Monday, February 19, 2007

The big picture

I have been blogging on this blog for over three months now, and, as scattered as the themes may sometimes seem to be, an overarching theme seems to me to be emerging from the posts. Hence the picture for this post, a structure in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Like my own structures, it is a bit worse for wear, but it will have to do.

First, my aim is to speak from within my own experience. After many years of exchange with others on spiritual matters, it strikes me that this is the most vital responsibility each of us takes upon themselves as we meet each other face-to-face in mutual effort. Granted, in this case face-to-face means reader-to-blogger, but the responsibility still stands.

This idea of speaking from within our own experience seems so important to me that I considered writing a blog just on this subject alone. One average thought that legitimately originates from within one's own experience, from within one's own organism, one's essence, is worth 10,000 brilliant ones imported and grafted on to this structure we call personality.

So wherever possible I try to speak about my life and my work as simply and as honestly as possible. I cannot always be smart or clever or probably even honest, but I can do my best to offer you what I have, no strings attached.

Now, as to the overarching theme. I formulate it thus:

What is Nature?

Of course this is a huge question, and we can comfortably agree there is absolutely no possibility of answering it in a blog, or anywhere else, for that matter. However each of us can contribute to the investigation of this question, and in my investigation of spiritual questions, worldly questions, and questions of biology, I continually tend to seek the common threads that bind them together. Above all, I am looking for a piece of fabric that speaks to me about what we are and why we are here.

There is something vast and mysterious taking place within biological life on this planet. Life, in all its variety, functioning as vessels, taking in the trillions of billions of unique conscious impressions of life. If one pauses for a moment to understand the number of impressions being ingested -- yes, that's correct, ingested --and processed on this planet in any given moment, the idea is immediately staggering.

What is this process? What is it creating?

Consciousness is a single living organism; it appears as many different organisms to us, but both our imagination and our perception are limited by our scale and the brevity of our lives. This single organism has been developing and changing itself for billions of years through a process that we call evolution. It contains life and death within itself; in that fact alone it appears to have qualities better ascribed to Gods than to nature. And here, perhaps, the animistic religions had it right-- something resides within nature so much greater than ourselves that to call it God seems reasonable, even if, in order to do so, we have to transport ourselves to the level of galactic clusters and beyond to appreciate just how vast nature really is, and how far beyond any understanding man can ever develop.

In Dogen's "Sutra of mountains and water" (Sansuigyo) he expounds on the relationship between nature and Buddhist thinking. They are intimately related. Christ drew analogies from many sources in nature for his parables; again, it seems impossible to separate the questions of Christianity from the questions of nature. And Gurdjieff, with his vast structural analysis of the cosmos and everything in it, tied us inexorably to the questions of what nature is and what our place in it is.

For many years, it has been my belief that a careful study of organisms, both our own and others, can reveal relationships that will tell us a great deal about the various levels in the universe and how they interact.

We are much better equipped to understand the levels below us than the ones above us; perhaps that goes without saying, but I believe it needs to be said in a world where everyone wants to reach upwards to God before they check to see where their feet are on the ground. We are given this animal nature we dwell within quite specifically in order to explore what it means and to use it as a tool for our development. We need to develop an intimate relationship with it and understand it in as many particulars as humanly possible. It may be that in our animal nature and in our very mortality itself lie answers to questions that we believe we have to seek from the Angels.

Angels are vastly superior beings whose presence alone, were it not for their reassurances, might cause us to go mad. They are very busy with matters that will never concern us at our level, which is why they do not visit men often- you'll notice that they visit men almost exclusively when they are sent- and generally have little to say to them when they do. It is sheer arrogance on our part to seek their counsel or assistance.

On top of that, it is probably best we do not. Take note that in Gurdjieff's cumbersome but stunning classic "Beelzebub's tales to his Grandson" angels actually caused the original erroneous conditions on planet Earth- so much for any dreams about the infallibility of higher states of being- and the higher beings of Beelzebub's race resident on earth who tried to correct them botched the job in one way or another.

It is even more sobering to consider that in the end, it turned out that God had to go to the extreme of incarnating as a human and having himself nailed to a cross in order to fully understand just what was necessary to repair the damage that we humans have done to ourselves.

That is not to say Angels are without mercy, au contraire. Compared to us their mercy is infinite. But it is not a mercy we can understand, because it is unconditional, and everything about us begins with conditions.

Here on this planet, I do not wait for the Angels. I'd like their help, but cannot rely on it. I see that it is true that I am helpless, and- without the Grace of God- alone.

That Grace expresses itself within the context of nature and my impressions of it. In this organism, with this beating heart and these breathing lungs- if there is a God, this is where He will find me, within this vessel.

So if I am not examining the vessel -- examining its nature, examining its makeup, examining its contents -- I cannot know how prepare a place in my heart for God.

So there are the three legs of the stool:

To speak from within one's own experience,
To seek an answer to the question, "what is nature",
To make an effort to discover what it means to prepare a place in our hearts for God.

And if you are thinking here that this man's reach surely exceeds his grasp, you are correct.

Mea culpa.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ice crystals

There's a hard layer of icy snow over our stretch of the Hudson valley this weekend- flat, perfect, unforgiving. This morning my wife and I trudged across it with the famous dog Isabel, leaving barely a print on its surface.

As we passed the crystalline block of lake ice you see above this text, I was reminded of the fact that the state of a matter is always a question of temperature. Under the right conditions, for example, silicon dixoide is a liquid- but we know it better as quartz.

Solid, liquid, gas- three states. The universe began as a superheated gas- cooled to a liquid plasma- crystallized into planets. We're not that different. DNA- the very stuff that forms us- is a crystalline structure.

The word crystal itself derives from the Greek "to freeze," or congeal. Crystals, however, don't just represent the end result of a loss of heat energy- they also represent its retention in a structured form. So crystallization is a way of preserving information. In separating themselves from their environment crystals preserve what they are, but it is at the expense of relationship and further change.

You'll perhaps recall that I prefer to understand the word information as not meaning data, but rather that which is formed within us. So, as Gurdjieff mentioned, men crystallize as they acquire material. Wrong crystallization is a real danger- once something inner is formed and crystallizes, the only ways to re-form what results are to break it or melt it. Either way the process is painful.

Does that sound kinda weird? People can crystallize?

Think it over. One of the definitions of "crystallize" is to give a definite or concrete and permanent shape to.

This idea isn't so foreign to our ordinary life. We all know that overcoming inner attitudes is incredibly difficult and usually involves a lot of pain and suffering. As we grow older, important parts of us get cold and hard. They become incredibly resistant to change, and to others, they stick out from the rest of our being just like the block of ice you see in the picture. In other words, those parts that solidify become prominent. In many cases we actually rely on them to "get the job done"- whatever the job of the moment seems to be. We all know how that is- no matter what comes up, whatever situation we confront, we may tend to repeatedly tackle it from the same part of ourselves. Even if it's apparent that part is inappropriate, or even disfunctional. Psychologist call it "playing tapes."

Those of you familiar with the Gurdjieff Work may see a similarity between this idea and the idea of "chief feature." No coincidences here.

We fall in love with those parts of ourselves. They can even be (s0mewhat perversely perhaps) very attractive to others. Crystals are bright and clean and pure and glittering. The fact that they represent a frozen state where the possibilites of change are all but gone is lost on us. The beauty of these solid, no longer mutable masses hypnotizes everyone. Before you know it we're all polishing up our inner crystals and holding them up to the light, exclaiming to ourselves about how groovy they look.

We forget that we are trapped in them.

Smashing the crystal is one way of changing, but almost no one is able to do that to themselves. It takes a terrible shock to do that and the results are unpredictable. Take a look at what happened to Humpty Dumpty.

Best not go that way if we can avoid it, huh?

The good news is, there's fuel in us. We have also stored a great deal of material that can be burned to produce heat. This material exists in the form of the experiences we take in over a lifetime. Those experiences are laid down in us like layers of peat, or solid trunks and limbs of wood.

So, in work, if we take that material of life, and we seek that spark of inner fire that God leaves forever burning in us, we can light a flame. With time we may be able to slowly melt that solid material in us. Become softer, more penetrable, bring ourselves to a state where a new chemistry can emerge. One that includes many important elements we left out of the original reaction.

I sense we need our whole lives for that- all the parts of it, every moment we have ever experienced. It is the whole that contains what we need to re-form ourselves.

How can I touch that wholeness of my life, of my being? It includes the past- the present- the future in ways I am unable to understand. There are moments when I brush up against that and sense the vast, mysterious nature of this thing called my life.

Perhaps, as in AA, I just have to go forward, be open, and trust in the process.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


OK, so I'm weird.

I don't find arthropods creepy. I tend to see almost all biological forms as beautiful, even dangerous poisonous ones. I've eaten scorpions in China and gotten up close and personal with tarantulas and big snakes. No problemo.

Two nights ago, I had a dream where I was pulling creepy little things out of my orifices: centipedes, mites. The oddest thing about it was that it did not bother me. It seemed entirely natural that my body would be host to these other organisms.

I woke up and processed that for a while. It didn't make sense. Why have a dream like that?

Later in the day it struck me: the dream was true.

We don't think about it much, but at any given moment our body is host to billions of other living organisms, including countless types of bacteria, nematodes (microscopic worms which are found by the trillions everywhere) and mites (you probably don't want to know this, but you have a mite living in the follicle at the base of every one of your eyelashes. Every single one of us has them. They are so ubiquitous that biologists think they may even be necessary for some reason we don't quite understand yet.)

OK, now that I've finished totally grossing you out, let's go on. The interesting thing is that we are habitats for other creatures: we are their world, their planet.

Wow, I thought. Amazing. This dream was telling me the truth in a very simple way. It was pointing me towards another important understanding about ourselves.

There is a tremendous similarity between men and planets. Human beings have all the characteristics we associate with planets: There's wind, in the form of our breath. The wind exchanges substances, creating weather (evaporation and precipitation.) Our bodies are filled with oceans called blood that run in currents. We have a hot core, eruptive volcanoes that release heat (sweat), and an atmosphere composed of our outward manifestations. There's material falling in from outside the atmosphere- the impressions we take in. Our bodies are affected by and run on a complex set of electromagnetic relationships.

This analogy refers us back once again to the idea of our inner solar system. From our level, we want to become like a solar system: we want to form an inner sun. However from the point of view of all the life forms that inhabit us we are a planet.

Now recall what Gurdjieff said about planets wanting to become suns and perhaps you'll see a bit more about why this analogy is so utterly, incredibly appropriate. You may also recall how he urged us to think about the idea of worlds and exactly what it meant.

Perhaps more important, when we understand ourselves as planets, we begin to see ourselves as the custodians of a community. We are composed of different communities: communities of cells, communities of organs, communities of biological organisms, symbiotes, parasites. You name it, it's all in there.

So perhaps this idea of the microcosmoses that make up our body can help us to make more of an effort to see ourselves within the context of the larger communities we inhabit.

It's all part of that work we were made to engage in here in the middle kingdom: serving as a bridge between levels, connecting the bottom to the top.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Psyche and centers

Shadows, slot canyon, New Mexico

I had a long drive to work this morning due to winter weather, and had plenty of time to ponder the nature of things. Today it was the connection between psyche and body, or centers.

Traditionally, the territory occupied by the psyche is seen as mysterious-impenetrable- marvelous. What we don't understand is that most of that is conceit. It isn't the psyche- our personality- that has all these qualities. It's the essence. And essence is not, like the personality, of, from, and for the outer world: it is born within the centers.

It is our most secret self. Thus I chose this picture, which for me evokes a real sense of the mysterious: a beautiful shadow that represents something we cannot quite touch from where we are now in life.

So, where to begin that quest?

In the beginning of a spiritual work, we inevitably take everything in with the intellectual mind, which I shall call the psyche for the sake of brevity.

By psyche I mean all the various commonplace elements of consciousness. Gurdjieff called this associative center; whatever you wish to name it, let's just note that in our ordinary state this is the "business end" of the complex combination of organic functions which we manifest. This is the locus of our personality.

Everything comes into us and is processed and turned around by this "business end" I'm calling the psyche. It can't be any other way; this is the main tool we have been given to work with as we begin our lives.

Welcome to the wonderful world of mental science! We study it; we analyze it; we try in every way possible to find out what makes it tick, what is wrong with it, so that we can improve its functioning, because, in general- especially in this day and age- everyone seems to agree that there are things wrong with theirs. In the Gurdjieff work we analyze it in very great detail, dividing it into parts and trying to see how each part of the psyche functions and affects us.

I’ve seen people spend most of a lifetime convinced they can find answers like this, working from the top down. Our personality, our intellectual part, spends a great deal of time offering convincing arguments to that effect. Our concept of what it means to work starts out inverted.

Sooner or later, though, in any real spiritual Work we have to come to what I would have to call a "ground floor recognition:"

The system cannot be changed from the top down, no matter how hard we try.

If any durable transformation ever takes place, it has to take place from the bottom up. This is foundation-up change: the rock upon which a church is built.

In this case it means, as Gurdjieff said, that change must be physiological. The work must invert itself to become of a work of connecting our centers, which are the locus of our essence. The whole state of our being, whatever it is, arises from the centers, not the psyche …Who really understands this? To get even a taste of it is a big thing.

The centers inside our bodies, which all speak in different languages, work at different speeds, and do not communicate with each other, must be brought into a new kind of relationship. They have to discover a harmony between each other. Refer you back to my earlier posting about the enneagram for a map of the connections between centers.

It isn’t until we recognize the fundamental need to connect our centers within that we can begin the real work of reassembling this broken machine we live in.

And that, as formidable a task as it may seem, is only a first step on the path to inner unity.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Intrinsic Joy

One of the things I have learned over the last five years of my life is that we are capable of achieving an inner state of joy that cannot be produced- or influenced- by external events.

Perhaps we could refer to this as intrinsic joy. It isn't born out of the things we do, or what we own, or how things are generally turning out in life. It is organic, that is, it arises from and resides within the organism itself. It's a substance that flows within the body, not an idea in the mind. It's part of the machinery of our lives, not part of the concept of them.

It occurs to me as I write this that this word "organic" is being used overly-much in today's world, and that I am officially one of the guilty parties. However, in this case it is difficult to think of another word that could mean "of the organism."

Intrinsic joy is not achieved through a better understanding of our psychology. It cannot be attained through the application of self-help programs, exercise classes, or any other external factor. It has to be sought and cultivated within the context of the body itself in its relationship with life.

That may sound peculiar to you. "What the hell does he mean," you are perhaps thinking. "If I can't get it by doing yoga, going to weekend retreats, seeing my shrink, winning at golf, or buying a terrific plasma screen television, why even bother discussing it?"

I think we need to discuss it because it's important for people to understand that the attainment of real inner joy is not dependent on materialism of any kind, at least not in the sense that we usually understand the word. The only material it depends on is the material of the impressions of our life and how we receive them. That, and Grace, which is a real and material force on the planet.

This work we call spiritual work- whether it's Dogen's work, Christ's work, Gurdjieff's work- is all about learning how to rightly receive and value our lives. It's within the development of that understanding that this joy I speak of can arrive. It may take years to discover, but it is available.

The atheists, agnostics, pessimists, and naysayers on this subject are all welcome to their own worlds. God bless 'em.

My world is a world where you can seek a flower within yourself, let it bloom, and understand that joy is something that flows upwards from the roots of the universe , downwards from the blossoming light of the galaxies, and into every body that prepares a place to receive it. Every human being has these flowers within themselves. Most people never even know it. They may even see pictures of them-Buddhists love to make pictures like that- and not know that the pictures are pictures of themselves.

Even a trickle of this joyful lightness of being is transformational. It takes some work, I won't deny it. But it's worth it.

So- two worlds. Take your pick.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sacred vessels

Tree, New Mexico

Some will recall that in an earlier post I mentioned the first significant thing I ever really understood about our actual nature is that we are vessels into which the world flows.

Today I will offer a few further insights into that matter.

The idea of that which is contained, and that which contains it, is a common theme in sacred traditions. Vessels play important roles in many rituals, whether it's bull's blood in a clay bowl or the holy grail. Often the vessels are just as important as what they contain: they have to be made of certain substances, in certain shapes, in order to qualify for their contents. In other words, it’s not just about the stuff in the vessel; it’s about the relationships.

Three things are important to this set of relationships, container and the contained: the first two are what things are- that is, the essential nature of their being, their meaning- and where they are. We cannot make anything our own without an understanding of those two elements. If we do not know where something is- location-, we cannot find it, and if we do not know what something is- meaning-, we cannot use it.

The third relationship that is important in terms of vessels is conservation. Vessels confer a magical quality upon their contents: the contents become self. The intervention of the vessel’s walls distinguishes between what is inside and what is outside, and it conserves what is inside, keeping it pure. So, if for example we have a perfume that is placed in a sacred vessel, it is not just any perfume, it is that specific perfume, separate from the world and unique unto itself.

Evidently there is a lot going on in this idea of vessels and their contents.

So, we take man as a vessel that contains the world. As impressions flow into us, these three characteristics are defined for them: they acquire a location - within us- they acquire a meaning- what they consist of- and, in their containment within this vessel we call a body, they acquire an identity, a definable separateness.

What struck me about all this today was the following:

We are responsible not only for containing our own lives within this vessel as we receive them, but also the lives of all those we encounter.

That concept struck me around noon as I was pondering my relationship to my parents over a cup of coffee, staring out the window at a winter sky.

My parents are getting elderly, they are not as tough and invulnerable as they once seemed. I have lived for some time with the sense that they will not be with me forever, and it is sobering. Looking back on my life with them, I realized that their lives do not just belong to them- they belong to me as well, because as a container I have taken in their life from them, received the impressions of their being, and my container is holding that in the form of my experiences and my memories.

This is on the order of a very big idea. It is definitely not going to far to say that in doing this, we are participating in a sacred act. We become the custodians of the being of the individuals we interact with, because their being lives not just within their own impressions, but also in my impressions of them. The reverse holds true as well: what I pour into the vessels of others also enriches or pollutes the world of their vessel, according to my own effort.

Our life is not just our own: it is formed in equal part by other lives. Without that- what would we be? Not very much, certainly.

Upon realizing this I understood that there is a sacred responsibility incumbent upon us as the custodians of the impressions of others, both in giving and receiving. How do we take those impressions in? Do we respect them enough? Do we attend to them, do we cherish them? If we do a bad job of this our vessel will end up filled with stale and impure contents- and we all know how that feels. Understanding this idea better could truly help us to transform our relationship with others.

We are, for better or for worse, universally blended together, by our impressions, in a subtle brotherhood we do not even consider from day to day.

To know this better might be a step in the direction of what the Buddha would call right value. Somewhere within this understanding, I believe, lie the roots of the idea of Christ's compassion; the roots of Gurdjieff's practice of outer considering.

With all that in mind, let us better value one another as we ponder.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lines of communication

I'll confess: I'm drop-kicking this blog. Starting with the photograph- telephone poles over the salt marsh on the Hudson river at the mouth of the Sparkill- I spontaneously extrapolated a title. Just to see what would happen.

Now, I'll just write.

So many things in a creative life begin like this, with a spontaneous exploration that begins with a single gesture, a single choice. A decision not unlike the decision at the quantum level, where waves and particles are distinguished by an act of perception far too fine for us to comprehend.

Before the decision, uncertainty; after the decision, the beginning of something we call existence.

The art- the magic- lies in taking that first step and then letting the piece that results emerge organically from its beginning. The first gesture is a seed; it contains complete genetic instructions for the entire entity within the moment of its genesis. That single gesture which begins a piece of writing- or art- or music- already finds its whole being contained within that first moment, that first movement.

That is the secret: in a real piece of art, the whole thing is already there when the first movement of creation takes place. That first Do defines the whole octave.

When it is whole, and wants to be born, the creation will flawlessly unfold from that gesture, almost without any interference from the artist. Indeed, if the artist manages- and this happens quite rarely- to fully inhabit the role of the artist, his or her presence within the piece remains almost unknown. The artist becomes transparent, a medium channeling a higher kind of force, not an agent controlling the process. In the greatest of art- and we see this constantly in nature- the artist is so completely invisible that it appears there is no artist.

If the artist truly inhabits the growth of an art event in this manner, they will tell you: it is as though they can do no wrong. There is a lawfulness to the birth and the growth of the piece: it makes itself, and the artist is left only to try to be present within the process, in a moment of stunned wonder, as the art, like a living organism, takes on its own life in front of them.

I've participated many times in this kind of exchange between artist and medium, in many mediums- writing, painting, graphic arts, pottery, music- and what results in those rare real pieces is always baffling to me when it is over. More often than not, I am unable to tell anyone just how I arrived at what came; in fact, I did not arrive at it at all. It arrived at itself; I was merely an observer that facilitated, not an agent that acted. It did not come from me. It came through me. In fact, over and over again, as I listen to my latest CD, the music does not seem like anything I could do. It does not belong to me.

Something is communicated through this process we call art. It is the higher reaching down into this level through these flawed, clumsy vehicles we call bodies, trying to send us a message. Often, the message gets twisted as it maneuvers through the labyrinth of our psychology, the narrow corridors of our tiny minds, and the cramped space occupied by our muscles. Nonetheless, the germ is there. We must learn to trust in the process, trust in that which wishes to communicate itself.

And when we can really, truly step aside to let the art become itself, then the art is good- because it isn't art-

It's celebration- it's joy-

it's worship.

And that which deeply calls us to prayer,

That which calls us to our knees the way the Mullah calls the faithful to afternoon prayer,
Calls us the way Gurdjieff's music calls us to search,
Calls us the way a church bell rolls across frozen fields on a dark gray winter morning,
Anything which deepens our communication with an organic inner connection to the sacred,

that can be respected.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Ground floor symbolism

The above photograph is a portion of a carpet in a private collection, reproduced here with permission of the owners. (click on the image to see a handsomely enlarged version.)

The design of this carpet is quite simple: a large framed medallion in a repeat. If you inspect it more closely, you’ll see the medallion is composed of a number of flowers, arranged vertically and contained within several larger structures.

It’s not just a pretty design—although we can be entirely comfortable reading it that way! The carpet contains a detailed diagram of the inner energy structures of man—referred to as Chakras by the Hindus, and Centers by Gurdjieff.

Inner centers, like the universe, operate according to the law of octaves, and we can read information about our structure and the work to create a bridge between levels in this carpet.

In the accompanying diagram, I have marked what I believe are the major features of the diagram. “Primary” structures—the centers themselves- are circled. Secondary and auxiliary structures are marked by rectangles.

I have taken the liberty of indicating some structures you may be unfamiliar with based on my own work. It is not possible to outline the exact meaning and nature of some of these auxiliary structures, although they play definite physical roles in man if they are active. However I will offer some commentary on a few interesting features that are more accessible to brief discussion.

The top of the diagram is the 7th Chakra which is Do, or higher intellectual center, in the Gurdjieff system. This center lies outside the rest of the system because it represents energy from a higher level (see my essay “Chakras and the Enneagram” for more detail about this. Available upon request.) It is surrounded by three contact points representing the law of three, which is the higher law whose action is mediated by the higher note Do.

The largest single feature in the diagram is the throat Chakra, a complex structure that includes several auxiliary structures related to the Zen energy practices of piercing the nostrils and tending the ox. (Horns and nostrils.)

The size and significance of this center is interesting. Paramahansa Yogananda identifies the medulla oblongata as the chief apparatus for receiving astral energy. This diagram appears to assign it a similar significance. You’ll furthermore note that the center has a red center, like the solar plexus, which creates a visual relationship between these two important sources of stored spiritual energy.

The other most significant feature of this diagram is the manner in which it depicts the upper and lower stories in man, with the heart serving as the bridge. The upper story is much larger than the lower, symbolically representing man’s effort to allow his higher nature to instruct the lower, rather than the other way around.

Some of the structures in the diagram represent “secret” chakras and other significant points of energy storage, flow and/or blockage. Take for example the very interesting complexity of the solar plexus, often understood as occupying a single specific location. The diagram shows the subsidiary chakras that play important roles in the storage and release of higher energies in this center's work. To be honest, I took a few liberties in creating this diagram and there are some innaccuracies there that probably ought to be addressed.

It may, however, be more interesting for you to find out about that through personal work. A careful study of this carpet, with a further effort to relate it to inner processes, may yield the persistent student with significant insights into the process of opening the inner flowers within the body.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Octaves, and some notes about impressions

As promised, the diagram of the enneagram, showing dependent octaves. Unfortunately this diagram does not display so wonderfully well on the web- the really itty bitty octaves are just blobs-, but you get the idea.

There is a very great deal I could say about this diagram, but let's try to keep it limited for now.

As it happens, the understandings here are hardly new. However, other pieces of art I have seen depict the relationships incorrectly, most often by failing to properly show that every note is the "Do" of a completed octave beneath it. Seeing this helps us to understand levels and their lawful relationships, in that every level is a fractal version of the levels both above and below it. The levels are dependent on each other. ...This might remind you of the idea that God actually needs our work, and if it does, you're on the right track.

Also, take a look at the nature of the enneagrams that fall in the locations of the shocks. Interesting.

This morning I was considering the idea of receiving an impression with all of my parts. What might that mean?

One of the first true things I ever understood with more than just my mind was that we are vessels into which the world flows. We are designed as receiving apparatuses- nerve cells in the body of God, so to speak.

I rather think all of organic life fulfills this function: every organism is designed to take in impressions of this planet at the level it lives on. (Pause here and take another look at the enneagram and its dependent octaves.) When one considers the fact that at every moment there are countless trillions upon trillions of trillions of microorganisms exploring every nook, crevice, and cranny of this planet from the inside out, one realizes that the planet is equipped with a very fine sensory apparatus indeed. The sheer number of impressions of reality being experienced during every nanosecond on earth is so huge as to defy comprehension.

This is an incredibly satisfying realization from the point of view of biology alone: but poetically speaking, that's God, exploring His creation. We're lucky enough to be part of that grand experiment: think of us, perhaps, as the lead members of a huge spelunking expedition from the astral level. A party who has forgotten who we are, where we came from, and why we are here.

With flashlights that have batteries of a strictly limited life span.

For the individual, this extraordinary collective enterprise narrows itself down into a fine point called consciousness. Consciousness is here to perceive. Each time, in this moment.

Think about that. Consciousness is not here to make money, or build buildings, or drive cars, or even to have sex or eat. First and foremost and above all, it is here to perceive all of those things. Animals aren't encumbered with equipment to interfere; however, in the case of man, that simple fact has been buried under an avalanche of assumptions.

How to return to something a bit more basic?

When I sense an impression more fully, the following processes arise in me:

Sensation. A moving center response.
Perception (comprehension). An intellectual center response.
Gratitude. The emotional center response.

Of the three, gratitude is the one that most informs me that a more three-centered experience is under way. I speak here of an organic, intelligent, and autonomous gratitude that arises within the body and all of its parts. It can, under more favorable conditions, produce a spontaneous call to prayer. In extreme cases it produces religious ecstasy, which is an equal blend of sheer joy and absolute anguish.

Those are more special conditions, granted, but they help indicate just how truncated our ordinary state is.

Gratitude of this kind plays a special role in religion. There are countless prayers praising and extolling the virtues of God. Nonetheless, to experience them organically as a natural response to the ordinary conditions of life is, perhaps, a bit unusual. That's because I am not properly connected inside. If I were, this would strike me as a far more routine event.

My, this is a long blog. How I do go on. I think I'll pack it in for tonight.

Tomorrow: if there is time: a photograph of a rather special rug, with some interesting observations about its design.

Regards to all,


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Perspective, and what brings us together

The above diagram charts a set of relationships between Gurdjieff's Ray of Creation and the various subjects of centers, chakras, notes, and numbers. It serves to underscore relationships between man's organism, his cosmological identity, and the numerical relationships contained in the enneagram. I meant to post it yesterday but it seemed confusing to have both this and the enneagram in the same post.

The diagram may help you to understand why Gurdjieff said that man has a universe within himself. In fact, man has physical organs whose roles correspond to the roles played by celestial bodies. See my post the inner solar system for a bit more on this concept.

The chart helps map some relationships that will be of interest in further work. I call your attention in particular to the relationship between 2- sex and 8- third eye. The relationship between these two centers is well known to yoga schools (see Paramahansa Yoganada's comments on the subject) but only Gurdjieff's diagram explains why by connecting the two directly within the circulatory system of human energy.

...Stay tuned for tomorrow's posting of a very interesting diagram of the nature of relationship between dependent octaves.

In the future I will be hosting a web site that offers much more detailed information on these questions. Please be patient while it is under construction.

However, today I'd rather not get into further discussion about the theoretical implications of this chart. Instead I have an interest in discussing how we view ourselves.

This morning I went upstairs with a bowl of cereal at 6:30 a.m. and pestered my infinitely patient wife Neal into waking up to chat. Why she tolerates this kind of behavior from me is unclear, but it certainly leaves the needier parts of me grateful.

During our chat, I made the observation to her that our view of ourselves is much too narrow. Once having fielded that thought, it seemed worthy of further examination.

Spiritual work involves a broadening of view. We wish to see more of how we are and what is around us. But we find ourselves stuck in identifications- Buddhists call them attachments- that rule us.

Attachments implies that we manage to preserve a separation between ourselves and "temptation." It should be clear to all that, in truth, we don't. Gurdjieff understood that we become what we are attached to. In regard to the Buddha's concept, I'm not sure whether we want to call this revisionism, reinvention, or reinterpretation, but whatever it is, it is formidably more accurate.

I much prefer the term identifications because the word better describes the way that "it"- the attractions of the experience of the outside world- becomes "I." That is, "I" is totally composed of "it." "I" as we experience ourselves is hence a seething mass of desires, complusions and impulses that perpetually react to outer circumstances. Our force of Being- what little there is- is absorbed like a sponge. And in case you hadn't considered it before, that world out there is a pretty damn big sponge.

Scale once again comes into play as we see that we are handily outclassed by the forces around us. We can't help but be influenced. All we can do, as Gurdjieff said, is choose which forces to be influenced by.

And the narrower our perspective, the less choices we have.

In my own case, I am reminded of how I spent almost thirty years absorbed in what now seems a very narrow definition of myself, which dictated that I spend an inordinate amount of time making art. I did this at the expense of human relationships and I really believed I was doing something quite important. It took a terrible shock and the almost complete destruction of the subjective circumstances of my outer world in order for me to see how constricting this idea was.

Dropping an idea about myself, especially one that I have used for most of a lifetime as an interpretative tool (by that I mean a tool I use to give this set of experiences called "life" a context and a meaning) may seem very threatening, but in reality it is an incredibly powerful tool in the search for liberation. It turns out, you see, that almost all my ideas about myself are wrong, and yet they are so compelling I am utterly blinded by them. Every single one of them appears to be too important to sacrifice.

And each one of them serves as a device that divides me from myself.

This is perhaps the most difficult thing to understand, that we use the "conceptual discrimination of the mind" to cut ourselves into little pieces.

We can change our focus with some effort. What's needed, I think, is to begin to understand life from the point of view of what brings us together, not what divides us. Too much of life is spent focusing on divisions, and a house divided cannot stand, whether inner or outer.

This means re-casting the questions of our life so that we affirm our possibilities. Instead of engaging in an inner dialogue of critique- whether a critique of myself or of others- I can try to ask myself, in any moment, how can I support others? What positive contribution can I make?

Just as we need to make inner efforts to knit together the disparate notes of the inner octave, so we need to find a path towards wholeness in our outer life. This path is organic, because in essence it is discovered and birthed beginning through the inner effort.

Inner energy, if rightly ordered, has a natural wish to bring us under more positive influences.
If we work to open the inner flowers of each center, we cannot help but find ourself in a more positive state, because the energies that regulate and arise from this process cannot have any negativity in them.

It is not too bold to say that this is the path to what Christ called "The Peace of God which passeth all understanding."

You can find it. It's in there.

with love-


Monday, February 5, 2007

The energy system

I've written on a number of occasions about the role of centers in inner work, and the fact that Gurdjieff's enneagram is- among other things- a diagram of inner energy centers, or chakras.

This point seems lost on a lot of people I talk to. I have even had the reaction, from very intelligent and serious people, long term "aspiring disciples of Gurdjieff," so to say, of:

"So what?"

Here's what.

Various schools of yoga, and other schools interested in the flow of "esoteric" energy (AKA chi, prana, etc.) within the body, have proposed a wide variety of systems to explain how, when, where and why energy flows in this, that, or the other direction. Proposals include energy flowing up, down, in circles, front, back, and so on.

The body is an extremely complex system. In the absence of a comprehensive interpretive tool to understand it, so many different things go on that it's well nigh impossible to bring order to it. The temptation is to make up the best analogue you can.

Gurdjieff's diagram removes the subjectivity from this question. This diagram is a picture of how the inner centers of the human body are set up, what the relationships between them are, and how energy flows between them. In other words, this is a picture of your inner machine.

The psychological interpretations of this diagram pale in significance to this physical understanding, because if one works to comprehend this system through inner exercise, one obtains a key to gently unlock the secrets of the system in a balanced manner.

The dynamic nature of the diagram, and its intricacy, go a long way towards explaining why there are so many systems claiming to explain how energy moves. Each one of them understands part of the picture, but few, if any, of them really see how the whole system is in relationship. Furthermore, none of the other systems understand the role of the law of three- a higher energy- in producing shocks to raise the rate of vibration at the critical junctions (3 and 6.)

I have taken the liberty in the diagram above of providing a specific set of relationships between body centers, or chakras, and the various notes in the enneagram.

It's essential to obtain a direct and practical understanding of this diagram and its action within the body if you want to understand your machine. Nothing we wish to achieve can take place outside the context of this inner structure.

There are a great number of valuable inner exercises that can be undertaken using this diagram. Many of them will help to explain piecemeal understandings from other systems. Relationships involving upper and lower triads, as well as the exchange of energy between them and their dynamic interation with each other, are all subject to the laws of the ennegream and can be discerned and put in a reliable context with a discriminating use of the system.

The most remarkable thing about this diagram, for me, is that it deftly knits the teachings of many other systems together.

Remember: in Gurdjieff's system, the functions of the universe are determined by the law of three and the law of seven, which interact directly in the enneagram to produce completed octaves. Unless we want to subvert and throw out the whole of Gurdjieff's teaching, we must presume things can't happen inside us any other way. Even if they happen wrongly, or don't happen at all, they do so in the context of these laws.

Using this valuable tool to study our inner condition is well worth the time. If the energy in the body is brought even one step forward into right relationship, many other things which seem quite impossible now will gradually take place of their own accord.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Threads of time

Today I am in Ithaca, NY and I had occasion to visit Trumansburg, the town where my girlfriend lived 30 years ago. During the summer I would frequently take the bus down from Canton (a 4 hour ride) and then hitchhike into Trumansburg.

Seeing the house she lived in 30 years later provoked a kind of pondering that has struck me many times in the past five years.

My life is connected from that time to this time, and I often think that we ought to be able to connect forward in life as well as backwards. That is, I ought to be able to sense the future and see how it is as easily as I can recall the past. That may sound odd, but it continually strikes me that there is a truth contained in this continuity of life: what has happened is true and will always be true. It was all already true "before it happened," so to speak.

I believe that there is a certain element of inevitability here; call it determinism, fate, or whatver you want to. It remind me of Mr. Gurdjieff's adage: For one thing to be different, everything would have had to be different, and that is on the order of suggesting the entire universe and everything in it would have to be different. Things cannot be different than they are, and how things are now has everything to do with how things will be later.

How do we really sense our connection to our own past? There is a mystery contained within this that I wish to be more sensitive to. The posssibility of seeing this life as one single whole thing becomes increasingly interesting. If that really took place, something quite new would be seen.

Threads of energy run through our bodies. The threads of our experience run through time. Existence is a loom that shuttles those threads into patterns designed by a master weaver we do not know and cannot see.

We can sense those threads, though- at least some parts of us can. In a moment like that we know how we contain the whole of our life within this vessel, tangible within a single inward breath.

It's all a matter of continually tuning the inner state to receive the impressions of our life.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Elements of consciousness

Yesterday I mentioned a thought about location. Today I'll discuss that thought.

I was walking the famous dog Isabel on Wednesday morning at about 6:00 am when it struck me how cold it seemed to be.

In passing I briefly seized the massive iron girders of the bridge that crosses the sparkill- iron straight from the heart of a dead star, I thought to myself- and realized that from a certain perspective, it wasn't cold at all.

It was warm.

The universe is composed of immeasureably vast stretches of space and innumerable planets where it is intensly colder than the range of temperatures we inhabit. On top of that, it is equally stuffed full of places where it is intensely hotter. In fact, I realized, our conscious beings inhabit an incredibly tiny, limited range of temperatures.

Put us anywhere outside that range and we're instantly done for.

Contrast that now, if you will, with the observation that everything is conscious. Consciousness , as I have pointed out before, is an irreducible property of the universe. It manifests in different ways according to level, but it is present everywhere, from the quantum level upwards. Viewed from the objective vantage point of both physics and my own subjective personal epxeriences, consciousness is fundamentally electromagnetic, and: no consciousness, no universe to be perceived, hence no universe.

So what we call (and perceive as) consciousness is a tiny thing that lives within a narrow range of temperatures. We can't know anything about consciousness outside of that range...

yet it is there.

Change the temperature twenty degrees and "I' am cold. But the astral-or planetary- level of consciousness includes a range that runs from the very hot core of the planet to the extremely cold outer reaches of the atmosphere. We're talking changes of tens of thousands of degrees, not to mention pressures that would squash us flatter than a bug. The earth's astral consciousness, however, is entirely comfortable within that deafening range.

Think about it a little further: let's take the sun. In order to have a relationship with that level of consciousness you'd have to be able to take on some real heat. I sometimes hear people speak about "developed" others having a "solar" nature, but when I look up at the sun- intending no disrespect towards the achievements of others, I think the term may be used a wee bit too loosely. Such allegory is a wonderful thing- up until it collides with the material consequences of nuclear physics.

This whole line of reasoning may seem abstract, but it isn't. It raises questions of level and scale, two properties of the universe that Mr. Gurdjieff spent a good deal of time discussing. In spiritual work, we make an effort to see our place and know what we are, under the presumption that we must know at least that much before we can add anything worth having to it.
One might argue that these questions of heat are just material questions of physics, of matter, but let's recall what Mr. Gurdjieff said: everything is material. Consciousness itself is embedded within this material universe: it is the fabric of space-time itself that is conscious.

So what we seek to have a relationship with- different levels of consciousness- is quite alien to us, not just in metaphysical but also in very physical ways.

What does all this mean? I do believe it has implications we should consider, but in the end I can't tell you. It is a more a line of inquiry meant to provoke a sense of wonder, and to serve as encouragement to use the mind to ponder.

Even if we aren't very smart.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Just how smart are we, anyway?

"The obstruction of the path by the mind and its conceptual discrimination is worse than poisonous snakes or fierce tigers."

-Ch'an Master Ta Hui, writing to Lo Meng-Pi (Swampland flowers, translated by J. C. Cleary, Shambala Publications 1977.)

...Or maybe frozen rocks.

Ta Hui goes on in a letter to Hsu Tun-Li that the Dharma is "the imponderable, the incalculable, where there's no way to apply intelligence or cleverness."

Combine this with Dogen's rejection of intellectualism- in his Shobogenzo, he makes the point that Zen practice has nothing to do with being stupid or clever- and we end up in what is for most of us a very unfamiliar place.

After all, we have constructed societies founded upon the premise that being smart is important. In the middle class- or what little is left of it as America's greedy CEO's slowly suck up all the money on the entire planet - our incomes usually depend on being smart.

To be sure, celebrity carves out some space in which to be successful and stupid, but it's not a good kind of space.

Is it now?

...And we could mention politics, but for the sake of what's left of everyone's sanity, let's not go there.

I live in America, where one of the sports among educated, competitive males of middle age is to one-up each other in a constant sparring match to see who's smarter, wittier, cleverer. In circles like this it's all about how swift and sharp your intellect is. This kind of intensely egoistic social exchange is wearying to me, but I participate when necessary. Of late I have tried to find ways to soften it where possible, because as I get older I can just feel myself getting stupider, almost by the minute, and it occurs to me that even though I'm considered to be quite smart, I'm just not going to be able to compete on the terms these other, immensely smarter guys are setting.

Our technology, our media, our institutes of higher learning- all of them worship intellect. Business, commerce, the internet- everything is about information exchange. We're swamped by what Ta Hui calls the conceptual discrimination of the mind; it's all we encounter in the average day.

But he's telling us we've got it wrong. In fact, just about every Zen master says we've got it wrong. And it's not just the Zen tradition: In the cloud of unknowing, the author states "You cannot know God with the mind." In Gurdjieff's work he finally told Ouspensky that some things had to be taken on faith- that is, they could not be grasped intellectually. Ouspensky got disgusted - I could be more polite and say dismayed, but I won't- by what he felt were Gurdjieff's increasingly religious leanings. He left him to pursue his own course- which, incidentally, ended in what was according to some accounts a downward spiral into excessive use of alcohol and depression.

As smart as Ouspensky was, I guess that didn't work out to well, huh?

In the end, the mind leads us in circles. I increasingly find that what is tangible isn't intellectual, doesn't consist of lists of facts and figures. It doesn't consist of creating or analyzing, either; it's not made up of thinking, or "doing," or knowing. Not the intellect's compartmentalized type of knowing, anyway.

It's made up of being and understanding. These stem from a deeper part of the organism than the part that's writing this- or reading it. It's what sinks into the bones.

Recently, for me, that can be briefly summarized in the following:

One green bottle of water,
One golden orchid against a blue-white vase,
Falling snow in the morning darkness,
The sensation of breath in the body,
A single leaf turning in the wind.

Those are the facts I have collected in the past two weeks. They won't do anyone but me much good, but they weigh more than thought, and I can still taste them and the way they went down when I swallowed them.

Tomorrow we'll return to more analysis.

or maybe not.

I have something cool to say about the location we inhabit and just how limited it is, but maybe it's not so important.

See you later

and- Love to you all

Tuesday, January 30, 2007



No mattter how tattered
This cloth of being is
By care and woe
That comes and goes-
We have this tailor's skill at our command:

The needle best applied is wit,
And thread?- the joy of laughter.

Sewn with song,
And tied with knots of gratitude,
Any garment rended

Can be mended.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Trees, water, wind, stone

Distill this separation, come.
Are you afraid to die?

We can surpass that carnal need
And seize the cathodes of creation.

Trees, water, wind, and stone-
What sustains them?


There is but one agreement-
One sustaining force.

Are we spinning-roaring-silent-still
In this magnetic Sea of Being?

All of the above?
Fear not.

Music, Chemistry, Vibration-
What sustains them?


In the midst of this confusion
Love knows the way.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Not really about Gurdjieff's Enneagram

I had occasion to work on some artwork incorporating the enneagram over the weekend. It turned out nicely, so I have newly incorporated some of the results on this blog.

However today what I had prepared to write about is Dogen, so. Instead of Gurdjieff we will be getting a little Buddhism. Call it false advertising if you will.

In Dogen's Shobogenzo, "Uji"- "existence-time"- Dogen says the following:

"We can never measure how long and distant or how short and pressing twelve hours is; at the same time, we call it "twelve hours." The leaving and coming of the traces and directions [of Time] are clear, and so people do not doubt it. They do not doubt it, but that does not mean they know it. The doubts which living beings, by our nature, have about everything and every fact we do not know, are not consistent; therefore our past history of doubt does not always exactly match our doubt now. We can say for the present, however, that doubt is nothing other than time. We put our self in order, and see [the resulting state] as the whole universe." (P. 92, "Master Dogen's Shobogenzo," Translation by Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross, Dogen Sangha books 2006.)

What is a state of doubt? A state of not being sure. As it would be put by those in the Gurdjieff Work, a state of questioning.

I happen to dislike that last phrase, because the formal branch of the Gurdjieff Work I am in uses it so habitually it has become, in my eyes, entirely mechanical and all but lifeless.

Nonetheless, it's very useful here. So let's give the devil of questioning his due.

"We can never measure how long and distant or how short and pressing twelve hours is; at the same time, we call it "twelve hours." The leaving and coming of the traces and directions [of time] are clear, and so people do not doubt it. They do not doubt it, but that does not mean they know it.

What is twelve hours? It is nothing other than experience. A collection of impressions drawn into the living vessel. They exist- we know this- but they have no real measurement outside the context of the vessel. There is no twelve hours in the universe. There is, and can only ever be, only twelve hours in man. It is sheer artifice.

We label it with conviction nonetheless. "Twelve hours." Now-having dispelled our doubt with a name- we think know what Time is.

"The doubts which living beings, by our nature, have about everything and every fact we do not know, are not consistent; therefore our past history of doubt does not always exactly match our doubt now."

Even our present doubts are inconsistent. If we do not even know how to doubt, we cannot know how to not doubt. We are not consistently in question- we make assumptions. In our everyday experience, Time itself is an assumption. We are forever assuming many things about time: there is too much (we're bored), not enough (we're harried), it's running out (there's only a fixed amount, damn it) and so on. The one fact that escapes us is that we don't really know anything about time.

"We can say for the present, however, that doubt is nothing other than time."

Here Master Dogen reduces the entire question of time to the act of questioning itself. His suggestion seems to be that we remain within question- a state of not making assumptions- as we take in this flow of impressions we call time. There is an direct implication of unconditionality about this act.

"We put our self in order, and see [the resulting state] as the whole universe."

Here we are at the subject of yesterday's blog. "We put ourselves in order." In the act of attempting to become whole, to form an inner unity (something described by the symbol of the enneagram, by the way) , we are attemtpting to reach a state where we gain the insight that everything- including time itself- is a function of the experience of consciousness.

There isn't room for that kind of experiential thinking within the ordinary self. It is on the order of prophecy, this act of seeing all time as one time- and as Christ said to the congregation that loved his graceful words (right up until he said this one last thing, that is,)

"A prophet hath no honor in his own home."

That is, the congregation within us wants to have consciousness on its own terms, whereas there simply are no such terms to be had. After Christ said this the congregation decided it might be nice to throw him off a cliff. Fortunately he escaped.

The implication is clear enough to me- my inner congregation, set in its ways of misunderstanding, labels and rejects. In this way I trivialize time- in my imagination, I turn this great mystery into a thing I can manipulate with ease. Even dismiss with contempt, as in "I have not time for that."

If there is participation in the form of always asking a question about where I am and what is- the presence of doubt, the banishment of mere assumption- then time changes into a living thing to be experienced, not a static entity marked with numbers on the face of a clock.

And in the end it's always my lack of relationship that breeds the death of living, breathing experience.

Friday, January 26, 2007

working towards inner unity

In the meditation I practice, I make a specific daily effort to knit the inner parts of my being together.

I begin with the understanding that I am partial- that is, my inner parts or centers do not work in concert. One does the work of another. So I make an effort to sense them consciously and to bring them into relationship with one another first thing in the morning.

Often there is no result- that is, specific aims I have set for myself at this stage of my work don't materialize. I walk away from the sitting with the impression that it was kind of "dry,"

This belies the truth of the situation. It's very common for the energy I am seeking to cultivate to show up unexpectedly, later in the day. That's because the action of knitting the inner centers together is a generative one. First thing in the morning, they need to be re-introduced to one another, reminded of one another's existence, and the lawful relationships of energy exchange that exist between them need to be reinforced by a gentle, attentive form of reminding. It's later in the day that the benefits of this morning meeting show themselves- when I most need them, in daily life.

A careful long term study of Gurdjieff's enneagram can lead to a much better understanding of what these lawful relationships are. It's not within the scope of this blog to explain that in detail. However it is worthwhile to note that if I cultivate a right relationship between the inner parts, they remember that they are part of a system and they begin to become more interested in working together.

At that point, having found a (heretofore forgotten) common ground, they do a certain kind of work without the need for my conscious supervision and that work produces much more of what is needed to sustain an effort through the rest of the day.

This doesn't happen without my active participation in the initiation of the process. That's what the morning meditation is all about. My individual centers, you see, are entirely used to working on their own and each one of them rather likes being in charge. All of them have to give something up in order to work together. At first it's very hard to help them see that the sacrifice confers a greater value that what is being given up.

Gurdjieff pointed out that there are many potential states of consciousness:

“Your principal mistake consists in thinking that you always have consciousness, and in general, either that consciousness is always present or that it is never present. In reality consciousness is a property which is continually changing." (In Search Of The Miraculous, P. 117)

A study of the diagram of the human chemical factory (same book, p.190) depicts the wide range of higher substances which can act in man. The action of each one can result in a different level of consciousness. Let's just say the subject is even more complex than the diagram, and it's easy to achieve something very remarkable indeed, and yet not realize it's just a small part of the whole. This is the reason the world breeds a wide variety of Yogis with varying talents, displaying extraordinary strengths combined with puzzling- and even unfortunate- foibles.

Putting it a good deal more simply than the diagram, the different states we experience are a consequence of how partial we are. The more unity we can help foster within the inner system, the greater the possibilities. That effort to establish more inner unity is a critical part of the process of awakening. The whole organism has to awaken.

I see that when my centers operate more collectively, I become a very different kind of person. Compassion and inner peace are no longer psychological states: they are substances.

In order to experience this, I have to become a bit more of an inner mechanic and a bit less of a psychologist. If the machine doesn't work right, its by products- my conscious manifestations- are faulty.

That's the way I usually am. Getting up early and meditating helps change that over time.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Aim, meaning, prayer

This week was a bit overwhelming for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the cruel axe of corporate cutbacks- whose wicked swings fortunately missed yours truly. Instead, friends were vocationally decapitated-quite traumatic enough, thank thee kindly. The sobering "there but for the grace of God" moments are still reverberating.

Less lumberjacks- more logs to jockey. I have had little time to post, and now that I do, I have a somewhat rambling collection of musings rather than elegantly organized thoughts. So please bear with me while I kind of think out loud and touch on a number of things that have been milling around in me over the past four days.

Today at about noon, as is my habit, I took a cup of coffee and sat down in the cafeteria room at work. I pulled up a chair and looked out the window at the faint ghost of the sun, partially obscured by clouds, but nonetheless overpowering.

As soon as we leave the atmosphere of this planet, I thought to myself, we are dealing with cosmological forces on scales that humans merely pretend to comprehend. The universe is vast- as my web home page, the astronomy picture of the day site, continually reminds me- but even this solar system is vast.

This ever-shining sun of today, and the planets, do their work without regard for the intense dramas being played out in Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. In fact, taken all at once together as a single entity, the frenzied activity of all mankind is a small force. It only seems large to us. As Gurdjieff mentioned to Ouspensky, man is a "microcosmos" (In Search Of The Miraculous, P. 329.)

We're tiny. Yet we assign ourselves tremendous importance. It is certainly true of me, anyway- I am arrogant and competitive and don't see how beholden I am to forces greater than myself. It's only as I have grown older that I begin to acknowledge this, and accept the fact that I am in service to something greater than this small thing called self. I'm merely one infinitesimal (yet functional) part of this massive engine called the cosmos.

I perceive myself as separated and intact, but I am, in a grand paraodx, both connected and fragmented.

Why do I say that? I'm connected because I am a particle of this vast ocean of matter, and I am fragmented because I fail to see or sense my connection to the whole.

As usual, I have it backwards.

This may sound theoretical, but to me it is not. In the midst of this confusion, where do I seek my own meaning and where do I find it?

Another way of saying this might be, what is my aim?

In life, everything just happens. No matter what we do our how we organize it, the unexpected arrives. How do we get our bearings in a sandstorm like this?

As Gurdjieff puts it, a man must have an aim. And I think every aim consists in a way of an attempt to acquire not just knowledge, but also understanding.

Ha! You say. That's utter nonsense. And you're probably right.

So let us say just this: in any event, in my opinion every aim should consist of just such a thing. That is, to acquire the raw metals of knowledge through the organism, test them in the forge of experience, and hammer them into understanding on the anvil of being. It's a physical act, this thing: not the way of thinking myself into meaning, but of digging into the earthy ore of meaning with my bare hands.

An ore found without prejudice both inside and outside the vessel of this organism.

Perhaps my efforts are too organically based. I don't know. Whether that is true or not I can't say. I only know that it's strictly through the direct experience of sensation, living within this organism, that I seem to be able to acquire anything approaching meaning. And what is acquired by that means does not lend itself readily to definitions.

I read a lot of spiritual literature, but don't find much said about the efforts to grow a root of being down into the deep mud of the body. Where are the comments about this effort? Where are the texts about developing the shimmering sensation of being, the organic vibration of the marrow that verfies we are alive?

Perhaps this type of experience is too ordinary--or even too obscure-- to be considered transcendental. For myself, I don't think so. The heart of the ordinary beats with the most extraordinary of forces. The vibration from which we arise penetrates every instance of reality. Our Father can be sensed with the body.

I use the Lord's prayer every morning at the beginning of meditation. Over time, its meaning keeps changing for me. This week I see that the whole of the Lord's Prayer is a call to relationship.

My study of this prayer has, over time, helped to provide me with both aim and understanding.

It reveals its treasures slowly, but they are glorious.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Negative emotions

Gurdjieff intimated that there is no center in man for negative emotions.

I've pondered this for some time without reaching any clear conclusions. I can verfiy that there are localized physical centers for all kinds of other arisings and phenomena, but negative emotion seems difficult to get a grip on. I do not see exactly where it arises or manifests in me: I see that it exists but I do not see how it can mastered. Once they arrive, my negative emotions are like dog turds in the front yard that cannot be removed.

To begin with, without any work, I am in the yard with the turds. It seems like they belong there and I make up a lot of excuses for why it's not only perfectly OK for them to be there, but even how absolutely great and even necessary the turds are. I brag on them.

Eventually, as I have gained some perspective on myself- and this is the work of many lifetimes, to be sure- let's say I go inside and view the situation from the living room window. Eventually, as I get a bit of distance from the rich and compelling stink of their presence, I get to see that the turds are... well, turds. The Lord of the Flies, throwing a party for His maggoty offspring.

The bottom line, folks, is that I'm full of shit.

OK. This is progress, I think to myself. I can now see these damn turds a bit better, with a bit less identification, from the picture window of my perpetually-under-construction inner house.

Kinda ruins the view, but there you are. We might say, "Thank God for the view, no matter how bad it is."

Unfortunately, now, I can't seem to find a way to get outside and clean up the mess. I realize that despite the fact that they playfully litter vast tracts of my inner landscape, I know next to nothing about turds. When I am out in the yard with them I automatically love them. When I get into the living room and see them for what they really are, I can't reach them.

Their very nature is mysterious to me. I don't know where the animals that gift me all these turds are (due to my congential blind spots, I can't seem to see them anywhere in the yard) and I can't figure out how to get rid of them.

It's like a bad dream- no matter where I turn in my inner landscape, there they are, immovable, almost immortal.

Why do I say that? -"Almost immortal?"

Because, unlike most of the other parts of my psyche, which are weak and fleeting and do not have a lot of attention, negative emotion has tremendous staying power. Once a turd of this kind occupies its chosen place in the front yard, it just isn't leaving. Even if I use its own weapons of rationalization and inner argument against it to try and weaken its internal logic of self-justifcation, it is well-nigh unbeatable.

It is akin to obsessive-compulsive disorder: once negativity on a subject seizes me, everything I think and see and feel and do keeps defaulting back to it like a vinyl record with a big old scratch that keeps skipping back and playing the same infuritaingly annoying riff over and over.

Why should negativity have such power? In fact it seems to have all the power I wish I had for my inner work.

This tells me a couple of things:

First, the machinery is flat-out broken. There's just no way things are supposed to work this way. I am certain of that. In fact I believe freedom from this tyranny may always be much closer than we think.

Second, we do have the power to focus our inner work. Our negativity routinely inverts it and steals it from us. If we could turn that situation around everything might be quite different in us.

I know from experience that Grace can confer freedom from negativity. I do not know how to "do" it on my own. This, for me, underscores the fact that I cannot do. That raises a whole additional set of questions.

Two years ago I realized that if there was one single task, one aim, I wish to achieve in the next five years it would be to learn how to become free of negative emotion.

In hindsight, I that this a much too big a task. By the time one achieves this kind of freedom one has, in a certain sense, achieved everything. Nonetheless, it seems like it is still at least a good idea to make one of my daily aims the study of my negativity.

I'm going to try to be optimistic here. If I have to live with them, then keeping the turds under an intense spotlight may at least dry them out, kill off the maggots, and lessen the smell.

Not only that, if I can ever figure out a way to carry them out of the yard, they'll weigh less.

Anyone care to join me?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Time, and places in the heart

During some discussions with friends, the subject of time- and our perception of it- came up this week.

We often discuss time as though there isn't enough of it. Time, however, is essentially unlimited. It's our experience of time that is contained within limits. And that experience is coarsely abbreviated by our inattention.

We fail to pay attention, and time flies by like the wind. Because we are asleep time seems to evaporate. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it?

The evaporation of time frequently leads to a sense of pressure, and eventually desperation. There isn't enough time in the day to get things done. Whatever we're doing seems to be taking too long and we get frustrated. We're all in a hurry to drive fast and get somewhere else. While we're there we're worried about what the next place is we have to get to. In our negativity we squander our experience of time like a rich man who feels he can afford to be careless about small change.

We constantly forget that this wealth has a limit; it is framed and constrained by the reciprocal debts of birth and death.

When we shrink wrap time with impatience, bad attitudes and inattention, we do it an injustice. In fact, every human being crosses vast landscapes of time within a single day. We just don't see it that way.

Our impressions of life need to sink deeper into the body. This slows time down. In fact I suspect that if impressions fall into us to the deepest possible point, we attain a clarification of the mind-essence that expresses, conveys, and contains the eternal.

Buddha Dharma, Christ consciousness.

No time. Just life.

So how can we change our perception of this thing called time?

Only by forming a clearer picture of our inner state can this begin to change. Self-observation does not consist solely of observing the external, psychological manifestations of being-our thoughts, words, and actions. It consists above all of observing the organism. All thoughts, words, and actions arise from the organism, so when we begin to deepen our inner study and turn to observation of the inner state- the inner conditions of the organism, we go to the root of our manifestation.

Beware. People engaged in inner work tend to get hung up on the psychology of life and chase it down. It offers endless opportunities for analysis. This can keep anyone busy for a lifetime, and it does.

Study of the organism, on the other hand, does not yield revelations definable in words. It begins with attention to the breath, and to the careful preparation of the body to receive the breath. Gurdjieff, you may recall, told Ouspensky that time is the breath of the universe.

It's the breath of our inner universe as well.

If we work in this way we can discover what it means to prepare a place in our heart for the Lord. That is a strictly physical work that must be discovered and labored on in places too darkly sacred for intellect to penetrate. It belongs to minds we do not yet know, and sensations we have not yet had.

In preparing to receive our lives in this manner, we may drink a moment of this precious thing called time more deeply.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thursday morning, 6 a.m.

This morning we were up at 6 am and walking the dog Isabel along the creek. The idea of service came up.

All of life finds itself in service. It's one of the conditions of existence. The chain is magnificent; suns serve to create elements. Elements serve to create planets (and more suns.) Planets serve to create life. Life serves...

what does life serve, anyway?

In order to approach this question I will be digressing in multiple directions. Apologies.

According to Gurdjieff, organic life serves an intermediary role in the life of planets. It helps to receive and then transubstantiate certain arcane energies in the service of planetary evolution.

This is pretty heady stuff. I used to really get into studying and analyzing the massive encyclopedia of ideas in the Gurdjieff work about these matters, and I still retain more than a fair amount of it. I also like to flatter myself by believing that I understand more than a good bit of this material.

Alas! My egoistical indulgences are in vain. The Gurdjieff work contains so many vital ideas, and the subjects that it touches on are so vast, that by the time one begins to understand any of it- that is to say, understands its context within a relationship of inner vibrations rather than just with the intellect alone- one realizes that one doesn't understand anything.

It gets worse. The things that can be understood turn out to be gloriously subtle and all but impervious to the reductionist battering of words. Leaving us all in a hell where what perhaps needs to be expressed the most cannot be touched by what we use the most to express things with.

Hence, we may presume, all the apocryphal tales about teachers teaching their work with their backs.

Or perhaps even their backsides. After all, much of what is taught to mankind is so obviously taught by asses.

As I get older, it becomes more and more difficult to expound on ideas. There is simply so much that needs to be said that can't be said effectively. On top of that, the tendency in the Gurdjieff work is, all too often, to cleave to the form and adopt an imitative tone drenched with the same victorian overtones that colored the admittedly great works of Ouspensky and Nicoll. That doesn't work for me- I urgently feel we need something more tangible, more immediate.

I often think that as much as we may respect them, we cannot rely on the work of dead people to carry us forward. Hence this blog, which tries as much as possible to speak in my words, from my experience, about these matters in a contemporary manner that may somehow touch people from today's work in today's life, not from the work of yesteryear.

Probably it's arrogant. In addition, it's almost intimidating to go to the myriad other web sites and blogs which brilliantly recycle, reprocess, and regurgitate the Gurdjieff material in a thousand different ways more clever than anything I think I could ever come up with.

I think to myself, "maybe I should be doing that." But I'm not.

OK, now I'm done digressing.

My morning impression of this idea of service is that we all have to serve something. In this life, in this moment, I am in service of forces greater than myself. We all are. If you want be strictly scientific about it, you could say we are in the service of evolution. Or, in other words, Great Nature, as Mr. Gurdjieff calls it.

Now, we can be in service involuntarily- out of fear, with the pressure of our animal needs driving us forward like lambs to the slaughter- or we can choose to be in service voluntarily, that is, with acceptance.

To serve as animals, as slaves to nature, the highest art we bring is patience. But patience needs exercise, and has its limits.

Acceptance has muscles that never lose their tone; it knows no boundaries.

Patience is a human virtue: a cautious, beautiful woman confined within the borders of the self.

Acceptance is a solar force: exploratory, expansive, fearless. It slays ego where it stands with a sword forged of compassion.

A friend of mine named Red Hawk who writes poems has a collection called "The Art of Dying." (He writes in a powerful, uncompromising voice- go buy it and you'll see what I mean.)

I think that acceptance is a big part of the art of dying- dying to myself in order to discover a willingness to just say "OK" to the conditions of my life-

instead of resisting it at every turn.