Sunday, August 1, 2010

life, feeling, and sensation

I've discussed the fact before that man has the capacity to take life in a much deeper way than the way we are usually accustomed to it. Impressions -- which consist of the sum total of all the sensory information that flows into us at any given moment -- usually fall on superficial parts. The analogy might be the difference between a brief rainstorm on the hard, dry soil of the ego-- where the water rolls off-- and a deep, penetrating rain on soft, friable soil that has been harrowed so that the water soaks in and goes right to the roots of the plant.

When the centers are working properly, impressions can fall much more deeply into the body. There are a number of objective consequences. The perception of time, for one thing, flows more slowly. One could say a good deal more, but I won't.

There are, of course, drugs that can produce such states, but the drug-induced state is next to worthless. It is disconnected from the work of centers in unity-- they are all working at higher rates of vibration, but they are for the most part colliding in relative chaos--and above all the feeling, that is, the part of the emotional center that is capable of coming into contact with higher emotion, doesn't participate in the right way.

This question of feeling is essential. Among some Gurdjieffians, it's not uncommon to refer to feeling as distinct from emotion.

"Emotion" in its entirety is a summary of the usual reactive states we find ourselves in. The emotional center is, however, capable of producing finer perceptions in man if it is functioning properly... as is the moving center, which in conjunction with some support from instinctive center (which in most people works more or less well) produces sensation.

"Feeling" is a distinctive experience which does not relate to our normative emotional experience. As with living sensation, which arises from the awakening of moving center and an action which emanates from it using its own force, feeling arises when the emotional center aligns itself correctly and begins to participate actively in what we refer to as wish.

Back in the old days, when Ouspensky's "version" of the Gurdjieff work was either ascendent-- or at least current-- many technical understandings of the centers and their work were studied and exchanged. All of those studies and exchanges, by and large, concentrated on using the intellectual center to do most of the work.

While that branch of the work took on a life of its own, stood up, and walked, Jeanne De Salzmann's line undertook a new, different, more direct (NB. I use that word with reservations) and in any event more practical study of the question -- that is, a study undertaken directly within the immediate physical, emotional, and intellectual experience of the practitioner.

The naturally evolving division between these branches of work may have separated us all a bit both from an understanding of just how specific the distinction between the centers is, and our ability to experience that. A real experience of feeling or sensation is, one might say, just as clinical and objective as Ouspensky's material describes it, and at the same time just as unknown, mysterious, and extraordinary as De Salzmann attempted to indicate with her own work.

It may be useful to explain that these various centers do not manifest in a localized manner if they are working in a right way. In three centered experience, the entire organism discovers itself within living feeling, living sensation, and living mentation.

These three forces, that is, minds, are completely blended, existing alongside each other within the organism in an equal balance of energy and "weight," and although they produce a unified experience, let us call it a "field of being," each one can be properly sensed as entirely distinct from the other two. What we call "consciousness" is, in other words, an unconsciously experienced blending of three completely different awarenesses, two of which do not and cannot use words for communication.

The experience of this can become conscious. That is one aim of inner work.

There are so many gradations of experience that relate and lead up to a conscious experience of this kind that one could hardly list them or measure them. In addition, such analysis doesn't seem useful. Centuries of deconstruction of such questions have, so far as I can see, failed to produce anything useful enough to move seekers forward in any meaningful way. Only Gurdjieff's "subtle system"-- which, I will stress, cannot be understood by just reading the books-- balances such technical work with practice in such a way as to render it truly meaningful, within the limited context that it can be. In other hands and practices, it has certainly produced results, but they are different results, and far from all of them are what one would call "good" results.

Misunderstandings of Gurdjieff's own work, which are all too easy to acquire and apply, can lead one down equally questionable paths.

Perhaps the important thing to remember is that all of the efforts and work one puts into the effort to collect the attention, connect the mind to the body, and awaken what I call the organic sense of being are gradually... very gradually... leading us towards a place where a different level of experience of Self becomes possible.

One might call it extraordinary -- except that it is not extraordinary. To be ordinary means to belong to an order. Anything that is extraordinary falls outside that order. What we are speaking of here is not the banishment of order or the transcendence of order; it is alignment with a new level of order.

So the attempt to re-member--to reconnect all the severed limbs of our inner being-- is an attempt to become ordinary, it's just a different kind of ordinary. It is not a mysterious or magical process, it is a process that belongs strictly to the natural order-- just a different level of it -- and must be understood as such.

We are just trying to reclaim what should rightfully belong to us.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Being filled with life

There is so much in life, if I am present to it, that it seems quite incredible.

The level of detail, of interaction, the breath that exists between each moment--the sheer number of different impressions, and the extraordinary nature of them: there is so much of all of it that I shut it out.

I'm not capable of taking it in at the level in which it actually exists.

By that I mean that what I call "consciousness" (as I ordinarily experience it) is a process of devaluation, of a turning away from what is.

Life itself-- the Dharma, the Truth-- is infinite, and complete, and unfathomable. The process of mind, as I usually experience it, is actually a destructive process, in that it strips as much as possible of what life is away from itself, so that what is registered-- what enters-- is adapted to fit within the shallow spaces I have prepared for it. They are all I have available. I am perpetually trying to stuff all of heaven into a little box.

It's odd to me that we call awareness as we experience it "creative," because at the ordinary, one-centered level, mind is often anything but.

When the whole is encountered--when the whole comes in-- it falls into deep places. Places that I am usually unaware of, that I can taste on the edge of myself if I make an effort--taste on the edge of myself, but no more. There is a hint of perfume; the faint scent of musk, a tickling of senses I cannot sense, a glimmering of light I cannot see.

I stand perpetually on the edge of this possibility, calling for it, searching in some detail within for the connection with it,. but it bides its own time and seeks its own level. Not my level: no, it can't seek that level, and has no need to seek, or to speak to, or to Be, within this level. The possibility exists unto itself and has its own law... a law I cannot know or touch.

I call to it in the sheer hope that it will hear me; it bides its own time and seeks me only when it will, not when I will it.

So much of life is a process of waiting, of searching, of calling. It reminds me strongly of the Gurdjieff/De Hartmann pieces where, as one listens, one perhaps senses the existence of a vast desert landscape.

Somehow, that place is... and always was... eternally contained within the music, as if the sound itself carries the memory of a condition which is always present, but which one has forgotten.

Suddenly, one finds oneself within that landscape, in the middle of an impossibly fantastic country, majestic mountains brooding in the distance: alone, sensing quite clearly that out there, a sacred presence lies in hiding.

It influences everything-- the very air is permeated with the existence of a sublime perfection which remains hidden somewhere behind the horizon.

And slowly, in a part that one did not know one had, one understands that one is on a lifelong journey towards that perfection, and yet one knows... in the deepest, innermost part of one's most secret heart, one knows...

perhaps one may never reach it.

The Germans have a word for it, Sehnsucht: it means yearning or longing, and yet it means much more, because it is a portmanteau word combining Sehen (to see) and Suchen (to seek).

I seek to see.

I have a wish to see that which cannot be seen. I am unable to drink deeply enough...

and yet such is my desire.

This wish to see... it is a living thing that can be born in a man, dwell in his nerves, his tendons, the marrow of his bones.

And it is from those places that it can emerge to form a new relationship with the impressions of this mystery called life.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Labyrinths, Relationships, Work

I return to the space here after a lengthy hiatus.

Many personal matters needed attending to... and, frankly, I just didn't feel like writing for a while. Regular readers will recall that I often discuss the tension between the fact that it is impossible to express what we seek (or are up to in our search) in words, if our search is real, and the dilemma that we can only use words to communicate with one another about anything. There are times these days when the idea of writing about inner work wears me out just thinking about it.

Martha Heyneman mentioned to me recently that she has grown weary of reading prose about spiritual matters, and strongly prefers poetry. I certainly understand why. The irony of writing prose of exactly that kind here is not lost on me.

Now that I have neatly managed to dismiss my own efforts, let me mention that I have recently been reading Frank Sinclair's "Of The Life Aligned," which I must highly recommend.

I will guiltily admit that there are selfish reasons for it. He makes many of the same points I have made in this space about Gurdjieff's Eastern Orthodox roots, the intimate connections between Hesychasm and some of the more esoteric practices in the Gurdjieff work, and touches on numerous other ideas which you will find echoes of in my writing.

One reason for this may seem obvious; we are both members of the New York Gurdjieff Foundation; I certainly know and respect Frank, and have worked with him on a number of occasions. We are not, however, really the same "types" at all–as must be the case for two individuals, come from two different worlds, and representing two "different universes unto ourselves." What is striking to me is that our work has led us to so many quite similar views. Perhaps we merely represent a stodgy orthodoxy; more likely, convergence on such matters is inevitable if one spends enough time working.

In any event, I wholeheartedly recommend the book, which has a wealth of touching, personal and compelling elements, not the least of which is a vital and lovingly rendered portrait of his wife Beatrice Sinclair, a truly extraordinary woman. She exemplified the intimately personal, yet expansively universal, possibilities that Mr. Gurdjieff's frequently misunderstood, and oft understated Work, can effect in a human being.

All that being said, I have probably made too many book recommendations for this summer.

The subject of labyrinths and mazes has been on my radar lately. These artifacts from the middle ages and earlier feature prominently in romantic mythologies, fairy tales, and the popular imagination. Numerous explanations have been offered for why these elements were incorporated into sacred architecture such as the cathedral at Chartres, but there has always been an air of mystery surrounding them. Borges may have come close to the meaning when he conceived of them as abstractions of the process of living itself.

When I approach my own life from within an awareness, a more active connection--which is not always possible-- the active and tangible sensation of dwelling at that very moment within an extraordinary labyrinth is present.

There is a moment of awareness where one sees where one is (true, this is rare, but it does happen) and in that moment of seeing the entire warp and weft of life is revealed as a single, complex tapestry-- the entire weave having already been conceived from one end to the other. In the same way, a maze or labyrinth--its beginning, its middle, and its end--must already exist in its entirety in order for any point within it to exist at all.

The navigator of that passage (be it a maze in which one may get lost, or a labyrinth that lays out a firm and unerring path to the heart of God) can only ever find themselves and see themselves within that one point, but the entirety already exists, embracing and encompassing both the awareness within the labyrinth, all the paths and ways it has trod, and all the paths and ways that lie before it. The idea certainly bears some relationship to time as discussed in Maurice Nicoll's "Living Time." It bears further examination and contemplation in light of the Augustinian idea of predetermination, and Gurdjieff's related explorations of that concept.

In any event, the abstract contemplation of this matter is hardly the interesting point. What is very interesting is the effort for a seeing within life of the immediacy of this moment, of the extraordinary and exquisite detail of it, which can arise when the centers begin to work together.

At moments such as this, it's no longer necessary to think about what labyrinths mean-- and about what life means (and isn't that always the ultimate question, after all?) Instead, I begin to have a sensation within life, and I experience life within what Frank Sinclair would call a new order, a new alignment-- rather than trying to analyze life.

I think Martha's predisposition to poetry these days stems from the fact that poetry leaves magical spaces between the words to explore the possibility of this seeing in a more active way-- whereas prose, terrifically efficient and factual though it may be, will always be too clumsy to lead us to that place, leaning as heavily as it does on the thinking part.

The difference between mazes and labyrinths is this: a maze is a puzzle that has to be figured out. One can succeed or fail. A labyrinth is a contemplative path that always leads to the center. There isn't anything to figure out, no success, no failure; it is there simply to be experienced.

In this new inner alignment we seek, a transformation may take place.

The maze-- that unreliable place of sleep in life, where one so easily becomes distracted, gets lost, dies-- becomes a labyrinth: a place we can trust in, in which a contemplative, single, unerring, and unbranching path leads us slowly but deliberately towards the heart of our life.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


The last post discussed this idea that I want to be a "chief." Essentially, that there is this ambition in me--in all of us-- this desire to be significant.
One thing I realized many years ago is that we are already significant. We start out significant... in fact, there is no way to remove our significance from us, ever, at any time. It would be easier to take a mountain and make it disappear than to undo our significance.
Yet all of us remain utterly convinced, in some, small, actually quite paranoid part of ourselves (which we label in many "special" ways, in order to justify it) that we are not significant--or that what little significance we have is threatened. (And part of this, of course, is our relentless attachment to the mistaken idea that our outer circumstances create our significance.)
So there is this desire, this desire to be meaningful. This desire to BE. And there is an odd paradox at the heart of this question in the Gurdjieff Work, because our mantra is "I wish to Be..."
And yet, we ARE. Aren't we?
It isn't that we are not; it is that we do not see how we are. If even once we were to see with the eyes that can truly see, what we would see is that we already are. This perception, this fear, that we are not is illusory... a myth we have signed on to.
It represents a lack of trust.
All of the ambition and wish for achievement that a man encounters in his life is, as Krishnamuri notes, a form of violence. It presumes a need that is not actually there--it's rather an artifice, created by our limitation--and perpetuates a violation of the already sacred, and fundamentally sufficient, essence that preceeds our desires.
To become free of desire, as the Buddhists would have it, would be to see and experience our sufficiency. To abide within the inherent abundance which surrounds us; an abundance which we are, in our ordinary state, unable to sense or acknowledge.
The difficulty I face is that even if I have a fundamental, life changing experience of this "inherent sufficiency," it is not enough. The parts in me that deny this, and lack a connection to it, are powerful, habitual, and convincing. The psychology that drives life as I currently know it is furthermore dedicated to the exclusion, even extermination, of such experience.
To know that I am sufficient with one center-- for example, the mind-- is simply not enough. All three centers need to understand this sensation simultaneously in order for anything approaching mental health to enter, and in order for that to happen, a quietness must arrive. A relaxation that is given--not demanded--must enter me. In other words, a force from another level must enter.
All I can do is prepare for this, to attempt to make myself available to it. It is not within my abilities to "achieve" this.
Krishnamurti says the following in his notebook (Gstaad):
" Why should all this happen to us? No explanation is good enough, though one can invent a dozen. But certain things are fairly clear.

1. One must be wholly "indifferent" to it coming and going.
2. There must be no desire to continue the experience or to store it away in memory.
3. There must be a certain physical sensitivity, a certain indifference to comfort.
4. There must be self-critical humourous approach.

But even if one had all these, by chance, not through deliberate cultivation and humility, even then, they are not enough. Something totally different is necessary or nothing is necessary. It must come and you can never go after it, do what you will. You can also add love to the list but it is beyond love. One thing is certain, the brain can never comprehend it nor can it contain it. Blessed is he to whom it is given. And you can add also a still, quiet brain."
May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chief Feature

This morning, after a week that included a hectic and intense one day round trip to Cambodia (which in sheer defiance of all odds still provided the time to stop and climb a sacred peak where a number of kings were buried) I am back in China, and find myself with the time to ponder questions that have been percolating for quite a while.

The title of this post is a bit of a trick, because it involves a play on words. I've been thinking about the question of ambition, position, and hierarchy in spiritual works.

In his first conversation, Brother Lawrence made it clear that he only had interest in working with people whose first, and only, intention was to serve God.

This question of service is critical to all of us, because we presume, in ordinary life, more or less two general things. First of all, we presume we are going to serve ourselves; and then, we presume we are able to serve others.

Because I believe that I am able to have an action and an effect -- in effect, that I am able to "do"-- I presume that these two possibilities are active and available to me. I do, of course, have this lofty, generally abstracted, and sincere belief that above all, I want to serve God, but if I am honest with myself, I will see that that comes third at best. There are probably times when it finds itself even further down the list.

Above all, I want to be in charge of things. I want to be in charge of myself. I want to be in charge of other people by "helping" them (and let's remember that all tyranny begins with a twisted, but sincere, belief that one knows best what others should be up to.) So I want to be important. I want to be significant, meaningful, to others and to myself.

In short, I want to be a chief.

I want to be in charge of the tribe. I want to have authority, respect, even love. It doesn't matter whether I can or cannot take any external actions that make me deserving of such privileges; in my mind, and my rational analysis, I firmly believe that I have already done so. And I think I have earned a place at the top.

The old saying is, "too many chiefs -- not enough Indians." Everyone has this disease of wanting to take (or be given) a place in the hierarchy that is meaningful and important. I forget that if the tribe is all chiefs, and there are no Indians, it's not a tribe. And although it may be simplistic, there, in a nutshell, is a disease that affects humanity in almost every one of its many aspects, and perhaps the main reason that we see everything around us constantly collapsing into chaos and violence.

This question becomes ever more important in a spiritual effort. It has been said that when the Dalai Lama enters a room, he tries to see himself -- and to understand -- that he is the lowest status person in that room. Everyone else sees him as a great chief, but he is attempting to discover himself as an Indian -- as nothing more than a member of the tribe.

The Zen tradition has its share of parables about succession where a very ordinary monk who no one paid any attention to, and spent most of his time in the kitchen sweeping floors, turned out to be the chosen successor to the abbot when he reached the end of his days. And of course we have the classic Gurdjieffian parable of the Obyvatel, the absolutely ordinary good householder, who never sets out to "achieve" anything special in life, but merely attends to responsibilities, and consequently turns out to be quite extraordinary, simply because no one else around him behaves that way.

In examining my inner life, I constantly see this impulse to attach myself to external affairs and to discover a way to be a chief. I observe many of my friends and family members trapped in this same little hell we all create for ourselves. None of us are special that way: all of us are internally--and eternally-- jockeying for position.

It occurs to me that I have failed to understand something fundamental about the question of service.

I need to step directly past the ideas of hierarchy, position, reward, failure, importance, significance, respect, and every other concept that infers I deserve more than what I have. I need to see exactly where I am, as best as possible, without any of the color that these various qualities apply to the situation. It can become quite simple. I am just here. This is just now. That's all there is. I don't have to be more or less important, I just have to be.

Of course, that's a theory. Once again, we discover ourselves wading around in a mass of words which may or may not have anything to do with what we are able to bring to ourselves and our situation in an inner sense. And, as is always the case, it is only our connection to our other centers -- feeling and sensation -- that can help inform us as to whether the effort we try to make has any validity.

The question arrives in me of whether what I have right now is, in fact, exactly what I deserve, all that I deserve, and not only what I deserve, but what is necessary for me. If I hold that question in front of me, it allows for the possibility of exploring what is immediately in front, instead of rejecting it because it isn't sufficient to my supposedly higher status, which of course all the idiots around me fail to properly recognize.

Over the years, I have watched many people attempt (and sometimes succeed) in their efforts to climb the ladders in our organization and become important. It doesn't seem to have done much of them any good. Everybody ultimately ends up humbled and dying, and that process tends to reduce perceived achievements back down to a single point as it reaches its end. This single point being the question of whether or not one has served God. I've also watched people leave the Gurdjieff foundation because they get their work, their self-image, their ideas about themselves and their lives all tangled up in this struggle to rise above the pack and be appreciated, to be recognized.

We fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between inner growth and outer circumstances. Until we resolve that misunderstanding, our inner work will always be drained of some of its valuable energy. In other words, we need to discover the satisfaction available in being an Indian. The Indian is actually more important than the chief.

Without Indians, there can be no chief.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Sending

I arrived safely in China two days ago. For the first time, I'm posting to the blog using the e-mail method. This allows me to at least post, even though I can't scrutinize the results from where I am.

Gurdjieff, as I pointed out in my last post, was firmly rooted in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which includes both esoteric practices such as Hesychasm-- the cultivation of an inner silence, something to be highly valued -- and the Eucharist, the "standard" exoteric transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

In Latin, transubstantiation was originally called "the sending." From early on in church theology, it was apparent to intelligent practitioners that even after you went through the service, to all appearances, the bread and wine were still bread and wine. Incredible as it may seem to us today, there were others who argued that an actual physical change took place. The collision between the literalists and the mystics led to a rather sophisticated argument that emerged in 1215 during the Fourth Lateran Council in which it was explained -- to all appearances, for the future of the Church, satisfactorily -- that it was the essential or inner character of the bread and wine that changed -- that is, the nature changed, even though the substance did not.

I bring this history up because we are engaged in a process that is meant to invoke the very same change in man--not metaphorically, as we might understand the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, but quite literally, in that a man can become a vessel which may receive something higher, which changes his inner essence.

Madame DeSalzmann dedicated her own work quite specifically to helping those who followed in Gurdjieff's footsteps understand this process. The master himself, of course, always had the aim of helping his pupils to understand the same question -- as early on as his initial meetings with Ouspensky ( see the chapter on the chemical factory in In Search Of The Miraculous.)

The terrific difficulty that creates obstacles for all of us in understanding any of this process arises from the large volume of associative material we form in our intellectual center. 99% of that has to go out the door before anything new can enter us, and of that 99%, 98% of it is glued into us more firmly than any epoxy could achieve. Unfortunately, the books -- all of them, even Gurdjieff's own writings-- contribute to the problem. What I am writing at this very moment in effect contributes to that problem.

How can we sidestep all this interesting, but essentially interfering, intellectual material, and reach something deeper in ourselves? At what point does the understanding that we are meant to receive something from a higher level cease to be theoretical, and become an actual question of experience?

Unless one is quite fortunate, it can take years to come to even the first point where something of real significance takes place in an inner sense. This makes the work we are in more difficult than it ever was before, because we now live in a society where everyone expects the quickest results possible. People want results quickly, they want big results, and they want them without spending much. It's like that everywhere. Works that take decades -- or even multiple lifetimes -- before concrete experiences arrive can't compete with glossy magazines that promise enlightenment pretty darn soon.

As truly serious practitioners of Zen might realize, one needs to spend many years running around in this maze we call our personality before one finally realizes how helpless one actually is. It is only at the point of what one might call absolute exhaustion that one finally begins to surrender enough for something more to become possible.

And it is at exactly that point that the phrase "Thy will be done" begins to have meaning, because it is only in the softening and dissolving of this hardened lump called "me" that a higher energy can arrive.

It's clear enough to me that I can't do much to bring this about.

But I can prepare.

Recently, I have been working to examine the question, in a practical and immediate manner, of what it means to put the attention to where the impressions enter. A good effort in this direction by default sidesteps a great deal of associative material, because it requires the attention to examine a wide variety of immediately available states and sensations that don't have any good labels or verbal descriptions that can be applied to them.

To put it in plain terms, once we are in the middle of it, well then, we are in the middle of it. It is a place that by its very nature tends to defy analysis.

This particular activity is closely related to the intimacy which I have suggested we attempt to cultivate in many earlier pieces of writing. We are not intimate with ourselves enough; that intimacy needs to be a physical and emotional intimacy, not just an intellectual familiarity with our psychology, which is where so much of our energy goes in what we call "self observation." That intellectual familiarity can be quite useful, up to a point, but it doesn't have that much to do with what we are, seeing as it is only about a third of us at best. Specific attention turned to the arrival of impressions produces an inner relationship of a distinctly unique character.

Cultivating this unique character of intimacy is helpful because it also brings me much closer to an immediate experience of my negativity, which manifests itself not just emotionally, but also quite clearly in both thought and in the body. Becoming lovingly close to my negativity is an important part of accepting what I am. I use this unusual expression, "lovingly close," because I cannot hope to achieve much by approaching my negativity in a limited, pejorative way and negating it or punishing myself for it. As odd as this may sound, it needs a little sympathy from me-- as I put it day before yesterday in a poem, a "kind intention towards the darkness."

May the Living Light of Christ discover us.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gurdjieff and Augustine

For today, just a few "technical" notes that occurred to me after reading McCulloch's commentary on Augustine.

Readers who are familiar with Christian history will know that St. Augustine's ideas had an inordinate and perhaps pernicious influence on the church.

Above all, his doctrine of "original sin" -- the idea that all men are, in their essential nature, "fallen"-- penetrated the church to the bone and left us with a decidedly pessimistic view of human existence. We are all "bad."

He believed, furthermore, that a man's destiny was predetermined -- because God, in his view, knows all, sees all, and controls all, God already knows who will be "saved" and who will not.

He presumes, of course, a theology where not everyone will be saved -- hardly a hopeful point of view.

All of this shares a peculiar kinship with much of what Gurdjieff said. Anyone who reads "Beelzebub's Tales" will come away with the distinct impression that the way the universe was created, no matter how carefully and thoroughly a Being perfects his or herself, there is always an essential or fundamental flaw that prevents final reunion with the divine.

Hence the holy planet Purgatory, a place of repose for those anguished souls who have done everything they can to recombine with the divine source, and yet retain those essential imperfections that are inherent to the nature of the material and spiritual universe.

One might argue that Augustine's conception of sin and the conception of imperfections contained in Beelzebub are in fact different qualities, but I think they bear enough of a relationship to one another to argue that they stem from a similar worldview: more precisely, to argue that Gurdjieff's views on the subject are distinctly colored by church doctrine. This supports my ongoing contention that the Gurdjieff practice is much closer to traditional, formal Christianity than many would like to admit to themselves.

Taking it one step further, Gurdjieff argued that the way the universe is arranged, it is essentially deterministic, that is, everything that happens must happen, because, as he says "for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different." This is true down to the atomic level. Without dragging us into the quagmire of quantum arguments, I think we can admit that at the level of ordinary reality, once quantum dilemmas have resolved themselves, one thing does beget another in a maddeningly consistent manner.

The argument is hardly unique to Christianity. Zen Master Dogen repeatedly presented arguments about this causality that suggest it is inescapable (see the Shobogenzo) , despite wishes to the contrary on the part of some Buddhists; in Gurdjieff's cosmological causality, events will always take place in the only way they can; destiny is inescapable, and only attitude in regard to it can be changed.

This bears a distinct resemblance, once again, to Augustine's arguments that the universe is deterministic and that everything has, in a sense, already been decided.

I think we can agree that Gurdjieff brought more optimism to the matter, because he presumes that a man's actions can affect things, whereas Augustine seems decidedly more pessimistic on the question. Nonetheless, it appears that they are pondering the same subject, and from similar directions. Not only that, Gurdjieff parades a deep enough streak of pessimism vis a vis mankind for us to suspect he may have quaffed rather more than a single jar of Augustine's brew.

If there is any explanation for the divergences that do exist, it once again lies in the history of the church. Augustine's overt pessimism and his belief in a basically arbitrary dispensation of Grace by God never sat well with Eastern Christianity, as Diarmaid McCulloch points out in his in his recent history of the church. Gurdjieff, born and raised in Eastern Orthodoxy, would have naturally sought an alternative interpretation.

All in all, a man cannot be separated from his influences. All through the intricate tapestries woven by Gurdjieff in his active years as a teacher, we find threads directly colored not just by Christian traditions in general, but by the specific Christian traditions he was raised with. Even some of his prayers, such as "Lord have Mercy," bear unmistakable relationships to some of the earliest prayers in the Christian church. No amount of obfuscation or sterilization can change these simple facts.

Of course, rebel to the core, it would be unfair to say that Gurdjieff found himself limited in any way by the relatively narrow confines of Orthodox Christian practice. A healthy streak of Sufism runs through his work, and Buddhist ideologies are far from alien.

Perhaps the important point is that his work speaks from the heart of each of these religions, the center of the practice which circulates the blood to the periphery.

And in my own view, all the world's great religions share the same heart... even though each one of them may represent a different limb.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A compelling simplicity

It has been hot and humid -- I have been traveling a lot, as usual -- and I am preparing to leave for China again on Tuesday.

One thing that has struck me over the last week or so is how excessively complicated we make everything. The adoption of a form -- whatever form it is -- is already complicated. I'm reading Diarmaid McCulloch's "Christianity -- the first 3000 years" (which is, by the way, a fine piece of writing, worthy of your summer reading list, if you plan for a very long summer) and one is immediately struck by how quickly Christianity diverged into competing practices with conflicting ideologies, each one of which vied with one (often violently) another for supremacy. Most of them amounted to arguments about which end of a soft-boiled egg one ought to split open.

In our own case, we Gurdjieffians are presented with an immensely complex cosmology in one of our two so-called "classic" texts -- In Search Of The Miraculous -- and a rich and even more complex mythological parable in the form of Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson.

Ultimately, it could be argued that either book's intention is to help us discover a new capacity for inner understanding, but they go about it in two very different ways.

The first one constructs an ingenious, massive intellectual framework within which to put the context of spiritual effort.

The second one constructs an even more massive framework that is aimed at parts of us other than the intellect -- a kind of emotional WD-40 of the soul, an "oil" that is meant to penetrate through the layers of rust that our associative mind produces, reaching deep into the organism to lubricate the parts that have frozen up.

And it is no snake oil, this remarkable oil. The frozen parts within us truly can loosen up, but only if we become active in parts other than our intellect, as I have mentioned so many other times when writing in this space.

The complexities of the associative mind are a large part of what render us incapable of "ordinary" Being. In the midst of the endless stream of associations -- the "noise" which stands in opposition to what my dear friend and mentor Martha Heyneman calls "the silence" -- we forget that our work is, quite simply put, to take in impressions on behalf of God. (If you click on the link, it will take you to Amazon, where you can get a copy of Martha's fine book "The Breathing Cathedral." Summer reading list!)

We are, she mentioned to me yesterday, "the sense of touch" for the divine... a description which is all too apt. And this capacity of ours--to act on behalf of a higher level as a sensory tool--is both an honor, a privilege, and a responsibility. No one who engages in this effort could possibly fail to sober up and sense the enormous implications of the simple fact of our existence.

One of the finest short books on the subject is that classic of medieval Christianity, The Practice of the Presence of God, which is about Brother Lawrence and his life. Like The Cloud Of Unknowing, this is another fine piece of work which everyone studying Gurdjieff's ideas ought to pick up and ingest at some time during their work, preferably this summer.

Ah, but I sense readers growing weary. Who needs another long list of books to read--especially in the summer, which ought to be play time, n'est ce pas? They are not going to give us the kind of material we need to work. They will enrich us with ideas -- but that is never enough.

What is enough is to be within this moment, sensing the body, understanding that the cells are at work. To make an effort to take in the impressions of nature that surround us in a more active way, to participate more immediately in the rather simple events of daily life. There is a food available in this kind of activity -- in the dailiness of ordinary existence -- that is not available in all the books that have ever been written. And it's only within a willing, gentle, and generous encounter with daily life that I can begin to rub up against the truly extraordinary sensation of the ordinary.

This is a compellingly simple act that essentially sidesteps the confusing complications of my personality.

After all the extraordinary experiences have been experienced and cataloged, interpreted using the fancy yoga understandings, the brilliant Ouspensky understandings, and the subtle Gurdjieff understandings-- after we have packed ourselves full of every possible explanation for everything -- we come up against the same mystery that Walt Whitman recounts in Leaves of Grass (mea culpa, I am being a very a bad boy with this book thing, but I must insist this is yet another book everyone should absolutely and infallibly add to their summer reading list) when a child brought him a handful of grass and said,

"what is this?"

-- and he could not tell the child, because he did not know any more than the child did.

It reminds me of what Christ said: a man must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.

I must be willing to approach this simple state of not knowing, toss aside the baggage, suspect my own cleverness, and accept with gratitude and grace that is given in the extraordinary, yet daily, bread I encounter.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the fourth language

My wife and I put in a beehive this spring.

It's not the first time I've kept bees; I did many years ago in Georgia, and my father has been a beekeeper for close to 20 years. Watching the bees, with their extraordinary-- yet (for man) immensely complex, largely inexplicable language-- reminds me of how very, very much communication in man depends solely on words. (To be sure, gestures and facial expressions are a vital component of our communication, but that is in the process of being completely overwhelmed by the amount of sheer verbiage spewed over the Internet and in print.)

Other Beings of the planet -- all over the animal and plant kingdom -- rely far more on chemical scents to exchange information with one another. Of course, we also do that, but we do it unconsciously. We are just as tied into the web of biological being as every other creature, yet exist in a state of denial that sets us apart.

Of course we are not about to get up in the morning and develop a language that we can use in our immediate surroundings that is different than that of words.

Or are we?

When the centers become more active -- when there is the participation of two or even three centers in an experience of life -- it immediately becomes clear that our routine verbal exchanges fall short of any ability to describe it. To be sure, there is a language of the emotions, and a language of the body, and each one of these minds takes in impressions that describes them quite accurately in its own language. But I don't speak that language, that is, this part that is writing does not speak that language.

If I pause for a moment as I write this, and attend to the sensation of my body, my breathing, or the vibration of the organism as it lives, I get a taste of an alternative mind, speaking in an alternative language. Now, I don't call it a language (paradoxically, using this language I am using) because I don't understand that it is a language. I am so accustomed to believing that language is only a capacity of the intellect, and only communicated through words, that I fail to see other languages. This despite the fact that one of the dictionary definitions of language is "any nonverbal method of expression or communication." (One would have to admit, if one were being objective, that by far the vast majority of the language on this planet is molecular--not based on sonic vibrations.)

So in fact, I am experiencing life -- it is being expressed and communicated -- through three different languages, the language of the mind and words, the language of emotions, and the language of the body and sensation. It is only when those three capacities blends together simultaneously that what one might call "the fourth language" emerges. Just as Mr. Gurdjieff developed what he called "the Fourth Way" in order to synthesize the three main branches of yoga into a single whole, the fourth language is the language of attention -- the language of the entire Being participating in an experience of life. And it is just that fourth language we must seek, if we wish to deepen our experience of our life.

Trapped in my associations as I am, I rarely have this experience. I talk about the possibility of the experience through associations. I formulate my exercises and approaches to the possibility through associations. I discuss what it might feel like or did (or doesn't) feel like -- again, through associations. The one thing that is certain is that is extremely rare for anyone to communicate in the fourth language, and that when it happens, it is an inner experience that does not submit itself to analysis.

I think it's quite difficult for any of us to even remotely conceive of how heavily we are dominated by association. To become free of this problem is a very big thing -- and it involves sacrificing, in the sense of giving up, much of what I assume and believe about what I am, how I am, and how I "ought" to be.

Our abstraction from the world of alternative languages, and our failure to take the impressions of them in properly may be, in large part, one of the chief reasons for the deterioration of man's psyche as recounted in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

It's quite interesting to me to observe this, because as I grow older, I have become more and more aware of the experience of emotion as a language and sensation as a language. In both cases, understanding that they are a language draws my attention to them and encourages me to listen to them more closely. They speak in more detail and more eloquently than I usually notice, because I am so hypnotized and distracted by words. They actually form much stronger connections with the environment than the intellect and the words can, but I am, in a word, asleep to that.

It's just this action of forming deeper, more molecular connections to the planet that interests me. And it is only with the fourth language, one more wholly formed from the participation of three centers, that this can take place.

As a parting note-- anyone who has questions of just how intimately connected we are to the world of chemical languages through other organisms might find this article about the link between bacterial infection and intelligence interesting.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


My apologies to the readership for the fact that I have not managed to get a post up for quite some time.

It has been a time of transitions and changes. People we know well have died quite unexpectedly; grave illnesses have struck friends, and many other reminders of how temporary the conditions around us are have arrived on my doorstep. Right now, as is so often the case, I am traveling--currently in Georgia -- and in a few weeks I go over to Asia. Everything is constantly in motion, and here I am, moving within it. Echoing through every step that is taken is a single impulse which arises again, and again, and again within the organism:

offer, offer, offer.

I am forever learning how to offer myself to my life.

Over and over again, in the midst of this life, I pause to see how vital the effect is of just taking in one single impression more openly. It is the reflection of blue sky in the black marble of a train station floor at the Atlanta airport; it is the red of geraniums and the green of their stems gathered together in the flower beds of the town square.

It could be anything; it is everything.

We are here to drink life, and yet we rarely open our mouths, so to speak, to let the water trickle in. Our thirst for Being is a wish for this water, but we are so preoccupied we forget how to drink.

I see this over and over again in myself: identified with what is in front of me and what must be done on this level, even the immediate sensation of something higher may fail to remind me of the need for deeper relationship.

And why don't I open? Well, for one thing, the experience is overwhelming. I boldly think that if I could let the world fall into me, if I had the opportunity to take every drop of water and make it into wine on my own, within this body, I would do it -- and yet, when it happens, I see that I am in no way prepared to accept this capacity and meet it honestly.

That real sensation of life penetrates so deeply, suffuses so utterly, that it overwhelms. I am not ready for this -- no, I cannot drink this deeply. I have been put here, like all of us, to take in the impressions of this world in such a way as to offer them upwards, but I cannot surrender enough of myself to meet that task. When I am truly touched by that which falls inwards, the sensation erases what I know-- and I am afraid of that.

The process of seeing friends and family grow old, sicken, and die, combined with the pondering of this capacity that the organism has for drinking life in much more deeply than we generally understand it, serves ever more as a reminder of the presence of mortality. If sufficiently engaged in, if cultivated and deepened, the sensation of life itself as it is lived now becomes a reminder not just of life, and the celebration of the magnificence of consciousness, but also a reminder of death, of the eternal presence within the now of what Gurdjieff called the merciless heropass--Time.

Merciless just because it contains both life and death within itself, this incredible and terrifying contradiction that we inhabit. And, as paradoxical as it may seem, a force that actually stands apart from God -- just as it was presented by Gurdjieff.

In the midst of this, the sensation of life through consciousness brings me to a greater awareness of the constant presence of love, which is a substance that blends with everything as the one reconciling factor that can make the oscillation of life and death bearable, at least in some measure.

Somewhere within the eternal manifestation of this mystery -- which has been vouchsafed to the souls of men to encounter and ponder -- is the question of what Mr. Gurdjieff meant when he referred to "the sorrow of His Endlessness."

That sorrow is not an abstraction which exists outside of us, or in some other place, either physically or cosmologically. That sorrow is part of the foundation of material reality and of the universe itself. It is here, now, around us and within us, helping -- in the manifestation of its eternal mercy and love, which forms both the material and the spiritual-- to create the universe. It embodies the contradictions of time and eternity; of limitation and infinity.

Every man has the capacity within him to open his heart and sense some of this. It is how we are made, and what we were made for.

This is how I experience it today.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The origin of life

I recently finished reading "Genesis."

Not that chapter in the Bible-- No, I mean the book on efforts to create life in the laboratory by Robert M. Hazen. The book is a rather good book, and I enjoyed the read, but I don't think scientists are going to create life in the laboratory. Every decade, there are claims that there is a breakthrough just around the corner, but life is immensely complex and scientists are still completely baffled as to how and why it arose, exists, and functions. Every single time we learn something new, it raises new questions. Their number expands exponentially, while what we actually know moves forward arithmetically.

The reason for this can be found in Gurdjieff's explanation of the nature of life on earth.

Persistent readers of this blog will know that I've mentioned before that organic life on earth does not even represent a "note" in what is called the octave of the solar system. Organic life is what is called a "shock," that is, it is a material force that applies a certain amount of necessary energy from outside the existing system in order to assist in its evolution. Admittedly, this idea has little to do with modern science, although romantic scientists (see "The Age of Wonder" by Richard Holmes) might have found it a bit more palatable and plausible. But it illuminates a specific quality of life that we don't discuss or consider very much in the context that Gurdjieff presents it in.

Any adequate study of the ennegram will make it quite clear to the inquirer that the energy for shocks in any given octave must come from a higher level. That is to say, the force, or energy, that makes it possible for energy in an octave to continue its evolution according to the lawful notes in the scale must always emanate from "Do," from the level above the one that the octave is on. This means that the octave itself must be open and receptive to the arrival of energy from a higher level. Another way of putting it, couched in the terminology of Christian symbolism, is that the holy Trinity must enter into every situation in order for anything to develop in a proper way. "God," in other words--the intervention of the divine, of a higher power--is the essential ingredient for every omelette.

Other religions understand this idea equally well--although perhaps not quite so specifically in relationship to the law of three--by saying that without the presence of God in a man's life, nothing is meaningful and nothing can happen.

We are told by Gurdjieff that organic life on earth represents a shock between "all planets" and the earth. (See pgs. 136-137 in "In Search Of The Miraculous," P.D. Ouspensky, Paul H. Crompton Ltd. 2004 edition.) As such, life itself is indeed a creation from a higher level, that is, in its very nature it is inherently divine. Now, this is exactly how the creation of life is presented in Genesis in the Bible -- it is the direct creation of the divine, a manifestation of God.

The difference between the point of view of contemporary creationists, who would have it that God "waved his hand" and "made it so" (premises which any right-thinking person will soundly reject,) and the Gurdjieffian point of view is that Gurdjieff--without making any specific calls about the mechanisms of natural selection and evolution-- maintained that life is imbued with a divine energy.

That is to say, what animates and makes things alive in organic life is a higher energy, an energy from another level.

Ergo, it's not going to get teased together in laboratory test tubes.

This goes some way to explaining why life aggressively and obviously contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. This nagging fact has been bothering scientists for generations, and those of limited imagination and intelligence have come up with any number of specious explanations for the problem, none of which really solve it at all. The reason that life contradicts this law is that it comes from a higher level. It has a different set of laws acting on it; or, we might say, it has less laws restraining its behavior than the laws of the level it manifests within, because it is not of this level. It is a shock appearing on this level from above to help development.

Of course, many readers may say, "Well, big deal. All he's saying is the same thing that the Bible says... God created life... blah, blah, blah."

But I think there is more to it than that.

First of all, this means that organic life on earth in general, and man in particular, have been sent here as a kind of help. That means that life was created with a responsibility conferred upon it by a higher power to assist in the creation and maintenance of the universe (a premise introduced by Ouspensky, and elaborated at great length in "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson.") Life has a role to play -- it's not accidental in any sense of the word. The reason that things have proceeded on this planet the way they have for the past three or more billion years in terms of the evolution of life have proceeded in that way exactly because there is a reason for it.

Life, in other words, is performing a specific service that is not quite within our capacity to comprehend.

In the strictest context of evolutionary understanding, nothing exists unless there is a reason for it. This is going to sound a bit peculiar, but there is absolutely no reason for life to exist without a reason. If it were completely purposeless, it wouldn't have arisen in the first place.

We live, after all, in a universe governed not by accidents, but by laws. Nothing ever takes place by accident at all; everything must follow law. In the strictest sense, this is exactly the way that Gurdjieff presented his cosmology; it is also, in the strictest sense, exactly the standard that must be applied to the claim that life arose and evolved by accident.

One can't postulate a universe where everything happens according to law and is also a random accident. It just doesn't work that way. Even the things that appear to be random accidents strictly follow laws. We may not have discerned what all laws are --in fact, every scientist would definitely admit that if pressed -- but the laws are there. Ever apparently random action within the universe is, in its essence and at its heart, absolutely deterministic --another premise which Gurdjieff also intimated.

Secondly, it's fascinating to sense, to experience, to realize that the "sensation of divinity" which normal men (men whose sensitivity has not been progressively destroyed by the overbearing reasoning of intellectual partiality) have about the world is accurate.

Organic life on earth arises and manifests directly out of the bosom of divinity, creating a world that is miraculous, divine, magnificent, sublime--and impossible to explain with books, facts, and machines that tear it into little pieces for analysis. It isn't just a story invented by overly imaginative middle eastern cattle herders around campfires four or five thousand years ago; it isn't a fantasy engaged in by tree huggers and new agers. Organic life, and man, are active manifestations of divinity, both individually and in the collective.

If we truly understood this, if we could see it impartially, our respect for nature and our place in it would undergo drastic changes. Unfortunately, without the development of more sensitive faculties, this same idea -- no matter how magnificent it is -- remains largely theoretical.

It's up to us to develop our sense of the divine within the organic bodies we have been given. Since they are imbued with an energy that is quite literally divine in relationship to this level -- since the action of life and the action of living are active manifestations both of the divine and on behalf of the divine -- they have capacities we have not explored, sensitivities we do not understand.

I'll leave the readership with one last thought about this question.

Since organic life is a shock -- man is a shock. And a shock is not a thing, it is an action. So in mistaking ourselves for something that is static--for objects, material, or things--we mistake ourselves for notes, when what we are is a vibration, a energy, that moves through the system on this level, but emanates from and is connected to the divine.

This is an indicator that although the material manifestation of the human being, that is, the body, may belong to and be a property of nature, the nature of consciousness is that of an energy, a vibration, an action, a reconciling force.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is work?

This question, of what "working" consists of, is something of a classic question.

Gurdjieff's teachings were launched into the world largely (but not completely) by Ouspensky's "In Search Of The Miraculous," which introduced a very specific -- and, to be sure, original -- set of ideas and understandings about what "inner work" consists of. It was presented as a rigorous, demanding, immensely complicated process. Frankly unappealing to many people. Steep mountains to be climbed, complex thoughts to be pondered.

Above all, intellectual.

There is no doubt that the majority of our understanding of this teaching -- as with the majority of our understanding about anything in life -- resides in our intellect. We lean on the intellect so heavily for understanding about life (if there is any understanding) that we are consummately unaware of the presence of other minds within ourselves that can also understand. Science even somehow confuses emotion as a subset of the thought process, even though it seems quite clear that its perceptive apparatus is quite different than the intellectual intelligence. And aside from our obsession with athletic abilities, little or nothing is ever said-- even in spiritual works-- about the mind of the body, which has an extraordinary sensory ability that has every wish to blend itself with our ordinary waking consciousness, yet almost never does.

The Gurdjieff work has evolved considerably since those Ouspensky days, almost 100 years ago. One wouldn't necessarily know it. Ouspensky's wiseacreing has produced an explosion of tiny little intellects that fuss endlessly over its many details, like ants crawling about on an anthill. Even worse, with the advent of the computer age, it has infected a new generation of "on-line-Hasnamussian-individuals" (let's have some fun, and label them OLHI's) obsessed with detailed intellectual interpretations of, and arguments about, the vast parable known as "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson"-- an activity that defeats the very intent and purpose of the book. And there are few, if any, Gurdjieffians, inside the Foundation or out, who could say (with any honesty whatsoever) that they have never been a part of such activities--off line, at the very least.

Mea Culpa.

It is certain to say that the practice within the relatively-- and perhaps lamentably--closed doors of the Gurdjieff Foundation now emphasizes a different set of practices, understandings, and ideas. The center of gravity of understanding itself has, in fact, changed. Unfortunately, it's possible that although he understood an enormous number of ideas, and did a tremendous service to us all in passing them on, Ouspensky never did understand the center of gravity of the work. That, at least, is my impression, despite the enormous respect I have for the man and his ideas.

There is a call being issued from deep within the work today. It is not a call being issued by the intellect or the intellectuals -- it is not a call to figure things out, to create a more complex structure, to categorize, analyze, or organize.

It is a call to live more deeply within the organism.

This call, to a new sense of connection with ourselves, is a step in the direction of a much more religious practice within life -- religious, that is, in the very real sense of a sobering cultivation of our relationship with what is sacred.

This call is more important than any call that has ever been issued in the work before. Mankind is in relatively desperate shape, and it is up to all of us, in every practice, to take at least a few steps in this direction, rather than relying on the idea that our so-called intelligence can provide us with any solutions.

Above all, we need to acknowledge that we are not "intelligent." We are, instead, stuck in our heads, which is a unique and remarkable brand of stupidity that does a super job of posing as intelligence. I don't usually see that the kind of material I call "thinking" isn't even necessary. Most of what happens in life could be conducted without this steady flow of associations, yet I am completely addicted to them.

The situation reminds me strongly of the situation I found myself in when I was an active alcoholic -- which is, thank God, over 28 years ago. At that time, I was well aware of the fact that sobriety was the only real choice in front of me, yet I kept drinking. In the same way, now, I know and understand beyond any doubt whatsoever that the majority of what takes place in me from a "thinking" or an intellectual point of view is in most ways relatively useless for my work. Yes, it serves me extremely well in life, where I need to earn money so that I can buy nifty machines like the computer I am using to write this blog.

But when it comes to my work, it is the enemy. It tethers me to a set of preconceptions that prevent me from establishing a new inner relationship.

Do readers see this question? Do you understand what I am getting at? Referring back to the construction inside me, the ball of mud and sticks and twigs that I have formed inside and call "myself," do I see that it is not of the moment?

That is just a collection of garbage washed up into this moment by the river of life?

The opportunity to reach deeper in myself, to have an extraordinary and completely different experience of life that begins with an acknowledgment that I don't know where I am or what I am doing -- that begins with an acknowledgment of sensation -- that begins with an organic sense of being that blossoms into an invitation to participate -- now that, that is living.

And even though this opportunity is forever in front of me, calling to me, demonstrating over and over again that it is available to me despite my inadequacy, somehow, I am led off the path into the brambles. My mind strays. My attention is caught by this, that, and the other thing.

So I don't know what it is to work, right here, right now.

Actually, that's not quite true -- some parts of me, which relate to and arise from intelligences that have nothing to do with this associative part that communicates, are even now reminding me of this other possibility, a possibility in which there is more inner union and participation, less division.

Those parts are relatively weak -- or at least, my relationship to them is. They can make a good effort to get my attention and I still manage to ignore them. After many years of work, I still don't understand how that happens. So whether I am a beginner, or an experienced man, I am faced with the same dilemma: despite what I do understand, it is not enough.

I have spent half a lifetime in this work, and every day, even with help, I forget what it is to work.

I need to remember this much more intimately, in my sensation, and my feeling. If I don't intentionally turn the attention in the direction of those two perceptive faculties, my "work" will be useless.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Friday, April 30, 2010


In my ongoing investigation, my questions, about terms we frequently use to describe our inner state, the term "resistance" is on the landscape today.

We hear this term used all the time, in conjunction, perhaps, with the term "struggle." We speak of our inner struggle and our inner resistance without, perhaps, being quite clear as to what these things actually are-- without examining them, so to speak, in the direct and organic context of the living being. Above all, as with the term "mechanicality," we speak about these things as though they were somehow outside of what we are, as though we were not already deeply mired in the midst of these very features and conditions which we refer to.

One of the expressions Mr. Gurdjieff used was that we are "in galoshes up to our eyebrows." These galoshes are, quite literally, all of these notions we have about ourselves, what we are, where we are coming from, what the obstacles are, and so on. Every single one of these features and characteristics is part of the accretions which have fallen into us -- the countless associative impressions we have formed -- over a lifetime. As I have mentioned before (well, I think I have mentioned it -- after three years in this exercise, who knows what I have actually mentioned and what I just imagine I have mentioned ?) we formed this huge construction in us over the course of a lifetime.

Gurdjieff called it "personality," or, perhaps more commonly, "false personality." Those were his terms. I don't know if I have an exact term of my own for it per se, as my experience of the whole ball of wax, the "everything" that is "me," is formed from a more touchy-feely, deepening, routed, and overall organic impression of this inner planet, which has formed over a lifetime as everything falls onto its "surface."

Accordingly, I would ask readers to just imagine themselves from inside themselves, and sense, so far as able, the entire construction with all of our parts: in my own case, so that I have an impression of myself that includes how I am physically right now, and how all of life has led up to that--how I am emotionally right now, and how everything that went before has set the stage for this-- and how I am mentally right now, and how all of that has been formed by everything that has fallen into me over the course of a lifetime.

Perhaps for just a moment I can get a sense of the surface of my inner planet--a tangled thicket of thorny vines, tangled branches, mud, sticks and stones, all thrown together in a hodgepodge, which I call my "self." Any semblance of order is purely theoretical and largely imposed by my fantasies about myself; in fact, things are quite a mess. And all I generally see about the planet is the surface; there is an enormous mass of "me" lurking underneath all of that, which exerts a gravity that inexorably draws life towards it and into it.

All of this, taken together as the current state, is the galoshes from which I peer out into the world. It consists of my experiences, my beliefs, my assumptions, my attitudes, and everything that has ever happened to me. So it has produced this reacting construction. This "device" which generally can't respond to anything honestly or directly, but always has to get out the crayons and color everything in so that it looks the way I want it to.

That is what I call "me."

From within this form, which insidiously collects and incorporates everything that arrives at its doorstep, I invent stories about how mechanical I am, and I invent stories about my resistance and my struggle. The stories are fascinating, so I don't very often take a close look at exactly where I am, a look that asks the question "where am I?", simply because the construction, the form, this accretive state of planetary experience, assumes that it knows where it is.

From within that assumption, there is certainly something I refer to as "resistance." That is, there is an active polarity in me... there are elements that are opposed to my wish.

Now, there are myriad polarities that exist within levels. That is, the wish to have this or that object or personal relationship which one can or cannot have.

But here, in relationship to this near-magical word "resistance,"we are referring to polarities between levels.

Putting it in even simpler terms (which, by now, many readers are probably silently begging for) it is the difference between sin and righteousness. Sin is the state in which I go against the higher, righteousness is the state in which I align myself with it.

So this question of resistance is a question of alignment. It relates to that tangled mess of my construction. Things are not straightened out; things are not in good order. We might say the energy in life does not appear to follow the path which we think it ought to.

All too often, our concept of alignment, of a new inner order, of what it means and how it ought to be, is formed almost solely by the intellect; it is generated by the construction -- the machine -- the false personality -- that is causing the problem in the first place. Well, of course it's that way. How else could it be?

The difficulty we have is that we don't see that we need to shake the tree in order to get anything to reveal itself -- we have, in fact, to shake the tree very hard indeed. And we are exceedingly comfortable in our tree. Everyone, for example, in this tree called "the Gurdjieff Work" takes great pains to make sure that the tree is treated with enormous respect, that no one kicks the trunk and scuffs the bark. It is a sacred tree. Even though that tree is constantly breathing, growing, changing, putting out new leaves and shedding old ones, it looks like a static entity to me.

And frankly, I prefer it that way. People come up to me and suggest new things, new ideas, different ways of practice, and I find myself... secretly, inside myself... grumbling,

"don't touch my goddamn tree."

Where I'm going with this is to infer that we don't study exactly what resistance is in ourselves. Mostly, we just talk about it. It's much easier to do than to engage in any actual observation of this nasty little problem.

A study of resistance involves seeing the organism within life and constantly questioning its reactions. I am, for the most part, completely unaware that there is resistance in all of my parts. Resistance-- and I will propose a label for that word now, "the refusal to open myself to higher influences" -- is a state that exists in every center. I resist higher influences intellectually; I resist them emotionally; I resist them physically.

Many years ago, when I first began to see this about myself, I realized that we have all formed a powerful part in ourselves which one could call "the rejecting part." The function of this part is to habitually and reflexively say no to everything. It is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the sole aim of defending the construction against all comers.

Let's look at it a little more technically. Some people will like that.

We don't have just one "resistance." There are actually three principal resistances within us. Each of the three main lower centers has its own strongly formed resistance. It seems quite likely that these are excessive manifestations of the negative parts of those centers, as though the center was improperly balanced and discharging far too much energy through that pole.

They are not that difficult to identify from an ordinary point of view. Pain -- especially pain without any clear physiological basis -- is the negative manifestation of moving center; anger and other negative emotions are the negative manifestation of emotional center; and rejection and argument are the negative manifestation of intellectual center. All three of these negative polarities have an affinity for one another and are more than willing to cooperate.

So, in a certain sense, man's negativity does not, as Gurdjieff pointed out, have a center of its own. It is, rather, constructed from partial manifestations of the three lower centers. The reason that these partial manifestations find such ready ground for operation is that negative manifestation, that is, the negative polarity of each center, does have a legitimate and right place in work. The problem lies in the fact that it isn't balanced by right work in the positive parts of centers, and that the reconciling part of each center isn't functioning very well as a mediator. Even worse, what it forms is a kind of "negative mirror," a type of three centered work which, although it is strictly based on partiality, has a perverse kind of strength because it is able to work in all three centers.

The association of this question of resistance within the three centers suggests that it is directly related to the three "granthis," or knots, in yoga, located at the base, center, and top of the spine, which block the proper ascent of the "kundalini" energy in man. (Readers take note: in its contemporary usage, the term "kundalini" is demonstrably incorrect, as T. K. V. Desikachar explains on page 138 of his excellent book "The Heart of Yoga." In strictly classical yoga terms, the word kundalini definitively refers to what blocks the flow of energy; the energy is prana.)

I should warn readers, having said all this, that these are suggestions and theoretical frameworks from within which to look at this question of resistance. While they are based on many years of my own work, and supported by various technical concepts presented in the Fourth Way and in classical yoga, they aren't necessarily "true." They simply serve as a jumping off point from which interested persons can conduct their own investigations.

Furthermore, having this technical kind of knowledge is not very useful to us. What is useful is to carefully study the question of resistance and to see where it is located physically, mentally, and emotionally.

What in me is saying no?
Why is it saying no?
How is it saying no?
Where does it say no?
Is it necessary to say no?

A state of attention-- of inner vigilance -- calls on a gatekeeper to ask these questions in the midst of life. And constantly asking the questions keeps us on our inner toes.

In conducting these investigations, one of the many questions I have is why there is resistance at all.

If there are parts of me that irrevocably understand that being more open will feed me deeply, why is so much of my construction mustered to prevent it?

It reminds me of the answer I got when I once asked a dermatologist why we get moles.

"If we knew that," he said, "we'd know everything."

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

is man a machine?

Last night I was party to a number of exchanges in which all the usual things were said in all the usual ways. Given our emphasis on "going against habits," the habitual way in which things are said and expressed in the Gurdjieff work absolutely puzzles me.

Are any of us actually aware of how much we imitate each other, use the same expressions, and say the same things over and over again? "It seems to me..."

Anyway, one could go on and on about this. What it got me to pondering was yet another radical question, perhaps a heretical question, in light of the fact that it strikes directly at the heart of everything that is said in the Gurdjieff work.

In the spirit of questioning everything, I found myself asking, is man truly a machine?

We hear this said over and over again. People repeat it like parrots. We all take it for granted, and perhaps even use it as the skeleton upon which we erect a stolid framework of self observation: "I act like this; yes, I'm mechanical. I act like that; again, I'm mechanical."

In other words, we mechanically assume we are mechanical.

Am I engaging in deceitful rhetoric? I think not. We need to carefully examine this question of mechanicality and see what we actually understand about it (if anything), as opposed to what we have been told, or blithely assume.

I looked up the definition of the word "machine" in the handy dandy dictionary provided on the hard drive of my Apple computer. It says, "an apparatus using or applying mechanical power and having several parts, each with a definite function and together performing a particular task." The derivation of the term is 16th century, originally denoting a structure of any kind; the original root is from a Greek word meaning "contrivance."

So far, so good. We are machines. But based on this definition, everything alive is a machine. The term becomes almost meaningless viewed from this point, because it is universal, not special. Indeed, that universalist definition is valid within the context of the Gurdjieff work; G. told Ouspensky that the entire universe is in fact a machine, which is essentially what Beelzebub told his grandson in the creation myth he presented. (The purpose of the machine was to overcome the effects of the merciless Heropass... but that is another subject.)

My point here is that a term this generalized may not be that useful in understanding our position. One could just as easily say "we are made of minerals." What does that actually tell us?

The term does not denote a "special" or alterable condition; it is an inalienable property of everything we call the material world. Our option is not to escape or rise above our mechanical nature. We don't have that choice. All we can do is place ourselves in conditions where we find ourselves under more or less laws. Assuming we accept the premise, even if a man moved an entire notch up the ladder, so to speak, he would still find himself to be a machine under 24 laws, instead of the 48 we are currently under.

The issue here, ultimately, is that the term "machine" is (rather sloppily, I think) more or less used as a form of Gurdjieffian shorthand to refer to the idea that we are not "awake."

That is, it is assumed to have something to do with our consciousness. We presume that machines have no consciousness. That is one default understanding of machines in the modern world.

For example, I look at my automobile. It can't think. Furthermore, I think we can reasonably presume, it never will think. It won't love its children. It can't even move around unless I press the gas pedal. So there you are. It is a machine.

But I am I like that?

I submit to you, dear readers, I am not like that. Something else is going on here. Those of you who think you are cars can stop reading here, but for the rest of us, we need to continue to examine this question of just what we are in relationship to the question of machines and consciousness.

In regard to this matter of consciousness and levels, we run into more questions. Gurdjieff emphatically stated that everything was alive, and that one had to go down to an almost unimaginably low level to find something that was not alive. Furthermore, there are multiple degrees and levels of consciousness, and although an entity might find itself under 192 laws (which is presumably rock bottom), this does not of necessity mean there is no consciousness whatsoever there.

In other words, this habit of referring to ourselves as machines, or completely unconscious automatons, is a habit, not an accurate fact. Like everything else we think and do, it comes straight out of the associative mind, that is, it is superficial.

We might even say that we have all agreed together that it is true so that we won't have to think about it anymore.

And this alarming thought makes me ask, how many other things are there like this in our work?

It might be more accurate to state that we have some qualities that are machinelike, and other qualities that clearly display other potentials. We are a blend: not one thing, not the other. But above all, we should not submit ourselves to habitual thinking or pessimism and paint ourselves into a corner where we think all we have available to us is this property of being a machine.

These questions, which could be expanded on at much greater length, are just the introduction to a rich intellectual exploration of the question of just what it means to be (or not to be) a machine, and how little time we spend examining the question from multiple points of view. The question itself ought to be challenged from every direction. It is by keeping the question of whether or not we are a machine alive in front of us that we discover ourselves actually living--whether mechanically or not.

The arguments, of course, are strictly theoretical up until this point. Now we can examine some experiential points of view.

I live within this life. I breathe, I walk, I speak -- I see the leaves on the trees and I hear the birds. The sunlight comes through the marsh in the early morning. I am here with this; it is here with me. It is not dead; it is not without consciousness; it is not a car that just sits in the driveway until someone puts its foot on the pedal. I have the capacity to love, to feel, to sense, to think -- my computer cannot do these things. My fingernail clipper can't do them either. Nor can my power mower or the looms I see in textile factories.

So I am not actually a machine -- certainly not in that way, anyway.

This means that my assumptions about what it means to be a machine have to be questioned. And above all, if I am going to investigate the question of being a machine, it needs to take place from a new and fresh point of view, not one dominated by my associations.

It has to be asked in a much larger context -- a cosmological context, in which I discover that my mechanical nature is in fact inescapable, and exactly what offers me all the potential that I have in this universe, which is also a machine.

I am trying to live, to be more aware. That is to say, I am trying to insert myself into the machine as a working part that participates properly, not reach some ephemeral or imaginary state of "freedom" in which I am no longer a machine.

Is this a subversion or reconfiguration of what Gurdjieff taught? I don't think so. I think, in fact, that it is utterly doctrinaire -- just not doctrinaire in the way that we usually assume things have to be doctrinaire.

So in a certain sense, by questioning and even rejecting the premise that we are machines, I come around to the experience of my own life -- which is where I always ought to try and be anyway -- and discover that the idea of being a machine is not one that contracts me into a limited range of possibilities, but rather one that expands my possibilities into a range that (excuse the hyperbole) spans universes.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.