Thursday, March 31, 2011

Presumptions

Lest one think that I am humorless–well, maybe I am, who knows?–I am going to be a bad boy in this post and say many naughty things.

Be forewarned.

I was reading a popular Buddhist magazine today–names will not be mentioned, in order to protect the innocent–and a number of things struck me.

First of all, the magazine was slick and beautiful. All the advertising photographs showed beautiful people in beautiful environments, meditating beautifully, with beautiful things beautifully organized, folded, and/or arranged on altars. It takes serious money to meditate like this, let me tell you. Go through the photos and add up the retail value of all the paraphernalia if you don't believe me.

Second of all, the magazine relies on "famous" Buddhists (the Dalai Lama is of course the ultimate celebrity, and nowadays mentioning him on the cover of Buddhist magazines is almost mandatory, in the same way that Cosmopolitan has to somehow mention sex on just about every cover) to spread the message. Hence my offhanded and cynical term for the whole deal, “celebrity Buddhism.” ( My apologies to all you Buddhists. I love you, and I subscribe to your magazines.)

Third, most of the essays (some of which, in my opinion, were pretty darn good) are positively filled with explanations and instructions. It's like this. It's like that. We are like this and like that, we need to do this and that.

All of this bothered me, especially coming from the Groovy Buddhists.

Where's the sense of mystery? The ineffable void? ...Maybe the ineffable void doesn't sell magazines. I daresay it's not part of an overall strategy for more effective living (which seems more or less to be the aim of today's Buddhism.) Think about it.

Then I began to wonder whether I am not guilty of the same didactic, explanatory type things, even though I don't have celebrities to put in my blog, or groovy photographs of groovy people meditating.

Am I jealous? Am I clueless? These thoughts occurred to me.

I suppose that the salient difference between what I consider to be active Gurdjieffian practice and all of this instructive, formula based text being laid out in other religious practices is our emphasis on questions.

Now, I will be quite frank with you. The emphasis on questions itself has become a formula. How often have we sat in rooms and heard people say “my question is...?" It becomes positively irritating after a while, at least for me. We also have the annoying habit of prevaricating with everything we say: the stock disclaimer before many statements is “it seems to me.” So we have our own formulas, habits. (It is an interesting exercise in awareness to sit in a group and intentionally try not to use any of these habitual phrases, but to find entirely new ways of saying things. Try it sometime.)

All this being said, I think the emphasis on questioning is ultimately a defensible one. We need to keep, I find, a constant question in front of us. The idea of perpetually wondering whether or not we know anything at all–seeing where we are right now–asking ourselves what is going on–this is an active stance.

I don't really know anything. I sling around opinions quite vigorously, but whenever I come up against reality–whatever little slice of it I can sense–I see that I don't really understand anything about it, I don't know anything, it's always new and quite unusual. For example, turning once again to what is right in front of me as I dictate this text–a motley assortment of gemstones, fossils, civil war buttons, and dried insects, all of which dwell under my computer monitor–every one of these objects has tremendous depth and dimension in terms of its existence, context, and line through time, which I routinely manage to edit out of my awareness.

I don't have enough questions about things, that is all there is to it. It's possible to question everything–and yet, instead, I bring a presumption to everything I do. And oh, how different the world does look, if I shed that presumption.

I've mentioned before that aesthetic has nothing to do with the object that is perceived, and everything to do with the perceiver. Art is an action, not a thing, and it is located in what sees, not the object itself. In the Western world, we mistakenly assign the value to the object. This turns art into a thing, and an answer. It is a formula, an instruction.

If we invert this relationship and see that it is in the perceiving that the art exists-- and above all, experience the receiving of the impression as a question, an open ended suggestion that creates a new possibility (isn't that the whole point of art, after all?) we discover that practice is a question. Aesthetic is a question. Art is a question.

The standardized formula for approaching spirituality seems to be to state a problem, analyze it, and come up with how one should be in relationship to it. Even Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann's teachings run their ship onto these rocks. Maybe there isn't any other way to do it–but maybe there is.

“Notes on the next attention” seems to manage it somehow. It's terribly practical, and it keeps asking questions about how I am right now, and what my relationship to myself and the energy in my body is. It reminds me powerfully of exactly the way that Henry and Betty Brown, who led our group for many years, asked us to approach inner work.

There are times when I think I need to throw out every other little piece of garbage and just try to come from there. There are no instruction manuals for that practice. There is just a work of presence.

And that is engendered by this simple act of questioning.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, March 28, 2011

establishing relationship


The question of establishing direction in work came up the other day.

This question of direction is interesting. As Chris McManus pointed out in his excellent book “right hand, left hand,” there isn't any absolute directionality in the universe. Up and down, North and South, left and right–all of these things are arbitrarily assigned relative to a presumably (but not actually) fixed location.

The problem with this question of directionality is that nothing is fixed–everything is constantly in motion. The only way that one can assign a direction is relative to something else.

As such, there is no directionality. There is only relationship. And it isn't a direction that we attempt to discover when we try to establish an inner work: it is a relationship. in this sense, my question is not, “where am I going?” but rather “what is my relationship?”

The difficulty is that I am not here. That's a question of location, not direction. I can't go anywhere if I can't Be in myself, and I do not know what Being is. Yes, after all these years, I have some inklings–there are experiences. The question of actual versus theoretical inner relationship may no longer be completely obscure. Yet in spite of this understanding, my work in this area remains largely theoretical.

I can't afford to flatter myself with the idea that my smidgen of understanding has lifted me above the theoretical realm. I need to come back myself again and again, all day long, seeking active relationship. The difficulty is that I am passive in regard to this question. There needs to be an intention in me to be actively related, and that intention is weak.

How can I be in myself? It is this question of being rooted, being firmly planted in life, with a flexibility, an intelligence, a freedom that does not depend on external circumstances. This is definitely possible, yet it calls on an action in me that I am not familiar with. I'm always forgetting it. There are times when I suddenly rediscover it–or, more properly put, it rediscovers me–and it is always a surprise. After all, this action is entirely natural, entirely right, and the birthright of the organism and of consciousness itself–yet I am not in relationship with it. I have forgotten what relationship is.

Some elucidation about the question of exactly what self remembering is can be discerned here. The rediscovery of relationship is self remembering. There isn't any self without relationship. It is the relationship that disappears–the relationship is what I do not understand, and what I do not in fact have. To be sure, I have established an ersatz relationship–a construction which substitutes for actual relationship, a machine that provides a set of automatic responses. But if I am ever truly present to what I am, I see that while I have a truly remarkable–miraculous–e ven amazing machine, the human element is missing.

I remind people of this often in relationship in ordinary life–I am dealing with a clerk, or a bureaucrat, or so on, and they are reciting the usual rules about how the regulations for the insurance company, bank, corporation, and so on and so forth, only allow a thing to be done in such and such a way, and I have to remind them that we are human beings. We don't have to apply cookie-cutter solutions to life. We have the freedom to make more constructive choices than the ones the machines provide for us.

It is increasingly important for us as human beings to come to this moment over and over again, because we live in a worldwide society that seems determined to crush humanity simply by applying various rules to it. Amazingly, most of this crushing is being done merely so that a mostly imaginary substance called “money” can be extracted from individuals.

It's surprising how comfortable we all are with that.

My direction-oriented thinking is perhaps another example of this transactional nature I often speak about. I want to go here, to go there, to get this, to get that. I don't see that I need to be here, just to be here. It isn't about getting from one point to another. It is about being within the point that I am at.

It is not that I abandon direction completely. What needs to happen is that it needs to be subordinated to an understanding of my inner location. If I am not here, I can't go anywhere. Only by establishing the root of my being, of where I am, can the question of any direction whatsoever be undertaken. Trying to understand direction without beginning at the root is like being lost in the forest and thinking that I know the way out, when in fact I'm not even sure where I am in the first place.

In a sense, my inner work is constantly taking stock of this question of location. It reminds me once again of that classic and internal question that my teacher and mentor Betty Brown so often used to pose:

What is the truth of this moment?

May our prayers be heard.

Friday, March 25, 2011

impressions from the field




As is so often the case, on a business trip, I discover myself re-examining all of the premises of my life, and the current state of my inner work.

Typically, I find that I can only write poetry when on trips. For some reason, the change in tempo, and the different surroundings–which, although they are different, are quite familiar to me in a certain way–opens up a part that can allow this process to take place. Windows onto such activity open sporadically at best, and they do not stay open long. So I write as much as possible when the material is flowing, and intentionally abstain in conditions when I see that it is not.

On this particular trip, I have also been reading “Notes on the Next Attention,” which is, in my experience, the best possible book currently available to describe–albeit in terms perhaps inaccessible to the general public–the current state of the Gurdjieff work today, as it has been directly transmitted. I want to stress this statement, “as it has been directly transmitted,” because there are so many third-party versions of the Fourth Way out in the world now that we might say we now have a fifth way, composed of all the bogus Fourth Ways.

Even though “Notes on the Next Attention” may seem to be simple, beautiful, flowing, and oddly disconnected from the majority of other work on the Gurdjieff practice, it is anything but. The material describes what is actually a rigorous and demanding practice, a practice of what one might call absolute attention, but an absolute attention that has no tense or punitive characteristics. This rigor and demand are entirely in keeping with, and flow directly from, the work that Mr. Gurdjieff brought.

And it is hardly a work for beginners, even though it describes a work that is, invariably, an eternal beginning.

The effort to be within life is an effort that I perpetually fall short in. Even my best attempts are fraught with deflection. There comes a time in one's work when one must see this and make one's peace with it: our souls cannot be driven into heaven at the point of a whip. There is a perpetual return to the moment in which one sees that a rigorous and demanding practice must also be gentle and loving.

Above all, I keep seeing that there is a need to inhabit life in a new way. It doesn't involve anything more than being in life. The direct experience of being in life, while maintaining a relationship with a new kind of attention, creates a great deal of energy for further work. Michel de Salzmann emphasizes this over and over again in his words, and, for anyone who understands at least the "first word" in the process, it is a verifiable proposition.

One of the strengths of this particular book is that it doesn't propose to sell any cosmologies, moralities, or give any instructions for how to conduct oneself or live. It begins and ends with the proposition that we must attend. Everything else follows this.

Stripping the practice down to this specific essential is a service. For the most part, we are too complicated to approach anything in this way. One feels nothing but gratitude for material that comes right down to the ground floor, and remind us that we are standing on it.

If we don't come into relationship with a finer energy, nothing else is possible. The only way to call this is with a better attention. Formulas are not going to do it; forms are not going to do it. There is a specific and directed inner effort that must be engaged in. It doesn't belong to a form or a formula. It doesn't belong to a method or cosmology. It belongs to itself, it arises from itself, and it feeds itself. Discovering the relationship and living within the experience are the form and the methodology.

If this sounds cryptic, I have to apologize. Real work is, after all, cryptic. It is encoded in languages that we do not speak fluently except with the body and the emotions, and it belongs to a level that is different than our own, rendering it as untouchable as the Tao.

It is impossible to come to these points of work by reading books and discussing things online. The only possibility is provided by going out into one's life and living it. Something new may happen; it will not be what I expect.

But it will represent a possibility.

May our prayers be heard.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The act of unknowing


Following on yesterday's discussion of form. I realize that no amount of intellectual analysis of this question, no amount of formulation, can truly address the compelling issues that face us when we actually conduct inner work.

Let me look at myself now–as I am. How am I?

Right now, to come to the question in an immediate, organic, and tangible manner–a manner that grows from sensation and feeling as well as thought–requires me to throw out any assumptions. The inquiry becomes immediate and does not have an answer. It is rooted in, invested in, the unformed experience of Being. I use the term unformed, because Being is forever unformed and always in the process of formation. It grows from the root of this moment into the root of this moment, and this moment is always unique.

It's possible to take this moment and compare it to past moments. This is possible because of our associative parts, and because all moments are in relationship to one another through law. Nonetheless, it may be misleading. Despite the relationship, the moment is indeed unique.

One of the great values of "The Reality of Being" is the emphasis placed on inhabiting this particular question. No matter how many discussions one might engage in on the exact nature of what Jeanne de Salzmann asks us to undertake–and to any astute reader, it is immediately clear that what she calls us to is a mystery to our ordinary state–one thing is certain, and that is that there is a call to a new kind of investment.

This word is specific to the requirement. Investment may mean, among other things, the wearing of clothing. The energy that we embody, the expression of energy that all matter embodies, is an investment–energy wears the "clothing" of matter. It doesn't really matter whether you are an atheist or a religious person–a circus clown or a scientist. This basic understanding is unavoidable and more or less inarguable.

The difference between reductionist views of the universe, of atheistic and scientific premises, and the premise of inner work, is that from the perspective of inner work, this investment is not indifferent--it carries with it a responsibility. That is, there is a call to experience the relationship actively, to understand that our interaction with it ought not be passive. Within the immediate context of this investment, consciousness carries with it both the ability and the responsibility to be present to it, to call it into question, to investigate it.

In other words, I am poised here within this body, engaging in sensation, experiencing thought, and investigating the question of feeling–seeking that subtle and higher force which can bring thought and sensation together in an emotional state that binds them.

This makes a new kind of awareness possible. But it is only through this investment that such a thing can be known. My inner work, in other words, must be tangible. It must be organic. It takes place in an unformed–a perpetually forming–set of conditions. While the conditions are lawful–they conform to the nature of this universe–they are unique and inexpressible onto themselves. One might say that it is exactly this inexpressible quality that we are called on to sense.

Of course we can't use the form we already understand to do that. We begin without that capacity. The capacity is not inherent–it can only appear with participation.

The word investment is a loaded word, because it also carries a transactional value. I have discussed before the importance of trying to discover an understanding that lies beyond the transactional–I get this, I give that–and enters this spontaneously experiential state which we are discussing.

Nonetheless, investment also means to save something–to take value and accrue it, so that it grows. In this particular sense, the sense of growth, the idea of investment in my inner life is equally compelling, because I am feeding something when I invest in myself. I am not feeding the coarse material of my cells, but the finer material of what religions call my soul.

Of course this is controversial. The word soul is bandied about endlessly, used reflexively and mechanically by religious people as though were it were a defaulted and obvious property, and ridiculed by areligious people as an unproven–perhaps even imaginary–entity. But the soul is not so intangible. It already dwells within the actual finer energy that suffuses and penetrates every human being. It can certainly be sensed–it is a tangible force, if one understands the question properly. And it can be squandered or invested in, as one chooses. The outward movement of my attention without any containment is that squandering. The inward movement of my attention, which brings a measure of containment, begins the process of investment.

However, every investor knows that if the money just sits in the bank forever, there is no point to the investment. There are well-known parables about this in the New Testament.

It is the interaction between the investment and the real world that is the whole point of the action. This means that there has to be a balance. I can't just pile up experience, sensation, an investment in my inner life, and sit on it smugly thinking that I have achieved something. I must bring this material into contact with the external world. That is the responsibility of my consciousness, which is supposed to be actively engaged in, and mediating, this process.

A failure to understand this question of investment and value as an interactive process between the finer material of inner experience and the coarser material of outer experience leads, in mankind, to a mistaken valuation in which all value is assigned to an external action. The attempt to build up value in the external world was clearly addressed by Christ when he advised man as to where one should "lay one's treasure up." Our one-sided assignment of value to an external action inevitably leads to destruction, because without the counterweight of inner understanding, value has velocity, but lacks direction--it runs into things and smashes them.

Instead of attempting to inhabit an inner or outer argument of form, or no form, I am offered the opportunity to participate, in the presence of an active question, and the absence of my assumptions. One just doesn't know where that will lead. And perhaps that is, after all, a point of work–

the intentional act of unknowing.
May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Formless forms, and mushianism


I'm on the road again, travelling in China. As always, the change of surroundings has provoked new impressions, a change in tempo.

Before I left the USA, I picked up a copy of "Notes on The Next Attention" by Fran Shaw. I very highly recommend this book to all readers. It carries the authentic flavor of inner work as it's practised today... a book, if you will, "outside the realm of books." It's an essential companion to "The Reality Of Being," since it traces the direction forward from Jeanne De Salzmann's work into the present. It's a breath of fresh air for those interested in "non-technical" Gurdjieffian practice, and a taste of where we are if we are willing, for a moment, to allow ourselves the freedom to throw away the book "In Search Of The Miraculous" and actually engage in a search for the miraculous.

It's in there.

This leads me into a subject I have been pondering for some weeks- that is, the question of form. The tension between form and "no-form" continually arises, as we walk the line between effort- all of which is attached to form of one kind or another, struggle as we may to free ourselves from that web- existence, which clearly has a form (although that form itself is creative and ever-evolving, mediated through the direct experience of life)- and the unknown, which is inherently formless.

So here is my own formulation to define the territory between form and the abandonment of form:

Effort leads us through experience, and into the unknown.

That is, essentially, how the game plays itself out, inwardly and outwardly. n'est ce pas? I'm reminded of how Persian fairly tales might state it: "once upon a time, there was a form, and there wasn't a form."

Perhaps we can understand the idea of form and its place (or lack of place) a bit better by understanding form in terms of levels.

Our own form, as we are, on this level, both inwardly and outwardly, takes on a shape defined (as Gurdjieff explained it) by forty-eight laws. So there must be a lawful form and order according to level: if there truly were no form, there could be no universe. One must recognize here that a complete lack of form would require us to throw away every conceivable cosmology, including Gurdjieff's, and propose a universe of pure mush. Mushianism, if you will. Bliss-filled mush, perhaps, but mush nonetheless.

For those of us who don't believe in Mushianism, a working proposition might be as follows: form is an emergent property of level- that is, the convergence of the laws applying to a particular level (for the level "above" us, for example, twenty-four laws) create the form for that level. Levels are separated by a divergence of form: what that means is that the form we dwell in within our own level is not capable of recognizing, understanding or digesting the form of the levels above us.

This means, in essence, that for any Being, on any given level, a relationship with a higher level involves a relationship with a higher level of form which cannot be recognized: hence, for all intents and purposes, the level above us is "formless." That is to say, it is incomprehensible to us as we are.

That doesn't mean it does not exist: it only means that it isn't accessible to us. Only by abandoning all of our formed assumptions about it might it become possible to leave an inner opening that might allow a new degree of contact.

Is this information at all practical? Hints of it abound. Today I was driving from Shanghai to Nantong, and saw a man selling oranges from a cart. For one second, somehow, I was touched by this impression in parts that canot be described or redacted: no analysis applies. All I can say is that I saw this man, these oranges, in such a way that it transcended all my assumptions about the form of this level. It was filled with content that does not exist; it carried vibrations, information, feeling that does not fit into our usual context. And indeed, all legitimate religious experience falls into this category: the transcendence of form, of this order, so that a NEW order may be perceived.

All of that from the most ordinary events- which are, indeed, absolute embodiments of the divine.

It isn't disordered. It isn't formless. The abandonment of form actually involves embracing an entirely new form: formless relative to the form we know, yes, yet very fully formed indeed.

At the risk of sounding a good bit too clever: as Christ put it, new wine must go in new bottles;

but there are still bottles.

May our prayers be heard.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On the Origins of Life

Everyone who reads in this space is well aware of the fact that I am a firm supporter and devoted follower of the work principles that Jeanne DeSalzmann brought to us when she carried on in Gurdjieff's footsteps. She was, however, intensely focused on the practical aspects of inner work–as perhaps she should have been. We don't see evidence from her of an interest in the sciences on the same order as what Gurdjieff brought.

Once again, this doesn't seem remarkable–they were different people. However, in light of Gurdjieff's instruction, in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson to engage in “the constant striving to know ever more and more about the laws of world creation and world maintenance,” which he cited as the third "obligolnian striving," it would appear we have an equal obligation to study the material principles of the outside world as well.

This brings us to the subject of today's post, which is about discovery of fossils which provide the strongest evidence yet that life did not originally evolve on earth, but elsewhere, and that it arrived here in meteorites. This particular theory, which has been accepted as one of the potential correct explanations for the origin of life by biologists, is referred to as panspermia.

This theory, which majority opinion rejects, finds considerable support because of evidence that life appears so early in the fossil record on this planet. The planet is considered to be somewhere on the order of 4 billion years old, but at 3 1/2 billion years, there are already strong fossil evidences of stromatolites- structures formed by cyanobacteria, organisms that are still alive today and are indubitably DNA-based lifeforms.

What makes this meaningful is that the DNA molecule is a highly sophisticated molecule. It has clearly undergone millennia of evolutionary pressure in order to reach the state we meet it in today--and the evidence of fossil and contemporary stromatolites shows that it had already undergone that evolution by the time it first showed up here on earth.

The odds of that type of evolutionary pressure and development taking place on early Earth, where we know conditions were almost certainly inimical to life (nothing, after all, can spring to life on a flaming ball of lava and boiling steam) are very nearly zero. Prominent paleontologist Simon Conway Morris explained this in considerable detail in his fine book “Life's Solutions.”

Despite this (to me) rather compelling argument, this explanation for where life on earth originally came from is not currently in the mainstream.

Nonetheless, this particular article in the New York Times about evidence for alien life in meteorites appears to provide hard evidence supporting the theory. The evidence is not ephemeral; it's detailed, and there is a good deal of it. Anyone interested in examining the original journal publication for all the details can look here.

The significance of this discovery is that the life in the meteorites is not, in fact, alien at all. It appears to be evidence for cyanobacteria–one of the earliest forms of life on earth. In other words, it is exactly the kind of life that would have seeded the planet, if anything did.

The significance of this discovery, if it is indeed the real thing, cannot be understated. Gurdjieff explains that life is ubiquitous, that is, it occurs all over the universe. He furthermore claims that life shares the same types of forms over the whole universe–that is, three brained beings, or animals with emotional, intellectual, and physical capacities exist everywhere, and that even other life forms familiar to us, such as wheat, are common to all planets with life.

Those who scoff at such ideas and think that aliens would adopt radically different forms would do well to read Morris's book. it simply and almost definitely is not the case, despite what all the science fiction movies you have seen would tell us. Morris explains rather neatly how very narrowly constrained the paths of DNA-based evolution actually are, and why we see almost identical life forms arise again and again because of that.

Not only does this discovery and its ramifications underscore my impression that Gurdjieff was a scientifically minded man, as well as a spiritual master–making him without any doubt unusual within the context of his vocation–it also offers a perspective that once and for all eliminates any narcissistic idea about man being special or unique. This particular foible of mankind was one that Beelzebub mercilessly and repeatedly laid waste to throughout the course of his conversations with his grandson Hassein.

Now, perhaps, are we are finally invited to join the rest of the universe, and admit that we are part of it, not some special case or exception with unique or magical abilities, whether they be scientific or metaphysical? We'll see.

It's unlikely, of course, that mankind will acquire any humility as a result of this. But those of us engaged in spiritual work may, perhaps, feel just a bit more of a connection with this vast enterprise we call a universe--

and pause with even deeper questions inside of us at night when we look up at the stars.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Relationship, Duty, and Understanding

I'm don't understand the nature of relationship.

Yet I see today that it is my duty to understand the nature of relationship.

Maybe that sounds odd, so I'll try to explain.

My failure to understand relationship causes everyone around me to suffer. I manifest in one way or another, in other words, and everyone else is affected by it. They have to tolerate it, experience it, and deal with the consequences. Thus, if my actions are born of ignorance, are unconsidered, and lack discrimination, everyone around me has to pay for them.

Of course, I think I am the one who has to pay–one way or the other, good or bad. How I affect other people isn't necessarily a question for me... it is, course, if I want something from them; but this attitude is a consequence of my transactional approach to life.

The word relationship means the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected. So I see it as my duty–my obligation–to understand how I am connected to the world. Ever since I was a small child, I have had an instinctive and organic desire to understand how I am connected to this phenomenon I experience, called life. It's not a mystical calling; it's an active, living question.

This particular instinctive and organic desire finds its expression in human beings in ten thousand ways. Most of them are outward and mechanical, automatic– sense-driven, centered around transaction and extraction-- because of the childish ego: everything is me, me, mine. There are, nonetheless, forces in man that can cause a man to see, with a sense of wonder, that the questions are much larger than this.

Above all, the sense of wonder, of mystery, derives from an awareness of Being. Despite the weirdly "technological" sense of inner work that P. D. Ouspensky ultimately derived from his study with Gurdjieff, the tangible ground-floor of the Fourth Way, of inner work as Gurdjieff proposed it, has always been a tactile and human affair.

It's about being in this body, sensing it: pondering, as Gurdjieff said, the sense and aim of one's existence.

Last night, at 11:00 PM, I sat in bed doing nothing. Uncharacteristically, I didn't have a book out; I wasn't using my iPad; the television was turned off. My wife asked me what I was doing. She couldn't understand why I was just lying there that late at night, doing nothing.

I wasn't doing "nothing." I was actively engaged in this task of pondering the sense and aim of existence. It involved being still, and actively sensing the organism.

Rather more of this is owed to one's life than one gives, and yet, it appears as though nothing is being "done" when one works on this.

The question of the sense of existence–what is it? Why does it even matter?–and its aim–in what direction is it going?–seem to me to be intimately connected to this question of relationship, which is a duty, and requires understanding. There don't seem to be any clear answers to this. I simply found myself trying to have an experience of life, as it was. To be in relationship with myself–to try to discover what it means to be connected to myself.

The question of what life means arises in the act of the sensation of the self. It does not need to be answered: it needs to be experienced. This doesn't involve any outward doing. it involves beginning where I am.

If I don't understand how to discover an inner relationship, it strikes me, there's no point in exploring the question of outer relationships. How can I know the nature of where things “end”–outside me–if I don't know the nature of where they begin? It's the nature of this beginning–of the root experience of life itself, which either does-- or does not-- have that unique, elusive, and mysterious quality called “Being”-- that I need to understand first. That's why I am in a practice that asks me to perform seemingly technical tasks like “self observation” and “self remembering.”

These tasks are, I think, profoundly and frequently misunderstood. In my experience, they aren't technical: they're not on the order of observing and cataloging. They are on the order of experiencing and encountering.

Until these actions become a tangible, physical, intelligible, and emotional experience, they are just thoughts. It is the actual inhabitation of life, the insertion of the self and of Being into the definite and real immediate moment of inward and outward motion, that fosters an understanding of what these tasks mean. There's nothing technical or dry about them. They aren't about lists or judgment. They are simply about living. From where I am, it looks to me like I know how to live–but that simply isn't the case. When I begin to look, I see that I don't know. I have instead a set of rote formulations that I try to apply to an unformulated movement.

It's my duty–my obligation–to live. I have a responsibility to it: there is an organic need to act within the context of discrimination, not outwardly imposed moralities (although those are, of course, not all bad, and should not perhaps be utterly abandoned) but a lively inward sensitivity. In order to do this, there needs to be a bit more awareness and attention than I usually apply.

Jeanne de Salzmann repeatedly spoke of asking us to see our “lack.” This is a big thing. What do I lack? What does that mean? Circling the question–in orbit around it, so to speak, but unable at this moment to penetrate directly into its heart, to let the gravity of the question pull me into it–I sense a taste of a lack of relationship, a lack of understanding.

I don't see the connection.

In the midst of all of this work, attempting to understand what I am, I am continually visited by the impression of a deep and graceful love, supporting every effort, mercifully, and unconditionally, without regard for my fallen state or my separation.

This deep and graceful love is not a theoretical or imaginary force. It is spun into the very thread of the universe itself–the carpet of reality is woven from it. How strange that I do not always sense it; how strange that it cares not how little I care for it; how strange that I am unable to open myself to it in the way that seems so absolutely necessary.

How strange that I so consistently betray it.

Ah, yes... here I have arrived at the end of yet another of my rather personal pieces, which asks so many questions, and may even seem obscure.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An intimate action

It's all very well to talk about cosmological theories, an endless sea of bliss and love that awaits us all, the unity of all things, and so on. I'm all for it... sometimes.

Perhaps my own difficulty with these well-meaning spiritual cheerleading activities is that they don't necessarily give me much insight into where I am, and how I am.

My aspirations and intuitions, which do legitimately seek, and perhaps even touch on, levels higher than myself, inevitably end up colliding with what I face in external life.

There's a story from Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism that comes to mind:

“Marpa was very upset when his son was killed, and one of his disciples said, “You used to tell us that everything is an illusion. How about the death of your son? Isn't it an illusion?” And Marpa replied, “True, but my son's death is a super-illusion.” (Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism," The Guru," Page 41, Shambhala publications, 2003.)

Perhaps one of the most compelling features in Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann's teachings is the insistence that we do indeed inhabit this level; that we are subject to its laws, and that above all, we must become grounded in our humanity--not don white robes and float. (Trungpa's other comments about Marpa stress the fact that an earthy humanness characterized his practice.) There is a comment in Lord Pentland's Exchanges Within in which he points out to a questioner that if you are not born with the 32 signs of Buddhahood, you are unlikely to become a Buddha.

So here I am. This is the reality. There is an inner and outer life; there is an intersection. But, as Jeanne de Salzmann repeatedly points out, I am “taken.” That is, outer life dominates me, and under ordinary circumstances, my reactions to it–all of which tend to be associative and reactionary–determine everything that is possible for me.

I have no freedom from external events. They rule me.

It's quite important to study this question right now, because I think we all recognize that external events are, so to speak, “worse than usual.” That is to say, planetary conditions are deteriorating, the psyche and physical surroundings of mankind are not in healthy shape, and it is affecting almost everyone in one way or another. I want to “do” something, but the simple fact of the matter–as Gurdjieff explained it–is that on this scale, I can't really affect anything. The events that are taking place are in accordance with the development level of mankind at large, as it currently stands. No individual at my level, at our level, can really make a decisive difference. (Now, maybe some of you out there think you can–if so, bravo. I hope you are right!)

The situation calls the question of aim, of inner conditions, of what work means, into the spotlight. What am I working for? Am I trying to save myself? The planet? Do I want to arrange outer conditions so that they are better, or do I want to rearrange inner conditions so that they correspond to reality, rather than my own visions, dreams, and fantasies? There are a lot of choices open to me here. Almost all of them are ambitious. Few of them are achievable in my present state. I recall here my own teacher Betty Brown asserting, towards the end of her life, that we were somewhat arrogant to presume we could achieve anything. This little video of the relative size of things may help put us in perspective.


Think that one over for a while.

Aside from the obvious dangers of living with delusions about how much power I may have over the external world, there is an ongoing danger of mixing levels. That is, I misunderstand the nature of inner work, and I begin to believe that somehow it is there to fix what is outside me–or even that I can "fix" something that is outside me. The idea, of course, is laughable–if I am truly working, I quickly see that I can't fix anything inside me, let alone outside, even the smallest thing.

I have no authority. To turn yesterday's analogy from Dogen on its head, I am sitting adrift in a boat without any oars... and I have filled it up with mountain climbing equipment.

In my current condition, I have no freedom. A new inner order–a new alignment-- might offer the possibility of freedom, but it involves changes in the way that my machine works, such subtle and profound changes that they are actually beyond my immediate understanding in any ordinary moment. It falls, in fact, under the comment that Gurdjieff once made to Ouspensky: “for one thing be different, everything would have to be different.”

So everything in me has to be different. And all of this depends on my permeability, my willingness to surrender, my openness to a finer quality of attention, which doesn't belong to me.

My ordinary attention and my ordinary mind are unable to conceive of such an attention. Well, perhaps that's not fair: I can conceive of it, but only within the context of my ordinary attention and my ordinary mind. The fundamental paradigm of understanding, in other words, is flawed from the outset.

Above all, as the external world continues to deliver one blow after another–and they are falling everywhere, on everyone–the essential task is to realign the inner mechanism so that it can receive something more real. Without this, my Being is all soft tissue–no backbone, every impact damages me, and I am perpetually in reaction. Only by working can I create a stillness that might receive something to strengthen my Being. Of course, it's quite difficult for me to see this. I can talk about it; I can write about it. But the living, intimate action that is required–well, this is mysterious, and I am prone to ignore it most of the time.

Readers who read through the material on solioonensius earlier this week may have noticed that Mr. Gurdjieff said the process has the potential of affecting us such that “the need for evolving, in the sense of acquiring Objective Reason, increases... by itself.”

Translated, I would suggest that what we are being told is that the energy that is sent during such periods supports our wish.

Since my wish is generally weak–often so weak that I cannot even find it in myself–periods like this one represent extraordinary opportunities.

Above all, I feel the need to study the question of seeking help, of becoming more open to a finer quality, as a reality–not a theory.

There are forces that act within me which clearly touch on this direction. I'm not in a proper relationship with them. A more intimate action is required. How can I become more sensitive to that?

May our prayers be heard.