Thursday, October 14, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
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Monday, September 20, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
The book is a fine... no, essential... piece of work for those involved in the work. Pragmatic, realistic, honest, unassuming... a study of the process of the art of Being.
Looking "out" from "in here"- how else does one describe what it is like to live, as I am?- one occasionally catches glimpses of the fact that our consciousness-such as it is-which seems to us, within the moment, to occupy a fairly specific and limited (but admittedly often rich) niche, is in fact part of an almost incomprehensibly vast landscape, filled with all of the impressions that we have ever encountered. A whole planet-an inner solar system.
It's in moments like this that I begin to sense, perhaps, that my life- this mysterious process which I so easily categorize and dismiss with that simple, four letter word- is a much more extraordinary, unusual, and complex phenomenon than I am able to imagine, limited as I am within partial understanding. It's only when a physical connection is available, and feeling enters, that any more comprehensibly accurate understanding of my situation arises... And it's only then that a state of unknowing becomes possible for a moment.
Such a state is what one might call a poetic state... an energized state... A state in which objects and events are seen not for what they appear to be, but something much more magnificent and intangible... An embodiment of what we call, in the work, "the higher."
That perspective can remind me of what I'm working for.
As I wake up, as I encounter life, as I see the negativity, the resistance in all three centers, the inner argument and the lack, I begin to sense that in the effort itself lies a possibility. Life is a constant struggle against the forces within me that wish to go downward. And there are many. The wish to be passive, to succumb to sleep, is powerful and wears many masks. It is, furthermore, firmly wedded to denial: in this sense it functions in exactly the same way that denial works in alcoholics.
I wish to go down, to be passive: it's an addictive drug. My negativity- whether physical, intellectual or emotional- is a kind of drug that gives me pleasure. First, I don't really see this- second, I LIKE going down, it's easy, it's familiar, it's normal- third, I tell myself I'm not going down, that there's nothing wrong with this.
If anything tries to take it away from me, I resist it. And I will attach every lie I possibly can to the process. In this, I am truly an adept.
Those who haven't struggled with addiction probably won't quite understand what I am talking about. But the understanding that we are addicted to our habit of going down, and that we are literally in denial about it, is what's needed. The effort to be aware enough of myself to stand in front of this problem, to see how it is, over and over throughout the day, is the inner equivalent of a man standing in front of a bottle of alcohol which he wants to drink- it's a craving that comes back again and again, no matter how many times he pushes it away- and saying "no" over and over. It's painful- but only by engaging in the process can he ever become sober.
The difference between recovering alcoholics and spiritual students is that alcoholics know they are struggling against death itself- they SEE the enormity of the need for real work, and they know they cannot afford to relax. When we are working on our inner state, however, we don't take it anywhere near as seriously. We think this struggle is casual and can be engaged in... well, later, when we feel like it.
We don't see that it is a struggle against death, just like alcoholism. The death I speak of is death not of the physical body, but within the moment.
In "The Reality of Being" De Salzmann reminds us that this struggle isn't, in fact, a struggle in the conventional sense of the word. It has to be understood differently. I won't try to quote or paraphrase her here, but my own impression of it goes back to a comment I made two posts back: it is the via negativa, posed negatively: the negation of the negation. I must say "no" to my "no." so what appears to be a struggle is actually an affirmation- an upward movement. Not a battle, but an effort.
The trick here is that addiction and denial cause the "no," the downward movement, to appear as though it's a "yes"- an upward one. I am well familiar with that sensation from my years as an alcoholic- but I also see that I'm well familiar with it all the time, because this is also how I perceive and experience my daily state. Only by rising above the denial through an inner affirmation, by going against what appears to be my "yes," can I begin to see anything real.
This is, undoubtedly, directly related to the famous Gurdjieff admonition- "like what it does not like."
May the Living Light of Christ discover us.
Friday, August 20, 2010
One of the expressions I use in describing what is needed in terms of my inner effort at seeing is intimacy.
This word is meant to remind me not just of an organic proximity to myself, but also a precision of attention: an inner scrutiny that is detailed, involved, that inhabits. Not an intellectual seeing: a seeing of what is within, by what is within.
It's quite compelling, this relationship. It creates a bond between my parts, brings the organism into dialog with itself. It is a living thing; a life within this thing we call life. It craves an understanding of what I am.
I usually lack this precise and delicate intimacy, but when it is available, its presence and quality are unmistakable. It consists of an interest that is born from all three centers, that arises from their conjunction, and infuses the body, the entire organism, with an unexpected- yet oddly familiar- vitality. This old friend I have neglected sees. It can scrutinize- it has the ability to create an inner gravity, a quality that quite literally puts its roots down in the soul.
This rootedness is the place from which a real life begins. It is "only" a starting point, but it is THE starting point. I can't begin unless I am beginning here. It's simple; there are no grand fireworks: just a contrition. A willingness. The potential to receive myself into my world, rather than give myself out towards it.
I'm not going to be within this experience without a precision of attention. Not a forced or strained precision, but a gentle and loving one: a seeing that is precise because of its active nature.
This kind of precision draws me deeper into relationship. I hear a call to prayer: like one of Dante's souls in purgatory, I move towards an acknowledgment of my sorrowful condition- my iniquity- with joy.
In this way, to see my own nothingness can become a gift; to admit it a blessing.
May the living Light of Christ discover us.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
A rather long note from china. And yet another possibly heretical, but, in any event, not politically correct post... a commentary and critique of Jeanne De Salzmann's "The Reality of Being."
While it is pointless
to defend this effort- after all, there can be no argument on the fact
that I "am no Jeanne De Salzmann," raising the question of why I might
dare presume to critique my spiritual "betters-" it seems salient to
remark, first of all, that we are instructed by Gurdjieff himself to
"question everything" - up to and including his own instructions, let
alone those of his pupils - and, second, that published books ought to
be examined for what they are, that is, (a) published books, not sacred
objects and (b) records of what took place some time ago, not living
experiences (or active person-to-person transmissions) taking place in
the present moment. Which is what living work consists of.
One other important point, I think, is to not adopt a reflexive position of adulation and endorsement based solely on the source of this material, formidable though it may be. The work of the mind is to examine carefully and evaluate- not to swallow wholesale in an enthusiastic paroxysm of belief.
I haven't read the entire book yet, but rather the better part of the first section; journal entries reputed to be, for the most part, from the 1950's. As such, fresh though they may seem, these writings reflect inner work that was done some sixty years ago. Anyone who knew her might point out that De Salzmann's work progressed considerably, and for many, many years, after that.
(as I have pointed out before) the work is a living and evolving
process- always changing, adapting, evolving its approach, understanding
and technique to what is necessary NOW (as it must, both in individuals
and in community) anything written this long ago is now encountered as a
historical document, and like all such documents, although it may
expound on universal principles with potential current applications, it
can only do so in relationship to the level of understanding of that
individual, at that time, and the stage and conditions of the work
itself, relative to all the factors both in and around them. So it is a
necessarily quite fractional and incomplete picture we see here.
In addition, we should keep in mind that these documents are, as l understand it, a record of De Salzmann's observations of herself. As such, they're quite personal. To read them without a sensitivity and a sympathy-even an empathy- for that would be, in my eyes, a mistake. These journal entries may be read as didactic exercises, but they don't appear to me to have been meant that way. They are, rather, a record of a struggle to understand.
All of these caveats and qualifying factors weigh into the following evaluation of the material.
I find it, on the whole, coherent, as well as compellingly consistent with some of my own experience and observation- although she uses somewhat different language than I might (or, indeed, than Gurdjieff himself used.) This is to be expected in any evolving and personal inner work. Expressions that remain static become habitual and stale, and we ought to be wary of them.
I do find some questions and disagreements at hand, and, the job of a critic being (in part) to raise such issues, the following few come to mind.
De Salzmann says that "nothing" has "any" value except the act of Being in relationship to the higher. This sounds grand- and indeed one might perhaps draw on corresponding inner experience that ostensibly corroborates it- but it is inherently false.
I've heard others say this as well. It sounds dramatic and important (and the Gurdjieff work is no stranger to drama) but it fails to serve the larger truth. It is, rather, the observation of a seeker in the midst of a struggle that commands an urgent priority... It isn't, in other words, properly balanced. Here's why.
Meaning always exists (and evolves) according to level. Every meaning is real within its own context: meaning within levels (let's call it "horizontal meaning") is legitimate and real- it is just limited by its scope. Dismissing it as irrelevant is misleading and irresponsible. In work we seek to discover and assign meaning its right place- not obliterate it as though higher meanings always "trumped" lower ones, and indeed could even exist without them. The higher depends on the lower- and the same holds true for meaning within the context of levels.
There seems to be little need to belabor this point any
more than this. It may seem technical, but it isn't. The higher seeks
relationship with the lower. If there were no meaning in the lower, it
would not bother. Meaning-and our respect for it- at any level cannot be
so casually discarded.
The second area of questioning I raise relates a bit more to practice. In De Salzmann's touching and, I find, very real struggle to sort out what's going on in her, she vacillates between two broad polarities. One is the stated "Gurdjieff work dogma" (which actually represents a law on our level, and a vital higher truth) that "man cannot do.". She says this in many different ways. One might say her approach is the via negativa, presented negatively (a tricky thing, this, which in the interests of brevity I must refrain from expounding on here.)
On the other hand, her repeated exhortations
about focusing the attention subtly presume an unstated assumption that
we CAN do. They are certainly a step in the direction of a "via
positiva"- after all, we are not mere blobs of protoplasm!- and suggest
that there can be real efforts that do lie within our power.
Any (dare we say it?) attentive reader of the first section will notice the repeated tension that arises between these two positions- revealing a real struggle, and bringing some firsthand life to our experience of how she may have felt as she wrote this material. It helps make it real, as opposed to just a static historical document.
In the end, scattered throughout the text, there are acknowledgments that what comes, comes mysteriously- out of the unknown, and into the unknown of ourselves- intimating that we cannot, finally, for all our efforts, "do"- despite the laudable (and necessary) heroism of the inner struggle she describes.
In my own practice and experience, it's a compelling emotional understanding of our helplessness that leads to something higher- an idea Gurdjieff introduced and expounded on again and again. This question relates to receptivity and feeling- to our mortality-to an intimacy which corresponds to Madame's questions and investigations in this first section. The deep, organic, acknowledged experience of helplessness- a three-centered experience of the absolute need for help- is the sign of an inner maturity that may open us, if we are fortunate.
It will be rather interesting, I think, to read the rest of the book and see if, and how, this theme develops. A more elaborate examination of Madame's methodology might reveal how her approach "uses" inner effort to bring us to this point, but I won't undertake that here.
There are some sins of omission here. For
me, above all, the question of relationship to the higher is a religious
one. The search in this section of De Salzmann's notebooks is cast, for
the most part, outside those terms- she avoids referring to God very
much- but for me this is just ducking the issue.
The action is a search for a connection with the divine. Pitching it in secular terms ultimately misses the mark. I ask myself, did she feel this Presence regularly? If she did, my impression is that she did not receive it, or understand its implications, in the same way that I do. Perhaps this merely underscores the uniqueness of such experience of the higher; or perhaps there is indeed something missing here. Readers will have to judge for themselves.
Furthermore, after reading enough of this material, I'm struck by how analytical it begins to seem, as though there were an attempt to ferret out with the intellect understandings that, it was already known to the journal-keeper, can't be comprehended with the intellect.
Another less obvious, but equally real, struggle unfolds itself here. Once again I discover a sympathy for De Salzmann, who so clearly acquired a "view from above," as she might have called it, yet found herself ultimately constrained by the same human limits as the rest of us. It reminds me once again of one of the strengths of this work, in which Mr. Gurdjieff invited us to meet one another on the common ground of our shared humanity.
One last note. I think she's rather hard on herself in these entries. There's a severity of tone I find unbecoming, a hint of self-flagellation- which is, to be sure, a time honored practice, but not quite what I expected.
It serves to illuminate the point that the Lord always has far more mercy towards us than we have towards ourselves.
May the living Light of Christ discover us.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry