Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An Inordinate Grace

I expect everything that takes place in my life take place within an established order. After all, there is an order–we inhabit a universe full of laws, and I even presume to understand that. I interpret everything according to my current understanding of the order that I am in, or, at least, the order I can perceive.

What I don't see is that I am asking for a revolution.

I think that when I work, when I engage in what I call a "spiritual" practice, somehow it fits into what I know. Whatever comes, whatever happens, will be bartered, transformed, trimmed, clipped, wedged, and pigeonholed into where I already am. The idea that everything will somehow step directly outside itself–that is, that nothing will be the same, and that all of what I call order will come to a definite end, if any real transformation occurs–this is terrifying. It can't even be considered. It isn't even possible to consider it, because it lies out in what we call the unknown unknown.

I don't know what I don't know, and I can't even know that I don't know it.

For life to be truly experienced in a new way, an inordinate amount of Grace is necessary. This does not have anything to do with me, because Grace is a force that lies outside me and is not under my command. It is inordinate in two ways: first of all, if I am to receive life as life truly can be received, already, it is impossible for me to do this. Only the intervention of higher forces can mediate that experience. So it is inordinate in that it is in excess of anything I know; larger, more generous, on a scale that I know nothing about. In the second way, it is inordinate in the strictest sense of the word: it does not belong to the known order–it lies outside it.

We use the words "attention" and "prayer" as though they were different, but in many senses that is not the case. Attention is a form of prayer, and prayer is a form of attention. Both of these actions in me are necessary, but neither one is sufficient. Only Grace is sufficient, and I cannot know Grace. It can know me, but I cannot know it.

So I ask for a revolution that I don't know about and don't even really believe in. It isn't, after all, possible to believe in the unknown. One can only believe in the known. So the unknown cannot even be a belief of mine. If I believe it, it has already been reduced to the scope of my limited understanding and vision. Only when what arrives is both unknown and unbelievable will I know; and then the words will fail.

The demand is enormous. Grace does not arrive intending to take half measures, or settle for less than everything. Is it a demand I am familiar with; the kind of demand I would put on myself? Of course not. This demand puts me in the position of the lowest common denominator, and takes an eraser to the blackboard I scrawled my life on.

It is as though a man were asked to drink strong wine, never having had it before, and not knowing how difficult it is to drink wine that is so strong. Even with the first draught of the wine, he is overwhelmed. Perhaps, even though he has spent his life wishing for such strong wine, he suddenly sees that he knew nothing about it.

Someone must hold his head up to help him.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Street Level

It occurred to me during the course of this trip that I am just over a month away from the 5th anniversary of the ZYG enterprise. Starting out as it did–a tiny effort, almost ridiculously small and insignificant in its scale, and as wrinkled and helpless as any infant when it emerged–it's surprising to me that I am still writing these essays. It turns out, more than anything else, that I write them to myself–to organize my impressions and thoughts about this effort we call inner work, to collect observations, to express experience. Undertaken publicly, however, the experience undergoes a transformation, because a general public who I do not know and will for the most part definitely never meet reads these essays and incorporates them into their own impressions of daily life.

It's important to remember that we are all down here at street level together. I don't know how you feel about it, but as I grow older, I increasingly see that every single human being I encounter becomes a teacher for me in one way or another–the ones I love, the ones I hate, the ones that have done good things for me, and the ones who have done things that objectively harmed me. If I have a real sense of my life, an organic sense of life, I see how everything I receive is food for growth. There is an attitude we can adopt where we constantly seek the value in what takes place, not the stories of personal adversity we often prefer to feed ourselves.

And there is a point of work where we begin to understand what is meant by the phrase, "above all, do no harm." So, as Zen master Dogen often used to say at the end of his Dharma hall discourses, "I respectfully ask you to take good care."

The other night, my wife and I were talking about the difference between the Gurdjieff work say, 20 years ago, and today. She mentioned that all the luminaries are dying. That is to say, almost all of the people who knew Gurdjieff personally are dead. (We are fortunate enough to know some very few who are still alive, but the number is tiny.) Most of the so-called "great leaders"–and some of them truly were great–are dead. Although there are people of enormous quality in this work today, and leading it–all of whom are, rightfully, owed deep respect for their effort, intelligence, and sensitivity (as well as their inevitable lack of those qualities, at times, a disease that affects all of us)–we do not, I think it would be agreed, have teachers of the caliber of Jeanne de Salzmann to sit in front of us and lead us. While those teachers can still send influences from other levels, this is rare and a quite different thing which can't be transmitted except to individuals.

This leaves us with an organization stripped of its charismatics, stripped of its visionaries, humbled to a fault, and forced to confront the realities of its own existence under the harsh conditions of present-day life. This is a good thing; the community becomes an organism that pulls together on its own and generates the value that was once left to individuals who shouldered a greater part of the burden for all of us. On the other hand, there is no lightning rod to gather around; we are left with the individual efforts of the community, and that alone.

In the same way that every age creates its own myth of a Golden age, every life creates its own myth of a golden life. There aren't any golden ages, and there are no golden lives; any reasonable student of history eventually reaches this conclusion. We have this age and these lives, and dreaming about alternatives is pointless. To get back to my original example, it's easy enough for anyone to see that efforts like my essays are, for all intents and purposes, trivial–and yet the effort of any single bacteria is trivial. I am nothing more than a bacteria–I may dream of glory, but there isn't really any glory available to bacteria. All of us are tiny creatures.

Glory does not belong to us.

This morning, while I was sitting, it occurred to me that it would be a big thing to just do the job of a bacteria. To not expect anything, to not aggrandize this life or its conditions or possibilities, but to just work. To just meet life as best possible, within the intimate, sensitive, carefully examined context of inner work, understanding that little or nothing may be possible, and, to steal a phrase, this may be as good as it gets.

Is it up to me to decide what would be good? Knowing my propensity for self will, if angels came down and put the kingdom of Heaven in front of me on a golden platter later today, I might well refuse it. That's how I am. It may be a unique condition, but I somehow doubt it. It strikes me that this condition is probably very close to where almost all of us are.

There's an Old Testament quality to this life. We are born into it, and we watch the mighty fall. It's a consistent theme in the Bible; readers of Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson will take note that it's a consistent theme in that book, too. We are all, together, participating right now in the end of an age of Empire, where the schemes of the rich and powerful to defraud the rest of us are being exposed, and it has become apparent that the emperor is naked.

It's all very amusing, in a certain perverse sense, to see this play out on the world stage. One is tempted to self righteously puff oneself up and say, "I told you so." What I don't stop to consider is that this passion play, this farce, is just a mirror of what goes on inside me. If I truly saw that, and truly understood, in anything more than the glimpses I get on a daily basis, how different everything would be.

The image came to me this morning of a man taking apart a temple, a pyramid, a magnificent structure reaching to the heavens–carefully, and with a quiet attention, taking one brick after another, walking down the temple stairs, and neatly stacking each brick on the ground.

In the process, as the Temple is taken down, an open space is cleared where it once stood.

Plants and flowers move in; then trees. Birds and insects come to live where the Temple stood; and instead of a powerful edifice of bare stone, a symbolic representation of some higher idea of life-- now the space is filled with much smaller things:

Rich new impressions of actual lives being lived.

May our prayers be heard.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A personal sense of gravity

To inhabit the body, to have a true connection with the body, not just the idea of a connection with the body, one must have a personal sense of gravity.

This is not a condition I create or manufacture; not a condition I will. It is something that can be discovered: encountered unexpectedly, arriving without explanation. All true things arrive without explanation; they don't need explanations. So it is with gravity.

Gravity is, in general, understood as a theory, a force that affects objects and their relationships between one another. It's easily understood in terms of material action: fall down, and it hurts. A personal sense of gravity, however, arises from within the condition of life and is part of the condition of life. One could say that life itself is a form of gravity, since Being, if it manifests in any degree above the ordinary, has a force that attracts life itself. It does not attract events, circumstances, or objects; it attracts impressions. In this way, life attracts life, and makes itself more whole. Under ordinary circumstances, life has no force of attraction. It can't be seen. It isn't experienced. There is an intelligence that floats around here in me, but it isn't really a living intelligence. It is an abstraction. As with Plato's prisoners chained in a cave, I mistake the shadow for the substance, because I don't know any better. Equally, when I see an apple falling from a tree, I think that is gravity, because I don't know any better.

There is a difference between life as an idea or a series of perceived experiences, and life as a perceived and experienced force.

Life and gravity are closely related. This is not an Einsteinian phenomenon we speak of, at least not in the conventional sense. When life is lived, it has weight. Weight is sensible; it is tangible; it speaks for itself. It does not need to take a position because it is already in one. It doesn't need to have an opinion, because it is impartial: it contains its own wholeness, and there is an objectivity that does not get mixed with what Gurdjieff called inner considering. Weight does not have anything to consider. Gravity does not have anything to consider. These things are just facts when they manifest. Nothing needs to be added; nothing needs to be subtracted.

A connection with the body isn't thinking about the body, or having a sensation of thought. In some senses, speaking of the connection between these two centers is already misleading, because if the two centers are "connected," they interpenetrate one another and become a simultaneous expression. Although one could speak of distinction, there is no distinction; and in the same way, if one experiences what Gurdjieff called "three centered Being," already, it is a single whole thing, not a division between three different things. There are some subtle implications about the meaning of the holy Trinity here, but we will leave it be.

It has been said before in the Gurdjieff work that your level of Being attracts your life. It's important to understand that this is not about events, good or bad. Those who want to understand it from this point of view misunderstand the point of inner work in general. Inner work has little or nothing to do with improving external circumstances in one way or another to increase one's comfort. It may have that effect (or not) but that is beside the point. The point is the quality of Being.

What is my quality of Being? How do I stand inside myself in direct relationship to the force of life? By force of life, one means, the energy that arises.

Over the years in this notebook, a number of concepts have been developed that are in a language slightly different than the conventional language of the Gurdjieff work. This is not to say that the language, as it developed over the decades, is deficient, or inaccurate. It is just to say that individuals must find their own means of expression within the context of the forces we live in and work with. Anyone can repeat the words of others. What are my own words? It's important that this question be active, because to repeat the words of others too often opens one to the real danger of becoming hypnotized and believe that one is actually understanding something. There needs to be a constant striving to discover what the words are now. They may not be the same words that I have already heard from others.

In work like this, one just has to be honest and do one's best. Some things are going to be wrong. Some things will be said badly or not properly understood. I find this to be so in my own way inside myself every day. There is a requirement to re-examine the question over and over again, in each moment. To be baffled and uncertain is a good thing, because that is almost certainly a little bit closer to the truth. When Socrates said, in his apology, that he would rather be stupid in the way that he was stupid than smart in the way that others were smart, he wasn't kidding.

Some of the contexts and expressions I've developed, and which regular readers are probably familiar with, are the organic sense of being; a sense of intimacy; the need for generosity; and now, this idea of a personal sense of gravity. I'm distinctly reminded of the Zen masters, who refer to flesh, blood, bones, and marrow- an expression close to the heart of what I am examining here. In Zen, as in Christianity, references to the body and to blood are not casual metaphors, as so many assume them to be. They refer to the organism and its state, its physical expression of force in an inward sense.

All of these concepts and questions are linked. The organic sense of being includes an intimacy of attention and a personal sense of gravity. These forces may not manifest together at all times, but they often follow one another, and are brothers and sisters in experience.

Together, these experiences give birth to a sense of generosity, both towards our own Being, and that of other people.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Starting out lost

Over the last few days, I've been pondering questions of Grace and error.

My separation from myself–the lack of connection between the parts–leads me immediately into error. The Masters referred to this sometimes as grave error, because it is error that has gravity, or weight. If the soul should (as the Egyptians thought) be like as a feather at death, then every sin weighs it down. Now, we don't like to talk about sin much in the Gurdjieff work, but Mr. Gurdjieff himself certainly spoke of it, so the idea cannot be walked away from so easily.

Error is everywhere. There's more truth in a single turn of the tide than in all mankind, and yet I think I turn the tides. Yes, this is a metaphor, but in seeing the outward illustration of truth, embodied in nature, even in every insect, how can I avoid seeing how different than that truth my inner state is? If I am truly seeing–if there is any effort in me–then the denial becomes at once apparent.

It is only through denial of how I am now that I arrive in error. If I wish to be–if I intend to exercise the necessary affirmation of Self which the Lord expects me to become responsible for–I must confront this denial.

All of my manifestations, born from sleep and the lack of attention, are already in error. I read about how Jeanne de Salzmann warned Bennett that those who over-exerted themselves had obtained "bad results," but I don't see how I am already in the middle of bad results. Denial is a powerful thing. Encouraged by the immediate presence of arrogance, which underlies everything, I think that I know. And the man who thinks he knows is already lost.

Even the immediate and undeniable presence of Grace–which is a presence that cannot be denied, seeing it as it comes from a higher influence–denial itself does not die. I reach a pivotal point in understanding my position when I see that even when the Lord sends support, I myself am unable. I still construe Grace as a force that will help me do what is necessary–I don't see that Grace is a separate force, having nothing to do with my doing or my ability, which is freely granted. Grace emanates directly from the Lord; it originates in unattachment and arrives in unattachment. Unable in the least to conceive of unattachment, it is already in my nature to seize this.

So even in the arrival of presence, I immediately fall into the grave error of believing that presence is mine, despite perfect proof to the contrary.

If this does not illustrate my lack of understanding, nothing will.

In my own pondering, I continue to deepen my question about the underlying feature of fear in me, a feature which seems to found the cornerstone of all my lack of Being. There is no trust in me. I think I trust, but everything I trust in is in the first place insufficient, and in the second place mistaken. Repeatedly, throughout the ages, all the Masters have insisted that trust must be placed in a new location, that a new kind of trust can arrive. These are excellent words, and men have listened to them for thousands of years, yet we all listen to them with parts that do not and cannot trust.

The irony is apparent.

I think we are all born with an instinct that believes we can carve a path to truth ourselves, and a machete to go with it. Faced with what looks like a thick underbrush of life, we stumble forward hacking a crude path all around us, looking for truth, not seeing that we already inhabit it in every moment. If I move from one blindness to the next, thinking I see, all I have to live within is my denial.

I think I am somewhere. Life has this way of insisting that there is a location of being already, that this, that, and the other thing is happening–my children, wife, job, intellectual and artistic achievements and so on–and that all of these things provide a location that I am in. It is a temporal location triangulated from the events, the circumstances, and the materials around me. Any inkling of a different kind of location–of a location comprehensive enough to contain an intuition of the Dharma, of truth–is absent. Drawing on my belief that all the treasure is on earth, I've always located myself on earth, relative to the treasure. My belief in this location is quite firm, despite all my protestations to the contrary.

It is much more helpful if I understand, every morning when I get up, that I am already lost. We have many parables in the Bible about lost sheep, and they seem to be children's tales, sweetened up with cloying pictures of Jesus dressed as a shepherd. But there is more direct truth in them, I think, than we understand. By more actively see what this idea of being lost means, it might provide a clearer point of understanding.

I have a search–everyone talks about spiritual work this way, about their search.

How often do I see that I am not already here, in a place that is known, a location that is desirable, just trying to acquire more, and see that I am actually starting out lost, and have nothing?

Those familiar with Gurdjieff's music may recall moments during performances where this understanding can be palpably sensed.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

occupy lee

I was exchanging e-mail with Tracy, one of my fellow Parabola editors, earlier today on the subject of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. I pointed out to her that, although I'm certainly sympathetic in many ways towards their movement (as vaguely defined as it is), the root causes of our current plight are extremely complex and confusing.

It's true that outward action is needed. Nonetheless, if my outward action does not spring from a prior inner action, an action that moves me in the direction of occupying the ground of my own Being, that action cannot be sincere. It has perhaps a sound emotive impulse, but it lacks intelligence and force, because it comes from what Gurdjieff would have called a formatory place–a churning sea of impressions based on opinions and superficiality. Granted, almost everything that happens in this world arises from just such a place–yet more is definitely possible in me, and if I continue to indulge myself in the reactions that usually rule my daily life, I am little more than a hamster running on a wheel in its cage.

This dilemma cannot be used as an excuse for inaction, but if action does not begin with the question "Love?"–as I pointed out in a post about a week ago–it cannot be real action.

And this word, "Love"–what does that mean? Some readers have cheerfully complained to me that I don't know what I'm talking about when I use the word. Well, we are not going to ban this word Love! Not in this blog, anyway. And since I must use it, I use it boldly.

Love is a universe unto itself. Let us say, to limit it for the time being to a tangible set of possibilities for examination (in reality, its meanings are limitless) that it refers to a universe of Attention, Intimacy, Compassion, Questioning, and Prayer.

We live in a world of corporations and acronyms. Things get reduced to soundbites, slogans are invented in order to encapsulate and convey ideas and principles. Should spiritual works succumb to the same apparently facile and simplistic techniques?

Maybe they aren't all bad. Maybe we should keep the acronym AICQP in mind.

Attention, Intimacy, Compassion, Questioning, Prayer. These are the elements I need to contain within my effort to remember myself, to occupy Lee. and if I don't occupy Lee, the "corporate forces"–the machine which runs my reactions and my generally opinionated attitude towards life–will continue to have ascendancy over me. It is a direct reflection of exactly what's happening in the world out there: of course it is, because what is happening in the world "out there" is in fact what is happening in the world in here. In other words, the problem isn't some external agent called "Wall Street"–the problem is an internal agent whose name is legion, that is, it is the name of every human being, because we are all "doing this" to each other together.

Why do I cite these 5 forces- Attention, Intimacy, Compassion, Questioning, Prayer–as essential? It sounds dangerously like I am trying to suggest that we should actually try something tangibly practical in the Gurdjieff Work, doesn't it?–Well, maybe we need to. This is supposed to be a work in life, not one that gives us permission to stand aloof from it, while we watch Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and everyone else out there make efforts that are somehow beneath us.

Let's take a look at it.

In action, I need to have the Attention of my intelligence–an Intimacy with my physical body–the Compassion of my heart–the affirming Question of "I am" (for us, "am I?")–and the surrendering Prayer of "Lord have Mercy"–all active within me, simultaneously and in the moment. An effort at three centered action must come first: not a strained effort, but a natural effort. Then, both the affirmation and the surrender of the self, which are not separate actions. They are two "higher" actions-shocks- that come together within each moment.

I know all of this sounds complicated and technical, but in the end, this so to speak "5 centered action" aspires towards action centered not in the gravity of my own confused and weak will, but in the Will of a higher principle. We can't do that- but we can aspire towards it.

Reading once again from a book I have quoted extensively in recent days– Early Fathers from the Philokalia, as translated by Kadloubovsky and Palmer, Faber & Faber 1954- we find St. Mark the Ascetic saying the following:

"So let us begin the work of prayer and, gradually making progress, we shall find that not only hope in God but also firm faith and unfeigned love, absence of rancor, love for one's brethren, self-mastery, patience, the innermost knowledge, deliverance from temptations, gifts of grace, heartfelt profession of faith and fervor and tears are given to the faithful through prayer. And not only these gifts alone, but also endurance of afflictions, a pure love of one's neighbor, knowledge of spiritual law, acquisition of God's righteousness, infusion of the Holy Spirit, the gift of spiritual treasures and all that God has promised to give the faithful here and in the future life– (all this they receive through prayer.) In short, it is impossible to reestablish the image of God in oneself other than by the divine grace and faith, granted to a man who with great humility remains with his mind in undistracted prayer." (page 74-75.)

To pray is to live.

Perhaps the greatest mistake humanity makes from moment to moment is believing, fervently and without doubt, that the inequalities, cruelties, and injustices that arise are caused by external agents. Collectively, we are the external agents, and without right inner action, no right outer action can ever be possible.

Does this set an impossibly high standard? How high the standard is isn't the point. It establishes the only standard. There is no alternative to right inner action. Action that begins anywhere else has already deviated from what is actually necessary.

Only the effort to occupy my own ground of Being and take it back from the Corporation in an inward sense can end up having any right effect on the outer world.

May our prayers be heard.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Opinions and conditions

There's a difference between conditions and opinions about conditions.

For the greater part, I mistake opinions about conditions for actual conditions. This is a powerful habit; in addition, I blithely assume that one ought to have opinions about conditions. The greater part of intercourse between us–conversation, in all of its varieties–consists of opinions about conditions. This leads to an enormous amount of talking, but much of the talking is pointless.

Conditions are conditions. There is an objectivity within conditions that does not exist and can never exist in opinions. If I learn to be more still in myself, and I discover the consistent arising of opinions within me from this place of stillness, I begin to see that conditions are conditions and opinions are opinions. The distinction between the two will lead one who perceives it to have less interest in opinions. There isn't anything real about them; I race about having them ad infinitum, but in the end, they're empty. Subjectivity loses its glamour as one sees it more clearly.

What is it to perceive conditions?

There ought not to be a division between conditions and Being. To Be is to Be within conditions; they are simply facts. Some of us may recall the way that Mr. Gurdjieff assured his protégé Ouspensky that "there will be facts," as reported in In Search of the Miraculous.

Perhaps I take that to mean that somehow there is some higher truth that will magically appear at some point, some drawing back of the curtain to reveal reality. And perhaps, if I do take it that way, I am expecting a lot.

Trees are just trees, and rivers are just rivers. Facts are nothing more than what appears following the collapse of opinions, which strips reality down to just what is. What is, doesn't have any opinions, in the same way that starlings and frogs don't know there is a stock market. Things that are invented in my mind are in and of my mind; the objectivity that lies outside this realm of mine escapes me, maybe because I don't want to see it. So the idea that "there will be facts" may indicate simply that an objective state can arrive.

As I write this, I am looking out of a hotel room window on the 48th floor of a skyscraper in the middle of downtown Shanghai. The city is laid out below me. I have all kinds of opinions about cities; I have opinions about this one, about the things that are in it, the nature of the air pollution that I see over it right this moment, the architecture of the buildings, and so on.

Nonetheless, there are also facts. Here I am. There is this. We are together; I am in front of it, as much as it is in front of me. There is not as much separation as I would like to believe.

My instinct to separate arises from my paranoia; I feel that I need to be apart. It gives me an excuse to feel superior, different, above the rest. In other words, my opinions are an action designed specifically to bolster my ego. It's a subtle action, because denial is always at work here: my opinions present themselves as objective. It's built into the machine.

A massive amount of this goes on all day long. It's possible for a separation to take place between this activity and something that is more sensitive and more objective, and that is the only separation that is truly needed. The manufactured separation I engage in is a different matter entirely.

I often refer, in my writings, to the organic state of being. This is not a hypothesis or a direction; it is a statement that resides within the flesh, blood, bones, and marrow of Being. The statement is not complicated. Things are quite a bit simpler than my opinions make them.

Reading in the Philokalia the other day, I can across this passage from St. Antony the Great:

"All rational beings, whether they be men or women, have an organ of love, by which they can embrace both the divine and the human. Men of God love what is of God; men of the flesh love what is of the flesh. Men who love what is of God, purify their hearts from all impurities and the affairs of this transient world, hate the world and their own souls, and, bearing their cross, follow the Lord, doing His will in all things. Therefore, God comes to dwell in them and gives them joy in sweetness, which feeds their souls, nourishes them and makes them grow. Just as trees cannot grow, if they have no natural water, so too with the soul, unless it receives heavenly sweetness. Only those souls grow, which have received the Spirit and are watered by heavenly sweetness." (trans. Kadloubovsky & Palmer, Faber & Faber 1954, p. 47-48)

To modern ears, it's nearly certain that the phrase indicating men ought to "hate the world and their own souls" sounds overly harsh. However, it echoes a principal expounded by Mr. Gurdjieff: "like what it does not like." To "hate the world" is to abandon opinions. To "hate our own souls" is to abandon the ego ("my own soul" is not the essential soul God has given me–it is what I think I own, but do not.) The idea presented here is the idea of non attachment, non-identification. And to gain distance from opinion has little or nothing to do from dismissing opinion mentally, or having negative opinions about opinion itself.

To love what is of God is to gain such distance. In order to find a new path towards the heart of this question, I need to begin to recognize conditions as conditions. Already, here, a sweetness can arise–but not of me. Only through me.

This sweetness which Antony speaks of is not ephemeral or metaphorical. There is a true sweetness that can visit us, nourish us. It is indeed a sweetness born in Heaven.

There is a Light greater than the word light, and a Glory greater than the word glory.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On the question of higher hydrogens

Readers who recall Gurdjieff's remarks to Ouspensky as recounted in In Search of the Miraculous will recall that he said the following:

“This means that to proceed with any further study we must find the exact purpose of each 'hydrogen,' that is to say, each 'hydrogen' must be defined chemically, psychologically, physiologically, and anatomically, in other words, it's functions, its place in the human organism, and, if possible the peculiar sensations connected with it must be defined."

--In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, Paul H. Crompton Ltd. 2004, P. 191-192

To the best of my knowledge, no one out there has ever actually engaged in this activity: I've never seen much of anything written about it, and of the matter is rarely discussed in today's world, highly technical approaches to Gurdjieff's work having largely fallen out of favor. Nonetheless, it presents some interesting possibilities for discourse.

Most of the unusual language and specific concepts that Gurdjieff brought to his work represent higher experiences that are only produced by the presence of "hydrogens" which are not usually present in man. Some of the language that comes to mind are the following concepts:

conscious labor
intentional suffering
remorse of conscience
organic shame
the sorrow of His Endlessness

and so on. Each one of these experiences is an experience that, while it is expressed in our ordinary language, actually represents something quite different than ordinary experience, which can only be understood when it actually takes place in the organism, producing an organic result that is quite clearly of a different order than the usual organic results we use to navigate our way through life.

Each one of these particular experiences is associated with the action of a particular higher hydrogen.

When we consider the food of impressions–which is the only food that can make the production of these higher hydrogens possible–we barely stop to think about how we are actually taking impressions in. It is, in larger part, a theoretical prospect. The threads that connect the inner work all exist in us, so to speak, separately, as though they didn't need to be interwoven. That part that needs to have an attention–even a love for–how things are being taken in now is not only weak, it's dysfunctional.

The action of each of the special words that Gurdjieff chose in order to describe what are essentially religious experiences of a higher order is contingent on the way we feed ourselves, and nothing at all is possible if we don't handle that well. So this action of attending to the immediate prospect of life with an organic Love is an absolutely essential action, and the action of every other particular phrase or condition that relates to a higher principle working in the organism is dependent on how we conduct that.

One of the difficulties in discussing things like conscious labor, intentional suffering, and so one is that by using familiar words, immediately, and without any intention at all on my part, I assume I am able to “do” these things. Even if I intellectually protest that I don't think I can do such things, the whole organism is hardly signed on to that prospect. There is always a secret corner, hidden from the rest of me (but most especially everyone else!) in which I most certainly believe I can do such things. It doesn't matter how much I spout the party line at meetings or elsewhere: I'm lying. I think I can do things. I think I know what these words mean.

It is only when the light switch gets turned on, as the result of days or weeks or months of work, or of a particular moment of Grace, that an actual condition of conscious labor or remorse of conscience arises; then it becomes quite apparent that this is the action of a higher substance, and that "I" am not in charge of it.

We could generalize and say that Mr. Gurdjieff's remarks to Ouspensky on this matter, while they appear to be incredibly specific, are actually there just to indicate to us that we ought to study this question quite precisely, in order to understand that the process is physical and chemical, that it is not related to what we ordinarily understand, and that it is not under our control.

Learning to sense each of these particular sensations and emotional attitudes that arise from higher hydrogens may furthermore help us to remember them, and bring ourselves closer to an intimacy with ourselves that helps generate further possibilities.

All of these higher ' hydrogens' are without any doubt related to, if not identical with, hormones that medical science has identified and studied from a pharmacological point of view in the years since Gurdjieff first brought his work to the Western world. Substances that come to mind which are almost certainly in this category include serotonin, dopamine, and so on. Nicotine in particular is a specific analog to a higher hydrogen, underscoring the fact that many drugs people take emulate the action of these natural substances.

The difficulty, of course, is that taking drugs merely produces a result, not a state that lasts. It furthermore cripples the action of a person's internal chemistry by weakening it instead of helping it work to grow stronger and make what is needed.

If there is any transformation whatsoever available to human beings in the context of this work, it lies in this territory. A man or woman needs to understand how to taking impressions more sensitively, with all of his or her parts; to take them in with Love. He or she needs to understand that this task is actually far more important than making money or acquiring things, than looking good or having pleasurable experiences; and a loving attention needs to be paid to the parts that are doing this kind of work as it is under way.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

judgment and experience

Readers familiar with my routine will know by now that occasionally I am in Shanghai; as I am now; and that when I am, I am unable to post the customary photographs which accompany my blog entries. My apologies for this; new photographs to accompany posts will be added at the end of my trip, some 2 weeks from now.

I find that with me there is often a confusion between experience and judgment.

I have experiences; I presume that somehow this collection of experiences–impressions–that has filled me over the course of a lifetime (resulting in what amounts to a single small universe of forms, images, and ideas) gives me the right to judge not only the world, but other people. My assumed right to judge ought to be superseded by that higher authority of the Lord, which does have the right to judge–but it isn't. Everything is in me and of me, in my will and of my will. I think I know something; it almost doesn't matter what it is, the point is that I think I know something.

Only the presence of a higher energy in the body–it can't express itself in any other way, remember that–has the capacity to remind me that I live within unknowing. This is an organic quality, not a mental one; and yet the mental faculties that function persistently insist that to know my unknowing is mental.

Yes, I see that that sounds a bit convoluted. Yet please try to follow it. Only a certain rate of vibration in the body brings us to humility; without the expression of that hydrogen, the existence of that rate of vibration, the only condition we can exist within is that of our own arrogance.

No collection of experiences, of impressions, within any being is "wrong"–each one represents a sum total truth of what is received, a fragment of the Dharma. The Dharma may be received and collected in fragments by conscious entities, but it always and forever exists, and is expressed, in a single whole. The individuation of truth into separate entities with egos [that's us, in case it wasn't obvious] creates this situation in which Grace is lost, and personal judgment begins.

No man is excused from this act of judging–whether unfortunate or fortunate, the action is necessary in order to navigate life. To be necessary, however, does not mean it is sufficient–it is far from the only thing that is necessary. Much more is, in fact, necessary. A transparency can enter in which the act of judgment itself is transformed. We could call this unattached judgment; call it what you will.

Each man will ultimately judge only from the context of his own experience. Ultimately, if enough impressions are received in a certain way, and the organism begins to work in a different manner, what Gurdjieff called a state of "objectivity" begins to rise. Unfortunately, my delusional state frequently insists that I am being objective–that I know something about this idea–when exactly the opposite is in fact the case. For example, I think that I know what the word "Love" means, and that other people don't–when in fact perhaps I have everything quite wrong. This is not an unusual state, in anyone. Those who presume that such states exist in others, but not themselves, commit the gravest of errors. These are the pedestals we erect for ourselves so that we can stand on them.

There are what one would call objective truths. There is a bottom line. But that can only be experienced through an inner rate of vibration, not by the expression of thinking. It gets translated into the clumsy tools we call words; even in the act of doing this, the quality of transmission deteriorates.

[As an aside, one of the characteristic errors in judgment that arises from experience in mankind is the differentiation between religions. Religions compete with one another in claiming that they occupy some higher ground of truth that the other religions don't; yet this clearly can't be the case, as is conclusively demonstrated by Mr. Gurdjieff's explanation of the chemical factory.

All human bodies are essentially the same in the way that they work; all of them produce the same substances, higher or lower. True, what Mr. Gurdjieff called a "more developed" man will produce some substances that a "less developed" man cannot; nonetheless, potentials and the chemistry remain the same regardless of the person. This means that in the expression of religious experience, it must be objectively the same across the entire range of human experience; the only differences that arise can be ones of terminology. For example, we have the Holy Spirit, Chi, and Prajna; the body chemistry that produces these states can't be different from person to person. It's not as though mankind has separated itself into different species with entirely different body chemistries.]

There are moments when a man's inner work with experience and impressions crosses a line from which there is no going back. I suppose that Mr. Gurdjieff would have called this a moment of "crystallization," in which the results of a series of so-called "higher" impressions (I qualify this, in order to leave open the question of what that might mean) create a result in which both understanding and the work of the organism itself change in a certain way, and something new enters daily manifestation of the Being.

These moments are possible. They aren't psychological; they are not mental. They are, rather, physiological in the concrete sense of what Mr. Gurdjieff would have called "three centered work;" and they create new polarities in the body. As one close friend of mine pointed out the other day, polarity need not mean "polarized" in the context of having a positive and a negative charge; it can also mean, organized around the center. So what I am saying is that a change in the work the body can create a new center around which one's experience circulates. All experience in mankind circulates within; there are differences, however, in the order and quality of circulation. In almost all human beings, circulation is disordered, sometimes in the extreme.

Polarity–in the sense in which we are using the term today, the organization of inner energy around a more definitive center of gravity– creates a new order. Without that new order, a man cannot and will not see the deficiencies in his own reason; he will not see the flaws in his judgment. He will continue to interpret his experience in a wrong way.

Living can harden a human being, or soften them. Being hard has its merits, as regards the horizontal expression of force, but it locks out much of what is needed to soften a person and allow them to receive the higher influences so vital to inner development. There is little doubt that many–perhaps even the majority–of people on the spiritual path (no matter which path we speak of) acquire a great deal of experience, material, and insight, harden in their convictions as a result of it, and close themselves off from many of the influences that they might receive if their own opinions and judgments did not have so much power over them. One of the reasons I have been stressing the need for Love as a conscious force in one's own inner effort is because this is one of the only influences (per Christ's teachings) that can counteract this otherwise grave danger.

What is needed in order to receive something higher is a softening. It is not enough to come to this late in life, with a terrible shock, as so many do, and see that one has squandered one's inheritance and that it is too late to change anything.

The pilgrimage towards a new kind of inner poverty must begin now, while there is still time to hand life over to a higher authority.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The womb of life

I'm fifty-six years old today.

We are born into the womb of this life from Love, and every human being begins with the light of Christ shining in their soul. We may forget; it may be buried, but it can never be extinguished. What we come from is Holy, and its sacred nature cannot be destroyed.

Because our planet turns, we think there is darkness, but the light never stops shining, whether our faces are turned towards it or away. Because men sin, we think there is evil, but evil is nothing more the soil from which good grows, and the bad is ever nothing more than the servant of the good-- no matter how much it thinks itself its own master.

The womb of this life is here to hold us, to hold us in the hands of Love, and to help us grow into an understanding beyond the understanding we think we can grow into. We are only here to be born, and for no other reason: our own distractions may cause us to forget this, yet souls grow with or without the eyes of men upon them. If we forget Love ten thousand–a hundred thousand– times a day, She will forgive us, because this is in Her nature.

Love is the gift we begin with; our struggles are struggles we make ourselves. Everything is already given; the generosity of the Spirit has no limits. It is required, however, to try to wedge itself into this the narrow crack of our life; no wonder it has such difficulty. When the whole universe and all the Love in it tries to fit itself into a small space, not everything can go there; the camel cannot go through the eye of a needle so easily.

Yet the camel is still a real camel, and even if the needle is small, and has an even smaller eye, the needle is there to serve, and can do its job with precision. We can count on camels and we can count on needles, and we need not confuse them. Even though they don't seem to go together, they are one in spirit.

Take no delight in the sinister; and believe not in the twisted things that make the soul turn from Love. If there is temptation, it is here: to wish for something less than the light of the Lord.

We can deny anything, even the hands of Love that hold us: as, in their time of fear, the apostles denied Christ, so our own lower natures may deny what we are; they cannot help themselves. Yet a loving attitude towards them will help them to see that there need be no fear, and that we are born here, exist here, and will die here only out of Love.

To turn towards the machines of the soul alone is not enough; if a man builds a cathedral, but no heart inhabits it, it is a cold and lonely place.

May our prayers be heard.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Suffering and sorrow

It's come to my attention some readers may be taking my recent posts on suffering and sorrow in the wrong way.

One mustn't under any circumstances confuse these ideas with ordinary emotional states. The action of higher energies has a transformational nature that creates a very different relationship in the organism with these ideas.

I use the words "suffering" and "sorrow" because they are the closest approximations we can reach using the language we know. In reality, to suffer in the Gurdjieffian sense of the word means something quite different than what our ordinary associations tell us; and to feel sorrow also means something quite different.


Sorrow and joy are, as I've mentioned in the past, joined together perfectly. This simultaneous and reciprocal relationship are anything but apparent from our current perspective; to experience this truth directly is what is referred to as religious ecstasy.

Sorrow, furthermore, is not sorrowful at all. Sorrow is a product of Love, not some difficult or self-centered emotional experience one must endure. In fact, it stems directly from Love, and could not exist if Love did not come first before it. When we feel sorrow, in the sense of the sorrow of His Endlessness, it is not an ordinary emotion, it is a higher emotion. It is a privilege, and something to be deeply grateful for, not something to feel miserable and bad about.

It is furthermore not a personal sorrow in any sense of the word–it does not have a subject and an object as we usually understand them.

If one feels real sorrow, a higher sorrow, one hungers for it in the same way that one hungers for God, if one has ever been so touched.

One does not hunger for it out of some misplaced sense of masochism, or because one wants to be miserable, or due to self pity, but because the whole body instinctively senses that it is the right position to be in, and that it is an absolutely natural product, consequence, and servant of Love.

Sorrow is, in other words, not only a three centered experience, but an experience that begins in the action of a higher center. It is an organic action, a whole thing that is not subject to reduction or division. One might call it a thread that reaches directly from our mortality towards the divine.


A great deal is said in the work about what Gurdjieff called "intentional suffering." Despite presumptions, which abound, even the best of us have a poor understanding of what he actually meant by this, and the term itself is wide open to all kinds of perverse and incorrect interpretations. Speaking as I do through my own set of limitations, I'm only able to report my own definite impressions of this question. Every reader has to form their own judgment on the matter.

As I understand it, to suffer in Gurdjieff's sense of the word has absolutely nothing to do with feeling bad emotionally. Of course, when we speak of ordinary life, if someone endures horrible trials, we say that they have suffered. But this is a temporal and a horizontal suffering, not a suffering related to the suffering of the soul.

The soul suffers only in proportion to its own experience of itself, and its inadequacy in meeting the tasks that God has assigned to it. This has something to do with Jeanne de Salzmann's repeated insistence on making an effort to see our lack.

Any kind of personal remorse or self-pity in regard to this question is entirely beside the point. To suffer means to fully take in the world and what we are, without judging ourselves, but in truthful seeing of ourselves.

Higher emotions do not assume the personal aspect that ordinary emotion does. Anyone who spends any length of time in legitimate self observation ought, without too much difficulty, to be able to see "how one is" in an ordinary emotional state, unless they are just a plain old dunderhead. Thus, all this talk about how difficult self-observation is is nonsense. Ordinary self-observation is, as Ouspensky and his fellow seekers discovered, pretty straightforward. It's a collecting of facts on this level.

There's a great danger of getting stuck in this technical aspect of the work and swirling around in it for years, thinking that the routine observation of how I am is going to teach me something new. This may well trap me in an interesting but ultimately fruitless psychological analysis of my state, rather than a transformational intuition.

Higher emotions are unmistakable and have very little to do with ordinary emotions, our own ego-based perceptions of ourselves, or the little miseries we endure. This is why they are called higher emotions. Although we are born into and live within a personalized universe (in many senses, of our own making) phenomena that emanate from higher levels have an unambiguously depersonalized nature that can't be mistaken for what we are in our ordinary state. One could go on at some length about how this relates to all the ideas of abandonment of the ego and so on, but perhaps that's not so useful.

What is left to understand is that there is a clear distinction between all of what is ordinary and everything that comes from God. All of us, as far as I can see, are habitually prone to mistaking the ordinary for the extraordinary, confusing them, mixing them in every possible way, and above all believing we know much more than we actually do about these matters.

These are grave errors, but we all commit them–I am no exception–and I suppose this is a fact we just have to live with as we stumble onwards in our individual works.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Higher Standard

It is time to come down off the pedestal and stand on the earth.

Every kind of judgment, every petty attitude, every deed that is done without enough Love in it–every deed that is done without any Love at all in it, which is probably just about every deed, I think–all of this is worthless. Nothing acquires value except through Love.

Love can't be a hypothesis in life. It can't be a premise or an idea, a theory or a goal. It must be a practice which is immediate, a practice which lives in the now. And every act of self observation must begin with the question:


Do I act with Love? Do I feel Love organically, in the marrow of my bones, where the Lord put it, right now? Or I am I estranged from that understanding? Am I busy deciding how inadequate other people are? Ah, yes, that sounds like me all right... is that where my work has led me? To a place where I think I am superior because I think I “work?”

Yes, it has come to this, hasn't it?

There is a ground floor. The higher standard consists of taking the lower position–the position of humility, of understanding my lack. Of seeing how I should be the last person in line for everything, about how it is important to offer to others first, and take for myself later. Of howevery idea of my superiority–even the legitimate ones–must be thrown out in favor of an outer considering of others.

Forgiveness ought to be unconditional. People don't see this. Always, there is one condition after another, one judgment or rationalization after another.

Of course this is too high a standard for us–but it shouldn't have to be. Love, Grace, and Glory penetrate every bit of matter–they are in the shit, as well as the flowers that grow out of it. We are not so far away from all of this: we are made of it–and yet, we turn our heads, we snipe at each other; instead of attending to ourselves, we are always attending to someone else.

Do you see that? I see it. I have to suffer myself in this way every day, a tension and a friction between the unconditional Love that forms the fabric of existence, and my own inability to inhabit it with the deep respect it is due.

There is no condition or circumstance exempted from this kind of examination. Every action that does not begin with Love has already failed to connect with the source of what is real, and can beget only imaginary results. But Love is painful–Love requires relationship–Love begins with seeing my lack, with seeing how I am, and that is a difficult thing. I don't like difficulty much, I would rather forget about Love and other people and what is needed to support them.

But what if?

What if the entire purpose we have here in relationship to one another is strictly to offer support, and the weight of the soul is determined by how well we perform that task?

The sorrow that permeates the temporary nature of our existence, the sorrow that lies deep in the heart of the manifestation of energy, the sorrow that Mr. Gurdjieff advised us we needed to help partake of–this endless, penetrating, and inestimable sorrow of the Lord–it breathes silently within the fabric of matter itself... and within us.

Yet we have become so insensate that we do not know it is there.

Gurdjieff alluded over and over again to the central place of emotion, the pivotal force of Love, in his work, and I am sure he knew in every cell of his body this sorrow I speak of.

It changes everything.

I see, in this sorrow, that I am indeed held to a higher standard–not a standard created by the mind, a set of moral dogmas or rules written down on stone tablets, but a standard that grows in the heart, rests in the bones, and pumps through the body and blood of my life. When I forget myself, this is the first thing that I forget.

What is self-observation? Year after year of a technical list of events and facts... of intellectual observations about how I think I am?

That is not enough. It can never be enough.

Every deed, every single deed, must be examined; and the part that must see it is the part that Loves.

If there is ever to be any awareness, it must begin here, because without it, there is no awareness, and there is no life in the spirit.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ascetics and Puritans

We have the mistaken belief that purity arises somehow from a life of deprivation.

The ascetic believes that he must purify his inner state through deprivation; the paring away of attachments to the senses, the elimination of the mind, extinguishing of thought, etc.

The Puritan believes that she must purify her outer state through deprivation, the refusal of lusts and passions, food, the swearing off of materialism, and so on.

Either way, there is a presumption that separation from the world is what is necessary. The world is impure; life is impure, our thoughts are impure, our bodies are impure, and so on. One way or another, through an inner or an outer action, there must be a rite of purification; only a burning fire, and immolation of everything that is, can leave the residual gold we seek so earnestly. Eh?

This paring away, this lopping off of leaves, twigs, and branches, is a mistaken approach. What is impure is, in fact, my selectiveness: my opinions, my partiality, my tendency to shy away from everything. In point of fact, it is my avoidance of relationship with myself that creates an impure state. (Here I come back once again to the esoteric meaning of the first conscious shock, overcoming the fear of the self.)

What is required is not deprivation; the narrowness of how I am in relationship to life is at the root of the problem. What is required is a new kind of allowing–a kind of suffering. To suffer, after all, does mean to allow, although we usually let our associations tell us that it means to feel pain of one kind or another.

Yet it is impossible that the Lord has an active wish for us to intentionally feel pain in order to complete ourselves spiritually, isn't it? He has no need for a cult of masochists. Yes, flagellants believe such things; one can wear hair shirts, or whip oneself. But this does not seem to be a right path: it has no respect for the body or its actual requirements. The early church fathers certainly believed in mortification of the flesh and denial of the body, yet we can see that Mr. Gurdjieff practiced nothing of the sort.

What, then, to make of it?

There is a point on the path where one begins to discover that to allow, to take life in with a generosity that actually refuses to deny anything, is in fact an enormous kind of suffering. The impressions that are trying to find their way into us, to penetrate us to the very marrow of our bones, are on such a scale and of such an enormity that we are absolutely unable to tolerate them. To serve for even a moment in a true state of openness is to drink so much sorrow and so much joy (they are no different from one another) at one time that one's cup does run over–one sees how great the task we are called to is, and how utterly unable we are to meet it in any capacity we ought – even though we have both the equipment and the ability.

I stand on the threshold of a draught that encompasses all of reality; yet even the slightest taste of it overwhelms me. I cannot do something as simple as meet my daughter's eye, face-to-face, for more than a moment, because the vastness of the space created by the simple fact of our existence together is so great I fall into it like a single atom plunging itself into an incomprehensible sea.

I'm afraid to see that; I am afraid to be in relationship with my life, with others, with myself, because to do so calls me down to the ground floor of my own humanity over and over again, moment after moment, in a way that creates an anguish and a joy unfathomable, and not digestible in any ordinary state I know.

Yet I must continue to put myself in front of this place where, as Jeanne de Salzmann would say, I see my lack.

I see, perpetually standing on this threshold of glory, how unable I am to stand in the face of this magnificent experience we call life and accept it without the deprivation; to allow it to enter me.

If I look closely enough, I see that my fear actually engenders an attitude of deprivation; sleep itself is self-deprivation.

I am afraid to live, even though the opportunity is in front of me at every moment. It is much more convenient, much easier, to deny myself life and turn away from it. And it is even more terrifying to see how much I want to run away from what is.

It is as though a man stood in front of the gates of heaven with the keys to the Kingdom already in his hand, and said, "No–I will not enter."

If nothing else brings me to the moment where I call out to the Lord for mercy, this much surely will.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life flows in

Life can flow inward naturally, without impediments, but it usually doesn't.

To be open means to allow life to enter; a finer energy, which already permeates everything and is eternally present. The body has the potential to become open, and if it opens, the exquisite precision of what is becomes apparent.

But this can't happen for as long as everything is tethered to both the mind and all of the beliefs about things that go with it.

Awareness can exist in conjunction with and alongside all of the ordinary manifestations that normally keep me from sensing vibration with any precision or accuracy. In order for it to do so, it must have a life of its own: not the life “I” assign to it, not the constructed life, the assumed life, the believed, imaginary, or shaped life.

It has to have a living and untouched quality that allows it to be its own self, not the constructed self of daily life. If it lives, if it truly has its own life, then I am subordinate to it. This does not mean that I am not; the ego is not so easily destroyed, nor need it be. It is, after all, a useful engine that needs to be applied appropriately for encounters with life.

One could say that a purity is required, but even this is not accurate. It is a purity, but it is not the purity of the ascetic or the purity of the Puritan. It is an unadulterated quality that permits only of itself. It is fundamentally organic–a relationship within the organism that extends itself to include impressions in a new way.

How to express it?

To be open is to receive without interference. To be in life, but to stop touching it constantly. Nothing matters so much; what is it that drives me with such conviction? Where did I ever get the idea that my opinions make any sense? A desperation lies underneath every action; only by surrendering the desperation itself, only by letting go of it, can the implications about where I am and what I am doing be made manifest.

Those implications are nowhere near as complicated as my intellect would have me believe.

Life flows in. We are vessels into which the world flows; our entire purpose is summed up in this one expression.

Only to the degree that we perform this task with Attention and Love can we call ourselves human beings.

"When you close the door of your dwelling and are left alone, know that there is with you an Angel, allotted by God to every man, whom the Hellenes call the spirit of the home. He never sleeps and being always with you, sees everything. He cannot be deceived, and darkness hides nothing from him. And be aware that, besides him, God is present everywhere. For there is no place or substance where God is not present. He is greater than all and holds all in his hand.”

- Antony the Great, from "Early Fathers from the Philokalia," Kadloubovsky and Palmer, Faber & Faber 1954

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Life Unknown

Certain disturbing impressions have struck me deeply over the last week.

The strident, even desperate, tone of today's politics. The exhortations to consume and buy which roar over our television sets and radios. Gangs of pudgy, motorcycle riding near-the-end-of-middle-age men invading towns on weekends, seeking a lost youth which exists only in their imagination, and which can in any event never be found again.

I notice that nowadays, even many of those who write about spiritual matters often have a hidden but nonetheless palpable negativity; again, proclamations, exhortations. No matter who we are or where we find ourselves, we live in the age of proclamation. And everywhere, this negativity; even those who claim to work on themselves, angry and frustrated about this, that, and everything. A determination to interfere, to tell others they are doing it wrong.

When did we forget how to be quiet? Or did we ever really know in the first place? Righteousness, which already starts out suspect, goes bad.

Deep within us is something starving, something which can only be fed by proper impressions of the planet. All of the substitutes we invent are unable to slake this thirst; the soul was born into, and longs for, impressions of the natural world–plants, trees, animals. All of these elements are part of what we are, yet we have extinguished them and replaced them with the equivalent of corn syrup.

Well then; these are the impressions that fall, willy-nilly, into this organism trying to organize itself. Many of them seem useless; only those that go deep, into the marrow, can be used for anything practical.

And it is this question, above all, that comes up: what is practical? What can add to practice? What feeds the inner life?

Walking the famous dog Isabel towards the Hudson River today at lunch time, it struck me that I, like everyone else, am full of judgments.

The mind seizes everything.

It presumes to judge: in fact, judgment itself is a presumption, that is, an assumption that begins in advance of what is there. The mind encounters life and says, “Oh yes, of course. It's just like this.” Or, “it's just like that.” Or, " It ought to be such and such.”

There is only one thing that is true here, and that is that everything is just like it is.

There is such a thing as real Judgment. Real judgment-- as opposed to the egoistic determinations I slap like Band-Aids over everything I see– has already taken place before anything arrives in me, because what is, simply is.

Real Judgment takes place objectively, within the relationship between the events, circumstances, and objects outside of me. It begins as an objective process, and yet the instant it reaches me, the mind seizes it and turns it into a subjective one.


Is it possible to just be a quiet piece of stone that a shadow falls on?

Can the mind be still?

Can the breath become so quiet that it's almost unnecessary?

If the world arrives within me, and there is no judgment to meet it, no assumption, no predetermination, then it expresses something more real. Instead of meeting a kind of thinking that is forever in the air and in orbit, it encounters gravity. The organism has the potential for gravity; if energy in it is rightly aligned, the gravity draws one down in a straight line through the center of the self, towards the surface of the planet, and everything that meets the senses aligns itself with that vertical direction.

This organic sense of being, this gravity, cannot be cultivated or forced; it can only be encountered and valued. We do not orchestrate such instruments, or the tunes they play: we are in the audience, invited to listen carefully, but not to act as critics. There is a need for this music to be received softly, gently–yes, we must go gently into its good light, which is not dying–no, not at all.

On the contrary, it is seeking birth, and life.

Our problem is that instead, we rage. We rage out of some obscure conviction that the light is dying. Yet the light never dies. Certainly, it darkens when it enters the narrow corridors of our mind; and maybe this is where the fear arises. But it cannot die.

Our fear of its extinction is just one more sign of how profoundly we misunderstand everything.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Difference and indifference

There are times when work seems to come more easily, when an inner state is more ordered and tangible; then there are the times when life itself seems to fracture – not necessarily in any outer way, but in an inner way – and one finds oneself in the midst of confusion in the many fragments that constitute one's Being.

I think this is lawful; Betty Brown used to say that we can't expect things to be available all the time, and that work waxes and wanes like the tides. We all want to be on a flood tide, rising towards fulfillment, but the reality is that we often find ourselves in a hundred states of separation, having to reassemble ourselves over and over again in the midst of our own inability and doubt.

The eternal presence of Grace is often the only touchstone that can guide us as we see this confusion; it brushes lightly against life at just the moments needed to remind us that the dreamlike chaos we inhabit does, after all, have a polarity around which it can organize itself.

So there is a need for trust, and faith.

For me, every day is quite shocking, really. It is completely new and different; I must see over and over again how I am, how I don't actually know any people or even anything (I pretend I do), how each event requires me to take one step after another into a complete and, should I dare to admit it to myself, even frightening unknown.

And I see quite clearly how unfeeling and uncaring most of my reactions to others are. I put on a good show, mostly to myself, inside myself, but if I am willing to be honest – well, what an unpleasant character I am, really. I wonder why others tolerate me.

I avoid this kind of realization most of the time by remaining asleep to it.

Does nonattachment, non-identification, this lofty and supposedly removed (it isn't) state provide me with a refuge? (It doesn't.) We are meant to be immersed within life, not separated from it by the pedestals we park ourselves on. This means that inhabiting the fracture and the confusion, as well as my reaction to it, is both a reality and a requirement.

To be detached, to let go, doesn't mean to be indifferent or removed from the situation. It actually means to go towards the situation, to be within it in a different way.

I am able to rely on Grace as a presence; I am able to rely on sensation and even relaxation as tools... and most assuredly, the Lord does not withdraw his Love... even when we are unworthy.

I am unable, however, to make much damn sense of where I am, or what I am doing. Each event is unique and will never come again; I see that I am hardly present to that fact, even when I am aware of it. Perhaps I sense my own lack more acutely than ever as I see how utterly confused my inner state is--even as I manage to effectively project an outward air of intelligence and professionalism.

The machine knows how to handle itself; what is aware does not. It is, today, in a state of question that contains, paradoxically, both a stillness-- and the understanding that what is proceeding inside is more or less what happens when a bunch of different ingredients are thrown into a blender.

Perhaps the critical reminder here is how absolutely dependent I am on the intervention of higher forces if anything real is to take place in me.

I'm waiting... am I waiting for nothing?... something? I don't know.

But the effort to relax and let go, while remaining attentive, seems to be the only alternative, and the only possibility.

That, and to continually intone:

Lord, have Mercy.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The obliteration of desire

Last night my wife Neal and I watched the Japanese movie "Zen," a film about Dogen's life and his role in revolutionizing Buddhist practice in Japan.

This morning I woke up before 3 a.m. in order to catch a flight to El Salvador, and in the wee hours of the morning, the question I pondered was that of freedom from desire- one of the major themes in the movie.

Gurdjieff, as readers may know, indicated that a man's task, should he wish to meaningfully develop his inner life, was to struggle in such a way that his "non-desires prevailed over his desires." This distinctly Buddhist suggestion in a teaching which does not overtly display Buddhist influences (although their principles are subtly woven into its warp and weft) is worthy of examination.

What does the suggestion mean? And is it at all possible for a man or woman to initiate a situation where one antithetically desires one's non-desires?

Here we have the makings of a Zen Koan.

I'm not sure how many have had a life experience in which a major area of attachment or identification, a truly fundamental motive force in one's inner psychological landscape, has suddenly and completely ceased to exist; my instincts tell me, however, that such events are intimately related to both the question of desire, and its transcendence.

Long-time readers of this space may recall that I spent most of my younger life as a visual artist, before a transformational experience that, quite literally overnight, obliterated my interest in creating visual art- I absolutely lost all desire to pursue that activity. More recently, my interest in composing and playing music- another major life- interest- has also all but disappeared, although that has sloughed off more gradually. Nonetheless, it's evidently gone... leaving me to wonder what else will be shorn from this particular sheep over the rest of its life span. (It reminds me of Betty Brown's remark to me, made very late in her life, that the things we love the most are the first things that have to go.)

Examining the inner state of desire versus non-desire relative to these two former interests, there's a clear understanding of how they were desires- but are no longer desires. There has been a divorce: a letting go, an organic state of change that completely severed my attachment to these activities. There is a fundamental difference in my inner state; a part of me is gone, and in its place, a new form of freedom has appeared. A paradoxical freedom, perhaps; in gaining freedom from my identification with art and music, I have lost the self-affirmation that (apparently) arises with the authority of such creation.

Yet surrendering this authority of creation not only seems right and even necessary, it leaves room for a new appreciation of life which is more firmly rooted in the possibility of an authority of seeing.

The change has caused me to question both why I was so strongly identified with (attached to, as Buddhists would say) these two creative impulses, and what changed in me that caused that attachment to disappear. I didn't "do" anything directly to bring about such a change- and above all, no direct approach to that question was ever undertaken. My identification with art and music was so thorough that the very idea of ending my relationship with them was absurd. I never, in other words, "set out" to become free of these desires. On the contrary, I built my world, and my supposed validity, on them. I wanted the desires... Which is perhaps stating the obvious, but there you are. How often do we really examine that?

The experience causes me to suppose that man cannot, under the force of his own will, relinquish desire- and indeed this was a theme in the movie about Dogen's life. It's a case, rather, of "thy will be done-" all a man can do is engage in an ongoing effort to Be. Should those efforts lead in the right direction (by whatever means) non-desires have a chance of beginning to prevail-but not by the action of the doer; rather, and only, by the action of the done.

I feel sure no forced change can effect this; only Grace can have such action, and it is chiefly in cultivating the attraction of such Grace that our hope lies.

I stand confused, within attachment and identification. I believe, steadfastly, that the doing lies within the doer; yet without any doubt, in truth, the doer is always (and only) found within the done.

The state of desire, where the doer believes the doing is within him, is the state Gurdjieff called sleep; it is the world of illusion, an inversion of both the truth and the facts, a belief in one's own authority. Only when experience turns itself on its head and the doer finds (sees) himself within the done does reality begin to manifest itself.

We are not born to do; we are born to receive what is done.

Man cannot do; he can, however, discover himself within the done: and that is a different self than the one who presumes to do. Non-desire, when and if it prevails, constitutes the arrival of a pivotal moment of freedom, where attachment no longer dictates action.

This moment of non-attachment is quite different from indifference, however; and that is perhaps a subject for another essay.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Living your life

This weekend, a dear essence-friend--one of the group members who came from my original group--came to stay with us for a couple of days. It caused us to reminisce a good deal about Henry and Betty Brown, who led our group through the end of the 1990's, until Henry died and Betty retired from active duty.

The occasion caused me to remember how often Betty advised me not to let the work become my whole life. That is, not to immerse myself so deeply in the Gurdjieff Foundation and its activities that instead of performing a work in life, I ended up living a life in work.

We are surely meant to live this life, and we are meant to live it wholly. The act of living itself, in both its specifics and its generality, is our work. It is both a science and an art; it is both religious and secular. Unless we immerse ourselves completely within life, in all of its varieties, we simply go on trading one hiding place for another.

I'm inspired to an alternative understanding of Theseus and the Minotaur. The Minotaur lurks at the center of the maze; yet the Minotaur represents ordinary life: an animal, enormously powerful, human and bestial at the same time. In an apparent paradox, the exoteric is found at the center of the maze, where one would expect to encounter the esoteric aspect of life.

And one must travel to the center of this world, this perpetual confusion of darkness and misdirection, to discover one's coarseness and master it. All the while, keeping a thread in hand that connects one to what is real in one's self.

So I need to travel into the center of this life, exactly as it is lived–not as it is rearranged by some formal set of "work principles" that protect me from the ordinary, not as it is cataloged and dissected by lists or definitions, either–and rediscover it, while maintaining this precious connection within myself. I must inhabit my life as it stands–not as I might wish it to be, but as it is. Above all, I must inhabit the heart of the ordinary, which is where everything extraordinary actually dwells.

What I seek is never anywhere else–it is always here. Yet I don't really believe that, do I? Even dwelling in the midst of Grace and Presence, I play host to arguments against them. And then: a moment of real humility, in front of cornstalks set against September skies: clouds mustering a prayer for rain, late in the afternoon.

The soul must go alone to places where the Lord dwells, and there, give thanks.

I see that I am constantly thinking about things, but this isn't really helpful. Today, it is raining very hard–the remains of my namesake, tropical storm Lee, are all around. I take the famous dog Isabel out for a walk, even though I don't really feel like walking a long way in the rain–and then I demand of myself that I do the entire walk, up the hill, looking out over the Palisades towards the Hudson River.

In an extraordinary and unusual event, there is an enormous wash of soil-laden, red floodwater in the Tappan Zee: the river has a bronze tint, as though the water itself were from some golden age.

There is a moment where there is no thought.

The rain just comes down, and I am within it.

Everything can be accepted, and everything is abundant and filled with grace.

I am truly capable of very little.

And yet grace comes, and the Lord is ever present.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My cup runneth over

I don't know how much I am given, and my vision is unclear.

There is a lack of trust. Gurdjieff's "sleep" is generally, in the intellectual way in which we process things, taken to mean some deficiency in the logical thought process, a lack of clarity. Certainly he discusses the idea of man's psychological and psychic deficiencies under the umbrella of terms such as “sane being-mentation." And of course we probably for the most part agree that this term sleep stands in opposition to a quality called awareness, or, as the Buddhists would have it, awakening.

What, however, does this awareness consist of? Can it be fabricated from the "awareness" that we have, just by gluing broken pieces back together? That sounds like a Humpty Dumpty process to me. Is it merely a hyperactive, more acute form of what I already am?

Or is this awareness a process of what we refer to as attention? That sounds good–and certainly, my practice involves having a "good" attention– “mindfulness,” as the Buddhists would call it. Nonetheless, mindfulness is a complex subject–even while the essence of it must actually be simple.

For example, to be mindful means to empty the mind of what it is already full of, so that one can be full of mind itself and not its subjective contents.

Secondly, in my own experience, being mindful often involves avoiding the blather of the ordinary mind–making a left turn, so to speak, around the corner, and refusing to get involved with its revolutions. This action paradoxically appears to lead one further away from attention, rather than towards it.

This situation reminds me much of the maze at Chartres, where one approaches very close to the center over and over, but is again and again inexorably propelled back outwards towards the periphery–perversely looking away from, rather than towards, God, in order to rediscover our relationship. I believe there is perhaps a more subtle message in this process than we consider–it is not a "life" process, not an exoteric process, but an inner, a psychological process that is being illustrated in this physical encounter.

So in a peculiar way, mindfulness involves getting rid of the mind as we know it. Any awakening out of my sleep is an awakening out of the mind I know. Awakening into a quality that is quite different, one that is tangible, and seemingly always near, yet not manifested.

What, you might ask here, does all of this have to do with the question of a cup that runs over? Of an abundance?

We live in the midst of abundant attention. Just as all the world is a form of prayer, an offering of glories to the higher forces of creation, so all that is created is created within abundant–even infinite–attention. Just think of the amount of attention that manifests in the movement of every atomic particle; the construction of every protein molecule, the growth of every leaf, the wings and feathers of birds, the intricacies of insects, and even something as simple as the chirp of a cricket.

Attention is abundant and manifest, even in me–although I may feel a separation from it, it cannot avoid expression. So in a certain sense, when I fear my lack, when I fear how I am not, the fear itself is insubstantial. In fact, I am–and this inseparable and factual manifestation is as whole and complete as is the rest of creation. I fear that I am not because of a lack of trust. (Here we touch on yet another meaning of the first conscious shock, the Abramic prayer, I am, I wish to be–the affirmation of what Gurdjieff called conscious egoism is the abolition of fear of one's self.)

All of this inner work we do is simply by way of an effort to put ourselves in the path of Grace: to try to prepare for the moment when Grace arrives. Grace is forever next to us, forever manifested in the air we breathe, and even in the small amounts of attention we have; Grace is abundant and freely given.

Yet I lack trust.

So in a sense, my sleep is asleep to the senses that know Love and Grace as active forces; and these senses are in a certain way quite unlike the ones that are used to run my daily life. They are more finely tuned; they are designed to receive quality, not quantity; they are designed not to demand for myself, but to offer up worship. I am here, after all, to work on behalf of forces much larger than me, which I have little or no understanding of.

How can I take this life in in a deeper way and offer it up in the midst of my bumbling stupidity? I have excellent company in this question. Brother Lawrence probably asked it of himself, as he stumbled around the kitchen.

I don't know the answer to that–except see that I cannot do it. Here is where my lack lies. I am unable. Whenever I am touched by something real–the first and most palpable sensation is always a sensation of sorrow, even anguish.

As Kierkegaard said,

“It is otherwise in the world of spirit. Here there prevails an eternal divine order, here it does not rain on the just and the unjust alike, here the sun does not shine on both good and evil. Here only one who works gets bread, and only one who knows anguish finds rest, only one who descends to the underworld saves the loved one, only one who draws the knife gets Isaac."

In sleep, I lack anguish. In awakening, it discovers me. It may be paradoxical to suggest that when we seek God, when we seek love, when we seek awakening and grace, that we seek not bliss, but anguish–and yet it is certain that the two are, in the end, indistinguishable from one another.

There is no need to seek grace; but there is a need to let it find me.

May our prayers be heard.