Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Form and Process

The title of this post reflects another entry in my series of essays on the question of outwardness and inwardness.

Form is an outward process. Form exists outside of us; in man, it is the intellectual center that imposes form. Form exists as a thing in itself (a "Ding an sich," as Immanuel Kant would have it) but it is an unlimited form, that is to say, the structure is so great that it is--as Dogen might say-- ungraspable by the mind.

The intellectual mind in man is specifically designed to shrink form down to what appear to be understandable relationships. This is kind of like taking 99% of the pixels out of a photograph so that we can comprehend it better. We may see what little is left with a great deal of accuracy, but there is so little left that we don't actually know what we are seeing anymore. The mind routinely does this when it comes to form.

A good deal could be said about how differently the emotional and physical minds in man perceive form. They don't take it in in anywhere near the same way that the intellectual mind does. They are, as it happens, more attuned to a perception based in what will be discussed below, that is, process. Animal strength and intuition is not based on form. It arises from an inner engagement with process, uncomplicated by the interference of an intellectual center.

In the process of shrinking everything down to fit within this relatively small neurological complex called the brain, we begin to believe that the representations it creates are the real world, and not just representations. (Gurdjieff called this process identification.) To be sure, it creates practical models, but only to the extent that it allows a certain kind of technical functioning within specific contexts. Everyone knows that almost every model eventually meets its own special moment of failure, because it failed to take the other 99% of the picture into account. Evolution, for example, is able to prepare a creature for almost everything it encounters in ordinary day-to-day existence, but it cannot prepare a species for asteroid impacts. (Not, at least, at the high level of violence and irregular frequency with which they occur on earth.)

Our own intellectual, emotional, and physical lives are much like this. Our forms are eminently practical, but invariably inadequate.

We never live within forms. Forms as we create them are abstractions. They are static. We only live within the organism. We live within a process, and process is in movement.

If we are engaged in the process -- if we do not apply forms so much, but rather, attend to the organic process that takes place within us -- we begin to live. We are not planning to live, we are not conceiving of how to live, hypothesizing how to live, or Monday morning quarterbacking how we have lived.

We are living.

The process of living life includes having the forms. It does not include relying upon them, solely, as an accurate guide. They are merely reference points; we are not the form. We are the process.

Process contains form, but form--although it may help describe process-- cannot contain it. Process exceeds form because it is not a static entity.

In Buddhism, and in other practices -- even in some of my earlier essays, as it happens -- the idea of abandonment of form is discussed. This sounds pretty interesting, but it isn't possible. Not in the way we think of it, at least. "Abandonment" sounds like it means "elimination," but form can't be eliminated. Instead, abandonment involves non-identification with form, non-attachment to form, not the elimination of form.

If we wanted to romanticize it, we could say that the aim is to live within an infinite variety of forms, accept them all, yet adopt none of them as ourselves. Our being is independent of form, except to the extent that it does consist of inhabiting the form of being.

To be is to live within process.

There has to be a level of trust in us in order to do this. The idea of living outside of form, of not relying on the external and our manipulation of it, but living rather within ourselves, and from an inner process, is at this point quite impossible. It requires a revolutionary rearrangement of our inner state, and that cannot take place overnight. It is a long, arduous process which must be undertaken gently and with sympathy towards both the organism and the conditions. If it's rushed or forced, it can actually damage us instead of helping us.

There is an energy available to man that can help him become more inward. All the teachings point towards this. Every single one of them, unfortunately, has become a form, and begins within each man to serve -- according to his nature -- as a crutch, rather than a limb. That is to say, the form is pasted onto the organism, it is artificial -- it is not an organic part of the practice. True "form"-- the Ding an sich of form, the a priori nature of form--is universal and infinite. All of the form that we attach to through the process of ordinary intellect is fragmentary, fractional. In this fragmentation, form has disconnected from itself.

Nonetheless, if form truly becomes a limb instead of a crutch, it is no longer a dogma we lean on. It develops a thread that reconnects it to the living process. And our work -- which is, in the end, everything we are, if we make it so -- is our form.

Our work needs to be a living thing.

How do we make our form become an organic part of our practice? What does it mean to deepen the relationship in the organism so that there is enough intimacy? How do we attend to the details of how we are within ourselves? Do we have respect for these questions?

Do we even remember that they are questions?

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


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Drinking God

One of the recurring miraculous images from the New Testament is the idea of water changing into wine.

Those of you familiar with the standard Gurdjieffian ouevre will recall what Maurice Nicoll said about this image, to the effect that it represented different levels of truth. In keeping with the tradition of allowing for many rich layers of interpretation within the context of allegory, there is no reason to discard this idea. However, if we want to bring it a little closer to the heart of the work, we can bring it back to the question of impressions.

Above all, learning to work is learning how to take in impressions. Now, in our ordinary state, impressions flow into us like water. They flow into us whether we are conscious of it or not. Mr. Gurdjieff pointed out that being conscious of the arrival of impressions has a dramatic effect on the way that the human organism operates. He is, so far as I know, perhaps the only spiritual teacher who ever suggested such a thing in such a specific way. Psychologists and scientists have, of course, assembled a great deal of evidence that suggests this is true, but it has never been assembled into a single comprehensive picture in the way that Gurdjieff did.

In any event, the most singular and remarkable contention G. offered us is that the human organism can undergo unanticipated and miraculous changes if the attention is applied to the place where impressions enter the organism. People who have taken drugs such as LSD certainly have an inkling of what this might mean, but it is a confused and disorganized one. Going about it this way is like opening all the floodgates on the Hoover dam when what you need to do is water your garden. In any event, the human organism has sensitivities we are unaware of in our ordinary state, and it is able to drink in impressions that fall into the body in places we are now unaware of. Much deeper places that can affect us in transformational ways, transcending our ordinary psychology, and leading us into territory that no longer admits of description in any ordinary terms.

This, it seems almost certain, was what Christ was referring to when he spoke of changing water into wine -- or did it. The water of impressions can change into a wine. That is, if the body becomes more sensitive to the intake of impressions, if they go deeper into us, the effect is much richer and more powerful. It feeds parts of us that have been starved for most of our lives. It leads us down paths we did not know existed, into places we have never seen or touched or sensed or felt.

The fact is that not all of these places will be comfortable or reassuring -- they are, after all, strange and unknown. Nonetheless, on the whole, the organism -- if it is gently led into an awareness of its own work, and not forced or pushed into that awareness, as so many works attempt to do -- will know the way it must go, and will sense the rightness of the unknown in relation to the known.

This taking in of impressions is man's primary work on the planet. Or at least, it is where his primary work begins. A man cannot begin to fill what Gurdjieff called his "Being-Parktdolg-Duty" (which, according to some are "official" interpretations, means "Duty -- Duty -- Duty," or, three centered duty) unless he lays a foundation by doing this work of taking in impressions.

I entitled this post "drinking God" because, in a certain sense, when we actively take in impressions (which has implications in relationship to suffering which I will not go into here) we are in fact drinking in tiny particles of God, which gradually coat the various inner parts of the being and render it more sensitive to receiving the vibrations of His Endlessness.

The work of a connection with sensation of the body-- to work towards developing an organic sense of being-- is a direct precursor to the effort to take in impressions more actively. Generally speaking, almost all the impressions we take in are taken in with the intellectual mind alone. The mind of the emotions and the mind of the body are not participating. This is one of the central dilemmas of our condition as it is: we ingest most of what we ingest using the mind, and mistake it for a full nourishment, instead of seeing how intensely partial it is.

One of the reasons that it is quite necessary to work in person with other people who understand this question is because it cannot really be understood or communicated by reading things. Which brings me to another thing I have noticed.

I have an almost instinctive aversion to the many forums online which discuss Gurdjieff ideas. In pondering this strong reaction, which I have almost every time I log on to one of these sites, I have often wondered if it is some form of hypocrisy on my part, since I myself write about ideas online.

I recently reached a few conclusions about this situation.

This blog is not an online forum. Comments are welcome, but not necessarily encouraged. The blog is not here for people to praise what I write, or tell me I am a blithering idiot -- both of which things have happened-- thank God, more the former than the latter. (I, after all, am human like everyone else, and do not like criticism that much.) So the blog is a bit different than forums. It is a place that one can come to quietly get something that might feed them a bit without a bunch of argument, or batting balls back and forth across the net at the tennis court.

This is a place that is supposed to offer the opportunity for something that could be contemplated.

I've got to confess, coming from a background of argumentation -- I have often said that my family should have been named the "van arguments"-- that as I grow older, I am particularly tired of long discussions that try to literally explain, or arguments that aggressively prosecute, one or another point of the Work. It seems to me that most of us would benefit from an effort at just working quietly more often.

I include myself in that observation.

Now, I have no intention of trying to squelch or even critique the active discussion and all the online forums, some of which have many earnest people who mean well. It's just that this kind of "mind exchange" is not a useful substitute for working directly, physically, with other people in your life.

Even if one is in a place where there are no Gurdjieff groups, and one may never have the chance of joining one, to just look another man in the eye when you speak to him once in a day, to speak honestly to one person, to engage in one act of generosity which is sincere and in which your being participates -- well, this is what we call work in life.

To paraphrase something that Gurdjieff once said about making money, it's fine to read things on the Internet, or in books... as long as one only does it with one's left foot.

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

Monday, September 28, 2009

in the midst of life

I haven't contributed to the blog for quite some time now. Possibly the longest since I began nearly 3 years ago. I have written so much--in some cases too much-- and I grow weary of the effort. Compounding the situation is the fact that a great deal of what I am working on right now is worked on in silence, and can't be written about or even spoken of.

At the same time, I undertook this task with a sense of responsibility to the community at large, and it seems that now, when I am the least interested, is perhaps the very time that I must put the demand on myself to continue to offer something as real as I can, from what I am pondering and working on in my own life today.

In the midst of this life we live, we are all convinced that life is for the living. Life is about living, being alive, that the purpose of life is to live to the fullest.

Yes, in a certain sense, this is all true, but this is the outward understanding of life. It's only if life feeds something more inner, more organic, much deeper within ourselves, that anything real takes place. If we are outward, and we live within outwardness, we live within an illusion. It's only if life feeds the roots of our being that life is serving any actual purpose. Otherwise, it is a sophisticated kind of masturbation.

And I think it is fair enough to say that society as it stands today has developed that capacity until very little else is left. Even the things of the intellect, of culture, and civilization, that we think represent the deepest -- and loftiest -- achievements of man spring from an outward form of self love. We have built giant engines of rationalization to convince ourselves that this isn't true, and they are working quite well.

Life is not about living. Life is a process of preparing to die.

This is, of course, quite impossible to see from the perspective of youth, which believes that there is no death. As we age, however, even within the numbest of men the sense begins to develop that there is something else going on here. Questions arise. Even the rich and powerful take one step back to consider their ways. At least some of them do.

We are here to prepare to die. We are here to gather material within ourselves, to take in impressions in the deepest manner we are able, so that our soul can grow into something useful enough to be of service when it leaves this body. This opportunity will not be available when life ends. The time that men must work within themselves is now.

Now, we don't come to our impressions of life honestly. We are all messed up by the way we were raised, the values we were pumped full of -- not all of them are bad, to be sure, but we never really made them our own -- and the illusions which we feed ourselves so eagerly from our own imaginations.

All of this baggage stands between me and my ability to see something honestly.

This morning, I stood on the banks of the Hudson River at about 7:00 AM or so, and watched a tangerine sliver of sun peek out over purple rushes. The part of me that was taking in this impression more deeply was searching "the parts with all of the baggage" to try and find a way to express it, in words -- poetically -- that could bring something of it to others... and I realized that there are no words that can ever truly do this.

That moment was absolutely sacred, the light was sacred, everything was imbued with the presence of God. So I saw how things were honestly, and it became clear to me that there was no way to actually bring that to any other place or time. The honesty only existed within the witnessing, the receiving of the impressions, in that moment. Everything that could be brought away from it was a relic, an artifact.

This idea of taking impressions honestly has everything to do with the process of preparing for death. I can't really explain this effort properly in words; it is a point of work that we can only bring ourselves to through many years of suffering and effort.

I can only suggest that readers who do not understand what this process is continue their search within themselves, within what they are--how they are organically, within sensation, within their emotions--and see that the universe of meaning is built within the man, and does not--cannot-- exist outside of him.

This process of living so that we can prepare to die is a vital one. If we live to the fullest, we only live to the fullest in order to be able to die to the fullest.

Is this an accessible mystery?

Perhaps not, but it is one that we must inevitably explore--with every breath, if we are able--right until the final moments of our lives.

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

Friday, September 18, 2009

Anonymous

Yesterday, a negative comment was posted. It was, as usual, a useful moment for me, because it gave me the opportunity to see my emotional reactions and my own negativity.


I like to make negative comments a special feature in the blog. What better way to make sure the commenter's voice is heard?More often than not, in pondering such comments, an expanded set of questions is raised.


The very brief comment was about yesterday's post, "Mystery," and read as follows:


"Just another of Van Laer's (sic) self-serving screeds."


Unfortunately, in addition to overlooking the finer points of attention about how my name is spelled-- it's a SMALL "v", thank you--, the author doesn't seem to know what the word "screed" means, although they did understand that it's a put-down of some kind, which is undoubtedly why they used it.


Let's set the record straight. In general terms, the word "screed" is usually used to refer to diatribes, that is, bitter, sharply abusive denunciations or attacks, which--I think it is fair enough to say-- is hardly the category the post fell into.


Then again, if one takes only 23 seconds to read a post--which is what my tracking software indicates-- one has not spent enough time reading the post to understand its overall tone, let alone any of its contents.


The comment was, of course, posted by "anonymous."


This is how it is with all of us, most of the time. We hide behind a mask that buffers us from who, and what, we truly are, and from that imaginary position of security, where we think we are smart, we judge others. In the midst of that, most of us imagine ourselves as intelligent, sensitive, compassionate... or, more darkly, perhaps we don't. Some are criminally proud of their ability to be arrogant, dismissive, to treat other people poorly. They justify it... the intellect is very good at that. There are those who are like this, even among people who believe they are in the work, believe they are "developed."


I think this is one of the points yesterday's post tried to make: unless I am in touch with something real in myself, my behavior invariably misses the mark. For as long as I hide behind the mask of all the different selves I have, and I am not in touch with at least a tiny sliver of my true self, I am always willing to judge, and to harm the other--sometimes, even intentionally harm them.


It is only when something real touches me, and the process of a real, deep, terrifying, and anguishing inner remorse emerges within me -- such as was discussed yesterday -- that this propensity disappears. If I am in touch with anything real I cannot harm another person-- as Needleman points out in "Why Can't We Be Good?", real compassion, organic compassion, does not allow that kind of activity.


Usually, we are unable to use the better parts of our emotional center to see what a terrible mistake that is -- how every single moment that we look at others and think and react this way emotionally--by rejecting--, we are failing to see how we are.


The source of all harm to others begins right here, within this blindness of arrogance, where we presume to judge. It's a sobering fact.


There is another question that deserves examination here, and that is the question of self-service. The commenter was right; every post on this blog is self-serving.


Very little comes out of man, out of any of us, that is not self serving. We ignore this fact at our peril, and the comment very deftly highlights that point. It was also self-serving: it scratched an itch in the writer to communicate his or her inherent superiority, their position "above" where the blog post came from.


It probably made the writer feel powerful; and this is hardly unique behavior. However, as I said in July, this is not how we work. Not where I come from, anyway.


Gurdjieff said on more than one occasion that he was not interested in working with people who could not help him move his own aim forward. He was, in other words, very self-serving indeed.


There is a principle at work here: there must be an aim that serves the self. It may be a mistaken aim, a flawed one: we are hardly able to make "good" aims in our present state. We must, nonetheless, try. If we do not learn to serve ourselves responsibly and with respect, we can never learn to serve anyone or anything else--right up to and including God.


This blog is an exoteric service, to be sure. My own aim since its establishment has been to offer readers a contemporary commentary on one individual's personal experience, as viewed from the perspective of the "formal" Gurdjieff work-- the Gurdjieff Foundation membership, as opposed to the hordes of people on the internet who have never worked in a direct line, but presume to understand the work.


Every post I write attempts to serve that definitely personal aim of this "compound self" in one way or another... some well, some not so well. Serving aims in this public manner inevitably exposes one to criticisms. As an artist, writer, and musician, I am familiar enough with the process to absorb it, even though it's often unpleasant.


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


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mystery

I used to pursue life with a great deal of intellectual vigor. I am known for this. In fact, my friends still constantly put me in the embarrassing position of bragging to others about how smart I am, etc.

I must confess it doesn't sit with me well. The smarter you are, the more you see how ignorant you are. If you are truly, truly smart, you begin to realize you are stupid.

It's the people who don't realize they are stupid that are dangerous. And we all find ourselves in that category a lot of the time. Our ego encourages us to believe that we are smart, that we know what we are doing, that things are more or less under control, and that we are going to get the jump on what is happening. It is like one vast buffer that stands between us and the stark reality--that we are in the middle of a situation we don't understand and can never fully know.

What we are is a mystery. This thing we call "life" is a mystery. Every explanation of it falls down and grovels if anything real becomes active in us. We are capable of becoming lightning rods that receive something and transmit it, a force that has no name and knows no boundaries. All of this is so far apart from what we usually call "life" that we are incapable of grasping its implications, its intentions, or even its meaning. For the most part, in fact, we are even supremely ignorant of the possibility itself. We can think about it, and discuss it, and read about it for a lifetime and rarely, if ever, actually have any of it touch us.

I am repeatedly stunned by how distinctly separate the two natures we stand between are, and how utterly differently they manifest themselves. All that is "of this earth" within us stands, so to speak, in direct opposition to what comes from above--and is in fact just as illusory as Plato intimated, just as deceptive as the Hindus claim it is, just as unreal as the Buddhists insist.

I heard it said recently that Lord Pentland once said the aim of the work is to produce "quality" human beings.

That may be true, but what does that mean? Of what quality do we speak? Here is a mystery for us, too. Surely, any idea of it that I produce from myself and interpret as the correct meaning of "quality" is tainted--contaminated by my assumptions, colored by my ego. When I confront how I actually am, the way I actually behave, how I am even in this moment, I am staggered.

And I am especially staggered when a new kind of inner relationship appears, because it sets aside everything I think I am, and brings a quality to life that suggests I perpetually get the whole thing from the wrong perspective.

If there is decency in me, it is only born from a relationship to the higher. If there is hope to be found in my condition, it is only to be found in relationship to what comes from above. Without that relationship, there is no hope, and there is no decency. The possibility of relationship, when it is sent, opens the door to what we would truly call humility -- not an intellectual posture, not being smart about being nice and decent to people, but something material, something organic- something that is emitted from the heart of every cell itself, that permeates the entire body and the entire being with the understanding of how small, and how unfortunately cruel, I actually am.

It is at moments like this that the physical and emotional understanding of "remorse of conscience" begins. And let us not underestimate this force by belittling it with too many words. Remorse of conscience is a slayer of men, such as they are.

If I wish to come to this, there is a need for a new kind of listening. This is not a listening of the ears. It is not a listing of facts, a collection of concepts, the construction of a form. This is a listening that begins deep within the organism, with parts that hear in ways the ears cannot hear--eyes that see in ways the eyes cannot see--sensation that touches in a way our senses cannot touch. It is born within stillness, not an invoked and created stillness, not a stillness that belongs to me, but a stillness that is sent.

I wish to discover myself within this new kind of listening, and to let go of all of the facts and ideas, so that there is room for something else to take place.

So I come once again to this mystery--which is where I began this post--and I leave you with it.

Let us hope we can all dig deeper into the soil of our being during the coming week, to discover the secrets that lie buried there.

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

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ownership and circumstance

Today I'm going to extend on a conversation I had Thursday night with an acquaintance from the work who I happened to meet on the Piermont pier, which stretches far out into the Hudson River not far from where I live. We walked back from the end of the pier while she grappled with a question about just who she is.

Too often, I see, I perceive a "higher state" as another place- a gate I must pass through, a different place I must go to. It's a tough place to get to, too: guarded by demons and only attainable through an epic "Ouspenskian struggle," a way fraught with pitfalls and difficulties.

It is the classic quixotic journey.

It's too easy to forget that there is no "other place." The place is always here; and here is where I am not.

Zen master Huang Po says this in a number of different ways. He succinctly explains that the very idea of enlightenment itself- "another place" from which to perceive life-- is a mistaken one, the result of a dualism born of this level.

In the Gurdjieff teaching, I am reminded that all levels co-exist. That is to say, every level of consciousness, from the lowest to the highest, interpenetrates. There is, and can be, no actual separation. As the Zen Buddhists say, any perception of separation is artificial.

Nonetheless, I have this perception, and it seems real to me. There is no simple way to free myself of it, either; only through grace can a different level of understanding arrive, at which moments I instantly see that there is no difference in the location. Instead, there is a difference in perception, which still arises right here, in this moment, and within. The experience is such that it becomes apparent the existence and possibility of this perception is perpetual and eternal; it is a deficiency within that causes the separation.

And exactly what is that deficiency?

In the case of the "lower" or automatic states of consciousness--the ordinary ones I usually find myself in, ruled by habits and what Gurdjieff called mechanicality--I am identified, that is, I "am" what is taking place. "I" ceases to be because it is not "I", it is "it"- it becomes the events, the circumstances, the subject of what takes place--hence, a state of subjectivity, rather than objectivity. So what I call "I"--consciousness- confuses itself with the level it resides within. (The subject of what takes place is a victim--the object is a participant.)

This is an inherently natural state, but within man consciousness has reached a level where that confusion, that seamless merging of awareness with what takes place, is no longer necessary. Man's third center--the intellect--has offered him the chance of separating from levels and standing between them.

I say "standing between them" because consciousness has the possibility of standing within itself and seeing itself as separated from both the lower and the higher level.

I think this is an important point, because my consciousness is unable to understand the idea of any kind of consciousness without interpreting it from the perspective of my current identifications. That is to say, I think that if there is a higher level of consciousness, then I will experience that level of consciousness by identifying with it, becoming it, in exactly the same way that I am identified with this level and become this level. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Put in other terms, I believe that I can "own" this potential new level of awareness, that I can go out and get it, and then it will be "mine." This produces the error Huang Po was trying to point to: I "believe" there is a "thing" called "enlightenment," and that I can "attain" it.

This mistaken impression is an almost indelible feature of awareness on this, my ordinary, level, and there needs to be a very long and gentle process of seeing how this is not so, of gathering impressions, letting them penetrate, and sink into the deepest parts of the organism. As this takes place there is the possibility of eventually recognizing, with more than just the intellect, that something very different is possible: something so different, in fact, that it stands apart from my conceptions.

This long work of allowing parts other than the intellect to be penetrated by a different understanding is essential, because the possibility of transformation lies above all in the gradual awakening of these other parts, who also need to understand what the intellect has crudely grasped and mistakenly formulated, but in their own language and according to their own art of perception, which is much less confused that the intelligence. Both Jeanne De Salzmann's emphasis on sensation, and Gurdjieff's direction towards the awakening of conscience--parts within us which have not yet been badly damaged by the destructive distractions of everyday life-- are allusions to this process.

So, as I have pointed out before, every product of my awareness that strives to become something, every aspect of what I call my "wish," is a product of this level, an artifact--an artificial construction--that presumes an understanding, instead of having one.

Above all, perhaps, what escapes me is the essential understanding that I do not, will not, and cannot own the higher or the lower level of awareness. They are not properties made for me to covet; they are experiences I am designed to take in, impressions that the human organism evolved to receive. "I"--the experience of awareness itself-- must stand between these two levels in order to do the job it was assigned, not "become" one level or the other. This is what Gurdjieff meant when he explained that man's consciousness (along with the rest of organic life on earth) was a shock meant to to fill the interval between two notes--and not the notes themselves.

So everything I "think" about working is wrong. The process must be redirected, into places that are quieter, and less subject to my subjectivity.

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


Friday, September 4, 2009

Absolution

For the most part, in the midst of my mechanical manifestations--that sea of automatic actions and reactions I am usually immersed in--I think I am doing OK, one way or another. That is, my actions are meritorious, or at least neutral.

Of course, underlying this there is a perpetual sense--subtle but incontrovertible--that that isn't the case, but most of the time I manage to ignore this. We've come a long way from the religious sensibilities of the middle ages--and perhaps of catholicism in particular. So far that we no longer have any intellectual sense, let alone organic sense, that we are in a state of sin.

Not, mind you, in what one would call a state of badness. "Badness" is distinct from sin. When I say I am in a state of sin, what I mean is a lack. And this lack is so ubiquitous that it's quite difficult to put one's finger on its scale or scope.

So I am, in fact, usually supremely unaware of how I lack, or what I lack. That is, I may be aware intellectually, theoretically, but this is insufficient. In essence, what I lack is a "connection to the higher."

This is the phrase Jeanne DeSalzmann used; it seems generic to the causal observer, but it begins to mean something more and more specific to me as I grow older, and dig deeper into the kitchen-midden of my life.

There are times like today when that lack becomes all the more perceptible. I dropped my youngest child off at college yesterday afternoon--an emotional moment, to be sure, for anyone--and as I drove away I was deeply touched by the sense and aim of my life in general; the sensation of a lifetime of experiences of relationship with others; the overwhelming sensation, emotion and intelligence consequent to a seeing that I do not understand how to be present in relationship: whether to myself, to my child, or to any other.

The question, in short, of what it means to live.

Even this understanding itself is not born of any ordinary ability of my own to see; it can only come with help from above. It's only in the actual presence of the higher, only from within a hint of the Grace of God itself, that it becomes possible to see how one is simply not within that presence.

This morning I find myself at the kitchen table on the shores of a small lake in upstate New York. The lake is shrouded in fog; the haunting sounds of a flock of migrating Canada Geese come to us over the water, an archetypal echo of the ancient past, the roots we share with Great Nature. And once again... from within this rather ordinary mystery, which is anything but ordinary... and yet I stubbornly take it as ordinary... I return to a seeing of my lack, subtly spurred by a trickle of openness that gently reminds me of how disconnected I am within.

This anguishing realization, one might think, will inevitably spur me onwards, in an inner sense, towards an irrevocable commitment to dedicate myself more actively to my search. And yet it doesn't; I find myself falling back into sin, falling back into this state of forgetfulness, this state of lack of relationship, because of the simple and perhaps, now, terrifying realization of what Mr. Gurdjieff told us:

Man cannot do--

Which means something far more compelling, and alarming, that what it appears to mean on the face of things, when automatically and mechanically connected, within us, to the idea of what it's possible to achieve in day to day life.

Yes, perhaps it's only possible for me to begin to truly appreciate what this idea means when I divorce it from such mundane (and, frankly, egoistic) notions and attempt to understand it in the context of my inner life: most specifically, and above all, in the context of my wish for a connection to the Lord, and wish to serve, and what I myself am actually able to "do" in relationship to that.

It is only in the face of an inner nakedness, from within the acknowledgement of my own utter helplessness, that I begin to see what the saintly Ashieta Sheimash called "the terror of the situation": I am unable to bring about a relationship with God.

Instead, everything within me stands between my awareness and that Presence: all that is "me" prevents the real me, the wished-for me, which is an individual manifestation of the divine, from appearing. If self remembering is aimed at remembering any self, it is aimed at that self, not this self.

And so I seek absolution: deliverance from this state of iniquity, from this state of lack. The hope and faith that God will not abandon me in my perpetual hour of need and misunderstanding. That despite my lack, the possibility of help is always there.

In the third series--a series not often read in the present day--Gurdjieff reminds us that in ancient times, after a man died, on the third day after his death his friends gathered for the remembering day, in which all the bad deeds a man had done during his life were remembered. A peculiar ceremony to our sensibilities, perhaps: our habit, after all, being to extoll the virtues of the departed, usually in sheer defiance of how they actually were (for we are almost all the arrogant and vainglorious creatures of our egos, in the end.) Yet the ceremony makes sense to me, because in the moments of real remorse of conscience, when I do actually see my lack--as opposed to having knowing discussions about seeing my lack, which to the last word beggar the question (and the experience) of being driven to one's knees in desperate prayer--I see that iniquitiy, lack--yes, sin--define my relationship to the higher.

This is not to say that I step away from these experiences with an impulse to flagellation. Severity and self--disgust are appealing to the wishful ascetic, but they do nothing to bring me closer to what is higher in myself. In my own experience, only the effort to dwell more firmly and deeply within the organism; the effort to invest in the organic sense of Being, to rediscover the relationship and inhabit the very cells themselves-- and to continually come back to ponder, sense, and feel the lack of connection, the lack of relationship within me--can prepare any fertile soil for that mustard seed of hope which, Insh'Allah, may be planted in my breast and grow.

So today I awake and stand once more in front of this lack, understanding--and hoping--that the possibility, at least, of seeing how I am now is there--and that that possibility alone may lead to an opening in which something real may arrive, and something new be born in this unworthy soul.

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

Thursday, September 3, 2009

the bridge

I've been very busy this week, as my son goes to college tomorrow.

In lieu of a post this week, I have published a new novella entitled "The Bridge" on the Doremishock web site. It's a rather long read, so it couldn't be crammed into a blog posting.

This novella was originally intended as part of a novel I am working on, but is a stand-alone piece in its own right. Due to a metamorphosis in the format of the novel, it's no longer appropriate to the piece.

I chose to publish it on Doremishock rather than my creative site (compliquations) because its subject matter is appropriate to the venue.

Hopefully, readers will enjoy it.

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