Thursday, February 24, 2011

Solioonensius redux

I was frankly surprised at the heavy amount of additional traffic my last post generated. One would have thought the connection between Gurdjieff's teachings on this matter and current events were glaringly obvious.

Studying real-world events and correlating them with various elements in Gurdjieff's teaching to see if the teaching can be verified (verified, that is, for one's self) is, absolutely and inarguably, an activity that Gurdjieff specifically instructed his followers to undertake.

If one does not engage in this activity, one fails in one of the most essential tasks he gave- "verify everything for yourself." Of course, this particular verification (of solioonensius, that is) represents a verification--if you agree that it is one, a matter I urge all readers to decide strictly for themselves-- of outer circumstances, and is as such nowhere near as significant as inner verification, a much deeper and far more important process.

Nonetheless, if a coincidence, it's a rather spectacular one, on the order of Gurdjieff's contention that the moon was formed when a comet hit the earth (an event seemingly unknowable and unproveable in G's time, but now conclusively verified by modern science) or that a second fairly large fragment (which he named Anoolios) also still orbited around the earth-- an even more obscure and seemingly even utterly pointless proposal (relative to Beelzebub's elbaorate story line), which was nonetheless verified by astronomers in the early 1990's, and noted at the time as such by senior Gurdjieff Foundation members.

Anyway, because some readers may not have their own copies of Beelzebub, or may not be inclined to slog through it unless it is, so to speak, "made easy for them," I am posting a judiciously edited link here to the relevant passages regarding the process of solioonensius. (This material is under copyright, as stated in the document, and reproduced only for reference reasons.) Read it, if you have not already looked up the material yourself.

Of course the important point of solioonensius isn't at all the way it affects a mob of Egyptians past or present, but, rather, the finer material it makes available for inner work.

Reading the words will not magically create material in us that properly corresponds to any finer energy. It does, however, elucidate a potential connection between contemporary events and ancient science... which was, of course, a favorite hobby for even Beelzebub himself, and one of the chief themes of the whole book.

Savor this correspondence, or scoff at it, as you wish.

For skeptics who reject the idea that cosmological events (or finer energies in general) may affect human behavior, one may cite the well known effects of lunar gravitational forces on the human psyche. Gravity is, in fact, an energy so fine that we're yet unable to exactly determine what particles (if any) mediate it; nonetheless, it's well known that it produces effects not only on man's body, but his mind. And the fact that science has insufficiently studied the effects of solar energies--outside, that is, the strong evidence for seasonal affective disorder-- on human behavior is no reason for categorically denying their existence. It is, rather, a call for further investigation... which is, after all, exactly how science is supposed to serve us, although it selectively fails in this enterprise whenever it so suits itself.

In the end, scientists aside, higher vibrations and finer energies will always remain imaginary to those who are only able to imagine them, and be real only to those who are able to experience them. It is difficult, as Dogen said, to put oars into the hands of mountaineers.

Regular readers of this blog already understand that this is not in any way a space devoted to politics or external current events. The aim is to question and investigate the manner in which we can deepen our own sensitivity to a finer quality of inner attention.

Those of you who are new to the space may mistakenly assume that the blog is an attempt to "teach" something, or project some inadvisably assumed or erroneously presumed authority, but that just isn't the case. There is nothing to sell here; we're just investigating questions about life, and the process of living itself, from an unabashedly Gurdjieffian perspective-- suggesting, not instructing-- and without settling on any answers.

In the process, inevitably, we occasionally touch on outer events, because of the seamless connection between the inner and outer (well, of course, it ought to be seamless, and would be but for our own obtuse natures) and because according to the understandings of the Gurdjieff system it is man's responsibility to serve as a corresponding link between his inner energies, and their actual manifestation in the outer world. Our consciousness (or lack of it) is the tool that mediates this action of standing between the inner and the outer.

Form the Gurdjieffian perspective, and in my own experience, there are indeed finer energies reaching us.

How they affect us, and how we attend to the matter, is another question.

So never mind all those excitable Egyptians.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


One might call this a public service announcement, of a sort.

Students of Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" can hardly have failed to come across his description of the process called "Solioonensius," in which the sun emanates radiation that serves, among normal societies of three brained beings, for the acceleration of their spiritual development. It does not, unfortunately, have the same beneficent result when it affects human beings who are not conducting an inner work-- in fact, it produces opposite results.

If you click on the above link, you will see a QuickTime animation of the intense solar flare that erupted from the surface of the sun on February 15. This spectacular flare was preceded by a period of increased solar flare activity culminating in additional smaller flares on the 13th and 14th. Individuals interested in tracking solar activity relative to events in the middle east over the past two months can refer to the following charts:

It is not coincidental that this dramatic escalation of solar activity took place at the precise time that the middle east erupted in revolt; not only did Mr. Gurdjieff specifically explain that among individuals who are not working on their spiritual development, solioonensius produces a desire for "freedom," accompanied by the processes of reciprocal destruction, i.e. violence, he also specifically said, in his magnum opus, that this particular tendency erupts very frequently in this region, since it has been for long periods of time one of the "center of gravities of radiation" for Earth.

It would require too much quotation space to cite all of the passages about this process-- for the record, some relevant passages are found on pages 569–571 of the new edition, in the chapter "Beelzebub in Russia"– but there is absolutely no doubt that we are in the middle of the exact process that he described, and that it is following the exact course that he said it follows, and in the geographic location he said it is most common in (see p. 578 onwards in Beelzebub for this specific citation, and further commentary on the process of Solioonensius.)

What does this mean? Of course it explains quite exactly why we are seeing a period of increased political instability and violence. This is an absolutely lawful result of the process, which we do not, because of our complete ignorance of cosmological processes, tie to events like solar flares.

Mr. Gurdjieff laid it out in black and white. There are no coincidences, especially not on this scale.

What we can also be certain of is that for people who wish to work, this is the very best possible time to work. An enormous amount of help is being sent. That help-- that higher energy– is tangible in the very air itself; every one of us who has a wish for ourselves, for our community, for the planet,must attend to ourselves more carefully and more sincerely at this time. The hopes of this planet are pinned on that effort.

One can only hope that our worldwide community will, in these troubled but nonetheless extremely hopeful times, turn our efforts ever more inward, towards a more intimate relationship with those sacred higher sources which emanate love, and wish for us.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Forward" movement, and contradiction

Readers, it is said, generally read blogs because they are forward moving; the regular posts create a momentum that takes things forward, and this is something interesting to people. Bloggers lose audiences if they don't post regularly. So, static conditions are not that interesting to today's audience.

Maybe static conditions are not that interesting, in general. Human beings are always in movement, as is the entire cosmological environment we dwell within. We are naturally drawn to movement; and we usually describe “positive” movement as "forward" movement. There is an impression of progress.

This question of forward movement and progress is, once again, transactional. Time appears to us to be linear, but maybe it isn't; what appears to be progress may just be change. In any event, what more appropriate venue to bring up discussions about the Gurdjieff work than in a blog? It has characteristics that published books cannot share: it has the potential to be in movement, and, if it is attended to, continually updated.

It doesn't "progress;" I don't write, and you don't read, along some magical line that will lead to our higher development and save our souls. It is more than anything about being here, in the moment: and it is this moment, the one in which we first encounter what we write or what we read, that the interesting things take place.

I am here. I had no idea of what I would write when I began this. It emerges from what might be called nothingness; and, yet, clearly, there is something here.

This is how all of life appears: it is a process that emerges from itself, into itself, constantly.

With those musings in mind, I need to mention that I have been pondering all of the distressing news that reaches us these days: unrest and death in the Middle East, earthquakes in New Zealand, economic difficulty, rising prices of food and other commodities. Damn! The whole world seems to be falling apart–doesn't it?

I contrast this with the contradictory state of being here. Being here-- right here, right now– has nothing whatsoever to do with all of these external events that are, at almost a 100% level, delivered to me by electronic media. They are, in large part, imaginary, relative to the actual immediate experience within my own environment. To a certainty, they are real in a much larger context; but that does not have, in the end, that much to do with this instant of experience and being.

My breathing in and out right now–this isn't imaginary. The sensation of my body? That's not imaginary either. The associative thoughts I am having, on the other hand, are in large part imaginary. They seem to be a burden. It might not be such a bad thing to see if it were possible to forget about all of them, to just go outside, watch a cardinal or a blue Jay at the bird feeder, sense the temperature of the air (it's cold again here in New York.)

There is a contradiction, in other words, between the reality of what I am, who I am, where I am, and all of the "information" -- that is, the “thought facts”-- that flow into me here as I encounter the various devices that “feed” me with all of the stuff going on all over the planet. I sense, from within the organic state of my being, that I would be much better off just limiting my hearing, my vision, my sense of smell, my sensation, and even my thinking to where I am right now–

yet all of this outward information has a definite attraction.

I doubt I am going to sort this one out. I can, however, make some kind of an effort to be a human being–to feel, to sense, to ponder–instead of being one more paranoid cog in the 7-billion plus piece "disaster machine" humanity has built for itself on planet Earth.

It strikes me now that there aren't any easy escapes in being a human being, either; all kinds of difficult choices have to be made. I am very reactionary; I get angry at people for abstract, theoretically ethical reasons, chew on this kind of negative nonsense for weeks and months, and then I finally come to a moment where I have to be a human being and do the right thing, regardless of all the garbage I am filled with.

A moment like that came last night when I took care of a financial matter I had been resisting for months. In the scheme of things, it wasn't that big; and, in fact, there was much right on my side, measured objectively. Nonetheless, in the end, I had to write someone who I have a very close personal connection with-- someone who I have, you might say, a love/hate relationship with–a rather large check. At least one more zero than I like on a check, unless it is made out to me.

How did it happen?

There was a moment when I actually discovered, to my own surprise and perhaps even bewilderment, that I was not in emotional reaction over this matter any more... praise Allah!-- and I said to my wife, "I'm writing this check and bring it next door now." I put the pen to the paper without even a whisper of the four months of angry ruminations my various "i"'s had devoted to the matter up until now.

I marched over and presented the check, and I didn't have all the garbage–the fear, the anger, the reaction–in me in that moment. There was just the simple fact that I was being a human being, in relationship, and it was possible for me in that moment to dig myself out from under all of the crap I fill myself with and just do what was, in the end, both necessary and right. There was, to put it in shorthand, a moment of inner presence that made the action possible.

What a magical moment. What a relief. I don't have to be a bastard, I thought to myself. There are ways for me to get around that.

Does this relate to higher work? Or is it just more ordinary nonsense on the life level... a little bit of self-pity, a dash of bogus humility, a smattering of egoistic self-congratulation?

In my experience, it is exactly this ordinary kind of real human moment that does relate to higher work. In the instant that I surrender the baggage of my negativity, which I have been so carefully nursing, watering, and pruning for months at a time, I actually experience a real moment of freedom. There aren't any heavenly lights; no angels descend. It is just me, experiencing what one might call a quite ordinary and absolutely leveling moment of humility.

Yet this simple ordinary moment is the moment where I discover that I am human, and that to be human means something much more than to be petty, mean, vindictive, greedy, grasping–

Well, it means to discover that I have a heart, and that it is possible to use it,

if I am patient enough to wait for the moment when it's possible.

I think we will leave it at that for today.

May our prayers be heard.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Before we get started on today's post, I just want to announced that my travelogue, “notes from the Yucatán,” is now available for browsing and download (click on the link.)

This travelogue features of some of my poetry (as well as prose & photographs) which is rarely seen in published form online, except at Parabola Magazine.

This morning, while I was sitting, I was initially engaged in an activity that I have been undertaking almost every day for 10 years now, which is to make the effort to consciously recite and understand (as if that were possible–I think you know what I mean) the Lord's prayer from an inward point of view, with sensation, feeling, and thought.

This particular exercise, which anyone can undertake, and which becomes highly personal and raises an endless series of questions about the inner state, constantly yields new insights. I highly recommend it to any reader.

In any event, this morning, there was a glimmer of insight regarding the section of the prayer that says:

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

Now, as you may already know, the word “trespass” is an incorrect translation. The proper translation of the word from the original prayer is "debt."

I was pondering this from an active point of view this morning, and it struck me in this sitting that to forgive debts–and to offer forgiveness of debts–is an essentially, if you will allow the term, inhuman thing. Everything that we humans do is calculated: transactional. That is to say, there is an internal quid pro quo in all of human affairs. I see myself measuring my life in this way all day long in a thousand different ways. Most of my ego is wrapped up in measurements that regard transaction: this is fair, that isn't. He deserves this, she doesn't deserve that, I deserve everything.

Or, conversely, I don't deserve any of this! I'm getting screwed!

~Ah, dear reader, perhaps you recognize such thoughts. You may have even had a few yourself!

In any event, to forgive debts in any manner–let alone the comprehensive one that Jesus Christ suggested we undertake when praying–is an unusual, nay, impossible thing. We are, above all, transactional.

This brings me to the question of freedom. To forgive debts, and to have debts forgiven–this is truly to become free of the idea of living within the context of transaction. Instead, it is a prayer directed at the idea of living within the context of experience, which is not so much a transaction as a relationship.

It isn't calculated: it is fresh, it is new, it is unexpected.

Of course, this is a theoretical position, like all of the things that we manufacture with our mind. It can only serve as a guideline, a direction in which to point ourselves, in the fervent and earnest hope that the ship may actually turn, that its sails may catch some wind: that we may actually discover some of the freedom and movement and life that is bogged down every time we slap a value and a demand on it.

Value within the context of experience is endless. Value within the context of transaction is strictly limited to the narrow parameters defined by the mind.

Yesterday, I was walking along the Hudson River with the famous dog Isabel, when I encountered a moment that was far more weighted by experience than any transaction. The below poem flowed directly out of that spirit like water, with little mediation on my part.

The poem itself is part of a series of poems some 20 or more in number now, all of which have been written in the environs of the Hudson River, that is, right here in my own neighborhood, and consisting of the direct impressions conveyed by this one small corner of the planet. None of the other Hudson River poems have ever been published before that I can recall.

From the Hudson River series

Will I ever come back
To sky so sweet as this sky
To geese in the air
And a spring time
That is not here yet
But hovers in the faded afternoon?

There is no heart deeper than the heart that listens
With its eyes
Yes, and with its skin,
Its hands, its feet

Today I am that good heart
But only now–
And only for this moment.

This is the day of the sun on snow
And the gold of Solomon;
Of sycamores
Brides in the pearly blue
And the head of the sparrow
Left by cats
Every feather perfect.

I would that life would call some nobler thing to me
Than what I am
But I do not know that thing.

Hold me then, here where I am
Oh sacred day
By the river, by the river once again
Where reeds rise
Stones tumble down
And branches fall
And none can note the hour of their passing.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


We are back from the Yucatán, and immediately, into the rhythm of day-to-day life.

Everything on this planet works in a tidal manner; that is to say, according to either a lunar or circadian rhythm. There is an ebb and a flow to the energy that is available within life.

We are familiar with this in the context of ordinary sleep and awakening; most people have heard of biorhythms. There is no doubt, however, that higher energies which can inform us are also subject to these cyclical ranges of availability.

When an inner energy becomes more available, I generally notice that it has little to do with whether I am trying, or not trying, to be more available to a certain finer quality of attention. That certain quality, that je ne sais quoi which mobilizes an inner force of a different nature, is not under my control, and generally doesn't respond to my prompting. (& it certainly cannot be forced.)

It increases and decreases according to the forces of the planet, not my will. If we wanted to put it in more Christian terms, we might say that the Holy Spirit comes and goes according to its own schedule. Here is yet another facet of the prayer, “Thy will be done.”

It is my own awareness to, and respect for, such forces that matters. When they arrive–am I sensitive enough to receive them in a meaningful way? After all, it's perfectly possible to ignore the most extraordinary things! I know that. I do it every day. There are extraordinary things in front of me here on my desk–a belemnite I found on the banks of the Elbe River as a child in Hamburg, Germany; a pyritized brachiopod; an emerald crystal from Brazil; a number of cut heliodor gemstones; a cicada I found several years ago, nearly perfectly preserved.

Each one of these objects is miraculous, but unless I put my attention on it quite clearly, and make a sincere and legitimate effort to appreciate it by specifically focusing my various parts, the object, for all intents and purposes, doesn't even exist. It is, in fact, quite possible to study my sleep by looking at these various objects intentionally for a moment and then letting that drop. It's almost like turning a light switch on and off.

The fact is that the light switch is almost always off.

Well then. A finer impression arrives. It may be quite fine indeed, but it is partial, because it is more than likely one centered. I may have a very good impression of sensation, quite deep, very feeding, and it may even attract my other parts, but I don't quite understand how to inhabit or invest myself in this quality. It hovers: I seek a connection that will help it to become more whole. This generally involves bringing the thinking part or the intelligence to it. One might have some success with that; what one will certainly not have any success with is trying to invoke an emotional quality.

In another case, a quality of feeling, uninvoked, appears. Again, it has a quite fine quality. Commonly, it has the character of sorrow. It isn't an ordinary emotion, that's clear right away. But I am unable to bring it together with my other parts.

It's difficult enough to understand that in my ordinary parts I don't actually have the capacity (perhaps we could call it the will, but I'm not sure I am willing to go that far) to engage in three centered activity or Being.

It is even more difficult to actually see that when help arrives, my capacity for making use of it is very limited indeed. For the most part, because of my essential nothingness, I am limited to accepting it as a form of Grace.

To a certain extent, that's the point of it anyway. We are supposed to accept Grace, to receive Grace. Yet I so rarely make a legitimate effort to meet it and invest in it, so that it finds a welcome home. It's much like a parable in which a good man knocks on the door, but is turned away.

A great deal of inner work is conducted in darkness. I don't know who I am; I don't know where I am; I'm not sure what I am doing. The disjointed efforts of my various parts do their best, as limited as it is, to establish a dialogue, to come together and communicate in a more effective way. But, for all intents and purposes, I am not yet even simply lighting one candle. All I have done, so to speak, is stop cursing the darkness, and instead decided to find a way to work in it, since that's the only condition available to me right now.

These glimmers of light from another level, which are more generous than I have a right to deserve, are always gently trying to remind me that I have a capacity I do not use and usually forget about. They are attempting to break through this coarse and unpleasant crust I have covered my Being with, to allow something lighter and more compassionate to appear.

The work of helping the parts to receive such help graciously, and in a constructive way, is a lifelong enterprise. I hope and live for the moments in which I can shed this rough old snakeskin, and breathe through a new set of pores.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, February 7, 2011

In search of the lost soul


Neal and I are in the Yucatán Peninsula,visiting ancient Mayan sites.There are so many cities here --the vast majority of them unexcavated --that it's nearly impossible to comprehend the scale of this civilization, let alone how completely and absolutely it disappeared.

They had their own rich esoteric spiritual traditions, their own symbolism, their own art, unique and distinct from almost every other art. Yet almost all of this is forgotten, unappreciated. Modern societies still marvel at the pyramids in Egypt,but for the most part, the equally or perhaps even more astonishing achievements of the Central Americans (after all, they moved their stone and built everything completely without the use of the wheel!) are a footnote to our histories. Nonetheless,they are absolutely a part of the whole--a part of what has made this planet, a part of what we all are as human beings.

It's a crash course in contrasting realities: last week at this time, I was in Dallas, Texas, a sprawling megalopolis occupying a depressing landscape, degraded by modern "improvements:" gargantuan shopping malls and and dehumanizing international chains. America's corporate megalomania is dismantling the heart of civilization to replace it with a bright, shiny, consumeristic nothingness.

This week I find myself in the middle of our "backwards" neighbor country, Mexico-- a place still populated with real human beings doing things that are not, from start to finish, orchestrated by corporations--traveling from one small, dusty, poverty-stricken town to another; eating modest but delicious local food; truly pondering the sense and aim of my existence, and of existence in general.

I see myself seeing Mexico; I see the endless dialogue of critique that takes place; a constant patter of inner commentary on everything and everyone, most of it mindless, banal, off-center. The machine is truly a machine; in the nature of machines, it has programs that emulate compassion and love, but it doesn't know what they are -- it just imitates. When Gurdjieff spoke of the need for real emotion to enter in order for any real inner work to begin, I believe he spoke of the need for this imitation to be seen and suffered, so as to issue an invitation for something more emotionally real to arrive.

This morning, I awoke in a relatively negative state, which is not unusual for me. I constantly find that my parts don't begin to see things in a more positive way until they have come up to speed with one another, allowing more harmony. The speed at which things work from center to center has a lot to do with this. Centers working at different speeds don't come into relationship with each other very well; there has to be a relationship in tempo in order for the negativity to lessen.

This disconnectedness, this lack of relationship, has everything to do with my negativity in general. I don't observe this accurately enough; there is an overall lack of seeing at the levels at which things need to be seen.

What I am speaking of here is a much more specific kind of seeing. Most of the seeing I do is superficial; I can be sure of that, because it is all mediated by language.That is to say, my associative parts are cataloging it, processing it, analyzing it. Perhaps you know what I mean.

This is not a bad kind of seeing--all efforts are indeed useful--, but it is superficial. It is partial. I can't really see anything in a deep way that is truly meaningful unless my parts are in relationship--and when that happens, what is seen is no longer susceptible to redaction by verbal descriptions and language. In other words, I begin to know what it is to truly see when I cannot describe it in words anymore. My understanding of what it is to see cannot stay in one place. It must grow.

This kind of much deeper seeing, a seeing in which the impression of the inner self is much more inner, is more connected and more whole, marks a rediscovery of that lost soul, that lost civilization, which has left its traces all around me in my Being, and which is nonetheless invisible to me.

In a certain sense, to talk about such seeing is dangerous. Seeing is a sacred activity, a form of prayer which ought not be made public. We live, unfortunately, in a world where the dilemma of helping one another to come to this action requires a form of outwardness which works against the work itself.

Hence I end up where I must speak of not speaking; and I must see that I cannot see.

The direction in which my seeing needs to go is in this much more intimate direction, which requires (among other qualities) a sensitive and gentle approach to, and embracing of, the actual fear that dwells within. I am, after all, afraid of everything: afraid of life, afraid of change, afraid of myself. Fear is the foundation of so much; fear, and distrust.

This kind of seeing becomes a most disturbing exploration. It doesn't become disturbing because of the "bad" things that are seen, no; it is not disturbing because of the uneasy emotions that are encountered.

It is disturbing, above all, because of the action itself, which brings absolutely everything into question. In other words, it disturbs my passivity towards my inner life.

There is a temptation to try and encapsulate this now, sitting here in a relatively more collected (I use the term liberally) state, by the side of a hotel pool in Campeche where the sun lights ochre walls, and grackles probe the water. There is a richness to the immediacy of the impressions that belies the inability of my personality and my mind to grasp anything.

It is only here, from within the context of receiving my life, that things begin to make sense, and they only make sense in the absence of all the baggage that plagues my ordinary lack of relationship.

I'm unable to encapsulate anything right now. I'm only able to be within the process, living the experience.

That in and of itself is rare enough, but it does at least represent a hope of consciousness.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Practice and experience

"The thought that practice and experience are not one thing is just the idea of non-Buddhists. In the Buddha Dharma practice and experience are completely the same. Practice now is also practice in the state of experience; therefore a beginner's pursuit of the truth is just the whole body of the original state of experience...

Because practice is just experience, the experience is endless; and because experience is practice, the practice has no beginning."

Dogen, Shobogenzo, Bendowa, pp. 10-11 Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha press 1994

In this little tidbit from the Shobogenzo, I pick up a hint of work in life, which is what Gurdjieff wished for his pupils to undertake. I will grant you, it's true; this particular passage was referring specifically to the practice of sitting Zazen, not work in life in general, so those of you eager to accuse me of taking things out of context are correct.

Nonetheless, he goes on to expand the question beautifully and point out that practice and experience are not, and cannot, be separated.

As was indicated in the last post, there is a significant danger of over-thinking everything we do in terms of inner work. It's quite amazing to me that every indicator pointing towards a new way of working, be it a quotation from someone who understands the path, or an observation we make about ourselves, or an experience–remarkable or unremarkable–which manages to make a deeper mark on our consciousness than usual, the first thing we do is have discussions about it and analyze it. Even the most well-meaning people with the most sincere work fall into this pit on a daily basis. I do it myself. We do it automatically and unconsciously. Have you ever noticed this?

We are all like that... I see that other people talk too much–but I do it myself. I see that other people are self absorbed–but so am I. In fact, everyone around me is a nearly perfect mirror of what I am. Instead of feeling grateful to them for illustrating my own condition so beautifully, I am irritated because they don't meet my wonderful standards.

What a mess.

There needs to be something much simpler about practice and experience. I want to discover how to separate practical effort from analysis; how to just be within life and inhabit it, not critique it, second-guess it, and be dissatisfied with it. I would like, in a nutshell, to just have the experience.

This would take a degree of objectivity. Yesterday, I had a long discussion with one of my best friends about what an objective mind consists of. Now, we could have arguments about whether or not anyone actually understands that... what I will say about it here is that if you ever experience an objective mind, you will know it at once. It's not a mistakable condition.

The "mind" that we have–that is, the associative intelligence, which manufactures 99.9% of what we think we are in the course of day-to-day activity–is not an actual mind. It is clever, it is flexible, it is intuitive and agile–but it isn't aware. It is, as Gurdjieff described, a machine that is programmed to function in a certain way–and because it is very good at what it does, we more or less presume that nothing else is possible.

So my practice and experience needs to find a way to invest itself in a piece of territory that does not necessarily belong to "this" mind. That doesn't mean the territory will be inaccessible to the associative mind–inevitably, I will inhabit this hypothetical new territory in conjunction with the associative mind–but there are definite parts within me that can engage in this activity which don't rely on language, form, or interpretation to sense impressions of the world around me.

These parts–as you may have guessed–are sensation (the body) and emotion-- which, in its most sensitive state, is referred to as feeling.

Feeling is active; emotion is passive. We don't have a convenient word for active sensation, but it would be good if we did, because it is quite distinct in the same way that feeling is distinct from emotion. And, if we want real help in the discovery of what we refer to as “three centered” experience and practice, feeling and active sensation need to participate.

Why do they need to participate?

Simply because these two parts do not rely on language, that is, words, to form an understanding of what is taking place in the world. They have a quality of the immediate that is not unlike the quality of music–it is wordless, yet it is expressive, active, contains a form that it creates within itself and is intuitive, not an invented form that can be fixed, perverted, or otherwise manipulated.

Let me extend the distinction a bit more. If I have a thought about a politician, it immediately connects to thousands of other associations, and I tend to pick and choose ones that reinforce reflexive emotional reactions of one kind or another. If I hear music, however, I can't think it into some new context. It's simply there. I can like it or dislike it, but it isn't subject to manipulation, because it isn't verbal, and I can't sit there rearranging it to make it something other than what it is.

Sensation is quite similar. It is a fundamental reality, the perception of a mind that is one of the three minds the body has an immediate capacity for utilizing, and you can't really change it, fix it, or fool around with it. The sensation of ice cold snow on the skin is exactly and just that–it's not something else.

So here I have two parts that, if they actively help me, actually already contain the capacity for avoiding some of the traps that my associative mind has placed all around me. An investment in these sensory capacities, an inhabitation of the immediate–they have the potential to create a form of the now, not a form of the “what I wish things were.”

Ah, we have strayed rather far from Master Dogen's Zazen! Nonetheless, it's all connected.

It's undoubtedly true that the Gurdjieff work shares a great deal in common with the practice of yoga, and Zen (hence the title of this blog) but it distinguishes itself in some specific ways.

One of these is the emphasis on what Gurdjieff calls “three centered Being.” The need for this connection between the three parts is understood in other works, but not precisely in the way in which Gurdjieff brings it to us. Even more usefully, perhaps, he brought what was (for his time) a very modern mindset to what were essentially very ancient ideas. This makes the idea of three centered work perhaps more accessible for us than it would be, for example, if we try to plumb the depths of obscure yoga texts.

The second, and perhaps most intensely significant idea that we encounter in Gurdjieff's teaching, is the idea of remorse of conscience, and its role in leading us towards a moment where we can take on a unique burden, rarely discussed in any other work: to share in a portion of the sorrow of His Endlessness.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, January 24, 2011


"...we should remember that from the beginning we have never lacked the supreme state of bodhi, and we will receive it and use it forever. At the same time, because we cannot perceive it directly, we are prone to beget random intellectual ideas, and because we chase after these as if they were real things, we vainly pass by the great state of truth. From these intellectual ideas emerge all sorts of flowers in space: we think about the twelve-fold cycle and the twenty-five spheres of existence; and ideas of the three vehicles and the five vehicles or of having Buddha [-nature] and not having Buddha [-nature] are endless. We should not think that the learning of these intellectual ideas is the right path of Buddhist practice. When we sit solely in Zazen, on the other hand, relying on exactly the same posture as the Buddha, and letting go of the myriad things, then we go beyond the areas of delusion, realization, emotion, and consideration, and we are not concerned with the ways of the common and the sacred. At once we are roaming outside the [intellectual] frame, receiving and using the great state of bodhi."

--Dogen, Shobogenzo vol. 1, Bendowa, "A talk about pursuing the truth", P. 8, Nishijima & Cross, 1994.

"Our true nature, an unknown that cannot be named because it has no form, can be sensed in the stop between two thoughts or two perceptions. These moments of stop constitute an opening to a presence that is without end, eternal. Ordinarily we cannot believe in this because we think anything without form is not real. So we let pass the possibility of experiencing Being... The highest form of intelligence is meditation, an intense vigilance that liberates mind from its reactions, and this alone, without any willful intervention, produces a state of tranquility."

--De Salzmann, The Reality of Being, P.278, Shambala Publications, 2010

It's unusual for me to quote at such length in this space, but the relationship between these two passages–written nearly 1,000 years apart, on opposite sides of the planet, from a man and a woman exposed to completely different cultures and influences, is quite interesting. (Readers might want to buy both books, if you don't already have them, and read the entirety of the relevant passages.)

This morning, while I was sitting, the parts of me that are alive and that do not necessarily rely on words to function embarked on a search for a place where there were no words.

Every effort was mistaken, because the part of my mind that engages form is supple and energetic; at every turn, the attempt to release, to let go of it, was mediated by the form itself.

I am indeed engaged in something that takes, as DeSalzmann explains it, an "attitude of vigilance."

It requires intimate, careful observation; it needs to enter into territory that the intellect is incapable of evaluating.

And that which is necessary must be allowed to penetrate me... an action I unconsciously resist, without even knowing it.

I'm recommending Bendowa and The Reality of Being ( specifically, the essays included under “An Attitude of Vigilance”) simply because for me, they so deftly summarize what is necessary--

and cannot be realized with the mind.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Notebooks on inner work

Writing this blog is an enterprise that has been under way for over four years now. By turns, it has served as a way to present work ideas to the general public; a space in which to examine assumptions, dogma, form, and substance; and a personal notebook exploring my own observations, experiences, and impressions of what it's like to live, viewed from the perspective not just of the Gurdjieff work, but plain old life itself.

Today, it serves on the order of a personal notebook.

Yesterday I walked the famous dog Isabel alone along the Hudson River. I take almost exactly the same walk every day; part of it involves a scramble up a steep hillside to the top of the Palisades (pictured above) along a broken down stone staircase that dates from the 1930s, and is hardly serviceable anymore.

What strikes me in doing this year after year is how the same thing is always different. There is no same thing. It's like snowflakes; they look the same–but they aren't.

The impressions I take in on a walk depend largely on my inner state of receptivity. Over the years, it has become abundantly apparent that there are definite levels to this. When one is in contact with what we euphemistically, in the Gurdjieff work, refer to as "a higher energy"-- it is actually the Holy Spirit–the order and substance of what one encounters is transformed in the deepest sense of the word. Everything is still exactly the same, yet the experience of it is different by orders of magnitude.

How deep does a man have to reach into his own soul to see something differently?

All the way.

We cannot begin to see anything new unless we plumb the depths of our own emptiness, and enough space appears for the Spirit to manifest itself. It's in those moments that snowflakes become angels; that geese fall from the sky into the body like stones; that the cry of a chickadee in an ice covered marsh becomes a sacred hymn, opening the abdomen like a lotus blossom ready for the sun.

Lord, have Mercy.

This walk alone through a simple landscape, rendered stark by cold and powdery snow, reminded me once again in all of my parts of how insufficient I am; how much I owe; how glorious it is to be born in this body; how little I understand.

Moments like this, which are deeply sorrowful, in which the mortality of the entire universe seems to be tangible, in which the oppression of time is apparent–well, those words sound kind of like what happens, but they aren't, they will just have to do–pierce the heart of Being like a sword, causing the flesh to render up a plea to God.

We so desperately need help down here.

Look at where we are. Look at what we have done. There is nothing left but to ask for help; it's clearly impossible for us, as we are, to sort anything out or make anything work. Only when the higher informs us can any real work of any kind be done.

Everything in my ordinary nature stands in opposition to this.

If mankind does not work–if all of us who are capable of even the slightest and smallest amount of work do not render up real feeling, do not offer ourselves naked and unconditionally as best we can to the help that comes from above–if we don't ask for what is needed, it won't come.

And right now, it needs to come more than ever. Our work is so necessary. We are unable to even see how necessary it is.

Moments like this remind me of the famous remarks Jeanne DeSalzmann made in the later years of her life, when she said that if we did not work, “the planet would go down.”

I'm also reminded of what Paramahansa Yogananda said: it is lawful that if we ask for help, it must be given.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


In the Gurdjieff work, one frequently hears discussions about “seeing one's own nothingness.”

It's one thing to talk about seeing my own nothingness. Anyone can discuss it. I do it myself.

It is another thing entirely to begin to have an inner understanding about it. It's the threshold where levels intersect.

In the day-to-day business of talking about spiritual work, the words “seeing my own nothingness”--like so many other things I talk about--amount to a psychological exercise. Any clever man with experience in the jargon of esoteric work can speak about this as though the term were meaningful; as though he had experience with it. And from an intellectual point of view, measured against the scale of the cosmos, I come to the realization with relative ease. So much ease that, in the course of day-to-day life, it deludes me into believing I actually have some kind of a grasp of this question.

But today I see I can't grasp this question with the mind.

Like so many other aspects of the search for Being, no understanding whatsoever is possible without the participation of feeling–real feeling, not emotion–and this is only mediated through the arrival of a higher force: a force that descends from above, and informs–realigns what is formed inwardly. (Perhaps to speak of it this way is misleading; after all, without a higher influence, little or nothing is formed inwardly. What exists is chaotic, and lacks form. Attempts by the order of this level to sort that out lead nowhere.)

There is no substitute for the sorrow and the remorse that arises in conjunction with such seeing. Without help, I can't see; without seeing, help can't reach me.

How can I inhabit the experience and understand more fully–immerse myself deeper and deeper in this question of my nothingness, my insignificance, and the absolutely tangible, physical depth of my lack, in every regard, of the ability to correspond to what is truly sacred?

There are no instruction books for an encounter with such feelings and such forces. Gurdjieff and DeSalzmann gave us guidelines for how to approach such moments, but not how to live them. This living of my own insufficiency is part of what was alluded to in the last post; these moments of real feeling, naked before the eyes of God, are the ones which cannot be measured with rulers or weighed with scales.

Here is what I am called to, what all the ancient prayers and supplications allude to: a surrender, an admission, an acknowledgement of my helplessness. Perhaps this is the very root of the prayer, "Lord have mercy." Maybe it isn't; I don't know how others feel about it. Certainly, for myself, this is at the heart of my own plea for help.

And it's something quite solid: it settles in the body, penetrates through the flesh, blood, bones, and marrow, until the gravity of the situation is reflected physically, as well as emotionally and intellectually.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, January 17, 2011

the innermost aim

Many years ago, Betty Brown advised me not to mix levels. The context isn't necessarily important; the message is.

This level comes with an inevitable set of conditions. Last week, we examined evidence that Zen master Dogen-- like Gurdjieff–endorsed both the absolute materiality of this fact, and the inescapable consequences of cause and effect.

I would like conditions to be different; I would like materiality not to be absolute. Consequently, I spend a great deal of time dreaming about other conditions, and imaginary situations that transcend material reality. Typically, I refuse to inhabit conditions of this level in a legitimate way.

I am inadequate.

I am selling my work, and what I am here for, short. I've been put in these conditions in order to understand something; instead, like the Zen master who inhabited the body of a wild fox for 500 lifetimes, I indulge in denial of conditions and avoidance of conditions.

There may be many psychological reasons for me to do this; above all, my fear, but there are many other mechanisms–egoism, self-love, greed, and so on. It seems likely that if we took a look at the list of the seven deadly sins as expounded in Christianity, we'd see that they sum it all up quite neatly. In any event, I dream of other levels, while refusing to inhabit and make an intelligent use of the level I am on.

Gurdjieff called us to an extraordinary relationship within the level we are on, as well as relationships with both higher and lower levels. That relationship must begin here, on this level–organically, in this body–not in the clouds, and not in the underworld.He did not want us to wear white robes and be angels. The aim is to live fully–here, where I am.

I don't begin here, because I lack the capacity. Furthermore, I don't understand that I lack the capacity. I only think I understand that.

The organism has all the equipment necessary to be in superficial relationship with this level, and there is an assumption that that's enough. All I have to do is repeat the right prayers, and follow the formulas: pay the bills, get enough food, trade the right stocks, engage in some gratifying sex, and so on. I am built, in a sense, to be satisfied by that.

The parts of me that wish for a higher good are generally atrophied, even though they ought to be central to the organic condition.

Consequently, everything is perceived from this level–everything is measured from this level–all of my assumptions derive from this level. Every single thought I have about other levels is a product of this level; even the true sensations and experiences that come from above are contaminated by what I am, and how little I know.

This is probably the most difficult thing for me to see. It's only with the assistance of a higher energy–the presence, if you will, of the Holy Spirit–that anything real about this condition can begin to be seen. It is then that I see that this level is quite different than the level above me; that I have, in large part, almost nothing to do with it; that it is filled with Love and Mercy of both a quality, and a quantity, that absolutely exceed my comprehension.

For myself, I find this inner work--which becomes so specifically intimate and so specifically personal for each man and woman who attempts it–consists of clearly seeing, over and over, how deeply I lack any capacity in relationship to the level above me. If I don't see how small I am, how aggrandized my vision of myself is relative to that truth, I'm always tempted to think that I do have something to do with the level above me; that somehow, secretly, I embody its qualities. Right on the heels of that assumption, I believe that I can be a mediator; that I can manipulate.

There is, in other words, a part of me that wants to take what is God's, and own it for myself. The servant in me is a thief; he has no honesty.

Within the context of his--or her--own deepest inner work, a man or woman must make, and honor, a covenant with God.

Such work can only be--and must remain--secret; what God asks of one is not the same thing that he asks of another. According to his own lack, each must make a different set of promises; willing to be held accountable for how they are, secretly, within themselves, suffering their own nature.

Perhaps this has something to do with why Gurdjieff told his "adepts" that it was paramount to establish their own aim, and keep it... that aim need not be public... perhaps it must not and cannot be public.

It's likely, after all, that every aim that is put on display will be corrupted by the ego:

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Seven limbs

Once one cracks open the Shobogenzo, it's not so easy to leave it!

Today I thought we'd take a look at something Dogen says in chapter 73 (37 elements of Bodhi) -- volume 4, pages 11-12, from Nishijima and Cross' translation by Dogen Sangha Press.

This particular quote is significant, I think, because it encapsulates so many essential ideas we find in esoteric teachings, including the Gurdjieff work.

One of the things I find appealing about the way Dogen expounds is his poetic sense of allegory, which, I believe, expresses itself quite beautifully in the below passages.

Seven limbs of the balanced state of truth.

The first is deciding among teachings as a limb of the truth, the second is diligence as a limb of the truth, the third is joy as a limb of the truth, the fourth is elimination as a limb of the truth, the fifth is detachment as a limb of the truth, the sixth is balance as a limb of the truth, and the seventh is mindfulness as a limb of the truth.

Deciding among teachings as a limb of the truth is “if there is a thousandth or hundredth of a gap, the separation is as great as that between heaven and earth.” Thus, to arrive at the truth is neither difficult nor easy: all that is necessary is to decide for oneself.

This statement reminds me of Gurdjieff's admonition to verify everything for oneself. The truth we discover must be our own truth; we must be within our own truth, and not separated from it. Let's not overcomplicate! The truth is immediately in front of us... what is the truth of this moment?

Diligence as a limb of the truth is never having plundered a market. Both in buying oneself and in expending oneself, there is a definite price, and there is recognition of worth. Though we seem to suppress ourselves and to promote others, a blow through the whole body does not break us. While we have not yet ceased expending the self on a word of total transformation, we meet a trader who buys the self as a totally transformed mind. Donkey business is unfinished, but some horse business comes in.

No doubt that we begin to encounter a bit of the mystical and the obscure in this quote. Nonetheless, we can see that this refers to containment, and self-valuation. Those qualities empower our inner state, so that the external does not affect us as much. Unexpectedly, an interested party arrives: help from a higher level, willing to invest. There is a blending of two levels.

Joy as a limb of the truth is the sincerity of a granny's mind when blood is dripping. The thousand hands and eyes of great compassion! Leave them as they are, immensely busy. Plum flowers are peeking from the December snow. In the scenery and coming spring a great master is cold. Even so he is full of life and belly laughter.

Compassion and joy are both fundamental and organic; natural forces that express themselves. We inevitably suffer, according to both law and nature; nonetheless, we discover an inherent capacity for joyfulness.

Elimination as a limb of the truth is, when being in oneself, not getting involved with oneself, and when being in the outside world, not getting involved with the outside world. It is me having got it, you not having got it. It is ardently expressing ourselves and going among alien beings.

Here we encounter the fundamental principles of Gurdjieff's non-identification, as well as an admonition to truly inhabit our lives, and to do so honestly, in the midst of the unfamiliar.

Detachment as a limb of the truth is “though I have brought it, others do not accept it.” It is Chinese, even when barefoot, walking like Chinese. It is Persians from the southern seas wanting to get ivory.

We must trust in our own authority and our own nature: not in a superficial and outward way, but deep within the soul, where our Being is formed. Detached, without inner considering, we walk according to our nature, we wish according to our nature.

Balance as a limb of the truth is, before the moment, preserving the eye that precedes the moment; it is blowing our own noses; and it is grasping our own rope and leading ourselves. Having said that, it is also being able to graze a castrated water buffalo.

Here we discover a reference to seeing: a capacity for seeing in the moment that comes before the definition, before the words; for clearing the nonsense away, and attending to ourselves. It is a way of feeding our animal, who has been tamed and put into service.

Mindfulness as a limb of the truth is outdoor pillars walking in the sky. Thus, it is the mouth being like an acorn and the eyes being like eyebrows, and at the same time it is to burn sandalwood in a sandalwood forest, and it is the roar of a lion in a lion's den.

We are called by mindfulness to our own nature; we stand up within ourselves. in mindfulness, our words are seeds, and what we see can lift us up to something higher. We catch the scent of our own nature from within our own nature; we hear our own nature within the life we inhabit.

The practice is demanding; the practice is serious, the practice requires a new kind of depth from us. Nonetheless, it is filled with beauty; it is poetry, it is romance–romance in the sense of a constant exploration, and inner and outer adventure. Moreover, the practice is inherent: the leaver of home instinctively finds themselves within a landscape inviting the journey.

Coming to us from somewhere around a thousand years ago, Dogen's words still have the potential to inspire: to help us breathe in a sense of action, a sense of movement, a willingness to engage with our lives in a new way.

In the midst of the helter–skelter rush of life, there's an invitation here to something more quiet. The sense of a thread that can bind me together.

I'll be looking for that over the next few days. I hope you will join me.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

in the bodies of wild foxes

It's been several years since I cracked open my copy of the Shobogenzo as translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross, published by Dogen Sangha.

Dogen, a contemporary of both Rumi and Meister Eckhart--albeit on the other side of the planet-- was undoubtedly among the most profound thinkers Zen Buddhism ever produced. Nonetheless his works seemed to be largely forgotten, especially by Western philosophers and spiritual seekers, despite the extraordinary insights he presented.

In volume 4, we encounter chapter 89, Shinjin-Inga, or, "Deep belief in cause and effect."

It's always difficult to interpret Dogen. He is writing, more often than not, from a level we do not understand, and within the context of a rich spiritual tradition unfamiliar to Western minds. Nonetheless, we can find points of contact that will interest any spiritual seeker.

Dogen's contention was that cause-and-effect are very real. He unequivocally states, “In general, the truth of cause and effect is vividly apparent and is not a personal matter: those who commit evil fall down, and those who practice good rise up, without a thousandth or a hundredth of discrepancy"(p.171)

We're not presented with some ethereal spirituality here; it is a world of consequences. The idea that everything merges into the void (another idea Dogen rejects) or that there is no good or bad doesn't enter into it. It is not a completely relativistic universe, where we cannot measure merit or value. Any number of philosophies and religions have arisen during what we call the “new age” which claim to negate cause-and-effect, but–as this particular chapter so eloquently demonstrates–to negate cause and effect is to invite calamity.

We are presented, and other words, with a cosmology of consequences that bears a relationship to Socratic ideals of a higher good, as well as Gurdjieffian ideas–perhaps most tellingly, Jeanne DeSalzmann's statement that nothing is ever static–everything is always going up, or down. And, she reminded J. G. Bennett (as recounted in Idiots In Paris) "bad results" may be obtained.

Gurdjieff himself made no bones about it: those who don't make an effort in their lives, a material effort, are destined for a place where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This question I raised yesterday of justice and punishment spills over into the question of cause and effect. We are material beings–expressions, no doubt, of energy, which has the potential to vibrate at a higher or lower level. Our very materiality itself is a reality, not a fantasy or work of the imagination, as some Hindu ideologies would have it. And it is only our materiality that makes us available to the expression of the good or the bad, the higher or lower.

It's not all relative.

Dogen understood that a man must continually question both his inner state and his motives: "Do not be unclear about cause and effect." This is, in fact, the phrase that releases the cursed Zen student who was trapped in the body of a wild fox for 500 lifetimes.

In a way, we are all that Zen student, who told his pupils that people in a state of great practice do not fall into cause and effect. Believing (mostly through the ego) that we are somehow exempt from higher laws–others, of course, must obey them, but we are somehow special–we fail to see that it is impossible to escape from cause-and-effect. We thus find ourselves in the bodies of wild foxes.

What is the truth of this moment? If I want to clarify cause and effect, I must see how I am now, and what it produces. I am immediately and irrevocably responsible. Every moment where I manifest that I don't take responsibility, I am still held accountable.

As I was explaining in my last post, the stark reality of that inevitable accountability, which devolves upon a man or woman at the moment of his or her death, is a sobering draught.

If we truly, uncompromisingly engage in life, this doesn't have to be a depressing weight that drags us down. Under the right conditions, it can be a source of inspiration– or even a spark that lights the soul on fire.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Justice and Punishment

The concepts of justice and punishment are routinely considered in terms of external life; when I apply the ideas to inner work, however, I find they inhabit a very different landscape.

In inner work, every external "punishment" must be understood as just. I put the word punishment in quotation marks, because negative things that happen to me externally-- which I might consider as punishment-- are actually help. That is to say, every condition that punishes me, that brings me to contrition or an understanding of difficulty, is sent to me strictly to help heal me. I encounter this idea in Meister Eckhart's teachings, as well as other places.

This is very difficult to understand. The ordinary self–the ego, the "I" I usually work with–doesn't see difficulty, pain, or challenge as anything positive. It is incapable of it. This understanding can only arrive when the centers come together in a certain way, and a real feeling enters. When this experience--a seed of the remorse of conscience-- arrives, one can begin to understand that what one has encountered in life is not only fully just, but is, in fact, exactly what one needed in order to work.

I don't really understand this, but God is actually being generous when such difficulty is sent. All of the great possibilities in a life arise directly because of these terrible difficulties, which are a form of Grace and Love.

I suppose that sounds stupid, doesn't it? Horrible things happen to people. Is that Grace and Love? My ordinary being questions that–even rejects it, struggles with it, argues that it is impossible, and demands that revenge be extracted. Are you familiar with that? Most of us are.

Yet if real understanding arises, I can understand within myself–only within myself, and from the perspective of myself–that the punishment that I encounter in my life is just.

This complex emotional understanding is only available in understanding the context of sin, or, what the Hindus and Buddhists would referred to as karma. Now, that idea has baggage that does not necessarily apply in the Gurdjieff work or Christianity, but the concepts are, I believe, linked.

A man's relationship with his own sin is a private matter between himself and God. We make the question of sin, of justice and punishment, a public one in our religions and our institutions, and yet it is only in the deepest and most inaccessible parts of a man's soul that these questions can really be confronted and understood.

I'm pondering this because I had a moment today where I saw how absolutely just my own punishment has been throughout my life. I always experience my own difficulties as negative when they are taking place; I never value them, I always resent and resist them. Yet later I see how absolutely necessary they were for me. How else can I wake up, if I don't truly suffer in many ways? How will my arrogance never be softened if it is not beaten with sticks?

This is where I begin to encounter a taste of some real humility for what I am, for how I have lived, for how far short I fall of what is needed.

Perhaps all that sounds harsh. And one needs to be careful to distinguish between real experiences of remorse, a real understanding of this question, and perverse self-flagellation, which is a very different matter. One must not judge oneself; one must see, and above all, one must see that life as it is presented is in fact just. The universe is arranged that way. The souls in Dante's purgatory have it absolutely right: they willingly accept their punishment, they understand that it is completely and utterly just--that it is what they need.

Moments when I confront these truths, these understandings that arise from an emotional reconciliation, are the moments that mark the difference between a dead universe ruled by accident and circumstance, and a living reality which is universally penetrated by divine intelligence.

The odd thing may be that we have to choose between those two alternatives. One would think that one or the other had to be true; that one possibility excludes the other.

In man, according to the level of his development, that is exactly the case.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A new year

It's amazing how much significance we attach to this idea of a new year, as though today were really any different than yesterday.

This morning, I was walking the famous dog Isabel alone, down by the Hudson River, pondering the sense and aim of my existence as the sun was rising.

The train roared by on the other side of the river in Westchester; for a moment, I wished that all the sounds of man, and even man himself, would disappear, so that a clear moment of perception of the reeds, a hawk, the silent golden light of the sun, could arise without the intervention of humanity and all its implications.

Such things cannot be. We exist; and at once, we interfere. It is in our nature. We are the genie that has been let out of the bottle.

What is this thing I call my existence; this life? I see that I am filled up with the past, brimming with it, overflowing with it, and bringing all of its results to every moment that I live. Is it a support, or an impediment? It's a mystery. I have lived through this experience I call life, but I have not understood.

This morning, I recalled a foolish thing–it doesn't really matter what it was, it was truly insignificant–I did when I was younger, and intent on destroying myself, not understanding that the world ultimately consumes and destroys all of us, whether we want it to or not.

I recalled this foolish thing, and I felt a genuine sense of remorse. There was remorse of conscience, applied to one tiny point, a microscopic selection, from an entire life. The moment itself could almost have been random; in itself, it didn't signify, it was just a symbol for myself and how I have lived.

In that moment-- where a finer sensation and a real feeling emerged, there, by the marsh, while the snow lay on the ground, and the dog looked for the things that dogs look for-- in that moment, the past dropped away into the present, and there was a wholeness that asked itself what it means to repair the past, to prepare the future.

And, as always, the sorrow.

I live a vast distance away from my life, but it is a distance of the imagination. In reality, it's not possible to go very far from here–here is where I always am, immersed in a life that I will not allow myself to sense, and that I refuse to allow to sense me. My contact with my life is clumsy; how can I improve it, helpless little creature that I am?

There is too much fear in me, and I don't trust enough. I have known this for some time. There is no cure for it.

I'm tempted to try and draw conclusions, to wrap this up in some neat, sage way that might imply I know what I am doing, or am at least clever and able. But none of those things are true, and I am not inclined to conclusions today. So we will leave things here.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

After all these years

Storms have come and gone. The Hudson river absorbs them... we continue to walk along the marsh, which never ceases to amaze.

It also provokes poetry.

After All These Years

After all these years
Love being what it is

I walk along the river anyway.

Blackbirds swarm like locusts from the trees
And make their own wind

I exist in astonishment
That such a thing could be.

God has broken himself into many pieces
Thrown himself into the sky

Down upon the ground as leaves
And into the water as silent ripples

Lies across the leaves as frost
And scatters the sky with stars.

With every sunrise
I try to put him back together

So that He can remember who He is
And why He made us.

I'll probably get to a more detailed post later today... or at any rate, this week.

Until then, this interview with Gina Sharpe at Parabola is well worth reading.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Working and living

It's not unusual for us to unintentionally segregate our life from our work.

We come by this habit honestly. Most all so-called “esoteric” work tends to cloister itself. The majority of esoteric practices are monastic in one way or another; even the schools that Gurdjieff himself says he obtained his knowledge from were in remote, inaccessible places, and the commonplace conception among esotericists is that real knowledge can only be obtained from these special, secret places that exist outside of society and ordinary life.

Contrast this, if you will, with the incontrovertible fact that Gurdjieff called us to a new kind of work, the fourth way, which is emphatically a work in life. He was clearly a different animal than the monks who shut themselves off from ordinary life in order to attain an inner unity. He was a visionary; he saw a way for us to work that included ordinary life, that firmly welded its influences to our inner effort and used them creatively to help us.

There is a certain irony in the fact that one often hears members of the Gurdjieff work disparaging ordinary life, talking about how inadequate it is and how only something higher is wonderful and true and different. The attitude seems to belie the entire point of what both Gurdjieff and DeSalzmann were aiming us at: a union of the higher and lower, not an enforcement of their separation, and a potentially elitist preference for one over the other.

The idea of working in life is frequently discussed, but take a look at what actually happens to us. We get together for meetings, work weekends, or work weeks, and talk about how we never work, or perhaps never even can work, meaningfully, unless we are at such events and under these special conditions. We sit-- together or on our own-- and there is a collective belief, well meant and goodhearted, but nevertheless mistaken, that this is when and where we are going to “receive” something from a higher level.

In other words, most of the so-called real work we do–much of which has to be subject to question as to whether it is, in fact, real work at all–centers around the idea of separation, of being cloistered, of needing a special set of conditions in order to work.

Life is the special set of conditions. All of it. Not just the life lived within the metaphysical ramparts of the Gurdjieff foundation.

I seem to recall that Michel DeSalzmann once referred to The Cloud of Unknowing as a magnificent book that transcended the narrow confines of its Christianity. The remark contains a certain truth; nonetheless, one has to wonder whether we are able to transcend the narrow confines of the Gurdjieff work, as we have conceived of it, bestowed form upon it, and layered it with our assumptions and–yes, inevitably–mechanical reactions to what we think it is.

I have said before in this space that what seeks us–this higher energy which wishes to become an expression of the divine within the atmosphere and on the surface of this planet–wishes to express itself specifically in ordinary life, as we go about our day to day business. No matter how much of it enters us in sittings, or under special conditions, if it does not find its way into day-to-day business and the face-to-face relationships we have with others, in the very moment of what is ordinary, then, in my experience, the practice suffers.

I chose this particular photograph, which I took on a trip to Egypt at the national Museum in Cairo some years ago, because it depicts such a moment. The rays of the sun enlighten a perfectly ordinary moment between the Pharaoh Tutankhamun and his wife. It is touching; it is warm; it is completely human. They aren't in meditative poses like the ones you see at Angkor Wat. They are just living their lives; and yet, the divine inspires them, legitimately, within the context of their day-to-day humanity.

And what is the most essential quality we sense in this piece of artwork? It is, I am certain, the presence of love.

For myself, I think I make this whole question of working and understanding what work is much too complicated. How can I begin to bring the organic root of my work, and an openness that might receive something finer, to the ordinary everyday activities I engage in?

My group leader Betty Brown was a master at cutting away all the nonsense and bring us back to this very practical, very ordinary ground floor.

This Christmas season, I'm going to do what little I can to remember her approach, and more actively explore how to be present, in an unfettered manner, for those around me.

At the same time, I will try to keep the wick of my lamp trimmed.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I suppose it's inappropriate to use the word "conjunction" when the photograph depicts what is actually a full lunar eclipse–a decidedly different astronomical event. But what is on my mind right now is the conjunction of forces; the fact that the organism serves as a meeting place for so many different forces which are expressed within it as impressions are received.

That sentence, in its essence, sums up the truth of the situation. I construct an entity which I refer to as “myself,” and I drive it with an engine called the ego, but it is a construct; a veneer layered over depths that are filled with a lifetime.

The conjunction, the totality of all of the results of what has taken place up until now, might rightly be expected to have some kind of clarity, but it doesn't. My being is in shadow. Efforts to grasp it invariably result in failure; yet all of it is there, just not in an organized form that is tangible.

This is because I am partial. The only thing that ever brings me together into a place that seems more real is the genuine participation of emotion. All of the connection between the body and the mind that one likes, in the form of sensation, can take place, and yet there is the distinct impression that this is not enough–that it is inadequate.

Only in making the effort to be in relationship with others does emotion truly enter. It's interesting to me to see the sense of organic satisfaction and the truth of the moment when I discover myself in relationship with another human being. At that moment, it's possible to see the rightness of relationship with others; it's also possible, sometimes in minute detail, to see all of the egoistic engines and tricky machinations that inevitably deploy themselves in the midst of relationships, all of which are turned either towards making people like me, or getting something from them.

A number of contradictions arise here, because it's possible to see both the higher, more impartial impulse, and the lower one, simultaneously, if one makes the effort within the moment.

We truly do find ourselves poised between two worlds.

One of those worlds is an inner world that draws me deeply into myself; the other one is an outer world that draws me inexorably out of myself. It's much easier for me to firmly place myself in one or the other world than to sense them both at the same time. Why is that? I don't know.

What seems certain to me is that there has to be a way to discover a unity that includes and blends all of the many different elements in this universe I refer to as myself. And what seems equally certain is that I cannot accomplish this alone. I need help.

This time of year–the Christmas season–is when Christians worldwide remind themselves, figuratively and literally, that we need help in order to become something more real. The season reminds us, furthermore, that the exact nature of that help is a mystery, and even has some perhaps magical and mythological qualities to it. This characteristic is shared in common with almost every major religious movement. Only atheists–the tiniest of minorities on this planet–believe that human beings can exist without this understanding.

I need to truly understand, with the deepest part of my being, that I need such help, and I need to discover how to call for it from within parts of myself that are usually silent–parts that can, in fact, from their silence itself issue a call to a quality from a higher level which can help inform my effort.

May our prayers be heard.