Friday, December 14, 2007

forgive us our tresspasses-sealing the vessel, part 2

Today I am back in Hangzhou- the looming presence of the lake seems larger than life in the darkness, and the hotel grounds are awash with Christmas lights, something one sees more of every year in China.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

This phrase has a specific meaning in relationship to the idea of containment, which is the inner practice of sealing the crucible of Being, the vessel we dwell within.

Containment is a practice in many religions. Why it needs to be a practice can be explained by proper understanding of the enneagram.

Every negative emotion we have- every judgment, every inner movement arising from ordinary being which, in our nearly perpetual state of inattention, faults or devalues the existing moment, person, or thing—is a trespass.

The word “trespass” is a more accurate word than “sin,” which is what the modern version of the prayer uses. This because when energy which belongs in the right evolution of the octave “leaks” out of the vessel, it trespasses the boundaries of the octave it belongs in and collapses into different, repetitive, state.

Gurdjieff’s practices of non-expression of negative emotion and outer considering, Christ’s compassion, Buddhism’s mindfulness, are all practices specifically aimed at containing energy within the vessel. Intention and awareness--conscious action, or third force—are required in order to avoid such “deflections of the octave.”

To reject, to be negative, is to fail to take in what arrives. Each judgment or negative emotional impulse, spits what must be accepted—allowed, or suffered—back out into the world, instead of allowing its energy to enter the parts that perceive so that it can feed us. So in judgment, in rejection, we unconsciously force the very food we need for our development out of the vessel—it’s a form of inner “vomiting.”

“Lead us not into temptation” refers to our habit of inviting such negativity, of actually encouraging such leaks; “deliver us from evil” refers to being granted the grace of having an inner wish not to act on such impulses.

A careful examination of the inner process during daily life will help us to see just how often we engage in activity which “breaks the seals” on our vessel. Our habits are unconscious; taken from a certain point of view every unconscious action becomes a trespass.

This is why Gurdjieff said that man is constantly losing all the energy he needs for his development, and why he urged us to go against our habits—the idea has an inner, as well as an outer, meaning, after all. Our outer habits are bad enough, but they pale in comparison to our inner ones. We can change outer behavior all we want, and create the appearance of goodness and change, but if we do not change our inner behavior, nothing can really ever change at all.

Of course it sets an impossibly high standard to expect of ourselves that we remain forever conscious. We cannot “do” that—and, indeed, the prayer itself recognizes that. This is why this particular passage begins with a request to forgive us our trespasses. The understanding that we will trespass is implicit.

The further understanding that help is available in this matter is also implicit. The very structure of the enneagram itself shows us this visually in the form of the triangle—the law of three-in its role as vehicle for arrival of the energy that gives the shocks required to allow the evolution of the scale.

The only way in which we can ultimately understand and integrate all of the ideas in the Gurdjieffian oeuvre is by understanding the enneagram. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that men used to judge each other’s level of development by what they understood about this diagram. That’s because if taken properly, every single idea in Gurdjieff’s teaching can be understood from the point of view of the diagram, and integrated into one’s overall understanding of Being and its relationship to the cosmos.

I cannot stress this enough: in my experience, I'd say, if we rightly understand the diagram, it explains everything that is necessary for our inner development. That right understanding begins with the understanding that we are the crucible—that this diagram is a picture of our inner process. It’s how we work.

That is where our responsibility begins: how do we fill our vessel, and with what?

We’re not judged by the contents of our vessel so much as held accountable.

The whole point of life is that we reach the moment of death with the contents of our crucible—whatever they may be—completed. At that moment we are what we are. If the crucible is full of excrement, that is what we will have in our hands when we face the moment of accountability. Accountability is the principle behind karma, and it—rather than the cruder understanding of judgment as offered by the old testament—is the principle behind the global meaning of sin in Christianity.

Gurdjieff’s work approaches this set of ideas by offering the concept of responsibility.

The word is the choice of a true adept: it synthesizes the essential Buddhist concept of action-within-life with the Christian idea of accountability and illustrates a relationship in life—work within life—in the sense of the response that we offer as we discover ourselves within each “point” or note on our inner octave. Responsibility is the antidote for trespasses: as was pointed out yesterday, to be aware, to be responsive, is to begin to apply the required hermetic seal.

Hence Jeanne De Salzmann’s famous adage to “stay in front of our lack.” This effort creates a moment when we bring the requirements of our inner work—the attention to integrity of the inner, emotional vessel—into contact with the inflowing impressions of our outer life.

In itself, this is action within life—work within life—which helps seal the vessel.

And hence, of course, the ongoing emphasis in the Gurdjieff work on “work in life.”

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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

sealing the vessel

We are vessels into which the world flows.

Simply put, Gurdjieff’s enneagram represents the vessel, or alchemical crucible. On this level of Being—earthly incarnation, existence within the flesh--it represents the human body.

The “inner walls” of the vessel are the six inner flowers; these are the sensory tools for receiving higher, or finer, inner impressions.

Together with the “outer walls” of the five conventional senses, which take in our coarser outer impressions, there are 11 separate organs which receive- comparable to 11 of the 12 tones in the 12 tone scale.

These 11 elements are separated, or, in fragments; and it is only in the creation of unity—the exchange of substances—between the “11 elements” that the scale, or octave, is completed as the full 12-tone scale.

That is to say, it is in the blending and meeting of the inner and outer impressions that the vessel is made whole.

Separation of the coarse from the fine, as practiced in alchemy, is learning to distinguish the difference between inner and outer impressions, and understanding that man’s two natures are formed from these two different sets of impressions.

The vessel we inhabit is the seat of the Holy Spirit. This means that the vessel is the container for what is called the Original Self, which can only be remembered by reunifying the fragments of the vessel. The purpose of the vessel is to receive, to contain, and to release the Dharma.

Only if the vessel's inner walls are whole can the Dharma be contained. And only if the Dharma is contained can it be released.

To contain the Dharma is to surrender, which involves an inner act of intentional suffering, or allowing. I won’t be speaking of that further in this essay, but readers should keep it firmly in mind.

In our ordinary state of inner and outer separation, the vessel cannot hold the Dharma. This state is called “illusion” because in every case, it only perceives that portion of the Dharma which can be sensed by the part that takes it in. To “re-member” is to reassemble the parts of the vessel.

In becoming whole, the vessel is opened.

How does one seal the vessel?

What opens the vessel is intentional inner awareness, and what seals the vessel is also intentional inner awareness.

Intentional awareness invested within each of the six inner flowers closes the “gap” between the chakras.

The gaps are caused by blockages at each note, or point. When energy moves through evolution in the inner octave, if it reaches a blocked center, it deflects, thus thwarting the evolution of the octave. Because the inner vessel is not whole, the energy "leaks" out at each point instead of circulating, and it runs wild through the system. (This is referred to as wrong work of centers in The Gurdjieff system).

When the flowers are "opened" with invested attention and intention—thus receiving the finer impressions they were built for—the inner energy flows correctly according to the laws of the enneagram.

This effectively forms a "seal," because the "opening" of the flowers allows the energy to circulate within the octave instead of pouring out at every point. Zen tradition refers to this opening as "breaking the joints," referring to the knots—i.e. blockages-- between segments of bamboo.

Thus the opening of the individual chakras with attention and intention is actually also the closing of the gaps in the octave- hence the term "seal". It may seem contradictory, but it isn't at all. Opening and closing are two ends of one stick.

If all the blockages are removed, circulation becomes complete and in one sense actually "STOPS"--because at that point ALL THE PARTS HAVE BECOME ONE THING, ie, a single note in a higher octave.

Hence Gurdjieff’s emphasis on what he calls conscious labor and intentional suffering.

In opening the vessel, the vessel is sealed, and in sealing the vessel, the vessel is opened. Sealing and opening are the same thing.

If we know that as we open, we seal, and as we seal, we open, our vessel can then be prepared to receive the Dharma.

We empty the vessel in order to fill the vessel, and ultimately, we fill the vessel so that it may be emptied again.

Our first and greatest obstacle is our attachment to the outer five senses. We are identified with these senses; this distracts us. Our whole world is created through these senses. We remain unaware of fully half of what is real.

Only by developing an awareness of the inner six senses, creating a relationship with the flowers, can we begin to balance our state. And the question I have visited very often in essays-- investment of the attention with intention within the inner centers -- has everything to do with this work.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Law of Accident

Spearheaded by Richard Dawkins, the atheist contingency in the world of evolutionary theory proudly insists that everything produced by the force of evolution—bafflingly sophisticated organisms and organs, and even more sophisticated symbiotic relationships--happens completely by accident. This brave new theory emerges from recent understandings in biology, largely derived from the latest understandings about how DNA works, and supposedly “proves” there is no God.

Sorry, gentlemen. The idea is not new at all.

Long ago, Gurdjieff taught his pupils that accident was a law—that is to say, at certain levels of the universe (ours, as it happens) things inexorably proceeded under this influence. So Gurdjieff anticipated this “new” development in scientific understanding by many decades.

In Gurdjieff’s cosmology, God was forced to create a universe ruled by laws which even he himself was unable to violate. This is recounted in the story he told Ouspensky (see In Search of the Miraculous) in which the seminary student pointed out to his teacher that even the Lord himself could not beat the ace of spades with a deuce. The law of accident is merely one of forty-eight laws active on our level of the universe.

Dawkins, who will never subscribe to Gurdjieff’s cosmology, would probably squirm if he knew that the “discovery” of this fulcrum from which they leverage their weighty atheism off the ground—was pre-empted by an eccentric Yogi with a theatrical handlebar moustache in the early years of the twentieth century.

So just what does it mean, that accident is a law?

What it means that even randomness itself is not random. It’s a subset, a single law that has to be considered within the context of the entire system of laws in the universe. Put differently, accident isn’t the element that determines the course of events; it’s an element--among many.

In science, a “law” is a rule of order. It states that in the known universe, events must proceed in a certain manner, that they are unable to proceed in any other way. The constraints placed upon the physical basis of reality by what are referred to as the constants of nature require that effects absolutely and inescapably must flow consistently from lawful causes.

So, if accident, or randomness, is a law, it means that it, too, lays down a definite set of rules according to the natural order. Along with the other laws, it serves the communally directed universal purpose. It provides, in a delightfully Zenlike paradox, the absolutely predictable condition of randomness itself. Or, as my original group leader Betty Brown likes to put it, “constant change is here to stay.”

Why does the universe need a law of accident?

Accident—change—unpredictability—is what creates possibility. And it appears to be a brilliant stroke of not only risk-taking, but intelligence: to create a universe where radical new possibilities are realized through a remarkably strict structural order which nonetheless incorporates an inherent unpredictability. Humans find themselves in a universe with an essential randomness at the very heart of the machine—the quantum state--, from which all observable levels of order inevitably emerge. That’s pretty darned amazing.

Come to think of it, how else could one create a universe? If there were no accidents, no randomness within the structure of the other laws, nothing new could ever happen. We might say that in such a universe, only one thing would ever happen, whatever that one thing was. The suggestion seems to describe the universe before it was created, that is, an undifferentiated singularity.

Viewed from this perspective, the big bang was perhaps above all the creative act of unleashing accident. Creating a situation in which choice could operate. Defining the territory between judgment and compassion—stasis and movement-- where action becomes meaningful.

The scientific atheists would have us believe that everything that ever happens is accidental and meaningless; undirected; random.

At the same time, they would have us believe that it all takes place within a meaningful context, that is, it operates according to what are called laws. Laws assign a fundamental order to the whole ball of wax, and order is meaningful.

…Or isn’t it?

Can we have it both ways? Or are they just presenting an idea that ends up being a self-indulgent paradox--one that makes them look knowledgeable, very wise, and inordinately important?

We have to watch out here. We all know from history that scientists are all too prone to suffusing their “objective” discipline with very unscientific types of motivation—lust, greed, pride, and anger are no strangers to the supposedly hallowed halls of academia. Just about every deadly sin you can name has been prosecuted in the name of science.

Here, their contention smells suspiciously like a rank form of egoism and homocentrism, thickly cloaked in a disguise of bogus authority. After all, it’s a way lot of fun to be loudly smarter and more knowledgeable than anyone else. We all know that.

Underlying the entire premise of science itself is the fundamental assumption that there are laws. That is, that the universe is a certain way, and that it cannot be any different. Why it is that way is another question which no one, even the hardcore atheists, presumes to know the answer to. In the narrow definitions of real science, at our current stage of understanding, any purported answer must remain a belief.

The argument between atheists and theists is an argument about whether or not there is an intelligence behind law. No one argues about whether there is an intelligence within law, which may be where the question ought to be more properly focused. If intelligence is an inherent property of matter, rather than an acquired one, that would change all the rules of the game.

And, as the Episcopalians say:

May light perpetual shine upon you.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Grinding the pigment

...I'm off!

Another ten days in front of me in China... and, as a kickoff to the trip, another in my ongoing series of posts from the business class lounge at the Incheon airport in Seoul, Korea.

I was reading a wonderful article in Shambhala magazine by Sylvia Boorstein yesterday that got me thinking. Basically it was all about learning how to treat people well, according to the precepts of Buddhist thinking. Like much of the Shambhala material, a real feel-good article, with both emotion and substance.

Most of the “inner technique” she describes appears to be a process of using reasoning from the precepts and sutras to see how compassionate practice is the right way. I sense and taste the value of what she offers... I applaud the merit in her offerings, her work, and her ideas...

And at the same time, it strikes me there is much more to the question of inner development than a clever... or heartfelt... application of ideas.

Is this approach what Zen masters were referring to when they maintained that one cannot attain enlightenment by skillful means?

You cannot know God with the mind.

It’s worrisome. While I liked her take on things and feel sure she’s delivering quality and value to her readership and following, I’m not sure this kind of approach is any different, in the end, than another form of psychology, dressed up in more exotic clothing, and served a bit less clinically.

Our work is not about some kind of cleverness which repeatedly attracts us, or the way we think ourselves to a more creative, more compassionate meaning within life. It is about developing an organic sense of being—an inner life, a place where we lay our treasures up in heaven.

It is about wearing the robe—investing ourselves, clothing ourselves within the ideas so that we do not think them, we live within them. In such a state the ideas, the precepts, are innate, inherent. They don’t need to be thought, and no lists or scorecards need be kept. The essential compassionate principles of Christianity, Buddhism, Yoga, and so on, simply come to live within our action, as naturally as fish swim in water. Fish never need to think to themselves, “here I am; I’m in water, and there is a need to swim in it thusly.”

They just swim.

In most organized religious practice, there’s an inevitable tendency to default back to the interpretation of the practice as it applies to external life, and the application of the concepts to the problems external life presents us with. In conventional Christianity, as in Buddhism, practice is understood as an outward-turning motion. If we practice outwardly--using the tools we have been given by our conventional intellectual (and emotional) understanding of our religious beliefs, then we’ll be achieving what the religion—or God—intends for us. Our interaction with the outward world is, in conventional Buddhism, what earns us merit, just as in Christianity, saintly deeds of charity will earn us a place in heaven.

It’s too facile to suggest that all of us believe in this folksy and simplistic an interpretation, but we do collectively fall prey to the idea that practice is supposed to affect the external, which will then transform the internal. Our practice “should” ultimately make us happier, more tolerant, more patient. That is how we are “supposed” to be, and our external behaviors feed, and determine, the level of our spiritual development.

All the religions teach us that we can achieve happiness through external “observation of the precepts”—adopting a set of good-hearted rules and following them. Even the Gurdjieff work presents this dilemma. We may get trapped in the very act of Gurdjieff’s “primary rule of conduct"— self observation—and run in intricate circles, creating beautiful patterns that repeatedly fall back into themselves.

Every form that presents itself to man works on this premise—there is a set of rules, and if you follow them in external life, things will work out in a predictable manner. All of this follows from the fundamental intellectual premise that we live in a universe ordered by law (whatever kind of law you want, just as long as one agrees there is law) and that things generally proceed according to cause and effect. (See tomorrow's post for a discussion on Gurdjieff's law of accident, which will touch on this question.)

Here's my latest metaphor for the situation:

In exoteric religious practice, one is handed the equivalent of a beautiful Chinese menu, printed with a group of ideas and rules--a cuisine--in various columns. Column “a” may be Judaism; “b” is Hinduism, “c” is Buddhism, “d” is Christianity, and so on. The seeker picks their preferred cuisine—or even, like the new age movement, cherry picks from various columns—in the expectation of being (as advertised) delivered the foods and flavors that the menu offers when the dishes arrive at the table.

The customer eats, so to speak, the impressions he has ordered. As in any restaurant, if there are issues with the food, one either pretends it’s fine anyway—or complains to the cook-- and, if the meals ultimately fail to satisfy, finally one switches cuisines, or even quits going to restaurants.

In esotericism, or in gnosticism, everything starts before the menu. Happiness can’t be ordered from the eating establishment. Instead we understand thusly:

...we are the eating establishment...

and the search for what to eat begins before the menu. It begins before the conceptualization of the meals; it begins before the paper, or even the ink that is printed on the paper.

It begins with grinding the pigments for the ink.

This is, as Gurdjieff maintained, a profoundly chemical process; there is a question of the fineness of the pigments: where they are found, how much attention goes into their preparation, the way they are colored. The requirements that one faces when running the restaurant oneself go much deeper than those of the customer who drops in to be served. To paraphrase Sartre, esotericism is a restaurant where we serve ourselves... although, inevitably, we only serve ourselves in order to serve something higher than ourselves.

A tension arises here. As the author of the cloud of unknowing well understood, “actives”—those who devote their understanding of practice to the achievement of external, or worldly, deeds—will always tend to disagree with “contemplatives,” those who seek a more profoundly inner understanding. For actives, the relationship with the world, rightly ordered and conducted, produces satisfaction. For the contemplatives, the root of satisfaction lies deep within, at the heart of the soul.

With age, I increasingly understand that the origin of happiness, as well as negativity, and every other quality of Self that is experienced, begins before I touch the world or the world touches me. If I want to know any real quality—whatever it is and whatever it may be—it has to begin with a connection to the root source of Being.

I feel we have to go much deeper than learning how to think pleasant thoughts and be nice to other people. All of that is good.


Ultimately, every mask has to be removed, until we stand naked in the searing light of a force much greater than ourselves. And this is an inner voyage that has nothing to do with our outer life, until after the fact.

...and finally, speaking of the food of impressions, and finer versus coarser foods, go see the pixar movie "Ratatouille." It's positively delightful.

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

Friday, December 7, 2007

Work in life

I was going to write a post about the law of accident today, but another subject is active in an inner sense, so I am changing direction. We will, however, examine the question of that law in the next week or so.

One of the goals that people strive for in bringing their inner work to a new level of maturity is what is called "work in life."

There is much discussion about what this term means, and--inevitably-- the attendant uncertainty. Generally speaking, people believe that it means of bringing a "new kind of attention" to ordinary life.

Let's take a look at what this term might mean relative to our relationship to our own inner energy.

Over the past six months, I have discussed at some length the nature of our physical structure for receiving impressions, and more recently the meaning of taking in an inner impression. This is the effort, mediated through attention, to take in a finer energy through the inner centers, or flowers.

Perhaps the best--or at least the most traditional -- moment in which to begin undertaking this work is during meditation, where there are fewer distractions, and the attention can be more acutely focused on the question of our inner sensitivity. A careful, specific cultivation of attention to breathing, and the way that it feeds both our sensation and the six flowers themselves, will gradually awaken parts of us that are, indeed, asleep.

The part that we hope to make contact with is the organic sense of being -- that is, the root sensation of experience of the organism. This feeds the understanding of what our inner life is. Until we make contact with this, everything is interpreted through the outer life, that is, we are able to inhabit only one of our two natures. And please be clear, there is a difference between inhabitation of our "second nature" and contact with it.

First, we must establish contact; later, we may learn to inhabit-- with help.

Within the gradual growth of a more active inner life, we may discover, as time goes on, that some of the inner material we learn to receive becomes more difficult to access. It's not unusual to go through periods when sittings are "dry" and we do not seem to be open at all.

There is a reason for this. Finer energies, in conjunction with the physical organism they express themselves through, do not want to be cloistered. The whole purpose of Being in every form -- animal, vegetable, or mineral -- is to express its Self within relationship in life. All of these forms--in fact, all the material manifestations of reality--do, each in their own way, have a Root Self composed of what might be called "essence-consciousness", and the only way that Root Self can enter its right relationship with the Collective Self of which it is a part is by action in life. That action, of course, takes place according to level. The action of an atom is different than the action of a protein, which is different than a cell, which is different than an organ, which is different than a man.

This brings me to a point I meant to mention yesterday, but did not get to, which is that action is third force in relationship to judgment, or stasis, and compassion, or movement.

If one studies Dogen's understanding of Buddhism, one discovers that he prefers to express all forms of understanding in terms of action. With few to no exceptions, the contradictions he explores are always resolved by action.

So, what does all of this apparently theoretical material mean in relationship to our own inner work?

The crux of the matter is that the energy we generate, as well as the energy we receive, wishes to express itself in ordinary life. There comes a moment in inner work where work in life is the only alternative -- nothing more can be done within the narrow context of meditation. What is received, and what is retained, must be experienced within the ordinary moments of life. The active process of transmitting the Dharma, as the Buddhists would call it, must manifest within the ordinary moments of the ordinary day. All of life becomes a meditation; all of life becomes a vehicle and a conduit for the energy that wishes to express itself within this realm.

And it is the action of attention, of inhabitation, or investment-- wearing the Kasaya, the sacred robe of the Buddha, which is nothing more or less than consciousness itself--that bridges the gap and becomes the connecting point between the inner and the outer life.

This is why Gurdjieff's instruction was to put the attention at the place where impressions enter the organism. No matter where that is -- inner or outer-- there has to be an action in order for the separation between Self and Other to be resolved.

Our role, as one friend of mine has often put it, is to be a "nail" that connects heaven to earth. We cannot play this role in meditation except in a limited sense. The growth from the root of our being has to extend out through the work conducted within our flowers into what one might call a "perfume"(rather, one must hope, than a stench, which is what we usually exude) -- that is, Dogen's plum blossoms, or Rumi's musk; a sense of Being that extends from us into everything around us.

In this context, everything in life becomes food for Being, and everything that exudes from our Being becomes food for life. Trungpa's open--hearted way has this practice at its original root, which is the original root of every being that expresses itself, on every level.

Perhaps the supreme irony that mankind finds itself trapped in is that we express the Dharma perpetually whether we wish to or not. Nothing in the universe has any choice but to perpetually express the Dharma, or-- if you would prefer to hear it put in more orthodox Gurdjieffian terms-- participate in the law of reciprocal feeding through the receipt and exchange of impressions.

This is one area where choice is not available. There is only one Truth, and everything participates in it. The question is whether the participation proceeds with awareness, or automatically.

It is up to us to learn how to bring the energy that feeds us out of the darkness -- that glorious inner silence in which God alone can speak-- and into the light. This is the choice we have to make; it is a choice of how to serve, and when. The energy that creates us wishes to joyfully and playfully exchange within the truth of its own nature; when we participate, and assist it, blessings and a sublime form of bliss, descends both upon us, and those around us.

Of course we live cut off from this source. That is why the effort to reconnect is called religion: to bind together again; to rejoin our severed parts, as in the myth of Osiris..

Keep all this in mind if your sittings seem barren. There are things taking place within us that cannot be known with the mind. It's quite possible that the least productive sitting will lead to a moment later in the day when, for a moment, everything that we thought was missing becomes available--

and more.

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

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Judgment, compassion, choice

In the Gurdjieff work, we encounter the concept of inner considering and outer considering.

Inner considering is, roughly stated, the act of getting caught in one's own internal evaluations of everything. Outer considering is the act of putting oneself in someone else's shoes. His advice to his followers was, "consider outwardly always, inwardly never."

I have been pondering the question of inner and outer considering for the past week or so. It seems to me that there can be little question the practice of outer considering is, in fact, Gurdjieff's own way of stating the need for compassion.

Compassion is the effort to put oneself in the emotional shoes of the other, and in most religious disciplines it's considered central to the understanding of inner practice. Jesus Christ called on man to exercise compassion in every situation. One of the central practices of Buddhism is compassion. There is a general understanding that we are supposed to meet the external world with compassion.

The other possibility for men is judgment. If we examine the concept of inner considering, we may see that it almost always consists of some form of judgment. It is either the judgment of ourselves, or the judgment of others, but in almost every case, inner considering consists of one kind or another of fault finding.

We are immediately reminded of Christ's admonition, "Judge not others, lest ye yourself be judged." In the Old Testament, we see a God of judgment -- a deity that disperses fire and brimstone according to the whims of his anger. The teaching that Christ brings is new: it transcends this form of inner considering, of negative judgment, and replaces it with a practice of outer considering, or compassion.

In the Old Testament, the accepted practice was to stone an adulterous woman to death without remorse. In the New Testament, we are asked to drop our vanity, our pride, and see that we are all adulterous women. This act of self remembering -- our cognition of where we are, of the fact that we are flawed -- stays our hand, and instead of judgment, the opportunity for compassion opens itself.

This tension between the question of judgment and compassion, between inner and outer considering, is a key consideration in the question of inner work. In the same way that we can either judge or love another, we judge, or love, ourselves.

Many years ago Henry Brown mentioned to us that as we hear the Commandment "love thy neighbor as thyself," we always seem to hear the "love thy neighbor" part, but forget the part where it is recommended that we loves our Self. We cannot grow if we spend all our time finding fault with ourselves.

Compassion, which is generally understood as an outwardly directed attention, must also be directed inwardly. This is, perhaps, a step in the direction of what Gurdjieff called "conscious egoism."

Judgment can be seen as paralysis, the lack of movement. Judgment is a frozen attitude which lives within a cave, and relies on the texts of the past--or, if you will, associative thought -- to apply punishment to those who sin. It is static, the rough equivalent of being stuck in one location. One never describes those who sit in judgment as being openhearted; au contraire, the one who judges is closed. He is determined to exclude the other, who is different than he is, and definitely not as good.

Judgment is the tool of habit and association.

Compassion is dynamic, the embodiment of movement. It takes the current moment into account, and examining it from multiple points of view. The openhearted way can only be practiced from the compassionate point of view. It includes the other, offering kinship and brotherhood instead of fear and division.

Compassion is the tool of openness and attention.

Which one do you think would do a better job in the service of producing inner unity?

In a moving universe, judgment finds its roots in fear and denial, in the wish to keep things from changing--to stop moving.. It stands in direct opposition to compassion, which embraces movement as inevitable.

When Gurdjieff asked us to consider outwardly always, inwardly never, he was asking us to make a choice between movement and stasis. (one might argue we see an echo of this in his two most famous body exercises: the movements, and the "stop exercise.")

The question of choice is the key. We are here to make a choice, in the same way that the quantum state needs to make a choice in order to manifest reality. Every human being's task in their life is not to do good, but to inhabit the present moment, and to make an effort to choose between judgment and compassion.

It is true that we are all crippled and often unable to make an effective choice here. Nonetheless, in its current stage of development, it's clear: mankind perpetually finds itself stuck on the far end--the judgment end-- of the line that unites judgment and compassion in Truth.

This is, I think, why for mankind the path must always point in the direction of compassion.

If we direct our search inwardly, and earnestly seek the flower of our heart, we may learn something much deeper and more intimate about this question of inner compassion towards ourselves. In this action, we may encounter our mysterious other self-

...that very one we are supposed to be remembering.

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

On the question of impressions

Most people who encounter the Gurdjieff work are exposed early on to the idea that impressions are what feed the development of the soul.

Unfortunately, even people with long experience in the work tend to habitually forget that all of our work centers around the receiving of impressions. Due to the highly technical nature of much of the information Ouspensky passed on, and the influence of the various charismatic shamans the work has produced, people get distracted in a hundred other directions, and when you raise this question with them, they try to skirt around it, as though you could conduct your inner work without directly attending to the question.

My old group leader Henry Brown made this point about the central role of impressions as food to me many years ago, when I was still quite young in the work. At the time I didn't know what he was talking about.

I briefly mentioned the difference between coarser, "outer" impressions and finer, inner impressions the other day. Today I would like to discuss that in more detail.

It is generally understood and accepted among people that when we speak of impressions, we speak of what is taken into the five sense organs of taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell. Occasionally we encounter ideas, such as those in Dogen's Buddhism, where we hear a discussion of six senses. There is argument among theoreticians as to what that sixth sense consists of.

These arguments are based on a misunderstanding about which six senses are being talked about.

In the Gurdjieff work, we understand that it is possible for the body to take in much finer impressions, using the attention. Such impressions, however, are not the "coarse" impressions of outer life entering through the ordinary five senses. Yes, those impressions can be altered by the presence of fine substances in the body, but finer impressions themselves are received within the six inner centers, that is, the six inner flowers --not through the five ordinary senses.

That's because finer impressions have to be received by organs designed for that purpose.

The six inner flowers, belonging to the overall internal structure of the emotional center, (see the development of emotional center) are specifically designed for the receipt of finer impressions. The emotional center provides the appropriate apparatus because it works at a much faster speed, or higher, and thus finer, rate of vibration than the moving or intellectual centers. This is one more reason why Gurdjieff said that no real development could ever become possible until emotional center began to participate in a new way.

When people in the Gurdjieff work speak of "opening," and "receiving," they speak exactly of this kind of work. It is the search for contact with those parts of ourselves that are capable of receiving a different kind of inner impression.

Contact with this inner apparatus is, in fact, contact with our second, inner self -- that part of man which is connected to something much higher, and does not belong to this ordinary nature we inhabit. When we speak of man's two natures -- the dog and the Buddha --we speak precisely of our ordinary nature, and this second, much more sensitive nature, which is the root of our arising and exists not outside us, but within us.

As it happens, our negativity -- a subject I continue to have an intense interest in investigating -- arises directly because of the lack of connection between our two natures, and the consequent disruption of our inner energy. Any belief that our negativity arises because of external circumstances is profoundly mistaken. The negativity is always already there; the gun is already loaded. External circumstances are nothing more than the trigger that fires the gun. It is our inner state that is lacking, and it is lacking because we do not feed on the inner impressions we need to.

It's no wonder we are irritable, dangerous, even violent. The animal half of us, which ought to be in relationship with-- feeding, and receiving food from-- our higher nature, is perpetually starving. Its desperation to somehow collect what it actually needs leads us to all of the flaws described as sins in Christianity, and summarized as desire in Buddhism.

People often ask, "Why are we working? What are we working for?," and so on.

The answers to these questions are not mysterious and inaccessible; rather, they are so obvious and immediate to us that we stumble over them in our perpetual rush towards oblivion.

The reason that we are working is to transubstantiate impressions.

We do that in order to provide food both for ourselves, for the planet, and for the universe in general.

As a bridge between levels, our work fills a vital gap, provides a "shock" between two notes, in that process. We are offered the opportunity to participate in a magnificent enterprise, and the rewards for this kind of effort are considerable.

All of that hinges on a deeper understanding of what it means to receive inner impressions.

Well, enough for one day.

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In the middle of life

This afternoon, as I left the office to get lunch, I saw how immersed I am in the immediate moment.

This immediate moment is what there is; things that will happen later, such as my trip into the city tonight to attend my group meeting, aren't real yet; they haven't happened.

As such, I find myself in the middle of life.

At the beginning of life, in our experience, we are in the middle of life. As we grow old through life, we are always in the middle of life. And even as we approach our death, the only place that we can do it from is from the middle of our life.

There isn't anywhere else to be.

The middle of our life is this present moment; it is after the past, and before the future, so we are always in the middle, no matter where we are and no matter what we are doing. And it is this immediate, saturated experience of inhabiting this middle place within life that may become more interesting to us as we study our self.

The middle of life is completely unexpected. It appears to be familiar, because our associative parts create an artificial accountability for the arriving impressions. The fact that none of them have actually ever happened before is glossed over. We actually have no idea of what will happen next in any moment; the whole thing we call life is a safari into the unknown in every single second.

Sometimes a big shock will come along and open us up to the present and we see that things right here are pretty good, but that is unusual. We tend to spend most of our time imagining that something that happens later will be better than this. So we miss all the important stuff of the immediate moment, dismissing it as boring or trivial.

On that note, my wife reported some rather shocking news last night about a man we know who is a sculptor. He does beautiful bronze work.

While he was in France on vacation recently, someone broke into his house in Vermont and stole about 80% of the last 25 years worth of his work. Because there are foundries in the area, it's suspected that all of his sculptures were melted down so that some "individual without a conscience" could stuff someone else's dollars in their pocket.

It was a terrible blow; being an artist myself, I can attest to the fact that he probably felt like a large portion of his life was chopped down and burned. Nonetheless, he is a man with the true soul of an artist, at least as far as we understand these things, and today, he was marveling at the open sky and the dramatic windy weather blowing through the Northeast, exclaiming to Neal, "what a beautiful day it is!"

The shock opened his heart. Right now, he understands that it's not about the stuff; it's all about the comprehension of this magnificent experience we call life... hell, the bastards may be able to take away his bronze, but they can't take away the weather.

It reminds me of the moment years ago when, after I lost my wife, my family, all my money, and my house in my divorce, I stood outside one night in the midst of Georgia wheatfields and looked up at clouds scudding across the moon. I realized at that moment that no matter what life took away from me, until life itself was taken, I would still be able to breathe the air and to see the clouds.

No one could take that away from me.

The very next day I lost my job. But when I went outside, the clouds in the sky were still there, and I was alive. This is how we survive; by knowing that we live, we breathe, that we find ourselves in the middle of this thing called life, which is a cause for celebration--even in the midst of collapse--if we are in touch with our soul.

This morning, I was reading further in the chapter of the Shobogenzo entitled, "Samadhi as Experience of the Self." (Same source as cited in yesterday's post.)

On page 30, Dogen imparts the following:

"To preach Dharma and to listen to Dharma with our [whole] body at each moment in our [whole] life at each moment is to hear Dharma in every age, and is to listen again in the present age to Dharma that was authentically transmitted to us in the past. We are born in Dharma, and we die in Dharma, and so, having received the authentic transmission of the Dharma while in the whole universe in ten directions, we listen to it in our [whole] life at each moment and practice it with our [whole] body at each moment."

Dogen is pointing here at the fact that we exist within this truth called the middle of our life. The wholeness of experience of life encompasses "the whole universe in ten directions."

"Because we can realize our whole life at each moment in Dharma and make our whole body at each moment into Dharma, we bring together both single molecules and the universal order and let them experienced Dharma."

Here we are reminded that we are indeed in the middle; we are a bridge between heaven and earth, a bridge between levels. We learn to engage in the sensation of our molecular Being and connect it to a much greater sense; to close the gap between molecules and the cosmos, our consciousness is required. Dogen's explanation of a higher level of awareness as encompassing both levels below and levels above recapitulates Gurdjieff's words to Ouspensky on the same matter in "In Search of the Miraculous."

So here we are... in the middle of life...

Just doing our job.

It's not so bad, really.

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

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sutras as impressions

Apologies. I had multiple problems with blogger this afternoon at lunch and the original version of this post had many errors. I hope most of them have now been corrected.

We return once again to a discussion of Dogen's ideas and their relationship to the Gurdjieff work. This time, in book 4 of the Shobogenzo (translated by Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha Press), page 27, chapter 75: Samadhi as Experience of the Self.

Here Dogen intimates that the state of enlightenment is a state of self-knowledge. We come once again to the idea that it is the inhabitation of our lives, the experience of our consciousness in an active sense, that creates the possibility of what the Buddhists call enlightenment.

In this chapter, on page 28, Dogen launches into a discussion on the meaning of the word "sutras." Sutras-- truths, or teachings-- are usually taken to mean the traditional set of Buddhist texts, but of course Dogen--irascible here, as always-- is never satisfied with the limitations imposed by traditionalist dogma.

To him, everything is a sutra.

That is to say all of nature, the entire universe, is a teaching. There is a singleness of truth expressed within all that is, and this is the teaching. This is why we can learn everything we need to know from even one aspect of nature if we understand it properly.

Let's take a look at what Dogen says in this chapter:

"In general, when we follow and practice the sutras, the sutras truly come forth. The meaning of "the sutras" is the whole universe in ten directions, mountains, rivers, and the earth, grass and trees, self and others; it is eating meals and putting on clothes, instantaneous movements and demeanors."

In other words, the entire experience of life is a sutra. The teaching is not words: it is reality itself, contained within all that arises and all that is. Everything is an expression of the Dharma. Words themselves are part of the Dharma, which is why Dogen does not accept or reject their use--he simply acknowledges that they, like everything else, exist and must be included within the understanding.

"When we pursue the truth following these texts, each of which is a sutra, countless thousand myriads volumes of totally unprecedented sutras manifest themselves in reality and exist before us. ... When, becoming able to meet them, we muster the body-mind to learn in practice -- therein using up long eons or making use of long eons -- the destination that is thorough understanding inevitably exists. When we let go of body and mind in order to learn and practice -- therein gouging out eternity, or soaring beyond eternity-- we inevitably realize the virtue of receiving and retaining sutras."

What struck me about this passage is the last phrase. He says, "we inevitably realize the virtue of receiving and retaining sutras."

Essentially, I believe he is telling us that when we encounter our life directly and are properly fed by it, we cannot avoid the understanding that it is our impressions of life that create what he calls "virtue," that is, progression on the path toward enlightenment--or, alternately, what Gurdjieff would have called development of the higher Being-bodies.

So, in his own poetic way, Dogen brings us back to this question of food as impressions.

Keeping this thread of investigation more closely aligned to the posts of the last week, let us ponder the fact that we all consistently believe it is our impressions of what flows into us from the outside that are important. A turning point in one's own work can arrive with the understanding that there are impressions that flow inside.

I have been writing for the last two posts about making a more serious effort to study these neglected impressions, which we are almost completely unaware of. Our attention is so directly attracted by, and consequently attached to-- or identified with, as Gurdjieff would put it -- external impressions that we fail to even notice internal impressions, except the coarse ones, that is, the grotesque emotional reactions and baroque forms of intellectual psychology that we all perpetually fall victim to.

To separate the coarse from the fine -- the alchemical ideal -- can begin with a more comprehensive, tactile understanding of the difference between our inner and our outer impressions.

Outer impressions are inevitable. They are what they are, they arrive as they arrive, we have no control over them.

Inner impressions are an entirely different set of possibilities. If we become sensitive to them, we can become responsible to them. They become a property belonging to our lives--not the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" that external impressions provide, but the beginning of an inner order.

The diagram of the enneagram carries this implication within its form. If we can begin to understand it, to sense it, to see it as a process taking place within us, we take a significant step on the road to inner development.

That may be a small step for a man, but it's a giant leap for...


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

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Becoming more specific

Once again, this morning, I woke up very early-- it's that rare and glorious moment, a day off, and yet I found myself wide awake at 4:30 am, studying the inner condition--the physical reality-- of what we call life. Is it curiosity that drives me to this? I don't know. All I can be sure of is that I awaken, I am alive-- and within that given condition, I want to know what is possible.

At the risk of redundancy, it seems worth revisiting this question. I am finding that opening the "inner octave"-- the six flowers-- requires a great deal of this kind of attentiveness and, above all,

inner specificity.

Now, I know we do not seem to come across this word, or this idea, very often in discussions of spiritual work. Then again, those of you who read this blog know that I have a number of terms--such as "organic sense of being"-- that are not borrowed from other people but coined whole from my own work. The terms may be right, they may be wrong-- they may be right for some, and wrong for some others--but at least they are not recycled. Each one of them is specifically (there's that word again) chosen based on my own investigations and experience.

And yes, I make 'em up as I go along. I'm an improviser at heart. As William Segal famously used to say, "make do with what you have."

Well then. In truth, Gurdjieff did often ask Ouspensky to become more specific--very specific-- in his work. He advised him repeatedly to study the inner condition and become familiar with all of the parts of his machine--everything that made it tick, so to speak--the study of centers and the study of hydrogens (now seemingly seen as an esoteric subject indeed by people in the formal branches of the work)-- and so on. If you re-read "In Search of the Miraculous", I daresay you'll be struck by just how specific Gurdjieff asks us to be. I mean, who do we know in the Gurdjieff work who claims -- as Gurdjieff urged Ouspensky-- to have identified, cataloged, and studied the various higher hydrogens and their specific effects--or even tried to?

If no one knows today what he meant, if the subject is now considered so arcane that no one cares to come to grips with it--does that mean it "never happened?" That it "isn't possible," or "can't be explained?" Yes, in one sense it's true that nothing can be explained, but in another sense everything is an explanation. Even the statement that nothing can be explained is... damn... an explanation of explaining.

So perhaps getting specific isn't all that obscure, after all. And maybe we can indeed discover something about the action of higher hydrogens within us... only never in the way we expect to... and probably not ever what we expect.

Dogen also spends an exhaustive amount of time asking us to examine the questions raised by Buddhist doctrine. He isn't asking us to theorize and "figure it out." Dogen, too, wants us to study our inner state, and, I think, he too wants us to gets specific about it.

OK, you're probably thinking to yourself. Enough already.

Get specific about what?

First of all, stop thinking. Thinking is the perfect basis for getting specific, but, as with a jazz musician, who may know all the scales and theories, but then has to cut loose and improvise, we need to abandon our premises--our thoughts--even as we include them. Having created it, we inhabitants do not need to perpetually stare at the intellectual foundations of this earthly house called life; we can climb stairs and look out windows in confidence, knowing that this work of the ordinary mind, incorporated into our foundation, already exists.

The support is there.

Without thinking, the effort then becomes one to inhabit the body, and to perceive, very exactly, what is available. How the inner state corresponds to its own receptivity. Within, I search for the seed of what may arrive--I look for the tiny buds of vibration that can open into those fragrant blossoms we so earnestly seek.

I ask for help in finding them, offering the immediate, essential experience of this life, as it stands, to that glorious mystery hovering on the periphery.

Such buds are always poised directly on the edge of my lack of inner awareness. In the silence of the morning, tactile abilities may be able to sense the hidden potential of those buds, to draw breath in to them and feed their wish.

So much of this depends on an inner attention--a willingness to be invested in breath alone, and to see how it literally allows the nectar of life to flow into the body.


I began this posting very early this morning, and pondered it again within the process of sensation--not ten minutes ago, as I walked the famous dog Isabel.

For a moment, again, as the sun went down, reflecting off leaves so rust and red they were not rust and red any more, but surely something else, I was touched by that place within sensation of the inner centers. Inhabiting not just the sensation of my limbs, but the openness at the base of the spine, the secret, icy river of material joy that may flow within us.

Once again, a subtle yet immediate vibration was available--the taste of now, the undeniable sense and vibration of this life itself, mediated through the arrival of this heavenly assistance.

And once again:


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

Friday, November 30, 2007


Today began with cultivation: very early in the morning, I awoke, and began at once, in the darkness, to investigate, to discover availability.

This is, for me, a kind of inner spelunking; after for a moment or two sensing the wholeness of the body, I carefully check various parts to see if they are receptive to a possibility, usually simply by placing attention within them. In particular, I pay attention to my breathing, the way air enters the body, the relationship between physical sensation, inward breath, and the sensation within the centers.

What can be fed in this relationship?

There are times in the night when we may be much more available, if we check. Dogen often speaks of flowers blooming in the night; I feel rather certain he was referring to the arrival of a much finer energy which can support us in our daily effort. When we are half-awake we are softer; things we know nothing of can enter us.

This morning when I was sitting, I was reminded of the fact that man cannot "do."

One meaning:

We cannot go and get inner energy for ourselves; it comes. Our job is to make ourselves receptive--to open ourselves.

Much of this consists of not trying to do anything. Henry Brown used to call it "the effortless effort." Anyway, this morning I found myself, in an inner sense, continually stepping out of the way to allow a finer rate of vibration to enter.

I don't use the word silence much when describing this kind of work. Others use it so frequently it seems done enough, and besides, it has always bothered me that people dare to speak about silence. The inherent contradiction is appalling, isn't it?

However, this is one of those rare times I would invoke that word, for when we go deep enough inside, and surrender enough of ourselves-- so much that, as my old movements teacher Andre Enard once told me privately--we give up everything, even our wish--

well then, a new force may arrive and enter us. This we find in silence, and cherish in silence.

We don't like letting go in this manner--at least I don't. It involves extinguishing the entire construction, and there is a part in me that just does not want to let go that much. Nonetheless, if I surrender enough of myself, I may touch a moment when the Lord is truly received with joy and thanksgiving.

It is the work of investment of attention within specific points--the inner flowers-- that interests me the most now. In this manner we can prepare our inner octave for the arrival of this finer energy.

It is either there, or it is not--it is not up to me. I can use my attention to create the conditions for a seed to grow, but I do not own the seed, or direct its germination. I am nothing more than the observer--the farmer who plants when the time is right, and then waits patiently for water and sun.

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The long view

Last night, I had to have a difficult talk with a good friend who is facing some very hard decisions.

In the process, in order to be honest, I had to make recommendations I did not want to make, and I felt positively awful about them. Vibrations arose in me that penetrated my being and gave rise to tears. The situation reminds me of just how difficult the situation we find ourselves in on this planet actually is.

All of us, in life, are inevitably going to confront situations that bring terrible emotional difficulty. It's easy to be optimistic when things are going well, but it is much more difficult to keep ourselves, our interior, intact in the face of the moments that truly test us.

Most of us have managed to arrange pretty comfortable lives for ourselves; it's a safe bet that if you are reading this, you are not in the Sudan, with half your family slain, no house to live in, and no food to eat. None of us have had to confront situations this difficult. We all have opinions about how well we would handle it (and of course, we think we'd handle it well, right?) but none of us actually ever know what we will do when things go wrong, or even what we should do.

Last night, when I was speaking with our friend, it was apparent that no matter what choice was made, the consequences would last for the rest of a lifetime, and within every alternative, there was a price to be paid, and inescapable remorse to be suffered.

In these objectively real and somewhat terrifying circumstances, the question came up about where the center of gravity lies in the question of forgiveness.

Are there really choices that can condemn us to what the Catholics and fundamentalists would call hell?

Gurdjieff always said that there was a heaven and hell, and that they were right here with us now. They lie within us. In other words, we are the creators of heaven and hell, not the inhabitants or the victims. It is in the choices we make and the way that we take responsibility for them that we learn the meaning of heaven and hell.

God is not a punisher. If there is one message I feel it is essential to understand in support of our mutual search, it is the absolute, irrevocable, and universally true message that God is a reservoir of infinite mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. The only wish that His Endlessness has for any and all of his creations is that they open themselves to receive his love as they suffer their lives.

He has no need to punish us -- we take care of all of that on our own.

Some people believe that we are here to make the "right" choice. The whole concept of moral fundamentalism is based on the idea that there are right and wrong choices, good and bad things, and if you do the good thing, you are good, and if you do the bad thing, you are bad.

Gurdjieff trashed that idea pretty soundly. In the same way that Dogen insists that all there is is truth, Gurdjieff insisted that good and bad are two ends of the same stick.

That stick is choice.

We always find ourselves in the middle of choice. Everything in the universe does. If you look at the very root of reality -- the quantum state-- it has to choose, in a sense, between position and momentum.

The poor quantum state. It doesn't know what to do. Is it good to be moving but nowhere? Is it good to be somewhere but paralyzed? The dilemma forces a choice somewhere -- abracadabra! Reality arises from that choice. The quanta have been transformed. Now they are in a completely new situation--either right here, or moving over to there.

Is here "good?" Is over there "bad?" No one knows. No matter what, the fact of position and momentum now have be dealt with.

Choice creates the universe. Choice permeates the universe. Between the Scylla and Charybdis of holy affirming and holy denying forces, choice becomes the holy reconciling force. Perhaps it isn't what kind of choice we make, but rather, the way that we take responsibility for it that matters. If we spend the rest of our life beating the crap out of ourselves for the choices we have made, well then,

...welcome to hell.

Every recovering alcoholic has to confront that one early on.

Choice does not make us good or bad. We can choose "badly" and still be "good;" we can choose well and still be "bad." Anything we choose can and will produce both good and bad, because the two cannot be separated. They are all one thing. Everything is one thing.

That one thing is truth.

In choice, we confront truth in this moment. We look it right in the eye. Truth, in its turn, demands something from us, and that is our effort to Be.

Truth and Being, in other words, are engaged in the same dance, the selfsame act that we examined yesterday: the Law of reciprocal feeding.

Think on it.

One last note. There is, of course, the danger of foolish people interpreting this understanding as a license to do any old thing they want, no matter how brutal or indifferent.

We run that risk. No one is able to protect the universe from intentional ignorance. In this matter, too, Gurdjieff had words. He told Ouspensky that it is possible to intentionally serve involutionary purposes--even consciously--but the tendency is inherently unnatural. Eventually such situations bring a logical end to themselves.

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Big fish, little fish

The picture here may not seem to have anything whatsoever to do with the title of this post, but it does, because the question today is about the relationship of levels.

The old saying goes, "Big fish eat little fish." We have all heard it. What we don't hear very often is the following: "Big fish need little fish."

In Gurdjieff's cosmology, we encounter a phenomenon -- common to every level of the universe-- called the law of reciprocal feeding. In fact, in Gurdjieff's cosmology, this is one of the most essential laws, since when God was forced to alter the structure of the universe, the fundamental change he made involved this law. (Those of you who are interested in more detail on this should read the chapter "The Holy Planet Purgatory" in Gurdjieff's magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.)

The law of reciprocal feeding does not just mean that animals eat each other, which is the obvious and visible manifestation of the law on this level.

It means that levels feed each other.

Every level needs the levels below it in order to exist. if we study the enneagram, it clearly shows us that within any given octave, energy from an outside source -- " Do", a note that represents a connection to, and contact with, an octave on the next level-- is required in order for the octave to "evolve," that is, to complete itself and contribute its energy to the next level.

So in the act of "feeding on" the level below it, the higher absolutely has to share something of itself in order for the level to be complete.

This fact deserves careful pondering, because there are subtleties and intricacies to it worthy of much consideration.

We have already learned, on our own level, from biological processes that apparently hostile predator/prey and host/parasite relationships are not always as simple as they appear, and can be nearly indistinguishable from commensalism and symbiosis. (for example, Helicobacter Pylori, an apparently inimical stomach bacteria which causes peptic ulcers, appears to be absolutely necessary in the human stomach; it plays a key role in the regulation of digestive acidity.) Put in other terms, as any biologist would tell you, it's often very difficult to tell where one organism ends and another one begins. There are even examples of creatures from two different kingdoms combining to create a single organism. I speak here, of course, of the symbiosis between fungi and cyanobacteria which create the organisms we call lichens.

We could take numerous fascinating side excursions into biology to investigate this question (Click here for one) but let's cut to the chase.

There is a message of great hope embedded in the enneagram, and the Gurdjieffian cosmology itself.

That is that under the right conditions, we are lawfully entitled to receive support from a higher level. If we were to put it in religious terms, we would say that God and man are inextricably linked. God needs man. And man is not only entitled to receive the blessings of the Holy Spirit if he engages in right work, right thought, and right action--

it is a requirement, based on how the universe is ordered.

In this way we see that "manna from heaven" is not just a possibility but a birthright. Not something we gain by luck or favor, but something that is, like every other phenomenon in the universe, required by law.

Paramahansa Yogananda said much the same thing; in his experience, if man called in a right way, God had to answer. This is why he used to tell his followers that religion was, more or less, a science.

So if you find yourself sitting, looking at your inner state, and someone looks back at you...
accept it with joy.

No matter how far away we are from heaven, help for our inner work is always no more than one heartbeat away.

It's a law.

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The repsonsibility of consciousness

We all take consciousness for granted, as though it was our right to have it. As though we could do anything we wanted to with it and never have to answer for it.

Awareness seems to be coin we are given to spend for free. There always seems to be an unlimited amount of it within our lifetime -- there is so much consciousness, so much awareness available to us, at least in our fantasies--that when we encounter a moment we do not like or are bored with, we wish it away, ignoring it under the assumption that some later moment will be better.

This may well be what Jeanne DeSalzmann was referring to when she said, "we don't want to be here."

We don't feel any obligation to inhabit our lives or live with in the present moment. Why should we? After all, it all belongs to us, doesn't it?

Perhaps we have all this wrong.

We are, in reality, stewards of consciousness--not owners of it. Each one of us, as a vessel that receives impressions, contains within ourselves the entire universe.

This is a bit difficult to explain -- the mind alone cannot grasp it -- but within each vessel of consciousness the entire universe is created, retained, and maintained ...I believe the Zen idea of polishing a tile to make a mirror touches this idea, but I'm unable to describe what I taste there in words.

Men consistently make the mistake of confusing stewardship with ownership. Human beings, for example, think that they own material things, or that they own land, when it is absolutely clear that the material things, and the land, last long after the humans are dead. The human ego, however, is perfectly happy with its fantasies of power and ownership.

Consequently, everyone on earth conveniently agrees to lie to each other about the temporary nature of our existence. This allows us to excuse ourselves from responsibility. If you want to know why the planet is in the shape it is right now, you can start looking right here.

It's easy enough to apply this idea to the environment. It takes a leap of understanding to apply it to the nature of consciousness itself. If we truly understood that we are stewards of this thing we call Being, or awareness, and that a responsibility is thereby conferred upon us, we might act quite differently.

Within an inner sensation of self, and the development of a more whole connection between the parts, perhaps we can discover moments when it's more apparent that we contain the entire universe within us in the reciprocal act, and state, of consciousness. I refer here to an organic sensation of what Gurdjieff called "World creation and World maintenance."

This sensation is not an experience of megalomania; it isn't born of ego. It is, rather, a simple state of re-cognition: seeing again, or, if you will, self-re-membering. Reassembling the "limbs" and organs of the self, which are the body of the entire universe itself.

Within this lies an inherent recognition of responsibility: the understanding that we are responsible--accountable-- for our consciousness.

I know this sounds highly theoretical, but I don't mean it theoretically. To seek a more direct and physical understanding of this possibility is worth the "inner reach."

The idea is not far off of what all religions teach: that we are responsible for our actions, that there is a price to be paid for everything we do and all that we are.

Extending the concept into the very act of being conscious itself, rather than just the deeds we do and the way we behave, takes a much deeper step into the question of Self. I think this sensation is close to the Heart of Zen--as well as every other Work.

Can we assume responsibility for our awareness? Can we attempt to see that we are everything--that everything is us?

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Inner sensation of self

Most of my experience of life consists of what I would call mental sensation of self. Although I certainly have a powerful emotional side, until I was in my mid-40s my conception of life consisted of what I could think about life. I am a pretty concise thinker, which impresses people, and it seemed to me that that was what was important about me. I even used to try to think up my art -- which of course did not ever work very well.

All of this thinking was directed outwardly. While I am unable to step into anyone else's shoes to verify it, I believe we all live this way most of the time. Most of our universe consists of thought or emotional reaction.

One of the senior members of the Gurdjieff Foundation mentioned to me about a year ago that as we grow older, our work becomes more inner in nature.

In my own experience, nothing could be closer to the truth. There are parts within us that can awaken in their own right which are connected not to our thoughts, but to the state and process of the organism itself, that is, they arise more from our biology than our psychology. And this is precisely where we lack a connection, a connection to the body itself that can inform us-- help to form us inwardly.

And why, you may ask, do I mention our biology? We don't hear much about biology in spiritual work, do we?

Our biology is what connects us to the planet. Everything that we think, all of our ideas, arise from our biology. The body is what makes it possible: no body, no experience. (Although I have , incredibly, met those who argue this point ...using their mouths and other body parts, of course.)

So it would appear our intimate connection to the planet earth--an astral organism, alive on the level directly above us, of which we are a part--is more properly located in our biological origins than in any highfalutin' cosmic ideologies we may espouse.

In this context, perhaps we might consider seeking that within us which can help us to have an inner sensation of self.

That sensation does not arise from our ideas or what we think about ourselves; it arises from the organic state of being. This means it is connected to the root source of life rather than the circus of psychology which occupies our daily existence. When we discover it--or it discovers us-- it's more like that, really, isn't it?--it is as though we have found a deep tap root extending into ourself. Vital connective tissue that plunges into the dark and hidden soil of Being from which all existence arises.

This is a mysterious place, this dark soil. It involves heat, and breathing. Deep down inside, we cannot see, but must rather sense, what we are and how we are. Instead of thinking about ourselves, in this place, like blind men, we touch in order to find out the shape and sense of things, and in turn we ourselves are touched. This is the place within ourselves where Alph the sacred river runs through caverns measureless to man.

There is a source of arising within us that exists before we do.

It is possible for countless rootlets of consciousness to extend into our cells and connect them to this greater sense of being I refer to. In this way we can begin to experience the miraculous, living network of our inner vehicle-- a completely extraordinary machine which we know little or nothing about.

The sensation of the limbs is just beginner's sensation--a good thing, to be sure, but it is only the first step on a path which goes much deeper. Sensation has to penetrate into the bones; it has to penetrate into every organ. Not only does sensation have to penetrate every organ, we have to experience the way that sensation arises within all of the organs. We need to discover the inherent vibration within the body which sustains life.

This vibration is not a property which belongs to us, only one we can attune ourselves to. Intimately linked to our breathing, it can remind us of the sacred nature of every moment of consciousness.

The inner sensation of Self, if discovered, becomes a motive force in our question of what we are and how we are. Does it answer our questions? Of course not. It raises new ones, countless new ones, all of them enlivened by the very existence of our life itself.

The action of this force within is what leads me to question, to search, to look very precisely at the inner processes and what feeds them. To cultivate a relationship inside that exists in a different world than the world I inhabit in my daily manifestations. This point--or, more correctly put, this set of inner points-- become points of work that connect me directly to a force within which is greater than outside influences, which invariably seek to enslave me to their own purposes.

Of course, in taking this path, I am still under influences, the difference being that the influences I am under are more chosen, less imposed, and are feeding me instead of feeding on me.

May your roots find water and your leaves know sun.