Friday, March 30, 2012

Entering Purgatory


In "Form and Sequence," Gurdjieff advises us that in a responsible existence, one's common presence will contain those precious being-data for feeling which are the foundation of the essence of every bearer of divine Reason, and that the words inscribed over the chief entrance of the Holy Planet Purgatory are as follows:

"ONLY HE MAY ENTER HERE WHO ENTERS INTO THE POSITION OF THE OTHER RESULTS OF MY LABORS." (Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, p. 1065.)

 Sometimes, I think, we entirely forget this powerful and even inexorable call to empathy. The entire passage transmits echoes of the fifth being-obligolnian striving: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred Martfotai, that is, up to the degree of self-individuality. (p. 352.) And indeed, as Beelzebub informs his grandson in the course of this chapter, that is exactly what the aim of his instruction has been.

 I've pointed out before that the fifth striving bears a marked resemblance to the bodhisattva vow; and indeed, we find this impulse in nearly every religion, where the salvation of others is both a duty and an obligation. Yet rather than trying to help a man or woman find their own salvation, so often, the ego causes us to try and impose our version of salvation on others. What should be a sacred and intimate process of self-discovery becomes a prostituted action, one's own salvation forced onto others... "for their own good."

The words over the entrance to the Holy Planet Purgatory are a divine commandment, to which the only possible response is obedience. And Feeling—Empathy—is the very foundation of Essence.

Our personality, our outer self, knows all about empathy, from a superficial point of view. It has learned how to mimic it like an ape, and talk about it as though it was understood.  This is why we hear so much about it, but see so little of it. I'm not sure about my readers, but I watch personality in operation churning out contradictory impulses of empathy and hatred during most of my waking hours. It's quite striking, really, to see just how active personality is in throwing everything it can come up with against the wall to maintain a polarization that categorically prevents any real feeling from manifesting itself. And I wonder why that is.

The division between these two parts is maintained by an insistence of the outer; my manifestations are quite different when a more essential part of myself is available. In the one instance, I talk about empathy and the need to help others, but my feelings are limited to pointless and even perversely destructive emotions; in the other, I feel what is necessary quite precisely, yet I see that we don't have the power or the strength to do what is necessary— and that must be suffered.

 At its heart, and in its essence, we see here that Gurdjieff's work is one of compassionate action—compassionate action that begins in the deepest part of one's life, planting a seed that may lead to legitimate compassion, rather than the ersatz compassion of our media age.

 To “enter into the position of the other results" of God's labors is to empathize, surely. It is also, in equal measure, to obey.

In empathy, and in obedience, the first and foremost responsibility is to inhabit the conditions, and one inhabits the conditions with attention, through one's action of consciousness.

 How will I try to understand that today? I will need to be attentive to a more intimate part of myself, that much is certain. And I will need to hold that in my attention, delicately yet firmly, as life does—as usual—everything it can to take me away from such an effort.

Insh'Allah, I will remember.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.





Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Digesting one's life


Not so long ago, I mentioned the idea that every day, one must completely reform one's life all over again, reassemble one's inner world at the beginning of the day, and prepare oneself to receive all the new impressions of the day that follows.

I thought that the idea would be worthy of some further comment.

When Christ said that we cannot put new wine into old bottles, this is exactly what he was getting at.

Each day, I must become a new vessel in order to  hold all the impressions of that day, which are sufficient unto that day, and to nothing else. Each day is a new beginning where the entire contents of my life as I have experienced it so far must be reformed. I need to make a conscious effort first thing in the morning to wrap myself around my life, the entire contents of it up until that moment, including all the new impressions of the day before. Each day, you see, our life is completely re-created, because all of the contents of the day blend with every other experience already recognized, and our entire inner world is reevaluated and re-created in the light of that new combination.

 At that point, I receive the new impressions of this day into the vessel of this body, this life, which is a container for everything I experience. It's as though the potter needs to sit down at the wheel every morning, center the clay all over again, form a world out of it, and then open a new space within it for material to flow into. Each day, the vessel has to be formed all over again in order to receive what arrives. It is a constant process.

This process of digesting my life is essential, and it cannot take place without Presence. If I'm not present to this process, if I don't make a conscious effort to participate in it, everything proceeds by accident. It's only by taking direct responsibility for the re-formation of my life each day that anything can begin to take place in any way other than automatically.

 This isn't an intellectual formulation of my life, in which I remember facts. All the parts of my being need to participate in the reassembly of what I am; the severed limbs of my being need to be stitched back together through intuition, sensitivity, awareness. I assemble myself—and I  prepare for what will arrive.

Reforming my life is not a matter of accepting my life; it isn't a matter of rejecting my life. Both of these actions belong to the circulatory periphery of my personal enneagram, to personality; they are judgments, not experiences. And what I need to do above all is to experience my life, to inhabit it, to intuit it, to understand it with more sensitive parts than the intellectual mind and its dualistic limitations. There must be a moment when a single note, a whole tone of “I am” is struck: a new beginning for a new octave.

The idea of acceptance is one that we frequently encounter in religious practice, and there's a great deal of validity in it. Yet it isn't enough, because it imparts a polarity. I accept, or I reject; either way, I have adopted a form, taken a position. What is necessary is for me to inhabit and to see. I need to see all of my contradictions, and to live them—not set myself apart from them, as though I were different than what they are. They need to be inhabited and suffered.

The meaning of suffering, of intentional suffering, is to be present. No one can digest their life without the action of presence in their Being.

 This presence is a presence of love. It becomes intimate with my life and what I am, immersing me in the experience, seeing it from as many sides as possible. This love does not accept or reject; it abides.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.



Monday, March 26, 2012

A living work

Bas relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud
ca. 883 B.C.
Metropolitan Museum, New York

 It's common for us to feel separated from our work; as though we can't get it together, we constantly forget ourselves, it's only within the special conditions of meetings and work events with others that we find enough energy to be present, if at all—and so on. There is a constant struggle to remain aware. Even Gurdjieff himself mentioned this when he said to Jeanne de Salzmann, in response to her question about how work was for him, to come by his room at 2 a.m. and hear him weeping and gnashing his teeth.

 There is, however, hope. Work can become a living thing. This is a both a principal and a law; a principal, because without the awakening of the work within one's inner life, one doesn't suffer enough to grow; and a law, because enough effort of the right kind issues an irresistible call.

 Make no mistake about it; the world will do everything it can to take your work from you. The external world of the forces of personality are greedy and relentless; everything about life insists that there is no real need for inner work, and, in fact, the machine of the universe is constructed in such a way that on this planet, the forces which attempt to keep man from working are enormous. This is what was meant by Gurdjieff's mysterious remark about man being under 48 laws on this planet; for all intents and purposes, we are grapes caught in a wine press, and it can extract everything it needs from us without our effort—without us being aware.

 So the world drains us of what we are; yet, if our inner work, our essence, wakes up and becomes a living thing, it becomes impossible for the world to take this from us. A man or woman can form an inner part that is as firm as an iron rod, always upright, intelligent, supporting the effort to see life. This is a living energy that does not forget and does not go away, because it does not belong to the laws or the forces of sleep.

This doesn't mean we become more like gurus or gods. It simply means that we become more like humans. Humanity is supposed to have this living element in it, this force which animates, which leads to a different kind of consciousness in relationship. Work in life is supposed to be a living thing that always carries a thread of presence within it; and it can be this living thing, but only if we form in ourselves a fierce determination to resist everything that life throws at us and tries to break us.

 For thousands of years, the spiritual path has been defined by many as an effort to become extraordinary; yet the path is definitively to become ordinary—in the sense of ordinal, knowing one's position, and conforming to law.  We may speak of "special conditions" for spiritual growth, yet this is nonsense; there are no “special” conditions. In the end, everything is ordinal, everything conforms to law. There are just conditions from one level or another. They only look special to us, because they foster obedience to a higher order: one we are not usually aware of.

It might be more appropriate to speak of “typical” behavior rather than “ordinary” behavior; because our behavior on this level is strictly according to type. What we are is typical; what we seek to become is ordinary, that is, under an order. That's what understanding means. We see that we stand beneath the order above us; we become ordinary, within in order, instead of seeing ourselves as apart from it.

In becoming human and becoming ordinary, we inhabit the circumstances where inner growth can take place. The Zen tradition has a fairly good understanding of this problem, which is why masters such as Dogen eschew the ideas of enlightenment and non-enlightenment, insisting that we must go beyond these formulative conditions to attain understanding. In every circumstance, to go beyond is to inhabit the ordinary with one's living presence: an essential feature of nearly every koan, and the Zen landscape in general.

Temptation, as framed in the Lord's prayer, is every force of external life, of personality, that insists it is more important than essence. Resisting temptation has little or nothing to do with doing “bad” things; it is not an external moral imperative, which is where the question has rested for the most part for thousands of years.  Temptation is the inner action of yielding to the forces that want to take one's work away from oneself. 

And it's only when one has been tested over and over again in the fire and continues to insist that one will keep trying, that one will keep working, that one will not give up—it's only then that help is sent, enough help, in fact, for essence to remain awake.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Misusing the ideas


The ideas Gurdjieff brought have spread around the world over the last century; first through books, and now through the Internet,  where they have taken on a life of their own in the hands of countless people who have little or no connection with the original work, and have never worked in a line under people who knew Gurdjieff personally. 

Inevitably, many of the ideas are misinterpreted, and ultimately, end up being misused.

It's easy to mistake the Work ideas as a vehicle for interpreting the outer world and all of its faults. Certainly, the allegorical vehicle of Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson takes that form; yet it's one thing for the master to do that, and quite another for all his disciples to imitate it. The book was never  meant to be used in that manner. Such an approach is far too literal.

 The Gurdjieff ideas are not a vehicle or a mechanism for interpreting the outer world. It's quite possible to use them in this manner; people like to strut about explaining how so-and-so does everything with sex energy, assign personality types to the enneagram, and so on. This is a flagrant misuse. The ideas are there to help man understand his inner self; unless they are used first and foremost for this purpose, attempts to explain the outer world with them are very nearly useless. All these attempts, even the best of them, belong to the outer circle of personality, where these very sacred ideas get entangled with the level we are on, become perversely complicated, and ultimately conflict with one another.

 The ideas must be taken in in the deepest part of the self. They are here to help educate the essence, not the personality; all of the initial encounters we have with an inner work may be through personality, but unless the ideas penetrate deep into essence, they have no real action. Essence is where our weakness lies; essence is where the hope of digesting impressions so that they become useful lies. This is where the finer substances we receive can be transmuted. The ideas can help that process to begin; but only if they are turned inwards and understood in an organic sense. This must happen first.

Later, if a man truly develops, the ideas may become useful in the outer world, but until then, trying to apply them ends only in confusion. This is actually not so difficult to see both in real life and especially the Internet, where people batter each other with opinions about the Gurdjieff ideas as though they were a cudgel, rather than a finely tuned system for inner understanding.  The moment one encounters activity with even a taste of this, one knows that the train has gone off the rails entirely.

One must take a very careful look at one's own attitude about the ideas in order to clearly understand that. In the end, everyone begins to bear some responsibility in this area, and those who are the most sure of themselves are often deepest in the quicksand.

Almost everything that appears to be about the outer world in the ideas—and this includes most of the material in The Reality Of Being as wellis actually about our inner life. It takes a finer kind of understanding, a subtle understanding that is not built of the coarse knowledge we use to interpret our outer life, in order to see how this holds true. 

The work is here to help me see how I am. That's what the ideas are for. Any other use of them turns them into a perversion of their intention and their purpose.

It's odd to see how badly the ideas are misused today, because it seems clear enough that the ideas are expressly for the purpose of helping man to see what he is, for himself, first and foremost. After all, the practice we engage in is called self-remembering, not “remembering the whole damn world and everyone else," or, "interpreting the world and telling everyone else how it is.” Unfortunately, we're well familiar with these practices, since all of us live in the middle of them constantly within ourselves. We need to clearly see how different these machinations of personality are from the practice of an inner understanding. Anyone who encounters these ideas and is serious about them becomes responsible for them in a different way than we are responsible for day-to-day life. Misuse of the ideas is a perversion, the complete antithesis of everything they stand for—yet how often we see it happen.

This is part of why we need to remember the self. When we forget it, personality appropriates the ideas and the understanding and uses them anyway it wants to; and make no mistake about it, personality has no real conscience whatsoever. The next time you see someone in a spiritual work who claims to be highly developed doing something quite appalling, if you understand this particular issue, you will understand very nearly everything about how it takes place.

 The ideas need to be kept alive and in circulation; but if a man or woman does not first keep the ideas alive and in circulation in his own body, his own being, and his own life, they can't live. 

Failure to do this means that when one passes on the ideas, one passes on dead things, corpses, forms without substance. There must be an understanding first, and that understanding must be born within the being and within the organism: not in the intellect alone.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.



Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rebellion and Obedience

Marble female figure
Cycladic, final Neolithic, ca. 4500–4000 BC
 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The question of obedience, which isn't talked about that much anymore in the Gurdjieff practice—although it is common in the monastic versions of most esoteric practices—is critical to understanding our place.

 The entire allegory of Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson rests on the questions of rebellion and obedience. Beelzebub, we learn, was cast out of heaven because of rebellion, and banished to our own solar system to contemplate the error of his ways.

What emerges is over a thousand pages of contemplation on the subject of law. The universe, we learn, is strictly composed of laws, and everything is law-conformable, whether one wants it to be or not. Law, like the Dharma, is absolute, all-encompassing—embracing both congruence and contradictions. And, in a twist that renders Gurdjieff's cosmology distinct from most others, even God is subject to those laws.

 Mankind, we furthermore learn, has failed to understand law, and this failure results in a steady deterioration of his psyche. Mankind's lack of obedience to law mirrors Beelzebub's own descent to our solar system; a failure to obey law causes one to descend, to move towards a lower level, where less is possible. Only through the understanding, the comprehension, of law, and the education of the psyche in regard to those laws, can the situation be reversed. This, in a nutshell is a major port of what the book is all about.

The allegory of Beelzebub, however, is more sophisticated than we may suspect. Beelzebub is ourselves; or, rather, that part of ourselves which comes from the heart of consciousness in the heart of life, our essence—the part of ourselves which contains a connection to the sacred principle of life which animates the universe. Beelzebub, in his banished incarnation (symbolized by the spaceship Karnak, the body) is separated from God in the first conscious shock—the "I am" in which the ego separates itself from heaven in order to establish a meaningful individuality.

Here, in his separation from God, he encounters Earth: the personality, a confusing and misguided external set of circumstances—an entire world— that refuses to obey laws or understand what it is, and what its position in the universe is.  Beelzebub's six sojourns on planet Earth represent immersion in the six "subjective" notes of the octave, the realm of the multiplications and of circulation around the perimeter of the enneagram. His pilgrim's processed through the history of the earth, in other words, represents the encounter of essence with personality, and its struggle to develop against the overwhelming mechanical force of the external world.

So in the book we have a world of essence, of something that comes from God, meeting a world constructed from material reality, or personality. The part that comes from God descends into material reality over and over again, attempting to understand it, while at the same time working to correct the flaws that separated it from the Godhead in the first place.

Only through obedience and the understanding of law is it possible to right this violated order, both in Beelzebub and in mankind.

 And who better to judge the foibles, inconsistencies and misunderstandings of man than one who is a rebel himself? Beelzebub arrives on the scene equipped with the empathy and compassion needed to enter this world and work in it; and he has compelling reasons to do so; after all, his own salvation rests on his ability to understand how he himself has transgressed.

Essence, in other words, arrives on the scene with its own task of self-awareness, and—if it only knew itself—has the same empathy and compassion, the same wish for success, that Beelzebub brings to mankind. Essence has the capability of working not to punish or banish personality, but to embrace and support it. The idea isn't to exterminate life on earth; the idea is to help it become law-conformable.  This can't take place, however, unless essence wakes up and becomes aware of itself.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.












Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What do I deserve?

Bowl with central fish motif
 Iran, 13th century
 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 On Tuesday of last week, between various appointments, I stopped at the Metropolitan Museum for an hour to browse the collections.

I was left with a reverberating series of impressions of the remnants of ancient civilizations; thousands of objects, fragments of existence, bits and pieces of things that touched millions of lives on their way through time—including my own.

The journey of these objects through time is not over yet; and every life that created them, almost all of the lives that they have touched, are over. Almost everyone associated with them has died.

A little later, standing outside the Gurdjieff foundation with a paper cup of espresso in my hand. It's late afternoon; a balmy spring day, over 70°, a rare temperature on this side of March in New York. Looking up, on the corner of 63rd St. and Lexington Avenue, twenty or more stories up, far over everyone's heads (and few heads are turned upward here) sunlight is falling in soft rose and yellow on the elegant and distinctively ecclesiastical architecture.

 This moment sinks into me. I am deeply impressed by the quality of this life, these impressions; the people I encounter, the circumstances I inhabit. More often than not, the external parts of me are critical or perhaps even disdainful; yet the inner part, the one that has the capacity for seeing life with feeling, sees that there is an enormous generosity in everything that is received.

This life is given generously; its capacity for receiving objects, events, circumstances, and conditions is very nearly unfathomable. One could speak of all the invisible forces around us; yet we are given senses beyond the eyes that can sense the invisible, so we see things not just with the literalism of our vision, but with an inner vision that extends to the limits of the universe we can see in the night sky.

 Taking in this impression, I ask myself what I deserve. Do I deserve to be here, seeing the sun fall on this building in this way? I haven't earned it. It is freely given, along with this life which I examine. Do I appreciate that?

What kind of effort do I make to understand myself and this world?

In reality, despite a perpetual belief in my own entitlement, I don't “deserve” anything. I've been given an extraordinary abundance in this life, far more than anything I can earn, because I am so much smaller than the forces which create me. Really, they hardly need me—there are 7 billion or more humans like me out there—so I am disposable, dispensable.

Yet even in the midst of my objective nothingness, I'm called to be present to the circumstances around me. I didn't arise casually; the planet has spent billions of years working to produce beings with the capacities that this life has. I'm responsible to that; how do I fulfill the conditions that gave rise to me by honoring the impressions which reach me?

What does it mean to understand something? It may not be an understanding of the mind; the body understands things that the mind cannot, and the feelings understand things that neither body nor mind can fathom. Each one of them has a separate capacity for its own understanding, an invisible process that, once made visible, no longer conveys quite what it was that happened. The process is miraculous; intimate, sacred, a process that belongs only to and within the life of a single individual, and forms a covenant between that individual and God.

In its entirety, that covenant consists of an entire life. No other but God can never know the whole content of that covenant with a man or woman.

 Perhaps the greatest mistake we make is that we think of life as property, as something that we own. We need to become more aware of the fact that we only have it on loan; we must take good care of it,  because in the end, there is an accounting.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Essence, influences, and that which Sees

Grass with insects and butterflies
 by female painter Yanyan
 Hand scroll, Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279)
 Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China

 Influence—the act of impressions flowing inward into human beings—is the action that creates the inner universe in a man or a woman. Influence, in other words, is actually a sexual act.  Through it, a child is conceived and born.

One needs to experience it as such, in an intimacy so close to the seed of one's soul that one can actually understand something new is being born in oneself. This is the secret of water changing into wine; influences are as they flow inwards transformed into a higher substance, something of a different order.

The miraculous and absolutely tangible nature of this transformation can't be understated; yet so few of us understand what it is, or that it is in fact a real phenomenon, not a biblical parable.

In order for man or woman to be available to the transformation of influence, personality and essence have to be properly balanced.

The diagram of the Star of David indicates the relationship and nature of both essence and personality. Essence, under the influence of higher parts, combines with personality, under influences from a lower level, in a harmonious interaction. Because essence and personality are both under the law of three, each one has an emotional, physical, and intellectual part. That is to say, both essence and personality need to have feeling, strength, and intelligence in equal measure in order to function properly. If any of these qualities is too weak in either part,  the expression of Being suffers accordingly. 

A man who wants to Be must apply his attention quite actively; attention, the part that sees—which in this diagram is indicated by the circle which circumscribes the star—needs to be equally applied to all six points on the diagram.

 It's easy to forget that the law of three is a quality of expression within existence that never goes away; that it is present in every object, event, circumstance, and condition. Because we hear the words “the law of three,” and it sounds like a formulation, we don't see that it's a living thing in ourselves, our work, our life—in every moment. 

Attention can help the awareness to become more attuned to this harmonic relationship. And just an awareness of it—a seeing of how things are—already begins to bring tones which aren't tuned to quite the right rate of vibration closer to a center where they can blend.

Henry Brown, who led my old group for many years, used to describe it as an action something like tuning one of those old radios, the kind they use during the second world war, where there were a number of knobs on the front that needed to be tweaked until the signal came in properly.

 In any event, I keep coming back to this question with readers because it's so essential to understand these particular questions. Influences reaching a disrupted system (which describes all of us) have a terribly difficult time finding their right place. Almost all of the influences, inward flowing impressions, that we receive are supposed to be reaching deep into the recesses of our Being, depositing substances there which nourish roots from which our soul grows. But they don't get there; the turbulence in our personality causes very little to be deposited, and a great deal of what is received gets flushed out of the system before it ever reaches a place where it can do us any good.

This is why the cultivation of stillness and silence can help us. To a certain extent, this quiets the waters and allows the right material to be deposited in the correct place. It's not, unfortunately, a panacea; completely still water becomes stagnant. There must be an inner action that we participate in, not just a global cultivation of passivity. The part that sees needs to be present throughout the action; it's what joins the essence and the personality, what helps to make a whole.

  I respectfully hope you will take good care.






Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Essence of Essence

It's striking to me, as I struggle through the insistences of daily life, how absolutely personality wants to assert itself as the authority.

If one sees it clearly is a separate part, one begins to see that it has all kinds of ideas that are, as Mr. Gurdjieff would say, “unbecoming to three brained beings.” Personality wants everything to be its own way, and because it is generally disconnected from any sense of conscience—except theoretical ones, that can serve its plans for world domination—it is willing to take, at least within the context of imagination and fantasy, any action whatsoever to control the world and make it the world that it thinks the world ought to be.

Personality, in other words, has nothing to do with reality. It's an abstraction, a cartoon, of reality, that lives inside us and tries to depict a colorful three-dimensional world with black and white outlines. It's really quite extraordinary to see how much of it arises and resides in imagination.

This part doesn't go away. Part of intentionally suffering is to live with it, allow it its piece of territory, accept the fact that it's just not the brightest light bulb in the pack—that, in fact, when screwed into the socket, it won't turn on properly, is feeble, and casts the wrong colors on everything.

 If the essence, that which is true in a human being, isn't present and accounted for—if it is too weak to express itself—there's nothing but personality there, and, basically, that means there's nothing there. When Gurdjieff referred to man as being a machine, he was referring by and large to this exact property. The machine resides in personality. The first and foremost thing that can put a spoke in its gears is attention, in context and relationship to essence.

We might speak of attention without essence, but it would be pointless. There is such a thing as a mechanical attention; and when we begin to work and first encounter the idea of an inner work, that's about all we have to work with. Eventually, a directed mechanical attention—that is, one manifested within a known form that understands how these things are done—may lead to the awakening of something essential in a man, and that is certainly and absolutely a beginning. But we don't understand this; we manipulate form and our own understanding from the territory of personality, and actually find ways to avoid the painful collisions that are required for essence to begin to wake up.

The idea of a golem, an animated simulacrum of life—in essence, an artificial being created not by God, but by man—is what our personality gives us in place of what might be real Being. It manufactures a mechanical Christ child, placing it in front of itself (us) and presenting this ersatz version of enlightenment, constructed through form, as the real thing. It's not the idols, the golden calves fashioned from silver or gold that we need beware of; it's our inner idol, which presents itself as a real human being, when really it's nothing of the sort.

 Gurdjieff pointed out that in most human beings, the development of essence is arrested in childhood, and perhaps even  fundamentally distorted. Essence not only needs to awaken; it needs to grow up.

Cultivating an intimacy with myself is the practice of nourishing essence. Every day, the first question in me, and the question that I carry all day long, is where I stand in a particular moment relative to essence. This is sensed presence, organic vibration, a plumb line that drops down through the center of Being as a reminder of a vertical direction. Connected to sensation, but not forcibly connected; connected by invitation. Grown, not manufactured; included, not compelled.

Nothing in personality can be relied on; it changes direction constantly, and is forever coming up with ridiculous plans to do this, that, and the other thing based on imaginary futures that will certainly never take place. The plumb line of essence, however—this fine, thin filament that may run from top to bottom through a human being—is real. It can be distinguished because it doesn't have the ludicrous imagination, the self-serving formulations, the inconsiderate and even sociopathic "emotions." It's simple enough to see the world as it is, and inject humility into what is seen.

 What is this thing, essence? Can we think it up? No. Does it have anything to do with all the noise in me? No. It stands in opposition to all the embarrassing manifestations I bring to my life. It patiently tolerates them, managing somehow—quite deftly, I certainly don't understand this—to see them without judging and forgive them.

I know it by the taste of it in me; and if this isn't the food I turn to first in an attempt to nourish inner growth, I can't begin.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A precise understanding

It comes to me more and more in the general sense of things that we don't clearly understand, and don't accurately sense, the difference between essence and personality in ourselves.

This is a critical point of work, because if one doesn't extend one's self observation into the intimate territory of a clear and precise understanding of one's parts, especially these two major parts, one doesn't really observe anything except the whirlwind of psychological conflicts that occupy our daily life.

It's not enough to understand the three centers of the intellect, the body, and the emotions. A precise understanding of this is very useful, no doubt; and it is, in fact, relatively attainable, because it's not that difficult for even the average person to distinguish between these three elements that make up a man or woman's manifestations. But essence—now, that must be sensed. It must be part of the organic understanding, not a theoretical, philosophical, or intellectual understanding. It must in fact be a directly sensed and understood manifestation of Being that stands apart and is clearly distinct from that of personality.

The great difficulty we all face in this work is that we live within personality, by and large. I've used the analogy before that it's like trying to see the outside of the bottle when one is on the inside of the bottle. Understanding it from the point of view of the enneagram can help, because once we see that personality moves around the outer circle, and essence dwells within the law of three, the stable triangle formed in the center of the circle, perhaps we understand that essence has a stability to it that can receive something higher, whereas personality is always relegated to the outer part of the circle because of the centrifugal force that drives it.

There must be an actual inversion of Being in order to sense essence. One must understand that one cannot "get to" essence from personality, that they do not occupy the same piece of territory. And one must first of all understand that everything of one's personality is insufficient and not related to essence.

Of course, without the actual experience, this whole question becomes a Chinese puzzle, an endless series of deconstructions orchestrated by the ego and the intellect. So the dropping off of Zen is necessary. Recognizing one's own nothingness is, in large part, completely abandoning personality and ego and standing naked and alone in a place where there is nothing, to see where that leads. This may create an opening that essence can express itself in, and one may get a direct and absolute taste of it. The true nature,  one's original mind, one's face before one was born: all these expressions from Zen relate to the recognition and inhabitation of the essence.

 One other way that this can happen is if everything in a man or woman's life is destroyed completely. It's a very useful experience, but one can't and shouldn't intentionally try to create conditions that will result in that. The reasons for this are many. Fortunately, most people understand that intentional self-destruction is a high-risk way to attain any legitimate realization. But it has been seen as a path in some traditions.

 Only with a clear understanding within one's self, an inner understanding that is intimate, direct, and organic, of  the difference between essence and personality, can one begin to understand all the truly valuable material encountered in The Reality of Being. Self observation must become much more than an analysis of one's behavior. It needs to evolve into a specific and momentary discrimination regarding what influences—what inward flowing forces—are manifesting, and the nature of the place where they are entering the Being. This needs to be seen with a conscious effort.

 Essence has a completely different center of gravity, a different awareness, than personality. For all intents and purposes, it is the center of gravity, because it has a stability to it that is unattainable in personality. It has the capacity to be a vertical mast, firmly attached to the root of our being, yet reaching towards the heavens.

Essence is open to bringing down a finer energy that serves. Our personalities are the sails of the boat, flexible, always in movement, and with the capacity to catch the wind and direct the boat correctly—but only if attached to a firm, straight mast, and then trimmed and pointed in the right direction, with intelligence. Without that, they flail chaotically in every wind that reaches us, perhaps even tearing themselves apart.

It's relatively useless to attempt anything in the way of a deeper and more connected manifestation without understanding this particular question. One's aim, if one does not understand this, must be to attain a precise understanding of how these forces exist in one's Being. One's work must center around sensing the constant presence of essence, and inhabitation of essence, so that essence has enough strength to manifest and feed itself.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What is an influence?

Thatched Houses and a Mill Wheel
Hanging Scroll, Wang Jian, 1668
Shanghai Museum

Gurdjieff often used to say that we need to come under a different set of influences. He first introduced the idea when speaking to P. D. Ouspensky,  as recounted in In Search Of The Miraculous, when he indicated that man could come under  influences A, B, or C.

 It's important to understand that this question of influence is not an abstract, theoretical, or allegorical one. We are, quite literally, vessels into which the world flows. That is to say, there is a constant flow into the organism. This flow is an influence—an inwardly flowing stream of impressions, which is received by the organism. We call this, in a crude way, information, mostly forgetting that what this word actually means is that which is inwardly formed.

 So we are under influences, meaning, impressions are constantly flowing into us. Becoming aware of this in a specific and organic manner is essential, because generally speaking, without awareness of this condition, we are not under influence, we are under effluence—that is to say, the food we need to feed our inner life is being steadily depleted as it flows out of us, going in quite the wrong direction. This is the way most of us live. We point outwards, and we lose much of our vital force over the course of a lifetime because of it.

 It's equally important to understand this question of influence in terms of Gurdjieff's allegory of a man belonging to one of two streams. Each stream is a stream of influences, but they go in different directions. The idea is much the same.

 The idea of opening is related to the idea of allowing an inward flow of energy from a higher level that helps to inform, to inwardly form, the essence— and, consequently, transform the substance of one's inner work. It's a different inward flow; hence, the different streams, or, the idea of influences A, B, and C. 

Of course this idea is generally an abstraction to us; the part of us that is supposed to receive this energy is dysfunctional. But the idea of influences is all about what flows into us in terms of energy, not about some idea a philosopher or religious figure had. Banish such thoughts; this is the chief reason our minds are an obstacle in the first place. What is needed to support our work doesn't come from that angle; it comes from a sensitivity to and then opening to what comes from above. That, too, is an impression; an impression of the Divine.

Our real work commences when we begin to receive these actual—not psychological—influences from a higher level. It's possible for these influences to be present at all times; for this energy to inform our work every day, all day, and support an awareness of Self in an inner sense. This is how the essence develops a core which is alive and connected to something higher. Without it, the essence is weak and can't possibly prevail against the extraordinary forces of personality and demands of the external world, which press in on a man at all times.

It's worth noting that what Gurdjieff called “sleep” in man is, for all intents and purposes, sleep of essence. Personality is very much awake, extremely active, and needs to become passive. Essence, which touches on our higher parts, must become the active part.

There are caveats. A man or woman who opens to higher influences and has a developing essence isn't, so to speak, “home free.” Personality and ego have a way of badgering even a durable inner state with constant bickering and imagination. Part of self-remembering is to continually remember the Self—the essence, the inner part—as these nitpicking presences attempt to deconstruct one's effort to remain intact. 

This action of "coming back to the self" in inner work is generally understood just that way—, that is, coming back to the self, small "s." This is a reflexive remembering of personality with the part that sees, but it does not include the Self, the essence, that which is true in a man or woman. (see the above links.) The essence, the true Self on this level, can only remember itself if it's receiving the proper nourishment, and it takes, under ordinary circumstances, years and even decades of work in order to create those conditions. A properly nourished essence will have enough strength to help support one's work from its own side. Under conditions of that nature, possibilities undergo a distinct transformation.


  I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Don't just think about it

Last night one of my best friends was over for dinner. He's an expert yoga teacher; like myself, a member of Dr. Welch's group, one who had days and years with the best of those who worked directly with Mr. Gurdjieff.

 Our discussion took on echoes of the previous post: the search for wholeness and meaning in life—which can only come through the education of our lower parts by the higher. And inevitably, we began to talk about how a higher energy informs us in this work.

Jeanne de Salzmann focused a great deal of her work on this receiving of higher energy. Now, this is a subject one does not encounter much in Gurdjieff's writings; not, in any event, overtly. Yet by the time the work was in her hands, it had evolved into a new stage in which different things were possible for those who worked, and it became much more necessary for those who followed this teaching to open.

My friend was with Dr. Welch in the last hours of his life, holding his hand. At one point, he leaned forward, and the doctor said to him, "it's all about being present.” These were some of the last words he spoke; he died within the day.

It's all about being present.

Present to what? And for what?

If we aren't present to ourselves, we can't be present to a higher energy. If we don't receive this higher influence, if we don't open ourselves to it, the education of the parts that are confused and entangled with this ordinary life is impossible. And the parts are not only firmly glued into ordinary life, they prefer to stay there, and whenever another influence arrives, the gravity and consequent tidal forces of centrifugal force inexorably pull a man away from the center, towards the periphery of his life, where it appears all the "real" activity is.

We are vessels into which the world flows; but it flows into us from two directions. It flows into us horizontally, in a quite literal sense; engage with life as it is, and you may begin to sense this organically, instead of just thinking about it. It flows into us vertically; engage with life as it might be, and you may begin to sense this organically, instead of just thinking about it. Either way, if you want to understand the quality of the inner and the quality of the outer, you can't just think about it.

Until and unless we open to receive something higher which can help us, we just think about it. There is a point at which we have to discard the philosophies.  Receiving a higher influence isn't about having a philosophy. Emotional education does not consist of deciding how one will behave. In the midst of higher influences, how one can behave or will behave has already been decided, because under a higher influence, behavior and attitude do not belong to us, even though we manifest them. And a man is only free to the extent that he manifests the higher.

I may part company with some of my fellow Gurdjieffians on this point. I'm surrounded by people who are sincere, deadly serious in their effort to be (some a little too deadly serious.) The majority of them seem to be interested in emphasizing I am—I wish to be. This self affirmation, self discovery, the understanding of the self: yes, all absolutely necessary. Yet in the end, if one begins to understand the whole nature of the work, instead of just focusing on self-remembering—the energy of the descending side of the octave, where it begins, one must see that the offering—the need to return to the source—must eventually become the essential action.

An assertive entanglement with personality does not learn to let go in the manner that is necessary for this second stage of inner work; yet it's easy to get stuck there, and the ego (which never really goes way, but quietly whispers, "I've gone away") subtly encourages every aspect of that attachment.

 The energy of consciousness, manifesting within the law of three and emanating from a divine source, offers two specific actions in the context of manifestation in the octave. Both are called “shocks.” The first manifestation, or conscious shock, as Gurdjieff called it, helps a man to be himself in a sincere and uncompromising manner. The second conscious shock helps a man to surrender what he is back to the divine.

The process of digesting one's whole life which I mentioned in the last post is an essential part of that process. I'm not sure that undertaking work on this directly would help anyone; one must come to it in one's innermost recesses and understand it before anything can be undertaken there.

One of the interesting points about the second conscious shock—the second manifestation of divine assistance in life— is that in this instance, help from above descends. That is to say, a force is sent downward that meets us and helps lift us up.

 When we say Lord have mercy, we are calling for that specific help—not to manifest ourselves for ourselves, but to offer our manifestation to the higher.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Higher Education

Folio from the Kathasaritsagara
(The Ocean of Streams of Stories)
India, Mughal period, ca. 1590
Metropolitan Museum of art, New York, Islamic Collection

The process of consciousness and understanding the psyche is a complex one that takes place over the course of one's entire lifetime, and can't be easily sorted out. Some of the difficulties in doing this can be ascribed to the competing cosmologies, religions, and influences that one encounters, each one of which becomes part of a whole that has to be digested—with many different pieces that don't necessarily fit together or properly illuminate one another.

We grow up, in other words, in the midst of contradictions, internal, and external influences, without any absolute compass pointed in the direction we need to go in to understand ourselves.

The overall possibility, of course, hasn't got much to do with what happens on this level. Within the context of this level and this life, this whirlwind—this whirlpool—this revolving circulation around the perimeter of the enneagram is what it is, and it does what it does. The question in every man's life is what higher influences—those emanating from the law of three—are, and how they can help.

 The lower part—that is, the part with which you are experiencing life, and with which you're reading this text—is essentially uneducated. It doesn't matter how much information you acquire in this lifetime. You could be a nuclear physicist with an intimate knowledge of quantum mechanics; you could be a tribal shaman who knows every plant and mushroom that can be eaten to heal people. You could understand every aspect of baseball statistics, or be an expert in business and the creation of jobs and value.

It doesn't matter. Every one of these parts is uneducated.

The higher exists to educate the lower. Overall, this principle is well understood in religious practice, but it seems to barely touch us anymore in modern life. We don't see that what we are lacking is an education from our higher parts. None of the lower parts make any sense when contextualized against one another, which is what we nonetheless keep trying to do. It's only what Jeanne De Salzmann characterized as the look from above—what Gurdjieff would have referred to as the influence of higher centers, and what most of us would call God—that can truly educate us.

Under the ordinary set of circumstances, from where we are, what we lack above all is an emotional understanding influenced by higher centers. To be sure, we think we have such an influence—but we don't. To think that one has such an influence is already to be under the influence of ego; and of course this is where we generally find ourselves.

 The higher must educate the lower, and the education consists first and foremost of discovering that the education we think we have is not an education. This is not to say that we abandon the education, the formation of personality, that we acquire during our lives. It means that it needs to be informed, inwardly formed, in a new way, such that it sees its place.

 This process of education involves taking in the whole of one's life, digesting it, digesting it above all in the context of the additive process—that is to say, each day is added to the whole, and everything has to be digested all over again. It may seem like the task of Sisyphus, and yet this is exactly what must be done. An offering to God—which is what we are here for—is an offering of the entire life, every instance and aspect of it, not just a small portion of it, for example, yesterday.  We must help the higher parts by sensing our entire lives, not just a fraction of them.

 It's interesting to take this question in the context of sin, because sin is essentially a lack of education. The idea that man is fallen echoes forward from the moment that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden—and remember, they were cast out for what they perceived to be a knowledge attained: acquired from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Perhaps the most important point of this story is that the tree was not from a higher level—although it contained the knowledge of good and evil, it contained it on this level. That's where it grew—and that's where the knowledge of good and evil that it contained resided. The knowledge from a higher level, which is what is necessary in order for man to evolve, to grow: that was forgotten.

 We consequently find ourselves in this state of sin. This state of not knowing, this state of thinking that we know. It's an uneducated state; and only the emotional influence of a higher level of vibration can change us. This is what we don't see; and this is where our lack begins. Only the submission to, and obedience to, a higher level can lead us forward.

 You may ask yourself how it might be possible to recognize influences of this kind. It's not that difficult. In Matthew 7:19-20, we are told, “by their fruits ye shall know them."

Not to put too fine a Judaeochristian point on it, but as the bible also says, "consider your ways."

This understanding of a higher level of vibration is not an allegorical one, and it can't be confused or mixed with the ideas or understandings of this level. These are questions we must approach with the most sensitive, innermost parts of ourselves, and understand in silent places that are untouched by the confusion of our ordinary personality.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.





Tuesday, March 6, 2012

This is it

A detail of  "Garden Gathering,"
Painted and polychrome glazed tiles
Iran, 1st quarter of 17th century
Islamic collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

Back when I first got sober, over 30 years ago, I would say the Lord's prayer every night as I went to sleep. I didn't know where else to turn; it's one thing to read a book such as In Search Of The Miraculous telling you that all men have lost their way; it's quite another thing to discover it organically and be faced with the task of overcoming a disease that is trying to kill you. One thing is certain: in extremity, when you see you need help, you ask for it.

 Over the last 30 years, the practice has developed into one where I use the Lord's prayer in almost every sitting, examining it and the inner taste of the words, the meaning, the sensation, at the beginning in order to to establish an inner foundation. This isn't, of course, anything like what is “conventionally” taught in the Gurdjieff work; but this is my work, not his, and this is the way I do it.

I'm bringing this up because I have an interesting observation that occurred to me this morning in regard to the prayer.

The Lord's prayer has an air of anticipation about it; a situation in which one is expecting that at some point in the future, the elements of the prayer may come true, and my wishes be granted. It has an air of request: I don't have my daily bread yet, but I would like you to send it, God. My trespasses aren't forgiven yet, but I'd like you to forgive them. I'd prefer you not lead me into temptation. And so on.

 Taken from a different perspective, however, the prayer all takes place now. Our daily bread is already here; God has already forgiven us; no one is leading us into temptation. We can compare the idea of the Lord's prayer as an instance of now to the sermon on the Mount, in which Christ explains that the kingdom of God is already here, right before us; we just don't understand that.

I myself live in an internal state of anticipation, where enlightenment is out there. Life is out there. But nothing is actually out there, anywhere. There is only one where, and it is here. Both in here and out there are here. It's consciousness, the act of seeing, that blends in here and out there—the sacred and the profane, the then and the now.

There isn't any "then."  This is it.

 The insight reminds me of some of the more profound experiences I've had in regard to the nature of consciousness. The property of anticipation dropping away.

There is nothing to anticipate; it's already here. The lilies of the field are already clothed in glory; there isn't any enlightenment or non-enlightenment. They both belong to consciousness, which marries them. This fallen state I am in arises, by and large, from my own anticipation: my failure to see that I already am and the world already is. This is another, a new, a more organic and compelling version of Gurdjieff's "disease of tomorrow."

The disease of tomorrow makes me believe that I must anticipate; that the goal is later, not now; that my wish will be answered later, not now.

Yet, in my estimation and experience, perhaps the whole point of the Lord's prayer is to understand that our wishes are already answered, now.

Is it only my own inner blindness that prevents me from seeing that; and is there is a threshold we all already stand on that, with a single step, might lead us across the river and onto the other side of this lack, where all of the abundance that Christ promised—and make no mistake, this is not a Christian abundance, it is also a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jewish, a Hindu abundance—is available to us?

 It's not out there; and it isn't far away. It is here; it is now; it is in me, in you, and all of us.

 Where is it?

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A History of Now

This morning, I came across a post leading to a link that detailed a chronology of Gurdjieff's life.

 By now, the story for anyone who is familiar with Gurdjieff and his work is an old one. The stuff of legend. Yet none of this has anything to do with the reality of an inner work, today.

Every wrinkle and fold in the material that Gurdjieff created during his life was intended to move into the now—to this moment, now—and inform perception, so that the perception of the now is enhanced. The overwhelming majority of the material he published himself during his lifetime (largely consisting of Meetings with Remarkable Men and Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson) is highly allegorical in nature, and meant to speak to parts of ourselves that can't be directly interfered with by our conscious mind. In a certain sense, extracting chronologies from it completely contradicts the whole point of the material.

Deconstructing such works and analyzing them according to lists, facts, timelines, and so on, is like trying to create reality out of a myth. Heinrich Schliemann, for example, went to where Troy was buried and dug it up, and it was there—but it was still a ruined city, dead. What was happening when he dug up Troy wasn't what happened in the Iliad—what was happening was that he was digging up Troy. He probably couldn't see that, because his mind was fixated on the history of what had happened then, not what is happening now.

Mankind has an obsession with thinking that what happens now is important because of then; understanding that what happens now is important because of now escapes him.

 The place in which an inner work has to be reconstructed and remade is now. There is nothing like death to remind one that what is gone, is gone. Piling it up on sheets of paper and preserving it under glass leads nowhere relative to an understanding of who one is now, and how one's life is now. From the perspective of this consciousness, now, my ordinary consciousness, to be sure, there is a value and a weight and a meaning to the awareness of history. But all of that is actually useless relative to the mind that lives now.

A mind that lives now does not even contain a history of this kind; all it contains is a history of now. All of the other history, and the ordinary mind itself, are in a cabinet drawer off to the side, which can be referred to, opened, or closed as necessary, but is still just a cabinet drawer—a corner where small tools that might be needed are stored to be removed and used as necessary.

The only real history is an inner history, and it is the history of now. It is the only history a man will truly ever know, and it is a precious history, because this history is forever new, and belongs to a sacred property of the universe: consciousness.

No matter how poorly we understand this, how weakly we sense it, or how criminally we abuse it, this property is immutable. It is the gold of the alchemists.

I'm reminded once again of the parable of the servant who, given gold by his master, went and buried it in the field. Other servants invested it, lost it, squandered it; whatever. They were active. They didn't live through fear; they took the gold, they took what was of value, and made an effort with it. They didn't try to save it or preserve it, they didn't bury it and hide it. The man who put it out in the field froze the money, the value, in time; it became a history of itself that did nothing.

Those who took a risk created new histories of the moment; they understood that this is how one works.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Being of Two Minds

We sometimes say we're of two minds on a subject, without quite understanding just how true this is, or how much it applies to the question of how we are and what we think.

Roughly speaking, a man actually has three minds—in more than one sense.

 First, we can understand this by referring to Gurdjieff's commentary in the last chapter of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, found on pages 1090 to 1093.  In it, he explains that the body, the intellect, and the emotions are all separate and individual minds in man, which must blend together into a whole in order for a real “mind” to emerge in a human being. This is the basic theoretical premise of a great deal of Gurdjieff's system.

 Second, we can understand it from a more holistic and tactile point of view, in the manner that Jeanne de Salzmann presented it: there is an inner mind, an outer mind, and a third mind—intentional (as opposed to voluntary) consciousness, which forms a bridge between the two. This third mind is the part that sees. Her emphasis on this act of seeing is an attempt to bridge the chasm between the two minds, one of which—the outer mind, the mind of personality—completely dominates most of a man's life.

 This isn't to say that the inner mind, the mind of essence, can't dominate a man's life. That intimate mind, which is connected to a higher principle, can become tremendously alluring if it is sensed, and invite a man to sink into a lifetime of contemplation and meditation which, although entirely rewarding, fails to make the connection with the outer part which is so vitally necessary in order to accomplish the work that mankind was put on the planet for.

So we have an exoteric mind—which is referred to as personality in Gurdjieff's original system—and an esoteric mind, which he refers to as essence.These are indeed exactly the same parts of ourselves—the same minds— that de Salzmann refers to when she asks us to bring the inner and the outer together. The difficulty consists in the fact that the outer mind, personality, is the mind that sees, interprets, and dominates everything. It is an interfering factor, since it takes over the entire functioning of mind, which ought to be a tripartite arrangement.

When Gurdjieff spoke about creating an inner center of gravity, a permanent center of gravity, in one's being—a subject that de Salzmann also spoke about at length—he is referring to a center of gravity located in, and weighted by, essence. The mind of essence is an entirely different mind than the mind of personality; the sensation of the two is distinct and unmistakable, and one cannot confuse one for the other. It is, in other words, possible to know exactly where one is in this work if one learns to sense the distinction. Before that, everything is hearsay, hypothesis, and theory.

Presuming we understand what the mind of essence consists of, and how we sense it with the whole of our presence, the question remains as to how we bring that into relationship with the mind of personality. It's quite difficult, really; only the influence of higher material can assist in that, because the balancing act that is required on the part of a man is much too delicate and dynamic for him to manage on his own. The best that he can do is see that he is divided, that there are two minds in him and that both are active, and to attempt to sense both of them at the same time as often as possible, through the action of seeing how he stands between these two qualities of his manifestation... and what, as de Salzmann used to say, he lacks.

 The standard understanding of what to be of two minds means—to be confused, to discover oneself within a dialectic of contradictions—is a dead end. All of this is just manifestations of personality, which is fundamentally polarized, partial, and lacks the balance required—which can only come from both the action of essence and the presence of intentional awareness, both brought into relationship with it.

The question of what intentional awareness means in this instance is also a difficult one, since it does not mean what we think it means. The thinking part that is thinking what it means is already part of personality, and personality assumes it knows what attention and intention are, when in fact, it has little or no idea. Attention and intention are already qualities influenced by a higher level of vibration; even with these two qualities, we must come to them in ourselves with a question of what they are, rather than an explanation of what they are. They can't, you see, be invoked or explained—even though our personality insists that this is exactly what has to be done.

If the influence of essence begins to penetrate, and we become intimate enough with it to understand that it is calling us to a new relationship, intention and attention can arrive to assist us.

But not on our terms.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Manifestation

This afternoon, my mother-in-law was over at lunchtime, and she saw a copy of Fran Shaw's the next attention on the coffee table. She asked me whether I thought it was possible for someone without a practical familiarity with the Gurdjieff practice to understand anything of what's said in this book, or to come to part of what it attempts to bring to us.

The book itself is quite unusual, because it's a record of a teacher's direct, intimate verbal expressions to those who studied with him;  in this way, it mirrors Dogen's Extensive Record. (Both books are recommended reading.) In any event, it's a contemporary version of the Gurdjieff work, and furthermore, an inside version, refreshingly free of the cosmologies, the memoirs, and even a good deal of the instruction one finds in most of the other literature on the subject. What we encounter here is a man speaking frankly about our efforts to encounter the sacred. Just the effort itself; put in fairly simple terms.

I don't know whether this book is accessible to people without years of experience in work. The fact is that I am one, and I come to it with my own background. It would be impossible for me to say whether someone without any such background could “get it.” Nonetheless, the material it is invaluable. It works for me. And it works for me because it calls us to an intimate attention to something sacred. Something that we usually don't turn towards in life; that is, an actual relationship to God—not an intellectual relationship, but an emotional relationship of the kind that Gurdjieff told Ouspensky was inevitably necessary in order to do any real work.

A new understanding.

It's this emotional relationship, this intimate relationship that I continually refer back to. If there's no intimacy, there is no relationship. The energy must penetrate the body and become a lasting presence, a sustaining presence: not just a fleeting experience. We must drink life into the marrow of our own bones in order to gain any real experience.

 Continuing the discussion, or threads of it, later this evening, my friend Doug asked me, “What's the point?” Coming to the collective intersection of energy, ego, and all the questions that encountering these manifestations of Being brings to us, there is a deep and urgent wish to understand our purpose.

“Something's not finished,” Doug said.

I think we all have that feeling. Something isn't finished.

Why do we think anything finishes? Everything always just is. We seem to think that somehow we should blend and mix up the higher and the lower; it will be a martini, shaken, not stirred, that some suave James Bond of the soul quaffs before going off to slay all the dragons in life—which, coincidently, we have a license to kill... because of our inner work.

Nothing finishes. Nothing needs to be slain, and there aren't any dragons—except the ones we manufacture. The higher does not need to be blended with the lower; it doesn't need to be mixed in. The higher and lower are here to be brought into relationship, which is a different question entirely, and that is the responsibility of a conscious being. Reconciliation does not involve cramming the affirming into the denying, or squeezing the denying into the affirming. The affirming affirms; the denying denies; together,  with the third force of reconciliation present, they can both remain themselves, and become something much more.

Such is the point.

Perhaps this is why we can't be. We never allow ourselves to be what we are; we always want to be something else. Think about it. Isn't that true? What if we wanted to just be what we were? I'm  reminded once again of the advice from Epictetus:

A man who wishes for things to be as they are will always find happiness.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.