Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Don't do anything

What if everything I do stands between myself and Being?

What if it is not possible to Be, in all my doing-to-be?

Gurdjieff famously advised his pupils, “Man cannot do.” We generally believe that this is a descriptive: it defines a condition we inhabit.

What if it is, instead, an imperative: a command? What if what he means is that man must not do?

Doing, after all, emanates wholly from my own ego and my own will. I stand within life, at the helm of what I see as my own vessel, commanding each situation and action as though I were in charge, I knew where I were going, and I knew what to do. The doing emanates outward from me. I am radiating my energy into the world, making it do my bidding.

Of course men endowed with the capacity of reason (not all of us are, you know) understand that this is ludicrous. No one makes the world do his own bidding, even though our psyches perversely try to convince us on a moment to moment basis that that is not only exactly what we ought to do... but what we do do.

Lo, world! Be as I wish you to be!

Perhaps the entire dilemma arises from the fact that this is my will being done, in direct contradiction to the Lord's prayer, Thy will be done.

I must do nothing. I should do nothing. In fact, only when I begin to do nothing do I do anything. And in the middle of life, no matter where I am, and no matter what inner or outer actions are taking place, perhaps it is possible to do nothing. Perhaps it is even imperative to do nothing. If I do nothing, something else can be done.

And in fact, the Lord is incredibly generous in this effort: the moment that I do nothing, the Lord does everything.

Everything is exactly as it was. All of the events are still taking place: I am walking, I diligently tote my camera–the famous dog Isabel is behind me or in front of me, I am surrounded by trees, reeds, and catbirds. The Hudson River is still there.

Nonetheless, everything is different: I am not doing anything. Everything is already sufficient, already complete, and I simply walk forward into life, without any need to do. Each moment is sufficient unto itself, without my interference.

Every one of my efforts stands in the way of real effort.

Real effort is the abandonment of effort, but the abandonment of effort in a new way, from a new gravity, with an openness that defies the opaque nature of my personality.

Grace is only one heartbeat away.

Seek it by doing absolutely nothing.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The path of the heart

Last week, my wife and I were watching the DVD “Chartres Cathedral: a sacred geometry.” (Thanks, Luke Storms!)

Chartres was built during the 13th century--the same utterly extraordinary and deeply spiritualized century in which Rumi, Meister Eckhart, and Zen master Dogen lived and worked.

Among other fascinating revelations on this DVD–which is definitely well worth buying!–it turns out that the façade of Chartres Cathedral has numerous unusual esoteric features.

First of all, the façade of the cathedral contains an esoteric reference to the Hindu system of chakras. This isn't surprising, when one considers the work of Paramahansa Yogananda, who not only cited many underlying links between Christian and yogic practice, but also wrote an extensive book on the Gospels.

The narrator in the DVD refers to the correspondence between the medieval iconography of Chartres and Hindu chakra philosophy as coincidental, but anyone who watches it will realize this was not a coincidence at all: it was the definite product of what Gurdjieff would have called a school (a point that is explained early in the documentary.)

Second of all, there is a direct correspondence between the elevation of the rose window on the West façade and the location of the maze on the floor of the cathedral. If one takes an architectural rendering of the façade and lays it flat over the floor plan, the maze and the rose window are directly superimposed. Since the center of the rose window is Christ–that is, God–the maze clearly represents the path to God from here on earth. And, as anyone knows, the center of a maze is referred to as the heart of the maze.

So Chartres Cathedral physically instructs us: the path to God is the path to the heart.

It reminded me at once of the masthead for this blog, which is been there since the first day it was published:

“There is no I, there is only truth. The way to the truth is through the heart."

That statement has been on this blog since the day I started writing it because it was sent to me many years ago by way of personal Divine revelation. The words are not mine: they belong to God.

I don't claim to fully understand it; it is a work to be undertaken, and progressively understood through the challenges and trials of life. It isn't for anyone to explain what it means; it's a question to be engaged in, a practice to be lived. Every once in a while, I get a taste of this truth–just a taste–and in moments like that, life is transformed.

Mr. Gurdjieff undoubtedly called all of us to walk this path of the heart. His work is above all a work of Love.

Given the deep and long-standing connections between yoga practices and Christianity, as illustrated in the connections between the Chartres cathedral and yoga systems, one can see that despite the many obvious relationships between his work and Asian esoteric systems, Gurdjieff never actually deviated from the original eastern Orthodox practice of his youth: because there is no contradiction between Orthodox Christianity and yoga, there is no need to separate them. There is, of course, also no difference between real Islam (as opposed to the destructive exoteric varieties we see in today's world) and Christianity, or Judaism and Christianity: all of the religions actually spring from the same root, and at their esoteric heart can never be different from one another. It is only our own deficiencies that divide them.

Gurdjieff was not just Christian; he was deeply Christian, irrevocably Christian. He was also, in every sense, deeply and irrevocably Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist. His teaching emanated from the heart source of every religion, and calls us back to it.

Despite many blessings, and the abundance of grace which is bestowed in life, I find I have a poor connection to my own heart, and an impoverished understanding of what it means to be compassionate and loving. I am reminded of this constantly, despite the arrogance with which I approach other people and life conditions. I forever find myself in the middle of horrifying situations where I am being, let's face it, a complete idiot, an unashamed egoist–I have no real ability to be any other way–and I see that this is exactly what I am.

If there ever were instances where one could experience what the very saintly Ashieta Shiemash called “the terror of the situation,” these would be the instances indeed.

Intentional suffering–opening the heart–involves being there in the middle of these absolute truths about how I am, and accepting them.

Perhaps the heart just needs to break before anything new can come in.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Immediate Grace

I suppose one could argue that I am on a religious kick in terms of my blog posts these days; I will just plead guilty as charged. After all, I am in a work whose magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, is nothing more or less than an epic where all the major characters seek to find a right relationship between man and God.

What is that right relationship? Where is it? When is it? What is its character?

Questions, beyond any doubt, which mankind has been asking itself for millennia. Aside from atheists–whose wilfull ignorance excuses them from the debate, God bless them–these are the most essential questions.

We're accustomed to rushing this way and that way seeking God. It's tempting, as it always has been, to run off to exotic foreign countries and meet with the apparently grooviest and deepest people one possibly can in order to find God. Gotta go to the coolest places: vortexes, pyramids, menhirs. Find this sage, or that guru–the ones who really "have it." Gotta work with them.

Does this sound familiar? Sure it does. The only difficulty here is that this is not inner work–this is fashion and politics. Every outward event that draws me away from the immediate experience of Grace is already off the mark.

To make a talisman out of anything, or anyone, is already an error. What is needed is right here.

The immediate experience of Grace is available at all times and in all places. It is never withdrawn; existence itself is a state of eternal, permanent, and immediate Grace. The fact that human beings have lost the ability to sense this does not change its truth. Immediate Grace is touching us at all times; it never loses contact with creation.

What does it mean to say that something is immediate? To be immediate is to be without mediation: from the root -im (not, as in immoderate, immobile) and mediatus, that is, intervening, mediated or moderated.

This means that to be immediate is to be without any brokerage: the immediate experience of Grace is unmediated. I speak here of that Grace which exists without any agent to deliver it. It is already present. There is no need to have another person intervene so that we can experience grace; there is nothing between us and God except Grace itself, which is of God, and in fact an embodiment of God's Will.

It might sound facetious to say so, but there is nothing between me and God except God. No translator is necessary, no special and secret technique is needed. A belief in any kind of mediation is already a betrayal of faith, a lack of trust, a sign of deficiency.

There is no more Grace, for example, at Chartres, or embodied in the Pope or the Dalai Lama, or on a mat at the next fabulous retreat week at a Zen monastery, than there is around me right now as I dictate this–or around you as you read it. There is more attractive power, perhaps, working together in groups–that's usually true. There is no denying the value of this.

Nonetheless, my aim needs to be to personally awaken to the Grace that is already present, through the opening of my own heart. To look around, to breathe, to sense, to see–to remain immediately available through the senses to the mystery of what is around me.

That includes the mysteries of strangers at the supermarket checkout, as well as white tailed deer peering at me from behind the bushes in the early morning sun. If I selectively believe in only that which appears to the eyes or sounds to the ears to be sacred, I have misunderstood the sacred.

Seek not things; seek an inner movement. Seek an action. To participate is sacred. To receive is sacred. To honor is sacred. Each action has the potential to be worship; each action has the potential to offer thanks.

Grace is the substantial arrival of thanks from the Lord Himself for our efforts of presence on His behalf. This is manna from heaven that can sustain.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A technical work

Is the path to God a technical work? To be technical means "to do with art-" the "skillful means" of the Buddhist.

Over thousands of years, mankind has produced an endless series of technical treatises about heightened awareness and the approach to the consciousness of what we call God. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Gurdjieffians, Muslims– everyone's in on it. There are tens of thousands of competing sets of how-to instructions, ancient to modern.

However, if you're a man–a male of the human species, that is–you are probably accustomed to starting up computer programs or assembling mechanical devices without reading the manual, and expecting them to work anyway. You fish your way through, and because of a combination of experience and intuition, things often work. (Sometimes, they don't.)

So it seems that for many of us, our natural instincts instruct us to skip the instructions, yet we still produce them ad infinitum.

Gurdjieff never wrote what one might call his own technical instruction book. He certainly gave a plethora of technical instructions to P. D. Ouspensky, who wrote them down in In Search Of The Miraculous, but his own "instruction book"–Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson–isn't an instruction book at all. It's a mythology. It may be popular with academics and other intellectual types to characterize mythologies as abstract sets of instructions, but mythologies by their very nature are meant to be intuited and speak to the unconscious part of the mind, not dissected and rationally analyzed. So if they are instructions, they're neither linear nor literal.

The notable divergence of these two texts, which are different in both content and character, has led to what one might call competing versions of Gurdjieff's teachings. Ouspensky, to some, is the purist–remaining faithful to the original teaching and its technical nature; to others, the heart and soul of the teaching lies in Gurdjieff's emotive and mystical writings and personal teachings, which do not subject themselves to facile explanations--or to reductionist comparatives to Ouspensky.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: when it comes to mysticism, technical works don't actually work. If they did, the planet would be overflowing with Enlightened Beings. Hmm? And it's not- au contraire, mankind is very deep in galoshes indeed.

The knowing of God is an effort to know an unknown which cannot be known, and every technical approach ends up being one more brick in a tower of Babel. Mystical Christian texts (the most important and vital of which are, in my limited and inexpert opinion, The Cloud of Unknowing, The Practice of the Presence of God, and Meister Eckhart's teachings) certainly take this into account, and Zen Buddhist texts (my personal pick is, as always, Dogen's Shobogenzo- read it all, don't cherry-pick it) are all founded on the premise that the knower must go beyond knowing. This certainly doesn't submit itself to technical analysis or techniques. Yet we persist in attraction to them.

The knowing of the unknown involves, inevitably and foremost, the unknowing of the known, and everything technical is known, or at the very least suggests that we can know (the ultimate arrogance of humanity's intellectualism being the presumption that with enough effort, anything can be known.)

On the contrary, for mystics, the world must, in a sense, become unknown to them, but this is a different kind of unknowing: it is not an unknowing born of ignorance. Intelligence must still be present. So there is a mystery-- and an apparent contradiction-- here.

The Lord does not wish for me to be born in ignorance or to live in ignorance. The wish is, instead, for the soul to be born in presence and to live within presence--including the intelligence, which is in fact essential to the process. Meister Eckhart advises thus:

“...the Eternal Word is spoken internally in the heart of the soul, in the most interior and purest part, in the head of the soul, of which I have recently spoken, in the intellect." (Sermon # 2, from Oliver Davies' Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings, Penguin Classics, 1994 P. 113)

When I speak of a "work within life," which is a common and compelling theme in the Gurdjieff practice, I thus don't speak of a technical work. I speak of an organic work, of a work in motion, of a work in sensation and intuition. Breaking it down into constituent parts and trying to glue them back onto or into my experience of life may be how I begin–of course, that is how Ouspensky understood it–but it can never be where I end. The Lord has given me a whole life, not many small pieces that I need to stick back together for Him. When I engage in a technical work, I am Humpty Dumpty. I have fallen off the wall, and then create a cohort of King's horses and King's men to try and reassemble my fragments.

How can I bring a work of living into the fullness of life? Perhaps I cannot. There are no manuals; there are no bargains to be made or prayers to be traded. Everything within me must be unconditionally offered, without expectation. This truly requires the surrender of the cohort.

And in surrender, no army knows what will come next. That is why surrender is feared: I rely absolutely on the mercy of what I surrender to.

I lack trust; I don't surrender. Here, perhaps, are the very horns of the dilemma itself.

May our prayers be heard.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The house of the Lord, part 2

Meditations on the 23rd psalm, part 2

Originally, I planned to continue with what amounted to a technical analysis of the Psalm, but it seemed to be completely out of context with the first post–some kind of fancy and annoying intellectual exercise–so I erased it.

Instead, I'm just going to speak about my own experience candidly. This is more in the moving spirit of the Psalm, rather than the analytic content.

There is a Grace that comes within the abundance of life. Now, I have spent a great deal of my life experiencing it through fear; I think we all do. Many times, my reaction to fear is so visceral it seems to swallow all the alternatives.

Nonetheless, I find that this isn't entirely necessary. In the wholeness of life, in the sensation of the body, in the grounding within the spiritual centers of gravity–the abdomen and the heart–it's possible to discover a condition that does not have so much fear in it. If fear begins anywhere, it begins in my lack of connection with myself. The moment that I begin to attend in a different way, there is less fear. I can even look fear directly in the eye and know that it is not the master.

Grace never leaves me, even in the midst of doubt. My misappropriation of life itself, my mistaken perceptions about who is in charge–even this does not stop Grace, which the Lord bestows according to his own laws, not mine. As Brother Lawrence so eloquently pointed out, even if I remind the Lord that I am not worthy of Grace–and I truly am not worthy–this is not my decision to make.

Mr. Gurdjieff surely knew that a man who works will find Grace–or, rather, that Grace will find him. His emphasis on responsibility and service–linchpins of the efforts he calls on us to make towards Being–are nothing more than the foundation, the fertile earth, in which Grace can be received.

I find myself moving through life asking myself how I can discover, through attentive practice, a way to offer compassionate support–not only from what I think, or what my emotions tell me, since these alone are not enough. Compassionate support begins with my sensation of myself, grows roots from the interaction with the mind and with feeling, until there is a more whole approach to life. It is grounded in gravity, it dwells within gravity. This is not the gravity of the planet, but the gravity of the soul, which binds us together enough to see life a bit more for what it is.

Day by day, and hour by hour, and even minute by minute–I don't know anything. I dwell within this eternity created in each day, attempting to serve, hoping for the consciousness which transcends my own, and praying for the mercy that is necessary to open my heart. Without this prayer, I'm not sure there would be anything meaningful going on in me, since it appears to me that above all I am required to constantly offer prayer and thanksgiving for this life I have been given.

That all may appear to be in rank contradiction to the realities expressed by my outward manifestations–a man struggling with himself, trying to earn a living, saying snotty things to his wife and children sometimes, yelling at the famous dog Isabel when she misbehaves.

I catch myself ten thousand times a day like this: these are my conditions. Yet even they are not separated from the Lord; even they are exactly part of what He is, and cannot be denied or separated. The ordinary tribulations and the questions are as much a part of His Being as the glory of an August day.

It may sound strange, once again, to speak of Gurdjieff's work as a religious practice; yet there is nothing but religion in it, and if a man finds his soul, he will see that this is the only thing Mr. Gurdjieff ever wished for any of us.

Every human being who undertakes this work must find it for themselves in their own heart, and speak of it in their own voice. This is not just a romantic calling; it is our duty.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The House of the Lord

Meditations on the 23rd psalm: part 1

The title of Gurdjieff's "All and Everything," first series- better known, perhaps, as "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson-" appears to be about man and his intransigencies, or about the cosmos and earth's place in it. The title, however, subtly points us to a more comprehensive interpretation: All that Is, or, more specifically, God.

And, indeed, so it turns out to be: a book exclusively centered around the duties and responsibilities incumbent upon "all three brained beings of the Great Universe" to His Endlessness.

This question deepens as a man looks further, and deeper, into the extraordinary lens Gurdjieff sets before us.

Where are we?

We find ourselves in the House of the Lord.

In the last line of the 23rd psalm, the prayer reads, ..."I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever."

The House referred to here is life; more specifically, my own life. I am called to dwell within- to inhabit- this living circumstance, which is not just "my" life at all, but rather the very same House that the Lord dwells within: the House of the Lord and this circumstance of life are in fact one and the same.

When the Lord clothes Himself in Glory, that selfsame Glory is the Glory of awareness, the Glory of life incarnate; there is no separation between life and Glory, just as there is no separation between the House of the Lord and this life that I am called upon to inhabit.

This may seem theoretical to me, because there is usually no capacity in me to see, let alone understand, that within this life itself, I am not what I think I am, and life is not what I think it is. In every step, with every breath, within each circumstance and each action, I am the very embodiment of the Lord: not just an agent of Divinity, but Divinity itself, expressing its own will and its own action, according to both the law and the will of divinity.

To argue whether or not "I" am or am not divine is hardly the point: this is no more than an egoistic exercise in sophistry. I am called upon instead to understand organically- from within the depths of Being, from within a conjunction of centers and energy, from within a wholeness- and to embody the Divine awareness that both creates and manifests at every moment, in all Being- aware or unaware.

This same embodiment is the aim of Zen; the attainment of the dharma is no complex feat of skill; it's no more than the immediate inhabitation of life. This dwelling within is never later, and never a thought: it's not an idea, but an actual embodiment, lived through the body, seen through the body: sensed through the body, spoken through the body, for life itself in all its guises is indeed not just the visage of the Lord but even the Word of the Lord itself, as it emanates from every Holy Source of arising, and returns to it. Even inorganic matter participates in this embodiment- nothing can be separated from it.

As the prayer says, "Thou art with me." I am never even a step away from the Lord; I am called to inhabit His house at every moment as I pass through this incarnation, shadowed by the deep questions of life and death.

The Lord has embodied Himself in all places and all things; no consciousness or manifestation is exempt from inclusion. To dwell within the House of the Lord is simply and merely to Be; to be without the sound and the fury, the Sturm und Drang, of "my" life. This is to step into prayer, to step into the receiving of life, the acceptance of life into this vessel so exqusitely and carefully prepared for it: as it is, where it is and when it is.

I belive that I somehow have the right to determine the terms of this exchange, this transaction, but in fact absolutely no terms whatsoever belong to me, or even exist within my reach. Like the Being in the 23rd Psalm, all the conditions are already determined; no alternatives exist. Each condition and circumstance lies in the hands of God.

My mistake has always been that I presume to control the exchange, to believe in my own authority. This in sheer defiance of an ever-present and abundant Grace, which I very nearly dare not acknowledge; after all, to do so in any moment destroys every moment in which I entitle myself to appropriate that Goodness which is not my own.

Already under authority, I am obliged only to acknowledge it. Already within conditions, I am responsible only to see them. All of the struggles I invent to surpass my conditions are futile, for all conditions are already unsurpassable and infinite; every weakness and strength I seek to discard or enhance already has all of its limits and potentials set and realized.

I am only able to inhabit: to see. Beyond this, all is given; and given furthermore from a Generosity, and a Love, beyond my own capacity to comprehend.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Technique and feeling

My friend Douglas and I were most fortunate to be present at the emergence of this swallowtail from its chrysalis yesterday.

The last group of posts have focused on various questions of structure, technique, and cosmology, the study of which is rewarding in any inner search.

I embarked on studies of this kind many years ago, and from time to time, when meaningful insights present themselves, I occasionally return to revise or otherwise expound on the material. Nonetheless, in what has to be considered an exquisite irony, the insights never come from an assiduous practice of technique.

Knowing how things work doesn't make them work. Things just work, and we just observe them working.

As the Muslims say, everything is actually in God's hands, and any other opinion is false. Events only take place in so far as God wills them. We can see from the studies as presented over the last 3 days that even when men feel that they are willing their own inner work, the lessons implicit in the involutionary and evolutionary forces of the enneagram demonstrate that everything ultimately arises from, and returns into, the will of God.

If a man acquires will–an aim which Gurdjieff said was in fact quite necessary–we will discover that it isn't his own will. At best, he will acquire a will that is an incarnate, or fundamentally limited, version of God's will–and the only action he can take with that will that ultimately benefits him is to surrender it back to God. So in the end, as Meister Eckhart says, after we have acquired it, our aim must be to completely empty ourselves of our own will... until nothing but the Will of the Divine is left.

We come back to that question–what is it to open the heart? Well, certainly, we have inklings of what it means on this level. And there are certainly external, societal, familial and social understandings related to this. After all, there are myriad horizontal actions of the law of octaves (Dogen's myriad causes) as well as the verticals ones we're usually more interested in. But we put the idea of opening the heart firmly within our mind, where it does not belong. The mind cannot open the heart, and the body cannot open the heart. We can prepare for opening the heart with what Mr. Gurdjieff referred to as intentional suffering, but even here, we are not quite sure what that means.

The only thing that seems certain is that opening the heart requires the touch of a force from above us.

All of our efforts, all of our prayers, within the tiny sphere of our own eternity, are turned towards a hope of consciousness and a hope that we may develop enough depth of feeling: enough sensitivity to feel our way forward through the blindness. This is what it takes. The constant attitude of prayer; a constant feeling of sorrow. Not sorrow for the small things that our ego throws in front of us; a sorrow that arises from the fabric and texture of life itself, that lies at the root of every beauty and every sensation. A sorrow that is breathed in with the air and that clings to the edge of every leaf.

It's only with the awakening of our feelings that anything can take place. Techniques, to be sure, are interesting, and formulations may be informative. Nonetheless, skillful means never open the doors of the heart. They belong to the Lord, and only He holds the key, or knows when He might turn it in the lock which we ourselves, in our blindness, have set there.

Go gently into sun and shadow, sky and the rain
In the midst of the noise of life
Be with the voice that does not speak.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Desires and non-desires

One of the well-known remarks that Gurdjieff's saintly protagonist Ashieta Shiemash made to his followers was as follows:

"And so, only he who consciously assists the process of this inner struggle, and consciously assists the "nondesires" to prevail over the "desires," behaves in accordance with the Being of our Common Father Creator Himself; whereas he who consciously assists the contrary only increases His sorrow." (Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, P. 340).

This of course reminds us of Gurdjieff's premise of non-identification, or, if we are Buddhists, the cultivation of detachment; and Christian asceticism is not far off this mark either. Nonetheless, followers of the Gurdjieff method continue to question each other and themselves about exactly what was meant by this.

Returning once again to the character and nature of the two conscious shocks, and the prayers associated with them, we can perhaps begin to develop a deeper perspective on this thorny question.

In the preceding passage, Ashieta Shiemash lays out what could be considered an encapsulation of the forces in action on the opposite sides of the enneagram:

"'And we must be suffering, because this being-impulse can come to its full manifestation in us only through the constant struggle between two quite opposite complexes of functioning issuing from two sources of quite opposite origin, that is to say, through the constant struggle between the processes of the functioning of our planetary body and the parallel processes of the functionings arising progressively in accordance with the coating and perfecting of our higher being-bodies within this planetary body of ours, which processes in their totality actualize every kind of reason in three-centered beings.

"'Consequently, like all three-centered beings of our Great Universe, we men existing on the Earth, owing to the presence in us also of the factors for engendering the divine impulse of Objective Conscience, must always inevitably struggle with the two quite opposite functionings arising and proceeding in our common presence, the results of which are always sensed by us either as "desires" or as "non desires." (ibid- Italics are mine.)

If we understand the "two opposite complexes of functioning" as referring to the two opposite sides of the ennegram, we can see that the desires belong to the right side of the diagram, which represents both the physical incarnation ("the functioning of our planetary body") and the involutionary forces of self-affirmation. The non-desires, on the other hand, clearly represent the evolutionary forces of surrender (intentional suffering) represented on the left side of the diagram, which represent the higher centers.

In other words, the struggle between desires and non-desires is a representation of the struggle between the self and Godhead, in which the self must be utterly surrendered in order to complete Gurdjieff's second conscious shock. The action, in fact, has little to do with man's involvement with the external world, but is rather an inner interaction that has been progressively misunderstood and literalized until the exoteric interpretation focuses on our outward behavior, emotional tastes, and moral compasses. (Hence Beelzebub's contempt for man's ideas about good and evil. See pages 1040-1046 in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson--which, by the way, includes a remarkably compelling description of the involutionary and evolutionary forces under discussion in this series of essays.)

The question of the struggle between desire and non-desire must ultimately draw a man much more deeply into the nature of his personal manifestation relative to a higher authority. Once again, we encounter a taste of Meister Eckhart's direction here. Or, to put it in Christ's words, once a man gains the whole world (his ego, his self, and his relationship to the external) he runs the risk of losing his soul in the process.

If we were to extrapolate any further, we might surmise that the impulse of divine conscience, also mentioned in this particular passage, represents the reconciling force or "do" that mediates all of the interplay between these opposing forces. It is, after all, a specifically designated divine force active in all of the three brained beings of the universe, qualifying it for that role. Hence its position in the diagram that opens the essay.

What we see in the Enneagram is a map of the vast cosmological engine in which energy, on its involutionary path, is separated from its parent source–the Father– undergoes a painful process of individuation–and then discovers that this must be surrendered if it is to return to the source. The entire process is a divine process–not belonging to man, and mediated entirely through the assistance of the divine, who must intervene (by way of the conscious shocks) on both sides of the process in order to help it along.

Thus, in a peculiar yet instructive paradigm, God intentionally causes man to fall away from him, and helps in the process, but then assists in his return. Echoes of certain sophisticated Christian theologies abound here. Sin–the involutionary force–is necessary. Without it, there is no polarity, and without polarity, the movement of energy is impossible.

Here we furthermore encounter a powerful and comprehensive image of one of the basic Gurdjieffian practices: we forget ourselves, and we must return to ourselves.

The Enneagram has this basic principle of inner work built directly into its visual language, inserting the principle into the workings of the cosmos itself. We may feel alone and desperate in our perpetual forgetting of ourselves, forgetting of our Divine nature, forgetting of the principles of inner work.

Yet, seen from the point of view of the Enneagram, the cosmos is manufactured with this challenge built into the very fabric of its own existence.

Even God, apparently, cannot remember himself sufficiently–perhaps, in the end, the price that He paid to create the cosmos, and one of the sources of His endless sorrow.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Prayer, involution, and evolution

Expanding on yesterday's post about the 2 prayers and their relationship to the conscious shocks, the following possibilities offer themselves.

Each of the 2 conscious shocks–in the form of prayer–takes on a dual role of both holy affirming and holy denying. This relationship is complex, but important to try and understand.

I am- I wish to be

The first shock, conscious labor, is accompanied by a prayer of affirmation of the self.

This is entirely appropriate, because it takes place on the right side of the enneagram, which is the corporeal, or incarnated, side of the diagram. It corresponds exactly to Gurdjieff's comment that a man must become a conscious egoist in order to work. Embodied in this flesh, a human being's first task is to affirm themselves consciously. This means to take responsibility for one's Being.

This is actually a holy denying action, since one must paradoxically deny the Lord in order to affirm oneself. It's notable that Gurdjieff's mythological protagonist Beelzebub fell from grace in heaven specifically because he affirmed himself and his own ideas, instead of His Endlessness. We see a direct connection here between Beelzebub's actions and the first conscious shock, as well as an explanation of why he is banished–that is, incarnated–in the solar system.

There is, in other words, a little Beelzebub in all of us.

The energy of the first conscious shock is involutionary. It is a folding inward of the higher towards the self, a gathering of energies. This shock is affirming from the perspective of the self, but denying from the perspective of the Lord. Nonetheless, it is absolutely necessary as part of the process. One might say that one has to leave the Lord in order to come back. The parable of the prodigal son comes to mind.

The understanding also casts a light on the ideas of original sin in Christianity; man begins from a point where holy denying (affirmation of the self, which may be perceived as sinful) is a requirement for his existence and development, not an option. This is consistent with some of Meister Eckhart's views on the nature of sin, as well as brother Lawrence's observation that he put his sins between himself and God, to advise God that he was not worthy, and that God studiously ignored him, and continued to send blessings anyway.

The path is fraught with danger because the path must be fraught with danger. (Job 5:7: Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.) No one is exempt from negotiating this territory. The difference between the conscious egoist and the unconscious egoist is that the conscious egoist is aware of the danger; the unconscious egoist blithely ignores it.

Lord have mercy.

The second conscious shock, intentional suffering, requires a movement into the emotional and spiritual side of the enneagram.

The shock that is required here is the exact opposite of the first shock–this is a holy affirming action–that is, it is a surrender to His Endlessness. In other words, it is the surrender of the ego which was painstakingly and actively affirmed in the first stage of work, and an affirmation of the Lord. The shock is, of course, a holy denying action in relation to the ego.

Ultimately, we are required to surrender everything we have gained in order to complete the process. The evolutionary process of the second shock is a returning outward of everything that was folded inward in the first stage. And, in the same way that organic molecules must without fail be correctly folded in order to do their jobs, what was folded inward in the first stage must be rightly folded, lest what is emitted in the second stage during the unfolding be corrupted.

Why does it work this way? Well, Gurdjieff gave us an oblique answer to that in his conversations with Ouspensky. He pointed out that men already think that they have will, and so make no effort to acquire it.

In the same spirit, it is impossible to surrender your ego to God if you don't have one.

As Gurdjieff explained it, what we think is ego, or "I," is actually just false personality. Hence the work to acquire a real ego, in order to have something to give up or offer, makes perfect sense.

The shocks are not one-dimensional. Each shock actually embodies both a yes and a no- the two shocks manifest an internal friction that maintains a dynamic action. The beauty of understanding the system from this perspective is that the reconciling factor always remains "do," regardless of which role the shocks play, and which perspective they are viewed from.

The action of the Lord is always necessary in order to reconcile our contradictions.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Prayer and worship in the Gurdjieff Work

Perhaps the best commentary on the place of prayer in the Gurdjieff work is the chapter on prayer in Michel Conge's exceptional book, Inner Octaves. This fine piece of work is, unfortunately, unavailable to the general public–a situation intentionally created by those who control the publishing rights, but, in my view, profoundly mistaken, since it only encourages the illegal distribution of the book–which is absolutely inevitable in the day and age of the Internet. Anyway, if you can get your hands on a copy of this book–legally, of course–do so.

During the last month or so, I have been pondering the question of the Enneagram and centers of gravity. Today, in a parallel but related line of inquiry, some insights arrived regarding the nature of the two principal prayers used in the Gurdjieff system. The below excerpt is from a brief new essay on the subject, entitled Chakras and the Enneagram: Centers of Gravity and Conscious Shocks, available to read on line, or for download in .docx format at

The below commentary occurs in the context of the essay's wider field of investigation, which I daresay will be of interest to Gurdjieffians, if perhaps not the general public.

The two prayers

There are only two principal prayers found in the Gurdjieff work. This may seem odd in what is so clearly a religious practice, despite protestations to the contrary. We needn’t feel this is so unusual, however; the early Hesychasts and the writers of the Philokalia managed to reduce their practice to a single prayer, the “Lord have Mercy” prayer alone, which was deemed fully sufficient to achieve salvation.

One could argue that point; however, what is certain is that Gurdjieff reduced the essential prayers in his system to the only two he considered as absolutely necessary, according to the science of the Enneagram. I say this because each prayer is, as it happens, specifically related to one side of the diagram, and directly related to what Gurdjieff called a conscious shock.

I am–I wish to be

This prayer is the Abrahamic prayer, that is, the Old Testament prayer for being that founded the work leading to Christianity. It derives from the statement that the Lord made to Moses when he encountered the Lord in the form of a burning bush: “I am that I am.”

This prayer is specifically related to the first conscious shock, which is a work of essential affirmation and conscious labor. This particular work relates to the energy on the right side of the body–an energy which, esoterically speaking, is directly related to the work of the individual and their own personal effort. This work might be contextualized as an effort to show oneself as worthy through preparation, although there are many other dimensions to it.

Lord have Mercy

This prayer is the Christian prayer, i.e., the New Testament prayer that represents the covenant of love brought by Christ. It is furthermore the Prayer of the Heart, as practiced by the Early Church Fathers of the Philokalia. It belongs to the second conscious shock, and the left side of the Enneagram. This work relates to the energy on the left side of the body, which is sent from above as help. The prayer itself represents a call for help, and is in fact an abstract of the core of the practice of both Christianity and Islam--that is, submission.

Both prayers are absolutely necessary in order to achieve harmonious development, and furthermore stand in technical accordance with the principles expounded in the science of octaves.

Because each one is specifically associated with a conscious shock, we see that worship, in both the old and New Testament form, is actually an essential--perhaps the most essential-- component of the Gurdjieff system. It is just worship in what one might call an unfamiliar context.

This makes perfect sense, because if we wish to discover a truly effective worship, certainly, it won't be one we're familiar with.

May our prayers be heard.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lions and Lambs

Prayer and worship has been much on my mind and in my heart lately. This is the first in what is likely to be a series of posts on the question, which is not touched on that often in the Gurdjieff work.

Regular readers may recall that I've written on other occasions about the Lamb of God, speaking of it not as a metaphysical or allegorical concept, but as a material force from a higher level. It's important, I think, to work to come to an understanding that this is an inner action we must seek a relationship with, not merely an idea to mull over.

In the church, it's said that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world. This material energy- a freely given gift, sacrificed (sent downward, or given up) by the Lord in order to provide a path to salvation, is the higher energy that can free man from the devices of the mind and ego. The Lamb of God brings what the apostle Paul called "the Peace of God that passeth all understanding," exactly because this material force is higher than our mind.

The prayer to the Lamb of God in the Episcopal and Catholic churches runs something along these lines:

"Lord God, Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. (x2) Lord God, Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, receive our prayers."

This powerful esoteric prayer is a call to the forces that can, as Gurdjieff would have put it, "do;" active forces that can purify and cleanse us, rising above the confusion and dissolution of the ego, and leading us directly on a path towards absolution through remorse of conscience. Readers would do well to take note of this, since we're at a moment on the planet when such prayer is both extraordinarily necessary, and carries much more than the usual degree of force.

Remorse of conscience, like the Lamb of God, is only experienced upon the receipt of a certain kind of higher energy- it, too, is not a concept but a material substance- mediated by the presence of what Gurdjieff would have called higher hydrogens. It is not an experience we can "make happen." True remorse of conscience is a gift from above, and is not a single experience but consists of a series of levels, which are consequent upon the successive opening of a sequence of centers, or chakras, including the so-called "secret" chakras, which are rarely referred to even in schools, and cannot be worked on directly. Most particularly, in the Gurdjieff system, this level of work belongs to the second concious shock of intentional suffering, and is entirely contingent upon the opening of the heart, which (at position 5 on the bottom of the enneagram, like the abdominal chakra at 4) serves as the center of gravity for the second triad of centers or chakras on the left side of the diagram.

Astute and experienced Gurdjieffians who give this a bit of thought may finally understand precisely why the second conscious shock is placed in the wrong position on the diagram. It does indeed indicate what kind of work is necessary for the second conscious shock.

In conjunction with the action of remorse, the opening of the heart chakra occurs in stages and levels as well.

Mankind has been told since ancient (pre-Christian) times that the Lord maketh the Lamb to lie down with the lion. This, too, is not an abstraction, allegory, or a mythical proposition; nor is it to be taken literally in any outward sense. This ancient teaching (hearkening back to the tale of Daniel in the lion's den, and of course long before) describes an inner action which we seek. With enough inner work and prayer, eventually the meaning can become clear through an active experience.

In pondering this question, and examining our inner state in order to understand just what lions and Lambs are, it's worh noting the fact that our lion is forever asking the Lamb to lie down with it.

Unfortunately, the lion has a quite different intention than the Lord's, when it comes to Lambs.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The title of this post is a teaser, since it suggests I'm about to write about the very interesting physics penomenon of entanglement, in which two particles are directly and instantaneously linked in time and space, despite a physical separation. (this "spooky" phenomenon is an active demonstration of the force Gurdjieff called "emanation.")

Alas, physics fans. We are off on a different tangent today.

I've been reading the record of Linji, which, typically of Zen texts, attempts to discard all attempts by the mind-as we ordinarly understand it- to understand anything. Above all, perhaps, the gift that Zen gives us is the gift of disentanglement from the world: a "leaving of home," an abandonment of all that we know and everything that gives saftey and comfort. I could say a number of things here about the potential and perhaps even real deficiencies of Zen- which despite its lofty practice retains distinctive features that, in the case of most masters, imply a partiality of development- but I won't. (Hurrah Zen. You are a good thing.)

Instead, what interests me today is the very real, physical, and substantial entanglement of my own Being with the real and material world. I was examining this question today during my sitting, in the context of the actual, ethereal, yet very real and "soupy" texture of ordinary consciousness and life, as opposed to what is actually necessary in the context of inner work and submission to a higher authority- not chunky beef, but a sweet, fragrant, and transparent broth.

Christ made it quite clear to us that we need to "lay up our treasures in heaven," yet this idea remains entirely intellectual. In reality, reality itself delivers within its own context the compelling and absolute conviction that we need to lay our treasures up right here, where we are. The mind, the body, the emotions- each one is quite literally entangled within its interactions with life.

It is a thickness unto death, this soup.

There is a potential for separation, but it is wholly unrealized. The necessary action of inner relationship, an intimate marriage to a higher principle, is steadfastly confused with the entanglements of this life. All the centers misunderstand this, when not acting in concert.

A close friend of mine on what one might call this "path of revelation" said to me today that the world does not need to be saved- that, in fact, the world is not even meant to be saved. He's exactly right in this: the world that needs a saviour, and that needs saving- the only world that can be saved- is the inner world, the world of relationship to God. No other action is necessary; no other saving is either required or possible; and no other saving is called for.

My entanglement with the outer world is an insoluable problem, an intentionally presented difficulty, an impossible task put in front of me solely in the hope that I may someday recognize that it IS insoluble, impossible: a koan, if you will, that Linji himself might have appreciated. His outright rejection of conceptual approachs leads us down a path toward this understanding, although the intentional obscurity of Zen texts leaves us, as always, a few steps short of the compassion needed to sniff out any potential destination.

This entanglement of mine is my own mistake; I dwell within it actively, perpetually, insistently, because I'm unable and even unwilling to understand how insuffcient it is. Surely sex, money, power, and food will sooner or later, in one way or another, be sufficient, I think to myself. I even actively deny the higher forces acting within me in favor of these chimeras. This is a daily, even a momentary, action: a thousand times a day I can come back to myself and see my abandonment of the sacred, which despite my inner blindness is perpetually present, and perpetually offered.

It's the highlight of my fallen nature, which I remain stubbornly not-present to. As Christ or Paul might have said, my belief in the world, rather than a knowing of God, is at the root of the nature of my sin. When I say I do not attend, it is exactly this that I do not attend to: the gifts of the Lord, freely given.

And how to seek? When I seek attention, to seek the attention of insistence, of "demand," of the pointed finger and the focused eye, is not enough. Even here, in the midst of great effort, I have mistaken what attention is.

There is only one attention to seek, only one attention that CAN be sought, and it is not turned in any of these directions.

It isn't turned in ANY direction: it simply exists in all directions, and it calls me to participate in, not to create, attention.

This is in the nature of true worship.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Search, and Error

Back from China–the jet lag has been worse than usual this time, I have taken over a week now and I am not quite back on US time yet.

Yesterday, the question of inner search and error was in the air. Living, as I do, in a community with a wide variety of seekers, pursuing a bewildering variety of paths, one wonders whether it is possible that all paths are “correct.”

Religions have a distressing way of insisting that their path is the only one, and that every other path is in error. Not all of them are rigid about this, but almost all of them share this characteristic in common. On the other hand, New Age spirituality has fostered what one might call an equally reactionary openness, an attitude in which everything is right and everything is somehow equal to the next thing.

I'm reminded of what Gurdjieff told Ouspensky in regard to the idea that people encounter what he called “influences C”–that is, truth that actually comes from a higher level, objective truth–and confuse it with influences “A” and “B”–that is, things that are actually less true, in a relative sense. They end up thinking they have the same value. This is an example of human beings presuming that everything is somehow equal--even though we can directly see from what even ordinary life presents us with that this simply isn't the case. For example, listening to Gregorian chant is not the same as watching a Yankees game.

Given that all things are not equal, evidently there must be paths that are, in one way or another, in error. No matter how generous we want to be, for example, I doubt we will extend the benefit of the doubt to religious practices that feel it is all right to kill those who don't share in the practice. No expansion of the Dharma can inflate the balloon large enough to conflate such an idea with the idea of right action.

It's true that the Dharma–universal truth–encompasses everything, but it doesn't mean that everything is equally good. And to presume that there is no good or evil–no polarity–is equally mistaken. Polarities are necessary in order for energy to flow, and so good and evil are both real and necessary aspects of reality that exist in a reciprocal relationship, creating the need for conscious beings to make choices. Gurdjieff used this premise as one of the foundational conditions for Beelezebubs' Tales To His Grandson–Beelzebub was banished to our solar system because he made mistakes–he was in error, he chose the wrong path.

Although tolerance is paramount, those who work seriously need to avoid getting sucked into a touchy–feeley attitude where discrimination is abandoned and all practices are equally wonderful and equally good. All the great masters seem to have clearly stated that not all practices are equally wonderful and equally good, and we ignore this understanding at our peril. Dogen, for example, repeatedly warned against the dangers of adulterating Buddhism with understandings from other practices (particularly Taoism.)

All of this brings us to the question of what one should do, in an age of spiritual smorgasbord, where the commercial pork sausage and the wild smoked salmon are next to each other as though there was no difference between the two. There is the temptation to experiment, to run in every direction; there is the inevitable inner reaction in which one becomes defensive about one's own practice; there is a consequent dilution of focus and forces.

I find it helpful to remind myself that all of these conditions are inevitable, a direct consequence of the requirement of living within a world of form, and a broadening of my perspective. I don't have to carry this confusion into my inner work. There is a point at which the competition, the inquiry, my inability to fully understand, can all be abandoned.

I am attempting to become open to influences higher than myself, and those influences are both tangible, practical, and active. Letting go of my own error–my entanglement with the world of ideas and premises–can be a relief, insofar as I am able to go that deep.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

It's early morning, and I am looking out over People's Park in Shanghai, towards the Shanghai Museum. (Just for the record, the above photo is of the Bund in Shanghai, not the Shanghai Museum.) The city is appealingly shrouded in mist this morning, which softens the hard lines of concrete and steel that characterize almost everything man sees fit to build these days. As is often the case, I'm trying to sort out how to write about what I'm currently pondering without sounding didactic... perhaps an impossible task, but there you have it.

I found myself mulling over the question of predestination this morning... an interesting question that relates to Gurdjieff's statement to Ouspensky that "for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different." I've written several other essays in this space about the possibility of a completely deterministic universe, in which only our attitude towards events has the potential for change. (The idea is far from new... it was a matter of debate in the early Christian church, and in modern times, it touches on questions raised by quantum physics.)

It's a fascinating question, but it's theoretical... for some reason, this morning, that aspect bothers me... and that leads to another line of questions.

This blog has always struck a balance–admittedly uneven–between discussions about theory and observations drawn from practice, since both seem quite necessary in any inner work. It's nearly impossible to claim that one is superior to the other; and after all, both arise within us on this level, and act on this level. They both inevitably fall short of truly grasping the influence of the level above us, although both are supposedly aimed at doing so.

Here's the problem: when genuine influences from a higher level arrive, theory goes out the window–though it may be informed by such influence–and practice is transformed into something that does not belong to us, but rather emanates from principles we are at best dimly aware of under any ordinary circumstances.

We are left, by and large, with books that constitute records of one kind or another. The most recent books of any significant content within the Gurdjieff canon are, of course, “The Reality of Being” and “Notes From The Next Attention.” Both of these fine works purport to be about practice, but because they are books, as their ideas enter us, they are already theoretical. As they express themselves within us, the premises they contain have inevitably entered the realm of thought (whether by verbal association or association by form) not actual manifestation, and the realm of thought is like quicksand.

The realm of actual manifestation is not only fluid and in constant movement, it is unique to each individual, and the records that one individual leaves behind may well prove misleading or even useless to others.

This was a point made by the “other” Krishnamurti, U.G. Krishnamurti, who, although he languishes in relative obscurity in the esoteric world compared to Jiddu Krishnamurti, offered fascinating and challenging points of view on the matter.

One might conceivably point out that the realm of thought is actually one aspect of the realm of actual manifestation, and this is indeed true, but it is a fragmentary aspect. The realm of actual manifestation, which can only be sensed if the organic sense of Being is active, is of a fundamentally different material quality.

This essay itself, like all other writings, also emanates from the realm of thought, which is not the realm of God. The realm of God extends well beyond thought and cannot be packed into its valise... when it arrives, this becomes apparent. One wonders how one could have been so foolish as to believe any such thing in the first place. In any event, the body itself, which after all is quite ordinary and is merely a machine existing on this level, already transcends thought quite neatly within both its moving center and its emotional center, so it ought to be apparent within the immediate context of three centered being that thought is far from transcendent.

Nonetheless, this irrevocable fact escapes us on a moment to moment basis, doesn't it? We believe quite firmly in the power of our thought. Even when we know better.

Like theory, or thought, practice also locates itself and emanates from within this body. The body, which is an exquisite machine for the sending and receiving of vibrations, is still fundamentally limited in its abilities, because its manifestations are once again irrevocably constrained to this level. In attempting to think of an analogy that will explain this, it occurs to me that although a three-dimensional figure contains two-dimensional aspects, which are also expressed in it, one can never pack the third dimension back down into two dimensions. It doesn't work that way. Dimensions are an emergent property. In the same way, one might say that because of the properties of consciousness, a man can become aware of himself as existing within a “fourth dimension” which has properties related to divinity, but he will always still be a man inhabiting this three-dimensional location.

Ultimately, the presumption that we can grasp anything other than ourselves and where we are is a form of arrogance. In the same way, a petition of prayer is a form of arrogance. Our efforts are a form of arrogance.

Why is that? It's because everything that we do emanates from the fundamental fact that we believe in ourselves first, and then–if it is convenient for us–we believe in God. Do we see that? Even those who claim they believe in God first do not understand what it means to know in God, because belief in God does not constitute knowing in God–it is a belief, not an understanding, so already it emanates from thought.

Understanding does not emanate from thought. Until we understand, which is a process that can only take place with assistance from a higher level, everything emanates from thought. Generally speaking, even our practice emanates from thought. Zen Buddhism more or less recognizes this dilemma–and even though it has an elaborate and very formalized practice, it might be said Zen has the aim of destroying the practice itself through practice.

The point about practice is that although it presumes to trump theory, it also begins with the belief that we can "build a bridge," a belief that arises from thought.

Everything that begins with belief is mistaken and does not emanate from the will of God. If we believe in God, already, we have denied God, because the belief is not God's belief, it is our belief. Everything within us that emanates from our own will needs to be extinguished in order to leave room for the will of God. This is a principle that Meister Eckhart expounded on at length in his sermons and essays.

The principle is an important one to examine, since the premise is hardly foreign to the aim of the Gurdjieff work.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


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

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

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

We are here to see this insufficiency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything in us hinges on this.

may our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ten thousand times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I need to see that ten thousand times.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

what's the alternative?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May our prayers be heard.