Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Forgiveness


Because we lack understanding, yet think we understand, we aren't capable of the first step towards understanding without help.

Life is a fundamental mystery which presents itself as an understandable fact. Our superficial relationship to it prevents us from moving any further than the surface of our experience. So while we think we see things clearly, we are unable to see anything clearly.

Let us take, for example, our lack: our sin, our insufficiency, the measurement of the distance between what is right for a man, for a woman, for a human being, and where we actually are in this mess we have made of our lives. Make no mistake about it: everyone is in a mess, even the ones who don't seem to be in a mess. This insufficiency is a fundamental condition: it is already known to God, it is, in point of fact, the exact condition that man is born into, because he has no chance of discovering what he is and seeing himself if he is not born within this insufficiency and does not exist throughout his life within his own insufficiency.

We are here to see this insufficiency.

Our sinfulness is already well known to God and is a precondition of our birth. It is not a punishment or a failure; it is a requirement and a need. We are given this life and the exact nature of this life as it is for each of us as a gift. It is a merciful and loving gift, meant to edify us and feed our souls. No matter how awful or difficult–no matter how wonderful or joyful–it seems, it is there as a merciful and loving gift. A three- centered perception of life can make this clear in a single instant.

Because of the infinite mercy of the Lord, our sinfulness is already forgiven. This covenant existed before Jesus Christ visited the planet, but mankind has never properly understood either the condition or the forgiveness. Christ's appearance was necessary in order to make this message explicit, rather than implicit. So few men are able to receive a correct impression of this question that a definitive statement was necessary. Christ was not bringing a new condition for the forgiveness of sins of the planet; like God, who was embodied in Christ, the conditions of mercy and forgiveness are eternal, and not limited to moments of revelation.They are not part of a barter system which we have the privilege of buying into if we behave properly.

Part of our insufficiency is our lack of trust in the higher. We know we are untrustworthy–this is part of our own insufficiency. We therefore think that God is untrustworthy, and we don't trust His Endlessness the Lord to be merciful or forgive our sins. We think that somehow God is like us–fallen–when in fact this is quite impossible. Because God is not fallen, mercy is already infinite, forgiveness is already infinite, and there is actually no requirement for us to ask for forgiveness of our sins.

I know this seems peculiar, but it is an established fact. When we pray for forgiveness of our sins, if we do so thinking that we must actually ask God to forgive, we are mistaken. God, in his infinite intelligence, infinite grace, and infinite mercy, has already forgiven us. In a certain sense, although it is incumbent upon us to try and rise above our sin, there is no sin in sin. One might equally say that there is no lack in our lack; in the infinite realm of the Dharma, all things are perfect and all things are included. I know this seems to be mixing metaphors between Buddhism and Christianity, but there actually can be no mixture, because there is no separation.

What we seek to do as we conduct our inner confessional is to forgive ourselves, because we are without understanding; we indulge in our own fallen nature, and we don't trust God. There is, in fact, no absolute need to petition the Lord. There is indeed a need to worship; petition is however unnecessary, because God already knows all that is needed for us, and has already given it to us. There is no perception of a progression from here to there, from bad to good or from good back to bad, from sinfulness to unsinfulness, on the part of the Divine. Everything is part of one whole, and our nature, both before, during, and after this moment, are all completely embodied in one whole. That whole was created by God and although it exists within the limited realm of our own consciousness as a distinct entity, it cannot in fact ever be separated from its origin, which is in God.

Insights into this particular set of questions about the nature of man and of our existence are difficult to write about and convey. Understanding on this point is a single whole thing within an organism, but it becomes fragmented the instant it is expressed in words and is much more difficult if not impossible to understand. This is because the understanding can only come through a whole insight, arising from the participation of all of our parts.

It's quite important to turns towards this question of a lack of trust, because this lack of trust lies at the heart of all the dilemmas we face as we ask ourselves the questions we ask when we search.

Everything in us hinges on this.

may our prayers be heard.




Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ten thousand times


One of the guilty pleasures (if there are any) in presiding over an operation like this blog is the occasional opportunity to just muse to oneself, out loud, in the privacy of one's own hotel room (or wherever,) about whatever one is pondering at the moment. One begins in a particular place: one does not know where one will go. The flow of associations weaves together a new and unexpected story, unlike anything that might have been planned in the midst of the usual wiseacring.

Sometimes it produces material of a certain quality; sometimes, it doesn't. It is taking the chance that matters. The fisherman never knows whether the fish will bite; but he has to put a line in the water and risk failure if he ever wants to catch fish.

Looking out over the densely packed skyline of Shanghai, out across the river to Pudong, over the tops of the hundreds--nay, thousands-- of skyscrapers that have been erected over the last 20 years in this city, I see shreds of green–a few trees, a few parks. Really, hardly anything natural.

This stands in stark contrast to the neighborhood where I live in the United States, on the banks of the Hudson River. There, I'm surrounded by trees and nature–nature, to be sure, with plenty of development, and sadly affected by man, but nature nonetheless.

The difference between these two environments reminds me of how impoverished this planet becomes as we develop it more and more. We don't sense that we are actively destroying the environment that we are supposed to be taking in impressions of.

The nature of the human organism and of the human psyche is such that it's designed to be in direct relationship with nature. The organic roots of consciousness cannot feed themselves properly when nature is sterilized and removed. It seems that man's sense of himself has become so deadened that he is unable to realize what this is doing to him. It engenders a pathology that leads us headlong into ever greater destruction of what we need the most.

Our lack of a three centered relationship within ourselves actively removes the possibility of having a feeling relationship with life. It is well within the range of man's possible experience to have an immediate understanding of the enormous blessings we have been given in our lives, an immediate understanding that is three centered–not just a sentiment, not just a thought, not just a rush of physical pleasure. Without inner encounters on the order of this three centered experience, it is impossible for us to begin to develop a perspective on what life is and why it is valuable.

Our Being needs to become rooted in sensation, rooted in nature, rooted in relationship. This is not a metaphorical premise. We need to quite literally grow roots within ourselves that connect the parts. They are physical roots, not an imaginary structure or a set of thoughts that appear to link things. These roots can't grow if impressions don't come in in a right way; these roots can't grow if we continue to constantly feed ourselves an overload of impressions consisting of quantity rather than quality. It is better, in fact, to do nothing at all than to do things which do not feed us in the right way.

(It may sound like a paradox, but that doesn't mean that being fed in the right way involves endless discrimination about what we expose ourselves to. In the same way that Gurdjieff's carriage was meant to travel over uneven and even rocky roads in order to be properly lubricated, we are designed to encounter a wide range of impressions–even the ones that aren't so good for us–and be able to respond to them and correspond to them in a meaningful way. One might even surmise that it is our correspondence to the "worst" kind of impressions–those which are apparently least edifying for us–that offer us the greatest opportunity. The reader will have to decide for themselves on that issue.)

An attendance to sensation and to these roots is where a real inner work might begin. My sensation must become much more active, so active that it supports my effort. I can't force it to do that; years of work are required in order to create a depth of patience and stillness that can make enough room for real sensation to become permanently active--a living thing--, rather than passive, as it almost invariably is.

Even then, it does not at all have enough intelligence without the support of my mind–my active attention–to help create a nurturing environment for the appearance of feeling. That also requires years of preparation, and a devotion to prayer which is little understood and even less practiced. Such practice is indispensable, because it is categorically impossible for a man to by himself create the conditions necessary for the beginning of inner unification without help from a higher place.

All of the religions and all of the ancient practices well understood the need for this kind of devotional prayer. It would seem that despite its central role in Gurdjieff's Work, in the form of hesychastic practices such as the "Lord have mercy" prayer, and numerous sacred movements, the understanding of the need for this kind of work is rather limited. An extraordinary amount of devotion and surrender is required. I say extraordinary, because nothing ordinary can suffice in this area, that is, nothing that comes from this particular order–the level we are on.

It is the recognition of that insufficiency alone that can suffice. Hence Jeanne de Salzmann's admonition to us to "stay in front of the lack."

Walking through the park here in Shanghai this morning, watching the elderly do their tai chi exercises, it struck me that there are all kinds of wisdom. There is every kind of depth of being and personality.

But there is only one way to share in the sorrow of the Lord, and (in a certain sense) only one kind of prayer, in the end, that acknowledges what we are and where we are.

The entire book of Ecclesiastes was written in order to make this point.

The depth of the physical and emotional relationship that is necessary in man is barely understood. This work calls me, at the very least, to see that I barely understand.

And I need to see that ten thousand times.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

what's the alternative?


In a book as large, as long, and as complex as Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, it's inevitable that no matter how much data about the book one absorbs, very little of it is present in one's immediate consciousness at any given time. It's easy for interesting details to sink into the subconscious and be forgotten for decades, until they surface again when one is reading the book and realizes that it says things which are either no longer discussed, or have been paved over by today's perceptions of the book.

One typical example of this is the idea that the book should not be analyzed. I myself have gradually been converted to this school of "thought;" yet, it's indubitably true that Gurdjieff's instructions to the reader specifically advised us to, as he put it, "try to fathom the gist of my writings." The opposing schools of, ahem, thought on this subject propose, so far as I know, no reconciling premises for us to ponder.

Putting aside for the moment the dilemma of whether or not this book should be treated the same way fundamentalists treat a Bible--that is, read aloud, but never actively questioned--for today, I'm going to take the position that there is no great harm in discussing a few salient points.

I have become accustomed, in my many years of studying the Gurdjieff ideas, to hearing the idea of associative thought being discussed as somehow inferior or undesirable; a lower quality of man which is not worthy of consideration as a "real" form of thinking, or, as Gurdjieff would have called it, "being mentation." Imagine my consternation, then, to come across the passage in the chapter "the arousing of thought" in which he states that "the process of mentation of every creature, especially man, flows exclusively in accordance with this law." (The law of associations.)

There is not a lot of wiggle room in that proposition.

He goes on, furthermore, to divide mentation into two separate types, mentation by thought, which consists of words, "always possessing a relative meaning," and mentation by form, which can be reasonably interpreted and understood as mentation by symbolism or imagery. In his discussion of mentation by form, he makes it quite clear that as with the first kind of mentation (mentation by thought or words) the process is, in a nutshell, entirely subjective--although one senses a hint of the idea that he thinks this form of mentation has a slight edge over the words.

Mr. Gurdjieff does not, in this succinct analysis, get into the thorny question of how one might transcend said process in order to engage in objective being mentation, even though an effort to engage in precisely that type of thinking preoccupies the greater portion of all the text that follows–more than 1000 pages of it. His opening shots do, however, firmly place us within what appears to be an inescapable sea of subjective thought processes.

Gurdjieff's approach to overcoming this problem is decidedly Jungian in character. He explains that using mentation by form, "the exact meaning of all writing should be perceived and then assimilated after conscious confrontation with information previously acquired," that is, by what one might call a type of inner visualization.

It is fairly clear that the entire balance of the book forms itself around a set of circumstances, events, and ideas specifically designed to feed a process of mentation by form. He is furthermore clear in indicating that he considers the subconscious to be the only "undamaged" portion of the human psyche, ergo, the book is (hopefully) designed in order to "sink in" to the reader, magically bypassing his "damaged" conscious thought process, and acting in the uncontaminated Jungian world of the subconscious, or perhaps, if you will, the collective unconscious, which lurks offstage in one way or another throughout much of the book.

Pondering this, it occurs to me that Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson does not, as some would have it, fall outside and above all conventional literary genres. It can be understood as a highly sophisticated and philosophically based form of magical realism.

I expect this statement will not sit well with those who are dogmatically determined to make this book a sacred text (thereby themselves magically bypassing Gurdjieff's demands to us that we question and verify everything for ourself.) I think, however, that to call the book a form of "magical realism with an aim" may actually enhance our understanding of it.

As with all other books in the Gurdjieffian canon, including the most recently published ones, it is highly dangerous to proclaim or pretend that the material is so special or different that nothing like it has ever gone before, or that it sets itself apart and above the rest of the world. All books are firmly set within this world, and we need to understand them as such. They are books. Not the living, breathing influence of our teachers, which can only be carried forward by the interaction of living, breathing individuals–not flimsy sheets of paper with ink marks on them. Not only that, those who claim that Gurdjieffian insights (be they from the Master himself, or his formidable pupils) have no precedent can only do so in sheer defiance of the facts, along with an ignorance, intentional or unintentional, of the vast body of obviously related work by other teachings and Masters.

I have now wandered marginally off the subject of mentation and form, which was my original interest here. It's clear enough from the statements in the opening chapter that Gurdjieff considers associative thinking to be the inescapably lawful foundation of all mentation, both in animals and man. He does not, in this chapter, allude to an alternative. If we wanted to extrapolate, we might allow for the fact that in his exposé of the idea of higher centers as expounded to P.D. Ouspensky, there might be a deus ex machina that descends from above to relieve us of our subjectivity. That is, indeed, the premise of sacred work itself in a nutshell, and one might suggest that Gurdjieff invoked just such a principal in his invention of Beelzebub as the protagonist of his philosophies.

Be that as it may, aside from what we call "enlightenment," we are left with no alternative to our subjectivity, and everything we examine–using words or images–is mired in this difficulty of subjective form. Gurdjieff outsourced the transcendental mechanisms that might overcome this difficulty in inaccessible areas–he "buried the bone;" Beelzebub marches boldly across page after page with his grandson on a journey directed exclusively towards our unconscious parts; the Gurdjieff- de Hartmann music somehow manages to tonally invoke distant landscapes and journeys into the unknown; the movements confront us with unfamiliar forms that refuse to be codified in any conventional manner. In the same way that Christ's teachings attempt to sidestep our ordinary mind and magically speak to the deepest and most mysterious parts of our being, the entire Gurdjieff work was constructed as a parable.

How this might lead us all to "objective" being mentation remains a mystery. Even if we have an objective thought, it has no choice but to express itself within the context of this subjective associative flow of words and forms that is engendered in, and emerges from, all of us.

Perhaps the greatest danger we face is the inner danger of deluding ourselves into presuming that our thoughts or actions are in any way objective. As Meister Eckhart would have it, only the Will of the absolute–the Will of God–has an objective property,

and I think we can agree that as we are, we are all far away from any inner expression of that Will.

May our prayers be heard.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cooperation versus Tyranny


Tonight I find myself in Seoul, Korea, launched on yet another business trip in Asia.


I've been engaged in reading three wildly different books over the past week, Super Cooperators by Martin Nowak, Taming Your Inner Tyrant, by Patty Llosa, and To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild. All three books, by the way, are highly recommended, although it is unlikely all three of them together will suit any single taste in reading. Nonetheless, for intrepid souls, I suggest you pick up all three, read them, and while doing so, try to follow the train of thought I am about to develop below.


It probably seems odd to suggest there might be a connecting thread tying together a book on evolutionary biology, a book on Jungian psychology and inner development, and a book on the first world war. Nonetheless, diversity itself sometimes provides the most unexpected connections.


Nowak proposes, rather convincingly, that cooperation is an essential feature in biological systems, and that situations where organisms form partnerships of cooperation frequently generate superior conditions for survival over those that engage in straight-out competition. One of the overarching principles Nowak has uncovered during his research is that in real-world situations, systems composed of many parts (i.e., displaying greater diversity) deliver bigger payoffs for cooperating organisms.


Patty Llosa offers us a candid, insightful, and in the end extraordinarily brave and touching account of her lifelong effort to reconcile the many different personas (or, as Gurdjieff might say, "I"'s) that inhabit her life. Exploring a wide range of Jungian techniques, and gradually discovering the inner courage required to engage in a dialogue with these different parts, she leads us down a path where we see that what appear to be inner "enemies" are in fact friends; some inner friends actually turn out to be enemies; and all the parts have important roles to play in a whole understanding of the self. (There's your diverse ecosystem.)


Hochschild gives us an extraordinarily down-to-earth, compassionate, and above all human point of view on the first world war, in a book that may be indispensable to our understanding of that event. In it, he recounts tales of British and French troops cooperating with German troops on the other side of the trenches to intentionally shoot above each other's heads, warn each other when officers were visiting so as to engage in apparently intense but in fact harmless battle, exchange gifts, and so on. These are real-world examples of cooperation where very real enemies make an intentional choice to engage in beneficial or altruistic behavior, in the expectation that it will be reciprocated.


One could tear a page right out of Nowak's book, lay it down next to this passage in “To End All Wars” (page 172) and see a textbook example of insights derived from mathematics and laboratory experiment, manifesting in real life. The enemy soldiers voluntarily cooperated amongst one another and found ways to transcend the tyranny of their superiors, their roles, and even the very the war itself.


All this does indeed have something to do with our inner development. As Patty so eloquently demonstrates, all of us are filled with competing and poorly integrated multiple personalites, each one of which is frustrated, misunderstood, and largely ignored by the other parts. This is (like Hochschild's example of cooperation between enemies during trench warfare) a real-world iteration of a theory--in this case, Gurdjieff's doctrine of I's. Only through her active exploration and engagement on many creative levels does Patty begin to discover (and show us) how these parts can all serve one another and a greater whole. It is, once again, an elegant example of a theory put into very real practice, and working according to Nowak's scientific principle of cooperation.


We seek to discover an inner wholeness, and this cannot take place without cooperation. It is the “survival of the fittest” mentality of our various competing inner parts that causes our destructive behavior, both towards ourselves and others. (It is hardly a stretch to point out that the same kind of mentality, in operation between different nations, led to the objective disaster of World War I.) I think Patty's book does a truly exceptional and eminently practical job of showing us how that takes place inside us.


What needs to replace this "fight to the finish" mentality within us is a compassionate integration of our various parts.


I've spoken before about the need to appreciate the immense depth of our life experience, and the unappreciated wholeness we contain–unappreciated because our sense of it is fractional and disorganized. One part sees another part; it critiques it, and the next time the part who was punished has its turn, it critiques right back. Once again–a page torn directly out of Nowak's book, and the classic game theory example of the prisoner's dilemma. Our inner parts punish one another reciprocally. Both Jung and Gurdjieff sought to offer man a vision of how to escape this parade of punishment and inner devaluation.


We desperately need to make our life whole. When Mr. Gurdjieff advised us to "use the present to repair the past and prepare the future," I am certain that he was--among other things-- calling us to this task of integration–a task that requires compassion, forgiveness, and cooperation–not directed outwardly, towards all of those around us, although that is also absolutely necessary–but compassion, forgiveness, and cooperation towards ourselves, in ourselves, for ourselves.


We can't heal without becoming more whole. Each of these books speaks to that question in a completely different way, but they all share a common goal: the rediscovery of what it means to be fully--not partially--human.


May our prayers be heard.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Lamb of God/ Joy and Sorrow

The Lamb of God

The subject of the Lamb of God has been much with me over the last three or four days. This phrase is, of course, taken from the Gospels–John the Baptist's pronouncement, Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29–yet it has a more specific esoteric meaning than the rather obvious symbolic value we habitually assign to it in the context of Christ, in his sacrificial role as the savior of mankind.

The sins of the world can be taken to mean my ordinary mind, my ordinary being–along with all of its attachments. I wish to become self aware, to self remember, because I need to develop a firm understanding of the nature of my attachment and my conditions. Only by making the awareness of my life and what I am whole can I possibly begin to understand it in a larger context, and see it as something that belongs specifically to this level... there is, after all, a tremendous dimension to my life through time and through space, and I don't understand that dimension. I see my life in fragments... and without seeing its wholeness, there is no possibility of acquiring enough humility to understand my true nature, or, as the Buddhists might say, the "face I had before I was born."

The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world is also an inner state–not just a symbol for an action that takes place outwardly in the material world. It represents an immense deepening of practice; a higher energy that we can become available to. It represents a real moment in the inner life, not an abstract principle. In relationship to that moment, one might say, the ordinary ("sinful") self becomes transparent. This expression is, of course, entirely inadequate as a description. But there you have it.

The phrase has found its way into the Christian liturgy and is used in many different prayers because it has a power well beyond the words. To invoke this prayer in a whole way, to deeply offer our selves–all of what we are–to the Lamb of God is to submit to a higher authority that comes from beyond our ordinary experience. If this prayer is made whole within a man, it may call to us that force which is called the peace of God which passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7.)

One can hardly lay out any formulas for this type of prayer. All that can be said is that a prayer must become a whole thing, not a partial expression, and that it must live and breathe until there is nothing but that prayer.

Those who have difficulty with overtly Christian practice may resist this understanding and fail to see that it is not actually a "Christian" practice after all; it is a fundamental practice; a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Hindu practice. It's an esoteric form of the deepest kind of yoga, if you will.

The Lamb of God is a force. Jesus Christ was a direct representative of that force, and embodied it, but the force did not belong to Christ, nor did it die with him. It is still available: it's created on and emanates from the level above us, and it is forever available to help free us from what Christians call “sin:” attachment to the ordinary mind and all of what we are on this planet, and within this level. That doesn't mean it removes what is in the ordinary mind or eliminates anything; rather, a transformation takes place. This is a transformation of relationship between higher and lower, where the lower knows its place.

Treating the truly esoteric phrases in Christian practice as abstractions, formulas, or ideas with strictly symbolic content is a grave mistake. Most of these forms, like Gurdjieff's own Lord have Mercy, represent actual inner action. Esoteric monastic practices understand this quite well, but have little or no contact with the modern world. Yet if that understanding remains hidden behind closed doors, it cannot serve in the way that is necessary now. I sense that we find ourselves at a critical juncture in the history of mankind and the planet, where certain doors must now be opened.

It occurs to me, as I say all of this, that I get a bit uneasy when speaking in public about these things, because they are so difficult to convey, and there is, categorically, no reason for anyone to believe that what I say is true. On top of that, I have no overt wish to be didactic; the intention is simply to share my own perspectives, understanding, and insights. As such, none of what is offered on the subject is intended as a teaching: it is a set of observations of my own, not really anything more. So one might say, when one encounters the material in this space, that it is nothing more than a notebook made public. Take it as such.

Joy and Sorrow

Pondering the question of the Lamb of God over the past few days led me to the question of joy and sorrow, which I interpret in such a narrow way on my own level. I have touched on this subject before, in the context of explaining that the universe is composed of a perfect balance of joy and sorrow; a physical and temporal experience of this truth is what produces religious ecstasies.

I only understand the words joy and sorrow in very relative terms. Everything about them is related to my experience on this level. There are some few works of art and music–I will not attempt to classify them as objective or subjective–which lead close to the edge of a higher experience of what these words mean, but they are extremely rare. Even then, they cannot possibly produce such an effect in someone who is not prepared. For the most part, we don't know at all what joy and sorrow are.

There are an absolute Joy and an absolute Sorrow, which together create the emotional center of gravity of the universe.

These two separate forces eternally seek to recombine, without losing their own essential character, into a single force. Of course, there must be a third, or reconciling, force that combines with Joy and Sorrow in order to realize the wholeness of the experience of Being and Emotion. This action represents a contact with the divine. (Gurdjieff might have called it contact with higher emotional center.) That third force is Consciousness, because Consciousness is the only medium through which such an expression can be recognized by an intelligence. Man's moving, emotional, and intellectual center mirror, on our own level, these three forces: Joy, Sorrow, and Consciousness. Here stands revealed one of the most essential aspects and actions of Gurdjieff's Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, and Holy Reconciling forces.

When I say Consciousness, I don't speak here of having some special kind of attention, some exercise, some yogic effort to storm the gates of heaven. I speak of a direct and unmediated Consciousness in a sense that transcends our understanding–a Consciousness that cannot be taken or created, but that simply is. This is original consciousness, not constructed: begotten, not made, in the sense that it is born in man, but never created by him.

Mankind originally evolved to be able to mediate, through material embodiment, a direct contact between absolute Joy and absolute Sorrow, so that they can become whole again, but the condition of our organism has deteriorated so greatly that to truly encounter this type of contact is essentially unbearable, and might even prove fatal in the absence of the right kind of preparation. One thing that it would, in any event, most certainly prove fatal to is our sense of egoism.

The absolute qualities of Joy and Sorrow that emanate from what Gurdjieff called the Most Holy Sun Absolute reach all of the material parts of the universe simultaneously, and perpetually. They are eternally present in all of creation. We are given life within the direct context of these conditions: the tragedy is that we cannot sense it.

We stand forever proximate to this truth, quivering on the edge of a radical understanding that could change everything for us, and yet we carry on as though the only thing to worry about were whether or not there is enough money in the bank.

There simply is not enough submission in man. That is the fact of it.

May our prayers be heard.



Friday, June 10, 2011

Unminded


We live in a dense sea of what are essentially philosophical propositions about the nature of Being.

Everything that we examine is from within this mind. We are actually all but incapable of perceiving or understanding the irony of our position: the conviction that we can somehow understand what we are from within this mind, this moment, this condition, is 100%. Consequently, we are given to analyze, instead of live.

What disturbs me the most is that I perpetually sit within rooms and encounter conditions where this takes place under the pretense that it isn't taking place. As a recovering alcoholic (I will be 30 years sober this year) I know a good bit more about denial than most people, and I see it at work here, powerfully, and in all of its ordinary glory. Yes... we all live this way... I within my own life, you within yours.

In order to discover what Being is, it is necessary to become unminded.

That is an unfamiliar term–isn't it? We must become unminded. I use an unfamiliar term, because we seek an unfamiliar state. The state is more different than day is from night; day and night are in a dualistic relationship, a rightful and natural arrangement, but they are beholden one unto another. An unminded state is not beholden to anything but itself.

Undoubtedly, there are those who will read this and ask themselves on what authority I make these statements. After all, if I, too, live within this ordinary mind, how can I know anything about any other state? The general agreement is that we will only admit to one another–and perhaps even ourselves–that we have at best seen a snapshot or two, a very brief glimpse, of something other than this ordinary mind.

We are not to report that we have seen water run uphill.

These reports that we read about how a real manifestation of Being is (or can be) experienced are just reports; like sheets of paper that purport to tell you what a volcanic eruption is like. In this instance, a cataclysm is reduced to a flimsy object with a few marks on it, and all the pundits--that's us-- soberly nod their heads in agreement that this is, in fact, much like a volcanic eruption. The next thing you know, we pundits are reporting that these records in fact tell us how to replicate a volcanic eruption, that we can make one happen–or at least call one in with enough effort. We do this humbly, while bowing our heads, speaking in especially sincere low voices, and bogusly asserting that we believe we know nothing.

These activities would be amusing if it wasn't for how far off the mark they are. Something very different is called for. It is more than a snake shedding its skin; it is not new feathers on an old bird. We are all cowards in this enterprise, because we profess to seek revolution while we carefully support the regime. There is an inner politics underway in which every transaction is corrupted by the powers that be. If Gurdjieff's doctrine of multiple"I's" points to anything, it is this politics of being that attempts to trade off one part of what we are for another, and pass it off as meaningful change.

Ah, well. Enough of the condemnation. What is the search? Is anything actually possible?

Nothing can be gone at directly. When I point my camera at a bird, it flies away. To become unminded might require being forever prepared to be unminded, while being aware at all times that I am not so. There is a quality of unmindedness that hovers just beyond this quality of unmindfulness I inhabit. It is like a wise animal that lives out there on the edge of the woods I live in, watching me.

I can't practice mindfulness; the idea is wonderful, but it is a theoretical and philosophical proposition. If I am able to practice anything, I am able to practice a seeing of the fact that I am unmindful. Or, perhaps we could say, I am very mindful indeed, but it is the wrong kind of mind. I am 100% mindful in a way that is not at all helpful.

How could anyone suspect it? The ultimate aim of a practice of mindfulness is to become unminded. It transcends the dualistic understanding of either state. It represents a step into a new piece of territory.

Browsing through Meister Eckhart this morning–struck once again by the extraordinarily Buddhist nature of much of what he says, and its similarity to Jeanne de Salzmann's remarks in The Reality of Being–I came across the following passage in sermon number two, which is edited in order to create a more concise snapshot:

"It is a certain truth that time by its nature can touch neither God nor the soul. ... all time must fall away from that place where God is to be born in the soul, or she must have fallen away from time through her intentions and desires. ... This is the Now of eternity in which the soul knows all things new and fresh and present in God with the same delight which I have in those things that are present to me now. I recently read in a book (who can fathom this?) that God is creating the world even now as he did on the first day when he created the world. Here God is rich, and here is God's kingdom. The soul which is to be born in God must fall away from time as time must fall away from her." (Meister Eckhart–Selected Writings, translated by Oliver Davies, Penguin Classics 1994.)

May our prayers be heard.


Monday, June 6, 2011

light within darkness

Over the past week, because of some objectively tragic circumstances within my extended circle of friends, I reopened my copy of Meister Eckhart's Book of Divine Consolation.

Given the extraordinary nature of Meister Eckhart's entire oeuvre of work, it's surprising to me that we hear so little about him in modern times. It's safe to say that there are many passages in his deeply Christian sermons which bear a direct relationship to things one hears from the Buddhist masters, as well as statements about form and the nature of Being that are, in their essence, very nearly identical to things that Jeanne DeSalzmann said. Among them are many masterful, sophisticated, and enlightened arguments about the nature of Divine Will which any seeker might well find interesting.

One point Eckhart makes is that it is in man's very nature to be sinful. (I've explored the nature of sin in other essays on this site, comparing it to a lack of understanding or an existential condition of incarnation on this level. Anyway, it's not my intention to recapitulate that here.) The point here is that even sin–even our lack, our sleep, our inability to understand, and all of our transgressions–are of and willed by God, or, if you will, the Dharma. All of these things are an essential and inseparable aspect of the total oneness of truth (another subject Meister Eckhart tackles in his Book of divine consolation.)

What are the implications of this? In the context of acceptance of God's Will , Meister Eckhart proposes that we must live within the nature of our sin without resistance.

This kind of argument–which is certainly too sophisticated for the average medieval Christian mind, and probably even most contemporary ones–is the kind of thing that got him in trouble with the Inquisition. It can, after all, be interpreted to suggest that it's all right to sin, that there is no absolute morality–and Meister Eckhart most certainly did not believe that. It does, however, highlight how dangerous his arguments can be in the hands of the uninitiated.

In the Gurdjieff work, we frequently see that we must see without judgment. Seeing does not involve changing what we are, adjusting our behavior so that it is better, eliminating our negative emotions, being nicer people, and so on. In fact, any intentional attempt to manipulate our behavior so that we like what we see is far from the point. We are supposed to see what we are–whether we like it or not–that is the point. Self observation and self-knowledge cannot be gained from a manipulated system. The inhabitation of life needs to be direct, immediate, and non-manipulative.

This idea of seeing without judgment relates closely to the idea of inhabiting our sinfulness with an attitude of objectivity. We inhabit this metaphorical “darkness” of our sleep with an element of light, that is, a thin ray of consciousness, of something that sees what we are, even as we are what we are. Meister Eckhart points out that here we may catch a glimpse of what John meant when he spoke about "true light shining in the darkness" (John 1:5) and what St. Paul meant when he said that “virtue is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9.)

We are not meant to fix anything. We are, like all the souls in Dante's purgatory, expected to endure and experience our sinful nature, our lack of presence, our inability, deeply and thoroughly, with the greatest possible humility and an increasing understanding and remorse. The condition we are in is just.

This very process is what opens us to forces that might help to effect a change–a change we are unable to mediate ourselves.

Two striking remarks I gleaned from my reading this weekend, both taken from Meister Eckhart–selected writings (Oliver Davies, Penguin Classics, 1994) are as follows:

In short, if anything is to be receptive and to receive, it must be empty. (p. 69. )

Therefore there is an inner work which neither time nor space can support or contain and in which there is something which is of the divine and akin to God and which, similarly, is beyond all time and space. (p. 75.)

Given these statements, and other remarkable observations, it's a good thing that the church was unfamiliar with texts from Zen Buddhism during the Middle Ages. Meister Eckhart's work seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to Dogen's Shobogenzo and other Buddhist texts of revelation.

Had the church authorities been more aware of this, the heresy charges might have stuck.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

catnip


Perhaps we don't understand the difference between higher forces and lower forces.

Many years ago, while I was living in Georgia, I mentioned to the minister at my church that we seem to spend a great deal of time trying to pull the Lord down to us, instead of lifting our hearts and souls unto heaven.

The point is that these two levels don't really mix. They are not mixed. They interpenetrate; this is not, however, the same as mixing. Each level is distinct unto itself, even though levels are built from the levels below them.This separation between levels is both intelligible and necessary. Not only that, it isn't subject to violation, even though we seem to have a consistent wish to somehow employ the forces from a higher level to benefit us on this one.

All of this occurs to me because of the sensation that I had about a half an hour ago. I took coffee out into the backyard and took a look at the nepeta (catnip) blooming in our rock wall.

The impression was vivid and distinct. It was not visual: it was one of feeling. The lavender color of the catnip contained, within its beauty, an enormous amount of sorrow. This phenomenon is on the order of emanation: not a wave–not a particle–

A presence.

Now, it may sound odd to hear that: after all, why would anyone associate sorrow with beauty? This doesn't really make sense on our level–beauty is supposed to be joyful, wonderful, and create feelings of positivity. Yet I see there is an essential quality to it that comes from a higher level, and this is connected to something quite different. Beauty is, in all of its glory and perfection, actually an expression of the sorrow of His Endlessness. It was created specifically for that purpose: it represents a manifestation of the highest possible principle.

Our organism has essentially lost the ability to sense this truth. When conditions are right, if a man works, he may become open to such influences and begin to sense according to the aim and purpose he was created for, but this is relatively rare. Those of us who engage in inner work–no matter whether we are Christians, Buddhists, Gurdjieffians, Muslims, or what have you–may occasionally be given the privilege of such a sensation. It is in moments such as this that we see the world is quite different than what we think it is.

That is, after all, the problem: we don't live in the world, we think about living in the world.

The level from which the sorrow of His Endlessness emanates is quite distinct from our own level: nonetheless, every single object, event, and circumstance on this level arises directly from that sorrow, which lies at the heart of creation. Once again, the best place to begin to acquire a taste of a taste of this question is in the chapter “The Holy Planet Purgatory” found in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson.

In the end, it all comes down to the wind in the trees; the amount of moisture in the air; bees winging their merry way through a morning ray of sunlight, and the catnip in the driveway.

The color of the catnip in the driveway. That, and every leaf and spire of its substance.

I am here, incarnate on this level: this manifestation, in its current place and circumstance, is irrevocable. My potential place as a bridge between this level and something higher than myself is a privilege to be earned, not a right to be taken; any ability to sense the presence of the Lord in all His proximate glory is a Grace granted, not an action taken.

And all of that other level, the one above me? I know it not. A mere brush with it, effortlessly and almost casually encountered, reveals how very little I understand, and how utterly dependent I am upon the forces from a level above me to help me engage in the conscious labor and intentional suffering that Mr. Gurdjieff advised us was necessary-- if we wished to become whole.

May our prayers be heard.