Sunday, August 26, 2007

back from a wedding

We just got back from an upstate wedding... many impressions of rolling hills, glacial valleys, devonian shales, arts and crafts--the wedding took place at the Rochester Folk Art Guild-- and many celebratory people.

We dwell in a landscape formed through vast reaches of time. Events like weddings... replete with everyone from babies to octogenarians... are a reminder of how brief our own lives are, yet how utterly planetary, how timeless the processes of biology and geology are.

When we stare down the devouring maw of time, we can take heart from the way that human milestones ultimately defy the passage of time simply by participating it.

And what, you may ask, does the picture of a flounder have to do with a wedding?

...I'm asking myself exactly the same question.

During the ceremony, one of the oldest attendees- who knew Gurdjieff personally- reported that one of his favorite stories was as follows:

An elephant and a mouse meet each other and size each other up.

"Why are you so small?" asks the elephant finally.

And the mouse replies...

"I've been sick."

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fifty years in the desert

It turns out that Mother Theresa, who spent a lifetime in practice, found herself, for the last 50 years of her life, in the desert.

In her case the desert was a place where she did not feel the presence of God. At least, she did not feel what she understood to be the presence of God. Apparently she was looking for something specific, and it wasn't there.

We've all been in deserts of this kind. Everyone finds themselves in life looking for things that we earnest feel should be there, but are not. In some cases it is external things-luck, success, wealth. In other cases it is something more fundamental, a sense of deeper meaning.

However we choose to understand it, there is in a men distinct lack, and that lack is emotional. Typically human beings try to fill that lack with material things, because they are what is close at hand. They grasp for money. They drink alcohol or take drugs, or indulge in food or sex. Any way you look at it, human beings continually seem to find an emptiness at the center of their existence that cannot be fed.

Perhaps it is even worse when one feels one is spiritually called. In cases like this we feel we are
called to serve some higher purpose, but we're unable to connect with it.

Does that mean there is no higher purpose there? Atheists, who are getting a disproportionate amount of air time these days, would have us believe so. Instead of respecting Mother Theresa's struggle, her half a lifetime of anguish, and her steadfast faith, they have seized on it with delight, triumphantly proclaiming that it "proves them right."

Of course, atheists can no more "prove" there isn't a God than others can prove there is one. Best not waste time on these people and their ideas, which have produced, proportionally speaking, absolutely nothing of cultural value over the course of human history. Their behavior in this single instance takes their full measure, and it comes up short.

Coming back to the question of the "inner void," this bottomless pit that cannot be satisfied, I believe we can see, if we study our own cravings, that in the end the deficiencies men discover in their lives are almost always emotional ones at the root. The key to finding meaning in lie is to discover how to find the right food for the emotions.

This is not as complicated as it may seem. Gurdjieff's explanation of it as being the food of impressions is quite right. The issue lies in understanding how we relate to the food of impressions. If we relate to it intellectually, it does us little good. Man must develop a physicial understanding of the food of impressions in order to take it in more effectively.

Discovering the presence of something higher in life depends on learning how to take in the impressions of life differently. The numerous discussions of the inner flowers in this blog continually refer back to that, simply because there is no way to digest the nectar of impressions properly if there are no open flowers and there is no exchange of energy between them.

Unfortunately, it appears Mother Theresa had no teacher to show her this work. The supreme irony is that she was a contemporary of Paramahansa Yogananda's, and even lived in his native land. Had she chosen to avail herself of his teachings,--which, given his own lifelong devotion to Christ, would have been entirely compatible with her own Christian devotions--she might have learned a bit more about this subject.

As Yogananda and Gurdjieff both maintained, discovering the presence of God is not just a matter of faith. It is also a science.

And, lastly, it is not what we expect it to be. I'm currently taking a brief break from Dogen to reading Chogyam Trungpa's "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism." He certainly makes the point that expectations get in the way of opening to real practice. Our expectations of the divine, our demands of the divine, are unreasonable. We cannot acquire reality on our own terms.

In the desert, everyone seems to want the spectacular view from the peaks...

but all the water's down here at the bottom.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Today I wrapped up the end of "From the Author" in Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub."

If there is one overarching theme in this book, it is man's failure to sense reality properly. In this sense it's utterly doctrinaire: despite Gurdjieff's proclamations about the uniqueness of his book, it delivers the standard message:

we're all screwed up.

Looking around us, does anyone doubt it?

And lo and behold... towards the end of the chapter- synchronicity abounding- Gurdjieff broaches the subject of... you guessed it... death.

His treatment of it here is intricately bound up in man's possibilities "after death," so to speak, (I'm referring to the "two rivers" addendum, which provides more than a passing intimation of the presence of reincarnation in his teaching) but one of the chief points he makes is how terrified we'd be... and how utterly bereft of aim or hope we'd probably find ourselves- if we knew exactly when we were to die. He hammers home the fact that we all believe we're immortal- maybe true, maybe not- and how oblivious we are to the fact of our death, which distracts us from doing anything "real" about our dire circumstances.

I think he sells the subject a bit too hard. Many people end up knowing they are going to die- modern medicine, for all the contempt he showed it in his own time, has become pretty good at telling people when their condition is mortal, often months or years ahead of the fact. So many men live with the certain knowledge of their own death.

It doesn't take doctors, either. As I have pointed out before, developing a more intense connection with the body, particularly through the breathing, can help a man develop a greater conscious sense of his mortality. Sensation is a path to understanding both life and death organically. This inhabitation of the organism- as Dogen puts it, skin, flesh, bones and marrow- in a more comprehensive manner certainly brings one to the conclusion that the residence in the body can be nothing more than temporary. When it's possible to sense the struggle that keeps one alive, the prospect of an end to that struggle becomes more tangible.

In fact, there come moments when one realizes that there is a part of us that will welcome death.

That is something to ponder indeed. For myself, I'm certainly not finished with that chapter.

This weekend I have family obligations that may make it difficult to post. I'll do my best, but if you should visit and find no new material, well, there is plenty of older material to peruse...

and in the meantime...

May your seeds fall in fertile earth, and grow green with summer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

life and death

A couple of days ago, I was remarking to my wife Neal about the idea that life and death cannot be separated from one another.

In one of those peculiar synchronicities which keeps arising, the very next morning when I was reading Dogen I came across some comments of his that seem to ponder the same questions.

In the Shobogenzo, Chapter 37, "Learning the Truth with Body and Mind," (Shinjin-Gakudo) he says, among other things, the following:

"The reason we need not fear life-and-death is that even before we are through with life, we are already meeting death in the present. And even before we are through with death, we are already meeting life in the present. Life does not hinder death, and death does not hinder life...

Life is not the primary occurrence, and death is not the secondary one. Death does not oppose life, and life does not depend on death. " (Shobogenzo, book 2, as translated by Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha press.)

Dogen goes on to say that life-and-death is "beyond all functions."

I don't think he is examining philosophical constructs here. Dogen is raising questions about our direct and immediate perception of reality.

My own question about this matter arose because, as my wife and I were driving home, we discussed the fact that even though the forest around us looked quite peaceful, it was an absolute certainty that millions and probably even billions of creatures within the range of our eyesight were dying at that very moment, as a vast assortment of birds, mammals, arthropods, and bacteria killed each other for food in the ongoing struggle for survival.

None of that death is directly evident in a sylvan, wooded landscape. Yet it is there, always, and it is everywhere.

We live within a sea of death, yet all we choose to see is life.

Death itself supports life. Life is impossible without death, because life feeds on the death of other life. How can we separate life from death? It is all part of one single thing that keeps transforming itself. It might not be going too far to say that all of organic life is a single organism that is perpetually living and dying at the same time.

Every human being finds themselves concerned about the end of their own life. I am no exception. This is probably inevitable; it takes a special kind of insensitivity to ignore this question. Nonetheless, I wonder why I am concerned, when absolutely everything has to die, and a stunningly vast, yea, uncountable number of deaths have taken place upon the surface of this planet since life began to evolve.

It strikes me that we do not understand death. We have little or no perspective on death. To take refuge within the Dharma is to take refuge equally within life and within death, yet our impulse is to reside only within life. Instead of seeing life-and-death when we see nature, we see only life.

Does it ever occur to us consciously that we are erasing half of the picture? Is it possible to see that all the life around us arises directly from death? Do we inhabit death at the same time we inhabit life?

I do not know the answers to these things. I do know that to consider the question of death and life a bit differently, I need to take a look around me in these very ordinary conditions and try to understand the manner in which they are penetrated, and determined, in equal measure by life and by death.

May your hearts be open, and your lives be filled.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

mustard seeds

In order to appreciate the idea of containment in relationship to the enneagram, we begin with the idea that the body we inhabit is a vessel.

By vessel I mean a container which is designed to receive and store materials. When Christ discussed the idea of putting new wine in old bottles, he was alluding to this idea of man as a vessel. The idea of changing water into wine refers to the idea that there can be a physical transformation of the vessel's contents.

The diagram has a great deal to tell us about this.

When we view the enneagram, we see that it is circumscribed by a circle. Everything takes place within that circle.

Imagine the circle as your body. There's your "sealed vessel."

There are two geometric figures within the circle. One of them, a rather distorted version of a hexagram, consists of the notes--with the exception of "Do."

The other--a triangle-- includes both the note "Do" and the two conscious shocks. These two geometric figures represent intersecting energies from two different levels.

Each of the notes on the circle represents a specific organ within the body, that is, a center capable of receiving vibrations. If you go back to the last chapter of Beelzebub, which I am currently sound editing, ("From The Author") you will see that Gurdjieff specifically refers to the six inner centers (I call them the six inner flowers) as being organs belonging to the emotional "brain" of man.

When Gurdjieff says that emotion must begin to enter a man's work before anything real can begin to happen, I believe it's quite clear he's referring to the work that takes place within this system.

The inner work that man needs to undertake for himself is the work within this "emotional vessel," consisting of the six notes and their relationship to one another. These notes need to be brought into increasing harmony in order for the vessel to be durable enough to hold anything.

OK, now to the crux of this discussion.

In many esoteric works, the Gurdjieff work included, there is an understanding that energy can be taken in through the top of the head, or, the seventh chakra. (In the enneagram, this is the note "Do.") Most people's experience, if they have one, is that this energy arrives during a meditation session.

It generally does not have a durable quality -- it does not last. Everyone who does this kind of work is familiar with the sensation of something quite miraculous, but fleeting and transient.

Why doesn't it stay with us?

Essentially, this is because the vessel the energy is being poured into--us-- is leaking like a sieve. Unless our six inner flowers, or centers, represented by the notes are working in a sound harmonic relationship, the shocks provided by the energy are all but worthless. They temporarily produce interesting sensations and wonderful feelings. That's about it.

In order for the energy to produce any lasting effect, many years of work are required. The six inner flowers must be brought into relationship. As the diagram clearly shows us, that work belongs to this level. All of this work is work to prepare the flowers for their real and ultimate work, which is the receipt of energy from a higher level.

Once the system gains integrity, that is to say, the energy being exchanged between the six inner flowers is in a more whole and unified relationship, another energy from a higher level can enter and find a place to stay. When one achieves this unity, one has fashioned a new vessel for the new wine which arrives. In this case, it can stay throughout the day and manifest during ordinary life, at any time, not just when ones eyes are closed and one is sitting on a cushion. And that is the greatest wish of the Holy Spirit-

to be born within life.

To inhabit the ordinary.

We might recall the words, "On earth as it is in heaven."

Of course, this is a lofty goal. It may not be achieved but once in a thousand lifetimes. We don't know.

What we can know, what we need to know, is that the vessel we inhabit contains a structure and functions according to a set of laws.

Already no one likes this idea. As human beings have proved over and over again throughout the course of history, no one likes laws of any kind unless they are laws that they wrote themselves. The idea of being under natural law, whether biological or spiritual, rankles people.
This is why human beings constantly reinvent laws so that they suit them better. Whether or not the personally invented laws are technically valid is beside the point, so long as they are satisfying.

This distressing state of affairs brings human beings to a point where everyone wants to believe that just about anything is possible at any time. For example, as though we could grow our flowers with no water, in the desert, and yet have them bloom. And in a man's life--even in the Work--ignorance of the law usually becomes the excuse for everything.

In the Gurdjieff work, the idea is we study laws so that we can actually understand what our real possibilities are, and where we stand. Imagination and dreaming do not help much. Instead, a much more specific attention to the facts and to our inner arrangement is necessary.

It's certainly possible to open the top of the head. The question is exactly why we would do that and what it serves. If that "sacred mustard seed" we acquire as a gift from the note "Do" falls onto ground that is not prepared, it will not grow.

This is why cultivating a deeper understanding of the inner relationships being discussed here is necessary.

May your hearts be open, and your lives be full.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Henri Trachol was one of Gurdjieff's personal associates. I did not know him well at all, but I met him on a number of occasions when he was invited to sit with our group back in the 1990s.

My impressions of him were always intense and favorable. During that period, I had the opportunity to ask him several questions personally. His answers were always well informed and had a tangible humor to them.

Last year, Andre Ennard told Neal and me an amusing story about him. It seems, according to Andre, as though at the end of his life he got quieter and quieter, saying less and less. There was one moment where he was giving a sitting, and all he ever said during the entire sitting was the word "un" (one) at the beginning.

This kind of blew people away. It prompted his wife to ask him, at the end of the sitting, "one What?"

He smiled, but did not answer.

I am recounting this tale because it relates to an understanding I discussed last night with my wife and a close friend.

When one reads the chapter, "From the Author" in "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" one discovers that Gurdjieff openly confesses he changed the language from an existing system in order to define his own.

How far does one need to look to know what system that was? ...Not very. It's fairly obvious that he took existing yoga terms and concepts, and changed the language so that it would be more precise. The ideas themselves were still identical, more or less, to those of the yoga schools. (Anyone who doubts that need only refer to his extensive references to how man's inner organization can be likened to a horse, carriage, and driver. The whole story is lifted straight from a classic yoga sutra.)

In intentionally changing the language of yoga, Gurdjieff removed a certain degree of subjectivity.

The enneagram is one area where this was of critical importance. The enneagram, as I have explained on numerous occasions, is a map of the inner structure of the human body--

among other things.

That is to say, you have an enneagram inside you that functions, or at least should function, under ideal circumstances, in the exact manner that the diagram depicts.

I am well aware of the fact that this idea seems exceedingly theoretical to most people. I was discussing this with our good friend last night, who was surprised that I could say that there are specific correlations one can observe in terms of the inner organs, or centers, the flow of energy, and the meaning of the diagram. All I can say, for those of you who are skeptical, is that this information is both tangible and available. Instead of assuming that it cannot be found, the important thing is to look around inside yourself and see what can be found.

I daresay your work will progress in significant ways if you begin to understand this in a more direct manner, instead of continuing to treat it as an intellectual abstraction.

Gurdjieff's change in the language of yoga was absolutely critical in this area because he removed the names that people use for centers -- that is, both the word chakras, and the labels for the various chakras -- and replaced them with numbers. The numbers not only depict an objective relationship between the various centers, they offer a strict non-verbal logic, and they erase any associations we may have. This means that when we look for the "chakras" or "centers" in ourselves, we no longer look for something called a chakra or a center. Instead, we look for one, or four, or two, and so on.

In seeking a number, we seek something unknown, something objective. As we turn our attention to the physical locations of these various organs, instead of thinking of them with words -- which I must confess I still often do, especially with the heart -- we seek instead the number. This creates an open ended question, because there is no definition here, just a number. We might discover anything in relationship to that.

Where is the "one" in us? How do we discover it?

We can move on from that question to ask the same question of all of the numbers, even the multiplications themselves.

Tomorrow, we'll discuss an understanding of the concept of the vessel in relationship to the enneagram, and we'll discuss what the implications of vessels, containment, and receiving are when viewed from the perspective of this diagram.

May your hearts be open and your lives be full.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

brief interlude

New post tomorrow- I'm dealing with jet lag today.

have a wonderful sunday.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back, with orchids blooming

Back in New York... the sprites of breezes too early to belong to Autumn, but flirting with her; overgrown gardens, ripe tomatoes, scraped cars. Immediately, I am immersed in my usual community, rather than the alternate one of Shanghai. Immediately, I am reminded of how one's whole life is made up of relationships.

And all of that is food.

I'm jet lagged today and my usually nimble mind is a bit slow. I see how my parts are disconnected, how it is somewhat difficult to bring the various centers to each other. Chemistry gets discombobulated when physical, organic time is set against itself. This reminds me of how much we rely on chemistry itself for our daily bread.

How do we feed ourselves? What do we feed ourselves with? If we begin to sense the finer vibrations within each moment, I think the understanding of life as food deepens. This act of constantly ingesting life becomes more joyful.

For example: last night, pulling into the driveway after about 2 hrs of sleep in a 27-hour day, I had a fleeting impression of the back end of my Prius and though to myself, "Hey. My car has been in an accident." Then, as we passed the back end, and no real damage seemed evident, I thought to myself, "......nah. I'm just overtired."

Fast forward to this morning. The car had been in an accident (what incredible, subliminal part of my overtired brain had detected those front-end scrapes in murky darkness?) courtesy of my overconfident 16 year old son, Adriaan. There I am, fresh home from Asia, and part of me is pissed. This happened, like, Monday, and no one told me.

Or Neal. Nice, eh?

The other part of me- the part that is not so identified, let's call it part B-is watching. While the upset part cranks up the emotional levels and turns on the hormones, part B is saying. "Whoa, check it out, dude. Look at what's happening."

Meanwhile, Part A is emoting. Whining. Doing the usual part A crap. It looks like about $2000 worth of damage, based on my last scraper. Not to mention the fact that Neal left the window in the car down, it rained last night, and her purse--which for mysterious reasons seems to have a good deal of composted landfill in it-- spilled, coating the floor of the passenger side with enough mulch for a small flower bed. This is adding-insult-to-injury stuff, my friends.

...Remember that Kubrick classic, "The Shining?"
...Always liked that movie
...Excuse me, while I reach for the axe.

Part B, just because it's there, puts a wrench in the gears. It's saying, "Hey, no problemo. We can deal with this. Just keep cool, find out what happened, don't go ballistic." Part B isn't reacting... it's....


where I am and what's happening.

It's having breakfast.

...Lo and behold. Part B wins! I negotiate the emotional minefields, discuss the matter with Adriaan and Melanie (our resident single mom, who was in the car with him when the evil crime took place) and off we go to do morning shopping.

I don't even feel that bad.

There's something in me that is all right with all of this. And that is the part that is fed by something finer.

In all of this, within this morning, there is an emotional equilibrium that overcomes the negativity. And I think this is the point I keep making about feeding ourselves properly in an emotional sense, by fostering a greater inner unity.

So--if things are bad, hang in there. Stick with part B.

It gets better.

May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Heart in Seoul

Once again, a post from the business class lounge in Incheon/Seoul, on my way home from Shanghai. By now it's becoming a tradition. Airplanes lined at gates, and in the distance, shimmering in the afternoon sun of the Korean peninsula, beckoning in the distance--

As I sit here at my laptop, I smell them, and everything they are before me: the faint scent of flowers from across the room.

Impressions of the day: rising late: coffee: sitting:

a delicate perfume from some mysterious place within the body permeates the elements of morning.

What is this thing called life? Who can tell? Surely more than we assign to it, when sense like this can bloom.

On my way to the airport--later, 35,000 feet above the planet, traveling at hundreds of miles an hour, where nonetheless tranquility prevails, I found myself pondering where the satisfaction in life lies.

Pondering the immense satisfaction of every small thing.

In each impression, if I investigate, if I take the time to discover the relationship, there is a quite extraordinary quality- a fineness of vibration that resides within the experience of the relationship itself.

It's easy to outsource the origin of this fine quality to the object being encountered, or to my experience of it: that is, to assign its value, the beauty of its finely grained, virgin-smooth-skinned arrival, and its ever-beginning yet ever-ending existence, to either subject or object.

But it is not in subject or object, because within this experience I speak of, the distinction between subject and object is invalid; the experience begins before object and ends before subject. If we seek within subject, we miss the point; if we seek within object, we miss the point.

Within this condition there is only one thing.

For example, the fine creme brulee (a object this subject has developed a sinfully inordinate fondness for) I ate last night. It was not in the creme brulee itself, or in my experience of it... the fineness of that experience was whole, it was integrated, it was not about me or about the stuff. And it is still here right now as I type.


Time has passed it by, but it cannot swallow it. Time is no closed door-- it's merely an aperture
between countless successive universes.

This same fineness is within the air we breathe. It is within the emotion we experience. It is water, pebbles, stones and sand.

From a discovered relationship to it arises immeasurable gratitude.

If we become more specific in our attention, if we become more specific in our breathing, we can attune ourselves to a finer quality within all that is experienced. This fineness is of the universe; everything is composed of it, everything resonates within it, everything expresses it. It is the light that Dogen discusses, a light that is not red or green or yellow or white. It is a light that is not light, but nonetheless illuminates, clarifies, renders transparent.

I think of each of you, friends and strangers alike, as you read, and my wish for each of you is to discover this miraculous quality, this fineness of vibration, within your own life.

May you turn the light of your attention inwards, towards your personal spark of our collective divinity-

discover that every arising, every moment, is a flower blossom filled with nectar, and we are the bees that drink it-

may you seek, may you find, may you drink deep of this inestimable joy that sustains.

And of course-

as ever--

may your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We can change

Today, as I was saying goodbye to the staff and my Shanghai office, I discovered to my great horror that I had an impulse to hug everyone.

Perhaps I should explain. For my entire life, I have never been a hugging person. I detest people that hug. The whole practice is a repellent to me. Even hugging my own mother has always worried me somehow.

I think that I must have spent a number of lifetimes in Japan. I feel reasonably certain of this, because for many, many years, my whole attitude towards people has been that we should bow formally with our hands at our sides whenever we wish to express any kind of affection whatsoever. People who hug scare me. When they come at me, I get nervous and sweaty. I want to run the other way.

So discovering that I had this impulse to hug people blew my freaking mind.

It was organic. It was intimate. I actually wanted to do it, which is so contrary to my natural impulses of the past that none of it made any sense.

I suppose this goes to show that work can change us. It can soften us. We can become a little more human, a little less reserved.

Maybe this steel skin that we all wear can slough off a bit.

I am leaving China to return to the United States today. I remarked to a close friend in e-mail earlier today that the time spent here has felt like a journey through an eternity of time, and across vast, immeasurable spaces. Life itself begins to feel like a caravan moving through the desert, through landscapes that change one forever, so that when one emerges on the other side, it is as though everything that went before it died, and as though a new life is beginning.

May we all begin a new life together now, and every day. Much love to you all, whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I don't think that we have enough of a connection with our organism to appreciate the amount of work it does in the average day.

Day in, day out, billions of cells in us are creating chemicals, burning stored energy, storing new energy. All in the service of the enormous flow of trillions upon trillions of impressions that are carried into the body by the billions of nerve cells that serve us both inside the body and on its exterior. I would suspect that the synaptic connections that get made within the body in the average day are in the trillions of trillions of trillions. Maybe even Google connections, meaning, one followed by a hundred zeroes -- which is the actual meaning of the word, go look it up in the dictionary if you don't believe me.

In order to find a manageable middle ground, the mind tends to avoid contact with a great deal of what flows into the body. The point of spiritual work is to expand the awareness so that we are not only more aware of the levels above us, but also the levels below us. This means we have to become more aware of the body and the cells.

In doing so, we discover, perhaps, just how tiring it is to engage in the ordinary process of living. We discover what it means when myriad impressions flow into this vessel. We discover that the body is much more sensitive than we ever thought it was, that it is suffused with more energy than we ever knew about, that it uses more resources than we ever suspected.

If anything, this deepens our respect for the body and its work. We have been given an extraordinary tool with which to experience this life. ...Of course, it is much more than that; nonetheless, we must start here with the words in order to find a path to the place where there are none.

Today, I feel saturated. Just meeting ordinary requirements has been difficult, as usual, and on top of that I have had to stay close to myself and repeatedly examined my organic condition, where I am, what the experience is, and try to maintain a specific thread of awareness that connects all of that inner life to the outer circumstances.

Today in particular, that was more difficult. There were certainly two streams of life coexisting, but it was difficult to join them. I found myself inside myself more than I found myself inside myself relating to what was outside. I certainly did not find my self completely identified much with what was outside too often.

It takes a special effort to bring it all together. If we choose to reside solely in sensation in the organic experience of being, this is not enough. It may well be miraculous, but it is just a support system in the end. It's great to have a flagpole, but a flagpole doesn't serve if we don't run a flag up it.

Of course, in my experience, there are days when there just is not enough of the material that it takes to form these connections. I don't think we should get frustrated by this. We have to be patient. After all, the welding of the inner organs into a cohesive whole is a project that takes years to accomplish. There are many times when we need to accept the specific conditions we find ourselves in with the understanding that we don't need to force the attention into a connection that happens -- at that particular moment -- to be inappropriate to the work that needs to be done.

In other words, there may be a reason that things appear to be difficult. It may not be that we are deficient; it may just be that there is work being done down there under the surface that we don't know that much about, that is entirely necessary, that we shouldn't screw around with by kicking it in the seat of the pants.

A year ago or more, I characterized this by pointing out that there are many situations where we think we are lacking in our work when, in fact, we are really working at capacity and it is about the best we can do. We only have so much available to us. The best we can do is use it wisely.

Using it wisely means not trying to be Superman all the time.

There is ample support for our work available at all times, but it may not look like we expect it to look, and it may not be what we expect it to be. In fact, I suspect that support comes from the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely times, in the most unlikely forms.

As long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other, and our efforts are as sincere as we can make them, we need to trust in ourselves -- without judgment -- that what we have within us supports us, and our efforts are positive---

that there is a possibility.

may your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I experience life

Today I'm tired again, and I have been wrestling business problems that behave like irritated live alligators. So instead of solemnly shouldering the blog and tackling whacking great philosophical problems, I'm just going to relax and enjoy myself.

I was considering the below this morning, after another straight-up shot of Dogen, and I thought it might be interesting to sketch it out on paper., blog.

Let's examine the title phrase of this post. "I experience life."

We might all agree that this experience of life flowing into us comprises everything that we are.
From a certain, perhaps we might say objective scientific point of view, this appears to be true.

However, a great deal appears to be true which upon very careful examination turns out not to be true at all, because its premises are false. The fact is that most of us rarely pause to examine our premises. Mr. Gurdjieff pointed this out frequently.

Because premises are necessary, we take them for granted. That is where mistakes begin. So, in the spirit of Mr. Gurdjieff's relentless questioning, let us examine each word in this particular phrase.

The word "I" is already in error. It presumes a division between subject and object which does not exist in the real world. Everything is already a subject, and everything is already an object. Subjects and objects are one thing. It is only consciousness as we experience it that divides them into arbitrary classes--which cannot exist in Truth: Truth is classless and without division.

So in place of the word "I", we should use no word, but just breathe in and out.

The word "experience" is in error. "Experience" presumes the possibility of an alternative. if there is "experience," there is also "no experience," and there cannot be "no experience." Try to imagine no experience, if you can. Imagine non-existence.

Go ahead. Find it.

Furthermore, this word limits the immediate moment by turning it into a concrete object. Time is not graspable: no sensed moment can be a thing. In fact, there are no things.

Tricky, that one.

Hence, in the place of the word "experience," we should also use no word, but just breathe in and out.

The word "life" is in error. "Life" imposes limits which fundamentally cannot exist. There is life before life, and there is life after life, so everything is life. Even things that do not appear to be life are life.

Perhaps we could try to substitute the word "Dharma," or, "reality." But even these words are a few tiny letters or brief vibrations within the atmosphere which are unable to touch the infinite sea of Truth which everything exists in.

Whenever we use words, it seems, we begin in error.

As with music, perhaps we could begin in silence,

...and breathe in and out.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Joy and depth of being

I woke up this morning disturbed and unsettled, after a premonitory dream that seems to have come from far, far away—beyond even death itself.

It made contacting the fundamental positive tone of the day more difficult than usual. In this work, in this life, there are days when the energies that need to be received, ingested, and transmitted are more demanding.

On such days, there is still an underlying inner joy that sustains, but it is tinged with colors that spring from the innermost depths of the soul, where the struggles between dissolution and creation are unresolved.

My intention today was to write about the essential joy of our work and our life, and instead I find myself—not unhappy, not negative—but suffused with energies that demand something from me other than the untrammeled joyfulness that so often springs from a better connection within the organism.

I must have intuited this day would be so, because in the little pink notebook where I occasionally jot down a few very brief notes regarding the day’s subject, I wrote, directly after the word “joy,” “depth of being.”

In other words, I mentioned not only the merchandise, but the price.

What do I mean by depth of being?

There can be no joy without depth of being, and depth of being demands something of us. If we wish to participate in bliss, we must be willing to engage in the transubstantiation of sorrow.

The ingestion of our life is a digestive process that encompasses three kinds of food. Their interactions are complex, and the organism as it stands is poorly equipped to deal with them properly. If we do begin to live with a more complete digestive process, it brings with it sensations, experiences, requirements we are not familiar with. All of this needs to be patiently suffered in the search for one’s self. As Gurdjieff said, more or less, “blessed is a man without a soul; blessed is the man whose soul is complete; but woe unto him whose soul is in birth.”

In the midst of this struggle to be born, which we call life, we are called on to live. This means swallowing the impressions of our life more deeply: allowing them to fall into places we are not familiar with, accepting the rootedness with which they arrive, with which they are received.

We discover nothing more and nothing less than raw life itself, crawling, falling, digging into us like a living animal that wants to become our own flesh.

Which is exactly what it is.

We are what we swallow. In awareness, we grow roots within the body that seek out nourishment from what we breathe, from what we see, from what we touch and sense and smell. Capillaries that carry the sensation of life into the very heart of the cells themselves.

Allegory? Romanticism?

No, fact. The process is necessary. We cannot become other than what we are unless our impressions go much deeper into us than they usually do. The receptacle we inhabit—the vessel—must open its inner recesses in order to properly store any royal jelly from the incoming flow of life. We must allow penetration in a way we do not yet know.

Depth of being is not about comfort. Yes, there is an essential joy to life, which should be, I find, expressed insofar as possible without restraint.

This does not excuse us from work. And work is not so simple as observing a few annoying quirks, or the fact that we forget things. We may think work is about seeing a habit, or remembering to remember ourselves. But work is not about thinking… we cannot know God with the mind.

Work is eating our lives, rather than allowing our lives to eat us.

And in this work, we must remember:

The chef understands our nutritional needs, but he is not employed to cook to our tastes.

May your trees bear fruit, etc.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A report on Beelzebub

As I have mentioned before, I am up to my proverbial eyebrows in review of the material in "Beelzebub's tales to his Grandson." Even here in China.

Not only did I read the whole book myself late last year and early this year--due to a fortuitous set of events, I unexpectedly found myself editing a massive quantity of sound files of various chapters being read out loud. Listening to the material being read to me is certainly a different experience than reading it myself. As I pour over the text, listening, reading, and pondering, I reevaluate -- and reevaluate -- and reevaluate.

It has been a terrifically valuable experience. I gained several major insights into meaning of the text over the last month which never would have arrived were it not for this project. I feel an enormous debt of gratitude to Mr. Gurdjieff for the effort he put into this book and the bones that he buried in it.

At the same time --one of the things that Gurdjieff insisted we do is to question everything -- even Gurdjieff himself. And so, inevitably, I ask myself questions about this text, instead of swallowing the bait whole.

Over the course of nearly 40 years of familiarity with his material (How so long?-- in the 1960's, a sixth grade teacher of mine, recognizing my precocious literary abilities, recommended I read Beelzebub -- which turned out to be over my head at that time, although I did try it on for size) I have satisfied myself that a great deal of what he said is true.

The true things that he did say are enormously important. They are probably some of the most important true things that have been sent to man in the last few centuries.

At the same time, I am not--as I have pointed out before in this blog-- satisfied with everything he said, and I refuse to sign on to a cult of idolization of the man. He was clearly as fallibly and touchingly human as the rest of us, despite his apparent level of development. His all-too-human weakness for colorful anecdotes and his tendency to engage in drama (which are hardly examples of his famous "impartial mentation") are all too evident in the "Beelzebub's tales to his Grandson." And those observations are certainly consistent with the details I hear from people who knew him personally.

What are we to make of Gurdjieff's ruthless and relentless criticism of man's present state? He stands almost alone among spiritual teachers (well, there may be a few fire and brimstone evangelists, but I doubt he would appreciate being classified with them) in apparent pessimism about what ordinary life can bring. His laundry list of man's foibles, transgressions, and sins makes the Catholic Church look like a libertarian organization. His deeply held belief that we are absolutely worthless the way we all are is offensive to almost everyone. --of course, I have little doubt that that particular feature of his work was intentional. Provoking reactions in people is one of the best ways to get their attention, and people will do little or nothing unless you get their attention.

His message to us reminds me of the way we treat children. In my own case, with our homegrown rat-pack of teenagers, I am often excessively stern. Much to my "exclusively-saintly-nurturing" wife's distress, I paint horrifically grim pictures of the future, repeatedly issue dire warnings about the disastrous state of my teenagers' being, the way they approach life, their activities, their attitude, and so on and so forth.

A lot of it is drama. In fact, I recognize that the kids really aren't that bad at all. I am just trying to spur them on in order to get them to organize their lives, get off their asses, and do something. The objective is to get them to see that life is not a merry-go-round where the only thing to be done is entertain oneself 24/7.

When I look at this, and I read Beelzebub, I realize that Gurdjieff was treating us in much the same way. Personally, I don't think things are quite as grim as he painted them. I think if he was in front of me right now and I stood him down (being the arrogant, stubborn Dutchman that I am) he would concede that we are not totally hopeless, that not everything about life is bad or worthless, and that even the smallest among us achieve something in this life, ...even if it is not very much.

In this day and age, when man has reached the technological levels he has, and we are damaging as many things as we are damaging, -- at least in the natural world -- there is a need to find a more positivist methodology to life. The bleakly Victorian pronouncements about the state of man which the oeuvre of the classic Gurdjieff literature leave us with don't ring true in today's world. Both the tone and the attitude are dated. People don't understand them. The Gurdjieff work might have been better off turning itself into a religion. People grok religions better.
Let's face it, heaven and hell are a little easier to understand than the ray of creation. ...So much so that Gurdjieff himself apparently failed to resist the temptation of seasoning his work with a bit of their piquant flavor. (see his remarks to O. in regard to levels and laws, about the place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth.")

I don't believe that we can move things forward, either individually or in terms of our society, by constantly telling each other how screwed up everything is. We need a message that affirms our possibilities, that affirms the value of our relationships and our lives. One of the reasons I like Paramahansa Yogananda is that he offers this alternative. His relentlessly positive message about our nature and our possibilities provides a perfect counterweight to the leaden pessimism of Gurdjieffian parentage.

It may sound odd to hear a person so utterly devoted to Gurdjieff's work say these things about him. I think, however, that in questioning him we must recognize and accept his weaknesses as well as his strengths. To blindly worship everything he wrote and agree with all of his points of view is just plain stupid. If he wanted anything from us, it was to act for ourselves, to think for ourselves, to be for ourselves.

Not to fall under the influence of everyone else and everything else.

Real work does not produce the same "results" every time. The whole point of development is that each human being has the potential to express a unique individuality through the development of their spiritual aim and effort.

This is why Jeanne DeSalzmann was not like Gurdjieff. She didn't say the same things he did, she didn't teach the same way he did, she didn't act like he did. Nonetheless she is recognized as a legitimate successor to Mr. Gurdjieff, at least within the formal confines of the G. Foundation as it stands today. J. G. Bennett was also different, and he also established a line of work that was uniquely his own.

Gurdjieff's work, as he said himself, did not "belong" to Gurdjieff, and it was not in the business of producing Gurdjieff clones. We should all consider that carefully as we examine our expectations and attitudes both in regard to our own work and the work of the people within the Gurdjieff work at large.

Today, this work, which is "the" work, not "Gurdjieff's" work, belongs to those of us who are alive and make efforts within it.

We do not know what it will produce. It will not produce another Gurdjieff, that is certain. There was only and ever can be one of him.

Whatever it produces, if it is real, will have to be new, challenging, fresh, different. It will not look like people dressed up as dervishes or Sufis. It will not sound like the music that Gurdjieff and de Hartman wrote. Its food will not smell like the dishes cooked in the past, and meetings will not be held in yesterday's buildings.

It will have to become a work for this century, for people as they are, and will have to take the political, social, and technological situations on the planet as they are today into account.

Even the internet.

If there is anything Gurdjieff intimated in Beelzebub's tales of his many descents to the planet, and in his tales of the various avatars that attempted to help humanity, what he intimated is this: New situations demand new approaches.

To all appearances, Gurdjieff himself lived that way, as did his work.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Reflections on Compassion

I spent the early afternoon today shopping for antiques on Shanghai's Fangbangzhong Lu. One has to dig around, but there are still good things to be found here. In particular one stumbles across numerous fine Buddhist artifacts that ought to be rescued from the obscurity thrust upon them by time, disinterest, and communism. At times it looks to me like the whole religion is up for sale here.

On the other hand, a quick perusal of the rafters of ads in Shambala magazine gives much the same impression. I sometimes ask myself, why does every impulse in man ultimately turn up as merchandise?

I got back to the hotel drenched in sweat -- I gave myself the task of lugging heavy stone Buddhas by foot through the streets to get some exercise -- and had a fine sandwich in the lobby. Now I sit on the 39th floor of an ultra modern skyscraper staring across a city that is suddenly drenched in mist and rain, and intermittently thrashed by spectacular bolts of lightning.

Even the most contemporary architecture assumes a primeval aspect when it is surrounded and softened by the medium of water, and then highlighted with intense jolts of natural electricity. I could offer you a picture this very instant of the exact impression before me, but the picture I took yesterday -- reflections of advertising signs in a pond in the Ningbo -- is so appealing abstract and colorful that I prefer it.

Let's move on to the subject of the day.

Those who read my posts regularly are aware that I have been engaged for a number of years now in the study of inner negativity--what it is, why it arises, and how we can become less subject to it.

As I continue, on this trip, to review Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub"--part of an audio project whose results will be completed and released, insh'Allah, in the eventual future--I am still engaged in the final chapter, "from the author." One of the signature features of the lecture presented in this chapter is the discussion of the famous traditional yoga analogy of man's inner organization to a horse, a driver, and a carriage.

Astute readers of this passage may pick up on the fact that in Gurdjieff's eyes, the part of the arrangement that has the most serious problems is the horse -- that is, the emotions. The driver functions at least marginally, and the carriage may be challenged, but it is at least functional. The emotions,on the other hand, have been completely abused and are all but uneducated.

I believe we need to study this question in much more detail. As I have indicated before, the health and well-being of the emotional center depends on the interrelationship between the organs-- the inner flowers--that conduct its vibrations. Without a healthy emotional center, the motive force of our inner work is crippled.

It's clear that this emotional deficit is a universal problem: half the nation is on prescription mood enhancers of one kind or another. When a significant portion of the population needs drugs to feel emotionally whole, it's clear something is going very wrong inside people. What's even more surprising, we don't even question it. In this day and age, it is just about taken for granted that our emotions are going to be broken.

How many of us, however, sit down every morning to conduct, through meditation, a thorough study of our emotional state in order to determine why it's broken?

All the chemicals we are using to boost our morale are chemicals we ought to be producing on our own. One would think we might want to undertake an effort in this regard, rather than swallowing little colored pills. As one of my group members said to me a while back, "the chemicals we make ourselves are better."

I remember that many years ago, when I asked how to approach work on the emotions, my teacher indicated that there was no way to work directly on the emotions, that this would enter my work "on its own" when it was necessary.

I don't like to contradict my own teacher, who I deeply love and respect. I owe her a great deal. Nonetheless, my own investigations over the past five years have led me to believe that her take on this is not correct.

The specific work of receiving and connecting the inner energies is work on the emotions. This work needs to be conducted in strict accordance with the enneagram, a detail that seems lost on many of those who are familiar with the Gurdjieff work.

It's essentially true that just about every major branch of yoga understands work with energy, and in this manner one might say they are all equal, and that the Gurdjieff work is the "same" work. That, however, is a terribly mistaken point of view. It would only be true if there were no enneagram. The enneagram provides the objective organizing principle for inner work with energy that was lost by all the yoga schools.

Does anyone take it seriously? Our attitude is usually "oh, yeah, the enneagram." And we move on to other more important questions. Here I am tempted, like Zen master Dogen, to castigate the "mistaken views of non-Buddhists."

In order to reorganize, to reconnect and, yes, remember the proper work of the emotional center, and to learn how to acquire the food that is needed for it, we must work according to the principles of the enneagram. This should not be so mysterious. The cult of avoidance that seems to have arisen within the formal branches of the Gurdjieff work in regard to this question needs to be overcome. The diagram is perhaps the most important tool the school has, and yet I do not see enough serious work being done on it. In the past 25 years I have consistently discovered that any potentially practical application of this diagram is almost completely ignored.

Amazing, isn't it?

All right. Enough of my incessant preaching about this subject. Let's talk about the nature of emotion and its place in our work.

Based on my own observations and research, right emotional food changes the center of gravity in our lives in a dramatic manner. If and when we acquire it, several emotional features emerge within a man that are completely buried and deeply dysfunctional under ordinary circumstances.

The first feature is gratitude, and the second one is compassion.

Right emotional food will bring a profound and penetrating gratitude for even the most ordinary circumstances of life. This gratitude is organic, that is, it arises within the marrow of the bones, lives within the spine, expands the heart, and comes to dominate the experience of life. It carries within it the seeds of that experience Mr. Gurdjieff called "remorse of conscience." Those seeds, by the way, are also the seeds of Joy.

It is possible to feel gratitude towards a pencil, or a windblown piece of trash. This emotion of gratitude should appear within the landscape of life on a daily basis; it is a fundamental aspect of the Dharma. It is absent simply because the parts that produce it are starved. Let me be clear: we do not need to seek gratitude. If we are working in a right way, gratitude will seek us.

Compassion is a larger question. Compassion arises from the interaction between the emotional center and the added, and blended, experiences of the intellectual and moving center. In a sense, this feature belongs to the fourth personality of man. It should always be present. In fact, as the Buddhists maintained, and as Christ probably would have insisted, it is man's most important calling.

And once again: if we work in a right way, we will not need to try to "practice" compassion. We will be compassionate. Real compassion is effortless; it arises as a natural consequence of right work.

If we refer to the chapter "From the Author," page 1087 in the new edition, we find Mr. Gurdjieff saying: "...the highest aim and sense of human life is the striving for the welfare of one's neighbor," and... this is attainable only through the conscious renunciation of one's own."

If this is not a description of compassion, I will eat my hat. Mr. Gurdjieff was no fringe figure, no mountebank establisher of unique and deviant cults; the central question of his work was the question of compassion--as it must be in every real work.

If a man develops a real "I", compassion will emerge in the same way that the sun rises in the morning. Love is the heart of this work we are in.

Those of you who have taken the time to download my essay on chakras and the enneagram have been introduced to the understanding that the energy we must feed ourselves with is Love. Love is not an abstraction or concept, it is an actual physical food that we are able to receive and ingest.

If you don't already know this personally, my friends, you deserve to. Understanding work in this way will utterly change your life.

Mankind was created for this purpose. It's sad that, taken as a whole, so little of humanity has any experience of this. If there truly is a sorrow at the heart of the universe, it would have to be God's sorrow at seeing what he has made available for his creation-- which we all so cavalierly ignore and throw away. Jesus tried to remind us of this in his sermon on the Mount when he referred to the lilies of the field.

In seeking to heal the emotional center, we seek to find in the food of love, to receive it within this vessel, to bring the vibrations that it carries into right relationship within all of the inner parts, so that at least a trickle of it can enter our daily life.

I remember a moment from years ago: one of our more venerable movement teachers reading to us at the end of a class from a text written by the master of the Mevlevi dervishes.

I'll have to paraphrase.

"People don't understand why we turn," the master said. "We turn in order to bring down the light. There can be no more beautiful work."

Amen to that, brothers and sisters.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Life in Work

On the road in Ningbo. It's been a long, hot day. While in the airport this morning, I pondered as follows:

How can our inner work become a living thing?

This is—or at least ought to be, don’t you think?—a vital question for almost everyone.

The perennial complaint: we don’t remember ourselves; we don’t remember our work. We trudge along on the hamster wheel of life. The mind—the whole mind, not just that part that formulates—isn’t strong enough to remember to work. Sleep is a powerful thing.

But what is this “mind” that isn’t strong enough? And can we will ourselves with this “mind” to become strong enough to remember our work? Can we “do” that? Which mind needs to become mindful?

The question is related to the living presence of sensation—the organic sense of being—and the act of awareness in breathing. These are parts- “personal assistants,” if you will—that can awaken within our effort, so much so that one cannot forget one’s work.

Then life divides itself into two channels, or streams:
--one in which the idea of work, the wish for work, and the physical awareness of work are always present,
--and the other, which deals with the mechanical, habitual, and day to day requirements of business and society.

On this business trip I’ve had occasion to study the conditions within both these streams of existence. They do not have to remain separate: conjunction arrives, they blend together, one and the other, so that there is both work in life- as it is called in the Gurdjieff work—and that even more important thing which no one ever speaks of—

Life in work.

It’s damned interesting, how we have—more or less—never heard that phrase before, isn’t it?

Think it over.

If there is no life in our work, how can there be work in our life?

Can we agree? A psychological work is a dormant work. Something else has to happen. Our work needs to become an actual living organism in its own right. Not a machine we kick-start that sputters and dies the moment we stop paying attention to it.

There are parts within us that want to participate in our life, but which we have little or no contact with. Parts that have a wish every bit as great as the one that brought us to a path, but don’t know how to connect with this formatory element we call “ourselves.”

Parts that want to help us work.

These parts aren’t getting enough food. They are not getting the right kind of food. Hell, they can’t even find food. Other parts—particularly the negative ones—are literally eating their lunch. If they are nourished, however, they can awaken and bring a whole new level of effort into our work.

A deep, ongoing effort to find and help connect the centers within, to discover the threads that bind our inner state together, can help these parts reach the surface and participate. I firmly believe that the reason Dogen emphasized the relentless practice of Zazen was that anyone who sits diligently enough, for long enough, cannot fail to begin to notice these parts.

These parts are asleep.

Once noticed, they can be encouraged.
Once encouraged, they will assist.
Once they assist, things change.

I am reminded of Gurdjieff’s explanation of the four personalities, which is found at the beginning of his lecture in the last chapter of Beelzebub- “From the Author.” Three of the four personalities comprise the intellectual, emotional, and moving centers…

Wait a minute…


Yes, that’s right. Each of these centers a being in its own right, just as intelligent, active, capable and versatile as the other, -- a person--yet think about it—the only part we generally know and experience as a person is the thinking part.

There are implications here. Questions that need to be asked about just what we are, and why we do not know fully two-thirds—or (read the chapter) perhaps even three quarters—of what we are as persons.

If we begin to know the moving center through sensation, and it awakens, we discover an ally that is often stronger than sleep. And if we discover the emotional center—if we open our inner flowers—well then, that is where a real work truly begins. We can discover within this work a joy, a satisfaction, an understanding and a gratitude that is unobtainable in any other manner.

Our inner work can—wants to—become love and joy, folks. It wants to live.

It’s in there.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A method of beginning the day

How can we begin to pay attention to how we are? After all, there are so many competing parts within us, it can get downright confusing. No matter where we turn it seems like our “inner space” is already occupied by usurpers who claim a pressing need. We get up groggy, disconnected: by the time we suit up, kick start the engine, and hit our inner highway, the motorcycle gangs are already out,

…and they don’t use mufflers.

Like Gurdjieff’s Karapet of Tiflis, we need to get there first. And as he so handily discovered, the best time to do that is the very first thing in the morning.

One useful effort in regard to connection with breath is to try and see how it is immediately upon awakening. We can attempt to make it our first thought and experience of the day. We can try to know that we breathe before we know anything else.

Can we see at once the weight of this body, the inevitability and demand of inhabiting this “bag of skin and bones?”

Perhaps we could say to ourselves, lying there in bed,

“Life begins here.”

One way to approach this might be to set a personal “stop” exercise to be implemented the moment we awaken: to stop and precisely sense just how the relationship between breath, body, and mind is.

The method I use is to wake up and intentionally settle back in bed, lying on my back with my arms folded, hands on my chest—like a corpse, or an Egyptian mummy—and then intentionally do nothing but sense my breathing and my organism for a few minutes.

In doing so, I turn my attention to appreciating how the breath itself feeds the cells in the body—I rediscover the experience of breathing in relationship to the sensation of the left and right side of my body—I remind myself physically that I live in this organism, from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet.

Within the breath, I can attempt to discover how “I am” without any “I am.”

This “bird gets worm” approach is useful because it’s possible to study the relationship before the majority of the associative parts of the brain get going and contaminate the experience, that is, cover it up with dense layers of thinking. It can be an intensely personal and private moment: this study is all about our personal relationship to ourselves. It’s an opportunity to establish a greater intimacy between the psychological experience we call “life” and the physical experience of our life, that is, the root of the psychology.

You may sense you are doing yourself a personal favor if you take a few moments to sense in this manner before letting your feet hit the floor. The act of developing a relationship with breath is an act of friendship towards ourselves.

I have observed many times before that we are vessels. What does that mean?

Developing a connection with breath, with sensation, is an effort in the direction of cultivating the organic sense of being a vessel. There can be no understanding of vessels until there is an experience of vessels, and that experience isn’t mental. It has to be sought within the rooted nature of the vessel itself.

This brings us to the question of attention used as a means of discrimination. New wine—the wine of impressions, of air—cannot flow into an old vessel. Consider this:

First, the experience of the vessel itself must be new.

If we do not know how to discriminate between old and new vessels, where will we store our wine? And it is above all in the discernment of small, immediate, and practical matters that we can begin to learn how to apply discrimination. Such experience is born not of the concept, but of the moment.


If we just begin the day knowing we breathe, and that’s all we know, it’s already a big thing.

Go for it.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

what is air?

On the road in China. Back across on the ferry, towards the modern mecca of Shanghai. Hours in cars, ever pondering. Today I have already walked across hotel lobbies lined with fossiliferous limestones; trudged up factory staircases where coarse quartz nuggets and sinuous hornblende stringers dance in the frozen majesty of their own personal ice age: negotiated textile prices, contemplated yellow bitter melon flowers and the ochre red of roadside bricks, and eaten jellyfish, tripe, and pumpkin flavored sticky rice cakes.

On: from business, to business.

I have recently devoted a number of posts to various theoretical questions, and now discover a wish to return to a few discussions of my active work interests and the questions they raise.

In order to do this I sometimes end up sharing more intimate personal observations, including material that may not be of practical use to readers without specific personal direction—which, sadly, can’t be offered in a blog.

My apologies there. Follow as best you can.

As my work progresses, more and more often I find myself engaged in a study of my precise physical state, such as it is.

When our work centers around our attitudes, our ideas, our psychology and its inevitable consequences—all of which arises from our personality and its contact with the outside world—we inevitably study our interaction with the outside world, and aim at results that correspond to the outside world. In other words, we seek to understand the external, be in right relationship to the external, fix the external—as if that were in fact possible.

It’s perhaps inevitable that inner work begins in the external. As it progresses, however, if it deepens, becomes more organic, we begin to see that the root cause of how things are, how we are, arises from an inner state that is not so much mental as physical in nature. The inner state—our ennegram, our solar system in formation —is what is out of kilter. We’re not connected right inside.

Gurdjieff certainly placed emphasis on this, asking his pupils—among other things—to study their tensions, study their postures. He went so far as to state that attitude, mental state, arises from posture, that is, the physical manifestation of the internal begets the outer relationship with the external. He asked his pupils to begin with the coarse—external physical posture—but ultimately we need to progress to the fine, that is, the detailed sensory study, through what G. would have called “active being-mentation”, of the channels within the body.

It all starts “in here.” We have to stay very close to home in order to conduct our study.

The root cause of “how we are” begins in the exchange of energies and substances within the organism. If we are not studying our machine—the parts of the machine itself, and not what arises from them—we are not studying what we need to study.

Consequently, I spend a great deal of my day trying to see just how I am in terms of inner physical state. In particular, I am interested in the manner in which breathing is connected to sensation. In my experience, this matter deserves a great deal more attention than it seems to get in everyday spiritual work… I just don’t hear about it much. In the Gurdjieff system, we read about this subject in chapter 10 of “In Search of the Miraculous” and then the subject disappears, submerged beneath successive massive waves of other ideas.

In group work these days it seems it is barely, if ever, touched on, when it ought to in fact be a much more central question.

The matter of man’s relationship to what he breathes and in what manner he turns his attention to it is of critical interest. Nothing fundamental can change in man without a new kind of active participation of the second being food—air--, and nothing fundamental can change there unless the attention is directed at it. In other words, in order to digest more of what is available in the second being food, one must turn to an understanding of the third being food, that of impressions, for assistance. The whole chapter of the chemical factory in “Miraculous” draws a picture of this question in some detail. If you consider it carefully, you will realize that these subjects of air and impressions are intimately linked.

Breathing with attention—not manipulation—forms the connecting link between mind and body, between psychology and sensation. If we wish to develop a real sensation—as discussed in yesterday’s post—we must better understand this connection. Hence there needs to be a much more active precision in attention within the experience of interaction between breath, mind, and body.

The question of just what that consists of needs to be studied on a daily basis.

It is not just breathing in and out, and the awareness of it, that we need to study. It is a question of exactly what we are breathing in and out. It is even a question of where we are breathing in and out. What organs can take in the breath? Where does air go in the body? How does it feel when I breathe in? Out? Can I affect the quality of that through directed attention alone?


It’s well worth the time, when practicing Zazen, to settle down and study this question with great precision, without any manipulation. Not to count breaths- not to try and “use” breathing for any “special” purpose—just to breathe, to know breathing, to seek the very deepest roots in the body and discover the manner in which breath penetrates and feeds them.

Gurdjieff pointed out that for most normal beings—he did not include man in the list of “normal”—breathing air brings with it an inestimable bliss.

What did he mean by that? Aren’t we in the least bit curious?

Can we discover a path towards that bliss within our ordinary life?

We can.

Inward breath, gratitude. Outward breath, gratitude.

Love to you all, within the limitations that circumstances permit.

May your trees bear fruit.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Empty oceans

Today as we took the ferry across the murky, earth-red bay between Shanghai and the northern peninsula of Nantong, a woman strolled between the cars, selling live turtles. A brace of good sized ones, box turtles, suspended in a nylon net.

The moment was typical of China- a country where most animal life is appreciated strictly from a food-value point of view- but especially poignant for me, as I’m currently reading Carl Safina’s “Voyage of the Turtle” (highly recommended.)

The book raises a lot of very difficult questions about both the wholesale destruction of turtle populations, and of worldwide fishing industry practices in general. Do you know what we’re doing?

Reality check: in less than 300 years, human beings have managed to strip the oceans of what probably amounts to about 90% of its fish and reptile populations. The prospect of having nothing left is directly in front of us as immanent reality, not fear-based speculation. Yet as a species, we just don’t take it seriously.

It reminds me of Gurdjieff’s description of mankind: biped destroyers of nature’s good.

Why has mankind ended up this way? ...Perhaps one explanation is as good as another when it comes to diagnosing depravity? Or is there some more basic issue we aren't seeing?

My own take on it is as follows:

I was standing in the hotel elevator this morning and a group of young girls got in the elevator. As I watched them I abruptly realized that none of them had any sense at all of the connection between their minds and their bodies: not a single one of them understood the question of the organic sense of being from a personal or practical point of view—

nor were they ever likely to.

At that moment, these sweet young girls struck me as... well.. nothing more than monkeys.

Human beings just don’t have the proper senses any more. The organs within them that need to awaken and connect them to themselves—the sense of their marrow, the sense of their breath actively feeding their life, the sense of every single cell in their body as a living, respiring part of their organism- those organs are entirely dormant.

In fact, with very few exceptions, humans don’t even know this ability—the potential for which resides within every human organism--exists at all, so no one bothers trying to attain it.

Even within the body of active practitioners in the Gurdjieff work, I get the impression that this intimate organic sensation of self remains largely theoretical. The one teacher who truly emphasized it- Madame De Salzmann- is dead, and with it, apparently, a good deal of the discussion of this fundamental practice, which ought to, in my own opinion, be a central point of group work.

We may suppose, fairly enough, that people don’t speak of it because it is still, for them, an idea, not a reality. And perhaps that is a respectable position to take.

However- let me assure you, my friends. This premise--this possibility--is not theoretical.

It’s clear—at least to me—from what she said that De Salzmann quite rightly understood this question of an organic, global, durable sensation of the body as the foundation stone for the beginning of an inner work that is truly awake and alive within the organism, instead of residing within the psychological parts. We speak here of a sensation that does not go away in daily life—a sensation which is awake in its own right and supports the organism in its efforts. In Zen, they call it attaining the marrow.

The organic sense of being inevitably awakens within one the sense of being connected to the planet. De Salzmann spoke often of how we needed to work lest the planet “go down” precisely because of this connection within her.

She knew what we are.

The organic sense of being, in and of itself, begins to help us form a correct understanding of our relationship with nature, which we have forgotten. Part of self- remembering is to "remember" this:

Our identity is not limited to the confines of the organism we inhabit.

If we understand this, turtles—and all of nature in general—become much more interesting to us. We are all, as a whole, participating in this magnificent experience called organic life on earth together. One is a little less likely to inflict wholesale damage to nature once one perceives it as a part of one’s self.

At this point, readers may quite rightly ask: how does one acquire an organic sense of being? And why should we care about it more than blah, blah, blah? (Substitute your favorite cause of choice here.)

It’s not as complicated, vague, or obscure as it may sound. It does involve submitting to a long term, systematic discipline. Like absolutely all other questions of inner development, it has everything—everything—to do with right formation of connections between the inner centers. There is a practical, a definite, one might even say a scientific method of undertaking this particular work, and the keys to an understanding of it reside in the enneagram.

As to caring—well, we should care because the planet needs this work.

I can’t exactly explain that in the esoteric context, which has to do with cosmological questions of identity too great to address in a blog (or probably anywhere else where words are necessary.) I can, however, explain that forming a right sense of being is vital to understanding what we are, where we are, and how we need to approach the question of inhabiting our lives.

And as to the when and the why?- We should do it now, because it is needed. We might want to recall that in many of mankind’s creation myths, the earth was formed on the back of a great turtle. When we fail to form a right connection within ourselves, we’re killing the turtle.

But who’s interested?

These days, it appears as though no one cares if the ocean is empty, as long as the waves look good.

May your trees bear fruit, your wells yield water, and your turtles swim free.