Sunday, March 15, 2009


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Arrogance: "The taking of too much upon oneself as one's right; the assertion of unwarrantable claims in respect of one's own importance; undue assumption of dignity, authority, or knowledge; aggressive conceit, presumption, or haughtiness." (Oxford English Dictionary)

How much do I know about myself?

In pursuit of this very high aim of my work, this aim of understanding what real love means, I need to be able to see how I am. How I am stands in the way of my aim. And what chiefly characterizes me is my arrogance.

If I examine the definition of the word, it appears to be a description of what we call ego. As long as I live in my mind, as long as I think and think and think, I won't see this quality in myself. To truly stand alongside this quality requires an impartiality -- a connection between the centers.

It doesn't get rid of the quality; no, that would be far too easy. This quality is the center of gravity for what I call my "being" as it stands today. And it is only by becoming a companion, a friend, to it -- by doing what Gurdjieff calls "separating myself from myself" --by watching myself, that I can begin to discover how I really am.

There is much rich material on this question in the Bible, Luke, chapter 12. for example, Christ says to us in 12:37, "Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching..."

So I need to discover what it means to watch myself, not as a critic, but as an observer. And that watchfulness cannot come from within the intellect. The watchfulness has to be born from an active interest arising not just in the intelligence, but in the other centers as well. This means an active interest also from the body and the emotions.

Of course, for many years, this idea remains theoretical. We hear about it over and over again in groups, and from books, and we repeat it to each other even when we don't understand it properly. This doesn't mean we are incapable of such understanding; all it means is that it takes many years to truly understand. People who want to do weekend retreats and swiftly discover a new spiritual wholeness don't belong in the Gurdjieff work. It is a slow, deep work. There are other, quicker ways to arrive at something.

What that something is is open to discussion -- to a certainty, there are other real things one can come to, besides what Gurdjieff pointed us to. But the Gurdjieff work points (at least initially) at arriving at a very specific something. This "something" is a legitimate and grounded organic connection between centers that has a more durable nature. That connection in and of itself produces the possibility of receiving a new kind of material within this enormously sensitive tool called the body that can support a very deep and transforming kind of work.

Such work changes one's attitudes in a way that cannot change like the weather. It creates a part that stands aside from and slightly above the parts that change all the time. It creates a living experience that transcends the day to day reactions of the emotions, and the day to day instructions of the intellect, and even the day to day trials and tribulations and pains of the body. It summarizes all of these elements of life without eliminating them.

Could we liken this experience, which Gurdjieff would have referred to as non-identification, to what Buddhists call detachment? There seems to be little doubt about it.

Here we discover a synthesized experience that includes all of our arrogance, all of our emotional reaction, all of the temporary nature of the body. That summary of our nature, and the humbling experience of it as a fact, leads us in the direction of what we call, in the Gurdjieff work, real feeling.

And what is this "real feeling?"

Well, that is exactly the point. This real feeling is everything that arrogance is not. A human being who truly works, who submits to authority, who works and watches while they await the arrival of the master, will slowly have all of the arrogant qualities in them eroded, until they begin to truly sense their own nothingness -- not as an idea, but as a Truth.

Truth, in this case, as an organic experience of life that offers an inescapable and moment to moment understanding that I live.

Oh, I may say to myself, that's rather silly. I already know that I live.

But there is no truth in this. I only know that I live if I know that I breathe; if I can sense my cells as they participate; if I sense the way that this body receives energies I do not understand.

And that, that is just the beginning -- even this miraculous discovery is no more than the ground floor of understanding--or maybe even just the steps up out of the basement. Until I truly know that I live, which is an experience that is reborn over and over again within each moment of each day, I cannot begin to acquire any real humility in regard to my position in life.

Almost everything that goes wrong in my life, and almost everything that is going wrong on this planet, stems directly from arrogance. If one had to pick a chief feature for mankind, it would definitely be this one.

Arrogance acts in sheer defiance of this experience of a higher Truth. It is an appropriator of all that is good and true and loving. It gives permission to destroy without regard for the other. And how often have I exercised that license in my own life? I am perhaps fascinated by the idea of a movie character named James Bond who has a license to kill, but I don't see that this character is me.

So my aim, as I attempt to stand beside myself and see myself, is to gain an organic sensation of humility. This is the only force that can stand against my arrogance, and because it is rooted in the opportunity for real feeling, it is much stronger than arrogance. Arrogance is swept away like dust in the wind when this organic sensation of real humility arrives.

I see that I use these phrases has so often: organic sensation, organic sense of being. Perhaps it sounds repetitive. But there doesn't seem to be any other good way of describing an experience that arises not from my head's experience of my life, but an experience that arises from three centers within the organism. And it is, after all, only this experience that helps to create what we call "I am" in this work. An "I am" that is not born from arrogance and the ego, but from an experience of the fundamental unity we share with this planet, other life forms, and the creative force of the universe itself.

So today, as I begin -- and every day, I begin anew, let me make no mistake about that -- I hope to rediscover a connection between my parts, to re-member the severed limbs of my sensation, my feeling, and my intelligence, until there is a whole body available to me from within which to perceive the flow of this water called life.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What is the aim?

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Yesterday, a close friend of mine in the work -- a woman who has in many ways become my teacher -- copied me on what was, in some ways, a routine piece of e-mail.

In other ways, it wasn't routine at all. It was a magnificent reminder of what the work is aimed at, how we work, and why we work. I'm not at liberty to publish her words, but I will speak my own along the same lines.

Over the past day, in examining this question of why we work, I have reviewed Frank Sinclair's comments in "Without Benefit Of Clergy," as well as comments about what both Jeanne De Salzmann and her son Michel guided the work towards during their own lives.

An unfortunate fact, I have discovered during online exchanges with people who consider themselves experts of one kind or another on the work, is that the understanding of the work is poor. At least, one would have to conclude that from the tone and level of the exchange I encounter. The work has nothing to do with arguing about ideas. If you think that's what the work is about, by all means, go ahead and do it, but this is not how I wish to work. I am, as it happens, an extremely argumentative type, and I do it myself, but that is not working.

The aim is not to have parlor room discussions about the ideas.
The aim is not to show up for meetings like a good little doobie.
The aim is not to adhere to a doctrine, or adopt a belief.

The aim of the work is to open ourselves to a higher influence.

This is not done with the mind. Not the mind as we understand it, that is, this part of ourselves called the intellect which we spend so much time nurturing. It must be done with a different part of ourselves, a mind that is much more whole, and composed of three parts.

It absolutely isn't possible to convey the type of work that is necessary in order to understand this in writing. The only way I know of to convey it is through 20 or 30 years of struggle in groups, with older people who know what they are doing, and even then, it may well not be successful. A man has to learn to take responsibility for himself in a new way in order for anything new to be born in him, and everyone -- myself included -- doggedly clings to all the old ways, the irresponsible ways, in every way possible, simply to avoid taking responsibility.

I've noticed that there is a judgmental sternness afoot in many self-appointed branches of the work. People want to adopt a severity, an extremism; they want a purity and an austerity, an adherence to rigid principles, the ability to disagree and condemn. Above all, everyone wants their opinions to remain sacrosanct.

In the midst of this, this blatant clinging to the ego, everyone loudly professes that they are being objective. The more complicated everything is, and the more right they are, the more they think they are working.

I know this game. I have certainly been a part of it for almost all of my life. But I grow increasingly weary of it. The work is not to argue and oppose; the effort must become an effort of offering and sharing. It must be an effort not to break down, but to support.

Do I see that my outwardly oppositional manifestation is actually a reflection of my inner state? I had better start doing so, because my manifestation in the outer world is nothing more than an exact reflection of my own inner disorder.

While we are at it, reminding ourselves of the need for this organically compassionate effort, let us also diligently remind ourselves that there are many ways to open ourselves to a higher influence. The Gurdjieff work doesn't have a monopoly on the effort, or the means.

As I have said so many hundreds of times, the work must become organic.

If I do not understand this, I must make it my aim. Until I understand what this means -- understand it not with the mind of my intellect, but with the mind of my body -- nothing real can happen. Even when I do understand this, the understanding is not permanent. I must understand it, understand it again, and then re-understand it ten thousand times in all ten directions before anything real begins to live within me. And even after I have well understood this with two of my parts, I must repeatedly stand in front of my lack, and call for the help -- the third force -- that can knit my being together.

Dispense with words. Turn the attention towards the organism.
Discover what it means to have a real connection with the body.
Discover what it means when the call to work comes from somewhere other than the intelligence of the intellect.
Discover what it means to have a living attention in more than one part.

This is the place where the beginning of an understanding of Love is born, and that is the aim of the work: to understand what real Love is. Anyone who thinks the work has a different aim has failed to understand even the first thing about why we work.

What is real Love? It is not even close to the emotions and words we use to describe love, in ordinary terms.

Love is the fabric the universe is constructed out of; it is the material of existence, the Web of creation, and the dialogue between man and God. It is transcendental, ineffable, indescribable, sublime, and perfect.

It is a force, an energy that calls us to our knees in prayer, whether we want to kneel and pray or not.

Let those who have ears, hear.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Adopting Form, Creating Structure

It's a recurring theme in my writing: form, structure, meaning.

The universe has been, since its inception, engaged in an endless act of adopting form and creating structure.

What does it mean to adopt form? That which is unmanifested manifests. Within this moment, a nearly infinite set of possibilities -- beginning at the quantum level, where everything is probable, and possible, but not yet defined -- actualize themselves as they emerge from the probable into the actual. So the emergent nature of the universe is not just really the emergent properties of matter. Reality itself is an emergent property -- it manifests within every instant from a set of probabilities, from a non-rational, non-local simultaneity, into what I call a rationally local manifestation.

All of this sounds quite technical and philosophical, but what it means is simple.

Within this organism, as the impressions of what I call life arrive, the unmanifested is continually expressed through manifestation, in a process of discovering itself.

This receptacle I call the body is, so to speak, a measuring tool for that which adopts form. In the adoption of form, matter engages in creation. Every instant of living and perceiving becomes an act of measuring creation through participation.

For matter, the adoption of form is materialization. For consciousness, to adopt form is to recognize manifestation within this moment, that is, cognition (= apprehension, or perception.)

Adopted form creates structure. This is the way the universe functions. For example, when the universe was extremely young, a superheated plasma of undifferentiated energy adopted form and began to create what is now call matter. The moment that matter began to exist, the emergent property of created structure appeared as subatomic particles combined to form structures called atoms, which then combined to form structures called molecules.

Once again, this sounds like a lesson in physics or philosophy, but it is really the story of what I am. Within my adoption of form -- my immediate perception of manifestation as it arrives -- I create structure. This structure of how I experience my life is an emergent property of all the impressions I gather. Without an intellect, the structure would be quite different, but with the emergence of intelligence, the structure obtains a flexibility that transcends the stimulus response mechanisms of Skinnerian biology.

Put in plainer language, to create structure is to form relationship, to contextualize. This can happen in one of two obvious ways: mechanically, that is, the way that atoms and molecules do it, without any conscious intelligence, or consciously, that is, under the supervision of an agent that makes choices. Stuart Kaufmann speaks about the question of agency at some length in "Reinventing The Sacred." Readers are encouraged to refer to his arguments about the implications.

The creation of structure is what forms my life. Once the impressions of life adopt form, that is, once the unmanifested becomes manifest on the doorstep of my perception, the creation of structure is inevitable. Both the biology and psychology of man are designed to create structure. The adoption of form is cause; the creation of structure is effect.

So within the act of living, I constantly adopt form and create structure. This always takes place within the context of mystery, because I don't know how form will manifest as it arrives.

Within the midst of constantly adopting form, and constantly creating structure, man's intelligence searches for meaning.

The search for the meaning of the structure is an attempt within us to demystify this process. If I can identify a context for why form is adopted--a reason that things are the way they are-- I think I can explain the mystery.

Science believes that it can explain why form is originally adopted based on a reductionist, cause-and-effect process arising in strict accordance with the laws of nature. Religion believes that it can explain why form is originally adopted based on a supernatural agency, that is, an agency which transcends the obvious laws of nature.

Since some laws of nature are clearly violated by the nature of the quantum level, it appears that science is further out on what is already thin ice these days. Nonetheless, neither discipline appears to be able to demystify the adoption of form.

What I am left with is one indisputable fact: within every living creature, the sensory apparatus, including the brain, creates a record of adopted form, and a structure arises in response to that.

I can call the structure neural if I wish to, because it clearly has a physical component. I can call the structure conceptual if I want to, because the neural component clearly generates a process based on what man would call ideas.

The only certainty is that there is a structure. The adoption of form informs; it creates a structure within receptive material locations. So all conscious beings find themselves within an eternal and continuous process of adopting form and creating structure. The process of assigning meaning comes afterwards.

Forms keep being adopted. It's in the nature of the universe to act that way. But all created structures are temporary. Every created structure metamorphoses; we usually call this process "destruction," but there is no such thing as destruction. The only thing that exists is transformation. Every so-called destructive process creates something new.

The assignment of specific meaning to the adoption of form and the creation of structure is a slippery thing. Meanings are built on created structures, and all created structures are temporary. So anything I believe, any structure I create and then assign meaning to, inevitably arises from a static situation which will live out its life and change into something else.

It's okay to live this way, but in order to do so, I ought to understand that meaning itself has transformational properties. That is, meanings themselves change along with everything else. The universe is in constant motion, and I need to retain an actively flexible stance in response to it.

Perhaps the irony of the way that I live within myself is that I discover a particular form and a particular structure and then cling to it, as though it could be lost.

I forget that I live forever within the midst of form and structure, and it is impossible to lose either one.

What is needed is a new understanding: the freedom to let go of the specifics and expand my understanding by embracing the inherently unknown condition of life.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Living Act Of One Moment

Most people on the path eventually encounter Zen Buddhism and its tradition of koans as what one might call an "expedient means" of enlightenment.

Generally speaking, we run into five or ten of the most famous koans, such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?", or "Does a dog have Buddha nature?", and that's about it. But there are literally hundreds of koans, the vast majority of which do not consist of a single strange and unanswerable question like these two.

I recently picked up a copy of Dogen's koans, as collected in "The True Dharma eye: Zen Master Dogen's 300 Koans," edited by John Daido Loori. For the most part, the koans consist of exchanges in the moment between masters and pupils. It's true that the majority of them contain questions, but some of the questions are actually rather straightforward, and, to the discerning ear, appear to be susceptible to a straight answer.

Nonetheless, every straight answer is met with a morphology that seems to bear no relationship to the origin of the organism.

What characterizes every single koan ultimately has nothing to do with the form of the words it contains. In a certain sense, it is impossible to answer a koan with words. In an even greater sense, it is impossible to explain the koan with words, which, I ought to point out, is slightly different than responding to it with words.

Nonetheless, it is possible to describe the conceptual framework, and that's what I will attempt to do here.

The essence of every koan is revealed by the common thread that runs through them all. Each one represents a moment of relationship. Now, when relationship is dominated by the mind, regulated by facts, and interpreted by association, relationship has adopted a form. And in order to understand what this means in relationship to koans, we will need to take a brief look at form itself.

I often find myself critiquing a particular form. For example, I might say that Christianity in the form of the Church is too limited, and has lost its essence. Or I might say that the Gurdjieff work isn't open enough to the public. I might say that the people I spend time with have become stale, that I'm tired of my job, and so on.

In each case, I fail to see that the question is global. It is not just one part of my life -- one particular form, for example, the path I am following -- that is stale, uninteresting, boring, and so on. In fact, I meet this problem at various points in my day in every area of my life. So while I focus on a tree: the path I am on, and what's wrong with either it or the other people in it, I overlook the forest, which, if I ever saw it, I would see is my whole life.

What I am getting at is that our entire life is the form. For every single individual, everything is the form. We each create a unique and complete form within ourselves. Thus, there isn't "a form" called Christianity, or Buddhism, or the Gurdjieff work. These are all just labels that various people agree to adopt for their apparently similar, but in fact entirely different and unique, forms. The forms touch in some specific places, true, and this is what makes it possible for the labels to be applied, but they touch in no greater sense than two cells touch, where a few molecules enable them to connect with one another. 99.9% of the other molecules on the cell membrane don't have much of anything in common. They can't form a connection.

Anyone who doubts this in the least need only look at the acrimonious debates that arise within forms, where (to cite a common example) adherents who thought they were members of the same religion suddenly decide it's necessary to split up and form different sects... and then perhaps kill each other.

This brings us back to a recurring theme in these essays: that which is inwardly formed.

As I come to my path and walk it, I walk that path completely within my own form. Every response I make is dictated by that form. So every answer, every explanation, every observation I make springs directly from habit. And it's not the habit of the label of my form; it's the habit, the form, of my entire life itself.

The Zen Master leaps over this obstacle. In the complete and absolute abandonment of form, every potential response arising from habit has been abandoned. Within the moment of exchange, there is no presumption of response. Response is absolutely liberated from the shackles that contain it. This means that any response whatsoever becomes the "correct" response to the koan, as long as the state that the response comes from is a state of liberation.

Hence the frequently absurd, obscure, or even impossible responses. It is not the nature of the question that they point to; they point to the nature of relationship, which is creative, lies only within the moment itself, and is not subject to interpretation. It is to be lived within this life, not analyzed and redacted.

In a perverse and ironic development, the record of a koan itself becomes the exact embodiment of everything that it is not. Even this, of course, could be overcome if one was truly liberated, but I am not. My nature automatically grasps the idea of not grasping.

I referred to the "organism" and "morphology" earlier in this essay because every Zen koan is a living organism in the midst of development. We are not examining philosophy, psychology, or religion here: we are examining biology and physiology. We are examining the evolution of Being within the context of relationship.

This examination cannot be done the mind. It must be studied within the living act of one moment, and if, within the living act of one moment, I am able to transcend my habitual nature -- abandon my presumptions -- for even just one second, I will see that this moment is absolutely unknown, supremely unexpected, unpredictable, inexplicable, and completely liberated from everything I think I am and everything I think I know.

This, of course, is a formulation, but before he lets his arrow fly, the archer must first take a look in the direction of the target.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Within this life

One of the features of Zen Buddhism is its emphasis on the ordinary. Without drawing any definite conclusions, the observation of, and inhabitation of, the ordinary is carefully investigated.

Gurdjieff was equally committed to the rediscovery of the ordinary. He said that an ordinary man -- an obyvatel, or good householder --might well achieve more than someone who set out with a grand aim in mind.

A question arises as to how I perceive myself within ordinary life. I see that I am within this life. This life is not within me; I am within it. So I do not include life, life includes me.

If I begin by seeing myself as containing life, then life belongs to me. It's a grand thing, this! I am the owner of life! I make myself the boss of everything that happens. Sound familiar? Roughly speaking, the whole planet runs on this energy. It is a perspective born strictly of the ego. Once life belongs to me, it ought to do what I say, and I can have control over it.

If, on the other hand, I begin by seeing life as containing me, I am part of a whole -- a very tiny part of a vast whole.

We can liken these two different perspectives to Gurdjieff's practices on considering. When I perceive the origination of life as being within me, I consider inwardly. If I perceive life as originating outside of me, I consider outwardly. The motive forces are diametrically opposed: one is all about the power of ego, and the other one is about service.

Please be clear that I'm not speaking here about events and circumstances. The question here lies within an organic perception of the act of living.

If I sense myself with a finer perception, if I make an effort to be in relationship with the sensation of the body, I find myself as being more within life. This is where the organic sense of being takes me: I inhabit my life. I meet life on its own terms, its unpredictable, unfair, and even unreasonable terms. There is no separation from life; in discovering of the self within life, the self is included in life. It is ordinary. It is part of a continuum. It's only if I try to take possession of life, to claim that life is inside me, that I separate myself from the nature of life.

So, then, what is the nature of what takes place within the organism? After all, it, too, appears to be life. I think the difference lies in the understanding between the point of origination and the point of conclusion. We touch here on Dogen's discussions of cause and effect. I must see this in broad terms, because of course situations are reciprocal. In broad terms it is a question of the term "work in life" and what it means.

If the cause of life is inside me, then I think I am the center of my work, and can transform life.

If the cause of life originates from without, then life becomes the center of my work, and life transforms me.

The first proceeds from the controlling nature of ego, the second proceeds from the humbling nature of acceptance and humility.

I am a point that receives the nature of life. A vessel into which the world flows. In a sense, the entire world exists with or without this vessel; the absolute truth of the Dharma is immutable, regardless of the presence or absence of the vessel. The vessel is temporary; the Dharma is eternal. The vessel discovers itself only in the context of "within this life. " It cannot discover itself anywhere else, because this is the only location it exists in. For the vessel -- this expression of consciousness -- to discover its self within itself isn't possible. It discovers itself through the outward consideration, the realization, of relationship. This is another feature in Zen. Every koan is about the relationship, not the explanation. The explanation is always incorrect -- even the correct explanation is incorrect. It is the relationship that expresses the truth, not the facts.

Within this life, self remembering consists of understanding the relationship.

How do I receive my life? I stands between two sets of forces, the inner and the outer perception. The outer perceptions want to take life and hold it; they are the coarse elements of our sensory ability. Our inner sensory perceptions, which are geared and tooled specifically to receive the impressions of life, are capable of a different quality of relationship.

In a certain sense, I am here to suffer my life: to allow it. Remember that Mr. Gurdjieff told us that the non-expression of negative emotion is a practice that gives us a clue about what the idea of intentional suffering means. I won't spell it out; the question of the relationship between being within this life and not expressing negativity is a living question.

Within this life, we meet each other on the common ground of our own humanity. What could be simpler?

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The food of life

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In "The Historical Jesus," John Dominic Crossan points out that one central feature of Christ's ministry is the taking and sharing of meals. In the miracle of loaves and fishes, the wedding at Cana, and the Last Supper, Christ partakes of food with his followers and disciples.

In every instance, the taking in of food becomes a miraculous process. The changing of water into wine and the multiplication of loaves and fishes indicate a transformation which takes place in the act of eating.

In Dogen's Shobogenzo, chapter "Kajo," or, "ordinary life," we find the following comments:

"A miracle, in every instance and for every person, is always eating meals. This being so, sitting alone on Great and Mighty Peak is just eating meals."

"My late master, the eternal Buddha... says, "When hunger comes I eat a meal, when tiredness comes I sleep. Forges span the universe.

"Hunger coming" is the vivid state of a person who has eaten meals already. For a person who is not experienced eating meals, hunger is impossible. So remember, we for whom hunger may be an everyday state are, decidedly, people who have finished a meal. "Tiredness coming" may be further tiredness experienced in tiredness. It has totally sprung free from the top of the brains of tiredness. Therefore, it is a moment of the present when, in vivid activity through the whole body, the whole body is totally turned around." (Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha Press, Book 3, pp. 188-189.)

So we discover that Dogen's understanding of this process was quite similar to Christ's.

The question might appear baffling, or strictly allegorical, if it were not for Mr. Gurdjieff's words on the matter as explained to P. D. Ouspensky in "In Search Of The Miraculous."

Here we learn that man has three kinds of food. Ordinary food which we eat and digest in the gut; air; and impressions. Impressions clearly are a form of food, and yet modern science completely fails to recognize that fact. Little consideration is given to the idea that if you take in the wrong kind of impressions, you can get sick, in the same way that you will get sick if you eat rotten meat or breathe polluted air.

Because the human being is a resilient machine, we can absorb an awful lot of bad impressions before it ruins us. But the risk is always there. The Buddhist's practice of discrimination, the Christian's and Sufi's practice of action through love, and all of the rituals, forms, and the moral teachings of religions are actually designed specifically to prevent people from taking in bad impressions. In a supreme irony, many of these forms become so rigid that they turn into a bad impression of their own.

It isn't just the forms that become rigid. It's we ourselves that become rigid. We adopt our own "inner form," ostensibly to prevent ourselves from taking in what we think are bad impressions, and low and behold, our inner form itself starts to prevent us from getting the right food. This happens to just about everybody, which is why the Buddhists worry so much about the discrimination of the conceptual mind.

This is why intelligent flexibility within the moment is so important.

The most important action a man engages in in his effort at spiritual transformation is the manner in which he takes in his impressions. Generally speaking, a man is going to get enough food for his gut and his lungs just through the instinctive process alone. Impressions are quite another matter, because the sensitivity of the organ and its ability to drink impressions in deeply deteriorates steadily over the course of a lifetime. A child is born with the ability to drink in impressions very deeply indeed, and there are few barriers to them. As a man grows up and learns to discriminate, however, that ability becomes more and more constricted. Hence Christ's adage that a man must "become as a child" in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. It may not seem related, but the act of becoming more open to impressions is certainly part of what this phrase means from an esoteric point of view.

In the Gurdjieff work, the idea of "being open" is talked about a good deal. There are many different meanings for these words, some extremely esoteric, but in a general and exoteric way they indicate a need for flexibility, and the need to be open to the arrival of impressions within the body.

So once again, we find a common thread buried in the midst of traditional practice on opposite sides of the world, and the one man in the past century who was able to explain the nature of this thread in a technically practical manner was Mr. Gurdjieff.

Of course, anyone can gain a technical understanding of this question from texts. The real question is how to obtain a practical understanding of this, which can only arise through participation in the organic state of being. And, of course, we can see how very clearly Dogen indicated that in the last sentence of the quote at the beginning of this essay. What he is describing there is the same new vessel for new wine which Jesus Christ referred us to.

Many years ago, when I was getting ready for our summer vacation, my group leader Henry Brown asked me what I was going to do over the summer. I told him I was going to make a concerted work effort and read several different religious texts and study them. Now, Henry was an avid reader, and he had nothing against these ideas. But his comment to me on that day was "sometimes work is just taking in impressions."

So before we work, when we work, and after we work, the work we always undertake is the ingestion of our impressions. If we develop a greater appreciation of the sacredness of the process of life, as well as the sacredness of its material nature, our work will deepen and we will be well fed.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

the necessity of death

In the process of living, death is the most necessary thing that we do.

It isn't necessary for anything to live. With or without life, the Dharma -- the eternal reality and is-ness of the universe -- is inviolable and perfect. If we study Beelzebub' Tales to His Grandson, for example, we are told that the only reason that the universe -- and hence organic life -- exists is because of the decay of the place of Being of His Endlessness due to the passage of time, or, as Gurdjieff refers to it, the merciless Heropass.

That, of course, is a complex myth, with many layers of meaning. In the immediate context of our own life, we can only study the existence of our organism along with other organisms, which is closer to home.

Take the example of fossils-- for example, the above specimens of Damesella, an upper Cambrian trilobite species. Now, we probably never think of it, but when we look at a fossil, it rarely occurs to us that the fossil is a relative. Not conceptually, but literally. It is absolutely certain that somewhere way, way back in time, we share an ancestor with this particular fossil. So we are intimately related to these strange creatures from the dawn of time by the fact that we had exactly the same parents somewhere along the line of evolution.

All of the lines of organic life are one line. All of the kingdoms, the phylums, the orders, the families, and the species are one family. When, for example, American Indians on the Pacific coast used to kill the salmon and referred to them as "brother fish," it sounds like an allegorical reference, or perhaps even an affectation, to we "modern" men. But it is quite literally true when one views it from the point of deep time.

All life is one life, and all life exists together. There is no absolute necessity for any single life. The process of nature demonstrates this. Watch swarms of caddis flies hatching in the spring; birds pounce on them and tens of thousands are devoured the instant they emerge.

The living is not necessary, but the dying is necessary. And it's necessary on many levels.

In the first place, let's be strictly practical. If nothing died, the planet would have become so crowded there would be no room many billions of years ago. So within the very act of living--the moment that the concept of living itself is born--dying becomes necessary and proper. One might even say it's one's responsibility to die, mightn't one?

Secondly, dying feeds a sacred process which we are unable to touch or sense with the ordinary parts of our being.

To die is to offer.

When I die, I will come before a moment where everything within my vessel is offered up to the next level. If I look back at the ancient practice of pouring libations, of letting liquid flow out of a vessel, I may intuit a symbolic representation of the way that all of the impressions of life flow out of the vessel the moment of death. This is a kind of food for the level above me.

I can't expect to penetrate that idea very effectively from this level. If I begin to sense myself more organically, I may begin to get a taste of it, but the true moment in which I will finally and properly understand this is the moment of death itself, and, as Mr. Gurdjieff pointed out, that moment is supremely unique for each organism.

The Tibetans have a tradition that all of life is simply a preparation for death. Mr. Gurdjieff himself, perhaps drawing on that understanding, pointed out that the first and perhaps best hope for a man was to not "die like a dog."

And what is the difference between dying like a man and a dying like a dog?

The dog has no choice in the way that he dies. The dog must offer his death without any ability to prepare, outside of the mechanical preparation that nature provides. Man has been put in the position of greater responsibility. It's as in the parable about the talents (Matthew chapter 25): men are given what they have because they are expected to use it properly. A man is meant to arrive at death having taken his material and made use of it in a certain way. The one who does nothing has failed.

In taking on the gift of a body, I acquire the responsibility to take in my impressions properly. That is to say, in order to serve, I ought to drink life deeply so that there is plenty of wine to offer when I die.

There is a passage in "In Search of the Miraculous" where there is a discussion about the idea that life isn't fair. The example that is given is that all things have to die, and that that is not fair. But it's perfectly fair. It's the idea of "fair" itself that is flawed, not the process of death. The process of death is justified and necessary; our attitudes towards it are not.

I do not in any way mean to whitewash the real emotional anguish connected to this idea. I think real and compelling emotional anguish in relationship to the process of death exists on every level of the universe. In fact, part of the sorrow of His Endlessness itself is intimately connected to the necessity of death. Not just the death of organic life, but, in a broader sense, the action of time on matter.

What I do ponder is the fact that I cling so desperately to life, when death is, in fact, the most important thing I will do. If I meet my death with the right material and with courage -- which is a question every one of us must inevitably face -- I will die less like a dog and more like a man. This modern business of pumping us full of chemicals and attaching us to machines and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep us alive for just a little bit longer is a form of insanity.

Our time and money would be much better spent on educating us in the matter of how to die properly, instead of how to help us stay alive in the wrong way for just a little bit longer.

Does any of this pondering help alleviate each of our own fears of death? Probably not much.

I recall telling my group leader Henry Brown many years ago that I was terrified of death. It's not appropriate to pass his response on, as it was made in the group. I will say that as I have grown older, even though the terror always remains, there is another part that grows at discovers a greater acceptance of this inevitability.

There is even a part that understands that death represents an opportunity, and that if I can meet it with dignity, that will make a difference. The organism itself, which is the vehicle for manifestation of consciousness on this level, fears death. That can't be expunged. But the other bodies that form in a man have the capability of a different relationship with the question.

If I am able to more thoroughly understand death as a necessity, I may begin to approach the acceptance that is needed if I wish to open my heart completely -- not just in the moment of death, when I will no longer have a choice in the matter, but beforehand, when an offering can be made from this vessel in the midst of life.

All the traditions say that to immerse ourselves in the matters of the flesh is a form of denial. Each man has to make his own peace with these matters.

For myself, I see that I must learn to pay in advance, and pay often.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

a note to readers:
there's an additional new post at lee's other blog today, in response to a reader question from the last post.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Digging deeper still

In the Zen tradition, the process of ordinary life, and the associative thinking it produces, are often referred to as entanglements.

Gurdjieff referred to the process of being sucked up by life and its events as identification.

Here I am, in this rat's nest of associative identifications. The lower parts are not only thoroughly invested in them, there is a firm belief on their part that the entire process of life--everything that happens to us--is all about this: the temporal, randomized, and emotionally taxing process of dealing with "reality." Of arranging everything so that we are secure, comfortable, and can assure ourselves some form of rational continuity.

Is there such a thing as rational continuity? When I ponder the implications of nonlocality, I begin to see that there is what one might call an irrational simultaneity to the universe, rather than the rational continuity my temporalized and localized convictions produce.

And indeed, poised between intersecting energies in the body-- the higher and lower forces which meet here in this place called, for lack of a better word, consciousness--there seems to be a contradiction that can't be resolved without the abandonment of logical assumptions.

The acceptance of the nonlocality of the universe is just such an abandonment. To rationally accept the irrational-- is that possible? And is there a way to accept this with parts other than the intelligence of the intellect?

The suggestion is that within this moment, I am immediately and irrevocably linked to, and a fully realized part of, an instantaneous process of Being which permeates the entire universe.

This conceptualization is strikingly close to the Buddhist world view. It is equally in step, I believe, with what Gurdjieff said about the nature of things.

The idea raises questions about all of our assumptions, and directs me back to the header for this blog, which has been there since its inception:

"There is no "I", there is only truth. The way to the Truth is through the heart.

The jumbled twigs of our associations produce entanglements that obstruct a clear view of this question.

The sweet nectar that can feed us with the possibility of a nonrational acceptance of the nonrational is too overpowering to be swallowed in gulps. We must open our parts to it slowly, sip gently and intimately, in trembling anticipation of an opening far too profound for this ordinary self to bear.

And that, once again, is about being willing to suffer by standing naked in front of what we are, and what we lack. Only that willingness opens the blossoms that the nectar flows within.

may our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wet woods

This afternoon was gray and rainy. My wife and I drove about 25 miles up the Palisades Interstate Parkway, with the famous dog Isabel in the back seat, to Harriman State Park. We parked the car on a random guess in a place we had never been to, and took a trail we knew nothing about.

...It sounds like real life, doesn't it?

The woods were cold and wet, big fat snowflakes spitting down out of a leaden sky. We climbed up a ridge where the tips of blueberry bushes were painted a feathery, fairy white with a clinging layer of snow. At the top of the ridge, hidden from view until the last hundred feet or so, we came across a huge glacial erratic, a granite boulder the size of a small house, resting on top of table rock (that's a term for a flat expanse of bedrock that is left when a glacier scrapes it clean.) Yes, I should have had my camera -- and that should be the picture for today's post -- but I deliberately left the camera in the car, so I would not be distracted by that machine.

And there we were, with a stone.

The erratic was alone. It stood there in monolithic glory, dappled with green lichen, peach feldspar, and smoky gray quartz. This rock has been there since the last ice age; it will be there waiting patiently until the next one.

All around us, water; in front of us, a rock moved by water; we ourselves, mostly water.

When I feel the remorse of my own lack, on my cheeks: water.

No matter where I turn in this wilderness of life, lost in the valley of the shadow of death -- we are all perpetually in that valley, and under that shadow, although we prefer to forget it -- there is always water. One cannot understand Earth or organic life without water. It is what makes the planet uniquely what it is. It can manifest as a single salty teardrop, or a frozen force that moves stones so large I cannot grasp it.

And what happens next in life? There will be another path, unexpected; more water; more stones I did not know of and cannot comprehend.

My work is like that. I need to be prepared for what is unknown, and allow my vessel-- and the water of my impressions -- to support my Being as it meets what I do not know, and cannot understand. This water of which the vessel is made is capable of taking in the most delicate tenderness, and exerting enormous amounts of force, force that can move objects greater than I understand.

...How do I understand that?

Well, the simple fact is that I don't. I have relatively little understanding. The deeper my roots go, and the more my organism sings with life, the less I know and the more I live.

And I think, as I age, that it may be better to live fully and to know nothing, than to know everything, but not live fully.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

To intimately explore nature

How do I find a way, in the midst of this confusing life, immersed within technologies that consume us, to become more intimate with myself?

Intimacy is not a matter of thinking about intimacy. When I think about it, it doesn't exist. Intimacy begins before there is any intimacy, and ends after it is over.

In the same way that the universe is woven from threads of infinite love and compassion, so the very fabric of existence is an infinite fabric of intimacy.

This intimacy is so great that it refuses to obey the laws of physics. Nothing is local; everything exists together within one place, in one single time, entangled so that communication is instantaneous, not limited by the speed of light.

It's not the purpose to expound intellectually on this matter today, but those who are more interested in this subject are encouraged to read this month's issue of Scientific American. The article raises questions that definitely astound.


It is one thing to write a scientific article about this matter; those of us who do inner work are intimately exploring the actual state of nature, not the idea of the state of nature.

What is the state of nature?
Do I know the state of nature?
Can the state of nature be known?

The body is an instrument for measuring the state of nature. The mind calibrates both the equipment and its results. The emotion takes measurements in. Together, three centered being--the initial expression of awareness within the bodhi-dharma-- has the potential to explore places Einstein himself did not even know existed.

These are the spaces inside us where the conceptual constructs of physics are in actual activity at all times.

The quantum level is not an idea or something that takes place outside us; I am that level.

Local reality is not something that takes place out there. I am local reality.

Man himself is an absolute expression of the absolute.

My separation arises from a wish for separation. It is not accidental; it is willed by the ego and the erroneous thinking of the conceptual mind. Only if I step past that--what Dogen described, in his enlightenment experience, as "dropping off body and mind" -- may I begin to discover how not-separated I actually am.

I stand perpetually, directly on the threshold of this understanding, and yet I cannot clarify the understanding.

Even to sit for many hours may not clarify the understanding. Zazen -- the act of seeing -- must take place always and everywhere. It must become intimate-- sexual, unforgiving and perpetual.

Am I up to this demand?

I cannot know with this mind; I can only work within working. Deepening intimacy, deepening compassion, until intimacy and compassion are surrendered completely, and there is a discovery of the intimate and compassionate silence that precedes intimacy and compassion.

How temporary! How ephemeral!
Clouds come and go within me;
The sun shines, and then it rains.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


click here for the audio podcast

Tonight I ponder impermanence.

There are times when I try to see my whole life -- everything that has ever happened, all of the impressions I contain which have fallen into this vessel over the course of a lifetime -- at one time, and find a way to open a door within my Being to offer all of that upwards towards what Christ referred to as "our Father."

At this moment, it seems as though that effort is as close as I can come to an idea of what it is to live within the bodhi-dharma, the reality, the totality of truth.

In the midst of offering this tiny slice of the magnificence of this planet and all that takes place on it upwards--held in my two little hands like a wondering child overwhelmed by the beauty and newness of life--I feel sorrow.

The sorrow stems more than anything from a vibration within the organism; a trembling offertory, an emotional quality that emerges from parts that I am usually not sensitive to in the midst of what we call life. But everything about this sensation, this emotion, this perception, is for me more true than the dreams I routinely occupy myself with.

As I truly gain more sense of my impermanence, my mortality, my sense of responsibility to those around me undergoes a metamorphosis. It's all about the relationship; it's about discovering this vibration of compassion, and employing it honestly in an effort to support those around me. After all, all of us are doomed to die; what better thing can we do for one another than to attempt to offer a real support, a support that springs from a kind of love that does not try to take and own, but rather give and share?

To die fully within life is to live fully within death. This is not a state, but a process; in the finding of what is true, I need to shed the dry skin of what came before it.

How do I fully inhabit my life within the joy, within the interaction, within the reciprocal feeding that takes place in each encounter? How do I honor the other? How do I approach not with criticism, but with support?

Do I really examine this question within the moment of my life, as I know my sensation and I know my breath? Or do I just think about it sometimes?

I think a lot. If I look carefully, I see that even the thought, which seems so solid, is supremely impermanent. Many of the thoughts are incorrect, or even destructive. As I see each one of these thoughts, it is possible to know that they are not this Being.

The organic sense of Being becomes a yardstick against which the temporary nature of all arising and falling phenomena can be measured. The fact that I so frequently forget to take this measurement does not mean there is no scale, or that measurement does not exist.

In the midst of even this effort itself, there is a need to stop. To deepen the relaxation, to see that within this moment it is possible to let go of even more tension than I thought or knew I had. What wishes to penetrate has no path to travel if blocked by unconscious tensions. Acceptance needs to begin with a letting go in the body. In the same way that there is no compassion if there is no effort, no connection, help cannot arrive without acceptance. And in this case, the acceptance consists of a seeing, and then effort to relax.

Why do I try to control things? What ever I "do," life arrives anyway. It doesn't arrive the way I want it to. It just arrives. The objective nature of the Dharma, of bodhi, exists before I do. When it arrives, it clashes with my subjective nature. The resolution of this conflict can only lie at the place of intersection -- the place where the impressions enter the body.

I have no simple resolution for this conflict. I sense, as always, the need to present this awareness naked in the midst of relationship, so that more can be learned, more can be suffered, more can be taken in.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cold blocks of ice

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Gurdjieff dearly loved to use the expression "wiseacreing" to describe the furious--and largely pointless -- intellectual activities man engages in.

He was not the only one to note that the intellect is the chief distraction in the search for real Self. Dogen made the following comments in his Shobogenzo:

"The disciples of the Buddha should just learn the Buddha-Dharma. Furthermore, we should remember that from the beginning we have never lacked the supreme state of bodhi, and we will receive it and use it forever. At the same time, because we cannot perceive it directly, we are prone to beget random intellectual ideas, and because we chase after these as if they were real things, we vainly pass by the great state of truth... We should not think that the learning of these intellectual ideas is the right path of Buddhist practice. When we solely sit in zazen, on the other hand, relying now on exactly the same posture as the Buddha, and letting go of the myriad things, then we go beyond the areas of delusion, realization, emotion, and consideration, and we are not concerned with the ways of the common and the sacred. " (Shobogenzo,, vol. 1, Bendowa, p 8-9, Nishijima & Cross, Dogen Sangha press 2006.)

As usual, it is tempting to quote a huge chunk of Dogen. I had to aggressively edit this passage to keep the text length within reasonable limits.

Both Dogen and Gurdjieff clearly understood the limits of the intellectual mind in the pursuit of intelligence. Intelligence is a three centered practice; we won't encounter it here as we read, or find it anywhere online.

The only place that we can discover Intelligence is within our own consciousness, and that is only if we begin to bring our centers together. Real Intelligence cannot be manifested by a single center. The best one can ever get from that is one-third of Intelligence.

The matter is confused by the fact that both Gurdjieff and Dogen left vast intellectual structures behind them. In Gurdjieff's case, it was "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," which has been unfortunately adopted and used as though it were quite literally a Bible by some Gurdjieff adherents. The book can be subjected to extensive analysis, and it's certainly possible to ferret out many hidden meanings within the parables he offers.

All of that, unfortunately, becomes a remarkably clever intellectual game. It completely sidesteps the question of discovering one's inner presence, and in the hands of touts may actually begin to function as a hindrance to it. The book has consequently become a misleading tool in the hands of those who do not operate under auspices of a legitimate Gurdjieff lineage. In the formal lineages, the process is conducted according to sound principles established by Mr. Gurdjieff himself which are not available outside the legitimate lines.

In Dogen's case, the Shobogenzo has been enthusiastically laundered through the minds of countless brilliant Buddhist analysts. Dogen must have foreseen this happening-- he was an irascible sort, who frequently (and comically) insulted misguided individuals who he felt taught in an unacceptable manner. On this matter, in Bendowa he remarked, "...It is difficult to put oars into the hands of a mountaineer; nevertheless I must bestow the teaching." (p. 10)

There is an enormous amount of analysis of Buddhism taking place in print these days -- to a certainty, far more than any contemporary analysis of Gurdjieff's work -- and it is equally distracting.

So I must continually return myself to actual practice--not the analysis of the practice, and not the discussion of the practice.

The moment I seek to return to, and the sensation I seek to engage in, are not things belonging to what I conventionally understand as "this world. " The activities I seek to open to, and the air I seek to breathe in, are not the activities and the air that I imagine. In every moment of imagination -- which is to say, almost all moments -- I remove myself from Dogen's supreme state of bodhi.

The only reliable link I have to prevent this near-perpetual loss is the connection between the mind and the body in the form of sensation. If this becomes a living thing, I always have an anchor, no matter how much the boat swings in the current.

The precise examination of this question takes place in an organic manner, not an intellectual one. So I need to return my attention to the question of the organism and my relationship to it. This perpetual practice slowly builds up the substances need to make work more possible.

Reading work literature and discussing the work online cannot substitute for that work. If the work is not a living substance and an organic experience within life itself, it isn't work.

The vehicle of the mind must, in a certain sense, be discarded, and an effort must be made to strip the inner state naked, and stand before a darkness that cannot be measured.

This is within the scope of the practice of Zazen as Dogen understood it, and what we undertake today in the Gurdjieff work when we sit.

Without this warm, tactile, living, and immediate practice--with all of its messiness: the beating of hearts, the pumping of lungs, and the itching of skin --all the words, all the ideas, and all of the analysis are cold blocks of ice.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Monday, February 16, 2009


In the Gurdjieff work, we sometimes discuss the idea that we are here to receive. And indeed, as I have mentioned to readership before, the first truly profound realization I ever had about the nature of life was that we are vessels into which the world flows.

The idea of receiving is a powerful one in Buddhism as well. Dogen frequently speaks of receiving the one-to-one transmission of the Dharma.

Such receiving ought not to be construed as an intellectual transmission. It is a receiving that takes place within the body and blood, the bones and the marrow of a man. In Christianity, we refer to this as receiving Christ in body and blood, a literal truth which is allegorically expressed in the Communion.

What is it we are trying to receive?

Here's one point of view. In Bendowa, first chapter of the Shobogenzo (Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha Press, 1994, volume 1 page 4), Dogen says:

"The sutras say that the many patriarchs and the many Buddhas, who dwelt in and maintained the Buddha Dharma, all relied on the practice of sitting erect in the samadhi of receiving and using the self, and esteemed this practice as the right way to disclose the state of realization."

What does this mean, to receive the self?

I think we can fairly say, no one knows the Self. Dogen uses the word to express something much vaster than the tiny perspective I usually inhabit. The "self," as it is used here, refers to an all-inclusive property of reality that we are not accustomed to referring to as "self"; it is composed of what the Buddhists called Bodhi-Dharma, truth-encompassing-reality.

It's reminiscent, isn't it, of Mr. Gurdjieff's comment that everything is, in fact, one single thing?

So there is an experience of self that transcends what I call ego. Attempting to refer to it from this tiny, personalized perspective of self is a patent absurdity; when I speak of the search for self, I don't even know what I search for. Not from within this self.

From within an experience of the organic sense of Being, however, one slowly begins to arrive at a more depersonalized sense of self that stems from a continuity within life, rather than the individuality of experience.

Tonight, for example, I was over at a friend's house while my daughter got a massage. I stepped outside the door to let his dog out so she could do her business; for one brief moment, awareness itself, unsullied by "me," took in the impression of fresh cold air and the constellation Orion against the deepening blue of the early evening sky.

The experience was just the experience. Not "me" having the experience. Within this lies the spontaneous clarity of existence itself, and a silence that provokes both joy and remorse, emerging at the same time within the organism as a single state of worship.

As I grow older, immersed within the experience of organic sensation in the inward flow of life, I begin to see that what I usually referred to as "self" doesn't exist. It is like the weather; a constantly changing environment, endlessly interactive and responsive, but not what this conscious experience is made of. It is an adjunct to conscious experience-- a byproduct of it --not the originating root.

That question of the original root of consciousness is the question in front of my state of Being.

Inevitably, a contradiction arises between my egocentric experience of reality and the understanding that that perspective is inevitably contracted. In the very act of seeing that there is something referred to as "I", as "the self," there is a tacit acknowledgment that what sees is different than this thing called self.

What is it that sees?

From this, also, there is a separation. To fully inhabit what sees would be quite different.

So, do I pursue the understanding of self, or do I relax and open to receive the understanding of self?

Is this connected to the idea in the Lord's prayer: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done?" Is that perhaps a prayer for us to open enough to "receive and use the self," as Dogen puts it?

There is a great deal available to be received. As Dogen puts it in the very first paragraph of Bendowa, "This Dharma is abundantly present in each human being, but if we do not practice it, it does not manifest itself, and if we do not experience it, it cannot be realized."

Anyone who reads Ravi Ravindra's "Heart Without Measure" will see that Jeanne De Salzmann was equally interested in this exact same question. The effort needs to be to penetrate the practice; and this practice is most decidedly not penetrable by the mind. We ought not analyze the practice, we ought not intellectualize the practice, we ought to live within the practice.

We must, in a word, receive the practice.

And we do not--cannot--receive the practice from another person. The practice is not something that we can "get" by relying on a teacher or outside forces. As Gurdjieff himself said, the only real initiation is self initiation. Something must change within us that turns us towards the famous wall at Shaolin which Bodhidharma faced for nine years after coming from the west.

This facing the wall is a willingness to stand in front of practice and suffer it, that is, allow it.

The parts of me that can receive what I need are closed. The experience of that has become an ordinary one, so much so that I accept it most of the time.

There is a danger in that. I have become complacent in my inability.

This is why Dogen, why Gurdjieff, and why Jeanne De Salzmann all constantly exhort us to adopt an active practice.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Information technology

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Reading this morning in "The Superorganism" (Holldobler & Wilson, W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), it seems evident to me that the model for insect societies is a good one for understanding the cosmology presented by Gurdjieff. Without getting into too many esoteric comparatives, simply put, the universe itself is a superorganism with emergent properties.

This, of course, is an intellectual discourse of the type that the blog has been engaging in a bit less lately. And if you want intellectual discussion of the work, there are many other places you can go, such as "What is the work?" at Ning.

Psychological and intellectual analysis of Work ideas is not always very helpful. Over and over again, I seem to find myself stressing that this mechanism is only good for just so much. That is in spite of the fact that I find great value in it. I think what we need to recognize, above all, that it is a starting point. The Work must penetrate much deeper than that to have a real effect on a man.

Today I want to examine a quote from chapter 6 of "The Superorganism" and discuss it in terms of our inner work. As this particular discussion develops we will seek connections between the intellectual ideas we encounter and the direction they point us in in terms of practical inner experience.

On page 168 of "The Superorganism," we find the following:

"The essence of social existence is reciprocal, cooperative communication. The study of communicative mechanisms is at the heart of research on social interactions, whether that communication occurs among the organelles of a cell, the cells and tissues of an organism, the organisms within a society, or the species within mutalistic symbyoses. This fundamental principle of biology has been articulated by Thomas Seeley as follows: "The formation of a higher level unit by integrating lower-level units will succeed only if the emerging organization acquires the appropriate technologies for passing information among its members."

This principle holds true on any level of the universe. It speaks specifically about the fact that there are levels, and that they only communicate with each other if the proper connections exist. The word "technologies" in this particular passage refers to actual physical mechanisms that evolution has produced for communication: in ants, specifically, a complex series of glands that produce pheromones; in bees, the ability to perform complex dances to indicate the direction of food sources and the need for workers of various kinds.

This may not, at first glance, seem to have anything to do with inner work, but it is exactly what Gurdjieff said about the nature of man. We are machines. Within us there are physical mechanisms -- "technologies"--produced by evolution that allow communication between lower and higher levels of awareness. In the same way that cells use the technology of proteins for communication, and organs use the technology of cells to organize themselves and perform their tasks, so the lower parts of man, that is, his ordinary psychological components, have all of the equipment that is necessary to communicate with a higher level of awareness. The equipment itself has deteriorated and fallen into disuse, but it is there.

So the essence of contacting a higher order of awareness lies in communication and the ability to use the parts that can do that. Hence Gurdjieff's reference to "impartial mentation," a way of perceiving that correctly uses all of the material connections available to us.

It's also important to note that the emergent properties within the universe only have meaning within the context of reciprocity. Whether we are looking at insect societies or the relationship between man and God, it is the exchange of what is inwardly formed within the community that creates a higher level of awareness.

Communication is a process of passing on information. Information is, in biology, quite literally that which is formed inwardly, in a material sense. Proteins are formed in cells. Cells are formed in organs. In each case we see that a material product results from the work of the machine, which can be used within the social network (proteins in cells, cells in organs) to produce a higher level of work.

This only takes place if what is inwardly formed is properly formed. If proteins, for example, are folded incorrectly, all kinds of diseases can result, and the cell does not work properly. If too much of one kind of protein is present, and not enough of another, chaos ensues. So what is inwardly formed at the beginning is vital to the ability of the emergent Superorganism, whatever kind of Superorganism that is, to function correctly.

The quality of man's psychological and spiritual nature functions in much the same way. When we see aberrant behavior -- for example, the Virginia University shooter -- we see quite clearly that what was formed inwardly was wrong. In extreme cases like this, it's obvious. What we don't see is that for the most part, we pay little or no attention to what is formed inwardly. When it produces what Jeanne De Salzmann called "bad results," (see Idiots in Paris by Bennett) it is a direct result of our failure to attend to what we form inwardly in a proper manner.

This need for greater attention, for greater discrimination, within the immediate moment of our life is an essential point for inner work. I think this point is well understood by the Buddhists, who wish to cultivate mindfulness. That practice also ought to be at the heart of Christianity, but even though I can say many good things about Christians, and am in fact one myself, I think that practice is somewhat lacking in the Christian church today.

Getting back to the specific practice, if we look at the way bees communicate, they use vibration. In almost exactly the same way, we have vibrations within us -- and vibrations from outside us -- that indicate in a relatively precise manner the direction that good food lies in, and how rich the food source is. If we learn to pay a good kind of inner attention, it will lead us to richer food for our spiritual life. In the same way, ants use scent to direct them as to how to behave. And it is in fact true that we can use inner "taste" and "smell" to know what action we could take that would serve better.

So what we form inwardly is critical. This has nothing to do with facts that we absorb; it is all about the intimate experience of life. It is, in other words, about acquiring this food of our impressions. You can pile up all the arguments and facts you want, they don't mean a damn thing relative to the tactile arrival of life at the threshold of our senses. That arrival consists of a nonverbal, yet nevertheless absolutely compelling, language which is the essence of the structure we must be sensitive to and reside within if we want to re-acquire the "technology" for communication which we have forgotten how to use.

I will refer readers once again to a passage from Mr. Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," page 1090, as follows:

"The second of the four personalities, functioning in most cases entirely independently of the first, is the sum of the results of data deposited and fixed in the common presence of every man, as of every animal, through the six organs called "receivers of vibrations of different qualities" -- organs that function in accordance with the new impressions perceived, and whose sensitivity depends on heredity and upon the conditions of the preparatory formation for responsible existence of the given individual."

Here we have a quite exact description of the technology that man has within himself for the receiving of impressions. Anyone who reads the passage in its entirety will have to agree that he is describing the emotional apparatus of man. And, indeed, the emotional apparatus is both the most sensitive organic receiver that man has, and the specific physical apparatus that receives the vibration of impressions.

When Mr. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky it was necessary to make a conscious effort at the moment an impression is received (In Search of the Miraculous, page 188) he was referring specifically to placing the attention within the organism at the point where the "receivers of vibration" receive the impressions. This is a point of work that every serious student must eventually turn themself to.

The transformation of the "water" of life--the inward flow of impressions into the vessel -- into "wine" eventually takes place if and when the attention is present at the point where impressions are received. This is the moment where what Gurdjieff calls conscious effort can make a major change in the quality of what is received and what it produces.

Of course, all of this, when transmitted by the "technology" we use today -- which consists, in this case, of written words, and electronic transmission devices -- amounts to nothing more than intellectual analysis. It is up to us to dispense with the analysis and the intellectualism, and to become much more sensitive and attentive to the actual work of the organism.

In Dharma Hall discourse 350, "Deepen Intimacy with Self and Others," Dogen says,

"Pleaser cherish your skin, flesh, bones, and marrow.
Knowing each other, intimate friends grow even more intimate.
When someone asks the meaning of coming from the west,
Bodhidharma faces the wall for nine years,
abiding at Shaolin."

(Eihei Koroku, translated by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications 2004)

The practice of inner intimacy is, in other words, a rigorous one. It is a search conducted from within a mystery, to discover a mystery.

We can, however, take heart.

Bees may dance in the darkness, but as they offer their experience to one another, it leads them together into the light, where the nectar is rich.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Taking Good Care

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In Dogen's Extensive Record (the Eihei Koroku,) there are a number of discourses in which he ends his commentary by saying "I respectfully hope you will take good care."

I opened the Record this morning to find such a passage, and happened on "Dwelling Thoroughly in the Mountains" a talk given on New Year's Eve about 1249 a.d.

(nb. All of today's quotes are from pages 474-477, "Dogen's extensive Record", translated by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications 2004.)

You may agree that the beginning paragraph of this talk expresses an essential joy in practice:

"Great assembly, with more than three hundred pieces of empty sky I can buy one branch of plum blossoms at the end of the twelfth month, which, with auspicious clouds at the top of the cliff and the moon above the cold valley, contains spring and warmth promising sounds of laughter."

It is, as usual, tempting to quote the entire talk. Instead, I'm going to recommend you go get the book and read it. A penetrating study of Dogen--as opposed to snippets of quotes-- is well worth the time.

Today, however, we'll stick to the snippets.

Dogen says, "Right now, if you are someone who has the mind of the way, at first you should seclude yourself and dwell in mountain valleys." This strikes a note with me.

By practicing intimate perception, one comes to dwell in mountain valleys. Practice begins with sensing the roots of the mountain, not the views from the peak.

He also speaks to the assembly about the idea of practice being like a man pulling an ox past a window... the horns pass by, the hooves pass by, but the "tail cannot pass by."

"Thus we should know that if the tail has not yet been studied in practice, the horns also have not yet been studied."

Without, so to speak, giving the whole game away, I might point out here that a window is an aperture that things are seen through, and the "tail" means--among other things-- the base of the spine.

In taking good care, one approaches the practice of intimate perception. This is the study of the tail in practice. When the entire ox passes by the window, but the tail has not passed by, the way has not been fully engaged. The tail is the root of practice.

At the heart of this rich and complex parable, I intuit a rather simple message.

I seek the root of Being--within sensation, within breath, within mindfulness-- and feed myself with that impression. The search for that specific impression engages both within meditation, and within life.

By becoming more intimate with myself, with my inner life and this careful, caring sensation of the organism, I come to dwell in the mountains.

Why is it "taking good care?" Well, do I take good care of myself? How carefully, how delicately, how precisely and deliberately do I examine my inner state? Most importantly, how do I do this using tools of perception other than the intellectual mind?

I have mentioned before that the body has a mind which is equally capable of intelligent perception; the emotions equally have the same capacity.

If I recruit these intelligences to participate in my effort at inner perception, what new experiences might become possible?

I leave that to you, as you seek your own intimacy.

And may we all take good care together in that effort.

may our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The intimate act of perception

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Whether I sense it or not, I am closely tied to the planet. This means that the energy that flows in me is regulated by what one might call astrological conditions.

I don't say this in order to encourage the use of mumbo-jumbo astrology, although I have no objections to gentle speculation in this area. What I do say is based strictly on many years of specific observation within my own range of perception. The energy that is available to me for work depends to some extent on the phases of the moon. There are probably other planets involved with this, but I can't be more specific on that subject, because I don't follow the less obvious details of planetary alignments. And I am not going to offer observations about what's available and when, because even that varies depending on inner conditions.

In any event, I am closely tied to the planet. I am a part of biology, a part of animal life, a part of organic life on Earth, and the chief initial cause of my inability to see what I am arises, in large part, from my psychological and organic separation from this fact. Man's senses have, as Gurdjieff indicated, deteriorated so much that what the ordinary man ought to sense about his conditions -- what even a dog, in fact, is able to sense about his conditions -- is no longer available to him.

Not only that, the conditions that make it more possible for me to sense what I am organically are not consistent. So I have to learn how to work when energy is more available, and relax and not force things when it is less so.

Coming back to a more practical set of observations, over the last day I have been studying the availability of finer material within the context of impressions as it is connected to the active perception of breathing, not within meditation, but in the midst of ordinary life.

Bringing this study over into the first moments of awakening in the morning, I spent about five minutes this morning studying the intimacy of connection directly upon coming out of sleep.

I have recommended this study to readers before. The moment when I wake up is a moment when the associative center, which runs most of the show, has not kick started itself yet. In this particular moment, it's more possible to observe the roots of the connection between breathing, sensation, and perception.

It's particularly important, I find, to study and attempt to understand this impression, because the root of sensation itself lies here in this foundation. One might say that the very act of being itself is born within the very fine and very precise vibrations that arise at the fundament of this act of perception.

I point myself back to this because it reminds me once again of the delicate intimacy which is needed if I wish to study the organism. Crude, gross impressions -- by gross I mean impressions of a "larger" nature--and psychological impressions are all very interesting and distracting, but for myself I find it is these very fine, intimate, and precise impressions at the root of being that I need to understand. I am studying a very complicated organism, much like an old-fashioned watch with many tiny gears, and I can't appreciate the fineness of the mechanism unless I am willing to put my attention quite specifically on the clockwork.

Despite many years of a good availability of these impressions, their intensity varies, and there are periods where such impressions are much less available. I no longer ascribe this to a failure of my attention. That would be akin to believing that I control everything. I feel quite certain that availability depends on these planetary conditions I began with. So I need to wait patiently, trimming the wick of my lamp, so to speak, for the moment when something becomes more available.

Then I turn my attention, first thing in the morning, towards this specific and intimate understanding of the relationship between breathing and sensation of the body. I discover a support that arises within the experience which I may be able to come back to later in the day.

In "Heart Without Measure," Jeanne de Salzmann implied to Ravi Ravindra that the act of carefully collecting such impressions and nurturing one's self with them would help the lower energies in the body to establish a better contact with the higher ones.

Speaking from my own experience, she was definitely correct on this point.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.