Sunday, November 16, 2008
I've just inadvertently created the longest hiatus on the blog since I began writing it. I just have too many projects open at one time.
Periodically we return to the question of struggle in real life, and what it means in comparison to the aims of the work, which are to grow a second being--body.
The two enterprises are not unrelated. The astral body cannot grow if we don't inhabit the organic body and counter all of the physiological and psychological struggles that it presents us with. You can't get a butterfly without a caterpillar. So all of the things that we encounter in ordinary life are absolutely necessary for our work. That's why we are here.
As Henri Trachol said, "You are born of your wish to be." We are incarnated in this flesh because of the need to grow. If there were other ways for the growth to take place, it would.
It's tempting to divorce the spirit from the flesh, and there is a separation. But in our existence, spirit and flesh are joined together. We need our real life, and we need every phenomenon, circumstance, and challenge that it presents.
Well then, my readers.
This summer, I came under fire from a senior member of the work who mistakenly thought that I equated the aims of Alcoholics Anonymous with the aims of the work.
Now, I don't get that reaction from every senior member of the work. Peggy Flinsch, on the occasions I have mentioned AA to her, expresses a heartfelt and enthusiastic support for the organization. She knows all too well how real it is, and how real the work that is done in it is. Her comment to me on the matter several years ago was, "More of the people in the Work could benefit from that organization." Not because they drink too much (although that weakness, along with the recreational use of drugs, is more prevalent than it ought to be) but because the kind of work that is done in AA has all of the elements missing in a lot of group work as it is conducted today at the Gurdjieff foundation.
Nakedness. Honesty. Trust. You get that in AA. How many of us can actually say that we dare to do that with our own groups? Go to a few AA meetings and discover how raw and honest they are. If we took all of the emotional clothing we wear off like that in the Gurdjieff work, we might get somewhere.
Why don't we do it? There is a very simple answer.
I got browbeaten for bringing up AA. It wasn't pleasant. I struggled with--and am, as is evident, still struggling with--the reaction I got from this other senior member of the work, because he is a man who I respect (within the limited range that circumstances permit.) However, despite his seniority, his gravitas, and his many years in the work, there are some things he clearly doesn't understand, and the struggle with alcoholism is one of them. This is a man who knows how to drink, but he doesn't know how to not drink.
I know how to do both.
So what is the difference between Alcoholics Anonymous and the Gurdjieff work?
Alcoholics anonymous is filled with uncomfortably real, dirty, messy, traumatized people engaged in a life and death struggle. They know it's real, they know it's life and death, and they have to drop all their pretensions. They have already hit bottom. They have been beaten, pummeled, drugged, and destroyed by their own behavior until they see that they are nothing, and they have to claw their way back up out of the gutter.
The Gurdjieff work, on the other hand, is filled mostly with rather comfortable people leading rather comfortable lives who flatter themselves that they are on a higher level than others, and going places others can't go. They fantasize that they are engaged in some magical enterprise.
I suppose it's hateful to characterize it that way, because I have a deep love and respect for the Gurdjieff work and the people in it. Nonetheless, I see very few people in the Gurdjieff work who have really hit bottom. I have seen those people in AA-- in AA, the majority of people at the meetings have hit bottom.
There is a difference. You can't begin to understand yourself until you hit bottom. Not only do you need to hit bottom, but you have to bounce off it again and again until you are beaten senseless by the impact. I speak not from theories here, but from experience. Really beginning to understand yourself is hitting bottom over and over again throughout your life.
Working is hitting bottom. Imagination is thinking that we are special.
It is, in fact, that simple.
On a cosmological scale, we are smaller than bacteria. Insignificant little organisms scuttling about on the surface of a fairly small planet. We assign ourselves grand abilities and speak of ourselves and to each other as though we were important, but very little, if anything, that we do is of any significance whatsoever, even in relationship to this small planet itself. Some very few individuals such as Christ and the Buddha actually made a difference on this planet.
Most of us don't.
I think that when we measure ourselves against how small we are, and how big our egos think we are, we may have a chance to go up against our imagination about ourselves and actually do some work. But as long as we flatter ourselves with the idea that we know more than others, are more effective than others, more powerful, more attractive, more spiritual, or more of anything else, we are screwed. Well and truly screwed. Only if we realize that we are more egoistic than others do we have a chance of reaching towards a smidgen of the truth.
Well, enough of the sermon. I continue to look at those around me and the way they behave, and I question what we are doing in this work. Are we truly trying to become more ordinary, or do we want to be special? What are we going to drop the pretenses and realize that we have developed very little? When are we going to develop a connection with our organism that creates enough compassion in us to actually care for others, instead of just going through the motions?
We don't have long on this planet. Every moment of every day is a moment that is gone and will never come again. I was at my father's 80th birthday this weekend; he is an old man, and clearly doesn't have too much time left on this planet -- maybe another 10 or 20 years, if he is lucky. And the weekend before this, I went to see Betty Brown, my old group leader, who is 88 years old, and standing upright in her life like a lightning rod, despite a stroke and the loneliness of her retirement community where there are very few people interested in the work.
Encounters like this remind me that my life is passing. I don't have much time left either. For all I know, my time will be even briefer; any of us could die at any moment. How much of my attention do I turn to the events of today in order to work harder? I need to ask myself this.
This is one of the most difficult times of year to do that. A great deal of the energy that supports me during the year starts to become more dormant at this time. This is a planetary, or astral, phenomenon, not a failure on my part to be more connected. All of us in the northern hemisphere are affected by this at this time of year. We must do the best we can do under these more difficult circumstances, knowing -- as brother Lawrence knew when he saw the tree -- that the leaves will grow again in the spring.
I hope to become more active in posting here again. As I look back over the last two years, I see that this enterprise has not only provided a service for the work, it serves as something of a diary of my inner life. Perhaps few people would dare to expose such a diary; again, as I mentioned before, we don't really trust each other.
What do we need to do in order to begin to trust each other?
In ending, I will offer you a brief prayer I have been using in my sittings that seems to me to touch upon the questions of trust and faith.
I come before you naked and alone,
offering myself in service to your greater glory."
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
This week I formulated a slightly different way of expressing this, which is framed in the questions of circumstance and Being.
Circumstance is that which lies around us. We have a "stance," an existence, a place where we stand, which consists of this organism, taking in all its impressions of this life. That "stance" is surrounded by all the external events that affect it. Hence, circumstance.
What is affected is Being. One might say that this is the "stance" in circumstance, but that is only the case if Being deepens. In man's ordinary state, all that is there to receive life's impressions is personality, and so everything external affects personality. Essence, the emotional core of man's being, is buried and has little legitimate interaction with the impressions of life.
I bring all of this up because I became interested this week in the difference between grief that is experienced through circumstance, and grief that is understood through Being.
All of us encounter a great deal of suffering in life. The suffering produces grief. This question of suffering and the way that it affects man was, of course, one of the main interests of the Buddha. He wanted man to become free of suffering.
Gurdjieff, on the other hand, offered us a bold and magnificent inversion of this idea that can only be appreciated through an entirely different order of experience.
He said that man needed to suffer more, only in a new way. His teaching said that man needs to learn how to take on a portion of the sorrow of God, who he referred to as "His Endlessness."
Under ordinary circumstances, the way we usually are, as we encounter suffering and grief, we encounter it only through circumstance. Everything that we learn about it, we we learn through external events. That is to say, our grief and our suffering is cause-based. Someone dies, and we feel bad. We see an individual we know in distress, and we grieve for them. The laws of cause and effect continually deliver such experiences to our doorstep.
A great deal of this kind of grief and suffering may end up looking senseless to us. Men encounter calamity and disaster, reach their hands to the heavens, and ask "why?" I've done it many times myself.
More often than not, no answer is heard. This sometimes leads us to presume that the universe is devoid of answers, and that any God there might be is an uncaring God.
There is, however, a completely different way of encountering suffering and grief, and this is part of what Gurdjieff called intentional suffering. That subject is actually an extremely complex one with many levels of understanding, so we will have to just barely touch on it. What I want to bring us to is the idea that suffering and grief, if they cease to be understood through circumstance, are related to the question of remorse of conscience -- another central concept in Gurdjieff's work -- and taking on some of the sorrow of His Endlessness, or, the universe itself. And this act can become intentional, if mediated through the effort of real inner work.
Being itself is capable of encountering grief, sorrow, suffering, as a substantive or substantial experience, that is, based on an actual experience of a certain kind of material energy. The energy is independent of circumstance. By this I mean that it is not produced by good or bad things that happen. It is, for lack of a better description, "atmospheric" in nature, that is, it exists within the vibration of the fabric of the universe. (I hate to put it that way, because I'm not into descriptions that express what might be consdiered a cosmological "New Age" attitude, but that's the best I can do.)
The encounter of suffering and remorse through Being, rather than circumstance, can only be achieved through a great deal of inner work. If, however, it touches us even once, we begin to have a completely different understanding of many ideas that we have heard but don't know much about. Compassion, for instance, can only be truly understood once it is mediated by these forces. Humility and remorse of conscience are water drawn from this same well of grief through Being.
This week, I became a bit more cognizant of the understanding that all of the key emotive forces which can help our work must be connected to the ability to take in grief and suffering through Being, rather than circumstance. This is directly connected to a great deal of what I have said in the past about understanding the difference between the inner and the outer.
This question of circumstance and Being touches in every way on our confusion about life itself. We think that circumstance is life. We don't understand that life springs from Being, and not from circumstance. We think that the water produces the well. Our societies are arranged to encourage this, and we spend very little time pondering it from an organic point of view.
Only an inversion of this habitual understanding can begin to lead us into the darkness that the water actually comes from.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
New feature on Doremishock.com, which may need a word or two of explanation.
I grew up in a conservative and traditional family. My mother, D.A.R. to the core, used to can fruits and vegetables, bake pies, grind her own meat, and so on when I was young. I grew up in her kitchen learning how to cook many different things. She also taught me other household arts such as cleaning, sewing, and ironing. Not necessarily the kind of thing every little boy learns from his mother, but my mother's mission in life from the time I was very young was to make sure I was fully prepared to lead a responsible life in as many ways as possible.
Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are of spending time in the kitchen cooking things. I've been cooking on my own at home ever since I was in college, because I can usually make better food than most restaurants serve, and it costs less.
Both my children have followed in this family tradition. My daughter (featured above, at easter in our tiny little kitchen) is currently an assistant pastry chef in her spare time while she attends Cornell. My son, who is 17 years old and addicted to rock band (last week when I was home sick I was inadvertently forced to listen to a Judas Priest concert, which was not something I expected to have to do in my later years) watches iron Chef more than just about any other television program, and has taught himself his way around the kitchen better than a lot of adults.
My wife is the Queen of Soup (along with Queen of Everything Else.) She can make anything liquid and make it fabulous.
I bring all of this up because of how important it is to understand how we cook and how we eat. All of the work that we do is cooking. All of the "seeing" we engage in is a way of feeding ourselves.
If we begin to appreciate this in multiple dimensions, it can help our work. As I have pointed out at other times, one of the principal conclusions of John Dominic Crossan's "the historical Jesus" was that food and eating were central to Christ's teaching and practice.
Mr. Gurdjieff also made meals a central part of his teaching work.
Hence I have added a page with recipes to Doremishock. This page will feature recipes I make up at home.
Go. Cook. Eat. Enjoy.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
It was about our habit of seeing the glass as half empty in our work, and how limiting it is. Our own thoughts about how inadequate we are and how short we fall of anything real are not, themselves, real.
The difference between thinking we are inadequate and a real sense of our own nothingness is the difference between what emerges from the ordinary, and what comes from a higher level. We can never truly sense our own nothingness without the action of a much higher energy in us, one perhaps on the order of sex energy, that is, a hydrogen 12, but not si 12.
That understanding comes with a number of other experiences. Rather than describe them, I'm interested today simply in the understanding that there are other energies like sex energy, energies that powerful, but which have a completely different effect on the psyche of man, particularly the emotions.
Some people tend to take issue with me on this, but so much of the deepest part of inner work is an emotional experience -- or, if you will, a feeling experience, taking the "special" word that is used in the work to describe emotions from a higher level. And if we do not become more open to this deeper emotional contact with a level above us, everything we think about things is just that -- thinking.
We can think up anything we want. I have seen people think up things that reject absolute esoteric truths which I have encountered firsthand. They just aren't open to the possibility. I won't even go into the details. The point is that you cannot take truth, pour it out of your bottle into a glass, and let someone else drink it. The formatory thinking part prevents that. It's a barrier that nothing can get through, it lacks discrimination, and it's convinced it is right. (Well, you may not believe your thinking part is like that, but I have studied mine, it's exactly like that, and I rather suspect that yours is no different. My apologies if you think I'm wrong. LOL.)
I have this sneaking suspicion that some of the wrong work of sex center takes part right there, where we almost fanatically reject things using the mind.
Anyway, by now, maybe you have noticed that this post really has nothing to do with attitude, at least not the way I thought about it when I was walking the dog. It's about energy, and what we know about it.
What we know about it is absolutely nothing, and if the energy of the holy spirit arrives in us, it does so quite unexpectedly, like a revolution.
For reasons that are difficult to explain, passing on specific insights that are imparted by a revolution of this nature corrupts them. There are many things I feel quite interested in saying to people that I never, never say. The experience I had, for example, the second time I walked the dog today, which changed the character and intention of this post.
Is it because things must remain hidden? No, anything could easily be said. The problem is in the misconstruing. Once the misconstruing takes place, the game is over. If one does not leave enough space for others to discover on their own, one crushes their potential discoveries into packages that are too small and ideas that are too narrow.
For this reason, we must all go gently as we offer ourselves to one another. Small things presented with sensitivity can outweigh large ones delivered with bluster.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I started writing a new novel last weekend, the first one in eight years, and it has occupied a good deal of my writing time. So my sincere apologies to readers who enjoy seeing regular posts. They will be a little less frequent at this point, because the book has an impetus of its own that needs to be honored.
Today I am lying in bed, though, surrounded by little technological devices that didn't exist when I was sick as a child. Computers, hard drives, iphones, portable phones, and digital thermometers are littered across a piece of technology from another era -- a patchwork quilt. It's a primitive and ancient technology, but quite frankly, it gives a much more feeding impression that all these little electrical devices.
The external aspects of life have undergone extraordinary change over the last 40 years. The inner aspects of man, for most people, have undergone no change whatsoever, and have probably even deteriorated.
To be sure, there are currents that flow in the other direction. The problem, I find, is that so few are interested in them. Some of my smartest and most able work partners agree with me on this; other equally deep people I work with are suffused with a tremendous sense of optimism about the next generation.
I'm not sure how productive the generalizations we apply here are when we don't even understand the question of partiality very well. The planet of our inner nature has attracted us, and we are vigorously in orbit about it, but few of us ever attempt a landing. We remain at a distance, up in the sky, studying the landscape as best we can with rather crude telescopes.
This isn't enough. We have to go inside and establish contact.
In particular, a contact with the body is needed. When I get sick -- as I am today, running a temperature of over 100° -- it never fails to surprise me how active the inner energy is in relationship to my ordinary being. I can't explain why that's the case. I can say that illness provides a good opportunity to study the nature of the body and its relationship to the mind. Of course, I'm not speaking of winner-take all illnesses where you live or you die. That's a different matter. I haven't had one -- thank God -- lucky me. Yet some of those I know who have had such illnesses (my wife included -- she had cancer) verify that it can be transformational.
That's a big thing. In order to land on the planet of the organism, we have to study little things. One has to dig into the details of perception of the organism. In particular, we need to keep studying the intimacy I speak of between the mind and the organism. We are called to a much greater intimacy with the work of the body if we truly turn our attention inwards in a sensitive manner. Even when viruses are replicating, this is quite possible. But it requires a sincere effort to be quite still and quiet. This is what is usually missing.
We all prattle on a great deal about being still and being quiet. We are unable to see how our mind seizes everything and uses it, and how we don't actually undertake the practical work that is necessary, which would begin with good posture, with a rather quiet attitude, and the sensitivity first to ourselves and our organism, and then to everyone around us. Instead of this, a good deal of talking takes place.
If we develop a good attention inside, it's quite possible to talk and still maintain this connection, but that doesn't seem to happen too often. If we get a taste for it, it will become much more available to us, but this energy doesn't want to waste its time. If we don't have enough interest, it seems to have other places to go, and other things to do.
The mind that we use every day -- even the one that is writing, or reading, this -- isn't the mind I speak of. That is the formatory mind, which works well for conceptualization and very little else. We actually have to be willing to abandon that mind and go to an entirely new place that is quite different.
We need to begin in that new place immediately, now. Not "get there" from the mind.
It is almost as though the formatory mind has to be encountered, included, and utterly dismissed in the first instant of our effort. The only way that that can happen is with the participation of other parts, principally, the moving center and perhaps, if we are fortunate, the emotional mind, which are capable of providing an entirely different kind of support for our effort.
In any event, let us all be called to develop a more intimate relationship with the energy of the body, to see it in action, see how the parts are not connected and how we resist what is possible.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Every one of us in a spiritual work has come up against some “higher,” power possessing being who opposes us at one time or another.
Spiritual work is just as subject to corruption by matters of the ego as any other area of human life. The hierarchy of almost every spiritual work, however, cynically poses as though this weren’t possible--at least for them. It's altogether mandatory.
I have pointed out before, the highway to enlightenment is littered
with the wreckage of those who called it wrong. Every spiritual work has
seen individuals who were invested with a great deal of trust and
authority abruptly abandon and repudiate their teachers and sell out by
teaching outside the work. So the fact is that there have been many
thousands, even millions, of cases over the centuries where highly
placed, powerful and self-confident individuals made remarkably bad
calls about who could be trusted, and how much.
I've seen it happen myself.
would think such things might shake their confidence, but they don't.
These same individuals who make these erroneous calls continue to
possess power and make sometimes erroneous judgments.
Because esoteric spiritual works have a strong tendency to morph into oligarchies after the master dies, there is no way to correct this situation. We all have to make our peace with it.
bring this up because there is an important question here about the
difference between service to the work and service to outer authority.
one of us who makes a choice to engage in inner work is serving a much
bigger entity than the hierarchy. We serve a higher purpose in a work
that is worldwide, and linked together by tendrils of energy that have
nothing to do with the "ordinary" work we engage in on this level.
Confusing hierarchy and "authority" --much of it opinion posing as authority-- with real Work, inner work, is a mistake. Nonetheless, almost all of us get drawn into this. Hence our egos get confused, bruised, and battered by people who are placed where they can exercise authority over us. Good, solid people routinely get passed
over because of badly mistaken perceptions. And a LOT of people who get
passed over again and again eventually leave works out of sheer
One can hardly
blame them. "Leadership" in any organization can often appear to be
clumsy men with thick gloves on, handling porcelain. Spiritual work is
no different, in the end.
The real measure of a man or woman in this work is not the position that they occupy in the hierarchy. The real measure is whether or not we serve the work, regardless of position.
other words, in real work, it is absolutely necessary to continuously
and ruthlessly work to put ego considerations aside and just keep
showing up to work with others, even if our work is to clean out the
toilets or sweep the floors. (AA does a good job of
teaching people this, but it starts on a ground floor with far more
humility in it than the Gurdjieff work. In the Gurdjieff work one works to acquire humility--in AA one arrives with it smeared all over one's face.)
And it is very important to understand what it means to serve a work, rather than one's own ambition.That kind of understanding involves sacrifice. It involves attempting to understand what we must give up, and how much we are willing to pay. And all of that is an inner transaction that cannot be traded with in the outside world.
I've pointed out in other essays on judging, no one on this level
really knows what is important and what isn't--although a lot of posers
act like they do. Every once in a while, you get a more developed individual who knows a bit of the difference--at least some of the time. That, however, is rare. In
general, the power-posessors who choose “who” gets to do “what” and how
worthy each person is are often playing a game based on guesswork,
colored by ego and vanity. More often than not, life being what it is,
they eventually get hoisted on their own petard.
that's really no surprise, considering what a mess humanity is in. Can
we really rely on anyone? Hardly. We live in a world that rewards the
development of a decidedly negative and distrusting attitude against
others, simply because it is an excellent defense mechanism in a
This decidedly outward struggle, which we all love far too much, goes absolutely nowhere. In order to deepen and open, we need to become much more interested in our own personal work and the work of our own inner being in regard to level. We must become much more attracted to the specific nature of our own work, rather than any external circumstances. We can only begin real work for ourselves once the center of gravity of our struggle turns itself away from the struggle with others -- which is what every struggle over hierarchy, power, and authority consists of -- and we turn our struggle inwards, towards our self.
I run into many instances where I get into conflicts with people in the work. They take up a lot of inner time, and they generate a lot of inner considering. This never changes.
My attitude towards them, however, gradually does. I begin to see that I have to constantly turn back to myself and how I am, drop these conflicts, and ignore them. Each one of them is a distraction that takes up energy I could use better in another place.
How much time does each one of us spend struggling with authority -- in our family, in our job, or in our spiritual work -- that could be better spent elsewhere? If we truly look at this, we see that it is a lot. We see how helpless we are against our inner considering -- we see how it rules us. And at a certain point, if we see enough, we may say to ourselves, "Well, this isn't productive. I need to do my own work for myself, and not worry about these other folks and what they think of me."
So then we turn back inward. This action, this turning back inward, is so much more valuable--why do we forget it?
night, just before movements, I ran into a woman I had a big "work
argument" with this summer. (Celebrity death match: my "authority"
versus her "authority.")
...We encountered each other alone, in a darkened corridor behind the movements hall, pulling cushions off the shelf.
I went with my heart and took the risk.
"...Are you still mad at me?" I asked.
She broke out in an expansive smile of relief and said, "I am so glad you said that!" I opened up my arms and we gave each other a big hug. Just like that, we dropped all the crap on the floor and we were real human beings for a second.
Now that was a real moment. A moment where instead of the negativity, the competition, the holding on to nonsense, we unconditionally just made a decision in the moment to treat each other decently. We went past the questions of power and conflict, and into relationship.
How different would the world be, if we did more of this in our work?
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
disclaimer: "Any resemblance between events described in this blog and
events in the real world is purely coincidental. No Gurdjieffians were
harmed while writing this blog."
We frequently hear about how Jeanne DeSalzmann called us to "stay in front of the lack".
The unfortunate fact is that we aren't quite certain what that means.
Everyone more or less agrees that it means something about "having an attention." But most of this proposition is resident in the mind. That is to say, the part that takes it in, processes it, and values it is the intellect.
We have two other minds in us which play a vital role -- or, rather, should play a vital role, but don't -- in daily life. These are the minds of the body and the mind of the emotions. The mind of the body is wrapped up in its own little set of habits and desires, and the mind of the emotion is simply reactionary under any ordinary circumstances.
So exactly what is "lacking?"
These minds need to be physically connected. They can't be connected by bringing an idea of connection. They can't be connected by using the mind to intend a connection -- not the habitual, formatory mind, anyway. They have to be connected by something new that happens within the organism.
What happens is not mental. It is physical. To put it in other terms, it consists of a material change in relationship within the organism itself.
Unless and until we sense our work in this way, we don't work. We think about working. Admittedly, years of preparation in the mind may be needed before this point is reached, but it must be reached. Otherwise nothing real happens.
Once the point of the physical sensation of inattention and attention arises, and a physical experience of partiality can be organically sensed and seen, then something real can begin. That is the point at which the mind of the body awakens enough to realize that there is a work to do.
The connection with sensation has a great deal to do with that awakening. This is why we spend time discussing the issue of relaxation and sensation. However, as Jeanne DeSalzmann said, "sensation alone is not enough." That is because the awakening of an organic sensation -- and the organic sense of being -- only brings two centers together. The advantage that it brings is that it creates a foundation, and this is no small thing.
However, the mind of the emotion is not so easily attracted.
We might compare it to a wild horse, browsing in the pasture. The horse has tremendous power, and an enormous potential to serve, but it is never been trained to do anything. It hasn't even been captured. And, quite frankly, it's quite used to running around wild. "Why not," it thinks (because it does indeed literally have a mind of its own) "just enjoy yourself?"
Like the ox in the Zen parable, it is this enormous force that needs to be caught and tamed.
It can't be attracted using force. We have to become interesting enough to the horse for it to come see what we are up to. If we have the right attitude--if we are very quiet and still --the horse becomes quite interested in coming closer to us--after all, for a change, there's something peculiar going on here, worth investigating--and then maybe we can form a relationship with him.
But we need to be attractive, we need to have a good quality in us in order to create a space that that horse wants to be in. This is why we can't use force. The horse is much stronger than we are, and if we try to capture him or hold him, he'll just run away. So we have to be quiet and, actually, loving in order to attract that quality of the horse, of emotion, which can help inform us.
I say inform us, because the three minds can work together to become something bigger. This is all on the order of what scientists call emergence. That is to say, when you put separate elements together, something emerges out of them that is much bigger than the gross sum of the elements alone.
When this takes place, something forms inwardly. This is the real meaning of information -- that which forms inwardly. So we are seeking to bring our parts together so that a quality can form inwardly. We use the words "a new quality of attention," for example, to describe it, but even that is inadequate. If we wanted to translate it in a more innovative way, we might say it was a new quality of "a-tension," that is, a lack of tension. But once again, we are using words to describe something, two thirds of which comes from minds which do not use words to describe their experience.
So at best, when we start to use words to describe this effort, this inward formation, and this attention, we only manage to capture less than 33% of what it is. I say less than 33%,because what we get when the minds work together is more than 100%. It becomes something new which is bigger.
Let's change the horse metaphor a bit so that it relates to a story from my youth. I'm not sure if any of you, when you were young, ever tried to catch a frog. When I was a little over three and a half years old, I spent much of the summer down at a small pond trying to catch a frog, and discovered I just couldn't do it.
After puzzling this over, I finally did what any practical child would do. I went to my mother and asked her what you have to do to catch a frog.
She told me that you have to sit very, very quietly and very, very still for a long, long time and wait for the frog to come to you. Then you move very, very slowly until you can finally grab the frog. Today she tells me that she never credibly believed a three-year-old child (especially a hyperactive one like me) could do this.
Nonetheless, I went down to that pond and I sat very very still for a long time -- I have no idea how long it was, but it was a very long time -- and I waited and waited and waited.
I was very still.
Chiefly, I was sensitive to myself. This is what the activity consisted of. I sat there and I saw how agitated I was, and I saw how much I wanted to move, and I measured that against my wish to catch a frog. I became much more sensitive, because I saw that my wish had to be much greater than my impulse to move. It all became a question of being sensitive to myself, to my state, and to my wish. It boiled down to have an organic sense of self in relationship to my wish. I did not know at that time that that was what it consisted of, but it was.
Finally, I caught that frog. I raced up to my mother triumphantly clutching the (absolutely terrified) frog in my hands. She was exhilarated and astonished along with me; then, she wisely advised me to return the poor frog to his home.
And I did.
So I didn't just learn how to capture a frog. I also learned how to let a frog go, which is just as important.
Part of the beauty of experiencing this life, of taking and impressions, of making an effort with more than just one mind, is catching the frog. Another part of the beauty is letting the frog go: coming and going, participating in the ebb and flow of our inner connections.
As we participate on both ends of the process, we may discover a new sense of both ourselves and the world.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I just finished Stuart Kauffman's book, "Reinventing the Sacred."
This book is a superb piece of work, well worth reading. Gurdjieffians will probably not agree with all of his premises or conclusions, but he is close enough. The only thing lacking from his understanding seems to be the question of levels. He has, at the end of the book, managed to posit a God that bears a striking resemblance to Gurdjieff's model of the universe.
This book may well be, for its age, the new "A New Model of the Universe."
One phrase that he uses frequently throughout the book is that we "live forward into mystery." He points out that this is more or less an "essential truth" of understanding what we're up to--no matter whether we are scientists, philosophers, or those of a religious persuasion.
And it fits so well with the general Gurdjieff philosophy, doesn't it?
Anyway, go buy the book and read it. You will be glad you did.
Readers will probably notice that posts are less frequent nowadays. I'm very busy personally, and, consequently, I am restricting my writing activities to specifically significant situations. That is, unless a particular question brings an insight that I think is worth bringing to the attention of the readership, I'm not writing. There is, after all, more than enough material here to keep any average reader busy for quite some time.
So now a note on that. When I began this blog, one aim was to put the Gurdjieff ideas in front of the general public from one man's contemporary perspective. The aim was never to regurgitate the ideas, but rather to express them from personal experience, and offer one individual's personal work for evaluation. As it happens, I have probably regurgitated a bit, but we all do. One thing I have, however, tried to avoid as I write this blog is to read the worthy works of other commentators, notably Maurice Nicholl, whose works are (arguably) some of the finest commentary available on the Gurdjieff work.
I avoid reading other commentary specifically because I am trying to create a body of work that springs from my own organic roots and my own investigations.
When I began this enterprise nearly 2 years ago, I had no way of foreseeing where it would lead, how long it would last, or what it would consist of. I undertook it as a personal work effort because I felt there was a need for someone to offer the public modern, real-life insights (insofar as possible) into just what it is that people who study the Gurdjieff work "do."
My hope has always been that kindred souls may be attracted to the Gurdjieff ideas by this enterprise, and that existing Gurdjieff students may find material to inspire their own efforts at the same time. The blog's current worldwide readership suggests that it has so far succeeded--at least in some small measure.
Periodically, I review the situation. Last week, I made a copy in word format of all of the posts from November 27, 2007, through October 2008 (excluding, of course, this post.) I posted that document at Doremishock.com along with the Word document from the first year. The two of them are now available together in download format. The public is welcome to download them for personal use only.
In the process of doing this, I "took measurements." That is to say, I checked out the word count. (It's a perverse fact that we are all interested in quantity, even though quantity by itself means absolutely nothing. I am no stranger to this vice.)
It turns out that I have now written 486 essays, comprising over 370,000 words in total. As I believe I said the last time I did any "public counting," I never intended to create such a massive body of work. Writing individual posts, one simply does not see the way they will build up.
However, here we are. It is safe to say, I believe, that this may now be the single largest available body of publicly available contemporary commentary on the Gurdjieff work anywhere in the world.
That is an achievement at least of scale, if not of direction. Every reader has to measure the value -- the direction, if you will -- of the material relative to their own work and their own interests. There have certainly been some enthusiastically negative readers along the way who have asserted that what I am doing is utterly valueless. (Of course, it's not possible that they read all 370,000 words, so one would suspect they are making a rather large judgment based on a very small sample. Nonetheless, there they are.)
OK then. Enough of tooting my own horn, and the horn of other authors who I admire. Let me move on to a slightly more interesting subject, which is that of scale versus direction.
It's common in this work, and other works, to refer to "horizontality" and "verticality." This is akin to asserting that heaven is "up" and hell is "down."
Our association of inner development with direction -- that is, up, or down-- is unfortunate. Any responsible investigation of the universe will immediately reveal that direction is always relative. When we study the question of the higher and lower, we are inevitably studying scale, in the sense of vibration. To imply directionality or physical location is to imply that we are here, and "it" -- whatever "it" is that we seek -- is "over there." The only way to get past this rather limiting concept of a location is to begin to understand that levels are built out of scale (or vibration), not direction.
Gurdjieff made this fairly clear when he explained that the higher and lower all occupy the same space. All "lower" matter is penetrated by the finest substances of the highest matter. All of the levels inhabit the same space simultaneously. It is the scale of relationship that creates different levels. the levels are not actually "up" or "down." They vibrate at greater or lower frequencies, and exist in greater or smaller concentrations. That is the long and the short of it. And, one might add, he made sure that was always in front of us by introducing the enneagram.
The reason I am bringing this up is that I so often hear people refer to "the higher" and "the lower" as though with these were actual locations that could have a little pin stuck through them on a map. The expressions betray us, because they imply that we know.
And we don't.
Personally, I subscribe to a controversial concept of the universe in which everything is everywhere. This isn't, presumably, specific enough for most people, but I am trying to learn to live with it in the most expansive sense possible, which is to say, in the spirit of "All and Everything."
Perhaps the best that can be said is that we live forward into mystery. And even if it's not the best, well, it's pretty good.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
What is the "inner clock?" And what is its relationship to inner work?
Our entire planet is covered with a very thin layer of biological organisms. Almost without exception, every organism has an inner clock. Even our individual cells themselves have inner clocks by which they time their activities.
All biological functions in organisms are regulated and timed so that they take place in the correct order, with the correct amount of time between them. Collectively, organisms time themselves in accordance with circadian rhythms -- that is, rhythms related to daylight and darkness -- but they also regulate themselves in accordance with both lunar rhythms, and seasonal rhythms. So there is both an individual and a planetary, or astral, nature to the inner clock. The inner clock senses events we may not be aware of in our ordinary mind. This measuring instrument, in other words, has direct, "hard-wired" connections to a very big picture which we are for the most part completely unaware of. It is, for the most part, driven by the influences of the sun, which, in the Gurdjieff cosmology, is at a very high level.
Timing mechanisms are the marvel of the biological world. No one knows, for example, exactly how and why 17-year cicadas all manage to hatch at the same time. There are many examples like this, examples where a group of organisms separated by obstacles that absolutely prevent any direct communication--such as, in the case of the cicadas, soil -- manage to simultaneously arrive at precisely the same place, at the same time, in order to reproduce. The ability of fireflies to synchronize their timing is spectacular. There are spectacular fish and bird and even insect migrations (the monarch butterfly) that accomplish similar feats. All across the planet, time drives the machine of biology.
Time has unique qualities. Modern physicists generally agree that time, as a "thing," does not exist, yet we all perceive it. One could even, in theory, run time backwards.
Gurdjieff called time the merciless heropass, and presented it as the chief reason that God created the universe. One might presume that it was in fact entropy itself which God sought to overcome. (As Stuart Kauffman points out in his book "Reinventing The Sacred," the forces of entropy should theoretically affect time whether it runs forwards or backwards. His observations about that are quite fascinating, and have a bearing on Gurdjieff's cosmology.)
Judging from our study of the world of biology, it appears as though creating the universe in order to conquer time was a deal with the devil. It turns out that the universe--or at least, in any event, biological life --cannot function without time. In other words, the fabric of the universe had to incorporate the enemy itself in order to exist. Or, perhaps, there was just no way whatsoever--even for God--to escape the influences of time.
One could ponder this theoretical question a great deal more. Let's move along, instead, to where it touches our personal inner work.
I think it's safe to say that for God to have found it necessary to react to it, there is something quite unique about time. And I have at least one group member and friend in the work who has said many times that one of our chief problems is that we do not perceive time accurately.
This bring us to the movements. In the movements, we study many things: sensation, movement, attention, to name just a few.
We also study the perception and experience of time.
In movement, when one relaxes inside the movement itself, one discovers the effort to align oneself as perfectly as possible with the timing of the movement. One spends many years in classes listening to teachers emphasize the need to "get there on time" -- to arrive in the position quite precisely in relationship to the tempo of the music. If one truly begins, even for a moment, to inhabit the movement, the synchronization of the body and the mind with the time becomes almost effortless. A peculiar organic satisfaction then arises in relationship to the experience of time. We anticipate; we move; all of our parts arrive with precision in a new position.
Mr. Gurdjieff must have been quite interested in having us study time itself. Not from a theoretical point of view, but rather, to see what the experience of time in movement consists of, and how each of us has an inner clock that regulates this kind of activity.
Now, I will say quite frankly, I can't tell you why he was interested in having us study this. One may presume, however, that he felt it was of great importance.
Let us consider taking a look at the functioning of our inner clock; the way that the rhythm of life works both inside and outside of movement. Let us try and see what the experience of time in relationship to the body's ability to measure it consists of. It is an area of study that connects us to something deeply organic -- something primeval, a biological quality we share with all the other organisms on this planet.
Mankind's profound and longstanding cultural tradition of music is, in large part, a study of time and its relationship to the body and emotional center. In other words, our primary sensory tool for time is not just the (usually) sleepy, inattentive mind. We sense time with the body and the emotions.
What does that mean? It draws us deeper into what it means to be human.
And that is never a bad place to start discovering ourselves.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
We might say that inner work is a revolution. That is, a re-evolution, or, put differently, a movement of re-discovery.
No one actually knows what "the work" is, but we mostly all think we do. Mr. Gurdjieff passed on many different fragments of one great teaching, and left us with the task of reassembling it. The fragments themselves, however, continually tempt us to create dogmas--mostly intellectual dogmas--surrounding them. And, as always, our opinions, our assumptions, and our dogmas are our downfall.
One Work dogma is that everything must remain a question, and that if we seek answers, it "kills the life" of our work.
What is an "answer?" An answer is a response. That's it's primary meaning.
The entire universe consists of cause and effect, or, stimulus and response.
So "answers"--responses--don't kill the life of our work. In real science, answers lead to more questions. Responses lead to more new situations. In other words, to misunderstand the nature of answering is to misunderstand everything. Answering consists of response. And responsibility is a central concept in Gurdjieff's work.
The way that I would explain this question in rather more detail is that it is not the answers that are a problem. It is not responses that kill off our work. If we are really working, really living within our work, we are constantly responding, we are acting as consciously as we can within a sense of responsibility, which means that we are always attempting to answer a call to consciousness.
I will repeat that. We are attempting to answer a call to consciousness. Consciousness, we are taught in our work, in the "original state" of man, but we have fallen asleep. The parallels between this and Zen, in which there is an effort to return to "original mind," are striking. We are engaged in an attempt to re-discover our true nature. To become human in the original sense.
It isn't answers that "kill" a living work. It is our dogmas, our belief that something can come to an end and be settled. Perhaps it is even our belief that we "understand" what Work is.
We all want everything to be safe, and safety consists of a static state where things don't change. No such state, of course, ever exists anywhere, so seeking it is pointless. Yet this is the nature of habit. It wants to repeat over and over in the same way, rather than evolve.
The essential nature of evolution discovers itself in constant change, where the assumptions of the moment--the current state of the organism and its development--are tested against its environment. And, quite literally, evolution of any species is a struggle for survival. This is worthy of comparison to the inner effort for awareness, which must continually be tested against the moment.
The work is a living thing: it is in movement. It is a dynamic, constantly evolving organism, and every individual plays a role. There is a valuable lesson to be drawn from biology in this regard. Any evolutionary biologist could tell you that as organisms evolve, they gradually speciate, that is, they turn into new species. There is no one moment where one can draw a line between, for example, a dinosaur and a bird on the evolutionary tree and say, "here's the dinosaur, and this next one, well, that's a bird." So spiritual work can, will, and must morph into new forms which may be radically different than others. At any moment on the line of the evolutionary path, one may not be able to say, "oh, look, this was Judaism, but now, here, we have Christianity." The tension between Jewish and proto-Christian communities as evidenced in Paul's writings are clear-cut evidence of that.
So what is the Gurdjieff work? At every moment the answer to that becomes different. Incrementally different, indeed, but nonetheless different. Remember that even the organ Kundabuffer had its final day in the sun and was retired from service, no matter how vital it may have been to the common-cosmic effort during its tenure in humanity.
To try and hold back this process of constant incremental change is futile. A static dogma that presumes it knows what the work is, and how it ought to be be conducted, is the worst enemy of real work.
The question should always be, what is the work now? Because the work and now -- and now -- and now -- will be different in every now. The change is eternal and constant. It takes place in every moment. It is similar to Dogen's point about the path to Buddha -- the first step on the path and the last step on the path are equal, and both steps are steps on the path.
The work itself exists within each moment in the intersection of forces in the effort to be aware. It can't be damaged by "answers" if real work is taking place. Anything can happen within the context of the ordinary and the ordinary mind and still not necessarily affect the effort to work. The work engages with forces that lie beyond the ordinary.
Yes, it is our ordinary mind, our formulations, that prevent our experience of the dynamism of life and the organic experience of life. Even the belief that there are or are not answers is part of that formulation. It's more useful, I think, to view the question as one of movement and response.
In my post on the Law of three several days ago, I pointed out that the three centers -- body, intellect, emotion -- provide a motive force. These three forces, each an aspect of the law of three itself, provide motive force from the top of the universal structure to the bottom. Each one represents a mind- a form of consciousness. and each of those three aspects of consciousness is what helps to impart a necessary shock to what would otherwise be a relatively inanimate materiality.
Consciousness, in the form of the impetus provided by the law of three, is what allows the universe to evolve. This is why it is needed, and this is why the participation of consciousness in the action of material exchange (response) at every level is so vital.
It's the responsibility of consciousness--its ability to answer a call--that helps create the universe.
We, as three-brained creatures, are given a unqiue and brilliant opportunity to participate in that dynamic mystery.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
It seems reasonably certain that ZYG readership all over the globe is watching the world financial crisis with both bewilderment and bemusement.
All of us in the work form a community; every one of you who reads this is a part of my community, as I am a part of yours. Collectively, we weave a web of work together over the surface of the planet, hopefully providing the Earth and the solar system with certain kinds of energy it needs.
So even though I don't know you personally, we are connected, through our sharing of these ideas and this work. This is a big idea. It is very much the same as the understanding that Christ offered us about the question of community. When we gather together, the synergy of our effort creates a kind of food for the level above us, and draws forces that can help towards us.
Every one of us shares in that effort; it is collective, and it serves the Lord.
It's a particularly important time for all of us to stay grounded in this collective work, I believe. The last thing we should do is succumb to the fear--financial and otherwise--that is sweeping the world. Even though it probably looks to most of us like much of our life savings (or at least our retirement investments) is evaporating like so much morning mist on the surface of a lake, as Mr. Gurdjieff said, "we always make a profit."
That is because the investment that we make in our lives is first and foremost an investment in Being. This pays a different kind of dividend. Right now--almost certainly because of planetary influences no one on earth clearly understands--a moment of great demand has been imposed. A great deal of anguish is being experienced, and emotions are being driven to a fever pitch. (Witness the angry, and even openly violent, remarks being made against Barack Obama at John McCain's political rallies, for example.)
We ought to be grateful, perhaps, that this time around it is expressing itself in a war in the money markets, instead of a war where human beings are slaughtered.
It may, of course, yet lead to that, but let's hope it doesn't.
My own children have come to me with a lot of concern and fear about the situation. They see that they now face an uncertain future (not that we don't, always) , and they wonder if they are going to be able to go to college, graduate school, get a job, etc. "We're screwed," as my 17 year old son Adriaan puts it.
All of them are afraid -- they sense that something unusual is happening.
For reasons I cannot explain in any simple set of words, I don't feel any alarm about the situation. I still get up every morning and I see the sunlight on leaves, and it is beautiful and it feeds me. I still breathe the cool morning air of October. I see the squirrels, the birds, the late autumn flowers.
None of them are very worried. Why should I be worried?
Daily, I try to reassure my children. Things may appear to be falling apart, but that simply isn't the case. What we are seeing is global emotional reaction. It's only if it escalates past the point of theatrics that we will begin to have serious problems. This doesn't mean things won't be difficult -- no doubt, they will be -- but collectively, society has the resources to work its way through this problem. In fact, I feel a peculiar sense of optimism, as though we were on the verge of some great opportunity.
Only time will tell if that is true. In the meantime, as I watch our savings evaporate,I refuse to be afraid.
I can make that choice, and I do.
So let's move on to something more interesting, why don't we?
I want to relate an experience I had yesterday while walking the dog on the top of the Palisades, those magnificent basalt cliffs that define the west side of the Hudson River. We are fortunate enough to live walking distance from the Palisades, so I go up there frequently. The ridge is heavily wooded and littered with the rocky remains of the last Ice Age: a sobering reminder of transformation.
During the walk, while the famous dog Isabel was checking nature's chemical notebooks, I closed my eyes and put my hand against the bark of a tree -- a huge oak tree, probably well over a hundred years old. I tried to sense and understand with nothing more than the sense of touch, appreciating the fact that this was, indeed, a different mind than my intellectual mind perceiving the texture of this bark.
Then I did it again, with a different tree.
We take touch for granted. What is touch? The blind men touched the elephant in order to know it, to understand it. But what were they knowing and understanding when they touched? How were they understanding? By the time they spoke of their understanding, it was deficient and even useless, but while they were touching the elephant, they understood the elephant in a different way than what their words could convey.
There is an entire language encapsulated within the sense of touch, but the language has no words. If we put ourselves up against this in a direct experience where we use our attention to see how it is, we may brush ourselves up against a more concrete example of how there is more than one mind in the body of man. And we certainly brush up against examples of how words are not needed to convey understanding -- examples, that is, of how words cannot convey certain understandings, even simple ones, which are right there in front of us when we touch a tree.
Try it yourself and see.
May your roots find water, and you leaves know sun.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The question of the law of three has come up in my personal circle on a number of occasions recently, and every time it gets discussed, the impression that we don't understand this law very well deepens in me.
That is not to say that I understand it very well either. Probably no one does. Nonetheless, attempting to take this law out of context and understand it serves nothing and no one. It is part of the whole system. Understanding the integrated nature of the system is essential if we want to know what we are up to, from a technical point of view.
Regular readers know I'm the first guy to assert that a technical understanding alone is next to no understanding at all. Nonetheless, there are moments in work where the technical understanding can be nearly invaluable, if it is used to help measure actual experience more accurately. Because the technical understanding is part of a legitimate work of the intellect, it is, in fact, just as necessary as the more "magical" aspects of understanding that come from the other minds that work in us.
In my study of the enneagram, it has become clear to me that there is a fundamental difference in nature between the law of three and the law of seven. If we look at the enneagram itself, it represents an octave -- that is, an entity in and of itself that is found within a particular level. It has a unique materiality to it consisting of the six subsidiary notes (re, mi, fa, sol, la, si) plus the two "do" notes-- which, as we all know, are represented by a single point on the diagram. That in and of itself has metaphysical implications I will not be covering in this essay.
The law of three, on the other hand, is not constrained to a single level. The energy from the law of three emanates directly from the highest level of the universe, the holy Trinity, and it percolates downward through octaves, providing motive forces (shocks) to help the octaves evolve properly and complete themselves.
The fact that organic life on Earth is a shock directly implies that it plays a role related to the law of three, that is, it is mediating energies from a higher level in order to help the process on the level it intervenes at. This is exactly consistent with Mr. Gurdjieff's teaching on the matter.
If we look at the three centers -- moving, emotional, intellectual -- we see that they form a triad-- that is, they belong to the law of three. The three centers, in other words, are a motive force capable of adding impetus to the material substance of the organism we live in, in order to raise its vibration and help it complete itself. They mediate the force that imparts the necessary shocks.
This brings us back to the idea that each center constitutes an octave in itself--the "unique materiality" I spoke of earlier-- and each of these octaves needs to be completed in order for man to become whole. (see my essay on the subject at www.doremishock.com.)
The interpenetration of the law of three and the law of seven is ubiquitous. They are interdependent. Talking about the law of three without talking about the law of seven at the same time is like talking about an insect, but leaving out its six legs--the very features that make it an insect.
The three centers that we work with, in other words, are there to provide a shock for the organism and raise the inner rate of vibration. No one of them alone can complete this work. This is why the unity of our otherwise fragmentary centers becomes so important.
Gurdjieff alluded on a number of occasions to the fact that each center is composed of separate parts. Not just the three parts that he referred to when he said each center actually has its own moving, emotional, and intellectual part -- there, he was just advising us in an oblique manner that the centers themselves are octaves whose motive force is also provided by the law of three. In the lecture that he last read at the New York Playhouse in 1924 (found in the last chapter of "Beelzebub's tales to his grandson") he specifically mentions that the emotional center is composed of six organs called "receivers of vibration of different qualities."
These are the six physical, or material, locations, i.e., localizations, for the receiving of emotional material. The moving, intellectual, and emotional parts of emotional center are the parts that provide the shocks for the interaction of these six organic "notes." taken as a whole, it constitutes a complete and fully functioning emotional center. When Gurdjieff spoke about the Way of the Monk being a Way that could "perfect" or "complete" emotional center, this is exactly what he meant.
Many readers will probably have to take my word for it when I say that it is possible to undertake a direct organic study of this question, which I refer to in my own language as the study of the six inner flowers. Nonetheless, it is just this kind of study that real work begins to consist of, if one is serious about inner examination.
One would have to suspect the organism works this way with all the other centers, although we don't know exactly how that works -- or at least I don't. But, as I have pointed out before, the "chakras" of traditional yoga almost certainly represent the six localizations for the receiving of emotional vibration. These points are definitely possible to sense. One can even come to a quite clear realization that, as Jeanne DeSalzmann constantly used to say, they are not properly connected, and that we are in fragments. But there are, of course, larger aspects to that question which lie well beyond the scope of any single essay.
Gurdjieff's constant emphasis on the need for the development of essence is, in fact, unequivocally an emphasis on the need for the development of emotional center. Anyone who doubts this contention need only read the essays in "Views From the Real World," "Body, Essence, and Personality," and "Essence and Personality," which directly follows it. He makes it quite clear in those two pieces.
So when we speak of something essential in man -- that is, something essence related -- we speak of something that is emotional, in a legitimate way. The problem, of course, is that most of our emotions are entirely illegitimate and even negative. They are quite literally illegitimate--the emotions of bastards, because they do not spring from properly married parts of emotional center.
So if you are wondering why we behave that way, there you are.
Elsewhere, of course, Gurdjieff said that if emotional center didn't start working properly, nothing else was possible. The possibility that the correct work of emotional center has a physical component -- that is to say, one that can be organically sensed and participated in -- is rarely discussed in the Gurdjieff work, even though it is certain it's true.
Gurdjieff's emphasis on the need to heal the emotional center so that it functions properly raises an interesting question. Despite his obvious immersion in Djana (or intellectual) yoga (the Way of the Yogi), was he in fact always a bhakti practitioner at heart? Was his deepening compassion over the course of his lifetime the result of seeing, through his extraordinary intellectual achievement, everything that was needed, and realizing that the most important component in man was a whole heart?
It brings me back to the conviction that deepens in me with every passing year that the Gurdjieff work is primarily -- perhaps even almost exclusively -- about learning how to love.
Not in a sentimental way, but in the whole way that involves all the centers.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
One of the characters in the book is Ursula Buendia, the matriarch of the family, who persists in living until her sight finally begins to fail. She conceals this by discovering other senses that help her to understand the process of life, and in doing so, she makes a few telling observations about those around her.
On page 247 of Gregory Rabassa's translation (HarperPerennial Modern Classics, 2006 edition,) the author informs us:
"Quite simply, while the others were going carelessly all about, she watched them with her four senses so that they never took her by surprise, and after some time she discovered that every member of the family, without realizing it, repeated the same path every day, the same actions, and almost repeated the same words at the same hour. Only when they deviated from meticulous routine did they run the risk of losing something."
A bit later he observes:
"...the search for lost things is hindered by routine habits and that is why it is so difficult to find them."
I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I have noticed that it is not uncommon for me to repeat the same things, the same conversations, the same subjects. Marquez has this exactly right: our habits dominate us with the unobserved tyranny of comfort. In addition, it is our habits themselves that prevent us from reconnecting with what we actually are -- which is, after all, what we have lost in this life of routine.
Marquez' Ursula presents us with an accurate snapshot of how we are: machines. Our mind continually represents to us that we are otherwise; we may observe others, and see their flaws or faults or habits, but we, of course, are better than they are. Every single one of us inevitably, unconsciously, habitually and mechanically puts ourselves above those around us. There are very few individuals that do not have a hidden inner dialogue that speaks to their own superiority. The more arrogant the dialogue becomes, the more invisible it is to us, and the more visible it may be to others.
We are, in a nutshell, frauds. All of us are frauds. This refers me back to the talk of Mr. Gurdjieff's which I heard this summer in which he said we are all entirely composed of lies. On the whole, despite the fact that I rejected it while I was hearing it, I find that he was entirely correct.
The corollary to this observation is that we firmly believe we are not frauds. Most men spend most of their life assuming that they are sincere -- maybe even protesting that they are sincere, and that their motives are selfless and good.
I think the moment in our work when we become suspicious of everything is the moment when reality first begins to appear in front of us. I am reminded of an elder person -- a very elder person -- in the work who mentioned this summer that in the old days, members of the work questioned everything. With emphasis.
That's the bottom line that we need to come to in regard to our self. Not to critique the self, but to examine it carefully, understanding that it is a misrepresentation, an automatized collection of nearly inescapable habits and assumptions. Those of us in the Gurdjieff Work hear this -- but do we really believe it with anything but our minds?
Of course we don't. Our essence is lost in this jungle of repetition. If we develop a better connection to our sensation, we at least have a chance of lifting our head above the foliage from time to time, but the fact is that we remain in the dense underbrush, lost, most of the time.
Once we discover an inner uncertainty, it can serve us. It is our certainty itself that encourages our mechanical nature. So if you are bewildered, unsure of your work, unsure of your thought process, unsure of what you are or where you are or even what you are doing, it's a good place to be. It occurs to me as I sit here and dictate this that no one knows what the hell is going on. Once in a century someone like Mr. Gurdjieff might come along who has a better idea than the rest of us, but even he was probably bewildered by a lot of what he saw. The way that human beings conduct themselves is, without any doubt, incredible -- scarcely to be believed.
Off-subject, one small coda to that comment--an impression from today.
This morning I took my usual trip down the New Jersey Turnpike, passing through the sad remains of the New Jersey Meadowlands--which used to be one of the most abundant and productive salt marshes on the East Coast. (Salt marshes, for those of you who don't know, produce more biomass per square meter than a tropical rainforest. The health of our fish populations absolutely depends on them.)
Human beings are relentlessly, mindlessly destroying the planet. By now, it's almost certain that we will collapse our ecosystems and that a catastrophe resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions and perhaps even billions of lives will take place. By now, there is no way to avoid this. Nonetheless, we keep on merrily destroying, labelling it with the euphemisim of "development."
Construction crews with gargantuan machines were digging up more of the (federally protected, LOL) salt marsh this morning, scooping up huge piles of rich, steaming peat--festooned with wetland plants, notably the beautiful salt marsh grass Phragmites--and dumping it in trucks to cart off and dump elsewhere.
In the distance loomed not one, but two brand-new, gargantuan stadiums built on the same formerly rich and productive land, so that we can madly entertain ourselves with sports and concerts while the planet dies.
It is a sobering reminder for each of us who does personal work to value our resources. Our body and our sensation, our breathing and our emotional contact with our inner state, are what give richness to life. Not things. Not sports stadiums and music and cool new clothing. If we can discover the richness of the impressions and experiences, these things become much less important.
And it is up to those of us who can make these discoveries to do so, because it is most certainly a dying art.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
We spend such a great deal of time absorbing- through literature of one kind or another- the work ( or at least the ideas of work) of others that we may find it difficult to identify what is our own. It's particularly difficult to avoid the allure of powerful writers who put across ideas with conviction.
The only real contact with one's personal work arrives through, and begins with, the organism. If we aren't working first through relaxation and sensation, if we aren't discovering our work through sensation, then our sense of work is stunted.
To work through sensation leads us to a point where payment can begin to be made. We can't reach anything real without paying for it, and we cannot have anything lasting or significant without paying a lot.
The path through sensation, which opens connections between parts, is the only way to begin to understand payment. It may begin easily or even, indeed, ecstatically, but the deepening of the connection with the body inevitably awakens emotions which have no choice but to take on debts which must be paid in order to go forward. This is probably one of the reasons it's said that Christ was "a man well acquainted with sorrows."
As we travel on this path- from each according to his or her ability, to each according to their need-we gradually discover that the price is determined by-and exacted through-forces we cannot understand, but must eventually trust.
In this way we are like men who are asked to hand all their money over without being certain of what they may receive in return. This becomes an act of faith, rather than one of rational intelligence-
Which may explain why we resist it so.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Monday, September 29, 2008
One of the famous aims of the Gurdjieff work is for a man to become a man "without quotation marks."
What does that mean?
I think most of us agree that it means to be authentic, to be "real"-- whatever that means. Like the definition of the word "world," I think that if you asked a dozen different people for descriptions of what "authentic" and "real" consisted of, you would get a dozen different definitions. One man would say that being authentic meant being sincere, another would say it meant being true to yourself, a third would say that it meant being compassionate, and so on.
Musing on this question, I am reminded of something that my mother reports I said when I was six years old -- and, in fact, her memory is correct, because I remember the exact moment that I said it. We were in the car in our neighborhood on Burchard Lane in Stamford, Connecticut, just leaving the driveway. It was midmorning, and it was a sunny day. I believe it was spring. (I may have that part wrong.) They were announcing on the radio that John Glenn had just orbited the planet. I said to my mother after listening to the announcement, "Mom, when I grow up, I don't want to be an astronaut or anyone famous. I just want to be a regulyar (sic) guy."
This story about me is a famous family story, of how I wanted to be a regulyar guy. I didn't want to be special. I just wanted to be ordinary in the right kind of way.
Quotation marks set a man apart from other men. And this is how we all are; we think we are special, different, somehow entitled to more, or to better, than what we have. That is the chief function of the ego and of what Gurdjieff called chief feature: it causes us to feel that we are set apart. Our ego invites us to live in a parody of real compassion and real effort.
To just be ordinary is a very big deal. In fact, under the conditions we live in, it is nearly impossible. Gurdjieff's "obyvatel"--the "good householder," the man who never sets out to do anything other than meet his responsibilities -- is the essence of this ordinariness. If we can begin to taste what this means, we are no longer set apart from life, from our fellow man, and from the planet. We begin to discover how to inhabit our lives, rather than how to "lead" them. Inhabitation within ordinariness becomes an instruction in its self.
To lose our quotation marks, in other words, is to recognize where we are. Within this act of becoming ordinary we may discover the qualities that a man values if he is on the spiritual path: acceptance, humility, compassion, respect. Acknowledgment of our smallness.
Maybe we can even, for a few moments, drop this idea that we are important and simply suffer -- as in allow--the ordinary conditions of this ordinary life.
Of course I never knew Gurdjieff, except in my dreams, where he has made a few vivid cameo appearances. Nonetheless, I have met many people who did, and from them, one gradually picks up a faint taste of what the man was like. No one said he was ordinary, of course, but there is an overwhelming impression that he was supremely compassionate and loving. And the controversial biographies that have been written about him paint us a picture of a man who struggled not only with others, but with himself. A man who made mistakes and corrected them; a man whose spiritual effort and spiritual work evolved and changed over the course of his life -- as it should.
None of us will ever be a Gurdjieff. We can't be. We are different flowers that will bloom in different ways. But we can all take heart from his example, as a master who pointed us towards the possibility of taking a right role in our relationship to great nature.
That role may well begin by discovering what it means to be ordinary.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
Friday, September 26, 2008
With the financial world in disarray, the planet's ecosystems under siege, one impression that strikes me over and over again is how completely indifferent the ordinary processes of nature are to the societal nonsense we human beings manufacture.
The trees and the birds don't care about whether or not Wall Street is healthy. Every process nature has continues to cruise along as best it can, given our depredations. And no matter how badly we damage the ecosystem, life in some form will always survive, even if it isn't in human form. Life, after all, is persistent. It is been around for billions of years, and exists in environments -- such as on the deep ocean floor -- that we stand little chance of impacting in any major way.
Unlike our cat Nefersweetie (who exudes an air of calm no matter what, except for those brief moments when the famous dog Isabel goes after her) I am caught up in this nonsense like everyone else. The ordinary part of me has to be concerned about jobs, food, and survival -- just like everyone else.
I hardly know of a person in the Gurdjieff work who isn't thinking about these things. Pretending we can be separate from the insanity of man is sheer foolishness. We are all men, and we are right here in the middle of it: representatives, as it were. We might as well--we must--participate, as best we can. Participation means doing all of the same things that everyone else is doing, but remembering oneself while one does it. The practice of presence is not a practice of separation, where we discover ourselves apart from circumstances, but a practice of unity, where we find ourselves within circumstances.
One of the side effects of all of the uproar in society right now is that there is a lot of excess energy available. This means it is somehwat more possible to maintain a more intimate inner connection than it often is. And I think it behooves all of us who find it thus to make more of an effort to be quiet within ourselves when we can--to be more intimate with ourselves, and to remember to offer the most human touch we can in each encounter we have with another person.
After all, we ourselves experience the fact that there is a lot of anxiety around. It's not just the planet that needs our efforts. The people immediately around us need them just as much.
I am reminded of something that Victor Frankl said. He observed that there are only two kinds of man: decent men, and non-decent men. I think that this observation lies close to Gurdjieff's question of a man without quotation marks. The decent man makes an effort. He considers outwardly. Even if the whole world around him is going to hell in a handbasket, he is concerned about others in a real way -- not just their material welfare, but their emotional welfare. The question leads us back to Christ's statement that "greater love hath no man, than to lay down his life for his brother."
In these times of turmoil and destruction, the personal intimacy we seek and cultivate within ourselves helps us to blossom more outwardly in acts of love that are less reserved and less constrained by the pettiness of our egos. A personal intimacy, an intimacy born of a less partial connection between the centers, leads us to better understand that pettiness, and attracts forces that can help us rise above it.
We have reached a moment in the planet where self-serving behavior no longer serves anything. Now is the time for all of us, within our group and within our spiritual and secular communities, to expose ourselves and offer ourselves more nakedly and more intimately to each other--not in any crass sexual or physical sense, but in the sense of who we really are and how we really are.
We can't help each other if we keep hiding.
I am as weak and as frightened as you are. We are all tiny, relatively incapable creatures, and the ones who do not admit this to themselves, in an intimate, more three centered way, are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. It is only in the discovery of our own nakedness -- first within our essential self, and then in the offering of that essential self to others -- that we can humble ourselves enough to receive what we need for our development.
Well, this idea isn't well understood. Even I don't understand it too well, despite the moments of grace that illustrate it to me graphically. We Gurdjieffians all talk a good game.
It's when we stop talking a good game that the tire hits the pavement.
Once again, as I did several posts ago, I remind myself to make a personal effort, a special effort, to be present both within myself and to the other person, in the moment of contact. I need to bring more to the moment than I usually do. My own work depends on it.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.