Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ten thousand intellects

Ten thousand intellects
Are no match
For one fool
With a heart of gold.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Human beings all engage in conflict.

There's a pervasive tradition in most religious practices that teaches we can rise above this; that with enough work, enough prayer, enough grace, we can enter a state where we are so well balanced that we are always peaceful, always serene, ever mellow and ever gentle.

Anyone out there reached that state yet?

I didn't think so. As one of my friends said to me a number of years ago- this is a man with a years-long, deeply spiritual practice- "the trouble with us is that we think we're not negative."

And there's the rub. What is produced by the mind is part of the illusion. One cannot think one's way out of how one is. The whole physical state and nature organism would have to change in order for us to truly "lose" our negativity.

So there we are- stuck in this condition which, inevitably, produces negativity and conflict. It is a truth. Even if we did somehow rise above it all, others would not: that is to say, we would be surrounded by it and would still have to deal with it. There is no way out of having to confront the conditions imposed by inhabiting a body, living here on earth.

So we cannot actually avoid being negative- we cannot avoid conflict. We are going to encounter it. The very idea of trying to avoid it is illusory: in fact, we are meant to make an effort to inhabit this state as much as any other state, to experience it, to understand it, to accept it.

I suppose this sounds like heresy. After all, negativity and conflict are damaging to others, correct? Therefore they are "bad" and to be avoided.

Of course this labelling of the whole phenomenon as "bad" falls into the trap of a duality that Truth does not admit to, but let's just say, for the time being, that it's useful to agree that negativity and conflict are "bad." Destructive, unhelpful for our relationships with our spouses, our children, our society.

At the same time, we cannot avoid the "badness." We find ourselves filled at times with "badness." Immersed in "badness." It is all to reminiscent of the Christian concept of sin; the Buddhist idea of "bad" Karma. (can there really be such a thing? Interesting question.) Inevitably as we manifest negatively, if we are engaged in inner work of any kind, we find ourselves struggling with questions of conscience and guilt, culpability and the difference between an aspiration for divine consciousness and the brute reality of what Christians would call our "fallen" nature.

So what are we to make of this?

Here's a suggestion I have been exploring for the past week in examining this question. It is not in the act of "going into" the badness that we should ask our questions about how we are, or what is lacking in us. We cannot prevent ourselves from going into it. It is going to happen, no matter what we do.

It is the act of getting out of conflict that we take the true measure of a man. It is not about how or why we get into trouble. It is about what inner resources we draw on to get back to a place where things make sense.

So the important questions are how we exercise forgiveness and contrition. How we admit our failings, both to ourselves and to others. Alcoholics Anonymous knows this lesson all too well: the twelve steps include taking a fearless inventory of ourselves and making amends. This act is needed in every area of life: just as much in public policy as in in private engagement There is nothing more damaging than refusal: a refusal to admit the damage one does. In the moments where we refuse to admit what we are, what we have done, we invoke that deadly sin of pride.

The way in which we face up to and apologize for the damage we do is one of the paths we must fearlessly tread on the road to a more complete self knowledge. There is no shame in failure; we are all going to fail. If there is any shame, it is when we refuse to admit our shortcomings.

In public, this takes us to the place where we must admit without prejudice to another that we were wrong, and fearlessly, willingly accept the consequences, whatever they may be.

In the deepest states, this leads us to where we find ourselves on our inner knees, naked in front of the Lord, prayerful for His acceptance and forgiveness.

It's a tough work, but we can take comfort from the fact that we are all in it together. Let's treat each other that way- it's a step towards a road we must all travel together, for it cannot be traveled alone.

That road is the road of compassion.

May your deserts yield to rain, and your inner flowers bloom.



Wednesday, April 25, 2007


New web site is now up and running, after a fashion. Check it out !

Rates of vibration

I have been pondering what the word "perception" means, as experienced within this context of what we refer to as "consciousness."

No matter how we understand or view "perception", there appears to be a subjective element in it. How can any individual know that what is perceived is accurate, or "true?" They cannot. As I have said before, the best "fact" we can come up with regarding our experience of consciousness is that we are in this body, having these experiences. All of the ideas, assumptions, and conjectures that follow this fundamental recognition are speculative. The very act of assessing our experiences is speculative.

What the heck. Let's speculate a little, shall we?

Extrapolating from this, I attempt to arrive at an asessment of what this thing called peception consists of: where does it arise, and what is it?

Here's a proposal: "perception" is nothing more than relationship, arising as a consequence of the correspondence between organic rates of vibration.

So all perception is relationship. By perceiving, we mean entering into relationship with.

This formultaion posits that every interaction of vibrations in the universe is in fact an act of perception. The vibratory elements in our universe, from quantum strings (if they indeed exist) to atoms, to molecules, to organisms, to planets and galaxies, are all engaged in a comprehensive act of perception.

Let's leave aside for the time being the complex question of the differences between self-aware and non-selfaware perception. The quantity and quality of our own perception- that is, what type of relationship with our surroundings we can enter into- is determined by our own organic rate of vibration. That is, the level at which the various inner parts of the organism resonate in relationship to each other determines what they are able to correspond to outwardly. Another way of looking at it is to understand that everything in the universe is actually a musical symphony of unimaginable complexity. Once we realize that, Gurdjieff's statement that the entire universe runs on two major laws- the law of three and the law of seven (that is, the law of octaves) begins to make a great deal of practical sense.

What we receive in terms of outer vibrations depends on what we have in terms of inner vibrations. Just as every developing musical structure incorporates new vibrations according to its own established inner logic (pattern and rate of vibration,) so it is also in man.

In an existing musical structure not every note can be admitted if the structure is to retain its existing integrity. As new vibrations arrive, some vibrations will conflict with each other and cancel each other out; some will introduce chaos; some will fit in harmoniously and develop the logic of the structure further. Some will be inert and do nothing. Some will be too loud and overwhelm an existing structure; some too quiet to have any effect.

This is, by the way, exactly the way that chemistry and biology works. If you ponder this for a while you will see that every phenomenon in the observable universe follows this set of laws.

Gurdjieff's enneagram depicts the lawful development of any given octave by describing the progressive rates of vibration that can be allowed to enter based on the starting note. It's interesting to apply this diagram to phenomena on other levels, but the information it gives us about ourselves, what we are, what we can become, is perhaps the most interesting.

What it tells us is that every man is an uncompleted symphony. We have within us an "inner orchestra" that has the lawful potential to progressively develop its level of perception based on the rates of vibration between inner parts. What we perceive- the kinds of conscious experiences we have (which is equal to the relationships we are able to enter into) is determined by our organic rate of vibration.

Gurdjieff's system is a system designed to raise the inner rates of vibration of the human body in a progressive and harmonious manner according to a set of laws. Those various laws and their interactions are actually described by the multiplications, that is, the six iterations of the numerolgical values of the enneagram:


Every state of consciousness that a man can enter into- and there are many of them- is determined by the inner rates of his various vibrations. This understanding was passed down in the yoga schools using the concept of spinning wheels, or chakras. However those schools lost the enneagram, which was and remains the only legitimate key to any objective understanding of how rates of vibration interact in man. Undertaking the study of the flow of our inner energies without strictly applying the information contained in this diagram is useless.

It is in the careful study of our own inner rates of vibration that we can begin to cultivate something "more real" in ourselves. We seek to connect with the organic state of Being, in which conscious residence in this organism is acknowledged. Then we begin to take a more direct interest in the physical processes, that is, vibrations, that determine our psychological state.

Thus we can slowly discover a new relationship with ourselves, and with the world.

This is spring- the flow is on, and the good food of life abounds! May your hives thrive, and your combs fill with honey!



Monday, April 23, 2007

Too much information

By the time I finish this piece, all of you will be aware of the inherent irony in it. But perhaps we can be forgiven our ironies; it is, after all, supremely ironic that over the course of humanity's residence on this planet, so many words have been used to describe that which cannot be grasped with words.

And here we are, together- still attempting it. It gives me pause.

Lately I have been contemplating the vast explosion of shared information that mankind is engaged in. We have passed, over the past two hundred years, into an era where electric media makes it possible to share information on an unimaginable scale and at breathtaking speeds. Beginning with the use of electricity to send telegraphs, and ending with the nanotechnology of computers and the internet.

Here's my point. We are sharing too much information.

The pursuit of information as an end in itself is a vice. We are slowly losing human contact with nature, losing contact with each other, losing contact with the vital, living currents that form and sustain the planet, in favor of a virtual world where everything is in the head. Everything is about ideas and theories and concepts. The act of breathing in and out is forgotten.

Where is the poetry, the heart and soul, of this enterprise? Where is the perfumed air of life itself, that ambrosia too subtle to describe and too fine to comprehend with words?

When there is too much of a good thing, it loses its value. If he is buried in diamonds, a man can suffocate and die.

I took a walk in the woods with the famous dog Isabel tonight and was struck with how real everything is- as opposed to how virtual, how constructed, the majority of what I encounter every day is.

One step ahead of us is an alien world filled with wonders beyond description, yet we sit in chairs and stare at computer screens.

One step ahead of us in this life we can immediately abandon everything, and the whole world can change.

Feed your tissues, your cells. Get out there and sense. Get out there and breathe. Know you are sensing and know you are breathing... and see how good it is.

May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


The events of this week left me stunned. It wasn't until today, as I browsed through the pictures of the people who were killed at Virginia Tech, that I really began to cry. To cry in public, at lunchtime, at my desk in the office.

It was appropriate.

Characteristically, our media descended upon this event like sharks at a feeding frenzy. Every news site I opened up had one picture after another of the killer- as if one wasn't enough, thank you very much- until I was positively sick of seeing him.

It all culminated with the obscenity of NBC airing portions of his hate-filled video, which objectively speaking should have been consigned to the garbage and destroyed without even one person ever watching it. This man did not deserve to have his voice heard.

This type of fare is the darkest kind of pornography available on the planet, and thee media served it up warm. Are our news organizations now competing with Al Jazeera to give air time to murders?

I consciously avoided listening to it or trying to see any of it. Impressions of this kind are a poison that does not belong in human minds. Passing it on to infect others with its paranoia, its negativity, its inhuman cruelty, is a downright criminal act.

Not that you'll see anyone prosecuting our news media. Freedom of speech means freedom to say anything, no matter how disgusting and poisonous it is.

Today was a relief, because I was finally able to turn from those repeated images of the killer and take opportunity to share in mourning all these fine lives cut down for the most selfish and narcissistic of reasons.

As I paged through the various photographs, I felt that these people were not just strangers- they were part of my own family, of all of our families. Each and every one of them represented us, as we are, each one of us struggling to survive and make a life for themselves on this planet. Little people, just doing our best. Not rich people or bad people, just ordinary people.

What is this darkness that reaches out to slake its cold, bloody thirst on the warm flesh of innocence?

They say no one knows the answers, but perhaps the answers are not so hard to come by.

Darkness grows in a man when his wish for goodness gets lost and twists itself around. This whole event stemmed from a desperately mistaken wish that the world somehow be good- which it is not. This pathetic, misguided young man actually thought he was on the side of good- fighting against a perceived evil that was perverting the world around him. And in the end he fed the tiger of his inner anger until it grew so large that it ate him.

This is how negative emotions work. They consume us bit by bit. If we don't work against them, eventually they can consume all of us- even our soul. And once they eat our soul, there are no boundaries any more.

Every day has to become an effort against negativity. It's a battle we cannot always win, and one that will never end, but we must, each one of us, hold up that one candle instead of cursing the darkness. For whenever we curse darkness, no matter how right it seems, the darkness finds ways to turn it back upon us...

and we are transformed from its adversary into its servant.

God bless all of you-

May your trees bear fruit, may your wells yield water-

and may we all move closer to that moment when we will dwell within Truth in the joy of the Lord.



Sunday, April 15, 2007

The snake

Visitors to Dekalb Junction in St. Lawrence County, which is waaay upstate New York, will be familiar with this twisted piece of frozen magma, which is locally referred to as the snake.

It's a terrific example of the remarkable things that go on in rock when it's hot- as most of the interior of our planet is, starting not very far down.

We tend to forget that we live on a very thin crust of cooled rock. 99% of the rock on this planet is hot, molten, and seething with movement. Our impression of rock as a static substance is at complete odds with the facts.

In fact, most of our perception of nature is formed inside a very narrow band, where much of what we observe and take to be the status quo is anything but. Another good example: the vast majority of the organisms on this planet, both by numbers and by weight, are tiny creatures living under its crust. We don't ever even see them, although--as some geologists might tell you-- it's entirely possible that the oil we use every day is a by product of their life cycle, given the very extraordinary amounts of it that we find under the surface.

So we don't see the status quo on earth: we see a small, special set of conditions and we presume that's informative as to what is normal. And we owe a very great deal to what we do not see.

Our lives are much like this. We each see a tiny slice of all the things that go on on during life on this planet and try to draw conclusions about it, not remembering that everything we see is fragmentary, partial, divided: just the surface of a molten pool that has hardened in front of us. This normal, "ordinary" life is a thin crust we skate on. We're always separated from the incandescent reality of what our situation is by this thin crust. It lulls us to sleep. We don't understand how uncertain, how fluid everything is: we do not see that we inhabit a landscape of perpetual change.

Instead we grasp the few frozen icons that protrude above the surface and adopt them as sacred; in our desperate attempts to worship some kind of permanence, everything becomes a graven image. Even things that we declare are not graven images become graven in the act of declaration.

Let us hope we can, at times, refer ourselves to the ground under our feet--

and accept the fact that it is prone to change.

May your trees bear ripe fruit and your wells yield cool water-


Thursday, April 12, 2007


When continental plates collide, two things happen.

One is subduction. One plate is sucked under the other, drawing its bedrock down into the mantle of the planet, where it slowly melts, sinks downward, and circulates in a movement that takes sixty to a hundred million years or more to complete, before it rises again as a plume of magma in a distant location thousands of miles away.

The other is uplift. The top plate, whatever it is composed of, rises. This is how fossil seashells ended up at the top of Mount Everest. That massive scarp in today's picture is now in the middle of the Arizona desert. It, too, was once seabed.

The collision of great forces, which takes place everywhere in the universe, invariably produces naturally opposing results of this kind. Some things go up; others go down. In fact, something has to sink in order for something else to rise. Everything is composed of circulation. Something must go down, soften, and melt in order for the other part to solidify and be lifted.

In our spiritual quest, we are all interested in uplift. We want to rise, to discover new inner heights and see the view from above. Who is there in the world of spiritual work who isn't reaching for heaven? (With all due respect for their-- to me-- very questionable choice, we'll leave the Satanists out of this discussion. Sorry, guys.)

In reaching for heaven, we may forget that things have to go down as well as up. We forget gravity.

This Saturday I met with a good friend of mine- a real essence-friend who I don't see too often, probably because he lives less than a mile from me and we take each other for granted, as is too often the case in such circumstances. We work on the same kind of things in our work and we speak the same language in so many ways it seems uncanny to me at times.

This man happens to be an adept Hatha yoga teacher, although his real work lies in realms beyond such a facile definition. He understands the body. That is much bigger than the kind of Yoga you learn in a classroom. Because of this he has an authority I listen to.

He was speaking this weekend of having a new relationship with gravity. Becoming aware of it as a force. He wasn't speaking of doing this intellectually; it was about the sensation of gravity, the organic awareness of gravity. In becoming more attuned to this force, he believes, we can approach the idea of uplift (he doesn't use that term, but it's entirely appropriate.) That is, by sensing what our relationship is to down, we begin to discover our real place. That happens through the organism, and in no other way.

It's only then that we can begin to consider what up might mean.

Plates within what we call "Being" collide; what we call consciousness is the intersection between the dog and the Buddha, between man's lower and higher natures. Human nature is formed in the ground where these two points meet. Human nature, the nature of Being, is a pivotal point where choices are made and directions determined.

Man needs subduction in him, as well as uplift; the forces are reciprocal. He must go down as well as up; dive into the roots of his cells as well as the lofty realms that feed him from above.

In fact, I think, it is better for men as we are to work to assist the subduction, the gradual melting of this massive crust of what we are, and to leave the uplift to other parts--

The ones that know more about how to find the sun than we, in these little minds, do.

Trees and fruit are not trees and fruit, they are trees and fruit. Wells and water are not wells and water, they are wells and water.

So, may your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

--Until tomorrow!


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Just stop thinking

Of course it's impossible to stop thinking...


But just what is thinking? Is this massive barrage of intake, evaluation, analysis, conclusion thinking? The answer may seem obvious, but I am not at all sure it is.

If we study the parts that "do" this for long enough, we eventually reach the conclusion that they are indeed, as Gurdjieff advised us, mechanical. That is, there are automatic parts that are, so to speak, "hard wired" which mediate this process.

All too often, at work, someone asks me a question and a part of me that knows the answer spits that answer out almost instantly, while something else in me-- something that is not part of the "thought" process- sits back and watches and says to its self (I speak figuratively here, because this observing part seems to be for the most part strictly "non-verbal") "Wow. Where did that come from? That is way cool."

So there are all these parts inside the machine that act automatically. 99.9% of my manifestation arises from and is filtered through these parts.

Here we segue into the recurring theme of this blog, and my own work.

There is no "I", there is only truth.

For our purposes, we must understand that everything that thinks is "I." Whatever thinks is not Truth. To state it positively, it may be a fragment of Truth, but it is only a bit of what's actually going on. We become identified with that bit and so we are that bit. We're back to the "discrimination of the conceptual mind," which Ch'an master Ta Hui described as worse than poisonous snakes or fierce tigers.

There has to come a moment when we stand in front of this blackboard called life, called "I," take the eraser in hand, and boldly, ruthlessly, confidently sweep the entire slate clean in, as my father says, "one swell foop."

Bang. The clutter is gone. There is NOTHING there.

The blackboard is now pregnant. We take one baby step forward into a realm where there are no definitions. A realm where all things live and breathe, where all conditions are unconditional. It's a realm of 100% not knowing, where everything is understood as it is.


Could it be?

We're all sitting right on the edge of enlightenment, all the time. It's just... over... there. Not such a big deal. But our minds are too short to reach it.

There are a lot of moments in the average day when everything is so obviously crappy I wonder why I don't just throw it all away. As I just said to a friend of mine (the famous rlnyc of Doremishock blog fame) my diapers all come pre-tizzied.

The dilemma arises: do I really like holding all these smelly diapers so much?

Or should I immediately abandon them?

It's time for a change of pace.

Today is a day to water the trees and throw fruit down the well.

Love to you all


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Abandonment issues

We all run into resistance in our practice, in our lives.

Resistance is the moment where what arises within is attached, identified. In this sense we could say we all dwell in a perpetual state of resistance. In the same way that we can acclimatize to bad smells, our resistance becomes so familiar, so normal, that it does not appear to be resistance any more. We form this hard shell around us and become extremely comfortable in it.

Eventually-now- our life is all about building the shell, protecting the shell.

Resistance is this mind itself.

What if we made the ruthless decision, as we continually encountered life, to attempt to immediately abandon the shell? To leave behind, at once, every manifestation that opposes. At the moment we saw a distraction, an attachment, an identification,

a thought,

if we immediately went in the other direction,

how would that be?

Of course this raises the question of what the other direction is.

The direction is in the direction of nowhere, towards nothing.

We stand on the edge of a truth, a clarity, which we do not admit. Right here, at the very edge of my perception, one step beyond where I am in an inner sense, lies a clarity that is not born and does not die. I can smell, it, taste it, sense it- but it lies just beyond where this consciousness called I dwells.

To step one step beyond is to leave everything of this I behind; to immediately abandon what is know and enter that mysterious place where everything is-- without words.

This may be what Castaneda meant when he discussed the way of the warrior as being a way where one is without personal history.

The interesting thing about this act of immediate abandonment is that it is possible at any moment. We could wield it like a sword, cutting through identification, attachment, to sever the umbilical cords of desire and ego which bind us so firmly to our negativity.

I'd like to try that more. When I see my emotional attachments, I wonder- can I immediately abandon them? That would be a big thing indeed.

Like that ocean of clarity that lies just beyond the threshold of this perception- I am not there yet, but at times, if the wind blows in my direction, I can smell the salt spray.

Are we bold enough to dare to immediately abandon everything, seize nothing, and dwell in it?
Here, we have no choice but to apply the three cardinal principles:

Investigate. Investigate. Investigate.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Gurdjieff, on the heart

Tonight we are going to have a post that will be of specific interest to people who study Gurdjieff. I understand there are many readers who are not immersed in this particular subject. My apologies to them. Tomorrow I am going to discuss a personal practice which has, in some senses, nothing to do with Gurdjieff (ha ha ha), and might thus be of more use to a wider audience, but for tonight, let's talk about the subject of pianos.

Some of you are familiar with my essay on the meaning of the enneagram with relation to centers, or chakras. Bits and pieces of it have been introduced during the course of this blog. (Anyone who is specifically interested in getting the essay can contact me by leaving a comment and I will be glad to send it to them via e-mail. Be forewarned, it is not light reading.) In any event, what I am about to discuss will be more meaningful if you are familiar with the idea of the chakras and to the specific relationship between the notes on the enneagram and the physical centers of the human body.

I refer you now to page 795 in the new edition of "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," from which the following quote is taken.

"On this piano, 'vibrations of extraneous origin' arise from different 'shocks,' 'noises, 'rustlings,' 'and for the most part from what are called,' aerial momentum vibrations,' which are generally formed in atmospheric space from the natural vibrations already present there."

Here Gurdjieff is likening the work of the human body to a piano. It is an instrument that works to create its music, its inner rate of vibration, from an aerial medium. In case we do not get the point that he is talking about the second being food, air, let's take a look at what he says just a bit later.

"Just as the first being the food cannot acquire its vivifying power until after its transformation into 'being-pentoehary,' so on this piano, the vibrations of the string do not acquire a corresponding vivifying power until they have been fused with the preceding vibrations, starting from the totality of the center of gravity vibrations of the tone 'sol.'"

He discusses the first being food here so that we will not miss the point- unusual, for a man who is known to have enjoyed burying bones so deep that the dogs cannot sniff them! We can only presume he was about to make a point he felt was rather important.

Just what is he getting at?

There are a number of important understandings contained in these few sentences. Gurdjieff is talking about and comparing work of the first being food -- what we eat -- with the work of the second being food -- what we breathe.

Both of them need to hit the point "5" on the enneagram in order to begin their most essential work. Until the work within the octave reaches this point, the food that has been ingested has not "acquired its vivifying power" -- it cannot help to enliven the organism.

Som as in food we eat, the beginning of the "big" work- the work that enlivens- of air in the body begins with the tone 'Sol.'

If you refer to the essay on the enneagram, you will see that this note corresponds to the heart. So he is saying that the work of the upper story (857) with air begins with the heart. (Those of you attentive to details will have noted what it says in the upper right-hand corner of my blog.) So Gurdjieff tells us that, as my own studies have verified, the connection between breathing and work of taking material in through the heart is a vital one.

This underscores a certain kind of esoteric body work, as well as the central place of emotion as the fuel for spiritual work. And that, of course, is an idea that Gurdjieff drove home on more than one occasion.

What is even more interesting to me -- after all, those who, along with me, have studied this question of centers and their relationship to the enneagram will probably not find what I have just said all that surprising -- is the manner in which every tone must contain all of the vibrations of the tones that go before it in order to manifest itself fully. This is another piece of information that has so many avenues which can be explored that we cannot go into it in the blog. It points us towards the inner "string of pearls"- a series of notes that can be sounded within the organs of the body.

That contains within itself a beauty that can only be explored, and not contained.

One last note, if you will excuse the pun.

Last night I had a dream in which I was in a field with an essence-friend of mine from Arkansas. Mr. Gurdjieff was there, sitting a few yards from us in an overcoat. I suggested to my friend that we go and say hello to him. There was some hesitation on his part, but I felt that it would be perfectly okay. Mr. Gurdjieff got up and began to walk towards whatever work event it was that had been scheduled. I followed him, fully intending to say hello, but never quite caught up with him.

In recounting it, I see there is a poignancy to this dream.

It reminds me of Newton's comment: "if I have seen far, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Big View

This morning in church there was a black woman and her two children sitting right behind us in the pews.

I know it's the fashion today to speak of them as African-Americans, but I used the term black with the deepest respect. Black is a good thing. Let me explain this.

I took in this impression of the woman and her very beautiful son and daughter as human beings with black skin. They are different than me, and they seemed to have an essential beauty that was greater than anything I could understand. It struck me all at once how incredible these people are, how they exude a vitality and spirituality with a purity and an honesty that I don't seem to be able to achieve as a white person. The black races have been blessed in an excess measure with a heartfelt understanding of God that they bring to the rest of us as a gift. They have a spiritual genius that leaves me in awe.

They bring far more than this gift to us; they make us what we are. What is jazz, that most American of all musical forms, but a black invention? Where would baseball be without the great black players? What would America have been without the Civil War, the crucible that formed what we are today? In every instance, it is the blacks that have been at the center of the questions of our culture. They have brought us the questions, they have lived the questions: they have confronted all of us with who we are, what we want, and where we are going.

Along the way, they have paid a terrible price in blood. Great sacrifices like this always produce the great moments in cultures, and in this case it is no exception. These people, who were torn from the heart of their continent and brought here against their will, have informed us with their art, with their understanding of God, with their willingness to struggle in the face of adversity and stand up proudly to declare that they, too, have meaning, despite the fact that they do not look like we do. Their continued dignity in the face of inhuman abuse stands as a lesson in how to be for all of us.

And when I see them at worship- as I did this morning- I think that perhaps, in the end, for all our pompous bluster, our guns, our germs, our steel, like Gunga Din, they are made of a better stuff than we are.

Every minority informs the white Europeans in this way. As we encounter those who look different than us, we discover rich new ways of understanding ourselves as well as those around us. The blending of cultures, the exchange of different values in different peoples, brings us all to the ground floor of our humanity, where we have to confront our mortality and value each other.

White people practically invented the idea of seeing themselves as the center of the universe. We are stupid that way. Repeatedly, as the white man "settled" (destroyed) other societies, he bewildered the people he encountered with his arrogant ideas of entitlement and superiority.

Not only did he bewilder them; if they resisted, he killed them.

The problem echoes all the way down to modern times, when other equally misguided peoples become so desperate that they feel like they have to ram airliners into office buildings to make the point.

I think we can all agree there has to be a better way. But let us ask the question: how many airliners do we ram into ourselves?

The outward metaphor of accepting the other, finding a way to understand their humanity with a real and heartfelt compassion, has a parallel in our inner work. Those parts of us that seem to be most different than what we think we are may be the pivot around which our work turns. There are so many ways of working on this idea that I cannot even begin to speak of them here in the blog. It is simply something, like a sweet bonbon, that needs to be rolled around in the mouth and tasted for a while to appreciate its savor.

Every once in a while, in rare moments during a lifetime, we see a tiny glimpse of the truth, as I did this morning when I saw this woman and her children. We see that the other is our self, that we are all here together as one, and that only compassion and love can serve in the exchange between us.

As Christ taught us, we are all fallen beings who have forgotten this lesson. In his own day, he stretched himself out on a cross and died in the hopes that his sacrifice could serve as a reminder.

I can only hope that my compassion, my capacity for what Gurdjieff used to call outer considering, deepens. Instead of living through the mind, I hope that I will remember to live through the heart. Chinese Zen master Ta Hui said over and over again that what is sought cannot be grasped with the mind.

But if it comes to the heart, then we at least have a ghost of a chance.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water. And today, may the power of the Holy Spirit fill us all with the hope of a new life, a new compassion, a new understanding.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

This is a painting I completed in 2000 called "the infinite light of the soul."

I have been very busy this weekend. Among other things, I met with a good friend today and we discussed the questions of the organic sense of being, and attaining a cellular sense of self. These things seem to both of us to constitute the roots of a new sense of being.

Tonight my thoughts are on the many messengers God has sent to this planet to help us return to the heart of His bliss, and the terrible sacrifices many of them have made on our behalf.

Let us turn our thoughts to Jesus Christ, who died so that hope might be born for all mankind.

Christ lives.

I earnestly pray we find that subtle path of glory that opens our hearts to Him so that we can, together, reunite with that infinite light I tried to capture with the crude tools of paint and canvas seven years ago.

May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.


Friday, April 6, 2007


I'm tired. Tonight we went to pick up my son at the airport and got back late. All I have to offer is this uplifting picture of cactus in bloom, and the observation that we consistently have to get through the prickly parts of life to get to the blossoms.

Stay tuned. More blog tomorrow.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


As we progress in the work of connecting our inner parts, we gradually become more and more aware of the fact that we work under planetary influences. In ancient times, this was understood in a far more comprehensive way, and gave rise to the science of astrology, which has de-involved in modern times into what is essentially a set of superstitions.

Gurdjieff made it clear that man is under multiple planetary influences, and that many of the events he thinks he initiates, such as war, have absolutely nothing to do with him, but are produced by forces so much larger than he is that he cannot even begin to comprehend their operation on him.

As we become more sensitive to the energies which saturate our environment, we may begin to realize that planets have an effect on our level of consciousness and our state of being. One outward and acknowledged way in which this is well understood is the effect of the moon; even modern science has to admit-and be baffled by- the fact that human behavior is influenced by the full moon. What is less understood is the effect that the other planets, as well as the Sun, have on our state. All of them have profound effects, but our sensitivity to their emanations and radiations has deteriorated so much that we don't even know what is happening to us when they affect us.

The energy that flows through the planets is a kind of nectar. That is to say, just like the nectar that plants produce, it is a higher substance created by the work of higher organisms (in this case, the planets themselves) to act as an attractant. It's reasonable to suspect that the purpose of this attractant is to assist in reproductive processes, just as it is with plants. That is to say, it has a sexual nature, and is involved, in a mysterious way that we are unable to appreciate, with generation and procreation. This "nectar" is, in its essence, God's love-- distilled into a substance that is more available to organisms, in the same way that photosynthesis in plants creates sugars which can be used by higher organisms.

We are like bees, which can gather that nectar, drink the ambrosia of its sugars, and even store it against lean times. It makes many things possible for it if we learn how to acquire it.

My father is a beekeeper. He used to be a businessman, and it surprised me when he took his hobby up late in life, but it has served the two of us well. I have dabbled in the art myself, and learned a good deal about bees along the way.

One of the things one learns in beekeeping is that there are two major honey flows during the year. One is in the spring, logically enough, and the other one is in the fall. At other times of the year, the bees do some work, or rest, but the greater part of what they can gather for themselves occurs in these two periods.

It is also generally understood in practitioners of esoteric science that the energy of the planet -- the nectar of God's bliss -- flows more readily in the spring and in the fall. This is true in both hemispheres on planet earth. The point I am making here is that there is a strong parallel, once again, between the esoteric work of higher levels and the work of simpler organisms on this level. We have a greater opportunity to work on ourselves in the spring and in the fall when this energy becomes available. In my own work, I invariably find that rich and deep experiences come during these two periods when the seasons undergo their major changes. Something tangible and substantial takes place in the energy fields on the planet at those times, and it affects all the organisms that participate in this thing we call life. Passover and the passion of the Christ are traditional seasonal signposts that this process is about to begin.

As we work, as we learn, as we make efforts to increase our sensitivity, we discover in an inner sense that our conditions are planetary, our possibilities are planetary, and that our work needs to take this into account. This is not a shamanistic prospect; it isn't part of Wicca, or some animistic concept of nature. It is physics and chemistry, writ large.

It is also art, and literature, poetry.

Look to the bees. They gather sweetness in the light, they store it in the darkness, and wherever they go, they speak about it by singing and dancing amongst themselves.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

all the best today,


Wednesday, April 4, 2007

So here I am, sitting at my computer. There is a direct sensation within the body; there is the sense of breathing; there is this truth of being that rises up from the solar plexus and connects to some of the centers in the upper part of the body. Of course this is just one of many important connections that can take place. This is the particular connection that is taking place now, for reasons that it understands better than I understand it. My role here is as an observer of this phenomenon, not the orchestrator of it.

There is a fundamental failure in me to understand that my role in most areas is one of observer. I have been educated over the course of a lifetime to believe not only that I can animate and orchestrate, that I should aspire to being an orchestrator, and that in fact the only meaningful thing to do in life is to orchestrate.

We are all educated that way. Civilization and society are all about the exercise of control. It's rather laughable, when you think about it, to realize that nobody controls anything, least of all themselves, and that almost every enterprise man engages in careens off into unexpected directions, to create unexpected disasters, which call for further unexpected solutions.

Everything is unexpected, including the unexpected itself.

So here I sit, once again, observing myself as I comment on observing myself. The act may seem to be redundantly reflexive, but if we inhabit ourselves in a place that is a bit quieter, perhaps in a place that is balanced between the connection of several centers, which ever ones they may be, there is nothing redundant about it. It is not an exercise in philosophy; it is an exercise in organic satisfaction as we receive the impressions of our lives. I do not do this all day long, or even a part of it, but I do do it a little bit every day. Every time I am fed in this way I realize that attending to the inner work of the centers has a much greater value than the things that I do with materials, with money, and so on.

Some years ago I realized that in its highest form, art consists solely of perceiving. A man who has a real relationship within himself, who simply perceives his environment, his circumstances, his being, is a work of art in itself that is so supremely consummated it can never be expressed and in fact cannot even be communicated. Of course we try to -- here I am, offering these clumsy words -- but in the end, this particular understanding of art is too radical to deconstruct, no matter what tools one brings to it.

In some ways music brings us closest to this, because it begins without words, and the structure of its vocabulary speaks to our emotional part, reaching down into us to awaken organs we have forgotten we possess. Much has been made recently in the sciences about the connection between music and language. One of the books I read about this was called "The Singing Neanderthals,"or something along those lines. The book made some good points, but it was written by an academic and ultimately turned out to be stultifyingly boring. It was surprising to me to see something as beautiful as a connection between language and music reduced to a list of facts. Too much of science is used to sterilize life in this manner. Maybe that's why religious people are in such a strong reaction to it a lot of the time.

To understand without words -- that is an idea that music leads us to. Ellen Dissanyake, who wrote the book "Homo Aestheticus," is another academic (a scholar of aesthetic criticism) that spoke about this question of words in a different way. She is also highly technical but has a livelier matter to her work. She argues that the written word has actually gone further towards destroying what art really means than just about any other instrument man wields. One would have to read her book to understand just what she's getting at, and I suggest you do so if you want to really understand something new about what art means to man. I think the point here is that although we worship words as our gods, they have seduced us and have become our very devils.

On my last CD, I included a song entitled "Words are the Enemy of Truth." The inherent irony here is pleasing to me.

Words are created by our breath, but cannot touch it. Words can describe what we see, but they are blind. One of the songs on my next CD -- a song I have not even begun to write yet -- will be called "The Color Blue, to a Blind Man."

My whole life blue has been my favorite color, but I don't know what the color blue is. My life is "blue," and I am blind to just what that means. It is only by searching for a new connection within my sensory organs, beginning with the inner organs, that I can receive anything that might lead me towards an understanding of what this favorite thing, which I do not know the real color of, is.

Oops. There I go again, indulging in my penchant for poetic imagery and metaphor and so on.
Perhaps because it's a rainy day, and the water invites a melancholic fluidity.

Or perhaps it's because I, like all the rest of you, am a dreamer.

Until tomorrow,

may your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dogen and Gurdjieff, on work and schools

Those of you familiar with this blog will know that I frequently refer to Dogen, since I am currently engaged in reading most of his major works.

Today we're going to discuss something that is in a sense a bit theoretical. However I found it so interesting that I believe you will forgive this deviation from my usual efforts to write specifically about my own practice.

Many of you will be familiar with Gurdjieff's discussions about esoteric schools. Gurdjieff maintained that religions and religious practice are divided into three kinds of schools: exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric. He also referred to four Ways: the way of the Fakir, the way of the Monk, the way of the Yogi, and the Fourth Way. Those of you who are interested in more about what Gurdjieff had to say about this would do well to go refer to his literature.

Today I am going to offer you down a quote from Dogen's Sansuigo, or, Sutra of Mountains and Water. As always, the translation is taken from the Nishijima and Cross 1994 edition as released by Dogen Sangha.

"Again, since the ancient past, there have been from time to time sages and saints who lived by the water. When they live by the water, there are those who fish fishes, those who fish human beings, and those who fish the state of truth."

This appears to me to be a clear reference to the three types of schools: exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric. Those who fish fishes are in exoteric schools. They may have a real wish, but they find themselves in ordinary life, taking ordinary food.

Those who fish human beings are in mesoteric schools, that is, they are feeding themselves on the question of what a human being is, in schools under what Gurdjieff would call influences B, which have come from influences C.

And those who fish the state of truth have finally found themselves in true esoteric schools.

Coincidence? Perhaps. You might argue that I am reading too much into this brief paragraph. However, let's take a look at what Dogen says next, which is the icing on the proverbial cake:

"Each of these is in the traditional stream of those who are in the water. Going further, there may be those who fish themselves, those who fish fishing, those who are fished by fishing, and those who are fished by the state of truth."

Here we have a description of the four ways.

Fakirs are those who fish themselves: they work on the body to find truth.

The yogis are those who fish fishing; they work on theory and philosophy in order to achieve perfection by means of the intellect.

Those who are fished by fishing are the Bhakti yogis, the monks, that is, those who seek to become open to God's love, which actively seeks us.

And finally we have those who are fished by the state of truth, that is, they are in the Fourth Way, where all other ways are combined.

I doubt that this is coincidence. The interpretations seem too reasonable, the juxtapositions too refined.

A daring thought: I believe that Dogen may have come from a branch of the same school that Gurdjieff found and worked in. According to him, such schools can remain in existence for hundreds or even thousands of years.

When we find links like this in Masters whose work is separated by centuries, we can pause in wonder. To me, it seems to underscore and verify everything Gurdjieff said about lines of Work and Schools: entities that lie hidden beneath the surface of life and traverse vast spans of time essentially intact, while mankind's societies destroy everything of value around themselves, over and over.

It is noble; it is majestic; it is mysterious. Here, together, we take up a dangling thread from this immense tapestry that has been woven by so many people over so many generations,

and as we hold it,

perhaps we can be touched by a bit of humility, and the taste of awe.

God bless all of you today. May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


A discussion about chemistry and electromagnetism may seem out of place in a blog about spiritual matters, but in fact this is the most logical place in the world for this discussion.

The entire universe is chemical, that is, it is composed of elements which interact to form new compounds. These interactions give rise to everything we see and encounter in the physical universe. It is furthermore true that the fundamental origin of these chemical interactions is electromagnetic in nature, and it is true that electromagnetic forces govern interactions of chemicals. When we experience the world around us, we experience a world of electromagnetism and chemistry- nothing more. Even if we see God- and I am not being sarcastic or facetious when I suggest this, I mean it quite literally -- our experiences will be chemical and electromagnetic.

We don't have parts that function in other ways.

If you were wondering whether this means that God is chemical or electromagnetic in nature, I leave that pondering to you. Certainly His manifestations all are, even if He himself resides in some much subtler and far more esoteric territory, such as vibrating aggregations of cosmic strings smaller than the Planck length. And if you don't know what that means, don't worry. No one else does, either, although elegant, elaborate mathematics have been generated to put various attractive window dressings on our fundamental ignorance.

My consciousness, your consciousness, all arise from chemistry and electromagnetism. Everything we see arises from the same root source. So awareness is a function of this root source. From this understanding we can see that there is awareness in everything; even atoms are aware and respond appropriately according to their own level.

Much has been made in the sciences about the argument of what consciousness truly consists of. On the one hand, there are arguments that it is mechanical and mechanical alone, that is, that it can be reduced to a set of inflexible mathematical rules. On the other hand are the arguments that consciousness is something bigger than a machinelike set of responses.

This doesn't really matter. I could construct a long philosophical breakdown of these opposing arguments and point out their flaws -- they both have them -- but I'm not going to bother. The point for us right now is that we are in these bodies, having these experiences, and that all of this small droplet of individual human experience exists within a limitless sea of involutionary and evolutionary chemistry and electromagnetism.

We, like everything else in creation, are points where things blend.

If consciousness exists, which seems a reasonable presumption at this particular moment in time, this is what it is: It's consciousness and experience, not arguments about consciousness or experience. Not words about consciousness or experience. It's just consciousness and experience, arising everywhere from the inherent physical properties of the universe, and penetrating everywhere due to those same properties.

This idea touches, perhaps, on Dogen's discussions of Buddha Dharma. Go read him and see what you think.

It's interesting to consider our life consciously, in so far as we are able, as an experience of being a factory in which chemicals are created and processed. This, after all, is the absolute fact about what organisms are -- chemical factories. Gurdjieff explained this to Ouspensky as reported in “In Search of the Miraculous.” But this remains a theoretical premise for most of us. In order to understand its portent, we need to bring an understanding of this idea immediately into the presence and examine our organism from this point of view.

Believe me, if you manage to do this for a moment, things will look different. Emotions, thoughts, experiences -- all of them take on a different color when one uses one's consciousness and one's understanding to realize that they are all blendings of chemicals and electromagnetic forces. Right here we have the beginning of something that one might call objectivity. How invested can we become in something once we realize it is a laboratory process? Emotions are a bit less attractive when we realize that they are not us, they are simply chemical reactions.

And just what are we? Chemical and electromagnetic interactions that can see themselves for what they are.

In our struggle to stand back from our nature, separate from ourselves, and have a new experience of life, this can be a real tool.

I suppose this observation probably isn't reductionist enough for the scientists, and isn't romantisch enough for the priests. It has, however, the merits of being practical, since its fundamentals are difficult for anyone to refute. It has a room for both God and science in it.

That's the real world. The religious fanatics who seem to want to imagine a world without science, and the science fanatics who want to imagine a world without God, all of them are missing the point. That's because they have no awareness of the body, no awareness of the mind, no awareness of the relationship between body and mind. What they have are bodies crammed full of ideas that bash against each other like bumper cars, careening through the world with no aim other than to smash up against the opposition and produce satisfyingly crunchy noises.

For ourselves, let us be quieter.

In cultivating experience and concept, in exploring our residence in this body and our relationship to our thoughts, our physical experiences, and our emotions, we can come to new conclusions about what we are.

They will not necessarily be what we expected.

But they will be beautiful.

Enjoy, for the time being, being a blend of chemicals and forces in a universe that is a blend of chemicals and forces. The consciousness that insists we are separate from creation is a falsehood. We are the most intimate part of it. There is no separation.

Love to everyone today. May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Water, Mountains, ice

In my last post, I promised we would discuss some earthy matters. Since then there has been a brief hiatus in which I attended to family matters, which consisted mostly of walking the famous dog isabel with my wife and generally laying around doing nothing.

There was the small matter of- believe it, oh ye incredulous ones!- a second dream, on Saturday night, in which I was in a house that was moved off its foundations to be relocated. This recurrence, which was not exactly the same dream, is just too unlikely and unreasonable to contemplate. So we will leave it for another blog, where dream issues and issuances can be addressed in greater depth.

Back to the rocks.

Near my house, there is a large glacial erratic, lying more or less at the base of the Palisades. in the Sparkill notch. (Yup, that's it, rat thar in the picture.) This erratic is composed of pegmatite, that is, a coarse-grained amalgamation of quartz, feldspar, and other crystalline substances. In this particular case, the pegmatite has smoky quartz and is shot through with schorl (massive black tourmaline. ) It is almost the size of a small car.


It's sobering to consider that rocks of this size were light work for glaciers. There are glacial erratics nearby that are, quite literally, the size of houses.

Rocks like this are called erratics because they have absolutely nothing to do with the surrounding bedrock. We now know (as people in earlier times, i.e. before they conceived of ice ages, did not) that it's certain this rock was carried many miles before it ended up where it is; it probably came from somewhere north in Connecticut (where pegmatites are relatively abundant,) or perhaps even further away.

All of this is a testimonial to the tremendous transformational power of our landscape. What we see seems to be static, yet it is in a constant state of change. It never looked before like it looks now, and it will never look this way again. In our brief lives, there may appear to be continuity here, but that is completely illusory.

Life works in exactly the same way for us. In fact, I often see strong analogies between geologic processes and the processes of life itself. From age to age, from infancy through childhood, into adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood and beyond, we build our individual mountain ranges of assumptions and beliefs and desires. These mountain ranges, like the mountains on the planet, are built by the intersection of massive forces, places where what we might call plates collide.

Here lies the tectonics of the soul. Our inner world collides with the outer world; mountains are pushed up, oceans filled with water, rivers flow, and weather systems emerge.

As we age, erosion takes place; every inner range we push up, ever hoping for a loftier view, is subject to forces beyond its control. We even use expressions like, "life is wearing me down," acknowledging that we are engaged in such a process. Parts of us explode, like magmatic eruptions. Other parts get ground down into sand and solidify in layers. Some parts harden and sit on our surface, forming an impermeable skin that prevents the water of our life from flowing into us. We form cracks, smooth places, and roughnesses. Taken together, all of this, which we refer to as personality, is the surface of our planet.

Every being is a reflection of this. Every process at every level in the universe is a fragment of the same complete truth. If we use our minds to ponder, we will invariably find that no matter where we look, no matter what we try to understand about ourselves, ultimately nature explains everything.

This analogy could be drawn a million times in a million different ways and it would continue to be valid, because reality is a fractal structure. The smallest part of reality is an exact model of all of reality.

As these tectonic, magmatic, and glacial life-processes take place, we end up with our own inner erratics; chunks of life sitting in places that they don't seem to belong, and are not in relationship with the surroundings. Everyone has parts like this; parts that are inappropriate in the context of current life. For example, we may be adolescently egoistic, or childishly grasping. The parts that are inappropriate, like the pegmatite erratic we are discussing, are fascinating and beautiful, so we don't stop to consider their lack of relationship. They are also big and heavy, difficult to move. In some senses, like the large boulders left behind by ice, we have to work around them. The landscape we inherit from our past has to be accepted. The amount of energy that it would take to rearrange it is probably not worth what we would get out of it.

Hence the advice:

When the rocks are big, go around them

Expanding the question, we come once again to Dogen's sutra of mountains and water, which is found in the Shobogenzo. This sutra is an absolutely towering piece of work which stands alone as one of the world's great religious texts. It is a brief piece; everyone interested in spiritual work ought to read it at least once per lifetime.

One of the things that strikes me about this piece is the way the Dogen explains we think the mountains will be populated by other people, but when we go into them, it is just us and the mountains. Not even the trace of our passage into the mountains remains behind us.

The mountains are God; in the end, every aspect of life, all of the events and everything that transpires, are all pointed towards one final moment where we enter the mountains--and there is no one there to accompany us.

Life's mountains are vast and magnificent; we are very tiny little creatures.

In every meditation, if I find the right relationship, I enter the mountains, even if only the foothills. There I see that there is no one but myself, and the mountains.

In fact, perhaps there is only the mountains. There is no "I," there is only truth.

And the way to the truth is through the heart.

As I point myself towards the inevitable fact of my own death, I ponder the question of water and mountains. I think about the ice that freezes within me and pushes me through my life, rearranging my inner landscape.

I think about what I could do to bring enough warmth into me to melt some of that force.

God bless all of you today. May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water!


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Household dreams

Last night I had a quite extraordinary dream.

In the dream, I woke up in my bedroom. It was not a familiar bedroom; nonetheless, I clearly recognized it as home. It was a new home. I had just moved in, but was already well situated.

What was extraordinary was that the entire house was on a railway car, and in motion. Somehow in the middle of the night, while I was asleep, someone had lifted the entire house up off the foundation, put it on the railway train, and sent it off.

I was bewildered, to say the least. Accepting -- as we all do, in dreams -- the sheer illogic of the situation was the least of the difficulties.

First of all, it seemed impossible to me that all this could have taken place without even waking me up.

Secondly, I had no idea of where we were going or why it had been done.

Thirdly, everything that I cared about was in the basement of the house. My music studio, my computer, all my guitars. Admittedly somehow this seems like a limited scope of things; after all, I am interested in a lot more than just my music studio and computer. But symbolically they represented a specific and very important aspect of life which was now somehow lost. Everything that was "valuable" had been left behind.

I could not figure out what to do. Somehow I managed to stop the train, and get off in a woodland glade in a nondescript local municipal park. This did not really solve the problem at all. I still didn't know where I was. It turns out I was in Germany; this association provides some link between the dream and my earlier life, because I grew up in Germany.

So I realized then that at least I spoke the language. This didn't do me much good; I had no money, nothing whatsoever, not even identification, and no idea of how to get back to where the foundation of my house was.

I got into a car (don't ask me where the car came from, remember, this was a dream, so I presume I manufactured the car instantaneously when I needed it) and tried to drive back to the house. Unfortunately there was no GPS in the car, and I didn't know where I was going. I kept seeing small streets that looked like they might be the right ones and then realizing that they weren't, I was lost, and there was no way back to where I had come from. I did not even have a telephone number to call. Not that that would have done much good; after all, you cannot call a basement.

Somewhere in this timeline I bemoaned the disappearance of my guitars. The instruments are quite expensive, and it was utterly mortifying to consider their loss.I distinctly recall, in the dream, thinking to myself, "Well, the fact is that the house has been moved and the guitars are almost certainly stolen. I will have to accept that."

This dream has several different levels to it. Let's discuss two obvious and yet somewhat contradictory points of view on it.

One point of view is that the story line is about inner evolution. As we change, we lose our old self. We leave behind everything in ordinary life, and we find ourselves in a new landscape which is quite different than the one we left behind. If we truly change, we can never go back to where we came from. This kind of significant, concrete inner change is what we all claim we seek. Yet if we find ourselves on a railway car that is truly carrying where we live away from where we came from, it is distressing and frightening. We can't help but feel that we have lost something enormous and that we no longer have a place to rest our head. I felt that way, for example, when I lost my impulse to do artwork.

Another interpretation is that I am not connected to my lower story. I have lost the connection to the fundamental parts of myself that support me in this effort of life. In seeking something higher than myself, I have forgotten my roots. Even if I find myself where my roots are indisputably located -- Germany -- it is not enough. I need to be planted firmly right on top of what feeds my impulse towards the higher in order to go anywhere real.

Today I went out for a walk in the morning with the famous dog Isabel. The snow is melting everywhere; green plants are poking their noses up through wet leaves, and local rivulets are swollen with the icy blessings of cold water. The sun found, and warmed, the imposing basalt cliffs of the Palisades; birds warbled comfortably of love, and future nesting.

While I was in the woods, I sought out a boulder that I saw a little over a week ago, just as the last storm had deposited its first thin coat of snow. Today I got a better look at it. The boulder is a huge glacial erratic. It has stories to tell that can instruct us.

Tomorrow, we will talk about ice, water, and land. And erratics.

Did you take the time to remember how you breathe today? To see what it connects to?

To take the time, even once in the day, to see how the breath enters the body is a good work.

Give it a chance, and see what happens.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Frozen images

I took this picture in Italy in 2001. It is a bust of a Roman woman, probably close to 2000 years old. I have always liked this bust because the woman displays so much character. The image has a vitality that sternly bespeaks our carnal nature, while still managing to convey a sympathy for the subject. The bust does not seem idealized; it seems pithy and close to the earth to me.

So here is this woman; frozen in marble, staring at us down through time. This stone represents a real human being, someone who led a life, probably loved a man, had children, raised a family. She is long gone, and this stone is not even an organic trace of who she was, but it represents the idea of her. In this sense her life has had an impact that has lasted for 2000 years, even though her name is totally forgotten and no one can ever know who she was.

We all carry frozen images of ourselves within us that get in the way of seeing what we actually are. As Gurdjieff put it, we crystallize. It's only too true: our inner parts are crystalline: even our DNA itself is a crystalline structure. And it's true not just physically, but also psychologically.

We do not know what we are; what we think we know about ourselves is a huge mass of lifeless assumptions--a marble bust. It looks like us, but the resemblance stops there. What we are lies buried deep inside where it cannot be touched by our ordinary mind. That's probably not a bad thing, either; our ordinary minds have a sad way of damaging a great deal of what they come into contact with, be it planets or people.

In almost every case, when our crystalline sugar-coating of assumptions gets tested, it turns out that as soon as the surface is scraped, unexpected things appear. Often they are shocking to us; this is why all of us develop protective devices to help us to avoid seeing ourselves. In the case of pathological conditions such as alcoholism, the mechanisms are powerful and visible. In cases like this we call them "denial."

What I don't think we see is that denial functions on all levels of life, in everyone, everywhere. There is hardly a person alive who is not in denial about some aspect of themselves or another. More often than not, it is an aspect which is blatantly obvious to everyone around them. And if anyone points this out to them, the emotional reactions are immediate and severe.

I certainly know this, because I am this way. It constantly surprises me to see how many parts of me I know nothing whatsoever about. This happens a lot to me in business; I am a senior executive in a large privately owned company, and I frequently find myself under intense kinds of pressure that are unexpected and bewildering, even for someone with the many years of professional experience I carry. The pressure arises not only from business situations, but also from the characters of the people around me.

Let's face it. People don't get jobs like mine by being mellow. My superiors are intense, driven, type A personalities. I share some, all although perhaps not all, of those characteristics. It is certainly true that I am highly competitive. In any event, here I am in this environment, which is a pressure cooker. The people I work with are unbelievably intelligent, excellent business people, and share many fine characteristics. I do not say this sarcastically. The caliber of people at the company I work at is exceptionally good. Nonetheless, every single one of them has personal aspects that can be very difficult to deal with. The emotional volatility that arises when business pressures intensify can be difficult to manage.

It is in precisely these difficult conditions that I see aspects of myself that I am in denial about. Above all, I constantly come up against my emotional reactions, which are frequently negative and despairing, at least in an inner sense. I am an expert at multitasking, and used to handling vast amounts of data, yet at this moment in my work I am repeatedly meeting situations which seem to be overwhelming. Actually, they are not -- there are ways of managing these things. Nonetheless, parts of me which are identified with the situation continue to insist that I am facing the impossible.

Somehow, I manage to stand up and soldier on in the face of these imaginary adversities. In the background lurks a part that is not attached, but it is relatively weak. I am left with questions about just how much I know about myself, who I am, what I am capable of, and what this whole mess is about.

Objectively, I am constantly dealing with situations where most of the problems are being invented. If we pared away the things that do not absolutely need to be done, if we took the "Dilbert" out of the situation, we could focus far better on the essential tasks we have to accomplish. But of course that isn't possible. The world is the way it is. If I want to succeed in this job, I have to confront the realities and meet every situation with a yes, even the ones that I completely disagree with. There are many moments where I have to consciously swallow both my pride and my ego and accept comments and sometimes quite unreasonable criticism which I do not really want to have to participate in. In these cases I train myself to agree and say yes, no matter what my inner reaction is. This is not easy; it is good work for me, because I have to continually go against myself. On top of that I have to maintain a positive, cheerful outer attitude.

All of this has to be considered in the context of the fact that the job I have is really a very good job, and I am usually happy in it. The reality is that I want everything to be perpetually comfortable, and life is not perpetually comfortable. I am in denial about that.

There is only one way to overcome denial, and that is to see what is true. Seeing what is true need not be painful; it takes intestinal fortitude, perhaps, but it can be done. I remember one of my teachers (God rest his soul) , who many years ago remarked how he saw a man he was working with, and saw how that man was better than he was at what they were doing together. It was just true; he realized that he would never be as good as this other man even though he wished he were.

He saw what was true and accepted it. Even though it went against what he believed about himself.

Just seeing what is true is a big deal. It trumps denial quite handily. If we were more willing to do what I did over 25 years ago when, as an alcoholic, I looked in the mirror one morning and said to myself "you are going to die if you keep doing this," we would make more progress. But first we have to be willing to look in the mirror and admit to ourselves that we do not know what we are doing, and that we are mortal.

Over the years, a lot of my images of myself seem to have dissolved. The biggest lie I ever constructed was the lie of Lee as "the artist." The fact that I managed to construct a truth out of this lie is immaterial. How many other constructions I carry around me are invalid? I can only know this by constantly testing who I am, where I am, and what I am doing, with the famous question, "what is the truth of this moment?"

Okay, once again I have gone on quite long enough. We will leave it till tomorrow, one together we can embark on another set of musings.

Try, today, to stop in the middle of life once or twice and see who you are. Who are you, really? Do you know?

Do any of us?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Orchids, time, evolution

This winter has been a particularly good winter for my household orchids. They have been generous in their blossoming.

We will be looking at more pictures of them in the near future; I am going to the orchid show (for the second time) at the New York botanical Garden next Sunday, where I hope to garner a good deal more spectacular photos of orchids in bloom.

Orchids are pretty cool flowers. There are any number of books extolling their virtues and passing on the more colorful tales that accompany their exotic appearance.

What interests me about orchids is they come in all shapes and sizes. They come to us as travelers out of time itself; orchids have been evolving for many millions of years, are found on every continent except Antarctica (and were probably found there when it was warmer,) and manifest a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes.

Like all flowers, they are sex organs. We do not really think about this very often; to us, flowers are just flowers. We do not open botanical publications and realize that they are a form of vegetative pornography. We do, however, recognize the extraordinary exuberance and beauty that is found in them -- an exuberance and beauty that could probably only come from sex itself, which is one of the most exuberant and beautiful activities in the biological world.

Biologists have often wondered why sex exists at all; after all, it is not strictly necessary for reproduction, not at all. My own personal opinion is that it exists because the universe itself enjoys it.

Aside from their blatant sexuality, what interests me about orchids is this trip through time that they have all taken. Somewhere back in the distant past, we might imagine there was a single orchid, or something thereabouts. Evolution, however, does not work that way. If we tried to examine the evolutionary history of flowers in order to put a pencil down on one particular spot where the orchid came into being, we would not find it. Evolution is a process of continuity where the delineation between species is never 100% clear in any given moment.

For millions of years, in various environments all over the globe, orchids have evolved in all their peculiarities. They have done so in intimate concert with other organisms; most, if not all, orchids have special relationships with insects that pollinate them and cannot reproduce without exactly the right kind of insects around.

This kind of precision is common in the natural world. Biological relationships fulfill each other in remarkable ways; all over the planet there are trillions of keys that fill trillions of locks in just exactly the right way. Molecules fit other molecules; appendages fit into orifices, mouthparts into flowers. Biological life is a clockwork machine of a complexity so immense it defies human understanding.

And it is a clockwork machine, a timepiece. Biological life has swum forward relentlessly through oceans of time to arrive at the present moment. We find ourselves within it, examining the results, taking them for granted. The incredible amount of time and effort that it took to bring us to where we are--the moment where we see an orchid, know that it is "orchid," and appreciate its essential beauty--that is beyond our understanding.

Not only that, the process is all but inevitable. In this universe, carbon is the only atom suitable for the assembly of molecules flexible enough to produce the chemical reactions that support life. Not only that, the strict constraints of said chemistry, along with simple mechanical physics ,all but guarantee that life will look about the same anywhere on finds it- even in the next galaxy, fish would loook like fish, trees like trees, birds like birds. Time has shown us over and over that the forms life exhibits are remarkably consistent, even when separated by hundreds of millions of years. Take icthyosaurs and porpoises, for example: one a reptile that lived a hundred million or more years ago, another a contemporary mammal: yet nearly identical in body form, because in this universe, that form is what works.

So if you were wondering whether all those weird creatures you see in science fiction movies are pretty much ridiculous, there you have your answer.

We take part in a magnificent process so much greater than ourselves. How much do we consider this, as we occupy ourselves with our acquisitions, and our politics, and our revenge? None of these things have anything to do with the journey that biology embarked upon some three or more billion years ago. Alone among all the creatures on the planet, we find ourselves obsessed things other than relationship; things other than nature.

Even the hard-core atheists of the biological world such as Edward O. Wilson assert that man's true purpose is to take in impressions of nature; this is what we evolved for, this is how we evolved. If we surround ourselves with impressions that are not natural (such as we do in all of our great cities) it actually causes us to fall victim to psychosis, because the impressions that are falling into our bodies are not the impressions we evolved to receive. In constructing our grand societies and adopting our immense technologies, we have accidentally engineered our own psychic downfall.

The more impressions of nature we take in, the better it is for us. The more deeply we feel a connection to nature through this organic rootedness I frequently refer to, the healthier we become. Everything about life for man was originally meant to be about an organic relationship to nature and to the planet.

Admittedly, it is too late to turn back the clock and completely fix this. It does, however, behoove us to cultivate a respect for this fact, and to seek a deeper understanding of just what nature is. A time machine which life travels within; an ocean of events that reaches back through history, washing its sediments into the rocks of the planet, processing its surface in a spectacular frenzy of molecular engineering.

A time machine which we have, on behalf of sacred and higher forces, become the principal witnesses to at this particular moment in the planet's evolution.

Spring has begun; the energy of the planet in this hemisphere is flowing anew. Here is a moment where the tides of life turn once again, where the energies we can receive increase, and the impressions we can take in blossom into new glories which we call leaves, and animals, and flowers.

I will miss the winter and its chill darknesses, but as the flow of my own inner sap quickens, I will accept and celebrate the arrival of warmth, and new life.

May the bees fly high, may the worms dig deep, may the fish swim far.

On a final note, the third visitor to this blog who reads this post will be the 1000th visitor since I began to keep track last year!

Welcome to you, whoever you are, and thanks for reading!

With love to all,