Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trust and Sorrow

Pondering, in the midst of life, as the leaves change along the Hudson River.

Mr. Gurdjieff used to speak of “impartial" mentation. Impartiality was, in his eyes, a highly valued quality.

The dictionary definition of this word means to be “fair and just.” But that is not quite what he meant, I think.

To be impartial, in the terminology of this work–this inner effort we engage in–is to be whole. I am not whole; but I don't see that.

Identifying with each part as it manifests, I believe that it represents something whole. I am puzzled when it doesn't give good results; my assumption is that my being functions wholly and in a consistent and coherent manner, but that isn't the case.

We spend years in this work milling around both within and outside ourselves, observing the established and irrevocable fact that we are not whole, and asking ourselves why. Why, why, why? Why am I fragmented? Why don't the things I do work out well? Why do external influences have so much power over me?

This business of questioning is good. It is powerful. It needs to be applied, ruthlessly, to every single aspect of my investigation of life–up to and including the question of whether or not this endless questioning is what is needed.

Is it? And do we really question everything? Or are we actually quite selective in our questioning, and very careful not to touch our dogmas?

I submit this. The questioning isn't primary.

What is primary is seeing.

I need to see exactly how I am. I don't need to see how I am in a vague, philosophical, or insubstantial manner. That's how my mind usually functions; the mind, which is capable of significant acrobatics, puts on a rehearsed show which looks spontaneous and spectacular, but which is, in fact, totally predictable and, as Gurdjieff said, mechanical.

The mind is, in fact, quite weak. It's not doing its job. It is forever fooling around, and it rather enjoys it.

So there is a need, in the approach to this effort of seeing, to be much more specific, in a non-thinking kind of way. A different quality of mind needs to arrive--one which is much more interested, and much more active, than this part which deals with ordinary day-to-day nonsense (and which is actually quite passive, despite all the noise it makes.)

This precision, this act of being quite acute and detailed in my immediate, active seeing of how I am inside: a seeing which is born both of the mind, sensation, and feeling–this very act of becoming intimate in a specific way, putting, so to speak, the point of a needle directly into the center of how I am in this body, of how the energy manifests in this organism– this is what is needed.

I can't afford to monkey around. I need to get right to the point here. This exact point. Do you understand what I am saying? It's a question of roots that grow into the very bones themselves.

Thinking about how to work is not working. Thinking about how I am not working is not working. One comes, eventually, to the conclusion that almost everything that involves “thinking” is thoughtless: thoughtless in a bad way, that is, without substance.

There is a kind of thoughtlessness that involves escaping my insubstantial thought; by releasing the critique and the analysis, and simply trying to be present and empty of such material, a new experience can come.

That experience defines both my fragmentation and my dwelling within the fragmentation; I see that I am, myself, in the middle of different parts which are not united well, not harmonized.

The quality of "thoughtless," yet living, attention that arises here in this specific point is a good tool for investigation. It questions not by definition, but by its nature. It is impartial: fair and just in what it sees, whole, not glued together using artificial methods and tension--efforts I call "working," although of course they are anything but.

I need so much for a new emotional quality to enter my work. This quality of feeling is required. But it can only be invited, called; I cannot force it to the point.

If I truly see, what I see is this.

I do not trust.
I always fall short.
I am in pieces.

Each one of those observations could be expanded on at great length. I mentioned that I do not trust first, because it is the greatest and most egregious failure in me. Without trust, nothing is possible, and I lack this first, before I lack anything else. The other two simply follow from it.

There's a great deal talked about in spiritual literature, poetry, even in the work, about ecstasy. Happiness. Freedom. All of this is wonderful material. It sounds good. But it is an intensely dangerous thing.

Why do I say that? Because all of these things sound like they are pleasurable. And they are, up to a point, but each one of them is a kind of deception, a lie we believe out of ignorance.

It may sound peculiar-- or even threatening-- for me to say this, but ecstasy, happiness, and freedom are not ecstatic, happy, or free. There is only one Truth, which lies above and beyond each of these defined qualities.

When that Truth penetrates a man, it begins and ends its work as Sorrow. A Sorrow which is deeper, more penetrating, and more profound than any other potential experience of feeling.

I have said before that one of the most unique characteristics of the work that Mr. Gurdjieff brought to us was the potential to experience this level of Truth, which passes all understanding.

It may sound grim or bleak; it may sound as though it is the opposite of what we want; it may sound like a goal not worth pursuing. What I am speaking about here, however, is an experience of a different level. It does not--cannot-- correspond to the understandings we have.

In a life lived in many wrong ways and for many wrong reasons, this is one thing that, when it arrives, is-- irrevocably and forever--right.

It is what we were born to receive.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Yesterday my good friend Kathy Neall asked for an explanation of Gurdjieff's "system of hydrogens" suitable for non-Gurdjieff people, or beginners.

I'm not sure there is any easy explanation of this material. Even longtime members of the Gurdjieff work find this material very challenging, and eyes often glaze over when the subject comes up. Part of this, of course, is because the work has taken a very different turn over the last three quarters of a century, and technical material of this kind is no longer emphasized, at least within the confines of the Gurdjieff Foundation itself.

The other reason is because it's damned difficult to understand this material. Touchy-feely people hate it.

Readers are invited to take a look at "an alternative study of Gurdjieff's chemical factory" at for my essay on the subject. I wrote this a number of years ago, and I rarely tackle technical information in this much detail--or from such an intellectual point of view-- in this manner any longer. Nonetheless, it has some merit. And, disturbingly, I find that if the right switch is turned on in me, I can still babble about it ad infinitum in what sound like very intelligent ways. Sometimes it almost sounds like I know what I am talking about.

There's the danger.

I'm writing today about this subject because this morning--directly as a consequence of my friend Kathy's inquiry-- something rather magnificent and interesting occurred to me about the very term "hydrogen" itself.

Coming on the heels of Stephen Hawking's most recent book about the Big Bang (The Grand Design) in which he argues, disturbingly, perhaps, that the universe adds up to... nothing... (well, on an optimistic note, I suppose the Buddhists may not be disturbed) this question of creation, and what it means, may be more current than it has been for a while.

Mr. Gurdjieff used the term "hydrogens" to describe the key substances, occurring on various levels, or, in other words, vibrating at different levels of intensity, which create both the material universe and man's possibilities for evolution.

To be fair, he also included some obscure and technically even more difficult references to carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, with some peculiar and decidedly unconventional interactions between them, in order to describe the chemical factory. That material fell by the wayside; today, people both inside and outside the Gurdjieff Foundation who study these ideas -- which must clearly be taken allegorically -- refer almost exclusively to "higher" and "lower" hydrogens.

Ok. Why did he call them "hydrogens?"

What occurred to me this morning, which I want to pass on to readers as a subject to ponder further in both an inner and an outer sense, is that hydrogen is the fundamental element in the periodic table. That is to say, from a physics point of view, everything starts there, and complexities -- the complexity of the entire table of the elements, and the entire consequential development of the material universe, "evolves" from hydrogen. It's the cornerstone of the universe, so to speak.

Gurdjieff did not offer us a single hydrogen. His cosmology is composed of multiple "hydrogens" that move up in a scale of vibration. Since each "hydrogen" can be conceived of as forming the base of its own periodic table, what he has offered us -- what he offered us, in fact, many decades before physics took it seriously -- is a multiverse, that is, a universe of multiple universes. Hawking and his associates are now basking in the limelight of this idea, but Gurdjieff got there first.

Each hydrogen, in effect, creates its own universe and its own periodic table of the elements, with a completely evolved, adumbrating (branching) series of evolving interactions, relationships, and laws. These levels -- each of which constitutes, in essence, a universe unto itself -- are nested within one another, and, in fact, any level incorporates, and is built by, all the levels both above and below it. It is a fractal structure... an emergent structure... which i have pointed out many times before in this space.

This enormously sophisticated vision seems to me to effectively anticipate where modern physics has led us, right up to and including string theory, which poses that the entire universe is made out of vibrations-- undeniably, another fundamental tenet of Gurdjieff's teachings.

It's tempting to engage in further philosophical discourse about all of this, but I think it would be best to just let it percolate right now.

Instead, I am sitting here in the garden, in the late morning sun, listening to the birds, looking at the yellow dahlias blooming, and sensing the organism within the very real context of vibration that Gurdjieff proposed.

There is a tangible accessibility to his ideas, which can be experienced not just as ideas, but as facts, arising within the organism in relationship to my immediate conditions and the natural environment. There is a definite sense that just beyond the threshold of this consciousness, this level, there is a higher hydrogen-- a new "Do," the beginning of another octave, another universe -- which understands all of these questions in a single, comprehensive gesture of clarity.

Of course, I don't live in that place. I can taste it -- perhaps there is even a scent of it in the air -- but it is a hint, not a fait accompli.

It is good to think about these questions -- but not too much. It's much more important, I find, to actively seek the relationships within the body, and in the context of the organism's relationship to life... feeling my way forward, and I do mean feeling-- not thinking, sensing, or emoting my way forward-- like the blind men and the elephant, attempting to use the most sensitive parts of myself to come to a different understanding about my relationship to life.

Like most blind men -- and, I think, like all of us, because almost all of us are quite blind -- I am clumsy about it. Even my sense of touch -- which ought to be much better, given that I live so blindly -- is lazy from lack of use. It needs exercise. And too much intellectual dawdling -- wiseacreing, as Mr. Gurdjieff used to call it-- just keeps me planted in an armchair which is far too comfortable in the first place.

The ideas in this work are not ideas. They are potential realities; formal, or abstract, representations of forces that can become alive and transform inner understanding.

The difficulty is in stepping across the bridge between all this thinking, and a tangible experience of the organic sense of Being.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's complicated

So much of the experience of life consists of attempting to fit a template over everything.

I was walking the famous dog Isabel this afternoon at lunch time, and attempted to just be as open as possible, without slapping my interpretations on top of the experience.

Of course, it was impossible–the intellectual mind (that portion of the intelligence which is referred to as intelligent, but isn't) stubbornly insisted on interfering.

At the same time, I sensed, there is always the potential for a presence–and an energy–that comes from the core of Being, from the organic sense of one's self.

Dispensing at once, and entirely, with the inherent pessimism Ouspensky brought to the art of inner Work, I affirm for myself, now, as then--a little trickle of water from the well of reality is always available!

Taken affirmingly, each action can become a prayer in that direction.

I participate in many conversations over the course of a week regarding the nature of life, Being, and our inner work. We are for the most part rather interested in speaking about such things– you, as a reader, are probably interested, or you wouldn't even be reading this right now.

Such conversations are attractive. They suck us in, and away from the observation of this moment, subtly and effortlessly. Beguilingly, even. They even sound like they are leading somewhere.

At the same time, doesn't it strike you from time to time that we make everything too damn complicated?

I have an impulse to run, but I'm not sure I even know how to walk. I formulate spectacular aims for my life and my inner and outer work, and I formulate spectacular insights into cosmology, morality, and so on. It's a habit of mine. I think I know more than other people, I think I am smarter, and I think that I'm able to figure things out.

All of the energy of Being stands in opposition not just to those formulations, but to all the formulations. Being isn't complicated by such nonsense. It just is.

There is something refreshing about being able to walk along the banks of the Hudson River on a beautiful fall afternoon and not have to explain everything. When the tyranny of the associative mind, which rarely lets up, softens enough so that the cacophony is not in the foreground, there are myriad sensations and impressions that are unavailable when I am identified with the worrying.

There is an attention. It isn't forced. It's completely spontaneous.

The real need, I discover, is to live within this Being. Not to think about how to live within Being, or come to the moment with a formulation about what would be good or bad, desirable, or undesirable. Coming to the moment as I am, with a distinct and specific awareness within this body-- not forced, invented, or imposed, but rather, arising spontaneously from a relationship that is cultivated through a gentle and attentive intimacy-- I see that my explanations are really rather pointless. It is the unmediated flow of life in the body, the falling of impressions into the deeper parts of being, that matters.

I could call it work, but it isn't work. I could call it understanding, but it is not understanding. I could claim it as my own, but it does not belong to me. It is all part of one thing. That thing doesn't have a word for it... it's not even a thing.

Every limitation and interpretation imposed on it arises from a collapse of meaning, not an increase.

What I mean by this (just watch me get away with saying that, LOL) is that every effort at interpretation, of necessity, actually strips infinite layers of meaning away from what is taking place, in order to reduce it to something much smaller-- tiny, even-- something “understandable,” when in reality experience is being deliberately impoverished by fractional parts (individual lower centers, if you'd prefer I use Gurdjieff jargon) which are, by themselves, inept and incapable--all in an attempt to stick it into various boxes which are much too small for it.

As such, efforts by the ordinary mind to discern or impose meaning are actually a destruction of meaning. Meaning, real meaning-- Truth, as we might to refer to it, or, the Dharma-- can only be sensed from an inner level, or state, if you will, different than the one we usually inhabit.

It struck me today during this walk that we talk about men having two natures. I have even written about it myself. But I don't think this statement is accurate. Man does not have two natures. And there are not, as De Salzmann was known to say, two worlds.

Man has one nature, and there is one world.

What man is afflicted by–what I am afflicted by–is the perception that there are two natures, the perception that there are two worlds.

Where this division arises in the psyche and the spirit is a difficult question.

The act and the art of Being is to execute deft "inner footsteps" around such questions and, so to speak, to go straight in the door without all the long introductory conversations. We all seem to spend a lot of time talking about and thinking about what we are, who we are, how we are, and why we are that way. It serves a certain purpose–but it does not awaken the parts which are separated, it does not call the various lower centers together. Something entirely different is needed for that.

The tricky part is that we keep getting stuck in these theoretical conversations and formulations. It makes part of me feel smart and sound smart to say things such as “man has one nature, and there is one world," but the information (even if it is correct) is worthless except in the context of direct and immediate experience within the organism itself. That is, it doesn't actually qualify as information unless it has been formed inwardly.

And, as I think most of us have learned by now, I don't get up out of bed in the morning and say “this morning, I will experience one nature and one world," and then have that happen to me.

As I have pointed out before, however, it's possible to start the morning with a specific and intimate observation about how I am. That may carry over into the day: I might actually take a look around me from time to time, to see how it is to be here within this life.

A sensitivity to a finer vibration within is possible. It just takes time, patience, and a little bit of attention...

a simple approach, without all the philosophical wiseacreing.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Technique and Feeling

My Birthday Post. I am 55 today.

It's said in the work that nothing significant can take place in terms of man's development until emotion begins to particiapte.

In the Gurdjieff work (for those unfamiliar with it) we generally use the term "Feeling" to distinguish this "finer" emotion from our coarser, or more ordinary, emotional quality. The distinction only becomes palpable once one has had an
experience of what we call a finer emotion; nonetheless, it is a legitimate distinction.

I've written extensively in the past on the development of emotional center, drawing on both personal experience and the considerable amount of technical data available in writings by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. (some of this essay material is available at In summary, a great deal of insight into the technical--that is, biological and physical processes--that create the conditions necessary for the inner evolution of a finer emotional capacity can be obtained simply by correlating various pieces of information from these sources.

Putting these various pieces together leads to some fairly cogent explanations of "how it works," and points towards exercises that ought to facilitate the process. Those exercises, furthermore, share a consistency of both aim and method with various yogic and tantric techniques, underscoring the overall validty of all three systems, and reinforcing the legitimacy of Gurdjieff's technical observations relative to traditional practices-- the underpinnings of which, a thorough practice will reveal, he often understood better than the practitioners themselves.

All of this technical data, while fascinating, has become of less and less interest to me over the years. In the first place, I find, "manipulative" exercises of any kind--even the ones which claim to be "non--manipulative"-- are of limited and temporary value. Everything we seek is in constant movement, and the temptation to fixate on specific exercises which produce interesting "results" encourages us to stay where we are, rather than attempt to move in concert with where things are going.

De Salzmann actually addresses this issue in several places in "The Reality of Being," so she must have been sensitized to this issue from experience in her own work.

The second difficulty with this "technical approach--" the cogent (or otherwise) explanation of such matters, including my own-- is that it depends on the ordinary mind for its origin and impetus.

One can, of course, accuse practitioners of "the mysteries"-- that is, efforts that are aimed at points of origin "outside the mind"-- of shamanism; that is, in other words, a primitive, obscure, and perhaps even annoying kind of subjectivity. These "mysteries" are the point where Zen begins; they are the foundation of the investigations Meister Eckhart undertook; every esoteric practice, no matter how technically it may cast itself (the various yoga schools, with their highly elaborated systems and techniques, come to mind) must eventually come to grips with these unredactable territories.

They apear to be subjective, but only to "outsiders." In reality, the penetration of ordinary being by Being--and this is what we all seek-- can never be subjective; its manifestations, as well as their consequences, lie firmly and forever outside the analytical and essentially corrupted Form of our ordinary being and intelligence.

To experience a real manifestation of Being is to see and understand, over and over again, the anguishing contradictions between our ordinary self, and what is actually possible. Said quality of Being is of a different order... It's as different from "me," as I am, as the divine might be from the human. Our Form, as we have constructed it within (Gurdjieff referred to it as "personality," but he used that term, I think, intending a much broader scope of meaning than we understand by contemporary association) is the only truly subjective element in life, and one of its dismissive techniques is to subjectively label things which threaten it as subjective... it has enormously powerful defense mechanisms and a survival instinct which rivals that of the body.

These survival instincts, by the way, lie in all three centers. The habits of the mind, the emotions and the body all have an equal wish to survive and defend themselves; these mechanisms drive a great deal of our day-to-day reaction.

Readers may see the irony implicit in this rather technical discussion of the inherent limits of technicality. Nonetheless, we need to examine this question--from within the question itself, so to speak--in order to understand, at least rationally, that what we are attempting when we attempt to move towards an inward Being
isn't rational, in the sense we usually use the word.

I am reminded of the first words (as I recall them) of John Krakauer's fine book, "
Into Thin Air:"
"Climbing Mount Everest is not a rational act." One might say the same of climbing Mount Analog.

How, then, to call... to evoke... to invite... the appearance of a finer emotion, of feeling? Is there a way to approach this from the reductionist perspective of the intellect... the reactive perspective of ordinary emotion... the hungers of the body? If we perpetually dwell within all three of these limiting circumstances, what lies outside the circle?

What impresses me more and more about Gurdjieff's work--as it is practiced by those in direct lines of work, i.e., individuals who studied with Gurdjieff himself and received tacit permission to pass the work on--is the immense subtlety of the practice. As Dr. Welch used to say, "The Work works." That is to say, it is a living entity in its own right... it may take many years for this entity to awaken in a man or woman, but when it does, a profound and very nearly self- sustaining inner transformation begins... this living soul knows how to heal itself, and to grow.

Attempts to study the effects or results of the work from outside, relying on texts, documentation, or even testimonial, are doomed to failure. Attempts to study the effects of work from any point of view, inside or outside the doors of the Gurdjieff Foundation, are doomed to failure for as long as they rely on the intellect... on convention... on predictability, technique, and assumptions.

The only way to experience and study this work is from inside... inside one's Self.

And it is the very question of this search for Self which allows for the creation of conditions under which Self... "real" Self, as Gurdjieff names it... may slowly emerge from beneath the deep sand that covers it.

This can never be done mechanically, that is, according to a rote set of principles... which is why it's so vital to work in actual groups, participate in community, and in the presence of older and more experienced people, if one wishes to engage in real work. "Question everything"... this constantly active stance of inquiry is in itself, perhaps, the most essential seed practice of what Gurdjieff called "self remembering."

Real emotion... Feeling, as we refer to it... develops in a man or woman only after very many years of such immersion in inner work. It's quite distinct from the many (perhaps even laudable) temporary results which can arise and manifest themselves in a human being during shorter time frames over the course of a lifetime of work. Many folks give up too soon, because they feel they aren't "getting what they want."

As though it were up to us, and our own egoistic demands of the divine, to decide what we "get," and when we get it.

What we refer to as Feeling is in the bones. It can only arise through a firm and well grounded foundation established over many years of trial and error... it does not arrive without a great deal of payment, and even then not always. And it only arises when and if one has done enough work to attract the forces which are necessary for its development. That is, it only comes when help arrives.

These conditions generally arrive only after one has reached the absolute conviction that everything one has attempted and is attempting is utterly hopeless. In some senses, the best thing that can possibly happen to a man or woman is to lose everything, because we have to lose everything in order for anything new to enter. Like Dogen's home-leavers, everything has to go.

As such, it may well be that the Gurdjieff Work... and sister works such as Sufism and Zen... are poorly suited for the modern world. Today's attitude is, generally speaking, that everything ought to be available on a hard-cash basis, answers must be given at once, without any real work on our part, and that results and gratification ought to be delivered either immediately on payment, or very shortly thereafter.

...Ideally, in fact, enlightenment ought to be offered on the internet as a free download.


May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Something more specific

One of the most common words used during exchanges in the Gurdjieff work is "something."

I'm not guessing. Some years ago, a group of people auditing a wide range of official (i.e., not bootleg) tape recordings of Gurdjieff meetings and events actually studied this, and in analysis discovered that the word "something" was used more than any other in describing various esoteric experiences, energies, questions, and so on.

It coexists rather comfortably with the stock Gurdjieff Disclaimer, that near--mandatory preface: "it seems to me..."

All of this is well meant, of course, but perhaps we adopt such verbal habits out of a subtle fear. We're all afraid of being wrong... Of making a statement that others will object to. We all seek acceptance within the community (which may lead directly to an unfortunately imitative conformity) and we often fear looking stupid, or being otherwise diminished in the eyes of our peers and elders. And, to a certainty, egoism prompts us to wish to look smart.

Fear causes us to use excessive caution in both what we say and how we say it. This almost certainly isn't conducive to healthy exchange, but- speaking from my own experience- it seems rather difficult to overcome.

We're also afraid of making a commitment. If we say anything definite, well, gosh, that might look like an "answer," and according to our standardized dogma, we are not supposed to offer answers to anything... Even though the word "answer" means, primarily, a "response."

The upshot of it all is an unfortunate vagueness... a lack of focus. This outer lack is a direct reflection of a corresponding inner lack.

It's already a good habit to be more aware of how I speak and what I am saying in life... no matter where I am, whether in a spiritual exchange or just in "ordinary" life (as though that were separated from spiritual exchange, which it is emphatically not.) I find, for example, that it's especially useful to avoid the use of the word "something" and to try to substitute a more precise expression, if possible. Again and again, an active stance towards outward, verbal expression in life consists, for me, of a search within the moment for precision and, insofar as possible, originality, or authenticity, in choice of words. Not self-consciously or out of considering, but attempting to draw directly from that freedom and spontaneity that is born of an awareness of the moment.

I make this effort because it occurs to me that the tendency to be vague- to avoid commitment, to keep things fuzzy and undefined- is a reflection of my passive attitude. The easiest thing to do, I find, is to avoid any precise observation of the present state, and avoid any precise relationship to it. As long as it's kept in the area of vague, insubstantial, ephemeral, I can push it off to one side and excuse myself from looking carefully.

And it's this lack of care, of a clear and exact willingness to be here as I am, the way I am, that is at the root of my insufficiency.

I cannot see anything about how I actually am unless I have an intention to be more specific.

This specificity consists of an inner action, a more distinct relationship, between my parts. It doesn't mean I am seeking (or providing) more exact, accurate, or spectacular definitions of what I see. It doesn't mean that there is a predictable formulation taking place within me which can then be applied like a template to what arises.

Instead, it means a more precisely active stance in an inner sense. This is a living quality, not a thought. In some senses, in fact, I have to stop thinking in order for it to appear.

The act of becoming more specific, in other words, is an organic effort, not born of tension, not mediated by assumption, but rather discovered by invitation, and moderated by the participation of more parts than I usually muster when confronting the moment. All this, done NOW.

So, right now, I need to be more specific within myself. This involves a kind of discrimination, an inner examination, that calls me together. The discrimination is born of intimacy- a specific inner sensation of my self, a specific and tangible awareness of the sensation of Being.

This sensation of Being... I also refer to it as the "organic sense of Being-" is distinct and apart from organic sensation of the body. That is a distinct sensation of its own, and by itself, although of inarguably great value, it does not provide a sensation of Being. As formidable a foundation as it may lay for me, it isn't enough.

The sensation of Being is specific unto itself and arises from a combination of organic sensation of the body, organic awareness of the mind, and organic sensitivity to the feelings. I could use the word "active" instead of organic, but in a certain sense they are interchangeable- what is organic is essential, it is inherent, it is in and of the organism, and it exists in, of, and for itself.

So it is active. The organism, its capacities and potentials, are always active. It is "me"- this peculiar and poorly understood thing I refer to as the "self"- that isn't active within the context of my perpetually available organic potential.

Being does not hesitate or prevaricate- it arrives here in the moment, and participates.

I use the terms sensation of the body, awareness of the mind, and sensitivity of the feelings to try and move towards a more definite inner understanding that these three qualities, or minds, are distinct and independent entities within the body; that they can be sensed separately from one another; and that each one has a unique quality of its own that is not shared by the other two parts.

They have the capacity to share experience in blended form, even though each one speaks its own special language.

And it is precisely this capacity, if actively sensed, that makes way for the birth of real Being, as Gurdjieff described it in the last chapter of "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson." ("From The Author.")

In any event, I feel a need to move in a direction more specific than "something." This impetus serves as a starting point for my exploration of a more immediate quality in work in life: a willingness to be more intimate, and more specific, rather than floundering around in water rendered muddy by my own agitation.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Being within one's self

It's as though there was a tiny light within.

My life is murky. There are vast expanses of impressions that don't define themselves well; tracts of sleep, with only a dim awareness of the fact that this is it, that I am alive, that every encounter is real, and that 95% of me (probably more) is not here to take things in properly.

But something can change.

It is possible to be within one's self. I see that.

I know that that is true; I understand. I have worked for a long time just to get this small bit of knowledge.

I call it a small bit of knowledge, but it isn't small at all. It's quite possible that I might have gone through my entire life without understanding this. Sometimes I wonder if it is sheer dumb luck that a light bulb got turned on, down here in this basement somewhere.

There is this glimmering; there is contact from something much higher, a life that wants to reach me. Even in the midst of the worst of what happens in ordinary life, I can sense this. It touches me. I appreciate it. It isn't a romance–an imaginary adventure. It isn't sentiment. It doesn't classify itself within any ordinary group of emotions. It is a different kind of energy.

Ultimately, this being within myself is what becomes precious in life. Anything else can happen; I can get money, have sex, eat food, cut myself with a knife by accident while making things in the kitchen–anything else can happen. All of these things involve impressions and sensation, many of them are alluring, but none of them have the value of being within one's self.

To be within one's self to have a different sense of what it is to be.

I suppose that this may sound obscure, or even uninteresting. What does that mean, to be within oneself? What good does it do anyone?

This is a question of gravity, of being within one's life in a different way. Without this sense of being within oneself, one doesn't have a life. There is no real state of Being that can be called the essence of a human being, the genuine property of existing, unless this sense is alive. The taste of it is already transcendental compared to the taste of ordinary things in life.

Transcendence doesn't have to be built out of mountain peaks with nuclear rays of sunshine beaming out of them in all directions. It is made of grains of sand.

Every day, when I wake up, I immediately examine the body, the mind, the breathing, the sensation, to see exactly what is available. This morning, for example, where I was going down the stairs in bare feet in the dark, I put all of my attention in the soles of my feet, to truly sense that touch, to truly live within those feet and see how it was for them to be what spoke, instead of the mind.

It was possible. It's interesting little things like this–which, in their smallness, are utterly glorious–that transform a life. It is an alchemical act to discover one's self within oneself.

This action–a form of living prayer, what we call having an attention, what the Buddhists call mindfulness–can become the whole of my life. It can be the most interesting thing that happens each day, every day, from dawn to dusk. Such days are much longer than one day long. So many impressions become more alive that it feels as though I have lived for a week in such days.

I want to believe, when such things are available, that they can always be available, but I am not that lucky. Or at least, not that disciplined, or fortunate. I can't live forever in some exalted state. I have to take what comes. It is developing an understanding that is willing to nurture what is available that makes a difference. That's where I need to be more active.

It's that good old sense of intimacy. Being close to myself, and staying close to myself. This is necessary within everyday life, within ordinary life. It's much more valuable there–for this work, at least, anyway–than it is when I am sitting in meditation. Life does not want to be cloistered and live in a dark little cell; it wants to live. It wants to express itself within the action of the body, the mind, and the emotions: to inhabit this chosen vehicle, which it embodied in itself in order to manifest.

In order for it to do that, I have to keep this question of living in front of me. So often, it's the case that nothing comes in meditation; nothing can be attained (ah, the irony!) Nothing is available; I seem like a lump of meat. You are familiar with the experience, no?

This isn't a bad thing, when sittings appear to be unproductive. It's a lesson to me; after all, again and again, all of the sacred energy that one can encounter has a wish to be in relationship, not stuffed into a dark little box.

It is the expansion of that energy into this level, through the agency of our own action, that creates a world. Each one of us is responsible for taking part in that, as best we are able.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What am I trying?

Years ago, older people in the Gurdjieff work would often ask me, "What are you trying now?"

I would always struggle to immediately come up with a decent answer, instantly constructing a lie that sounded as beguiling as possible, to make it sound like I was actually trying to work on something.

On some rare occasions, I actually was trying something (by sheer luck, most likely,) only I didn't know what I was doing.

Looking back on it now, I see that even though I thought I knew what I was doing, I had no idea whatsoever of what I was doing.

It's probably like that now. I think I know what I am doing. Or, at any event, I think I know what I am not doing. What never dawns on me is that I don't know anything about anything. That is the fundamental state.

I am packed full of facts. I am packed full of memories. I am packed full of imaginary futures. None of these circumstances--these conditions-- actually understand what this act of living is.

The act of living comes in through the organism. It is only understood by itself, through itself, and of itself. It is a beginning and an end. It does not need reference points of the kind that I perpetually manufacture.

The art of Being -- it is an art, the only real art -- arises from a ground of not trying. We all usually think that "the work" -- any spiritual work -- is "trying" to "do" something. We speak about efforts; we speak about work. We speak about both of these things as though they were possible for us, and as though we understood what they meant. In reality, there cannot be any trying in the art of Being.

Being does not try. It just is.

If the work -- if any work -- tries anything real, what it tries is to undo all of this "trying" in us. My old group leader Henry Brown used to refer to this as "the effortless effort."

Of course, we are tempted to get tied into knots. We will try not to try. We will not try not to try. All of us run around in complicated circles, every one of them tightly circumscribing our ego, and keeping us well inside it--mostly by convincing us that ego is a quality that exists apart from us, whereas, in actual fact, it is us.

There has to be a letting go in order to take a step outside of this very appetizing vortex. That letting go only comes from a relationship that stems from an energy within the organism.

We may speak of energy that comes from somewhere else -- from "above" -- let's say, for the sake of argument, above the top of the head, as Jeanne De Salzmann and others have described it. All of that may be well and true. Nonetheless, anything that comes from "somewhere else" ultimately ends up within, and acts from within us. When we speak of energy from somewhere else, we are speaking, in other words, of catalysts, what is referred to as "help" in esoteric circles.

There are a lot of words for that: the Holy Spirit, Prana, Chi. All of them are fine. None of them are different from one another. There is only one source of higher energy, and regardless of its permutations and levels, it all exists within one truth. Ultimately, the aim is for this to express itself from within us: for us to become vehicles that embody that, and dwell within it with as little separation as possible.

That can only happen when the energy is active from within us and arising in us. If we rely on help alone, we are leaning on a crutch.

It is a wonderful crutch. In fact, we need that support from time to time. But in the end, we have to cultivate the inner relationship that is available to us from within us in order to express Being, which is, in and of itself, the source of all energy.

That cultivation does not come from what I would call "trying this or trying that." Trying this or trying that is, invariably--in my own experience, at least-- a form of tension.

There has to be a new kind of inner action that is not expressed in this way in order for Being to manifest.

No matter how succinct and, and, I think, accurate, instructions on cultivating this inner action may be-- up to and including the excellent work presented in "The Reality of Being"-- I discover for myself that instructions may not be helpful. The cultivation of Being involves a spontaneity that does not lend itself to books or lists. Every accurate description bears a relationship to the situation, but every situation in every individual is perpetually new.

As a consequence, I am required by default to invent my own work as I go along. What is said by others is certainly helpful, but it is not gospel.

Seeing this through organic experience, and taking responsibility for it as a mystery and a question, I am called to engage within in a new and different way on each occasion.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A wish to be

It used to be a habit of mine to sit down and write a post without any prepared idea. It was interesting; I haven't done that in quite some time. So today, I am giving it a try– let's say, for old times sake.

One of the things that Betty Brown used to occasionally mention was an impression that we are arrogant to presume that we can attain anything whatsoever.

It reminds me well of the sitting I attended many years ago early one Thursday morning in New York City at which a venerable older one--who knew Gurdjieff personally--began by saying, “we are tiny little creatures.”

We are indeed. Take a look at the scale of things, even in our immediate vicinity, and ask yourself what is really possible for creatures as small as us.

One of the premises one may encounter in Zen Buddhism is that the very idea of attainment itself is faulty– An example, I think, of “opposites thinking," as Zen Master Seung Sahn put it in a talk recently sent to me by my friend Joe D (thanks, Joe!)

What Seung Sahn means, of course, by this rather cute term is dualistic thinking: in this particular case, in order for there to be attainment, there has to also be non–attainment. Dogen certainly emphasized the need to transcend such dualistic concepts in the approach to understanding. (Master Seung Sahn, oddly, speaks of attainment as an aim in this particular talk, which perhaps puts him amusingly--if mildly, after all, it's a very good talk-- at risk of contradicting his own understanding. This just goes to show that no matter what level one is on, there is always plenty of dog poop left to step in-- a lesson, incidentally, which Gurdjieff repeatedly hammers home in "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.")

Let's try and take the dialogue (which takes two, and may thus also be dualistic, woe is me) into somewhat different territory, which, despite its pitfalls, has the merit of expounding the doctrine in a more Gurdjieffian way-- and we G- people are, no matter how much we may occasionally admire them, not Zen Buddhists.

Which affords us, by the way, permission to engage in "opposites thinking" without all the guilt.

If I am arrogant, it is because I presume to a level that does not belong to me–to understandings that I have not understood, to attainments that I have not attained. We are all, to the last man and woman, locked here within the level we are on–the world of the horizontal, a petri dish filled with microbes perpetually at war with one another, each one convinced that it should reign supreme.

There is, surrounding me, a medium that I dwell within which is made of finer substances than those I drink and breathe. That medium embodies a verticality. There is a level above me: there is a level below me. Any effort to “become” something, to “attain” something, inevitably involves developing a sensitivity to, a not-theoretical awareness of, and a connection with, these levels above and below me.

If I succeed in establishing such contact, a current begins to flow through me.

This idea of verticality is essential to understanding work as it is understood within the context of the Gurdjieffian practice. I'm not sure that Buddhism emphasizes this in the same way. In the cosmos we inhabit, our function is to become servants–to become receptive–to offer the opportunity for energies to flow from above us into our level, and down into levels below us. (The Taoists would certainly get this, but Taoism gets a rather bad rap from Dogen, who classifies it under his deadly label of "non-Buddhist thinking." ...Whatever were you thinking of, Dogen?)

At the same time, if we are fortunate, blessed with Grace, we will find a way to offer those energies back up, which is actually a more difficult work.

Receiving is a wonderful experience. When Grace descends, it can truly introduce us to an organic experience of that mystery which is referred to by Christians as “The Peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” (You knew I was going to slip Christianity in here somewhere, right?)

Nonetheless, this can't take place unless there is also an offering. Offering involves suffering. We need to surrender what we are in order to offer. (One has to admit that there is a substantial departure from any semblance of Buddhist thinking here; Gurdjieff points us towards an engagement with suffering--albeit a new kind of suffering, intentional suffering. Buddhism, however, suggests that we find a way to transcend suffering.)

Well, whether we engage or transcend, this particular aspect of the question is all about payment: and despite the differences, here we can perhaps find some renewed agreement with the Buddhists.

There isn't any attainment here. There is service. We're on a service level, not an attainment level.

So I need to do away, I think, with this imaginary idea that I am going to “become” something.
To wish to Be Is different from a wish to become. Perhaps one could argue I am putting too fine a point on it here, but the difference between the fourfold package of expectation, attainment, arrogance, and ego, and the single, simple act of Being, hinges on this question. In that sense, the Zen masters have it right. They are asking us to be–not to become.

To be involves an acknowledgment. It involves a seeing. It can only ever be of the moment: There isn't anything else. I manufacture both the past and the future within my imagination, and keep my gaze fixed steadily on those phantasms, while all around me, the world as it is–the Dharma–exists without compromise.

A couple of days ago, while my wife and I were walking the famous dog Isabel, Neal asked me how I thought I was different from who I was, say, about 30 years ago.

I had to ponder that question for a moment.

I finally replied:

"I see how small I am."

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Preparing your meals

Back from China. I struggled with a long bout of jet lag after this trip. Jet lag doesn't always hit you the same way; there are easy adjustments, and difficult ones.

This last one was very difficult. It wiped me out for a full week. I'm just now feeling back on my feet.

It's reported that Gurdjieff once said that cooking was not a branch of medicine; rather, medicine was a branch of cooking.

Tonight, I made an extra effort to make a meaningful, worthwhile meal: homemade pesto with basil straight from the garden, and veal Parmesan. I prepared everything myself from scratch. Frankly, the food tasted better -- much better -- than just about anything I've eaten in the past month, much of which was exotic food prepared by chefs at five-star restaurants.

This got me to thinking about why it is that food we prepare ourselves tastes better to us. I think this actually goes deep into the question of what we are as beings, and how impressions enter us.

Food that is prepared by other people always gets whisked in front of us more or less as a surprise. We may read the words on the menu, but that hardly gives the body any understanding of what it is about to consume. If we take ingredients and spend an hour or more carefully preparing them, the organism gets a chance to see exactly what it is that it is about to partake of. On our gross physical level -- the level of what we call "intelligence," which is not really that intelligent at all -- we are unable to understand what is going on there, but the body, which has its own mind and its own ability to understand things, including things on the chemical level (using instinctive center, which also has an exquisitely detailed and finely constructed intelligence) knows exactly what is happening.

As we prepare food, a molecular series of events begins to take place, in which the sight, touch, and smell of each ingredient is evaluated on deep -- what we could call subliminal -- levels. As this takes place, the entire body, the salivary glands, the muscles in the mouth, the stomach, the rest of the digestive system -- in fact, all the cells in the body -- are carefully preparing for what is about to be eaten.

The preparation of the food is also a preparation of the body for the food -- a preparation that doesn't take place if we aren't preparing the food ourselves.

So something quite critical takes place here, when we prepare our own food. The food tastes better, and is more satisfying, because we are more prepared for it, as it is prepared for us. It is the impressions -- the finer vibrations of everything that goes into cooking -- that helps set the stage for that. We are better able to digest the food, because our body has prepared for it better. So the act of cooking itself is actually part of what it means to eat healthy food.

This means, in essence, that if we go into an organic food store to buy the best possible prepared foods, and pay careful attention to eating a well-balanced diet, we still may not be getting the right nutrition at all! Half of healthy eating is in the preparation of food. Prepackaged foods, meals prepared by others and then whisked in front of us, are depriving us of essential impressions that are actually part of the digestive process.

This may go a long way towards explaining why the modern world has so many food issues.

This may sound theoretical, but there's nothing theoretical about it. Go out a few times and prepare food carefully for yourself, then sit down and observe your impression as you eat it. Then go out and order a fine meal at some restaurant, and see how it is. I daresay you may sense a qualitative difference. The food you cook at home may be quite ordinary in comparison to the restaurant meal, but I think you are going to see that it actually tastes better and is more satisfying.

That is, at any rate, my experience. There is an essence--satisfaction in the eating of food I make myself that I rarely, if ever, get from food prepared for me.

This question of preparation is essential in all work. If we want to see how we are, if we wish to take in meaningful impressions and have them fall deeper inside of us, preparation is absolutely required.

We can't digest impressions properly if we are not prepared to receive them.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Reality, revisited

I'm still in China, finally, fully over jet lag (of course... It's almost time to come home) and 120+ pages into "The Reality Of Being.".

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

An inner precision

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

Commentary on "The Reality of Being"

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.

Since (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

Friday, August 6, 2010

More on feeling

What is real feeling?

I'll speak, as usual, only from my own point of view, and from my own experience.

When we hear the word, we think of it as an emotion. Immediately, we mix the idea of it in with all the emotions we have routinely experienced for a lifetime. This is natural... after all, we have no other point of reference, and who can possibly blame us for assuming that what we already know is sufficient?

The only difficulty is that it's not an emotion--not, in any event, as we "understand" emotion in horizontal life. Feeling, as we refer to it in the Gurdjieff work, is a capacity we work towards--not one we have. And indeed, it's hardly a secret: there are exercises in the work where we are asked to sense one part of the body, and to feel another.

Yet what this exercise consists of is subtle indeed--on a very high order--, and often sabotaged by my assumptions.

The organism is capable of depths of perception--alternate modes of perception--that easily exceed what we're used to. The development of that greater capacity for living, that greater capacity for the sensing, the feeling, the thinking of life, is one of the aims of the work. We are hoping to help the body re-integrate its senses so that they support one another in a completely new way. A substantial way, one related to the manner in which the physical substance of impressions is taken in and transformed in a fundamentally different manner.

It takes many years of work to begin to gain an inkling of what this might mean. Only then can we begin to appreciate this very material, very substantial, capacity for feeling ourselves, feeling our life in a new way.

Feeling is, for lack of a better description, a thread that provides a connection to a higher energy. It's an enlivening material which sustains organic processes we're largely unfamiliar with. Furthermore, it's closely related to that quality of attention, that quality of inner investigation which I refer to as intimacy.

To have feeling is to discover an intimacy within one's Self: that Self which consists of all my parts in a living, breathing interaction--not just the fragments I use to manage my outer world with.

It's this intimacy that can help deepen my search. It's a quality that may be found in a relationship between the body and the breath, first thing in the morning when I wake up; a trembling yet delightful uncertainty that suffuses my limbs on the sight of a flower; that peculiar moment when I see that something more delicate, more sensitive than my usual bull-headed approach is needed.

It is, in another sense, the quality that I discover when I stop lying to myself for a moment and just see. The inner dialog stops; the flow of associations which dominates "waking" life voluntarily enters suspension for a minute, and a silence arises, a silence that simply asks, wordlessly, of itself--

what is.

Feeling can't be forced or invoked. It is a blessing that comes with work, but it takes its own time and writes its own rules. I can await it, I can seek it, I can hope to understand it--yet when it comes, I always see that the only real action I can take is to prepare for it... and attempt to nurture it, should it choose to arrive.

It's a mystery, this "feeling." It's the open question of emotional center--integrated, sensitized, hoping for a tactile experience that will feed it in a new and deeper way. I don't know it; knowing this "not knowing," seeing this "not seeing," is what creates the gaps in my armor where it might leak in.

Feeling has, perhaps above all, the capacity to soften me, so that the world enters me more generously, and so that I am--God willing--more generous in my receipt of it.

It's well to ponder such questions. Gurdjieff repeatedly told his pupils that nothing new could begin to happen in a man without a new kind of participation of an emotional nature.

If I do not hold the question of feeling in front of myself--even as I ask myself what I lack--

If I am not searching for that unsentimental, unattached, yet exquisite and sorrowful receptivity which can be born in a man who prays--

Who constantly prays, as best he can--

well then, in my experience, I'm hardly in working order.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A divine comedy: inner and outer relationship

It's difficult to reconcile my inner and outer relationships.

On the one hand, there's a sensitive (well, hopefully it's sensitive!) part that comes into contact with something intimate: discovering itself inside the body, inside the breath, in a relationship with the cells-- and perhaps even the very marrow of my bones. It's a current -- a flow of energy.

This part is what I would call a "secret" part -- it definitely isn't to be put on display, in fact, to stick it out on a platform where the rest of the world could see it would be very nearly criminal. Work with this part needs to be done in private and without any fanfare. It is devotional in nature -- it lies close to the heart-search for love and for the higher.

In the other hand, I have this animal--this monkey--which is used to doing almost everything in ordinary life. He looks cute, but when you get too close to him, it turns out he is a suspicious (and maybe even dangerous) bastard. He has nasty teeth and claws he wasn't showing you before. He snaps, he hisses and bites, he tries to grab food away from others, and he wants to screw all the females.

Well, okay, I'm probably not quite that bad -- after all, my mother did teach me some manners -- but all in all, the animal is an animal. There is no way to get around that. And the animal has an attitude that it ought to be in charge of everything--even the sensitive part.

This is, once again, a current -- a source of energy that flows with great vigor, and is only on public display. And it's all very confusing, because this appears to be the more compelling of the two forces within life. It's got all the capacity for pleasure, all the stuff.

And if I cooperate with it and work the pump handle hard enough, I can have that stuff.

A struggle arises.

I have to be outward. I have to conduct business, be tough on people, offer opinions (which I may or may not agree with or believe in, but have to offer anyway, since most of what I do involves adopting the protective coloring of a multitude of lies I am forced to pretend I agree with in order to move things in life forward.) And so on.

Yet the bottom line is that I have had a taste of what the other current can bring me, and I know that it is so much sweeter -- so much more refreshing and restoring, even in the smallest measure, than every single thing that the outward life can bring-- that I long for it, even as I relentlessly and perversely contradict that impulse with my animal nature.

"I"--whatever there is of me-- stand in this place where "I" am responsible for the meeting of these two currents. One of these draws its power and movement from an undeniably sacred source:

"The rays and motion of the holy lights
draw forth the soul of every animal
and plant from matter able to take form;
but your life is breathed forth immediately
by the Chief Good, who so enamors it
of His own Self that it desires Him always.

(Dante, Paradiso, Canto VII, lines lines 139-142, Mandelbaum Translation.)

The other current is made of considerably coarser material.

As Dante would have it (and I believe he's quite right) all that coarse material is moved by love as well, only it's love turned in the wrong direction. It has (as both Virgil and Beatrice explain it) cast its eyes downwards towards earth, instead of upwards towards that glorious heaven of which I have been given sufficient evidence.

Invested as I am, for the most part, in this coarse matrix, it's difficult to believe in the gem. There is a general forgetting that gems occur, for the most part, in crude and unforgiving ores, or that both the gem and the ore spring from the same source.

The idea that everything has love as its motive force (an idea I explored in my essay on chakras and the enneagram) is a powerful one if I can remember it. It suggests that in every ordinary, coarse life situation I encounter, if things are going wrong -- inside me, or outside of me -- the current that flows through them is the same. It is the relationship that is failing, not the power behind it. There is always the chance to make a choice from the heart that can turn things around.

I don't trust my heart a lot of the time. Maybe I shouldn't. The monkey is notoriously unreliable. But that doesn't mean that the monkey doesn't have potential. The monkey can sometimes be brought into relationship with a terrifically powerful resource that is much wiser. If he just gets a little closer to that, all kinds of remarkable things might happen. Compassion and humility might arise. Admittedly, it's a long shot, but it could happen. It could happen any time. All of the elements that can produce that in me are right next door. They are right next door all the time.

I just don't go visiting the neighbors that often. I like it more where I am.

This question of forming a better relationship -- a friendlier, more accepting relationship -- between the monkey and my inner resource is an important one.

It represents hope.

Sometimes people ask me why I bother with this obscure practice called the Gurdjieff work. Admittedly, most of the time I'm at a loss. What am I going to tell people? That everything inside you can change until you are no longer the same person, and that miracles become possible?

I could say that. It would sound like baloney, right?

There are, however, aims and values that might be easier to put in front of another person. And if there were, they would speak about a wish for understanding compassion, understanding humility.

These two qualities are the greatest qualities a man can acquire in life. (Call that an opinion if you need to... it's okay.) If he really, actually acquires these as organic qualities, he has achieved almost everything that the Lord wishes for us. All of what is truly necessary in the life of the soul proceeds from the understandings that these qualities bring.

They are, of course, the outward and inward manifestations of real Being, which is made of nothing more or less than pure love, breathed forth-- as Dante so eloquently says--from the breath of God Himself.

And-- borrowing another idea from the Divine Comedy--

If my aim does not always have its head raised high and its sight set on this goal, why should I even bother living?

May the living Light of Christ discover us.