Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cooperation versus Tyranny

Tonight I find myself in Seoul, Korea, launched on yet another business trip in Asia.

I've been engaged in reading three wildly different books over the past week, Super Cooperators by Martin Nowak, Taming Your Inner Tyrant, by Patty Llosa, and To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild. All three books, by the way, are highly recommended, although it is unlikely all three of them together will suit any single taste in reading. Nonetheless, for intrepid souls, I suggest you pick up all three, read them, and while doing so, try to follow the train of thought I am about to develop below.

It probably seems odd to suggest there might be a connecting thread tying together a book on evolutionary biology, a book on Jungian psychology and inner development, and a book on the first world war. Nonetheless, diversity itself sometimes provides the most unexpected connections.

Nowak proposes, rather convincingly, that cooperation is an essential feature in biological systems, and that situations where organisms form partnerships of cooperation frequently generate superior conditions for survival over those that engage in straight-out competition. One of the overarching principles Nowak has uncovered during his research is that in real-world situations, systems composed of many parts (i.e., displaying greater diversity) deliver bigger payoffs for cooperating organisms.

Patty Llosa offers us a candid, insightful, and in the end extraordinarily brave and touching account of her lifelong effort to reconcile the many different personas (or, as Gurdjieff might say, "I"'s) that inhabit her life. Exploring a wide range of Jungian techniques, and gradually discovering the inner courage required to engage in a dialogue with these different parts, she leads us down a path where we see that what appear to be inner "enemies" are in fact friends; some inner friends actually turn out to be enemies; and all the parts have important roles to play in a whole understanding of the self. (There's your diverse ecosystem.)

Hochschild gives us an extraordinarily down-to-earth, compassionate, and above all human point of view on the first world war, in a book that may be indispensable to our understanding of that event. In it, he recounts tales of British and French troops cooperating with German troops on the other side of the trenches to intentionally shoot above each other's heads, warn each other when officers were visiting so as to engage in apparently intense but in fact harmless battle, exchange gifts, and so on. These are real-world examples of cooperation where very real enemies make an intentional choice to engage in beneficial or altruistic behavior, in the expectation that it will be reciprocated.

One could tear a page right out of Nowak's book, lay it down next to this passage in “To End All Wars” (page 172) and see a textbook example of insights derived from mathematics and laboratory experiment, manifesting in real life. The enemy soldiers voluntarily cooperated amongst one another and found ways to transcend the tyranny of their superiors, their roles, and even the very the war itself.

All this does indeed have something to do with our inner development. As Patty so eloquently demonstrates, all of us are filled with competing and poorly integrated multiple personalites, each one of which is frustrated, misunderstood, and largely ignored by the other parts. This is (like Hochschild's example of cooperation between enemies during trench warfare) a real-world iteration of a theory--in this case, Gurdjieff's doctrine of I's. Only through her active exploration and engagement on many creative levels does Patty begin to discover (and show us) how these parts can all serve one another and a greater whole. It is, once again, an elegant example of a theory put into very real practice, and working according to Nowak's scientific principle of cooperation.

We seek to discover an inner wholeness, and this cannot take place without cooperation. It is the “survival of the fittest” mentality of our various competing inner parts that causes our destructive behavior, both towards ourselves and others. (It is hardly a stretch to point out that the same kind of mentality, in operation between different nations, led to the objective disaster of World War I.) I think Patty's book does a truly exceptional and eminently practical job of showing us how that takes place inside us.

What needs to replace this "fight to the finish" mentality within us is a compassionate integration of our various parts.

I've spoken before about the need to appreciate the immense depth of our life experience, and the unappreciated wholeness we contain–unappreciated because our sense of it is fractional and disorganized. One part sees another part; it critiques it, and the next time the part who was punished has its turn, it critiques right back. Once again–a page torn directly out of Nowak's book, and the classic game theory example of the prisoner's dilemma. Our inner parts punish one another reciprocally. Both Jung and Gurdjieff sought to offer man a vision of how to escape this parade of punishment and inner devaluation.

We desperately need to make our life whole. When Mr. Gurdjieff advised us to "use the present to repair the past and prepare the future," I am certain that he was--among other things-- calling us to this task of integration–a task that requires compassion, forgiveness, and cooperation–not directed outwardly, towards all of those around us, although that is also absolutely necessary–but compassion, forgiveness, and cooperation towards ourselves, in ourselves, for ourselves.

We can't heal without becoming more whole. Each of these books speaks to that question in a completely different way, but they all share a common goal: the rediscovery of what it means to be fully--not partially--human.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Lamb of God/ Joy and Sorrow

The Lamb of God

The subject of the Lamb of God has been much with me over the last three or four days. This phrase is, of course, taken from the Gospels–John the Baptist's pronouncement, Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29–yet it has a more specific esoteric meaning than the rather obvious symbolic value we habitually assign to it in the context of Christ, in his sacrificial role as the savior of mankind.

The sins of the world can be taken to mean my ordinary mind, my ordinary being–along with all of its attachments. I wish to become self aware, to self remember, because I need to develop a firm understanding of the nature of my attachment and my conditions. Only by making the awareness of my life and what I am whole can I possibly begin to understand it in a larger context, and see it as something that belongs specifically to this level... there is, after all, a tremendous dimension to my life through time and through space, and I don't understand that dimension. I see my life in fragments... and without seeing its wholeness, there is no possibility of acquiring enough humility to understand my true nature, or, as the Buddhists might say, the "face I had before I was born."

The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world is also an inner state–not just a symbol for an action that takes place outwardly in the material world. It represents an immense deepening of practice; a higher energy that we can become available to. It represents a real moment in the inner life, not an abstract principle. In relationship to that moment, one might say, the ordinary ("sinful") self becomes transparent. This expression is, of course, entirely inadequate as a description. But there you have it.

The phrase has found its way into the Christian liturgy and is used in many different prayers because it has a power well beyond the words. To invoke this prayer in a whole way, to deeply offer our selves–all of what we are–to the Lamb of God is to submit to a higher authority that comes from beyond our ordinary experience. If this prayer is made whole within a man, it may call to us that force which is called the peace of God which passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7.)

One can hardly lay out any formulas for this type of prayer. All that can be said is that a prayer must become a whole thing, not a partial expression, and that it must live and breathe until there is nothing but that prayer.

Those who have difficulty with overtly Christian practice may resist this understanding and fail to see that it is not actually a "Christian" practice after all; it is a fundamental practice; a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Hindu practice. It's an esoteric form of the deepest kind of yoga, if you will.

The Lamb of God is a force. Jesus Christ was a direct representative of that force, and embodied it, but the force did not belong to Christ, nor did it die with him. It is still available: it's created on and emanates from the level above us, and it is forever available to help free us from what Christians call “sin:” attachment to the ordinary mind and all of what we are on this planet, and within this level. That doesn't mean it removes what is in the ordinary mind or eliminates anything; rather, a transformation takes place. This is a transformation of relationship between higher and lower, where the lower knows its place.

Treating the truly esoteric phrases in Christian practice as abstractions, formulas, or ideas with strictly symbolic content is a grave mistake. Most of these forms, like Gurdjieff's own Lord have Mercy, represent actual inner action. Esoteric monastic practices understand this quite well, but have little or no contact with the modern world. Yet if that understanding remains hidden behind closed doors, it cannot serve in the way that is necessary now. I sense that we find ourselves at a critical juncture in the history of mankind and the planet, where certain doors must now be opened.

It occurs to me, as I say all of this, that I get a bit uneasy when speaking in public about these things, because they are so difficult to convey, and there is, categorically, no reason for anyone to believe that what I say is true. On top of that, I have no overt wish to be didactic; the intention is simply to share my own perspectives, understanding, and insights. As such, none of what is offered on the subject is intended as a teaching: it is a set of observations of my own, not really anything more. So one might say, when one encounters the material in this space, that it is nothing more than a notebook made public. Take it as such.

Joy and Sorrow

Pondering the question of the Lamb of God over the past few days led me to the question of joy and sorrow, which I interpret in such a narrow way on my own level. I have touched on this subject before, in the context of explaining that the universe is composed of a perfect balance of joy and sorrow; a physical and temporal experience of this truth is what produces religious ecstasies.

I only understand the words joy and sorrow in very relative terms. Everything about them is related to my experience on this level. There are some few works of art and music–I will not attempt to classify them as objective or subjective–which lead close to the edge of a higher experience of what these words mean, but they are extremely rare. Even then, they cannot possibly produce such an effect in someone who is not prepared. For the most part, we don't know at all what joy and sorrow are.

There are an absolute Joy and an absolute Sorrow, which together create the emotional center of gravity of the universe.

These two separate forces eternally seek to recombine, without losing their own essential character, into a single force. Of course, there must be a third, or reconciling, force that combines with Joy and Sorrow in order to realize the wholeness of the experience of Being and Emotion. This action represents a contact with the divine. (Gurdjieff might have called it contact with higher emotional center.) That third force is Consciousness, because Consciousness is the only medium through which such an expression can be recognized by an intelligence. Man's moving, emotional, and intellectual center mirror, on our own level, these three forces: Joy, Sorrow, and Consciousness. Here stands revealed one of the most essential aspects and actions of Gurdjieff's Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, and Holy Reconciling forces.

When I say Consciousness, I don't speak here of having some special kind of attention, some exercise, some yogic effort to storm the gates of heaven. I speak of a direct and unmediated Consciousness in a sense that transcends our understanding–a Consciousness that cannot be taken or created, but that simply is. This is original consciousness, not constructed: begotten, not made, in the sense that it is born in man, but never created by him.

Mankind originally evolved to be able to mediate, through material embodiment, a direct contact between absolute Joy and absolute Sorrow, so that they can become whole again, but the condition of our organism has deteriorated so greatly that to truly encounter this type of contact is essentially unbearable, and might even prove fatal in the absence of the right kind of preparation. One thing that it would, in any event, most certainly prove fatal to is our sense of egoism.

The absolute qualities of Joy and Sorrow that emanate from what Gurdjieff called the Most Holy Sun Absolute reach all of the material parts of the universe simultaneously, and perpetually. They are eternally present in all of creation. We are given life within the direct context of these conditions: the tragedy is that we cannot sense it.

We stand forever proximate to this truth, quivering on the edge of a radical understanding that could change everything for us, and yet we carry on as though the only thing to worry about were whether or not there is enough money in the bank.

There simply is not enough submission in man. That is the fact of it.

May our prayers be heard.

Friday, June 10, 2011


We live in a dense sea of what are essentially philosophical propositions about the nature of Being.

Everything that we examine is from within this mind. We are actually all but incapable of perceiving or understanding the irony of our position: the conviction that we can somehow understand what we are from within this mind, this moment, this condition, is 100%. Consequently, we are given to analyze, instead of live.

What disturbs me the most is that I perpetually sit within rooms and encounter conditions where this takes place under the pretense that it isn't taking place. As a recovering alcoholic (I will be 30 years sober this year) I know a good bit more about denial than most people, and I see it at work here, powerfully, and in all of its ordinary glory. Yes... we all live this way... I within my own life, you within yours.

In order to discover what Being is, it is necessary to become unminded.

That is an unfamiliar term–isn't it? We must become unminded. I use an unfamiliar term, because we seek an unfamiliar state. The state is more different than day is from night; day and night are in a dualistic relationship, a rightful and natural arrangement, but they are beholden one unto another. An unminded state is not beholden to anything but itself.

Undoubtedly, there are those who will read this and ask themselves on what authority I make these statements. After all, if I, too, live within this ordinary mind, how can I know anything about any other state? The general agreement is that we will only admit to one another–and perhaps even ourselves–that we have at best seen a snapshot or two, a very brief glimpse, of something other than this ordinary mind.

We are not to report that we have seen water run uphill.

These reports that we read about how a real manifestation of Being is (or can be) experienced are just reports; like sheets of paper that purport to tell you what a volcanic eruption is like. In this instance, a cataclysm is reduced to a flimsy object with a few marks on it, and all the pundits--that's us-- soberly nod their heads in agreement that this is, in fact, much like a volcanic eruption. The next thing you know, we pundits are reporting that these records in fact tell us how to replicate a volcanic eruption, that we can make one happen–or at least call one in with enough effort. We do this humbly, while bowing our heads, speaking in especially sincere low voices, and bogusly asserting that we believe we know nothing.

These activities would be amusing if it wasn't for how far off the mark they are. Something very different is called for. It is more than a snake shedding its skin; it is not new feathers on an old bird. We are all cowards in this enterprise, because we profess to seek revolution while we carefully support the regime. There is an inner politics underway in which every transaction is corrupted by the powers that be. If Gurdjieff's doctrine of multiple"I's" points to anything, it is this politics of being that attempts to trade off one part of what we are for another, and pass it off as meaningful change.

Ah, well. Enough of the condemnation. What is the search? Is anything actually possible?

Nothing can be gone at directly. When I point my camera at a bird, it flies away. To become unminded might require being forever prepared to be unminded, while being aware at all times that I am not so. There is a quality of unmindedness that hovers just beyond this quality of unmindfulness I inhabit. It is like a wise animal that lives out there on the edge of the woods I live in, watching me.

I can't practice mindfulness; the idea is wonderful, but it is a theoretical and philosophical proposition. If I am able to practice anything, I am able to practice a seeing of the fact that I am unmindful. Or, perhaps we could say, I am very mindful indeed, but it is the wrong kind of mind. I am 100% mindful in a way that is not at all helpful.

How could anyone suspect it? The ultimate aim of a practice of mindfulness is to become unminded. It transcends the dualistic understanding of either state. It represents a step into a new piece of territory.

Browsing through Meister Eckhart this morning–struck once again by the extraordinarily Buddhist nature of much of what he says, and its similarity to Jeanne de Salzmann's remarks in The Reality of Being–I came across the following passage in sermon number two, which is edited in order to create a more concise snapshot:

"It is a certain truth that time by its nature can touch neither God nor the soul. ... all time must fall away from that place where God is to be born in the soul, or she must have fallen away from time through her intentions and desires. ... This is the Now of eternity in which the soul knows all things new and fresh and present in God with the same delight which I have in those things that are present to me now. I recently read in a book (who can fathom this?) that God is creating the world even now as he did on the first day when he created the world. Here God is rich, and here is God's kingdom. The soul which is to be born in God must fall away from time as time must fall away from her." (Meister Eckhart–Selected Writings, translated by Oliver Davies, Penguin Classics 1994.)

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, June 6, 2011

light within darkness

Over the past week, because of some objectively tragic circumstances within my extended circle of friends, I reopened my copy of Meister Eckhart's Book of Divine Consolation.

Given the extraordinary nature of Meister Eckhart's entire oeuvre of work, it's surprising to me that we hear so little about him in modern times. It's safe to say that there are many passages in his deeply Christian sermons which bear a direct relationship to things one hears from the Buddhist masters, as well as statements about form and the nature of Being that are, in their essence, very nearly identical to things that Jeanne DeSalzmann said. Among them are many masterful, sophisticated, and enlightened arguments about the nature of Divine Will which any seeker might well find interesting.

One point Eckhart makes is that it is in man's very nature to be sinful. (I've explored the nature of sin in other essays on this site, comparing it to a lack of understanding or an existential condition of incarnation on this level. Anyway, it's not my intention to recapitulate that here.) The point here is that even sin–even our lack, our sleep, our inability to understand, and all of our transgressions–are of and willed by God, or, if you will, the Dharma. All of these things are an essential and inseparable aspect of the total oneness of truth (another subject Meister Eckhart tackles in his Book of divine consolation.)

What are the implications of this? In the context of acceptance of God's Will , Meister Eckhart proposes that we must live within the nature of our sin without resistance.

This kind of argument–which is certainly too sophisticated for the average medieval Christian mind, and probably even most contemporary ones–is the kind of thing that got him in trouble with the Inquisition. It can, after all, be interpreted to suggest that it's all right to sin, that there is no absolute morality–and Meister Eckhart most certainly did not believe that. It does, however, highlight how dangerous his arguments can be in the hands of the uninitiated.

In the Gurdjieff work, we frequently see that we must see without judgment. Seeing does not involve changing what we are, adjusting our behavior so that it is better, eliminating our negative emotions, being nicer people, and so on. In fact, any intentional attempt to manipulate our behavior so that we like what we see is far from the point. We are supposed to see what we are–whether we like it or not–that is the point. Self observation and self-knowledge cannot be gained from a manipulated system. The inhabitation of life needs to be direct, immediate, and non-manipulative.

This idea of seeing without judgment relates closely to the idea of inhabiting our sinfulness with an attitude of objectivity. We inhabit this metaphorical “darkness” of our sleep with an element of light, that is, a thin ray of consciousness, of something that sees what we are, even as we are what we are. Meister Eckhart points out that here we may catch a glimpse of what John meant when he spoke about "true light shining in the darkness" (John 1:5) and what St. Paul meant when he said that “virtue is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9.)

We are not meant to fix anything. We are, like all the souls in Dante's purgatory, expected to endure and experience our sinful nature, our lack of presence, our inability, deeply and thoroughly, with the greatest possible humility and an increasing understanding and remorse. The condition we are in is just.

This very process is what opens us to forces that might help to effect a change–a change we are unable to mediate ourselves.

Two striking remarks I gleaned from my reading this weekend, both taken from Meister Eckhart–selected writings (Oliver Davies, Penguin Classics, 1994) are as follows:

In short, if anything is to be receptive and to receive, it must be empty. (p. 69. )

Therefore there is an inner work which neither time nor space can support or contain and in which there is something which is of the divine and akin to God and which, similarly, is beyond all time and space. (p. 75.)

Given these statements, and other remarkable observations, it's a good thing that the church was unfamiliar with texts from Zen Buddhism during the Middle Ages. Meister Eckhart's work seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to Dogen's Shobogenzo and other Buddhist texts of revelation.

Had the church authorities been more aware of this, the heresy charges might have stuck.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Perhaps we don't understand the difference between higher forces and lower forces.

Many years ago, while I was living in Georgia, I mentioned to the minister at my church that we seem to spend a great deal of time trying to pull the Lord down to us, instead of lifting our hearts and souls unto heaven.

The point is that these two levels don't really mix. They are not mixed. They interpenetrate; this is not, however, the same as mixing. Each level is distinct unto itself, even though levels are built from the levels below them.This separation between levels is both intelligible and necessary. Not only that, it isn't subject to violation, even though we seem to have a consistent wish to somehow employ the forces from a higher level to benefit us on this one.

All of this occurs to me because of the sensation that I had about a half an hour ago. I took coffee out into the backyard and took a look at the nepeta (catnip) blooming in our rock wall.

The impression was vivid and distinct. It was not visual: it was one of feeling. The lavender color of the catnip contained, within its beauty, an enormous amount of sorrow. This phenomenon is on the order of emanation: not a wave–not a particle–

A presence.

Now, it may sound odd to hear that: after all, why would anyone associate sorrow with beauty? This doesn't really make sense on our level–beauty is supposed to be joyful, wonderful, and create feelings of positivity. Yet I see there is an essential quality to it that comes from a higher level, and this is connected to something quite different. Beauty is, in all of its glory and perfection, actually an expression of the sorrow of His Endlessness. It was created specifically for that purpose: it represents a manifestation of the highest possible principle.

Our organism has essentially lost the ability to sense this truth. When conditions are right, if a man works, he may become open to such influences and begin to sense according to the aim and purpose he was created for, but this is relatively rare. Those of us who engage in inner work–no matter whether we are Christians, Buddhists, Gurdjieffians, Muslims, or what have you–may occasionally be given the privilege of such a sensation. It is in moments such as this that we see the world is quite different than what we think it is.

That is, after all, the problem: we don't live in the world, we think about living in the world.

The level from which the sorrow of His Endlessness emanates is quite distinct from our own level: nonetheless, every single object, event, and circumstance on this level arises directly from that sorrow, which lies at the heart of creation. Once again, the best place to begin to acquire a taste of a taste of this question is in the chapter “The Holy Planet Purgatory” found in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson.

In the end, it all comes down to the wind in the trees; the amount of moisture in the air; bees winging their merry way through a morning ray of sunlight, and the catnip in the driveway.

The color of the catnip in the driveway. That, and every leaf and spire of its substance.

I am here, incarnate on this level: this manifestation, in its current place and circumstance, is irrevocable. My potential place as a bridge between this level and something higher than myself is a privilege to be earned, not a right to be taken; any ability to sense the presence of the Lord in all His proximate glory is a Grace granted, not an action taken.

And all of that other level, the one above me? I know it not. A mere brush with it, effortlessly and almost casually encountered, reveals how very little I understand, and how utterly dependent I am upon the forces from a level above me to help me engage in the conscious labor and intentional suffering that Mr. Gurdjieff advised us was necessary-- if we wished to become whole.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On the question of substance

The cotton wood trees are setting seed, and it is drifting through the air around the house like little snowflakes. People in the neighborhood have decided to mow their lawn this afternoon; because of the unique configuration of our households (built at the base of a rather large ridge) the lawns are tiny, yet it seems to take forever to mow them. The noise goes on and on.

I have been sitting here for almost an hour and made three or four false starts on the post. The fact is that there are so many things I could say; yet the wish is to say something of substance, something that comes from the heart, and that isn't always so easy. My energy levels are low because I was up late last night; there is material here, but it can't be squeezed out. It is in far more of a receptive state, and it seems fair enough not to provoke the situation.

What we attempt is material, not psychological. It's necessary to gain a firm understanding of that–an understanding, not a knowledge. The question of materiality has to become quite practical. With that understanding, the materiality of impressions needs to be appreciated, and the sufficiency of impressions must also be appreciated. There is nothing passive in taking in impressions, if they are understood as food. Approaching this question alone with enough attention can be a whole work.

As I have mentioned before, we were specifically designed to take in impressions of nature. That is our purpose; our entire organism is finely tuned to do that, using many different sensory tools. It's worthwhile to ask ourselves the question of why we evolved that way; it's worthwhile to understand, at least intellectually, that if we fail to do this work, we have in a sense done nothing according to the natural order we are supposed to serve–and we have also done nothing whatsoever in accordance with the divine nature which expressed us, as agents of its own wish.

These questions are intimately tied not just to religion, but biology. Man's mind has perversely decided that it can separate itself from our biological nature without any legitimate consequences, and the results are all around to be seen. These outer results are physical and disastrous. What is more difficult to see is that this separation has created an equally polluted and destructive inner landscape relative to the development of the soul. That is a much more subtle thing that can't be put on display on PBS specials. Yet it is a fact–the outer condition of our relationship with the planet is a direct reflection of the failure of our inner relationship.

Understanding ourselves as biological organisms can begin with sensation, but it must run through the entire range of sensory capabilities in order to become whole. This is one of the aims of three centered work–we are not waking up just to our mind, we are waking up to all of our parts, to the complete physical expression of our being, mediated through this organism.

In a certain sense, the majority of our activities are misplaced. We race about doing this, that and the other thing, with little or no attention to the fact that we are on a planet, breathing its gasses; that we are an integral part of what is around us, not separated from it. This most essential experience of life is being extinguished at our collective peril.

A real experience of nature–of our own nature, and its relationship to nature at large–a la Gurdjieff, not Thoreau ( although I do not have anything against Thoreau, far from it!) provides a very great deal of food. This is unsurprising, seeing how specific the sense and aim of our evolution has been. Like all of organic life, we are designed as sensory tools.

Some of these questions may well bear a relationship to the material presented in the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory, found in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson. This potential relationship, however, ought to be pondered carefully and experienced as deeply as possible, rather than interpreted or explained, so I will leave it to the reader to explore that on their own.

May our prayers be heard.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The third force in evolution

The truth is an unknown quality, of infinite depth.

Hold that thought from yesterday. More to follow. Today, a different subject.

Regular readers know of my ongoing investigations into the connections between the natural world and the cosmology and inner work that Gurdjieff brought to the West. Indeed, Gurdjieff saw no contradiction between the aims of religion and science–in this, he was far ahead of his time, even ahead of our own time–and in his magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, he cited the "third obligolnian striving" proper to every being as:

“...the conscious striving to know ever more and more about the laws of world creation and world maintenance.”

Ever since Darwin introduced it, evolutionary theory has revolved around the idea of two distinct driving forces: genetic mutation and natural selection.

Genetic mutation is mechanical, and affirms the preservation of species characteristics through heredity; we can equally characterize natural selection as a denying force, since it selects for specific genetic characteristics based on struggle and the elimination of less fit individuals, both by individual death and the extinction of entire species.

Gurdjieff, on the other hand, taught us that in everything that takes place, three forces are always at play: affirming, denying, and, most importantly, reconciling.

I recently picked up a copy of the book Super Cooperators by Martin A. Nowak. It supports my contention that biologists have largely ignored the importance of cooperation between organisms in species preservation, and emphasized only the competition. (Most of us have seen the television programs which discuss evolution as a violent and bloody "arms race" between competing species.)

No more. Nowak not only agrees with the premise of cooperation as a major evolutionary force, he has developed powerful mathematical models to demonstrate that cooperation is, in fact, the third force in evolution, and this is exactly what he calls it on page 3 of his book. We can, moreover, cite this as the reconciling force because it involves the development of a new and unusual relationship that changes the tension between the other two forces, ultimately bringing them together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The book is very readable, but readers may not be interested in plowing through what they perceive to be ponderous scientific tomes, so I'll try to boil it down in a nutshell.

Ruthless self interest carries the largest payoff for any single individual in a system of rewards and punishments, but mutual cooperation and self-sacrifice can lead to a much healthier system and greater advantages for all the individuals. That is to say, a mutually supportive community is a more powerful paradigm for evolutionary survival than a single egoistic individual.

The principal mechanism behind cooperation is one of sacrifice: I give up a bit of my own self-interest in order to help advance yours. In doing so, I end up a little better off than I would have been alone.

Interestingly enough, this line of reasoning is developed in the book by an argument that is related to Gurdjieff's analogy of a group of people working together to escape from prison.

In the first chapter of Super Cooperators, pages 4 through 8, Nowak explains a portion of the famous game theory called the prisoner's dilemma, in which individuals face greater and lesser penalties depending on whether or not they cooperate. The bottom line is that the game demonstrates that if individuals trust one another and cooperate, they both come out better off than if they act selfishly.

The whole premise of group work is based on exactly this principle–the third force of evolution. That is, group work is based on cooperation and trust. Individuals agree to share their work effort in order to try and advance their individual causes further than they might on their own. Gurdjieff insisted, in fact, that this was the only possibility–that any lesser strategy was ultimately doomed to failure.

Evolution, whether biological or spiritual, depends on the same set of forces and laws that all of the other phenomena arising in the universe depend on. They are not separated from one another; they are in a powerful relationship. And relationship is what mediates the tension between the physical existence of matter and its implications, and the temporal and spiritual existence of consciousness in its individual, that is, singularly expressed, nature.

Our own bodies are extraordinary examples of cooperation. We harbor trillions of bacteria in our bodies, most of which are absolutely essential to our well-being. To put it bluntly, we would die without them. A series of links to recent, absolutely astonishing discoveries about this is collected on a page you can get to by clicking this link.

We are not alone. The microcosms that support us help determine what we are–even our psychological state.

What use, you may be asking yourself, is all of this information? Does it actually have anything to do with inner development? Well, I believe it does. And it all hinges on an important word that is often forgotten and rarely discussed these days in groups:


Fear regulates a great deal of our behavior. This is true in both inner and outer circumstances. The regrettable dominance of politics on a public and national level is inevitably reflected in the same forces at work throughout every spiritual community. Only by overcoming these negative forces, which are born out of the second force in the Darwinian struggle for survival, can we hope to come together as a community based on trust, rather than competition–cooperation, rather than egoistic struggles for self-preservation.

The question in front of man has for generations been how to live in community, transcending our individual fears. Let's face it: we are not so good at it.

This outer question is mirrored by the same compelling inner question: how do we create an inner community, a community of our own being, that is based on the cooperation of our parts, rather than a struggle in which different parts of ourselves attempt to dominate one another?

In order for this to happen, each of the various parts has to give something up in order to contribute to the whole, and each part has to have some trust that this surrender, this cooperation, will be reciprocated–that we are not just in an environment where survival or death are the only alternatives.

The body roughly corresponds to our genetic makeup in this equation--the ego, or ruthless self interest, corresponds to the mind-- and cooperation can be generally understood to be an emotional quality of feeling that (presuming it is rightly directed) mediates a new, more compassionate and less self-interested relationship. This is just a brief sketch, but the overall relationships appear to me to be fairly evident.

Returning to yesterday's observations about apocalypse, although the word traditionally implies destruction–just as natural selection implies destruction–what it is actually pointing to is an uncovering, the revealing of a relationship–which is what cooperation can help us achieve, both inwardly and outwardly.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


The accepted meaning of the word “Apocalypse” in today's English is the destruction of the entire world; an event involving destruction on a catastrophic scale.

The origin of the word lies in the Greek word apokalupsis, which actually means to uncover, or reveal. This makes a good deal of sense, because in the biblical text that is most often associated with this word–Revelations of St. John the Divine–there is a revealing of truth. This is the essential message of the chapter. It isn't, in the end, about all the disastrous events, all of which are impressively theatrical. These are distractions which attract almost everyone merely because of their spectacular nature. The text is, above all, about the birth of real truth, which brings about the destruction of the world of illusion and vanity which man has created. (This is, by the way, in absolute keeping with the thematic content of the entire Bible, which perhaps justifies its inclusion, despite its hyperbole.) Let us think of this not as a destruction, as in the current sense of the word, but rather an uncovering: a revealing, as the title of the chapter implies.

Biblical scholars get a great deal of mileage out of this chapter by explaining how its specific predictions related to the political and social conditions in existence at the time it was written, and (despite the assertions of the touchingly appealing fruitcakes who seize on it to interpret it as having been written about their own times, century after century) there is a great deal of sense in that. Of course the writer who wrote it was writing about his own time–apocalyptic scenarios that are placed in some indefinite future hundreds or thousands of years from now are of little or no interest to anyone. (Even less interesting, I might add, are predictions about a future hundreds or thousands of years later written in elaborate secret codes that need to be interpreted.)

What is more interesting about the chapter is the concept, which is right on. Truth, it proposes, is the destruction of everything we know. In the process, that which is connected to real truth is elevated, and everything else is cast down. It is the replacement of the old order with a new one. The Book of Revelations is, in other words, a recapitulation (in perhaps too literal and worldly a form) of the idea of an inner search.

The form that we build around ourselves is indeed literal, concrete, and filled with all of the sin and mindlessness (or mechanicality, if you will) of our ordinary nature. It lacks any insight into real truth, which lies beyond us as we are, in a realm that we do not have access to. Characteristically, religious texts refer to this realm as being “above”, but this is strictly metaphorical. The realm is in fact within us–just out of our reach as we are. Oddly, when we pray to “our Father who art in heaven” we are not praying to some entity that is elsewhere. We are praying to an entity that is already within us, but inaccessible due to our nature.

The inner search, in other words, is a wish for apocalypse–or, at least, it ought to be. I am reminded of Betty Brown's words to me the year before she died, “the things we love the most are the first things that have to go.”

So those who wish for apocalypse in the literal or outer sense are not out of their minds–they are just misguided. They have the right instinct; they are just aiming it in the wrong direction. It's easy to laugh at them–I do so myself. Nonetheless, I am equally misguided.

Don't I take things literally myself? Am I not aiming a great deal of my search at literal understandings, forms that I think will “work?" I don't truly understand the meaning of surrender, of delivering myself unto the Lord sufficiently. Instead, I reach for every device at hand in order to manipulate the situation.

All of this activity in me arises quite exactly from the belief that I can “do.” Mr. Gurdjieff's many admonitions regarding this mistaken impression of my abilities were almost certainly meant to apply exclusively to my inner work.

There is a need for Apocalypse. Only when a life is truly shattered beyond recognition, only after the inner Tower of Babel has been burned to the ground, can anything new appear. Truth is a revolution–the uncovering that is needed is a radical change, a change that encompasses all and everything.

And just what is Truth?

Truth is an unknown quality, of limitless depth.

It is always here, while we race around with our activities and our words. We are just too busy and important to notice it.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


It's raining today.

I woke up this morning to the usual–and endless–sets of challenges that life presents: the anxieties, the concerns, the emotional reactions.

At the same time, there is something else present. There is a living force that animates the situation, which the self inhabits. This itself is not the same as all of the parts that make it up; yes, there are reactions, there are concerns, there are anxieties and challenges, but they are not self. They are not the force that animates. They are simply the results of interactions with that force.

The force is powerful, so the results of interaction are powerful. If there is some awareness of the force, then there is some separation from the reaction. It's important for me to remember that I am--that being here in relation to this force can change the situation.

We sometimes speak of grounding ourselves. This is not just discussed in the Gurdjieff work, of course–ordinary psychologists talk about it, as though it were a process of thought. But even in ordinary psychology, we understand that that grounding takes place not just with the thinking, but with a connection to the body–for example, the breathing, or sensation–that is, more than one part has to participate.

Grounding has a slightly more esoteric meaning from the Gurdjieff point of view. This force is a current. It flows through us. We are mediators of it–not authors, and not controllers. If the force does not have a ground wire, so to speak, based in sensation of the body and the organism itself, the current runs the risk of short-circuiting or overloading. Grounding in the organism–the sensing of the body in an active way, not a passive one–is not only desirable but necessary.

I can't maintain a sense of equilibrium without some grounding. This requires a constant coming back to the sense of the body, not with the thought or with theoretical techniques, but with an active investigation that asks what is here now, and what is available now. I don't, for example, try to force the situation by using the breath to “make” a connection possible; I just ask myself, what is possible?

I don't know what is possible, and furthermore, what is possible may not be what I expect. To expect this and that is to be dependent on the past. It can work, but it is not always reliable.

I don't use predetermined techniques because I need to remain active in the face of this question. The question itself is what helps impart life to the search, and a formulated approach to it–one that assumes I know what is necessary–is already too rigid to respond to the constantly changing forces that are at play in the body, the mind, and the emotions. An active stance involves being prepared to see what is possible, which changes from moment to moment.

This doesn't make anxieties, concerns, reactions and challenges go away. It changes my relationship to them. My constant impulse to do something softens. I begin to remind myself that without being passive, there are many situations that could do quite well without my interference–inner situations as well as outer ones. The trick is to identify what is needed, and not to interfere, but to be present in the center of the action prepared to respond in whatever way is necessary.

Perhaps my chief difficulty is that most of my responses come out of fear. I don't see this; I am generally afraid of almost everything new that arrives: every change in circumstances is a potential threat. I make fun of my dog when she acts like this: a bus comes down the street, something she has seen many times, and yet she is terrified. I don't see that in this regard I am just like her.

I am a coward. I lack the courage to face life honestly. Just a little bit of grounded presence can help me to see that this fear of mine is actually a significant part of my chief feature. I believe in it and let it decide things for me. Because it's a rigid entity, it's prone to failure.

Well, there is no way that all of this will be fixed this morning. Or even this afternoon. All of these aspects of my being are true things, and there's no use in criticizing myself for them. They are just true. It is, however, helpful for me to see them.

Above all, being in relationship with the force that animates this life is a support. I may not have a good relationship with it, I may not be able to invoke its presence, but I can prepare-- and I am able to invest within it to the extent that it is available.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Deep Being

When we consider the basic premises of the Gurdjieff work, there is a seamless conjunction of purpose between his esotericism and the biology of both man and the planet.

Man, we see, evolved in order to take in the impressions of the natural world. This is incontrovertibly true from a biological point of view; it is equally valid from a religious or esoteric point of view–especially in Gurdjieff's system, where impressions are the chief food for the development of man. Our organs–our cells–the molecules we deploy for sensing the world–all of these evolved specifically and exactly to be in a very precise relationship with our environment and the impressions it provides. This is true for every organism.

Why man evolved in this way is a question. Some scientists would have it that it is a complete accident; others argue that it seems to be directed by some unknown force, in light of the intricacies, idiosyncrasies, and peculiarities that guide it.

In Gurdjieff's cosmology, all of it serves the purpose of God–ultimately, the universe is a support system for God.

It isn't necessary to understand the why in order to investigate the how. In this case, a how may lead to a why, but a why can never lead to a how. The first is a practical understanding, a foundation; the second represents a theoretical understanding that does not illuminate practical issues in any meaningful way.

The sublime and extraordinary nature of every facet of creation feeds the nature of the soul. Man would be nothing without these impressions; a man is, in fact, the sum total of his impressions, so much so that every human being represents an entire universe into which his own specific universe of impressions falls. Everything that a man experiences can be seamlessly blended into his Being. This sensitivity, this receptiveness, is essential: by essential, I mean, there is and can be no real Being, no deep Being, unless a complete blending takes place.

Without it, I have fragments and fractions of a universe. It is a flower that has been picked apart until there are only shreds of petals left; I am unable to sense the existence of the rose, even if I prick myself on its thorns.

There is a force that can arise in man that does not speak in the language I use now. It has a wish. This force is unknown most of the time; to many, it is never known. But it is only this force, this most physical and organic serpentine arising, which has no beginning or end, that can begin to understand this question.

Immediately, instead of coming into relationship with the direct mystery, I use words: energy. Breathing. Sensation. Feeling.

None of these are true. They are just reflections of force, a force I wish to be in relationship with. The instant that I name it, it becomes a theory. I try to hold onto it. Every name attempts to explain why; every question asks how.

To ask how demands of me that no words be used. This is, of course, impossible; yet it is exactly this, the impossible, that must take place. The whole premise is already impossible: every impression and every word is categorically impossible from the beginning. Nothing that exists can exist or should exist. The fact that it does exist already places me in the midst of the impossible.

There are times when I come to this like an infant, understanding for a brief moment that there can be no actual point of reference other than consciousness itself; that all of the constructions, words, forms, are artifices that prevent relationship, true relationship.

This question, over time, slowly becomes a living thing that grows from roots, and spreads its branches and its leaves into every ray of light that surrounds me.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eminent Gurdjieffians- a review of the biography of Lord Pentland

This week, I both started and finished the book Eminent Gurdjieffians, by James Moore.

A short book, it would make for an even quicker read if it weren't for Moore's baroque prose. I daresay most of us would find Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson to be an easier–and more interesting– read.

Moore is an able--even talented-- craftsman of language, but the book gives the impression that he is a bit too enamored of his skill. The best such work ought to bring with it a transparency in which the craftsman disappears; that's not the case here. Instead, Moore's idiosyncratic presence looms large over every twist and turn of verbiage. I found myself wishing for an editorial weed whacker to thresh out adjectives and mow paragraphs down to size.

On the positive side, he has both a penchant for arch witticisms, and the ability to deliver them; this was one of the small pleasures of the book, and I had to grasp at it, because there were few of them. As to any larger pleasures, we will have to wait for the sequel.

In all, however, we should perhaps grudgingly admit that he has performed a real service. Who else, after all, is going to provide us with a biography of this significant Gurdjieff figure?

The book dwells a good deal too long, in my estimation, on Pentland's upbringing, which, as presented, seems to me to be made of rather thin fabric. In this portion of the book, what we receive is a snapshot of the social, political, and economic milieu that Pentland was born into, with the young Lord Pentland Photoshopped into it, albeit at a much lower resolution. The result is a series of speculations about how he might have experienced it, and how it may have affected him. Reading this half of the book was, for me, quite the bowl of gruel. (If you are interested in a better and more interesting piece of work about this period in British history, try Churchhill's biography, The Last Lion, by William Manchester.)

We don't encounter any real facts about Lord Pentland's life until–by my estimation–about halfway through the book. Some of these "facts" are, I am advised, wrong, so the reader is advised to proceed with caution, if not skepticism.

The second half of the book conveys what can only be called a brief sketch of Lord Pentland's long active life within the Gurdjieff work. Inevitably, it's impossible to boil a man's life down to any number of pages in a book, but it is arch–impossible to boil it down when the number is so small. We discover little, if anything, about the man as a human being: no warmth, no humor, no significant insights. This is annoying, because Lord Pentland the human being is what we earnestly hope to encounter; instead, we are given an awkward cartoon that can hardly do service to Pentland the man. In the Gurdjieff system of man numbers one, two, three and so on, we are all already at "man numbers" low enough that we hope our biographers will not perform any subtraction on us, as appears to have taken place here.

Serious biographies offer measured and reasoned insights into the subject's thought process, motivation, and action; instead, most of what Mr. Moore discovers is, to me, imagination, colorfully dressed up in order to distract us from its true nature. Where imagination fails, guesswork will have to suffice, and there's a good deal of that too.

My own experience as a writer confirms that it's enjoyable to write material like this, but it's definitely less enjoyable to read it, especially if one has developed an appreciation for factual reportage. When the prudently self-aware author sees material like this emerging from his word processor, he ought to reach for the aforementioned weed whacker. Then again, it may well be that the paucity of first-hand sources simply forced Mr. Moore to resort to such inventions in order to create a work of publishable length, in which case, we can understand him, even if our forgiveness lies a little further afield.

I never knew Lord Pentland personally–I entered the work just before he died–but many of my friends and acquaintances knew him and studied under him. They were left with powerful positive impressions of him, no matter his shortcomings, peccadilloes, or personal quirks. His legacy continues to reverberate throughout the Gurdjieff organizations worldwide, and he deserves an enormous respect for the years of service he put in to supporting and building the Foundation, both in the United States and worldwide. One must acknowledge that those efforts transcended his personality, emanated in some way from his essence--and that his formidable personal, administrative, and political skills were in some way both essential and absolutely necessary for the Gurdjieff work. One cannot imagine a landscape without him, because so much of the territory Gurdjieffians move through today was transformed by his singular efforts.

Some may feel that Moore has engaged in an act of character assassination, because Lord Pentland comes off–by various measures–as an underachiever, bland, uninteresting, colorless, and unable to commit at critical moments, although, as Moore admits, he definitely chose the right people to be associated with. If the most damning thing Mr. Moore manages to uncover is that Lord Pentland was, in the end, rather ordinary in many ways, it is cause for celebration. Eventually one has had quite enough of people who think (or act like) they are extraordinary; remember that Gurdjieff himself held up the example of the obyvatel, the "good householder"--an ordinary man--as an example of real work, surpassing those who flattered themselves with higher abilities and motives.

I can't say if character assassination bedevils Moore's intentions. It is probably impossible to write a biography without uncovering circumstances that will be upsetting, because we are all human, and every human has facts and circumstances surrounding their life, their attitude, and behavior which are, as Mr. Gurdjieff would say, "unbecoming to three-brained beings." There is no point in being thin-skinned about this.

I'm reminded of Mr. Gurdjieff's comments in Life Is Only Real Then, When I Am, in which he explains the ancient practice of gathering together after someone dies in order to remember all of the bad things they did, all of their shortcomings, all of their failures. Admittedly, this sounds like a harsh practice to us, in light of the fact that we seem to more or less anoint even rather reprehensible people to sainthood after they die in our own age.

Despite its deficiencies, Moore's biography has at least managed to take the statue of Lord Pentland from its pedestal, dust it off, and subject it to an initial examination. We should thank him for this much, at a minimum: it takes a bit of courage to touch the untouchables. One might argue that too many pedestals are being erected in the Gurdjieff work, and too many people who almost certainly would have objected to such treatment are having their graven images propped up on them–not the least of which is Mr. Gurdjieff himself.

All that being said, I can't recommend the book. I certainly don't recommend that anyone pay for it. The very stiff purchase price–it cost me almost $50 by the time the postage was included, ouch!–doesn't justify either the length or the quality of the read.

It does not, furthermore, compare favorably with Moore's biography of Gurdjieff, a far more serious and, to me, interesting piece of work. The Pentland biography lacks fluidity, and-- once one has plowed through it--ends up being more of a reading chore than a pleasure, without, in my estimation, offering any significant insights.

The book is not truly bad--I didn't throw it away before I finished reading it, which I have done a few times with truly awful books--, but it is not good, either, and in matters of this kind, mediocrity does not suffice.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Multiple connections

Almost every day, I walked down to the banks of the Hudson River, and spend about an hour watching birds, observing trees bud out, and generally marveling at this mysterious place which I assume I know so much about, but actually do not understand at all.

When we speak about inner work, of course the emphasis starts out being about “me.” I am not connected; I don't have a good sense of myself, I am not unified, I am not conscious, etc. etc. etc.

This sense of "me" is a large part of what gets in the way. It is not just the connection “I” have with “myself”; the function of connectivity, and the question of connection in general, applies to everything.

Human beings are entities that only function properly in relationship. It is not just an inner relationship; it is not just a “vertical” relationship, or a "horizontal" relationship. The relationship that I seek is actually what one might call a spherical relationship, insofar as anything that is energy based and cosmological in nature can actually have a form.

It extends from a single point–the point of consciousness–in all directions, through both time and space. The function of awareness is to connect and transmit the relationships that it encounters. Consciousness is not an end point: it is a middleman.

I have the potential, if I could but sense it, to act as a neuron. A cellular entity with dendrites extending in every direction: upwards towards the higher, downwards towards the lower–horizontally towards that which is around me. I have the capacity to sense higher energies, lower energies, energies on my own level. All of them come together within me in this organic sense of being, this physical, emotional, and intellectual sense of existence.

This sense of “me" becomes much less precise at such moments; at the same time, it becomes much more concise. Lacking the complication of what “I” am–as though “I” was actually anything at all–a simplicity arrives. The simplicity arrives because there is no longer an attempt to be the authority; there is merely an availability that transmits. With this arrives a clarity that is unencumbered by the usual nonsense.

Perhaps the most essential question at this moment in mankind's evolution is exactly what the nature of relationship to this planet is. Our existence, which because of our psychological abnormalities has collapsed into a generalized form of self worship, is actually planetary in nature, is a direct function of the planet, and is inseparable from both the nature of the planet and what it needs in order to function.

Losing our connection to nature, and being evermore enslaved by technologies that were supposed to serve us, but instead have eaten us alive, we stand in danger of losing much more than ourselves. We stand to lose a whole planet.

This isn't some form of naturalistic romanticism. The question of our relationship to nature is at the heart not only of our intellectual and scientific interests, it is at the heart of our relationship to God. It is essential to our understanding of Being. Yet it is not enough to understand our relationship to nature with the intellect. And it is not enough, either, to understand with the emotion, as so many well-meaning people in the green movement do.

Nature needs to be understood with all of our parts, in a new way, so that the separation between what we experience as ourselves and nature ceases to exist.

This is a delicate question that bears a great deal of pondering. It's related to Jeanne DeSalzmann's remark that without our work, “the planet will go down."

I try to come to a deeper understanding of this every time I walk the dog.

May our prayers be heard.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

a living quality of investment

The Gurdjieff work is called “a work in life." Yet for all the talk about this, it seems as though most inner work often seems to be a work in books, a work in groups, or a work in meditation. We human beings, on the whole, spend a great deal of time trying to pack all of our life into practice, instead of trying to unpack all of our practice into our life.

There is no surprise in this. Why should we, a species who habitually gets everything ass-backwards, expect our approach to inner work to be any different?

Work--practice-- has to be firmly planted in every moment of life. The chief principle behind this work is not, in my experience, the theory of self remembering; it is the practice of being in relationship.

This practice is organic; it isn't born of thinking or the mind. We say to ourselves that thinking can get us there, but actually, it can't. In some way we actually have to step around our thinking in order to find relationship.

We need to discover the correspondence within us to the outer world. This relationship of the inner and the outer is essential: if the inner is not receptive, the outer will not be received. Receiving the outer–allowing impressions to fall into us without obstruction–is where the food for work arrives.

We may not “be” our organisms–that is to say, perhaps our spiritual nature emanates from a different source than the physical meat of the body–but we certainly inhabit them. That is to say, the organism is the vehicle for expression. To be fully invested within that expression is necessary. There has to be a living quality of investment.

What is that? A living quality of investment?

We contain within us the possibility for an expression of wholeness: a relationship that binds together our thought, feeling, and sensation into an un-separated–individual–consciousness.

Any attempt to define this in some specific way minimizes it relative to the importance of what it is and what the experience of it is. Even using these words–"a relationship that binds together thought, feeling, and sensation"–already reduces it to a much smaller thing that what it is.

This is a real dilemma. You and I–all of us–are forever trying to stuff the immensity of life into tiny little packages of words, aren't we?

I often run into this question in my relationships with others. They ask me some specific question about a matter regarding science or what have you–and in order to explain it, it is necessary to say literally thousands of things, because they are all connected, and to leave any one of them out would fail to take one of the aspects of the matter into account. Consequently, I talk too much. This is the danger of expounding.

It's distressing, because as I engage in it, if I see it, I also see I would rather talk a bit less.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

burning down the house

This bald eagle was perched in a tree on Monday morning as I took the famous dog Isabel for her daily walk. As luck would have it, I had my telephoto lens with me.

Fortune favors those who are prepared.

I've been collecting impressions on the subject of today's essay most of the week, and I just don't know how to express it. In the end, it's necessary to just take a shot at it. It won't be right. That's already a given. Nonetheless, an effort needs to be made.

It occurred to me earlier in the week that the mind wants to burn down the house, just to see what's in it.

Have you noticed how much time we spend picking things apart with the mind? Discussing endless aspects of how things are, what we feel like, examining the question of what reality was, is, or might be in the future? Saying that we think things are like this, like that, might be this way, or that way. We live within this: the mind trying to tell us how the mind will be if we become free of the mind. We are so engaged by this reflexive activity that we are unable to see the irony in it.

Do you ever get the impression that 100% of this activity is useless?

What about just being here? Is it necessary to pick that apart?

Isn't everything just so?

Life is a whole thing. Impressions are a whole thing. There is no point in living in a house divided. True, I live in a house divided–but perhaps it is possible for me to see that, and to give up the idea–the misconception–that anything coming from that direction can unify the house.

Something entirely new needs to take place. Not anticipated, planned, described, explained, analyzed, or expected.


Unexplained, spontaneous, mysterious, inexplicable, irreducible, and unexpected.

Every moment that is devoted more directly to sensation, feeling, thought, and the integration, the union, of all those qualities–every moment that is devoted to an organic sense of being is a step in the right direction.

None of those languages need to be expressed in words. Each one of them can meet in the organism in a place that may not be now, but has the potential to discover now.

Now is always right here and directly both within and without–so directly, in fact, that there is no in or out–and yet it is so far away, due to the lack of unity, that the clarity of now becomes opaque. It is as though water had turned into marble. Sleep, our hypnotism, is a form of enchantment, a reverse magic in which that which is fluid become solid and does not move easily as it should through life.

There is a tremendous capacity for this fluidity, but the vine is already cut at the root.

Living becomes a process of search for a return to fluidity–a search for the root--but the search must be conducted from left field. The right hand must not know what the left hand is doing. There is a trick to it. One must forget in order to remember. One must forget everything that one is.

That is, self remembering consists first in forgetting this self that wants to remember.
Does that make any sense?

In any event, much more living needs to be done–much more living, and much less picking apart. Sitting together like dogs gnawing at a bone in order to try and understand with the mind beggars the question.

The question is a mystery.

The question doesn't have words.
The question doesn't come out of books.

It has to be breathed in and out. It has to be sensed like bark against the skin; felt like the cold shiver of sorrow at the sight of a vine hanging from a tree. Seen with new eyes, heard with new ears, touched by new skin.

What is this life?

Isn't it possible to reach past what the mind says, and to live?

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, May 2, 2011


My wife and I woke up this morning to the news that Osama bin Laden is dead.

There was no sense of joy. The reactions some people are having–celebration, jubilation–seems so far from the actual organic feelings I am experiencing that I don't quite understand them.

They seem bewildering and awful.

Let's be clear. The man left little, if anything whatsoever, to like. However, there is, in my eyes, no way to celebrate the death of an individual, no matter how reprehensible their behavior, or how deserved their end may seems to be. As I said many years before in another essay, a society can have a death penalty, if the will is there... but no one ought to feel good about it.

I think what the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said sums it up from my perspective:

"Osama bin Laden, as we all know, had the very grave responsibility of spreading division and hatred amongst the people, causing the death of countless of people, and of instrumentalizing religion for this end. In front of the death of man, a Christian never rejoices but rather reflects on the grave responsibility of each one in front of God and men, and hopes and commits himself so that every moment not be an occasion for hatred to grow but for peace."

There is a deep sorrow that penetrates the entire universe. On this level, it is related to the conditions we inhabit. It isn't for me to say why that sorrow exists; all that I can say for myself is that it is tangible–organic–real. The human organism, when it is working in a right way, inescapably senses this as a substance, not as a theory.

Gurdjieff said that the aim of responsible beings was, ultimately, to "share in a portion of the sorrow of His Endlessness." This aim has resonated powerfully in me for years now. I daresay that from my own point of view, there can be no more important work.

On hearing this news, that sense is very strong in me today. What right-thinking, right feeling, right sensing individual cannot palpably experience the air of outright tragedy that surrounds the way we conduct our affairs on this planet–both individually and collectively?

It takes a rather deeper and more organic kind of alignment to sense the underlying Weltschmerz that permeates reality: nonetheless, the situations are in relationship, and the expression of sorrow and anguish on this level, whether temporal and event-based or metaphysical and even–dare we say it–objective, has a legitimate reciprocal action at the level above us.

It's too bad that I have to use all these complicated words and ideas to express something that is in fact simple, direct, and unambiguous.

Unfortunately, we don't have any other tools.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Three centered being

Maybe the strictest measure of our partiality is our conviction that we can measure the world with words alone.

This conviction runs so deep–even in what I am saying right now, and how you are reading it–that it is unrecognizable to us. It is so much a part of what we are that it forms us. We are very nearly unable to conceive of anything without filtering it through this means of measurement.

The whole point, of course, of "three centered being," as Mr. Gurdjieff put it, is to measure the world not just with words, but within the direct and immediate organic context of emotional language and physical language–that is, the tangible sensory experience of feeling and sensation, both of which were always meant to participate equally in our encounter with, and interpretation of, reality. The fact that these two senses have been completely blunted- "Stumpfsinn, Blödsinn,"as he says in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson–escapes us. We are supremely unaware of what it might even feel like to have them become active parts of our being.

Yet this is exactly what needs to take place. Measurement of the world must begin to expand to include all three parts.

One of the ways this was expounded on in Views From the Real World was by saying that we must "learn the language of the horse." I recall reading this many years ago–there is so much Gurdjieff material out there, it seems the majority of it always ends up having been read years ago–and yet I had forgotten it. It was brought up again recently, and when I heard it it puzzled me.

Why, I thought to myself, would I need to learn the language of the horse? I am, after all, both the horse, and the driver, and the carriage. I am all three of these things. They are not separated from me–each one of them is a part of my being. That's the whole point of the parable.

So I "have" no horse. I am the horse... I already know the language of the horse. That is, it is also my language–feeling is my language.

And, although I have forgotten it, the language of sensation is also my language.

I do not so much need to learn these languages as remember them. This, in fact, is part of what self remembering consists of: remembering that these other languages are also my languages. All of them share in the creation of my Being.

This adds a new dimension to the idea of listening. We speak of this action frequently when we refer to how to conduct an inner work. But what is listening? Perhaps what I am listening for is these other languages, which I have forgotten, but might be able to hear–and even understand–the capacity, after all, is innate.

Is it possible for me to issue an inner invitation?

Perhaps I can become the language of the horse–fluently speak and hear the language of the horse. I can become the language of the carriage–fluidly speak and hear the language of the carriage.

Because, however, we rely on this one centered vehicle of words to measure the world, we create divisions–a perception that there is a separateness. Instead of actively and organically perceiving that we are horse, carriage, driver all at once, we decide–using words, ideas, constructions, formulations– that we are a driver who "has" a horse and carriage.

Perhaps we forget that we are also the carriage and we are also the horse simply because it makes us more important if we are the driver. In assuming this position of command, which is fractional, and actually powerless to fulfill its correct function without the participation of the other two parts, we fail to actively inhabit the unity, which is both necessary and possible.

It's often said that someone who drives well, or rides a horse well, becomes one with the vehicle. The experience becomes whole. There is no separation between the driver, the horse, and the carriage. They are a single entity. No one part assumes supremacy. Each has equal value; each has a job to do.

Impartiality consists of this singleness of experience, which expresses a specific organic presence that cannot be defined using words. The surest sign of any understanding of this is an experience that can definitely be recognized as impossible to reproduce accurately with one part–that is, words coming from the mind.

My wife and I were joking around last week, and we decided that if there were self-help magazines for Gurdjieffians, they would have articles such as

How to experience three centered Being using only two centers!

And so on. The idea is funny, but that's how we practice. We use the mind–a single center–to gnaw away at what three centered being "means," not understanding that such an approach is useless and impossible.

I come again, as I do over and over again, to how important it is to invest in, to attain, an organic sense of Being. A sense of Being that has roots which grow into the body, deep into the body.

This is not a hypothetical question. It cannot be treated as a hypothetical question.

It must be conducted as an active search.

I'd like to wrap up this post with two brief announcements The first is a new website which features my photographs and local natural history observations. The opening installment features some rather exciting pictures of a juvenile great horned owl we encountered last weekend. Check it out. You'll like them.

I am also going to publish some of my own poetry at this site from time to time. In this particular instance, all the poems on the site will be drawn from a single series, for reasons that will become evident upon a visit.

The Hudson River Diaries is the name of the new site. Enjoy.

On a final note, I am publicly announcing (since the magazine itself has already done so) that I am now acting as the poetry editor for Parabola Magazine.

We are engaged in an active effort to expand the role of poetry at Parabola. Submission guidelines can be found at the website (there is a link to it in places of interest on the right.)

Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff Blog readers are urged to pick up a subscription to the magazine–it needs community support in these trying times!–and submit poetry according to the guidelines, if you are a writer.

May our prayers be heard.