what I do, and say, and how I behave, what I think, the way I move, all of this is in opposition to the silence, in opposition to the Lord.

I don't know this. Within this state of opposition, so many phenomena arise -- things that I call "good" and "bad" -- and I am so involved with them, that I don't see my opposition. It is only in rare moments that something opens and more becomes possible. So much more, in fact, is possible that one should not speak of it, but rather -- yes, you guessed it -- remain silent.

How does this relate to the Dharma?

There is only one Dharma. It isn't divided. The divisions that I create in the Dharma, no matter how magnificent or complex -- or even simple -- they are, are illusions. They arise because of the opposition that manifests in me. So every perception of separateness is false.

How does this relate to individuality?

I use the word "individuality," because Mr. Gurdjieff often used this word, and it is an important word. It does not mean separateness, or specialness within separation. It means to be undivided.

To discover a lack of division is a big thing. I cannot force unity. I can invite it, but if it exists, it must discover me.

There is a specificity to the question of centers and to two-centered versus three-centered being. We can take it down to the most basic level. If you have protons and neutrons, but no electrons, there is no atom. If there is no atom, then cause and effect as we know them cease to exist. They will be something different. And there is no escape from the fact, no matter how you want to spin the question, that cause and effect is real, no matter how much nonsense you may hear to the contrary. Dogen said a great deal about this. Some earlier posts discuss the issue.

So reality -- the Dharma, which is not countless finite sets of relatives, but one infinite set of absolutes-- must have three forces. No real Being with the chance of manifesting with any force against my opposition -- which would, in its own way, become affirmation -- can appear unless three centers work in unity.

My negativity, or opposition, perpetually works to breed itself in the active hope of preventing this event.

I need to come to see the action of this opposition in myself. I am, as I am, unaware of it, and it takes many years of intelligent and, it must be said, rather gentle work in order to come to that. Going at it hammer and tongs with tools of iron will produce a great deal of loud noise and nothing else.

One might say, if one wants to approach the silence, one ought to try to do it silently.

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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

There must come a silence

I just returned from a week of retreat at the conference center.

During the week, one of those negative comments that turn up on occasion popped into my mailbox. It was filled with the usual judgments and accusations, proclamations that I don't know how to work, implications that the writer "understands" more than I do, and so on. These negative comments are so predictable--and very nearly identical-- that they would be funny, if they were no so sad.

This is the kind of material I don't want to bore the readership with; those who want negativity can go find it elsewhere. There is more than enough bitterness and anger to be had on the web in other places. Hence, in keeping with both the policy and the aim of this blog, the comment will not be published.

Allow me to make the point even clearer. I come from the Welch line of work--I knew Dr. Welch personally--and this is not how we work. The stated aim of the Welches was to pass on the teaching of Gurdjieff's work with love, and I will not betray it. Anyone who works in any direction that does not first root itself in an effort at compassion and love has failed to understand even the very first thing about this work, and working in general. Anyone who has further questions about this should refer to Ravi Ravindra's fine book, Heart Without Measure.

Now, of course, I do not write here in order to teach, just as--I hope-- you don't read it in order to be taught. This is an effort to raise questions, to explore together, in a spirit of compassionate awareness of our lack of awareness..

We come together--whether here or in person-- to share in an effort which must be valued, just as we attempt to value every other human being around us. We may-- we will, we do-- have ugly thoughts, but they are our property, they are our own responsibility, and it is up to us to work within ourselves to deal with them, insofar as possible. Outwardly, the effort must always be to practice containment, restraint, and compassion.

This brings me to the subject of today's post, which is silence.

I have said on many occasions that there is too much talk about silence, so I will try to keep this brief and to the point.

We must all carefully examine our collective addictions to text-based mysticism. Man is engaged in a vigorous worldwide enterprise of turning flesh into words. Instead, we must consider how words can become flesh. The essential mystery of the Christ lies within this question.

This is the aim: to let the words become flesh. To let our practice live in the flesh and not in the words; to let a quietness fill us and to enter into life as living, breathing beings,

not collections of words and phrases.

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


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The nature of Good

Over the past four days, I've been on a business trip to Georgia. During that period, I have managed to read most of Jacob Needleman's 2008 book "Why Can't We Be Good?"

This book is a superior piece of work by an expert philosopher, but, far more importantly, by a real human being. I highly recommend it to all readers.

In the book, he presents an idea we have encountered before here in this space. An essential idea that cannot be escaped in examining the question of morality, good, evil, and inner work. He expresses it in his own language, of course, and in the eloquent manner that only a man with his education and experience can. Nonetheless, however the idea is expressed (and I certainly do use my own language for it) we always come to the same point of work.

Lists of rules about how we ought to behave and treat other people are useless. They do not constitute a true morality.

I mentioned this in a blog post in 2007 when I was in Cambodia touring Angkor Wat. Our guide, a terrific guy, was (unsurprisingly) well-versed in Buddhist lore, and able to cite long lists of behavior required of Buddhists. The lists tell us what is wrong with us, what we ought to do to fix it, how we ought to behave while we are fixing it, and how it will be after everything is fixed. Okay, let's be fair. Every religion works more or less this way. Right?

If only it were that simple.

The difficulty that man confronts in the context of good and morality is that good and morality rooted solely in an intellectual understanding are both weak and relative. It is only by planting the root of this question firmly in the ground of Being that anything meaningful results. The chaos we find ourselves surrounded by in contemporary society is a direct result of a failure to understand this.

In order to understand this more fully, we must understand what it means to have an organic sense of being.

Now, we may not have this sense all the time; we may only catch a fleeting glimpse of it, or perhaps we have just heard about it. At any rate, we must make it our aim. We must learn to dwell within this organic sense of being, this sense of self which can only arise as a consequence of the awakening of the organism to the need for work.

Right now, the organism doesn't really understand the work. Even if it awakens, it will still be ruled by biological forces. Well, we can't really help that. What we are meant to do, anyway, is not to fix that, but observe it.

The difference is that if the organism is awake, at least -- like the mind, which also wanders off in many directions -- it will be willing to contribute to the effort. And it is only as this awakening of the body takes place than any space at all can be prepared for the eventual arrival of real feeling.

Needleman is, in my opinion, heroically and unstintingly generous in offering us his own experience of this question. Of course, it is couched in language more suitable for the general public, and that is exactly as it should be. Nonetheless, he makes it quite clear that the root of all real morality must lie here within the connection between the mind and body.

I have a quite extraordinary experience when I was in Shanghai that was exactly of this order. It constituted a chance encounter with a prostitute in an elevator at the hotel I was staying at.

Now of course, like all ordinary males, I have plenty of sexual fantasies, and in my fantasies- which, I think, it might be unhealthy to suppress too much -- desirable women offer themselves to me, and I take lusty advantage of it. This is quite different to what actually happens in the real world, of course; I'm a slightly paunchy 53-year-old man. Hardly the stuff of any woman's dreams, mind you, (with the possible exception of my wife--I know I have played prominent roles in at least a few of her nightmares) but no matter how fat and ugly men are, they usually think they are fantastic and desirable. Unlike women, who, no matter how fantastic and desirable they are, usually think they are fat and ugly.

In any event, at my age, and with my looks, a prostitute in an elevator in Shanghai may be about as close as anything is going to come to my fantasies.

I wrote a poem about the experience which is posted on the compliquations poetry page. (scroll down to chinese poem #8)

The gist of it is that in the moment where the encounter actually took place, there was something in me that was immediately present which constituted a real morality. It was quite astonishing to see how instantly and clearly it manifested itself, exactly in accordance with, and in support of, every single thing that Jacob Needleman says about the question of objective, that is, organic, or real, morality.

When we are present, when our centers are working together, morality does not become a debate, a deliberation, or question. It presents itself honestly, solidly, and humanly without any hesitation whatsoever, and it makes a clear and irresolute decision regarding the situation which could never be arrived at if the centers were not working in harmony. Needleman gives several examples of his own in regard to this experience which I think are just wonderful.

How extraordinary, I think, to have an experience of this kind, to have the privilege of knowing such a truth within action, and then to encounter an entire book that lays the foundation for our understanding of morality directly at the feet of such experience.

The point, I think, is that experiences like this take the questions we have, and the lofty ideals we paste on things, and reduce them to something so simple, so utterly human, and so directly compassionate that we begin finally to understand that our intellect alone is incapable of mediating such transactions.

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





Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In The Eye

In the eye

We don't look each other in the eye, you and me,
We turn away,
Each to his wayward, inward self
Wrapping the vine of our attention
Around the twigs and brambles of an inner thicket.

In there dwells the mockingbird,
Deep and sweet in songs of imitation,
Shortly on to something new,
But always borrowed.

Can we sing our own songs, you and me,
Those notes so dearly won, from places we don't go?
Are there musics we can offer one another,
Eye to eye,
Without the fear of criticism or despair?

Come, let us lay hands together
On the loves that lie between us,
The chances we deny, and push away.
Let's be together here,
Loose the garments of conviction,
See the color of our costumes clearly,
Pull the briars off our tombstones,
And revel in a fattening-day
Where the saints stop marching,
And begin to dance together.


Friday, July 10, 2009

On the music

While preparing for a memorial service for my group leader Betty Brown, I had a new occasion to listen to some of the fine recordings of the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann music as performed by Larry Rosenthal.


At the same time, I listened to to a few of the harmonium recordings made by Mr. Gurdjieff himself. These two sets of impressions percolated in me for several days, and this morning, a distinct intuition arose.


If one listens to the harmonium recordings, it's quite clear that what we find there is different than the compositions created in the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann collaboration. And it became equally apparent to me that it is not possible that the person who was playing the harmonium -- that is, Mr. Gurdjieff himself -- provided the majority of the material for the compositions we now hear.


Why do I say that?


The harmonium recordings are stream of consciousness recordings. Individual chords, and some overall impressionistic effects, bear a relationship to the distinctive features of the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann compositions. DeHartmann's compositions, however, are complex, delicately structured pieces, with all of the professional nuances that one could and should expect of a musician.


Gurdjieff, of course, was not a trained musician of any kind, and his harmonium recordings reveal it. He was not, in fact, even what amounts to a fully competent "folk tradition" musician, judging from the recordings.


What we do hear in the harmonium recordings are a number of distinctive features of expression that are found in the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann compositions: an almost physical, and certainly emotional longing, a search; the sense that something ineffable and extraordinary lies in the distance, just beyond our grasp; major chords in juxtapositions that create a hint of joy and expansion. The sense that we are listening to an unformed, yet actively nascent, hymn.


I could say an equal number of negative things about the harmonium recordings, but I will restrain myself, lest my plastic angel's wings get a clipping.


Gurdjieff was, we may assume and believe, an ardent listener to and student of religious, sacred, and folk musical traditions--as well as somewhat of a genius in the remembering of them. This should come as no surprise-- after all, Gurdjieff displayed genius in many areas.


Genius notwithstanding, without Thomas DeHartmann, the achievement of the musical sophistication we hear in the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann music would almost certainly have been unattainable to him.


So I have reached the conclusion, mostly by listening with my head, my heart, and my ears-- that the majority of the material, including its overall structure, coherence, direction, and, yes, even emotional tone, is primarily attributable to Thomas DeHartmann.


I'm not sure if I am the first person who has ever said this -- I doubt it, because almost no idea is original -- but it seems worth discussing, because there is a veritable little industry out there devoted to making everything Mr. Gurdjieff did conscious, sacred, and perfect. There is a tendency to forget the fact that he was human -- a fact that C. S. Nott brings up in "Teachings of Gurdjieff-The Journal of a Pupil." Even when he was alive, people around Gurdjieff tended to ascribe his every single action to some higher level of cosmic consciousness at work, and every manifestation of his as coming from a fully enlightened, perfectly awakened Being.


The tendency to do this has not faded with time. Staunch adherents of the teaching become outraged when anyone suggests the contrary. I have been there personally and made the suggestions, so I'm not whistling Dixie about this little habit some of us have of pedestal-izing Gurdjieff... as though he might look better on our own soap box than he does on his own.


What interests me is that Nott dismisses any such romantic ideas. I think that what interested him more than anything else was how fully and absolutely human Gurdjieff was--human with all the foibles and failings that come with that. Many of us don't want angels as teachers. We are okay with a few devils, but above all, we want to learn from other human beings.


So just what was Gurdjieff's role in the composition of the music?


Gurdjieff was, above all, interested in helping those who worked with and achieve something for themselves. He did not want to do their work for them. He wanted to inspire them.


To inspire means, quite literally, to put air into -- to breathe into. Air, as we know, is referred to as the second being the food in this work, that is, it is a higher level of food at a finer rate of vibration than the ordinary food we eat.


Mr. Gurdjieff worked to help those around him acquire a higher level of food so that they could do their own work. In Thomas de Hartmann's case, he provided the inspiration, the emotional tone, the core relational experiences to be sought in sacred music. He provided the direction, the impetus, and he brought his own wish to the project. He helped DeHartmann turn his considerable compositional skills to a much higher purpose than that of putting on ballets. And yes, I'm sure he brought melodies and memories that powerfully informed the enterprise.


But he did not write the music.


That was DeHartmann's job. If Gurdjieff had, in fact, written the music, DeHartmann wouldn't have been needed. Not only that, he would have been taking the man's work away from him, and that was never the way Gurdjieff did things. (Nott describes the two of them as even having public spats over the process.)


As to whether or not the pieces actually represent real hymns and dances that Gurdjieff heard in his travels, well, we may never know. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann music has ever been "rediscovered in situ," that is, stumbled across in its original form in some temple, monastery, or village.


If they were really from such sources, this makes every single existing such piece, for the time being, a "golden hamster"-- that is, a species discovered only one single time in the wild, and then never seen (i.e., heard) again.


I think it far more likely that we have here original works, in the overall spirit of their purported origins, which were created for Gurdjieff's own admirable--and, as it turns out, lasting--purposes.


In DeHartmann, in other words, we find a man who reached an extraordinary potential under the tutelage of an extraordinary teacher. The body of work that emerged from that is, primarily, his own. I say this because it is all too easy to take this work away from the man, all too easy to pretend that his teacher was all and everything.


We owe the man a tremendous debt of gratitude for the personal sacrifice he made -- personal sacrifices are always required when one puts oneself under the tutelage of a master -- and the enormous amount of work he did to create a body of music which has become one of the core experiences of the work.


Jeanne DeSalzmann may, apparently, have been of a similar mind, because many years later, when she needed additional music for the movements, she turned to him to write it.


So, today, a little Bravo to Thomas DeHartmann.


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

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Intentional suffering and voluntary suffering


Lately I've been reading C.S. Nott's "Teachings Of Gurdjieff - Journal of a Pupil," which recounts some of his early work with Gurdjieff, going back to the 1920s.

One of the interesting remarks he makes is that Gurdjieff avoided getting hung up on the language of the work. He didn't constantly use his own terms and overuse them. He recognized the fact that if you use a term too often, it becomes habitual, mechanical, it ceases to have meaning. Instead, he emphasized the living quality of work; a quality that does not rely so much on limited or narrow definitions, but that preserves flexibility in the face of real situations.

One of the terms that we often hear in this work is "intentional suffering." That term is often taken as being distinct from what is called "voluntary suffering."

Let's take a look at these two terms. I want to do so, because I note that in Nott's book he specifically says that during this period, Mr. Gurdjieff actually and specifically used the term "voluntary suffering."

I think that we are on a slippery slope here, because anyone who thinks that they have been able to accurately define what either term means and apply it in an active and meaningful way to their own inner work may well be deluding themselves. It is, in fact, more likely that it is the question of intentional suffering or voluntary suffering that we need to hold in front of us, that is, an active stance in opposition to our mechanical manifestations, and an examination of our willingness to bear them within ourselves.

We also need to acknowledge that Gurdjieff's form changed over the years. His later use of the word "intentional" may have been... well... intentional.

That being said, what is the difference... and why even ponder it? Let's examine intentional suffering first.

In order for a man to engage in the practice of what Mr. Gurdjieff calls "intentional suffering," a man would have to be able to do. That is to say, he would have to have enough will to form an intention and then carry it out. Gurdjieff contended that we are weak and unable to do this. Intentional suffering would thus appear to lie outside the boundaries of our capabilities, as we are.

The second question I have in regard to this term is, whose intentions are we talking about? There is an ever present danger of presuming that our own intentions are whole -- that they are three centered, that we know what we are doing, that we are prescient enough to have meaningful and worthwhile intentions. I'm not at all sure that is the case. More likely, I suspect, we are apt to undertake intentions that are willful and egoistic. (Yes, even in our work--let's not pretend that our work efforts live in some purer sphere untainted by these sordid attributes.) This means that we constantly live under the threat of having an intention which comes from the wrong place.

So, the confusion between ego, false personality, and the intentions I form is endemic. That is to say, the confusion is part of the current natural state of my organism. Until and unless the organism changes the way it works, my intentions are likely to pave a road to hell rather than one to heaven. In this regard, the moment I presume that the suffering I have intentionally undertaken is a right action, I may already be stepping off the path and into the brambles. If I try, so to speak, to construct my own suffering, invent my own trials, and then walk into that dwelling place, I may be inhabiting the wrong house for the wrong reasons.

The idea of intentional suffering is powerful, but it seems to me that it's a power tool for powerful people. Those who have already developed a real will and mastery of their inner state may well find it useful. I don't know. For those of us, however, who have not developed those qualities -- everyone who has, raise their hand here... you are now excused, and may leave-- exercising the muscles of intentional suffering may be a bit more than we know how to deal with. It's a bite that may look delicious, but our mouths are not necessarily large enough to chew it.

Let alone swallow.

Voluntary suffering is a different matter. If we consider the idea of voluntary suffering, we may begin to form an understanding that is related to offering ourselves to what takes place in our life.

This idea of offertory is, of course, found in most religions. But just what is it we are offering? Are we offering material things -- money, the pagan sacrifice of animals?

To suffer voluntarily is a different kind of offering. It is a submission, a surrender. An acknowledgment that I am not in power. Instead, I show up, bringing only what I can muster of my own presence. I offer myself to what takes place, suffering -- that is, allowing -- what arrives as best I can within the context of my own understanding in the moment.

If my effort comes from more than one center, I have the possibility of offering myself with some sensitivity. And in that offering of the self within the context of a greater sensitivity -- a receptivity, a willingness to be exposed to the impressions that enter more nakedly, without judgment -- new possibilities arise. Instead of finding myself in a place where I know everything, I can say to myself, "hey, you never know!"

Yes, this practice means that I must surrender my usual reactions to a new, raw, and much more immediate emotional experience, one in which I am in question: I don't know what to do next. I don't know much about where I am. I am simply here, and I offer myself. It could always be the case that I'm wrong, so I need to stay on my toes. It might often be the case that I am too coarse, too loud, too argumentative. I don't know. I think that's the point of self-knowledge. I discover, in the search for self-knowledge, that I don't know anything about myself or who I am. There are many potentials, none of which can be fulfilled if I assume that I know who I am or what I am doing.

Remaining open-- voluntarily suffering-- the arrival of the unexpected in the cold light of not knowing, a warmth is born. Yes, it's a paradox. Out of the fear of the unknown, the expectation of the unexpected, the revelation of the unrevealed, is born something new and different, which is not fearful, does not expect, need not hide from the light of life.

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








Thursday, July 2, 2009

Organic valuation

I see that there is a difference between value and judgment.

My wife Neal and I took the famous dog Isabel on an early morning walk along the banks of the Hudson River this morning. The sunlight was streaming in through the phragmites reeds in the salt marsh. It was tempting to think that everything was perfect and that existence on the planet is nothing but wonderful, but the deer flies did us the service of banishing that fantasy by relentlessly trying to suck a blood meal out of us.

When I receive an impression, the tendency is for it to be taken in by a single center. Whichever center that is (most often the emotional or intellectual center) it renders a judgment. That is to say, part of me says "this is good," or "that is bad."

The judgment is automatic. It doesn't wait for the participation of anything else; each center, having assumed center stage (if you will excuse the pun,) proceeds to file the experience in a little box of its own choosing. Judgment is a case-closed kind of affair; close on its heels follows the feeling good or feeling bad that always results from this kind of conclusion. And, of course, it's all intricately tied up in knots by vanity and self pride.

This makes for a tightly wrapped parcel: impenetrable, one might say. And that's a good description of how I am.

When more than one center participates -- even if two are working together -- the possibility of organic valuation comes in. So instead of judging, I value, which has a feeling element in it -- that is, a quality related to the activity of a higher part of emotional center, not just the ordinary reactive one.

This quality of organic valuation is an essentially sensory one, which transcends the idea of value -- that idea of value being all that judgment really deals with. I use the word organic, in the same way that I use it when I speak of "the organic sense of being," to denote a quality of valuation (or a quality of being) that is greater than the idea of value or the idea of being. This is because we are constantly caught up in our ideas of things, rather than the real experience of them.

So when I use it, the term "organic" means, quite specifically, not "natural" or "wholesome," but of the whole organism.

The other night, my wife and I were with Livia, another close friend from my group. We had occasion to recount a few memories of our recently deceased group leader, Betty Brown. The most vivid memory I will ever have of Betty was the night she said to me, of sensation, "make it organic."

It is in the making the sensation of our life organic that we begin to discover what it means to live, rather than have ideas. Ouspensky had ideas; Gurdjieff lived. Living is, of course, a much messier proposition, but it is the difference between the chicken that runs through the kitchen and the one in the soup pot. One is exciting; the other one can feed you.

In this organic valuation of life-- this sense of living from within, and using (insofar as I am able) all of the abilities of my organism -- I discover something more objective about the experience I receive. It acquires a three-centered quality: there is the content of the thought about it, the intellectual content (and indeed, that thought might well have judgment within it) but there is also a feeling, a sensitivity that transcends the judgment. There is a sensation which transcends the judgment, too, by simple reason of the fact that our physical sensation doesn't get so easily taken up by these convoluted matters of the mind and emotion.

For a moment, I discover myself inhabiting life instead of critiquing it. Taken as a whole, I can no longer say that this or that is "good" or "bad" -- instead, I discovered that this or that just simply is.

This experience is a simpler experience than the experience of judgment. My indulgence in judgment is an open invitation to the involvement of countless associative attitudes. Immediately after judgment enters the picture, there is something in the organism that senses the fact that judgment just isn't right. I think that this is probably my conscience at work, letting me know that my presumptions are essentially bogus. But in any event, as a result, the first thing that happens is that an endless series of rationalizations (either pro or con) kicks off, spinning around in circles to support (or to reject) the act of judgment.

It takes me away from the outside world -- I am plunged into an inner maelstrom of thought and associative emotion that draws me away from what is happening here and now. Put in other terms, put in the traditional terms of the Gurdjieff work, my attention is taken.

And it all began with the interference of that one-centered judgment I spoke of at the beginning.

If there is an effort to bring more than one center to the situation, the possibility of organic valuation arises, and in the act of this organic valuation, the attention does not get caught so easily by the turning thoughts of associative mechanisms. Instead, a feeling of wholeness and relationship to the experience arises, in which one senses the essentially sacred nature of an impression, and the fact that all impressions -- every single impression -- has a nearly equal value. That may sound curious, but we are not talking about a flat landscape where everything is the same, boring, uninteresting, and relatively indistinct -- no, we are talking about an extraordinarily rich landscape where everything contains the luminous quality of the miraculous.

This question of organic valuation is intimately tied to the receiving of impressions and the responsibilities that are incumbent upon us as organisms. Again and again, throughout the course of a life involved with countless external details -- all of which are necessary -- I see that it is not the details themselves that matter, but how I encounter them, how actively I inhabit the conditions around me and make an effort in the direction of valuation, rather than judgment.

I have said it before: Art is not in the making, but in the seeing. The real artist, true artist, is the artist of the soul. The real architect is the architect of inner being; the real dancer is the one who moves in accordance with the music of their inner energies; the real musician is the one who writes a score in which the symphony of his sensory apparatus, the work of all of his centers, plays together in that greater harmony which no individual instruments can achieve.

Yes, it sounds romantic. But there is nothing romantic about this enterprise, unless we take romance to mean adventure and mystery. This theme is an aim of the real world and living in the real world. It is an aim not far off what the Zen Buddhists aspire to: a moment when life and art, when what is seen and the seeing of it, merge seamlessly into a single whole, where judgment and all of the ego-based machinations that accompany it fade, and where instead a humbling valuation and appreciation of what is arises.

This is, in fact, what Christianity and Islam aim for as well: a moment in which my own judgment, the action of my own will, is surrendered in favor of a higher principle, the action of which produces in us a sense of organic valuation.

In that organic valuation, I urgently and instinctively sense that my responsibility is to praise the Lord; this, one of the atrophied instincts that Mr. Gurdjieff so earnestly hoped might reawaken in the body of man.

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

Announcement

A new page, "large oil paintings," has been added to the Compliquations web site. This page contains images of several major pieces, including all three panels of the "revelations" triptych.

In addition, there are a few more pieces of "art noir" on the oil paintings page. I have added some very disturbing images from my unfinished series of the seven deadly sins. I don't paint things like this any more, thank goodness.

Several new poems appear on the poetry page.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

a return to old themes


Every once in a while, I use the blog to jot down the not-so-idle musings of an afternoon. Here are some of today's unexpected impressions, and my equally unexpected ponderings on them.

Browsing through C. S. Nott's "Teachings of Gurdjieff--The Journal of a Pupil," I came across a passage where he mentions that Gurdjieff said the Sphinx in Egypt is the copy of a statue that dates back to 8000 years ago in ancient Babylon.

So this enormous statue, which is becoming a replica of itself due to the extensive restorations currently underway -- is a replica of a replica.

I just read the first half of Chapter 4 of "In Search of the Miraculous," in preparation for a meeting tonight. In doing so, a number of impressions struck me. The most prominent one is that after more than half of a lifetime in the Gurdjieff work, I still don't understand many of the ideas. Or, rather, I am finally beginning to understand many of the ideas, and one of the first things I understand is that I never understood them properly, all the while thinking that I understood something.

This seems odd to me in light of the enormous amount of swaggering that goes on around me -- especially on the Internet, but also in "real life" (presuming, of course, that what goes on at the Gurdjieff Foundation is, in fact, "real" life, a presumption that is very much open to question) and many other places -- a swaggering in which otherwise mature and intelligent people act like they know things.

If one studies the situation, it's quite shocking, really, how most of us who refer to ourselves as "adult" behave. We all sit around like frogs in our little ego-ponds, surrounded by a comfortable layer of familiar, identifiable scum-- all that slimy, self serving gunk we ooze over our tender, moist little skins and present to others in the form of our personality -- and we are just as happy as clams.

As we preen ourselves, we think, "Aren't we the smart ones, though? And... BLAP... we stick our tongue out and eat one of those delicious flies we thrive on.

To me, the most staggering thing about Gurdjieff's assessment of the nature of man is how very often he hit the nail on the head. For the most part, our being is of relatively poor quality. We are packed full of knowledge -- in this "information age," facts pile up like snowflakes in a blizzard -- and, as he pointed out, all it does is confuse us and complicate things. Yes, he says exactly that, go read chapter 4. Anyone who has spent enough time alive (of necessity, almost all teenagers are excluded from this set) will know how true that is. We are confused, and things are unnecessarily complicated.

As we preside over what is undoubtedly the most spectacular destruction of planetary ecosystems ever wrought by a single organism, we congratulate ourselves on our "progress." Yes, that is what takes place in the external world, and all of us have been called as witnesses to it -- those, that is, with enough shreds of consciousness and conscience left to admit the situation.

Progress?

We have created an endless series of technological marvels which accelerate everything -- especially destructive processes. The metamorphosis of culture and materials, which used to take place on a scale that could at least be measured, has speeded up so much that within a few years landscapes and cultures are transformed so violently that nearly nothing of the past remains. We are like drivers who have been given a fabulous new car and are intent on pushing the pedal down to the floor and never taking our foot off of it.

I wonder, however, whether there is an analogous process taking place within each one of us.

After all, the entire process of our own life is an ecosystem -- a complex set of relationships that feed each other. Our consciousness lives within the context of that ecosystem. With the concurrent acceleration of the means of destruction of one's inner life-- a destruction that is taking place as a result of incessant bombardment by media, the veritable worship of technologies at the expense of human beings, the mechanization of processes so that individuals are crushed in a communist system posing as free enterprise capitalism (ask anyone who has had to deal with a bank lately, you will see exactly what I mean) from one year to the next, we are filled up with so much garbage that we are barely recognizable to ourselves.

The only hope we have is to revert back to a simpler form of living, and yet none of us seem to have the will to do that. Mr. Gurdjieff was right--we lack will.

And it seems possible that I--that we all--stand at the edge of one of those moments where civilization is destroyed because its knowledge outweighs its level of being.

The civilization I speak of here is not the external civilization, but rather the inner civilization -- the opportunity for unity within the man.

In this work, this inner work I undertake, I arrogantly assume that I understand. I read an observation of Gurdjieff's and I think I understand something. At time I encounter it, I think to myself smugly: "Well, of course, isn't he right about that? And I completely understand what he is saying. ...I, after all, am not like these people he is describing at all."

It's only later -- much later, perhaps years later -- that I suddenly see that I am exactly like those people he is describing, in fact, I am very precisely one of those deteriorated individuals he is describing, and I have a very long way to go, a very deep hole to crawl out of, before anything more will be possible.

In myself, I have created a replica of a replica of inner work.

I have no doubt about it, there is a real mystery; my reconstructed sphinx, my simulacrum of the Gurdjieff work, represents something real, and it's pretty nifty. Very impressive... thank you, thank you, thank you.

The difficulty is that I don't see that I am dealing with a replica of the replica. In order for me to peel back the layers and discover what is real within the context of Being, everything needs to be thrown away. There needs to be an effort to become completely naked, and stand before the chasm of time, and unconscious experience, that separates me from real understanding.

In the meantime, most of my mechanical behavior will continue to follow established forms, causing me to fail in any effort to develop a real wish that might bring me to this moment.

I wonder whether the real point of Mr. Gurdjieff's work was, above all, to bring us to a point where we understand just how helpless we actually are. It strikes me that this question lies close to the core of both Islam and Christianity; practices where we must get down on our knees and be humbled beyond a point that the ego can touch.

Gurdjieff mentioned on more than one occasion that if a man becomes wrongly crystallized, the whole of the man must be shattered in an experience of incredible suffering in order for him to start over. Maybe this is the actual, normal condition for every one of us as we are now.

As we gradually become more open to influences from a higher level, we can hope that they will help us, but we cannot rely on it. For those to whom much is given, much will be expected.

All of us will inevitably have to continue to conduct our investigations about the nature of understanding and nature of being in the midst of our own profound misunderstandings.

There may be no easy remedies for our misunderstandings, but there can, at least, be an acknowledgment.

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