Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hitting the Lows

In this particular post I am just going to speak frankly and directly about my own life today, and exactly how I experience it.

Today, the stress of many months of travel, corporate demands, and other assorted stuff collapsed around me and I hit a low.

The moment was particularly striking, because my emotional state was collapsing, and yet other parts of me were quite intact and even in very good shape. The inner support was functional; there was plenty of good energy to feed me from the other side of myself, but it was unable to reach my ordinary emotional part, which sustains a great deal of my outer effort. I watched the external collapse take place at the same time that I saw the inner parts were quite all right. If there was ever a lesson in how separated we are, how partial we are, and how different our inner and our outer parts are, this was it.

This is reality. This is how I am. I am basically unable, no matter how hard I try, to keep myself together. The thread that connects the inner and the outer, which consists of a certain kind of attention, usually lies beyond me. When I am together, it is because of forces that are beyond my immediate control, and it is because I am offered support from places I do not command.

Coming home from work, I found myself driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, in tears, admitting to God--in, I am embarrassed to admit, a rather loud voice-- that I do not know how to be or what is required in this life.

I do not know where I am, or what I am doing here. I need help.

It is moments of remorse and humility like this that hammer home the true condition of humanity. If we really look at ourselves and how we are, we see that we are nothing. Countless blessings flow into us, and we squander them, because we do not understand what has been given to us.

As these darkening clouds were gathering, I spoke to my teacher Betty Brown today. She reminded me that we all work under these conditions. She thinks that I take things too seriously, which is probably all too true, and that I think too much, which has always been the case with me. One of my other elderly female mentors advises me that I probably won't get over this misuse of what she called "my brilliant mind" until I have worked through it.

Betty is more pessimistic, pointing out that I will probably never get over it at all.

She may be right: I don't know how else to be. For me, these days, it is difficult to know what it means to relax and enjoy oneself in life. It seems as though constant work is required, and that constant demand is presented. That does not mean that there are no rewards or no wonderful moments. It does mean that the usual things that people do to have "fun" don't seem that fun. I live almost entirely for the moments when I see something more deeply, when something touches me inside in a place that cannot be defined, when I can smell the colors around me and the air itself is alive.

I don't call that "fun" -- but it is real, and having something that is real is much bigger than having fun.

Having said that, it's true that I am a jokester, a fool, and I do derive a lot of enjoyment from interactions with people where there is spontaneous humor. So, that is how I have fun, when I do have fun.

A RAY OF HOPE. I'm not totally clueless. It's not like people say I am a drag to be around. (Except for our boatload of teenagers. To them, I am a hideous tyrant who expects reasonable performance on ordinary tasks--clearly irrational, from their point of view.)

Conclusion: I'm probably not all bad. I just think I am.

I am sure that I will pick myself up from this mess and carry on. I always do. If there is one characteristic I have had as I stagger from one trench to the next, it is that I keep going.
Dutch people are stubborn that way. They don't know when to lie down and quit.

All those of you who are worried about whether or not you are "good" enough, don't worry. None of us are. As Oscar Wilde said, "We are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

And gee, they sure are nice out there.

This Friday and Saturday, I'm attending a work weekend with my wife, which may interrupt postings tomorrow and Saturday.

One last note: redemption may be at hand. My 17-year-old son just brought me a plate of spaghetti up in the loft, because he knows I'm feeling low. How bad can things be, when your kid takes care of you like that?

Be well, until the next post- here's that thing I always put at the end--

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gurdjieff, Pauls's first letter to the Corinthians, and sexual morality

It's possible to find multiple points of contact between Paul's letters and Gurdjieff's teachings.

One simple example is Gurdjieff's contention that if a man works, even if his wife is not actively engaged in her own work, she will develop spiritually in step with him. Paul says much the same in 1 Corinthians. There are enough examples of this kind to believe wholeheartedly in Gurdjieff's commitment to an essentially conservative Christian ideology, despite the obvious debts his work owes to Sufism, Yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism.

To me, one of the most striking similarities lies here: Paul's moralizing on relationship and sexuality in Romans and 1 Corinthians bears more than a passing resemblance to the commentary Gurdjieff offers in "Beelzebub in America."

In both cases, the authors offer us what appears to be a scathing condemnation of modern morality and sexual practices--a condemnation which indicates that the controversy over such issues has not changed very much in the past 2000 years. Inevitably, perhaps, their commentary reflects their upbringing in a traditional and conservative society. Both of them interpret the question of sexuality from a biblical point of view, with decidedly Old Testament overtones: in Gurdjieff's work, the fire and brimstone may be implied, but in Paul's Corinthians, we can smell it.

The question arises in me: are we required to take these texts literally? Or is there an underlying question of greater magnitude being presented?

Given Paul's repeated contention in his letters that he speaks primarily of matters of the Spirit, it's reasonable to presume that there may be more going on here than just preaching about who you should be allowed to have sex with, and when. Gurdjieff, too, was famous for saying "bury the bone deeper," that is, to make sure that the meaning not be made too obvious.

What, I ask myself, could these two authors be trying to get us to understand, in their remarkably similar tones, on a more or less identical subject?

The question leads us back to something that I have discussed many times over the past few months, that is, the question of the difference between the inner -- that which belongs to God-- and the outer -- matters of the flesh, as Paul would put it.

Paul himself points out that all things are lawful unto us, but that not all things are good for us (1 Corinthians 6:12-13. Here, "fornication" is probably intended to define outer sexuality in general.) More than once, in his discussions on law and faith, he offers us caveats of this kind to remind us that nothing is, in and of itself, "bad " (reminiscent of some discourses in Dogen 's Shobogenzo.) Gurdjieff offers no such points of comfort; his assessment is made of a harder wood. Nonetheless, his documented sexual behavior provides ample evidence that he supported Paul's point of view, in person, if not in writing.

Allowing for the idea that all reasonable forms of sexuality are not "forbidden by law," as traditional society would have it -- and still has it today, in the form of a literal morality the fundamentalists of every religious sect would have us adopt -- why all of the opposition to even rather ordinary sexual behavior?

This question plagues and vexes people in both the macrocosm of the Christian church and the microcosm of the Gurdjieff Work.

Should we throw out all the masturbators, fornicators, adulterers, lesbians, and homosexuals?

That would probably thin out the ranks a good deal, don't you think?

On pondering this question in a broader context, I believe that both Paul and Gurdjieff are advising not renunciation of sexuality but, rather, non-attachment.

In Paul's letters, the ideas of "non-attachment" to the flesh and faith are closely linked. In Gurdjieff's work, identification is to be avoided: the mistaken belief that "we are what we do." There are more than a few parallels to this idea in Paul.

It is not our indulgence in sexuality of any kind per se that becomes the issue here; it is our investment in it, our willingness to let it run our lives. Just about every human being with a sexual drive has experienced that aspect of sex at one point or another.

The center of gravity for sex exists "almost independently" of the other inner centers (chakras), because it creates what Gurdjieff called Si 12, a "higher hydrogen" with more power than just about any other substance the body ordinarily produces. Hence Gurdjieff's famous "struggle of five against one." We cannot let sex run the whole show; in the absence of real willpower -- which none of us have -- a set of rules is better than nothing.

Sexuality is an investment in the outer. It turns our reproductive impulses towards the service of biology alone. There is, however, an inner reproductive process which we thereby ignore. In both Paul and Gurdjieff, we find a call towards understanding of the inner reproductive process, that process whereby the soul becomes a seed for the presence of God within.

Hence Gurdjieff's contention that his Work was, in essence, "esoteric Christianity-" the inner practice of Christ's presence, the rebirth of man in the image of God.

He and Paul certainly would have understood each other on that point.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Habit, convention, repitition

When Gurdjieff wrote "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson", he claimed that the chief effect of the organ kundabuffer-- an organ originally implanted in man so that he could not see reality clearly anymore -- was to cause people to feel pleasure through repetition.

It's pretty clear that habit, convention, and repetition are hallmarks of human culture. Within cultures, members collectively observe conventions; we all have habits, that is behaviors that repeat themselves, generally without any awareness of it on our part; and repetition in general is very satisfying. In music, for example, themes repeat themselves in order to establish and satisfy the listener. Music without any themes that repeat somehow seems lacking. The entire culture of pop music thrives on obsessive repetition. Television series (e.g., "House M.D.") repeat the same set of events over and over in endless variations.

That's what sells.

All of this is true of spiritual Works as well. It is the form that sells spirituality off-the-shelf: adopt it, and everything that it says and represents, you instantly become. Buy the books, wear the robes, burn the incense: take all the ingredients, and just add water in the form of a human body. Presto! Extreme makeover. Behold the new man.

The Gurdjieff work is no exception. It has a broad and deeply ingrained set of habits and conventions, and it repeats itself, if you will excuse the expression, repeatedly. My many years in the work have underscored my impression of this.

We often speak of being "open." Yes, it is true that there is an esoteric, or inner, meaning to that. However, the "openness" ought to have its counterpart in external life--it ought to embody a spontaneity --, and it often seems as though it doesn't. All too often, being "open" seems to mean sticking to the rut worn in the road by all the people who were "open" before we were.

Because of habit, convention, and repetition, we all expect people to behave a certain way, speak a certain way, use certain words. This collapse towards a narrowly defined consensus is typical of all forms and organizations; it actually squelches individuation, even though our aim is to be ourselves, that is, whole individuals. As collapses of this kind progress in organizations, people become increasingly convinced that they know exactly what it is they represent, and exactly what they are talking about. Repetition cultivates a buffer that tells us we know who we are, where we are, and what we are doing.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

I am continuing to read the Black Swan , by Nicholas Taleb, a man who may well be the first human being in the world who is arrogant because he thinks he doesn't know everything. A unique combination indeed.

Taleb points out that mankind repeatedly makes the mistake of thinking that it knows what is going on, and what will come next. The repetition that we engage in lulls us into a hypnotic state whereby we think that the world is consistent. This may well be what Gurdjieff was referring to when he spoke of "the evil inner god of self calming." Believing that events, circumstances, surroundings, and relationships are consistent and predictable--and behaving accordingly-- excuses us from the effort of meeting them in a real way.

That is, it puts us to sleep.

We cannot have it both ways. Either we know what we are doing, or we don't. If we really can't know anything and should question everything, then let's actually question everything, instead of questioning "everything except the things we don't want to question."

No assumption should be sacred.

Above all, we should aim within this life to absolutely be ourselves. If we just strive to blend into the crowd--if we are good little doobies that only obey the rules of the form, and speak "as is expected"--if we do not challenge, do not act and speak from our own authority,

well, then, we might as well be sheep.

The shock of going against the habit, against the convention, of our form in order to be ourselves, can be useful both to us and to everyone around us. This does not mean we have to be negative, cruel, rude, or unpleasant.

It simply means we have to try to be genuine.

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

Monday, January 21, 2008

Esoteric Christianity

There are some Christians who feel that the very word "esoteric" is a dirty word. The fundamentalists and Baptists I knew down in Georgia felt that anything that wasn't straight out of the Bible and taken literally was evil--possibly influenced even by Satan himself--and to be avoided at any cost.

They were so paranoid that any symbols they were not familiar with -- even ones traditionally associated with Christianity -- were threatening to them. I discovered this when I was showing some of my fairly symbolic art at a local show. (one actual example--it was at the selfsame show--is the illustration of the Sufi tale found at It proved to be completely impossible to reassure them that I was, in fact, a lifelong Christian, and that all of my art dealt with positive religious understanding of one kind or another.

Fear. It's a beautiful thing.

In writing the preface to a book I am currently working on, I described esotericism as nothing more than "the search for the true heart, the core of Love that flows abundantly from mysterious and divine sources."

It is this search for God's Love itself that I believe defines esoteric, or inner, practice. We are all seeking to discover the original connection we have with the divine. It is a journey back to our origins, which actually lie not above, but within us: for God is within all things.

There may be different ways of approaching this, but in the end, every real journey must go in the same direction, and that direction is always towards Love.

It has been hammered home to me on a number of occasions within my life as to how inadequate I am to a real understanding of Love. As I am, as I live and breathe, I am unable to open my heart in the manner that is necessary. As I am, I am vain, arrogant, and bestow my "favors" on the others according to whim or opinion.

On those rare occasions when Love blooms within me, it is never because of what I am or what I do. It is always because of grace.

We cannot reach anything real without help. As we are, we are damaged, we are unable. This situation really is pretty ghastly, and the only hope we have is to turn to a higher power for assistance. In doing so, we have to agree to accept the experience of what we are, because it is only through this acceptance -- this suffering, this seeing of what we actually are -- that we can be purified in order to receive the radiant Force of Compassion that emanates from God at all times.

I suppose, that for many of us, the stern words of the Gurdjieff work may not seem to have a lot to do with love, but that is actually the very heart of the work. There is nowhere else to go. As I grow older, I am increasingly convinced that Mr. Gurdjieff was well aware of the fact. Some of you may recall that Ouspensky specifically said he left Gurdjieff because the Work was becoming "too religious" for him. It's too bad he didn't understand that there is no other way for a Work to be.

In Frank Sinclair's book "Without Benefit of Clergy", there is a passage where he shares a story about Gurdjieff telling his followers, at Christmas, to call on Christ for help. Gurdjieff may not have spoken much about Christ in general, but this one story tells me something absolute and incontrovertible about him.

He knew Christ was real.

A fact like this makes all the difference in the world, because once one knows that Christ is--not was, IS-- real, everything is called into question. For as long as Christianity remains a discipline, or a colorful, fabulous myth or a beautiful form, we hold it at arm's length. But if Christ is real -- available to us now--well, then what? What does that mean?

Isn't that the most radical question we can pose?

I have often said to friends that I think fundamentalists make us uncomfortable because they are a little closer to the truth than we want them to be. Not in their contention that God is stern and merciless -- heaven knows, we hear more than enough of that horrid nonsense -- but in their contention that there is only one path to the truth, and that that path leads through help. In the case of the Christians, that help comes through Christ.

This is not to dismiss the other great world religions. As you all know, I have a deep respect for Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism. Every single one of them is magnificent, and contains depths that we cannot really hope to penetrate in a single lifetime. Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed: they, too, are real, they are available, on levels we cannot sense or see, compassionately and patiently awaiting our efforts.

The fact remains that something was different about Christ. As I have said before, he was the only teacher who accepted his fate--an objectively horrible fate--and still continued to Love. And, as is said, thereby brought a new covenant to mankind.

Something on the astral level changed because of Christ's sacrifice. Interested readers can seek out a copy of Mouni Sadhu's "The Tarot," (now out of print, but a quite extraordinary book) in which he said that Christ's sacrifice was the greatest single deed ever done for mankind on the astral plane. As a guru for all of mankind, he took on the karma of the entire planet, because he was at a level where he was capable of that.

What does it mean, that Christ brought a new covenant, a new possibility, to mankind? I wish to understand that, but I am not able. I am too small and too selfish.

How can I change that?

Paul said it thus in Corinthians: "When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words, or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling." (Corinthians 2:1-3)

Regardless of whom we commit ourselves to: Christ, Krishna, Buddha--only in that deep and wordless trembling and shaking of the soul, in abject gratitude and humility, can we hope to progress.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2008


This afternoon I picked up the latest issue of "Shambhala Sun" and browsed through an article by someone named Brad Warner. I suppose he's somehow important or meaningful in some way, but, since I am all but oblivious to most popular culture, I don't quite know what. He wrote an article entitled, "That's not very Buddhist of you," which contained several thinly disguised put-downs of Judaeo-Christian practice.

This certainly helped the article to live up to its name; the fact that the author appears to know a good deal less about both Buddhism and Judaeo-Christian practice than he thinks he knows was a different issue.

C'est la vie, c'est vrai--certain great World Religions just aren't good enough for some people.

The dismissals got me to thinking, in the larger context, about the fact that Buddhism in America has developed a corporate arm almost as strong as Catholicism's: a pope (The Dalai Lama), flashy magazines, articles about celebrity Buddhists (K.D. Lang is the star attraction of this month's issue) and a merchandising push that makes me think that soon someone will be inspired to cut through all the crap and open an honest web site called "stuff that makes you look like a"

All of this begins to look and sound like one more chapter in the "form versus form" contest, where the adherents of various religions compete with each other for validity, membership, and supremacy. Over a lifetime, I've listened to impassioned explanations from Muslims in Pakistan and Sufis in Turkey as to why Islam is the only true faith; had born again Christians in Georgia witness their faith and demand I accept Jesus as my personal savior, else be condemned to hell; had other Christians advise me that their little Baptist church (on the left corner of Peachtree street NE) was the only heart of the only true faith; had devoutly orthodox Jewish friends firmly advise me that the world is only 5,000 years old, and so on.

Over the past two years, I've plowed through the entire text of Dogen's extensive record and almost all of his Shobogenzo. In the process, I discovered that even Dogen--whose work I admire and stand in awe of--habitually indulges in contemptuous put-downs of other Buddhists and, even more so, non-Buddhists. Leading us back to my perpetual concern about 99% masters.

It's easy to be negative--I do it all the time myself. But where are the unifiers? Where are the religious people who build bridges instead of walls?

I think we need a few more of them. Contempt for other people's practices builds nothing; instead, it creates divisions, nurses suspicions, breeds animosities. When I get prominent publications from Buddhists expressing snotty, dismissive viewpoints, I worry.

I worry because I see this tendency in myself--I see it in all of us-- to dismiss, to go against the other, to reject them, instead of making the much more difficult effort to find acceptance in my heart.

We must make this effort.

The future of the planet depends on all of us finding a way to bridge the divides that face us, to open our hearts and close the gaps.

We're never going to achieve that through a path of dismissal.

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

Friday, January 18, 2008

Realization and relationship

One rarely hears the word "chakra" in the Gurdjieff work, and yet integrating the concept into the heart of the Work becomes nearly inescapable once one realizes the connection between the enneagram and the inner flowers.

Becoming aware of the inner centers, or chakras, is an essential part of discovering what "inner work" actually means. It's refreshing to me when some of the older people I know in the Gurdjieff Work dare to discuss this; I fear we speak too little of it, or of the central place of love in the Work itself.

"Inner" work is not a work of the intellect. The deeply ingrained emphasis on "self-remembering" in the work invites a kind of psychological intensity that tends to trap itself within the world of thought. It takes many years to form material within this discipline, and even more to break out of it into something deeper.

From this point of view, as much as I admire his work, perhaps it would be better to avoid Ouspensky altogether (admittedly, difficult.) And even Nicoll, for that matter. Chogyam Trungpa expressed distrust in regard to the practice of self-observation for precisely this reason.

Having been through my own years-long set of experiences in this regard, I can understand his trepidation.

Awareness forms realization. In realization, we see that there are inner flowers, and that they can open.

Increasingly, the important point to me is not just realization, but relationship. The point of the diagram is the relationship, the connection between the centers, and not the centers themselves. Any one center, if it is open, can seem to be enormously whole, and yet this magnificent experience all too easily becomes a glamor.

It increasingly strikes me that developing a deep and durable connection between all the centers in which the dialogue takes place according to law -- that is, the multiplications --is a very long-term work. It does not yield itself readily. Diligence, perseverance, work on this exact question within ordinary life itself-- that is what is required. If we focus on one beautiful inner center, we get "stuck."

My wife and I were discussing this question this morning, and we agreed that the problem at hand appears to hold true both in the inner and in the outer life. I suspect, actually, that our outer life is a reflection of the fears that dominate our inner life and prevent us from becoming more whole. We get stuck in outer life and repeat--this is habit.

Habit is something Gurdjieff always recommended we go against. In this sense, if we can see how we are behaving outwardly towards others, we may learn something about how we behave inwardly towards ourselves. There are habits here, too.

This reminds me of the old Zen story of polishing a tile to make a mirror. The implication in the Zen story is that this transformation of tiles into mirrors is patently impossible. I have learned, however, from reading Dogen, that to trust implications in any Zen story is rather hopeless.

The tile is, perhaps, our outer life: all of the material formed by the five senses, the hard and crystallized substance of personality. It appears to be flat and unyielding, yet if we were able to understand it properly, that is, polish it until it reflected light instead of absorbing it, we would see our inner self so clearly in it that we would know who we are.

Seeing outer relationship helps in inner relationship; seeing inner relationship helps outer relationship; everything is a mirror that reflects everything else.

Anyway, it is the wholeness of the connections between chakras--the movement that takes place between them--that forms a coherent, supportive substance which can be brought into life. Marrying this mystery to the ordinary content of life in real time eventually becomes the work.

Realization is knowing that things are possible. Relationship is living within the possibilities. From this point of view, to realize the self is to see and understand the potential; to be in relationship with the self is to take the risks that are necessary for growth.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Struggling against struggle

Awakening before 5 a.m., in the tangible cool and darkness of January, I breathe in and out, and once again, I am struck by the contradiction between my inner and outer state.

Everything that I know about my inner work is interpreted through my formatory apparatus.

Everything I talk about, everything I say, all the ideas I encounter, and every external sensory impression that I have comes together to form an object, like a stone, that blocks entry into my inner being in the same way that the stone was rolled across Jesus's tomb. My very conception of the work itself is the problem. What I create in terms of form is the biggest obstacle within me to the discovery of anything real.

Zen Buddhism attempts to find ways to defeat the machine by opposing it with conundrums that offer no answers. Islam attempts to find a way to submit, to surrender. Christianity attempts to teach us how to accept what we are with love.

Of the three, I think perhaps Christianity is the most sophisticated, because it attempts to surmount the difficulty through a process of recruitment, using the most powerful agent possible--Love--to incorporate the fact of our resistance into the reality of our life.

Whichever one we choose, unfortunately, for the most part we all remain stuck on the same piece of self-constructed flypaper. We buzz our wings furiously, giving the impression that there is a lot going on. But there we sit, fixed in the glue of what life delivers.

This morning I cracked open Gurdjieff's "Views From the Real World" at random, and read a page before I got out of bed to make my coffee. On the page -- I don't remember which chapter it was-- he said to someone, "you can't do anything." He went on to tell the person how they needed to observe themselves and see the separation between who they were, and what they were doing.

This is an excellent premise. However, the difficulty with it is that no matter which way we step, we cannot step outside of these five senses that we live through. The best that we can do is to include a sense of the inner senses within us as we live and work, and even that is quite difficult. The inner senses, the flowers, may partially open and awaken, but they still live separately from the outer senses, and it is difficult to integrate them, even when one can sense that both parts are available and active.

It is only when I intend to bring the inner and the outer together that there can be a meaningful conjunction, and, oddly, a great deal of the time I see that I don't want to be bothered with that, even though I know the stakes.

In this matter we are, perhaps, much like Americans addicted to junk food: even when offered the right kind of impressions, a savory sauce consisting of the best kind of inner food, we turn it down in favor of bulk carbohydrates with lots of sugar or salt mixed into them.

One of my stock solutions to this problem is to invest in gravity. Gravity is a very helpful force; in addition to keeping us all from flying off the planet willy-nilly in every direction, on a brief but exciting collision course with the nearest asteroid, it helps ground us. The downward movement within, sensation, the weight of reality itself, may burden our flesh, but as we suffer it, it can assist us in an effort to be more centered.

Our mortality itself functions in much the same way: a sense of the fact that we will die helps us to be alive.

If there were no death, we would not even know what life was. In this way, the weight of death, which sits on me every morning in the darkness as I awake, is not necessarily a cause for fear, but rather hope. Within the tomb there lies no corpse; no, if I can roll away the rock of outwardness, I may well find that what appears to be death, is actually life; and what appeared before to be life is, in fact, death. Paul peppers Romans with the piquant flavors of this mystery.

Whether I accept it or not, Death is the gravity of this inner planet of mine.

Less than a week ago I had a sitting where I sensed the totality of life and death as a new form of wholeness. All those images of demons and skeletons that Tibetans are so fond of populating their spiritual art with began to make sense.

There is an inner temple that includes life and death within it as equal partners, a place where death becomes as beautiful as life, where all things blend together in a constant act of transformation that cannot be labeled as creative or destructive.

My group leader Henry Brown told me of this hopeful attitude towards death many years ago, but I was too young and unformed to understand what he was getting at. As I grow older, more and more of what he told me becomes tangible.

This, too.

So perhaps, instead of struggling against death, I can accept and live within both life and death; instead of struggling against myself, I can learn to struggle against my struggle, until I see that what I need to do is let go, instead of cling. If the entire structure, the entire form of what I have ingested up until now within life is the obstacle, I can struggle with it for as long as I wish; but maybe, just maybe I can toss that whole struggle aside, and try to live honestly,

right here where I am.

Trungpa certainly thought that it was not only possible, but necessary.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Frankfurt, 6 a.m.

Frankfurt Airport, 6 a.m.

Waking slow to cell and sensibility,
No tender moment recognized
Without intention.

Not my demand-no intervention
Of the ordinary mind can serve,
Such service being privilege, not owned.

These intimate encounters
With hallways, kiosk lights, and advertisements
Arrive becradled in the hands of God.

Time lies forgotten-
Has no power of decay-
Where offering begins, within this day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Attachment and Sin

Last night, I was at it again, editing audio files of "Beelzebub in America," pages 922-928, in which Gurdjieff delivers one of his more spectacular and long-winded diatribes--this one, regarding the evils of masturbation. And this morning before sitting I was reading Paul's Letter to the Romans, which also contains its fair share of commentary on so-called "evils of the flesh."

The juxtaposition of the two texts, combined with some impressions of my own state this morning, got me to once again pondering the question of attachment.

The sensory input that we experience from the five ordinary senses forms a "collective of information" within us, which Gurdjieff referred to as personality. Personality may be static in some senses, because it's very resistant to change, but in other senses it is dynamic indeed, because it is generally responsible for providing the short-term responses we have to offer the ordinary world.

Essence--the inward form--has to operate at deeper levels and on longer-term turn arounds, so its response time is not usually up to the day-to-day. (Which lends a new twist to the amusing old saying: "sin in haste-repent at leisure.") Sin arises in the operative sphere of the personality, whereas repentance belongs to essence. We might say that balancing essence and personality consists, in part, of synchronizing--or blending-- their response times so that they can participate equally in the experience of life.

What occurs to me today-- watching several of the more reprehensible parts of my personality inwardly expressing their usual inanely stupid opinions, which, if acted on, would lead to downright destructive outward behaviors--is that none of us have any inkling at all as to just how much we are occupied with, and dominated by, the material formed as a result of the outer senses, i.e., personality. Identification purely prevents us from seeing it.

When we read Mr. Gurdjieff's Beelzebub, for example, because of his "status" as a teacher or spiritual master (a status that, from the moment he died, became forever "no longer directly verifiable," but just more tracks in the metaphysical sand) we forget that he was--like all of us-- filled with opinions, prejudices and ideas that were formed in him as a result of his contact with the outside world. Once these elements were formed, they became an inevitable and inescapable part of his Being.

Remember the principle: once material falls onto our inner planet, it cannot escape the gravity well until death.

The external-sensory parts in question influenced everything G. wrote, and thought, and said. Now, it's true: rambling episodes in Beelzebub which express (variously) Victorian or tribal ideologies, rampant sexism, and objectively absurd medical advisories and "scientific" observations have their shock value. We can grant them that--but perhaps not too much more.

Over the years, I have heard some senior members of the Gurdjieff Foundation rightly disavow some of this reprehensible material. Praise be unto Allah. As the Gurdjieff "organization" (a.k.a. "first tool of the devil," per a joke Dr. Welch was fond of telling) evolves, we may sense losses, but we haven't all lost our senses.

For that matter, I recall one first-hand report in which Gurdjieff proposed something insultingly preposterous to a pupil. The person in question rightly rejected it--to which he then said "Bravo." So some of Mr. Gurdjieff's tests of our mettle are perhaps aimed not at determining what we are willing to swallow, but what we refuse to.

By his own confession, Gurdjieff himself struggled against his own nature for most of his life and never quite overcame it. None of us do; the lesson here is that even the master is not infallible.

It appears to me that Gurdjieff, for all his development, found himself right here with the rest of us--locked in the struggle of the flesh, the struggle with the outer, which Paul speaks of at great length in Romans. (Paul raises a number of ideas that find distinct and unmistakable echoes in Gurdjieff's writings.)

Let us consider our own dilemma in regard to what forms through the senses in light of Paul's assessment of sin.

Our outer senses, and our personality, are inescapably attached to the world, and the worldly.

Christ's call to man, according to Paul, was to discover freedom from sin through an abandonment of the sensual (the flesh) and an adoption of the spiritual--hence the reference to spiritual circumcision I cited last week. Sin in this context is attachment to the outer.

The idea has its partner in Buddhism, to be sure.

Spiritual circumcision requires a major degree of separation from personality, one I fear none of us are up to. We can certainly see chinks in the armor, but we are so throughly permeated by attachments to personality that essence, which senses in far different ways and contains the potential for a completely different element of experience than personality, never gets much of a chance to surface in us in daily life.

Just clearly seeing that these two elements, with their different constituent elements, sensory abilities, natures, and lives, exist within us at all is already quite a big thing.

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

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is consciousness directional?

We are all accustomed to speaking of coming into contact with something "higher." In fact, the aim of almost all spiritual work and spiritual people is to contact forces "higher" than man.

Or at least, if it isn't, they spend an awful lot of time blabbing about it.

At the same time, as I have mentioned before, Mr. Gurdjieff made it clear that consciousness does not move in one direction alone if it grows.

We can once again used the analogy of baking bread to examine this question.

People say that bread dough "rises" when yeast is added. Frankly speaking this is not accurate. What the dough does is expand. It goes up, and it goes out. If it were in a weightless environment, it would go "down" as well. The point is that as consciousness grows, it grows in every direction.

Our obsession with contacting something higher may be a mistaken fixation on direction. If the "Almighty Uni-Being Endlessness" of God exists everywhere and penetrates everything, then looking for him"up" isn't necessary. We can look sideways and down, and still find Her/Him.

It's quite clear that direction is a subjective concept, determined strictly by the function of the perceived present location. There is no definitive "up" or "down," "or right" and "left" in the cosmos. The notions are anthropomorphic, dualistic, and lack a reconciling principle.

The principle of scale is much easier to invoke. Size does matter in this sense: there are aggregated states of matter, and of energy, that are larger than us, and smaller than us. This is what we are actually developing a sensitivity to when we attempt to evolve consciously. We are becoming attuned to the realities and implications of scale.

As we engage in this activity, perhaps we can begin to take responsibility for our stewardship of the levels below us, the respect we have for our body, our cells, the biological world that we inhabit. By doing so, we may be able to intimate the attitude that creatures and consciousnesses who live on scales and levels larger, and more comprehensive, than ours have towards us.

We are repeatedly trapped by the literalism of our ordinary mind. The word "higher" gets used, and the next thing you know, we are flinging about other words like "an energy from above" and so on. This kind of literalism may distract us from a sensitivity that is far more comprehensive and penetrating than cosmic rays of love from heaven.

It's certain that the cosmic rays of love from heaven don't need to come from somewhere else; they are already in us. The fact that we can't sense them is due to the broken nature of our machine, not their presence in some other mythical location.

The process of becoming more aware is expanding our consciousness until we come into contact with the edge of that already existing inner potential, so that it can, by virtue of its own powerful osmosis, infuse us with its radiant love and infinite potential.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Water, Flour, Yeast, and ice

Happy Jan. 13, to all those who remember this as Mr. Gurdjieff's name day. Let's raise the Armangnac to him!

This morning, before the frost thawed, I was walking the famous dog Isabel in Tallman State Park at the top of the Palisades. It was just cold enough for the beginnings of ice to form on the ponds in the remains of the old ice making operation. Thin plates of ice created an extraordinary spontaneous geometry in the ephemeral gray shapes of gracefully curving feathers and precisely defined maple leaves, scattered across the surface of the black water.

How astonishing it all was! in some places, thin spikes of ice radiated out like swords, interrupting the scattered leaves and feathers. In between the shapes, black water alternated with the reflection of blue sky. Taken together, it formed a piece of abstract art too refined for men to create or comprehend.

The maple leaf shapes intrigued me in particular, because the forest in the area is predominately swamp oak and sweet gum (which makes complete sense, given how wet it is.) It seemed as though nature had decided to add a missing type of leaf to the assortment.

As I inspected the maple leaf shapes more closely, I realized that they were incomplete representations of typical water crystals -- that is, fragments of six sided shapes. It reminded me that when water forms a relationship with its self as it solidifies, the relationship creates a six sided form.

This struck me at once, because this morning I had intended to write a post about the traditional allegory of spiritual development as "baking bread." Some of you will probably recall that Mr. Gurdjieff referred to this on a number of occasions.

Picking up the theme I have been developing for some weeks now, the analogy of baking bread can be likened to the blending of the three classes of energy within the body: inner energies as perceived and stored within the organism, outer energies that arrive through the senses, and higher energies from above.

In our own case, the water that is used to bake bread represents the inner energies. Water is liquid, supple, constantly in movement: it carries things from one place to another, and it makes life possible. The energy that flows within the six inner centers is our water.

This provides a beautiful analogy to the natural world, because water is the foundation of all organic life as we know it. Once again, we see that biology and the natural sciences provide us with instruction that relates to inner development: the inherent property of water is that its crystalline relationship is formed as a six sided structure. This relates directly to the Enneagram and to multiplications: to me, it suggests that water has an inherent property that relates to the flow of energy within the system. We can infer that throughout the universe, water has this rather special property which is completely unique, and makes things possible that cannot be done any other way.

So water truly is a sacred substance, not just because we need it, but because, from a molecular point of view, it is an essential part of the emotional structure of the universe, in the same way that the six inner flowers of man form the emotional structure of the Being.

Not coincidentally, quartz also has a six sided habit, and other extraordinary special properties, including one electrical on in particular which is being used at this instant to make the medium by which we are exchanging this information functional, but we will stick to bread for the time being.

Just as water is an essential ingredient for our bread, so also is flour. Flour is the coarse, physical substance of impressions of life that are added to the water within through the five senses. If water can be likened to the emotions, perhaps we can liken this to the body.

As we all know, all you get when you add flour to water is paste. It is capable of forming a powerful kind of glue which can hold things together, but it is relatively inedible.

It is possible to bake that paste and create the unleavened bread of Jewish tradition: the bread that the Israelites ate when they fled Egypt. This is bread that has gone through all of the processes that are necessary, but is still missing something, and does not quite satisfy, even though it sustains.

In order to get the bread that we view as "complete" bread, one has to add yeast. In our analogy of inner, outer, and higher, we can see that the yeast is the higher energy that comes from the law of three. We can liken this to intelligence, intelligence, intention, and attention.

By itself, the energy formed by the six inner flowers is magnificent, but it becomes a static -- crystalline -- in the same way that water and quartz form crystals that are magnificent and beautiful, but permanent and inflexible. (Perhaps the images of gems of incomparable beauty found in the famous Buddhist Flower Ornament scripture might be likened to a description of these states.)

And of course, by itself, flour alone -- that is, the impressions of ordinary life -- is "flat," and separated into many tiny grains. Even though taken together it forms something whole, there is no cohesion, no connecting tissue. The only way to form a real connection between the particles is to add water and to knead the dough, until gluten appears.

Nonetheless, bread will not rise unless yeast is added. Now, of course, bread never actually "rises" -- what bread does is expand in all directions if yeast is active. In other words, yeast takes a two dimensional substance, our flat unleavened bread, and adds a third dimension. It provides an expansion of perspective.

From the biological point of view, yeast itself is a living organism-- consciousness, an inherent property of organic awareness. This is the organic sense of being. Added to the work of the inner flowers, and the impressions from the outer world, the attention and the intention provided by organic awareness, consciousness, allow for an expansion of the substance of Being.

This is far from a complete process, of course. Bread has to be baked before it is complete. for that, fire is needed. So even if we spent a long time preparing the dough, and do it correctly, we cannot get bread until we have been tested in the fires of suffering.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What is "inner?"

I'm noticing this as a consequence of e mails and discussions this week with friends in various lines of work: we all use the word "inner" a great deal.

Like all words, it's so readily "understood," comes so easily to the tongue, that we believe we do understand it.

As with most words, though, there is more to it than meets the ear.

The majority of people understand this word "inner" primarily from a psychological point of view. Of course that's about the best we can do, initially; it's all the "ordinary" or formatory mind is capable of. This understanding is chiefly formed from the assimilation and comparison of world-data- an activity deeply related to the practice of self-observation.

Such data is gathered through the five ordinary senses.

This, of course, is good-very good- and yet even as we gratefully savor the rewards of travelling this path, we must eventually find the crossroads of the soul. Thereby we may deepen our practice and turn it in a new direction.

At this crossroads, a new understanding of the word "inner" arises, not where we began--from analysis--but experience of life, as gathered by the six extraordinary senses. It arises from being clothed within not "a" body "of" experience, but "the" body "and" experience.

Understanding of this kind has to be born from the mind of the organism, a different mind than the formatory mind. It does not emerge within intellect, but supports it; it does not maintain aloofness from the body, but is intimate with it. Not clinical, but sensory; not formed, but always in the process of forming. Not autocratic and judgmental, but inclusive, and-in contrast to our ordinary mind- deeply loving.

Each moment within this "other" mind's experience of mind is organic, that is, rooted within cells and resident within the blood. It arises from the very pulse of the body, the intake of oxygen, the vibrations arising from the work of world-creation itself. It does not think about Working; it is the Work. It is mindfulness itself: not to think, but to be organically filled with mind.

To become inner is to taste, to touch, to dwell. To inhabit this creature and this creation physically, to contact the hard wood of being with the deft tactile abilities of sensation, rather than the slapdash, sticky varnish of intelligence.

Here we encounter the "greater mind." A mind less partial.

..."Ah, yes," you think now. "But Lee-you are always thinking! Look at all the stuff you write about. Isn't there a contradiction here?" And, perhaps, the satisfaction of a clean bust fills you. There's nothing left to do here but read me my rights, you think, with perhaps just a wee bit of extra emphasis on that part about remaining silent.

Before we slap on the cuffs, however, consider the following.

I spent some time this week with an extraordinary young woman from India named Gurpreet, about whom you will probably hear more. She asked me why, if the crux of understanding is- as she rightly comprehends it-experiential, do I spend time analyzing and expounding on structure?

It is quite true- to understand the greater mind requires the experiential, not just the intellectual. Nonetheless, we must also use the ordinary mind-as I said to Gurpreet-

if we do not use it, we will lose it.

Much of the depravity we see exercised in today's world stems not just from a failure to be in contact with the inner, with the organic sense of being and the greater mind- it also stems from a failure to integrate, to incorporate, so that our several minds work in conjunction, rather than solo, or in opposition.

The ordinary mind has a good purpose, and real work before it: it is there to help develop comprehension, not usurp or impede it. The mind, the body, they are our tools. Let's remain mindful of the adage: a bad workman always blames his tools. Worldly intelligence is not a casual proposition, to be easily maligned or lightly discarded. There is little enough of it to begin with.

One of Gurdjieff's five "obligolnian strivings" is to constantly work to understand the laws of world-creation and world maintenance. In this Work, structure and formlessness both have their vital place, as do inner and outer. The process of development is a process of integration, not elimination.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Three Classes of Energy

In considering the question of energy that we discover within us, and the energies that we become sensitive to in life, people generally discuss "an energy," or "energy," or "the energy," as though energy were somewhat generic, or there were only one kind. In my experience, even with people that work with energy a good deal, the subject is treated as a vague one.

This in contrast to Gurdjieff's exhortations that we study such energies and attempt to understand them in more detail.

Gurdjieff maintained that the human body experienced various kinds of energy through the action of various kinds of hydrogens. Despite our rather sloppy tendency to "lump" it together verbally, it seems fairly clear that there is not one kind of energy; instead, man finds himself operating in a field of various energies.

We know from the world of science that there are a number of different kinds of energy: for example, there is electromagnetic energy, the energy of photons, kinetic energy, and so on. We have radio waves, light waves, and (presumably) gravity waves. These are all external kinds of energy that can, excepting gravity, be directly measured using machines.

In the same way, the energies that are depicted within the enneagram--inner energies--are actually several kinds of inner energies,, which vary substantially according to rate of vibration, in the same way that even though colors are all colors, red is not blue or green. Man is also a machine designed for and capable of taking the measure of these various energies.

The ennegram divides energy further, into two different major classes: energies belonging to the law of three, and energies belonging to the law of seven. Each of these energies has different specific characteristics, actions, and effects depending on where it manifests within the octave.

I explained this idea of dual energies in my essay on the enneagram in 2003. Over the past four years, I have added a good deal of material that elaborates on that effort, much of which is available as a group of essays on the website.

As I was falling asleep last night, conducting at the same time a study of the inner sensory state, I saw something that relates to the entire question.

This "something" requires an addendum to the enneagram essay to correct it, or, rather, expand on it in a rather important way. The essay as it stands is essentially partial in its reference to "dual energies," as you will see below.

It's my habit to let work as it was completed stand, rather than to "repaint" it, so I am not going to rewrite the essay. If I do anything along those lines, it will require an entirely new piece of work which I am not up to yet. There is another project on the table regarding Paul's letter to the Romans which will take some time to complete. So I am expanding this additional point about the enneagram in the blog for the time being.

In the essay, I explain that there are two kinds of energy depicted in the diagram. It might be more accurate to say that there are two classes of energy belonging to the two different laws in the diagram. In so far as the statement goes, it is correct. However, it overlooks a third class of energy that I have been writing about at some length over the last couple of months. That is the energy of ordinary impressions gathered through the five senses.

Although many esoteric works repeatedly warn us that we are almost exclusively under the influence of the "first" set of energies as gathered through the five senses, this set of energies is absolutely essential to the total equation. It is quite necessary to "have" it. Because of man's persistent literalism, the arts of abstinence, deprivation, and renunciation have become stock religious practices, but none of these appear to sufficiently address the underlying issue.

It is, rather, non-attachment to this class of energy that needs to be practiced.

This first class of energies happens to be completely missing from the visual diagram of the enneagram. Gurdjieff himself pointed out that a good deal of the material in this diagram could not be properly used because the diagram was incomplete- significant elements were absent. This energy of the five outer senses is one of those elements.

So, there is not one, there are not two--there are actually three types of energy interacting within the range of man's conscious experience.

The first kind of energy, not depicted in the diagram, is the energy of input from the five senses -- the course, or outer, impressions of life. The body's five senses are physical tools--a receiving apparatus--which collect those outer impressions.

The second kind of energy, which is depicted in the diagram, belongs to the six inner flowers, i.e., the chakras, or, as Gurdjieff would rightly have it, the structure of emotional center. This gathers impressions that belong to the inner being, and are of a much finer nature. The inner structure is capable of receiving vibrations that are not directly related to those that the five outer senses collect. They do, however, interact with them in vital ways.

The work of the multiplications in the enneagram is the progressive bringing together of the structure so that inner impressions can be experienced and gain enough weight in a man's life to counteract the overwhelming effect of outer impressions. (Gurdjieff's touchy-feely description of this process is aptly expounded in his idea of "personality feeding essence.")

In this way, a man's consciousness can eventually become balanced between the two sets of impressions, ultimately discovering how to inhabit the middle way.

Then we have the third kind of energy, depicted by the triangle in the diagram, which comes from a higher level, and is definitely needed to assist complete development of the inner octave.

It makes perfect sense that there would be three different kinds of energy at work in this complete picture. We see the Law of three at work here in the sense of holy affirming, holy denying, and holy reconciling elements. These three sets of energies are dynamic and interactive, and, as Gurdjieff pointed out on more than one occasion, can interchangeably play the three roles under different sets of conditions.

My own impression is that the subject deserves a great deal more practical study, which definitely needs to be conducted within the most active moments of life.

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



Lurking, low, descending even further
Down at the base of things where dragons spread their obfuscating claws,
That's where to dwell.

Nose-diving, archiving, cataloging
Point by point
And organelle by organelle.

Then trace each root and clip it,
Become a bonsai master of sensation
Lurking, low, to seep and creep, inhabit cracks
Where only silken spider-threads of love can fit.

Spelunker, caver, down-to-earther
Breath by breath, nirvana-birther
By the twitching of my thumbs-

Something sacred this way comes.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Expounding the enneagram

One of my friends pointed out yesterday that I failed to sufficiently sketch out the inference of a connection between the idea of "inner circumcision" and the enneagram.

I agree with him. The one post was insufficient.

Those who read the blog regularly will realize that there have been a number of posts over the past two months dealing with the subject of the development of emotional center, sealing the vessel, and inner and outer impressions. Taken together, the material in these posts probably provides an adequate background for understanding the thrust of the comments made yesterday.

I will, however, attempt to expound a bit more about the analogies I see between the idea of "inner" or "spiritual" circumcision and the act of "completing the ennegram."

When I refer to the "completing of the inner enneagram" I refer to invoking the action of attention, intention, and discipline to assist in developing the inner flow of energy according to law.

To complete the enneagram, it is first necessary to discard everything external to it.

This means, specifically, the material that "leaks" both out of it and into it due to incomplete, or unsealed, inner connections. In order to become whole in an inner sense- impartial, as Gurdjieff refers to it--the inner vessel must "close the circle" so that the energy that develops within it can complete its circulation without constant interference from horizontal outside influences.

The outside influences
which are necessary for the development of the octave are, of course, vertical ones, but they cannot intervene effectively if the integrity of the inner vessel is constantly disrupted by coarse, or lower, forces.

Because we are so thoroughly attached to the input of the five external senses, it requires a considerable period of time in the study of the inner state to begin to understand the difference between our inner senses and our outer senses. The inner senses are a muscle which has severly atrophied through an almost complete lack of use. We need, for a time, to do everything within our power to turn away from the outer senses in order to allow the inner senses time to strengthen.

The practice of self-observation serves as an initial exercise for this purpose, since it turns the mind towards a separation from the five physical senses and the attendant outer attractions, at which point discrimination may eventually begin, as experiences which objectify the arrival of outer impressions multiply. In addition, exercises in relaxation, sensation, and inner attention help men and women to develop a greater sensitivity to the organism's already existing equipment for the sensation of inner impressions.

We should note that Mr. Gurdjieff wrote several lengthy essays about how man perpetually falls victim to outside influences. His inference in each case is that a man who is ruled by the outer has no real possibilities.

This is because he is not whole. The inner has been thoroughly polluted by his outer state, instead of remaining separate so that it can complete the work it was made for. The work of alchemical containment is analogous to a work of circumcision in that the outer must be cut apart and cast aside, isolating the "spiritual reproductive system" from the corrupting influences of the outer world.

Literal interpretations of this idea throughout the ages have suggested that an actual renunciation of the worldly is the preferred method by which to achieve purity. This mistaken impression replaces the necessary inner work with an essentially useless outward piety, which finds its expression in religions everywhere-- even in the Gurdjieff work itself. Literalism produces a satisfyingly convincing outward show of development that nonetheless relates only to earthly matters. Both Christ and St. Paul take repeated pains to exhort against exactly this kind of behavior.

In my own opinion, the true meaning of spiritual circumcision, which literally means nothing more than "cutting in a circle," has to relate to the action of isolating, hermetically sealing, and then completing the inner circle represented by the enneagram. As such, we must understand the diagram as a picture of our inner physical state and its objective possibilities if we wish to work with it at all.

Readers interested in a more in-depth discussion of this question should refer to the entire group of Ennegram essays on for a more comprehensive development of the ideas.

Because this is an ongoing study, this material should not be considered as any kind of conclusive answer to the questions posed by the enneagram. The study of the diagram is, in the end, an inner exploration which must be undertaken by each individual according to their own instincts, interests, needs, and abilities.

We explore together; we ask together; we question together.

If we do not share, we do not progress.

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

Inner and Outer: Commentary on Paul's letter to the Romans, Chapters 1 and 2

We have visited the question of the difference between inner and outer impressions on a number of occasions recently.

Paul addresses what may be the same question in chapters 1 and 2 of his letter to the Romans.

It is all too easy to interpret Romans 1: 24-32 as a condemnation of homosexuality and other aberrant sexual practices. However, I believe Paul takes considerable pains to explain that in these two chapters, he is speaking about the difference between inner practice -- the receiving of impressions through the six inner flowers, impressions "sent from God" -- and outer practice -- that is, receipt of impressions through the five ordinary senses.

He specifically cites the incorrectness of mixing an understanding gained through inner impressions with outer impressions:

"21. Because of that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imagination, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things." (King James version, Romans 1: 21-23)

On the surface, this appears to be about the practice of idolatry, but given the standard early Christian practice of depicting fish, birds, lions, lambs, and so on as symbols of Christ--which was never condemned--, I feel it is unlikely that Paul is referring to the using of such imagery per se. Instead, he appears to be discussing man's habit of turning inner experience against itself, literalizing it, and making it an object of the five outer senses. In this sense he is arguing against what the Buddhists call attachments.

Paul was probably well aware of the danger of misinterpretation of his allegory, because in the very next chapter, the first verse warns people not to use his words as an excuse for judging other people's habits.

"1. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things." (KJV, Romans 2:1)

Paul finally wraps up the discussion about judgment, law, Jews, Gentiles, and circumcision at the end of chapter 2 by making it quite clear that the circumcision he speaks of has nothing to do with the standard outward Jewish practice of physical circumcision:

"28. For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (KJV, Romans 2: 28-29)

We are perhaps reminded here of Solomon's wrap up at the end of Ecclesiastes--all of which is critical analysis and condemnation of our intense attachment to outwardness--in which he says:

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." (KJV, Ecclesiastes, 12:13)

Reviewing all this left me with the question of exactly what circumcision "of the heart and in the spirit" means.

As it happens, being engaged in the audio editing of Beelzebub, I am working on the chapter "Beelzebub in America," and there is a passage discussing the practice of circumcision in some detail. Since the subject itself does not come up that much in esoteric literature, it must have some specific significance we have not considered in enough detail.

One of the most obvious possibilities here is that we are looking at an analogy which teaches us that we must shed the outer in order to stand naked before God in our most intimate parts. I think we can all agree that makes a great deal of sense. If this is correct, the choice of circumcision as a symbol contains some magnificent understandings that relate, surprisingly enough, to the enneagram, which is not a place one would usually look when discussing circumcision.

The act of circumcision involves encirclement; in an act of encircling, moving in a circular motion, one cuts the foreskin, thereby separating the outer from the inner. The outer is discarded, leaving only the essential part: the reproductive organ. And it is this reproductive organ itself that stands naked before God. We see therefore that the idea of circumcision mirrors the idea of completing the enneagram, sealing the inner vessel.

We may suppose that circumcision "of the heart" may well have something to do with eliminating all that is emotionally unnecessary except the worship of God itself--which is precisely what Solomon advocates in the last lines of Ecclesiastes--, and laying the heart bare to accept the "reproductive power of God," that is, the implicit power of Godhood made flesh through the Holy Spirit, which is what Christ called everyone to. We see here an inference that there must be an emotional cleansing within.

Circumcision "in the spirit" refers to a location. I believe that taken in the whole, the phrase "of the heart and in the spirit" comes very close to referring to a specific kind of yoga work involving a specific location and a specific part within the being. We need look no further than the yogic symbol of the linga, or male phallus, to know that reproductive parts have been used as an allegorical reference for spiritual work since ancient times. The fact provides one more peculiar and provocative link between Paul's letters and traditional yogic practice.

I know some will argue it isn't possible that Paul could have been referring to anything like this. Of course, it is quite possible. Jesus Christ clearly taught of an esoteric set of principles; as an initiate, Paul had to be familiar with them. The very fact that he refers to "inner circumcision" implies that he was speaking in parables, the same way Christ did. And for my own part I believe it is patently impossible that a man at Paul's- or Christ's- level could possibly have remained ignorant of yoga, a long-standing religious school whose practices had to have been known all over the middle East by the time he was born.

We know that the enneagram represents two specific sacred laws within the universe. We also know that circumcision was a sacred law within the Jewish community. So when Paul refers to "inner circumcision," he definitely refers to following sacred law according to inner principles. For myself, the inner study of the enneagram exemplifies exactly this kind of activity.

When we take these two chapters together, we also see that any interpretation of Christianity that insists on literalism in biblical text can only sustain itself through a willful invocation of ignorance.

When we consider Gurdjieff's explanation of the practice of circumcision, we encounter a good deal more interpretive difficulty. I don't have room to examine possibilities in this post, lest it become overly long, but I do have the following observations.

Gurdjieff had a habit of burying his analogies deep within apparently reactionary diatribes against contemporary morals and sexual practices. Consider, for example, his insistence that aberrant sexual practices excluded a man from the possibility of development, as recounted in "In Search of the Miraculous."

This stands in such stark contrast to his known association as the teacher of a group of professed lesbians that we can only conclude the man followed the adage "do as I do, not as I say." As if that were not enough, Gurdjieff's own sexual peccadilloes amply demonstrate a flexible attitude toward sexual morality.

Those who try to argue these facts away are invoking the same willful ignorance we see from those who would like to interpret the Bible literally. Of course, there are such people, and they are welcome to their opinions. I prefer to use my mind in a more concise manner.

In doing so, when I examine Gurdjieff's discussion of circumcision and masturbation, I am forced to conclude that he is burying a very serious teaching about inner work within what appears to be an obvious outer circumstance. I believe that he specifically chose controversial subjects and said controversial things about them in order to provoke people. Using this clever mechanism, reactionaries and dogmatists are reflexively turned away, their attitudes themselves effectively depriving them of the opportunity to penetrate his teachings.

In this sense, in order to understand Gurdjieff's more outrageous and inflammatory passages--which are not by any means in short supply--, we have to do what he always told his pupils to: throw out every association we bring to the matter, dismiss the obvious, and open ourselves to a new possibility.

In doing so, we have to use all of our parts -- not only the one that produces the emotional reaction, which is so easy to have and to obey, but also the gut instinct of our body and the intelligence of our mind, which will both tell us--as any serious Gurdjieff student already knows--that the man was never as stupid as he appears to be in passages like this.

His exact meaning may be difficult to penetrate, but I believe Paul's letter to the Romans gives us a point of entry to the question.

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

Monday, January 7, 2008

within this life

This photograph is sure to awaken questions in some readers. It's part of my own collection-a very unique geode I collected many years ago from a glacial moraine on Long Island.

I like this geode, because from the outside it is coarse, pebbly, and looks like a very ordinary stone. Inside, however, there is a rooted structure ( it may very well be a petrified root that originally penetrated the clay and soil where the geode formed) that is hidden from view, but creates an astonishing mystery and beauty that cannot be seen from the outside.

Perhaps that is one of our essential problems. We perpetually attempt to perceive and create beauty from the outside in, instead of the inside out.

Gurdjieff used to tell Ouspensky that his problem was that he was seeking beauty, whereas Gurdjieff was seeking consciousness. There may be some truth to that. However, the two are not truly separated.

Consciousness exists in order to experience and perceive beauty. Beauty can only arise after consciousness exists. Therefore, in order to discover beauty, we need to be within ourselves first, and then within life.

True consciousness originates within, from a hidden place, where the roots run deep, and emerges to contact the outer senses. It is here that the experience of beauty arises, in the point of contact that we call awareness.

With that little soliloquy, I will move on to the subject of the day. I am in Germany, at the textile trade show in Frankfurt. Today I took a walk through the streets of the city on my way to buy porcelain at the Rosenthal store.

As some of you know, I grew up in Germany, so many associations arise within me whenever I revisit the country. Among other things, a capacity to speak German colloquially and fluently which I almost never use emerges as if by magic. I repeatedly have experiences where the Germans interacting with me have little or no idea that I am a foreigner. When they hear me speak, they just instantly assume I'm German, and that's that. This just goes to show how utterly deceiving appearances can be. Just because it looks like a German, and sounds like a German, doesn't mean it's a German.

It's the same way with Gurus.

Anyway, I find myself immersed in the direct impressions which are my life. And once again, these impressions are the ones that form what we call "Germany." Nonetheless, these impressions don't mean "Germany" to me. Yes, they mean this other language, these cobblestones, these signs and buildings and this atmosphere.


To me, it isn't "Germany," it is just--for lack of a better expression--"life of this particular aspect." I know it has this label "Germany," but that label is practically meaningless in the face of impressions that fall into the body and enrich the senses, and even cells themselves.

Is the sky "Germany?" Are the majestic pruned trees against skyscrapers "Germany?" I can plaster the word all over everything I see, but it doesn't mean anything compared to the experience. In fact, it cheapens it.

There is something mysterious and magnificent and remarkable within everything, everywhere, and as I travel across the world I see that this special quality--it touches on the question of what the very name of God is--lies within each event and circumstance. For example, as I sit here dictating this in my hotel room, I see a rubber band on the steno pad to my right. It might as well be "Germany." The label does not tell me anything.

What it is it is miraculous. The object itself and its juxtaposition with paper and the few brief words I jotted down on it two hours ago become a koan of inestimable depth.

I cannot penetrate this. I can breathe it in, but I cannot be within it. I can only be within myself, and receive it.

So here I am, within this life, experiencing sets of impressions related to things that happened to me more than 30 years ago, and recognizing that this class of impression--like my impressions of China--has become a Leitmotif (leading theme) for what I call my life.

I am within this life. I do not know why I find myself here, or what it will be like when it ends. I only know that to bring myself to this moment--with an effort that begins inside, where consciousness arises, and then contact the outside--to experience the true mystery of the taste, touch, sense, smell, and sound of the inner meeting the outer,


that's bigger than Germany.

One last note. I have added a page of my friend William Adie's paintings to the website. Bill does some terrific, unique, and unusual work, and it's well worth checking out his page. He has been engaged in a personal search for his entire life that is unique in my experience and encompasses everything he does.

When I was younger, and needed intelligent advice from outside the family, Bill was always the first man I turned to. He stands as a personal example for me of the truth that an Obyvatel-- an ordinary man who just sets out to do no more than be truly ordinary and responsible-- often achieves far more, and harms far less, than the man with lofty ideals and goals.

For a number of years now, Bill has been experiencing a steady loss of ability to speak and communicate effectively. His stalwart acceptance and his absolute positivism in the face of this irreversible disease are extraordinary and inspiring. God, grant us all this kind of courage when our moment comes.

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

Sunday, January 6, 2008

keeping secrets

I make a practice of trying to look situations right in the eyeball and calling a spade a spade. I'm about to do that here.

I am certain some people I know won't agree with this post, but it asks some questions I believe we all tend to avoid.

There is a tendency in esotericism to believe in keeping secrets. The hoarding of information, lore, and technique is an age-old practice.

Part of it originally stemmed from the strictly practical fact that knowledge that fell outside of accepted practices in ancient societies was branded as witchcraft. Esoteric practitioners were thus literally at risk of their life. Religion, as John Dominic Crossan has pointed out, is in some senses a form of state-sanctioned magic, and magic practiced outside the control of the state is a threat to authority.

Thankfully, in most western societies, we've outgrown such medieval notions, and hence—one would think—the need for secrecy has abated.

The need, however, for individuals to exercise control and power has not abated whatsoever; and the practice of keeping secrets has continued in esoteric circles.

Most of this habit of hiding things stems from fear- a fear of loss of control and a fear of giving up power. In addition, of course, hierarchies that hide "secrets" and confine access to knowledge and information to a select group of special initiates do so out of an arrogance that presumes they know what is best for people.

In the minds of such people, they are certain they are special enough to know what is "right" for others, what they should be exposed to. These individuals become self-appointed "protectors of truth," which makes them very special indeed- in their own minds.

The most unfortunate outward manifestation of this kind of narcissism ultimately ends in terror bombings; there may not seem to be a connection, but it all stems from the same narrow type of thinking.

In the open way, there can be no secrets. There isn't even a need for secrecy; actually, most people are not interested in the truth, one can put it directly in front of them and they simply ignore it. There's no need to hide things: better that they be presented openly, honestly, out in the light where everyone can measure them.

While sanctimoniously preaching to Ouspensky about secrecy, Gurdjieff himself made "secret" knowledge very public indeed when he introduced his followers to the enneagram- an ancient diagram that had been hidden in schools for generations. As such, he flouted both his own dubious advice and traditional conventions, opened the doors, and openly invited participation--even at the known risk of distortion of the ideas, which of course took place, and with vigor.

He did this, too, in his public demonstrations of movements, which attracted many people to his work.

All of this stands in marked contrast to the behavior of the formal Gurdjieff work's leaders following his death. The Work became more and more closed and protective, until it acquired an aura of secrecy unfortunately reminiscent of scientology. The efforts of the "inner circle" to "protect" information ultimately failed; today, the internet abounds with material that various power-possessing beings in the Work tried to control.

The situation deeply underscores the absolute futility of such behavior. After all, even the presumably “developed” masters who passed knowledge of the enneagram on to Gurdjieff called it wrong—after all, they trusted him with a long-standing, closely held secret, and he outed it. Furthermore, in the essay on “the Science of Idiotism” (attributed to Bennett), we discover that this understanding, too, was an esoteric practice Gurdjieff made known to his pupils even after he was specifically asked not to do so.

And then there was Gurdjieff's advice to steal secrets if one had to... subtly suggesting that he actually held the concept of secretism in a certain degree of contempt.

In the end, as is abundantly clear, even those who are considered to be “developed masters” are unable to know who can be trusted. Take, for example, the messy and embarrassing questions of succession that arose as a consequence of Trungpa’s lack of judgment about the quality of some of his followers. (Read “Dragon Thunder.”)

What can we conclude, but that every person who makes calls about what to hide and what not to hide, what to control and not to control, is falling victim to a vanity in which they presume to know?

As Gurdjieff said to Ouspensky, “To be able to keep a secret a man must know himself and he must be. And a man such as all men are is very far from this.” (In Search of the Miraculous, p. 15, Harcourt 1977.)

So we’re all in the same boat. The difference is, perhaps, simply one between those who know they are in the boat, and those who have convinced themselves that they are not.

In our collective effort to discover Being, perhaps we ought to recognize that to withhold, to refuse to share what might help others, is at its root paranoid and exclusionary.

Doesn't it seems as though Agape, the open-hearted practice of love and acceptance, must be founded on trust and fearlessness?

Are there alternatives?


One can always choose to aim for LESS than Agape, if that is what one wishes for. Perhaps those with such aims feel there are higher callings than love.

Personally, I believe that would demand less than is necessary, and offer less than is possible.

There is one other aspect to this question of secrecy. I believe that all the real secrets lie within a man, not outside him.

Once again it is the mistake of externalizing what should be internal, of mixing the lower with the higher, that leads men to think that control of outer circumstances can affect anything.

If you doubt me, and think men actually control anything, go out and stare at the milky way for a while. Contemplate it. After that, read Ecclesiastes.

Then come back, if you wish, and we’ll discuss exactly how big you think we actually are, and how very much you believe we can control.

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