Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Help comes

Sojurns in China. From Hangzhou to Shanghai to Guangzhou--and now Shenzhen--immersed in the day to day of business life, taken (as usual, like all of us) by the trials and circumstances of the daily--ness of this life,

I see that support is needed.

Inner connections are always present and available in one form or another; for example, organic sensation rarely leaves. But such sensation is not enough.

Organic gratitude arises- but again, gratitude is not enough.

What is so often missing is the wish to be more present than through mind and sensation alone, and the willingness to make an effort.

The lack of self remembering is the chief factor behind this failure to make an effort, and a great deal of this lack is, I see, in the weakness of the mind.

Not the mind I ordinarily inhabit, that formless formatory tool, but a mind with impetus, with a force behind it.

The mind can begin to acquire some of this through an interest with--and food from--a more intimate connection with the organism, but my efforts at that, real though they are, are clumsy efforts-- beginner efforts. The fumblings of a child whose fingers cannot yet grasp a button or tie a shoelace.

In order for more to become possible, I see this morning, I must acknowledge that I cannot do. That the doing--should there be any--begins, and ends, with help from a higher power. And in order to become available to that I have to be willing to give up what I think I am. What I think I can do. The only things I do not have to give up, it would seem, are the patience to wait for help, and the recognition that help will come.

Do we really believe that- CAN we really believe that--

That help will come?

I bear personal witness to the fact that help comes. Of course, that can hardly be transmitted to another, but HELP DOES COME. When Mr. Gurdjieff told his pupils (as recounted in Frank Sinclair's "Without Benefit Of Clergy") to appeal personally to Christ for help, he was not offering us the HYPOTHESIS of help.

He was offering us the real, absolute, concrete FACT that such help can come if we ask for it. If you don't believe that such astral intercession is possible, well,


You're wrong.

I admit this idea may seem theoretical, farfetched, and distant to readers. I have never (and may never) offered a definitive public (i.e., blogged) explanation of how I came to know this. But I do not only know--even more importantly, I understand--that help can come.

For me, it is not a theoretical premise.

So today, in the midst of my own ordinariness and my own long, and boldly impatient, waiting, I pass this on to readers without embellishment or detail.

Just the simple fact that help comes.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Not of this world

It's a rainy morning in Shanghai. My hotel window looks out over the brave New World of the Bund, where early 20th-century European architecture (laden with the classical burden of 2000 years of Greco-Roman culture) has been overwhelmed by the bold and often peculiar vision of China's new architects.

One of my friends and readers was remarking about the spectacle of the Olympic opening, which suggested cultural depths we don't understand. I agree with him. It has struck me repeatedly on my trips to China that this is a culture, and a nation, that believes in itself. They contain a commitment (to the external, at least) that we have lost.

At the same time, my overwhelming impression of this culture from an inner point of view is that they have exterminated a great deal of what used to make the wheels turn here. Buddhism has been stamped down, if not out; spirituality is of no great interest to most of those whom I meet. They are dominated instead by an intense interest in getting rich. No one here believes in the idea of putting one's treasure up in heaven; rather, the idea is to force heaven to cough up its treasures here and now.

Of course, that's how we all operate. Throughout human history, spirituality has been dragged down to and contaminated by this level, where everything operates on a "gimme" basis. Instead of considering what it ought to offer, mankind thinks in terms of what it can get.

As I meditate, I see that this attitude contaminates me even at the deepest levels, where surrender to forces I do not want to surrender to is not an option, but an absolute necessity.

It is a very difficult thing for any of us to come to the understanding that nothing -- I repeat, nothing -- that we do or gain in this world of the external has anything to do with our true purpose. We are like larvae that inhabit a pile of dung, and happily believe that the dung is our destiny. We are completely unaware of the idea that metamorphosis might ahead, and that our destiny could be to take wing and fly, not crawl around in the shit forever.

I suppose that's not surprising. To we larva, shit is life.

On the insect level, clinging to this belief is a hardwired instinct. It doesn't make any difference; unless a bird plucks grub from poop, eventually nature will have its way, and a fly or beetle with (perhaps) a magnificent iridescent carapace will emerge. In our own case, however, a bit more is required. It may or may not be that heaven takes care of metamorphosis for us all, in one way or another.

Nonetheless, every great religious tradition insists that the result of our inner metamorphosis is not guaranteed. The insect metamorphoses from a grub into a creature with an exoskeleton. This hard, durable protective cover (it's possible to recover insect exoskeletons from the age of the dinosaurs that still consist of their original chitin) comes with some pretty ironclad guarantees, but it's inflexible.

Man comes from a line of evolution with endoskeletons. That is, his inner structure can be far more durable in substance than his outer coating. At the same time, if his bones are weak, he'll collapse. In my ongoing investigation of the intersection between the inner and the outer, this question of inner structure is paramount.

The more we invest in our attachment to the outside world, the more we convince ourselves that modern architecture, Olympic spectacles, and Krugerrands are where it's at. We don't see how ephemeral and temporary all of this is. I find myself sitting around plotting how I can arrange things more comfortably, get more money, have more sex, be more important. In my own case the ironies are more than redoubled; inner experience has verified again and again that these are not the truly satisfying aims of life. And I find myself in what I might call a pitched battle (a poor analogy) between the demands of the outer life and the needs of the inner one.

The tension arises from the inhabitation of this organism, which is actually a factory with perpetual demands for fuel and stimulation of various kinds. Those demands do not always coincide with what consciousness sees as necessary, and they often exceed consciousness in terms of their motive force. In other words, the mind is weak, and trapped in a position where it seems that it has to spend most of its time shoveling coal into a furnace.

Typically, we call this a struggle.

It is actually a call to value relationship. The value needs to change.

Even when we know this, we resist. Even when we are touched by an inner force that can change us, we say no.

Why do we do that?

Perhaps this is the paramount question we must continually ask ourselves as we stand in front of our perverse, and adamant, refusal.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

compassion, humility, foundation

One of the Buddhas at Lingyin temple in Hangzhou.

One of the consequences of many years in the Gurdjieff work--as, perhaps, in any spiritual work -- is that one actually begins to change.

One starts out in any work being told that change is possible, but requires effort. One acquires a theoretical idea of what change consists of. But once change truly arises, one discovers that the theories one had are inaccurate.

In this particular work, we are told to commit ourselves to self observation, and we stumble around with the idea for many years, doing our best to understand it from many different angles. We are not, necessarily, told exactly what to observe or how to observe it -- just to observe. And indeed, in the long run, one is both told -- and one discovers -- that the point is to just see.

In the acquisition of this understanding, factors in life begin to change. We are not, in the Gurdjieff work, specifically told how we will begin to change, or what will change, or what should change.

Now, this is certainly different than religions. They damned well tell you what must change.

Or else.

Brazenly do-it-yourself spirituality such as Gurdjieff's doesn't hand out such information on a silver platter. So in many ways, we in the work undertake this practice of self observation on faith. We are told that we will begin to "awaken.". Or at least, that we will not sleep so soundly.

What does all that mean?

To a certainty, we are not sure. I have watched people who are decidedly my seniors in the work continue to struggle with this question after many years of dedicated effort. Some of us come to one thing; some of us come to another; some begin to question whether they are coming to anything at all. This is a work that tries the soul with hammer and tongs; no ready-made answers await us. We must each heat our own anvil and make shoes for our own horse.

Perhaps we may all be a bit baffled by what we do--or don't--come to. Many of us eventually see definite "results" of one kind or another, and in numerous cases, when we compare notes, we begin to see points of contact. Nonetheless, for each man or woman, his or her inner voyage of self-discovery is unique, and we are left seeing ourselves--whether with disgust, astonishment, or sympathy--are ultimately surprised at what we see, not knowing whether this is what was "supposed" to happen.

Is anything "supposed" to happen? Are we supposed to know what will happen? Regular readers will recall that I have said many times, anything we can imagine will happen is wrong. Real "results" of inner work consistently defy imagination and defy expectations.

So let's talk about that for a minute.

For myself, one of the most unexpected turns in my work, a turn onto a path that emerged over seven years ago, is a turn deeper and deeper into the question of seeing my own smallness. Or, as Gurdjieff would call it, my nothingness.

Continually confronted with this understanding -- which, I must say, is a chemical and organic understanding, not an idea I have -- the twin forces of humility and compassion become ever more active questions for me in the exercise of life. Now, mind you, that doesn't mean I have humility or that I have compassion -- it just means that they may visit me from time to time, and when they arrive, I welcome them like old friends, because I know that they are teachers who come from far away to help me.

Is that what Gurdjieff intended for us? I don't know. I do know that it lies very close to the bones of Christianity; or, if you will forgive an entirely inappropriate comparison, it's the very meat of Buddhism. LOL. My own take on it is, if Gurdjieff did not intend for us to understand these questions, his work must be flawed, because it has led me inexorably down this path, despite the fact that compassion and humility do not seem to be prominently signposted features of the Gurdjieffian landscape.

Well, perhaps I am not being entirely accurate there. Certainly, in "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," these ideas are touched on enough times, if from oblique and unexpected directions. Nonetheless, I don't necessarily meet people discussing these "results" all that often in groups or elsewhere. The experiences I have -- experiences of what I believe Gurdjieff would have called "organic shame," the deepest sense of sorrow about my own lack -- the anguish that visits me in an inner sense whenever I draw closer to something that is real and true within myself -- well, I don't hear much about this from other people.

Am I becoming too Christian? Too Buddhist?

Is there such a thing?

I can't tell you. I don't always spout the party line in the Gurdjieff work, but I see myself as a conservative. I don't believe in mixing lines of work, and I feel reasonably sure I have some things wrong that even more conservative folks -- especially older ones -- would probably set me right on.

That worries me, because I see that I don't know enough, and I increasingly see that, as Gurdjieff said, the elder is the teacher. Some of those hidebound, conservative, annoying older people who I secretly (and sometimes publically) object to are probably much closer to the truth than I want them to be. Because of this, as I grow older, I learn. Sometimes what I learn is that they had it right all along, silly me.

So anyone who catches me backing down from a position in this blog, don't be surprised. I get things wrong all the time. As I have said before, these are the best experiences -- when I get things wrong. After all, if I get something wrong, and realize it, then I have learned something new. Getting things right just encourages me to keep trudging over the same territory again and again.

There is one area, though, where I will not cede any territory, and this is in the area where I insist that we must all attempt to deepen an organic understanding of compassion and humility.

Every ounce of effort that we expend criticizing one another, fighting one another, is an ounce of effort that could have gone in to a better kind of inner work. I wish to come to the table of my own life every day and make sure that everyone else who sits at it is served the largest possible bowl of forgiveness. I need to learn to meet others on the common ground of our own humanity.

That is an increasingly humbling place, worthy to share with my friends and enemies alike.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Friday, August 8, 2008

public and private faces; transmission of the unknown

I had an extremely groovy picture of a Buddha for this post, but it got edited out in favor of the above image, for reasons that will become apparent. Read on. More Buddhas tomorrow.

Occasionally, as the readership knows, I end up posting a more tactile and personal piece. Then again, the point of this enterprise is to offer not just theories, facts, and ideas, but something a little closer to the bone as well.

Once again, in his latest comments, rlnyc seems to psychically sense the questions I’m pondering. Perhaps this is reasonable—we know each other well, and have worked closely together for some time now—but the synchronicity of it consistently startles me, nonetheless. It's just downright weird, the way people who are closest to my own personal work will be working the same point as I am, even if we are on opposite sides of the globe.

After nearly two years of publicly writing about my own inner work, and inner work in general, I’m struck by the chasm between what we are able to offer outwardly and what we experience inwardly.

The outer life, outer events, circumstances, forms, and exchanges, all have a materiality that is fundamentally different than the inner condition. Our Being—such, insh'Allah, as we may have it—stands at the juncture between the known and the unknown: the intersection of an inner world, umbilically and viscerally connected to forces unknown, and the outer world, crudely steeped in, and forever celebrating, its own literalism.

The images that come to mind when I ponder this dichotomy are Mithraic in nature: I’m reminded of May 2001... of going down into a cult crypt in Ostia Antica near Rome, where a preternatural life-sized statue of a bull sacrifice all but fills one end of the small room: lined with benches, with dappled lichen yellows and moss greens smoldering in sunlight that streams down from a hole in the roof.

Ultimately, our inner work inhabits this underworld of the ancients; a world of power, hidden from this one, in which the immense natural forces we serve touch us in ways we don’t understand and can’t elaborate. They have no images or names; in our imaginations and our dreams, we cast them as evangelistic bulls, winged angels, men with the faces of dogs. Logic and reason fail; Horus and Anubis rule these realms.

This is the world of myth; it’s a world we carry within us, timeless, mysterious, and forever resistant to our stubborn attempts at interpretation. Here in these hidden inner spaces, our real work takes place. Like naïve children, we grasp hold of it and draw fragile elements into the light of day; parade them in front of one another, as though we understood something. Yet the deepest meanings are forever hidden; and perhaps we even sometimes sense that the worldly urges that compel us to show the faces of our souls to others are perversions, even the betrayal of a sacred covenant between Lord and maker.

Perhaps that’s why religions cloak themselves in mysteries, prophets speak in tongues and parables, and Gurdjieff himself “buried his bones” in the epic mythology of “Beelzebub.” In the end, we can’t bring anything of that world to this one; all we can offer one another are the pale shadows which Plato’s prisoners see cast upon the walls of their cells.

Nonetheless, somewhere within this dialectic between seen and unseen, we manage to transmit some faded version of our experience in a way valuable enough that we help each other grow. How that happens is mysterious; it may not even take place within the words themselves, and perhaps we’re naïve to believe it does; naïve, even, to believe that any of the forms we create and share actually have an impact.

It may be that the subtle currents, the electromagnetic pulses and pheromones that we exchange in proximity to one another, are far more important in the end than any words. Certainly, coming out of the work week two weeks ago, after seven days of immersion in waters unknown, drinking deep from streams of collective endeavor, I had no sense whatsoever that the words were what fed me.

Certainly, they were part of it; and even here, they are not without purpose. Nonetheless, it’s wise to call them into question.

To doubt the very words themselves, and look past them.

May we all sink deep within the inner life of the self this day, and discover a point of breath that draws the darkened silken thread of Being into contact with our sleep.

And, as always, may your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

meaning and value

Regular readers may have noticed by now that I have just about never published a photo of myself on this blog.

Today, at the end of the day, one of my vendors was kind enough to take me to Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, where one of my staff members took this picture. The Buddhas are pretty cool, so I decided to make an exception.

This morning, while I was walking around West Lake, I was pondering the questions of meaning and value. I think that I had some pretty intelligent observations about the question. I say I think so, because by now (6:30 p.m.) I am whipped by jet lag, and feeling about as stupid as a log.

Anyway, I will try to dredge up some of the observations.

Maurice Nicoll said in his commentaries that we are all looking for meaning in life. Meaning, however, is not an intellectual construction -- even though in today's world a great deal of it is configured that way. Intellectuals, academics, bankers, businessmen, and so on try to construct meaning using facts. Generally speaking, that's our habit. In my own experience, however, as good as I am about learning things and remembering things and assembling lots of different facts, that type of meaning is as flat as table rock. (table rock, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, refers to large expanses of featureles bedrock that have been polished flat by glaciers.)

Meaning actually consists of the emotional content within life. If the emotions are off -- if the emotional parts are not working well -- almost everything loses its meaning. We've all had the experience of breaking up a relationship or losing a loved one, and discovering that our formerly rich world suddenly seems featureless and colorless.

Emotion, in other words, is what assigns meaning to our lives. It is the chief tool of measurement of life. We don't measure life with facts, and figures, and statistics (and when we try to, we end up with disasters like the subprime loan crisis)-- we measure life with our emotional parts. And in the measurement, we assign the valuation.

Because our emotional parts work faster than any other part, valuation is assigned to almost anything just about instantly. This means that our emotional part values before anything else gets to the situation. Or it devalues before anything else gets there; that's very common. What that means is that unless our emotional parts are working well, values that may well be invalid get slapped all over everything. And in fact, in watching impressions fall into me, that is almost exactly what happens. Everything just arrives willy-nilly, and who the hell knows where it is going or how it gets organized once it arrives.

Even more important, I know I can't trust my emotional reactions. It's already become quite clear that they are undisciplined and frequently irrational. It's perfectly okay for me to have them -- after all, I can't get rid of them -- but acting on them is generally unwise. I am not sure about the rest of you, but if I truly started acting on impulse, Doom would swiftly ensue.

A third observation is that emotional center isn't well-connected in the morning. I always need a while to get things organized there.

One of the principal difficulties with emotional well-being is that we are trapped in what I would call the lower part of the emotional octave. That is to say, we keep repeating over and over within a range of emotional value that attaches itself too firmly to the material.

In order to improve the situation, we need to nurture our emotional well-being in ways that psychology alone cannot bring us to. An organic sensation becomes necessary; that is to say, emotion needs to become connected to the body in the same way that the mind becomes connected to the body.

This is a subtle point. You'll notice that many teachings talk about the mind/body connection. It's almost as though everyone has forgotten that there needs to be a certain kind of emotion/body connection.

Because emotions immediately provoke physical reactions, we think they are connected to the body already. That is of course true, but only in the crudest sense. I'm speaking here of a new kind of connection between emotions and the body. A connection with a great deal more awareness in it than just the usual reactions we have. If we want to look for what is missing in the picture, this is a good place to start. For myself, whenever I bring my attention to the point of relationship, I notice this missing element almost immediately.

Where is it? I'm not sure. I need to make more efforts in order to bring the parts together.

This kind of connection is what needs to develop in order for emotions to begin to become more whole. As they do so, valuation assumes a completely different weight both in the body and the mind. Meaning changes. We begin to see that what we thought had meaning was insignificant, and that things we never paid attention to before are paramount.

One final note to readers. After a good deal of work on the essay about the structural nature of man, I decided to go ahead and publish it in what is to some extent an unfinished version (click the link.) After you trudge through the technical details, you will discover that a good deal of the essay is about the questions raised in this post.

All the essential points are present. I have not, however, set it up as available for download yet.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The dead man's handle

It appears as though some material from the essay I'm working on will be leaking out through this blog as I progress. Rather than struggle against the process, I have decided to accept it.

Today's subject matter occurred to me two weeks ago. At that time, I hadn't conceived of the essay, and saw it as material for a stand-alone piece. It was only today -- in a car on the way to a quilt factory in Pujiang-- that I realized it belongs in the essay. At the same time, it doesn't seem right to deprive it its original place, that is, here.

So here it is.

In old-fashioned railway steam engines, the engineer (i.e., driver) had to deploy a device called the dead man's handle in order to move the train forward. (Richard Thompson has a great song by that title, by the way.) It was designed in such a way that if he ever let go -- for any reason, but especially the reason that he was dead (by heart attack, or pistol shot, or whatever) -- the handle would automatically move back to the off position, stopping the train.

Not long ago, in my immediate vicinity, the question was raised as to what we have in us that might stop us from assuming we have developed to the highest level (or any higher level whatsoever) when, in fact, we have not. In other words, how do we know if we have reached a level -- any level? Metaphysical history is, after all, littered with the sad remains of what I call “99% masters”-- men who thought they knew everything, but were in the end missing something vital that fell into what we would call the "unknown unknown” ...for those men.

Spiritual works that unfetter themselves from traditions can tend to produce such situations. Traditions, hidebound and form--oriented though they may be, tend to have safeguards. Mavericks, outsiders, and Unique Celestial Gurus may routinely eschew such limitations, but they do so at their own risk.

In Christianity, and Islam, and Buddhism, the dead man's handle consists of compassion and humility. No matter how far we go, in these traditional practices, it is firmly understood that in the absence of these two features, any development whatsoever is ultimately flawed. And, indeed, we discover these two practices at the heart of Gurdjieff's work. No coincidence, perhaps, considering his firmly Christian roots, his deeply Islamic practices, and the large dose of (apparently) Tibetan Buddhism he spiced his teachings with.

The practice of outer considering is above all a compassionate one. And the sensing of one’s own nothingness is perhaps the quintessential ingredient in humility.

In the first practice, we work to develop and understand empathy. In the second, we kneel before what Gurdjieff called "his endlessness" in abject acknowledgment of our subservience. The entire chapter of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is about the second practice. It's likely that no other single piece of literature sums man's vanity and obligations up in such a comprehensive manner.

These two understandings are closely tied to development of emotional center. As the emotional octave becomes more whole, these two experiences should deepen. And, in fact, they relate to the two intervals of the octave.

The practice of outer considering is above all a practice of attention. In order to have compassion, we must attend to those around us -- discover their humanity, see that we are just like they are. We must attend to their manifestations, attend to their needs, attend to an understanding of the difficult and even desperate situations we all fall victim to. So, in a very real sense, the practice of compassion is directly related to conscious labor.

The practice of sensing one's own nothingness is related to intentional suffering. In placing the ego under the authority of something much larger, of course we suffer. None of us want to give up this thing that we believe makes us what we are. It is only the willingness within us to intentionally allow a force greater than ourselves to act that can make anything real possible. This is directly related to the idea of submission, of the surrender that Islam demands of man.

And why, you may ask, are these two qualities of compassion and humility so important? It’s quite simple, really.

In the way of the fakir and the way of the Yogi, tremendous strength and tremendous intelligence may be developed, yes. However, in the absence of the development of emotional center -- the way of the monk -- they are subject to abuse. Only the proper development of emotional center can help a man who develops in other ways to avoid the disaster incumbent upon one who has too much strength, or too much intellect, without enough heart.

And in both cases, without the heart, one will inevitably lead others astray -- a crime which is difficult to redress.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

shadow and substance

Keeping in the tradition of this blog, I am posting from the business class lounge in Seoul, South Korea, on the first leg of another one of my journeys into mainland China.

I want to begin by apologizing to the readership for my failure to publish my structural essay before I left on the trip. The subject matter is complex, and I decided to divide the essay into two parts, including a "warm, fuzzy" part that simplifies it and discusses it in more practical terms. That second portion is not finished yet, and there is no point in rushing something on a serious matter into print.

I hope to have it finished within this week, at which point it will be made available. There is no harm, however, in discussing a little bit of what it's about.

We are taught in the Gurdjieff work that everything proceeds according to the law of octaves. This means that every set of events represents the evolution of energy according to a set of laws of vibration. The argument would not be unfamiliar to physicists, and proponents of string theory in particular; according to them, the entire universe -- all of reality -- arises from what we might call meta-cosmic strings which vibrate at different rates. Anyway, all of that is extremely technical. The point here is that everything that precedes inside us is also subject to the law of octaves.

The essay's premise is that every center has its own inner octave, and that the octaves of all the inner centers are closely interrelated in an unexpected way.

The details should be left to the essay. The open question that can be asked outside that context is, how do we sense this question in our own bodies?

The question cannot be left as a theoretical one. If we are going, as Jeanne DeSalzmann suggested, to "stay in front of our own lack," the lack we ought to be staying in front of is our failure to sense this process in ourselves. We don't bring our attention to the question of the inner rate of vibration. That action involves a much closer inspection of the organism and its process.

In attempting to approach this, we struggle with the difference between shadow and substance. Too much information on the matter stimulates our imagination; the danger is that instead of truly experiencing our inner state, we will imagine we are doing so. This danger is all too prevalent, and everyone in the work falls victim to it somewhere along their own path. The whole point -- one of the whole points -- of working in groups is so that we can help curb each other's imaginary impulses.

On the other hand, not enough information causes us to completely overlook this question, to not even understand where the question lies, and to fall into a soft, mushy, and relatively undefined territory where we become satisfied and even complacent with insufficient efforts. We don't understand that we need to be working with a more exact, more clear, more awake and aware understanding of this question.


In a stunning example of synchronicity (or is it something more?...) my good friend rlnyc left a comment on the last post about how our work extends down to even the quantum level. He is absolutely correct; the forthcoming essay already discusses this.

Many will believe that this is an analogy, but it is not. The processes that drive the emergence of classical reality from the quantum level are the exact same processes that cause a manifestation of Being to arise from the intersection of consciousness and matter. It's necessary to understand this from direct experience; no amount of writing about it will do.

I must confess, after rlnyc's post, the prospect of putting this information out in front of readers gets me so excited that I am tempted to race off, finish the essay right now (I don't have time, because my flight will be called in a half an hour or so) and slam it onto the Web.

Fortunately for all of us, I'm unable to do that. Instead, it is possible for me to offer this brief excerpt from the essay.

Laws, the enneagram, and quantum theory

...Just a brief "aside" here to point out that the law of three, as viewed within the enneagram, corresponds to momentum. The law of seven corresponds to location. In the same way that the existence of a particle “magically” emerges from the dialectical tension of quantum uncertainty (velocity versus location) through the agency of an observer, the existence of Being within man emerges from the effort of the physically observed interaction of the two laws. In this sense, in order for being to emerge, a man has to actually inhabit his own enneagram. Unless his awareness observes the process of interaction, the emergent potential of Being-- which represents "reality," rather than the illusion man perpetually dwells in -- goes unrealized. He continues to dwell in an unresolved “quantum dialectic” which represents potential, blocked by contradiction.

The relationship between the enneagram and the broad concepts of quantum uncertainty and emergent classical reality is perhaps an unexpected one. Nonetheless, the principles confirm Gurdjieff's contention that this diagram describes everything, if one only knew how to read it. Is it truly surprising that the process of Being arises in the same way at every level? Being, we discover, is a lawful phenomenon embedded at the root of reality, and reaching all the way to its apex.

For now, friends, that's all... but I look forward to continuing the enterprise from China, where postings will continue... with or without progress on (or completion of) the essay.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Structural issues

In the study of inner conditions, it can take many years of careful observation in order to understand some of the points that Mr. Gurdjieff made to Ouspensky. Compounding this matter--the challenge of investing all the time, that is -- it's an objective fact that the scientific system of inner evolution which Gurdjieff expounded is a detailed and highly technical one.

Inevitably, just as not everyone has a naturally adept moving center, not everyone has an inherent ability--or inclination--to understand the more difficult intellectual aspects of this work. Some people are bad at movements. Other people can't think very well. Still others are an emotional mess.

Well, this is what we have to work with.

Over the years, it seems as though people with particular strengths have divided into camps. There are those who enjoy the study of the ideas -- they almost revel in them -- and invest in a strongly psychological interpretation of the work. Then there are those who act more like shamans, feeling and sensing their way to every discovery. All of these approaches are valid. Each one of them has its strengths and weaknesses. And every approach seems to "partly forget" that in an effort to attain a three centered being, all of the centers need to be working together.

Gurdjieff's original teaching, as expounded to and by Ouspensky, has all of the trappings of a high Djana yoga practice, that is, an extraordinary intellectual development that grasps the principles needed to master the other two branches. Nonetheless, it seems clear he abandoned that and moved into a much more intuitive and direct approach through experience in his later work.

One could engage in a great deal of argument about why that took place. But we won't.

Subsequently, Jeanne DeSalzmann made what appeared to many to be significant changes in the way that the Gurdjieff work was conducted. My own investigations and experience lead me to conclude that she never deviated whatsoever from the original premises and intentions of Gurdjieff's work. She was working on a specific point, at a specific level, that she had a comprehensive understanding of. It was, and is, so to speak, the ground floor of the work.

That is not to say that it is a "lower" work. The ground floor of this work is higher than the top floor of some others. She was not, as far as I can see, of a strongly intellectual inclination, and it was not her place or her intention to expound further on the structural and theoretical premises Gurdjieff introduced. There is no doubt he left a great deal unsaid; and he did this because those who came after him would have to make the efforts to understand those matters.

Every one of us who keeps the Gurdjieff work alive in our own practice -- whether we are priests or shamans, movers, empaths, or "scientists" -- has a direct responsibility to help move the work forward in whatever way we are able.

For my own part, in presenting the material to the public in a contemporary forum, I have attempted to balance structural and theoretical work -- of which you will find a good deal in the hundreds of other posts on this blog -- with experiential and so-to-speak "touchy-feely" material. For myself, caught between the demands of an active intellectual life and a fairly sensitive (as well as potentially explosive) emotional part, it is not always clear as to where the strongest values lie.

There are times when I have specific and meaningful insights about the structure of the work that are definitely theoretical in nature, but nonetheless appear to be significant. Some of those are embedded in the essays at the website.

There are other times when it seems to me it's nearly impossible to convey anything real to people through the medium of theory. Actually, I tend to lean in that direction, and have for some time.

That does not mean that theory is useless. In terms of practical work, there can be moments where a significant (and only partially theoretical) insight explodes like a supernova in the midst of an actual experience. That happened to me this morning.

At such times, the structure that is revealed and the connections that are drawn are so vast and intricate that they defy any ordinary attempt at explanation. In instances like that, I feel like I have looked over the Grand Canyon and then been left to describe it in 50 words or less.

An even more significant problem is that that's all people really want to read: "50 words or less." I try to keep these essays short, so that readers won't get bored, and so that no one is asked to swallow oceans in a single gulp. Generally speaking, with some few exceptions, long books filled with endless detail about esoteric matters bore the death out of me, and I suspect I have plenty of company on that one. I think that esotericism is a strong wine, best sipped one small glass at a time.

Today I am faced with the dilemma of attempting to describe the structural insights that I had without writing a long piece, and it simply is not possible. Consequently, I am going to write an essay for publication on the doremishock website. I hope to have it done before I leave for China next Monday.

The piece will consist of a further examination of the structural nature of emotional center -- which is, I wager, far more complex than most of us suspect. It will also offer some suggestions as to why the role of this center in inner work is so absolutely vital. In doing so, we will touch on some much larger questions about the inner structure of man that may help better explain why Gurdjieff contended that man has the structure of the entire universe in him.

The reason for this rambling prelude is to give readers a heads up. Those who are interested in structural matters should prepare themselves -- if they have not already done so -- by reading the essay on chakras and the enneagram. It is required reading for the next set of theoretical insights. In addition, the essay "on the development of emotional center" is important reading if one intends to grasp the nature of the new material.

So. We'll see if I can pull it off.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Monday, July 28, 2008

experience and intention

The common understanding in the Gurdjieff work is that it is a work of experiential nature. That is to say, inner development ultimately depends on--and must be verified by--personal experience.

Experience, however, is not enough. Everyone has experienced. Experience is, so to speak, cheap. In a certain sense, the whole universe is made of it.

There are a number of schools of thought about the significance of experience. Reductionist schools (schools formed by modern Western scientists) argue that experience exists, arises according to physical law, but is ultimately accidental and devoid of objective meaning. Some -- perhaps many -- Buddhist and Hindu schools might argue--at the core, anyway -- that experience is illusory or even nonexistent. Then we have the vast majority of schools, philosophical, religious and otherwise, who argue that experience must be interpreted through a cosmology or structure, at which point it is assigned a meaning -- usually a subjective one, even if it includes the concept of God.

So here we have three interpretive forms for reality: existence without meaning, nonexistence, and existence with meaning. Broadly speaking, this is the question of experience as viewed on a larger scale.

On the individual scale, experience inevitably begins within structure. That is to say, consciousness inhabits a body. In the classic yoga Sutra which Gurdjieff so famously and so often repeated, it is represented by the carriage, a vehicle which carries consciousness. (Astute readers will note that Gurdjieff's Beelzebub makes all of his voyages in the spaceship Karnak, whose name resembles the root Latin word for flesh, carnis.)

Despite the heartfelt efforts of the more nihilistic branches of metaphysics, it's difficult to dispel this particular condition. The flesh exists, and within it arrives experience. We are left with a choice between meaningless experience (and hence a meaningless existence,) and meaningful experience.

So, I ask, myself, what confers meaning?

It is not the experience alone, but the intention of the experience.

We have experience in our lives whether we want it or not. In fact, for most of us, more often than not we don't want experience. Life, as the Buddha determined, consists largely of suffering, then death. We have designed a thousand ways to distract ourselves from this objective suffering of inhabiting a body. We turn away from the reality of our incarnation. The entire condition of sleep consists of a turning away from relationship.

This past week, I again had the experience of seeing that I truly don't like inhabiting this body. It is terribly difficult. It is demanding. It can also be frightening. True, there are an awful lot of good things about it, but in the end, I don't think I would be here if I did not have a compelling inner question that could only be answered by confronting the question of mortality. And the body is, absolutely, the tool for that work.

It is in the turning back towards the experience of the body, within the body, that the glimmerings of meaning can begin to arise. This requires intention.

In our own work, we have three centers. When we begin to seek within ourselves, it always begins with the intention of the mind. It is only much later than intention can arise in other centers, and that only after prolonged effort to interest them in a cooperation. Until then, we live only in the mind. Our approach is partial; we analyze experience instead of investing in it. To invest in experience is to become clothed in it, saturated by it, to dwell within it and inhabit it. This kind of activity may not have much to do with what we usually believe living and experience consists of. There is an immersion required that is not of the intellectual mind.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, perhaps experience--and hence existence--within meaning does not stem from the constructions our intellect creates. They are all subjective; they compete with one another, but nothing can prevail, because everything is of equal weight. A man can spend his entire life constructing a meaning with enormous care, only to see it catastrophically collapse when some new fact he didn't take into account suddenly arrives on the scene. This is a rather common experience for human beings.

Meaning has to arise from within the organism, not be artificially constructed from outside of it. Animals--despite, or even perhaps because, of their obvious intellectual limitations--still have the capacity to live this way, but man has forgotten it.

In man, the only way for him to rediscover this capacity is to have an intention. The intention must be to have an attention within the centers. And that intention cannot arise when the experience of centers is limited to mental constructions.

The only way to remedy this is to form connections to the emotional and moving center which awaken their own wish. A man has to have a tangible, concrete, irrevocable experience and understanding of the actual existence of these centers in a different way before he can begin to see how they fail to be in relationship.

This means that a person can spend many years -- 20, 30 years -- in the work before they actually begin to understand this in anything other than a theoretical matter. It is only there that the real work begins.

To most people in today's world, this will seem like a pessimistic assessment; I'm sure it will drive many people away from the work if they pause to consider it. We want, after all, to obtain results right away -- preferably on a two-day retreat to some serenely pleasant environment upstate, or so on -- and go right back to our ordinary lives speaking wisely, and being more wonderful, more compassionate people. No one wants to put in the years or pay the hard coin it takes to gain something permanent and real.

If one persists, even the first real experience of seeing the centers -- or even their parts -- already consists of one of the extraordinary miracles Gurdjieff said man was capable of. To actually experience that there is something in us other than this mind we abuse is already a huge transformation. Of course, measured against the external world of substances, that knowledge doesn't seem to be worth much. Unless, that is, one wants to know what it actually means to be a human being.

Gurdjieff famously said "Man cannot do." For myself, I say it a bit differently. "Man cannot do much."

Man can have an intention towards himself. Yes, we may forget it constantly. Yes, we may be weak and confused. But we do have the potential to stand up inside ourselves and discover respect for ourselves and our organism.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Saving the earth

Back from a work week, with many new impressions.

One of the peculiar effects of conducting a public enterprise regarding the Gurdjieff Work (this blog) is the need for compartmentalization. According to well-established Work principles, which in my conservative set of shoes I definitely follow, I can’t make public any substantial exchange or discussion that took place. Furthermore, more than once during the week, I found myself having thoughts about my experience—and the work itself—which required a decision. I either had to keep such material private, in order to later make it available to this readership, or speak about it in the course of the week, in which case I would be under obligation not to write about later.

Standing between the public and private faces of the Gurdjieff work in this manner creates questions of responsibility that cannot be encountered under alternate circumstances.

This forced me into a much more intensive examination of what was required in terms of exchange during the week. Fortunately, the distinction between what was appropriate for the moment and what was appropriate for later quickly became clear enough. And there are, of course, some quite ordinary events that took place during the week that fall under no reasonable formal strictures.

Following the past week’s observations, there is little doubt left in me as to whether we in the Gurdjieff work take both the enterprise and the activity too intellectually, and too theoretically. It quickly became apparent – distressingly so, to myself and some others- that we cannot even stand up from our seat at dinner and get as far as the kitchen without losing our attention and forgetting to remember ourselves.

I don’t say this by way of judgment. It is just a heartbreaking and humbling reminder of everything Gurdjieff said about our inabilities. Unless our work becomes more organic, as I’ve said many times, and obtains the support of both the body and the emotions in order to function better, the mind is in no way strong enough to keep us on track. If we don’t learn humility here, on the ground floor of this effort, we won’t learn humility at all. And I do believe our humility is fundamentally lacking. We may well be following in the footsteps of Martin Luther’s adage—since we must sin, sin boldly—but I think we are taking his advice a bit more enthusiastically than necessary.

During the week, I ran into a number of ordinary conversations on the subject of saving the planet. Right minded people in the Gurdjieff work, just like those in other spiritual works, are very concerned about this. We all have this perception –undoubtedly correct –that the earth is being desperately damaged by our activity, and that something must to be done to fix it.

I share this concern. On the other hand, the lessons of this week made it quite clear to me that, for the most part, we can’t even get the dishes done with attention. We want to save the whole planet by heroic effort, but we are unable to carry an intention from one moment to the next. If we’re unable to attend to ourselves, how can we attend to the needs of an entire planet? The situation reeks of the contradictions Gurdjieff pointed out, the huge gap between human aspiration and human ability.

The belief that man can “save the planet” is both anthropocentric and grandiose—certainly, at least, if we take “saving the planet” in the outward form that it is conventionally meant. It is a conceit, a vanity, that puts us (as usual) at the center of events—a fundamental misunderstanding of our scale, our location, and our role.

The real question in front of mankind is whether the earth can save man.

Man was placed here to serve a specific purpose which he is, at this time, in apparent danger of failing. The overall level of consciousness in humanity doesn’t seem to be increasing—at least to me. The species appears to be caught in a downward spiral in which we are degrading both our cultures and our environment. The loudest spokespeople of the moment are, perhaps all too appropriately, the suicide bombers.

In order for man to be saved—to be preserved so that he can serve a higher purpose—he has to be worth saving. This isn’t a new concept: the idea that the hero has to first be worthy is a very old one. And in order for man to be worth saving, viewed from the perspective of our work, he must make an effort.

We can’t be sure—but we do know that Mme. De Salzmann indicated that the future of the planet depended on the quality of our work. If man can’t contribute what is needed by the earth for its own work, it may well rearrange things so that man no longer occupies the position he is in now—because the earth will take steps to obtain what is needed by whatever means necessary.

In other words, we are far less important than we think we are.

We all need to redouble our inner efforts, first for our own sake, but second and third for the sake of humanity, and for the sake of the planet.

In the coming days, I’ll be introducing a number of essays—as yet unwritten—that relate to these questions. Readers will encounter new structural insights that recast my earlier work on the questions of the enneagram, relationship between the centers, and the dynamic of inner and outer impressions in a different, and hopefully more integrated, light.

At the same time, we’ll try to remember together that our collective effort must always be to absorb the theory and then move well beyond it, into practice—as always, the territory where the bones discover their own flesh.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Changes in state

Coffee is, to me, one of the four major food groups. And of course, like most people, I prefer it made fresh.

This final morning at Silver Lake, some of us were up with the roosters, milling about the coffee cart in the almost eternally bustling kitchen.

One man picked up a carafe, poured it—and then, having already committed himself, suddenly hesitated and asked, “Is this coffee from last night or this morning?”

“Everything here is from last night,” I replied, “only some of it has changed its state.”

There was laughter all around—and of course I, like everyone, enjoy delivering the comedic blow of a clever remark. But then I walked away to write, and immediately began to ponder the question in light of my work this past week.

This is how materiality functions. The universe--both here and abroad—is always working with the same quantity and identity of matter. It is the quality of the matter that can be changed. The miracle of transformation, which operates at every level of the universe, is that matter has this property of being able to undergo a change in state. The phenomenon of emergence causes remarkable things to take place: atoms organize themselves into molecules. Molecules eventually make cells, and consciousness emerges.

Technology exploits this property of matter to great effect. We are fascinated—hypnotized—by technology and the almost wizardly abilities it confers upon us. But it’s our addiction to the external technologies (and the external in general) that causes us to forget that there are technologies that can change the state of our inner material.

The materiality of the question is at the heart of things spiritual. In Gurdjieff’s cosmology, everything is material, and this means that everything is subject to the application of technology. The inner technology which we seek to apply can cause our internal material to undergo a change of state: and in this change, we are no longer dealing with last night’s stale coffee, the sticky, stinky inner gunk we have bottled up and dragged along inside us (perhaps, even, for many years, rather than a single night.)

He is offering us the chance to make fresh coffee.

And in fact, he reminds us, a man who can make a good cup of coffee is already a man who understands something, and can begin to work. It’s a matter of applying the understanding right now—this morning—which is when the change of state we desire can take place, with the application of attention. It takes some coffee grounds, some water, and some heat.

Here’s my own recipe:

I take the hard, indigestible little beans of my assumptions, my resentments, my judgments, my inner criticisms. I grind them finely using the mill of inner observation. I grind carefully, with attention, until they are reduced to their sediments, prepared for treatment.

Then, using the inner fuel of remorse, I heat water: the energies that have been given me within this body: higher or lower, never mind; we must work with what is at hand and what we have. It’s a subtle thing, this fuel: it needs to arise from the organism itself, and the action of all its parts.

When hot, at the right moment (as best I can judge; such matters are for artistic chefs, not ones who cook “by the book”) I pour that water over the grounds, filtering them carefully until their finest essence is extracted.

I pour myself a cup—black, because this particular brew should not be mixed with things that make it soft or sweet—and suffer the drinking of it.

And it’s in this distilled draught of what I actually am—as opposed to my imaginary picture of myself—that I find the substances that can help wake me up.

Which is, after all, what making coffee is all about.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Call and response

Is the process of our effort at seeking an artifact of the organ kundabuffer's maleficent effect-- are we seeing the question upside down?

Could it be that we are what is sought?

I raise this question in light of the idea that we are—that all organic organisms are—receivers. As Gurdjieff described it, organic life on earth arose specifically to fill a gap—to facilitate the transmission of energies from planet to planetesimal (earth to moon) which would otherwise not function properly. Life is here to receive energies, process them—concentrate them—and then transmit them on.

The idea isn't just a theory. Sufficient practice in the Gurdjieff method can verify it, providing one is willing to make the effort.

This idea, as an idea, raises questions regarding the traditional understanding of the nature of spiritual search. In searching, it’s understood that we are the seekers—that we are reaching towards something. The traditional paradigm, furthermore, is one of separation: we feel separated, and understand it as our responsibility to reach out, to search, to discover.

How often, however, do we consider the idea that what we so avidly seek may be seeking us?

The inner search proceeds in two directions. Just as we search for what is real, both within us and outside of ourselves, so does the real seek for us. The higher levels of which we are a part—which could not even exist without us—are in just as much need of us as we are of them. The wish to reconnect, to recreate the admittedly metaphysical (but in the end, above all, physical) ligatures that bind the levels together is reciprocal.

When we call out in prayer, hoping that our voice will be heard, all too often we are, by our very effort itself, drowning out the voice which calls to us. Certainly, I have moments like that in my own work: moments when it becomes quite clear that what is required does not come from my end.

This does not excuse us from our own efforts at prayer—no, there is certainly an obligation on our part to seek, to call, to wish and to hope—but it does call on us to recognize that there must be an active respiration to our inner effort. That is to say, there must be inward and outward breath:

call and response.

Call and response is an ancient song form, common in what we call “primitive” (read: more essential) cultures. Anyone who has listened to composer David Fanshawe’s original African folk recordings ,which formed the core of his African Sanctus piece, cannot fail to be moved by the form, which contains something in it so ancient it defies the constraints of any cultural history.

Contained within this form is an inherent understanding that the universal language of exchange consists of call and response. As discussed in the last post, call and response is related above all to deeply rooted biological needs and functions, above all sexual; but the presence of this reciprocity of seeker/sought, caller/respondent at such deep levels speaks to what may well be a primal structural element of the universe. If sexual blending, conjugation and reproduction, is the engine that drives the universe, all the way from the atomic and molecular to cosmological levels, then call and response is the reciprocal seeking that makes it all possible.

So here we are in these bodies, having these experiences: as I have pointed out many times, perhaps one of the few exact things that man can verify at all for himself. In the absence of any further work, or the attainment of what Gurdjieff might call an objective state, the balance of all forms (artifacts of our conceptual mind) become conjecture of one kind or another.

We begin with the body: in our ground--up attempts to verify, this is the only place we can start.

In the context of incarnation and the nature of the body, the energies that seek to be received, expressed, and transmitted are already extant within the body. The very existence of the body and its animating awareness are already, as Zen masters might claim, a “perfect expression of the Dharma,” that is, complete within and of themselves. (A contention the lesser-known U.G. Krishnamurti also offered.)

So in the act of receipt and transmission, the tool—the organism—is already complete and (relatively) functional. It is the awareness that fails us, not the equipment. True, our awareness is part of our equipment: I think the point is that it has forgotten this simple fact.

Hence the Gurdjieffian practice of self-remembering. Here we attempt not just to see ourselves—although that is, to be sure, a great part of the aim—but also to reconnect with the deepest of inner needs to participate more fully in this act of call and response: not just mechanically, as is relentlessly required by Great Nature herself, but consciously—that is, in a manner whereby the energies that are transmitted become actively appreciated, rather than just passively received.

Let us move on to a more specific point of interest. In the Gurdjieff work, we often speak of having a connection to sensation. One doesn’t find this idea very prevalent in other spiritual practices, if it is present at all. We are supposed to seek a connection to sensation, cultivate it, keep coming back to it.

And here is the question of sensation, examined from the point of view of receivers.

Do we seek sensation or does it seek us? What is the implication of the reversal of the process?

As I have mentioned before, there is a turning point in the inner experience of the organism which we can aim for. This is the point at which the call for sensation, rather than issuing from our effort, arises instead directly from the organic wish and need of the body itself. At this point of us, we do not seek sensation: sensation seeks us. And it is in this primary and primeval re--ligature to the very presence of our bodies themselves—the reconnection of the inner tissues--to the re-discovery of what one might call their underlying animal nature—that we first begin to truly understand that there are potentialities within us that call to us from minds we do not know.

May your roots find water, and your leaves known sun.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Territory, recognition, repetition: musings on biology and ego

When we speak about Ego, we rarely conceive of it in terms of biology, despite the fact that all of man’s psychological mechanisms—even those supposedly ascribable to what Gurdjieff calls “the organ kundabuffer”—inevitably arose, and continue to arise, from our biological roots. The fact is so obvious we rarely countenance it.

Sitting in the bungalows at silver lake, enjoying a moment of stillness, the air is filled with a lilting cascade of birdsong. The cadence is linguistic, as much as musical; after all, for the bird, this is his language. And the similarities between his assertive, repetitive lyric and the conversations we ordinarily engage in suddenly stike me.

Language is, in man, used—among other things, and perhaps above all—to demarcate the territory occupied by ego. We use words to construct the inner castles we hide in; words to advise others of our powers and proclivities, words to warn and ward, words to build political relationships (both inner and outer.) In short, the function of language in relationship to ego is perhaps comparable to the function of birdsong for male birds.

In both cases, a defensible territory is laid out and proclaimed. In both cases, repetitive phrases--based on a process of natural selection which has preserved that which is found to be effective--are used. In my own experience, men tend to engage in this kind of verbal territorialism far more than women do, using words in a form of competition, one-upmanship in which one’s manhood (read: biological fitness) is determined by who can be the wittiest, the cleverest, the most intelligent—or, in the intelligentsia, above all, the deepest. Deepest, of course, in what usually turns out to be a superficial kind of way.

In examining my own conversational habits—habits I observe in those around me as well—I see that I have a specific repertoire, a group of subjects, stories, expressions, approaches and techniques—which seems mutable, flexible and creative, but which is, in its own way, almost as limited as the relatively brief set of phrases that birds use. I say the same things over and over; tell the same stories, present the same set of relatively clever spins. I’ve watched myself presenting this way for years now, and it surprises me how often I repeat the same things. I construct and present the subjects I discuss in order to gain recognition: I’m laying out my territory.

Territory, repetition, recognition: it’s the standard repertoire of nature. It may appear to belong to me; after all, I’m the one who appears to be directing the show, even though it turns out to be a relatively mechanical set of habits. In the end, however, it’s the product and the property of nature herself; it stems from urges and behaviors that are rooted much deeper in the psyche than I suspect. And now, today, I suspect that ego itself has roots that run this deep: which may be why it seems so impossible to root it out..

Ego knows what kind of food it needs, and it uses language in much the same way that birds use song. One of the foods ego certainly needs is sex; like birds, we use language, our use of it—and not only the words, but (like birds) the very cadence of the delivery itself--in order to attract our mates. In Gurdjieff’s universe, where sex is the engine that drives “everything,” no surprise that language itself is driven by this mechanism. It furthermore raises, of course, the question of just how much of what emanates from ego has, as its ultimate aim, a sexual purpose: rather more than any of us suspect, I think.

It’s worth a careful examination, this study of our birdsong. Not so that we can fault ourselves for being this way: repetitive, competitive, territorial. Not so that we can find a way to pull the fungus of ego up by its mycological roots, either; that is—probably—not only impossible, but also even undesirable. We need the ego, after all; this is one of the unusual features of Gurdjieff’s teaching, as opposed to, for example, the Buddhists. In Gurdjieff’s map of the inner world, the ego has a value, one whose measurement is perhaps in part attributable to its biological roots. In this work, it is not the ego which poses the problem: it is our relationship to it.

And thereby hangs, perhaps, the whole tail. I mean tale.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Friday, July 18, 2008


One of my readers mentioned a few posts back (like what it does not like) that they didn't understand the language I use. They indicated, however, that they felt they understood Mr. Gurdjieff's language, and were definitely more comfortable with it.

The comment came along with some rather disturbing editorial remarks about people who had been in the work thirty or forty years who spoke nicely about attention in the moment, but then went home and beat their wives.

...If you happen to be one of those people, please stop.

Beating your wife, I mean.

I have been pondering this anonymous contributor's remarks for several days now. My pondering runs thus. One option we all have is to stay with what we understand -- or think we understand -- and what we are comfortable with.

But what can we really learn, then? It is what we do not understand, and what leaves us uncomfortable, that urges us forward into the unknown, where we can learn something new, instead of leaning on the crutch of our own personal known.

For myself, when I come up against what I do not understand, that is where the interest lies. And as I get older, I begin to see that everything falls into this category. The parts of me that really need to understand something need to understand something that is not understood. The parts of me that think they know something are all mistaken.

And it is in this contact with that which is not understood -- this cloud of unknowing -- then I begin to learn humility.

Not a sentimental humility, but one that penetrates to the marrow of the bones, helping me to understand--as I cannot help myself--that this vessel, this flesh, and even this being itself, are nothing more than a seed and its leathery husk.

This morning, in my sitting, I once again found myself up against the questions of inner unity, and exactly what it means. Not in an intellectual sense, but in a physical one.

I have repeatedly expressed the sense that we are unable to use words to describe or define the effort that needs to be made to cross the bridge between our external state, and everything that it represents, and the inner mystery which might, among other possibles, be described as the inconceivable and incomprehensible state of a Buddha.

We live our entire lives unsuspecting, rubbing right up against this state. To us (to our intellect, our form) it seems both tangible, intellectually understandable, and incredibly distant, impossible, conceptual -- a goal to strive towards, or a distant land to be reached.

We don't understand that it is right here, already touching us--if only we knew.

What would it mean to truly open the door and invite something real to share this table?

This is a question that needs to be pondered from within the innermost depths of the being, seeking the nectar of flowers that only open in darkness. Relaxing the body, the mind, and everything in them--letting it go. Making room for something entirely different to enter.

Well, there's something else I don't understand very well.
Starting tomorrow, I am on vacation & attending a work week with Neal, so ZYG blog posting will be mostly suspended.

Thanks to my new iPhone -- a device I recommend to everyone who finds technology useful--there is the off chance I will get an opportunity to sneak in one or two posts. Ergo, for those who prefer forward motion to archives, keep one eye on this space.

Regular readers, as well as new visitors, are invited to explore the sizable library of earlier material until posts resume, on or about Saturday, July 26.

Until then, may your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

be well!


Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Yesterday, my friend rlnyc left a comment about Islam on my last post.

I was pondering this question this morning while sitting, in relationship to a question I have been working on in general about the nature of what it means to submit to God's will: not from a verbal point of view, but to submit.

The essential difficulty with the idea of jihad, as the extremists in contemporary Islam understand it, is that they have completely mistaken the nature of the enterprise. Rlnyc pointed that out. Just to expound a bit more on what he so deftly touched on: the way that such men interpret submission is always through their own minds.

When any man attempts to get another man to "submit" to the will of God, according to his understanding, he isn't working to help the other man submit to the will of God at all. He is trying to get him to submit to his will. Throughout history, ordinary religious men have perpetually misunderstand their will as being the same as the will of the Almighty. This is an inevitable pitfall generated by the very nature of the external self.

Everything that we think -- everything that we form with our conventional, associative minds, through our contact with external life -- is, inevitably, the will of man. Ecclesiastes shapes its entire message around the fact that all external activity is vanity, again, that is, the will of man. Paul's tension between the spirit and the flesh is meat cut from the selfsame animal.

All of the ideas we form within ourselves about everything -- even these ideas I am writing, and you are reading, now -- are firmly attached to the external, and represent, as it were, the will of man. This is, of course, a somewhat imperfect representation of the situation, but hopefully you can sense the way the analogy is developing.

In the Lord's prayer, immediately after the acknowledgment of the Lord's supremacy, the first idea that is introduced is that man's will must be retired so that God's will may enter. In the same way (as the author of The Cloud Of Unknowing says) we cannot know God with the mind, we can also not define the Will of God with words. The Lord's prayer implicitly contains within it the understanding that we don't and can't understand God's Will.

Not with these ordinary parts, anyway.

The entire form that we adopt -- the external life we live, the ideas and opinions we have, everything that Gurdjieff used to call "false personality--" is a seed, or, more properly expressed, the shell of a seed. It is a husk, nothing more than a protective layer.

Within it lies an element that, under the right set of circumstances, can change and grow. The parable of the mustard seed in the Bible is about exactly this question.

In order for a seed to change and grow, it has to let something quite different into it. That something is referred to as "water." The role of "heavenly water" is sketched out by the life and deeds of John the Baptist in the New Testament. Water was, and is, necessary in order for the seed to grow. The seed in us has to surrender the hard shell which protects it from the outside, and allow water to enter. At that point, the seed dies, and begins to become something very different than a seed.

In our current state, attached to our form, invested in protection, we cling firmly to the shell. We have the mistaken idea that somehow this seed-shell we live inside is already a tree--that is, that where we are, how we experience, what we think, and so on, actually has some relationship to the will of God. This mistaken idea of what we are stands in the way of anything new happening.

The Buddhists understand this in the sense of attachment, and they say we must surrender all our attachments. This idea of surrendering all our attachments is the same as giving up our form, or shedding our husk. That is, realizing that what we manifest within which is formed in terms of external factors is not part of what we seek from an inner point of view.

The parable of the mustard seed is a yogic parable. The seed has to know when to generate. If it lets water in at the wrong time, it may germinate when it is too hot, or too cold, or too dry, or too wet. In other words, germination itself already has to take place within the context of consciousness.

This, perhaps, is the biggest challenge of the seed: to know that it is a seed, and to understand what seeds are supposed to do. For as long as a seed thinks it is a tree, it is unable to undertake anything that will help it. It has to slowly, carefully open itself to something quite magical -- a hydraulic force, something mediated by a metaphysical water --in order to begin to grow.

The nature of the human vessel, of this organic body, is much subtler than anything our Western minds can reasonably accept. We are, in fact, "germination vessels." And one might surmise, from a careful reading of Gurdjieff's explanations to Ouspensky, that our impressions of life themselves ultimately help mediate the very water that will help us to germinate.

Each living creature is "attached" to this energy from a higher level--the holy spirit--by a "thread" that extends down into them. It is as though we are the growing tip of a root that extends downward from above; the leading edge of an exploratory tendril, dropped from a higher level into this one.

The will of God belongs to what descends from above. It is animate, living, and authoritative. It has no opinions whatsoever, because it doesn't need them. It has no language, because it speaks in the tongues of physics and chemistry. It does not speak of this earth or these things that "we" wish for or desire, because both its origin and its aim belong to needs and tasks that we, at our present level, are unable to understand.

It is, in other words, truly mysterious. Every effort that we make to drag it down to our level and "explain" it is a waste of time. Only the efforts within, in which we attempt to open ourselves, to submit in an inner sense, are profitable. And, as Mr. Gurdjieff said in the his aphorisms,

"Know that this house can only be useful to those who have recognized their own nothingness and who believe in the possibility of changing."

Our own nothingness, I believe, consists of this entire collective misunderstanding of humanity, which breeds divisions and an effort to impose our own will on the will of others.

Much better that we look to ourselves to see what is lacking, than to always see so habitually and so easily what is lacking in others.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Monday, July 14, 2008

One never knows

In my efforts to take the time for some other areas of life, there are less posts right now than at other times. In particular, I have learned the value of pacing myself rather than slamming myself into every activity I engage in with too much energy--and not enough patience.

So I'm balancing my personal enterprises between this one, the execution of some new pieces of artwork, my family responsibilities, the careful attention to some respectable pieces of cooking, and a bit more attention than usual for our three cats and the dog. Along with time to just take in nature, as it is.

Today, rather than plumbing the cosmic depths of some specific esoteric idea, I just want to offer a personal soliloquy.

There are moments in life when one begins to see the futility of attempting to extend one's work beyond the parameters of one's own inner life and one's immediate environs.

To be sure, we all have grandiose impressions of ourselves, our potential, our abilities, the way we can affect things and the way things can affect us. On rare occasions, those impressions may contain a grain of truth. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was aware of the fact that he was exceptional, and certain that he had the ability to leave a mark that would be remembered by his fellow man. Despite an early life of continual setbacks and failures, he never stopped trying to improve himself, and when the moment came, he was prepared to step into shoes so big that no one since his time has been able to wear them.

Most of us aren't destined for larger than life legacies. It is all we can do to step into the intimacy of our own life itself, and make an honest effort to plumb the depths of what we are within this moment, and within ourselves. That, of course, is the aim of inner work--which is quite different than the outer work that Abraham Lincoln so selflessly undertook on behalf of his fellow men.

Both kinds of work are necessary, but only one kind feeds the inner life and the growth of the immortal soul.

In some ways, each one of us has to make a choice between centers of gravity as we go through life: either the internal, or the external. There are some people who manage to walk the line between fame and inner work successfully, but I think they are rare. For the rest of us, we have to discern what is more important to us: to be important in the external world, or to grow something different within ourselves that has integrity and balance.

When I was young, I wanted to be a famous artist. As I grew older, this became less and less important to me, and by now, the center of gravity has shifted 180 degrees. I no longer want to be famous, and I no longer want to be an artist. I may still be a person who draws things and makes things, but I would rather go quietly through life, without any celebration or recognition.

What is important to me is to try and see how I am, and this is no easy thing. It is much more difficult, for example, than being an artist. With enough training, and enough inside knowledge of the tricks of the trade, anyone can do a fine painting. Gurdjieff made a point of this often enough with his contention that a man who observes carefully can do anything externally. Much is made of that lore in the stories that get passed around in the Gurdjieff work.

Inner work is much trickier. It requires a balance that is only born through humility, and chemical substances that don't get acquired reflexively. It also requires help from a different level, help of a kind that we are unaware of and don't even know how to ask for. Above all, I think it involves a change in what the Buddhists call the ego-state.

Let us consider the word "state" here as though it referred not to a condition, but a government. The many "I's" within us are a corporate structure, an inner governing body that continually squabbles, and is just as dysfunctional as the American Congress.

Anyone who lives in America can see that our system of government is a perfect reflection of Gurdjieff's "doctrine of I's." Every few minutes, some new actor appears on the stage to derail the process of consensus: the system is dominated by greed, bribery, chicanery, influence, and subterfuge. Problems get studied endlessly, but no solutions are ever offered. Every moment of decision making seems to end up being nothing more than a decision to lurch to the next moment of decision making.

We complain about the government, the corporate structure, and the way that it ruthlessly sucks everything into its vortex. People speak this way about almost every government.

How many of us see that our inner lives are exactly the same?

Of course, it has to be that way. Man cannot, in his external state, create institutions that are any better than the ones he has within himself. On the rare occasions when a man who has a superior inner quality, such as Abraham Lincoln, comes along, he can change everything. That man, however, is never the man that anyone expects him to be -- Lincoln, after all, was a dark horse, an outsider, and the most unlikely of presidential candidates -- and he never does what people expect him to.

The first thing that Lincoln did after he was elected, for example, was to take all his rivals and form his cabinet from them. In other words, he made his enemies his friends. This is really a kind of genius -- to take all of these squabbling, bickering parts that don't work together, introduce them to each other, and help them to see the benefit of mutual support, instead of dissension.

For myself, if I don't try to see the inner state, and its lack of unity, I cannot begin to change the government. Ego is a government of I The Person; inner change is movement towards a government of We The People. The inner government must become one of a tripartite nature: powerful, intelligent, compassionate. Each of those parts must balance each other and work together.

Increasingly, the steps in this direction are, for me, very personal. I have learned that one can know a great deal, and even understand a great deal, and yet be unable to pass that on to other people. The knowledge that one gets from another is often practically useless; it may be filled with amazing facts, but facts are not reality. They are just reflections of it. It is only our own encounter with reality, and how deeply we drink it in, that creates a man's inner life, and his soul.

Neal and I were walking the famous dog Isabel Saturday morning early, up the road that leads from the salt marsh at the mouth of the Sparkill creek towards Old Tappan, and I sensed it thus.

In the Gurdjieff work, we have a massive form, composed of "the ideas." One can read "In Search of the Miraculous," or other books from the ouevre, and encounter thousands of important facts about the universe, the nature of work, and so on. Nonetheless, even if one studies these ideas for years, and masters certain aspects of understanding, none of that information contains the world within it.

Walking up the road by the creek, seeing the trees, the birds, the rocks, the shrubs and the flowers and even the light that penetrates the air -- all of this transcends everything one ever intellectually learns about the nature of the cosmos. There is more contained within one real moment like this than in every book that was ever written.

We are vessels into which the world flows. If we truly understood that -- understood it, rather than just hearing the words or thinking about it --that would be a tremendous help to our work. And that work is a personal work, a loving work in which we learn how to love ourselves in the right way. A work that creates a new form of self-valuation that consists of questions about everything we do, everything we think, every emotion we feel, every sensation that strikes us. Gentle questions, not harsh judgments. Participation, not rejection.

A form that is about how it is right here, rather than what it might be like over there.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.