Thursday, September 17, 2009


I used to pursue life with a great deal of intellectual vigor. I am known for this. In fact, my friends still constantly put me in the embarrassing position of bragging to others about how smart I am, etc.

I must confess it doesn't sit with me well. The smarter you are, the more you see how ignorant you are. If you are truly, truly smart, you begin to realize you are stupid.

It's the people who don't realize they are stupid that are dangerous. And we all find ourselves in that category a lot of the time. Our ego encourages us to believe that we are smart, that we know what we are doing, that things are more or less under control, and that we are going to get the jump on what is happening. It is like one vast buffer that stands between us and the stark reality--that we are in the middle of a situation we don't understand and can never fully know.

What we are is a mystery. This thing we call "life" is a mystery. Every explanation of it falls down and grovels if anything real becomes active in us. We are capable of becoming lightning rods that receive something and transmit it, a force that has no name and knows no boundaries. All of this is so far apart from what we usually call "life" that we are incapable of grasping its implications, its intentions, or even its meaning. For the most part, in fact, we are even supremely ignorant of the possibility itself. We can think about it, and discuss it, and read about it for a lifetime and rarely, if ever, actually have any of it touch us.

I am repeatedly stunned by how distinctly separate the two natures we stand between are, and how utterly differently they manifest themselves. All that is "of this earth" within us stands, so to speak, in direct opposition to what comes from above--and is in fact just as illusory as Plato intimated, just as deceptive as the Hindus claim it is, just as unreal as the Buddhists insist.

I heard it said recently that Lord Pentland once said the aim of the work is to produce "quality" human beings.

That may be true, but what does that mean? Of what quality do we speak? Here is a mystery for us, too. Surely, any idea of it that I produce from myself and interpret as the correct meaning of "quality" is tainted--contaminated by my assumptions, colored by my ego. When I confront how I actually am, the way I actually behave, how I am even in this moment, I am staggered.

And I am especially staggered when a new kind of inner relationship appears, because it sets aside everything I think I am, and brings a quality to life that suggests I perpetually get the whole thing from the wrong perspective.

If there is decency in me, it is only born from a relationship to the higher. If there is hope to be found in my condition, it is only to be found in relationship to what comes from above. Without that relationship, there is no hope, and there is no decency. The possibility of relationship, when it is sent, opens the door to what we would truly call humility -- not an intellectual posture, not being smart about being nice and decent to people, but something material, something organic- something that is emitted from the heart of every cell itself, that permeates the entire body and the entire being with the understanding of how small, and how unfortunately cruel, I actually am.

It is at moments like this that the physical and emotional understanding of "remorse of conscience" begins. And let us not underestimate this force by belittling it with too many words. Remorse of conscience is a slayer of men, such as they are.

If I wish to come to this, there is a need for a new kind of listening. This is not a listening of the ears. It is not a listing of facts, a collection of concepts, the construction of a form. This is a listening that begins deep within the organism, with parts that hear in ways the ears cannot hear--eyes that see in ways the eyes cannot see--sensation that touches in a way our senses cannot touch. It is born within stillness, not an invoked and created stillness, not a stillness that belongs to me, but a stillness that is sent.

I wish to discover myself within this new kind of listening, and to let go of all of the facts and ideas, so that there is room for something else to take place.

So I come once again to this mystery--which is where I began this post--and I leave you with it.

Let us hope we can all dig deeper into the soil of our being during the coming week, to discover the secrets that lie buried there.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ownership and circumstance

Today I'm going to extend on a conversation I had Thursday night with an acquaintance from the work who I happened to meet on the Piermont pier, which stretches far out into the Hudson River not far from where I live. We walked back from the end of the pier while she grappled with a question about just who she is.

Too often, I see, I perceive a "higher state" as another place- a gate I must pass through, a different place I must go to. It's a tough place to get to, too: guarded by demons and only attainable through an epic "Ouspenskian struggle," a way fraught with pitfalls and difficulties.

It is the classic quixotic journey.

It's too easy to forget that there is no "other place." The place is always here; and here is where I am not.

Zen master Huang Po says this in a number of different ways. He succinctly explains that the very idea of enlightenment itself- "another place" from which to perceive life-- is a mistaken one, the result of a dualism born of this level.

In the Gurdjieff teaching, I am reminded that all levels co-exist. That is to say, every level of consciousness, from the lowest to the highest, interpenetrates. There is, and can be, no actual separation. As the Zen Buddhists say, any perception of separation is artificial.

Nonetheless, I have this perception, and it seems real to me. There is no simple way to free myself of it, either; only through grace can a different level of understanding arrive, at which moments I instantly see that there is no difference in the location. Instead, there is a difference in perception, which still arises right here, in this moment, and within. The experience is such that it becomes apparent the existence and possibility of this perception is perpetual and eternal; it is a deficiency within that causes the separation.

And exactly what is that deficiency?

In the case of the "lower" or automatic states of consciousness--the ordinary ones I usually find myself in, ruled by habits and what Gurdjieff called mechanicality--I am identified, that is, I "am" what is taking place. "I" ceases to be because it is not "I", it is "it"- it becomes the events, the circumstances, the subject of what takes place--hence, a state of subjectivity, rather than objectivity. So what I call "I"--consciousness- confuses itself with the level it resides within. (The subject of what takes place is a victim--the object is a participant.)

This is an inherently natural state, but within man consciousness has reached a level where that confusion, that seamless merging of awareness with what takes place, is no longer necessary. Man's third center--the intellect--has offered him the chance of separating from levels and standing between them.

I say "standing between them" because consciousness has the possibility of standing within itself and seeing itself as separated from both the lower and the higher level.

I think this is an important point, because my consciousness is unable to understand the idea of any kind of consciousness without interpreting it from the perspective of my current identifications. That is to say, I think that if there is a higher level of consciousness, then I will experience that level of consciousness by identifying with it, becoming it, in exactly the same way that I am identified with this level and become this level. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Put in other terms, I believe that I can "own" this potential new level of awareness, that I can go out and get it, and then it will be "mine." This produces the error Huang Po was trying to point to: I "believe" there is a "thing" called "enlightenment," and that I can "attain" it.

This mistaken impression is an almost indelible feature of awareness on this, my ordinary, level, and there needs to be a very long and gentle process of seeing how this is not so, of gathering impressions, letting them penetrate, and sink into the deepest parts of the organism. As this takes place there is the possibility of eventually recognizing, with more than just the intellect, that something very different is possible: something so different, in fact, that it stands apart from my conceptions.

This long work of allowing parts other than the intellect to be penetrated by a different understanding is essential, because the possibility of transformation lies above all in the gradual awakening of these other parts, who also need to understand what the intellect has crudely grasped and mistakenly formulated, but in their own language and according to their own art of perception, which is much less confused that the intelligence. Both Jeanne De Salzmann's emphasis on sensation, and Gurdjieff's direction towards the awakening of conscience--parts within us which have not yet been badly damaged by the destructive distractions of everyday life-- are allusions to this process.

So, as I have pointed out before, every product of my awareness that strives to become something, every aspect of what I call my "wish," is a product of this level, an artifact--an artificial construction--that presumes an understanding, instead of having one.

Above all, perhaps, what escapes me is the essential understanding that I do not, will not, and cannot own the higher or the lower level of awareness. They are not properties made for me to covet; they are experiences I am designed to take in, impressions that the human organism evolved to receive. "I"--the experience of awareness itself-- must stand between these two levels in order to do the job it was assigned, not "become" one level or the other. This is what Gurdjieff meant when he explained that man's consciousness (along with the rest of organic life on earth) was a shock meant to to fill the interval between two notes--and not the notes themselves.

So everything I "think" about working is wrong. The process must be redirected, into places that are quieter, and less subject to my subjectivity.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Friday, September 4, 2009


For the most part, in the midst of my mechanical manifestations--that sea of automatic actions and reactions I am usually immersed in--I think I am doing OK, one way or another. That is, my actions are meritorious, or at least neutral.

Of course, underlying this there is a perpetual sense--subtle but incontrovertible--that that isn't the case, but most of the time I manage to ignore this. We've come a long way from the religious sensibilities of the middle ages--and perhaps of catholicism in particular. So far that we no longer have any intellectual sense, let alone organic sense, that we are in a state of sin.

Not, mind you, in what one would call a state of badness. "Badness" is distinct from sin. When I say I am in a state of sin, what I mean is a lack. And this lack is so ubiquitous that it's quite difficult to put one's finger on its scale or scope.

So I am, in fact, usually supremely unaware of how I lack, or what I lack. That is, I may be aware intellectually, theoretically, but this is insufficient. In essence, what I lack is a "connection to the higher."

This is the phrase Jeanne DeSalzmann used; it seems generic to the causal observer, but it begins to mean something more and more specific to me as I grow older, and dig deeper into the kitchen-midden of my life.

There are times like today when that lack becomes all the more perceptible. I dropped my youngest child off at college yesterday afternoon--an emotional moment, to be sure, for anyone--and as I drove away I was deeply touched by the sense and aim of my life in general; the sensation of a lifetime of experiences of relationship with others; the overwhelming sensation, emotion and intelligence consequent to a seeing that I do not understand how to be present in relationship: whether to myself, to my child, or to any other.

The question, in short, of what it means to live.

Even this understanding itself is not born of any ordinary ability of my own to see; it can only come with help from above. It's only in the actual presence of the higher, only from within a hint of the Grace of God itself, that it becomes possible to see how one is simply not within that presence.

This morning I find myself at the kitchen table on the shores of a small lake in upstate New York. The lake is shrouded in fog; the haunting sounds of a flock of migrating Canada Geese come to us over the water, an archetypal echo of the ancient past, the roots we share with Great Nature. And once again... from within this rather ordinary mystery, which is anything but ordinary... and yet I stubbornly take it as ordinary... I return to a seeing of my lack, subtly spurred by a trickle of openness that gently reminds me of how disconnected I am within.

This anguishing realization, one might think, will inevitably spur me onwards, in an inner sense, towards an irrevocable commitment to dedicate myself more actively to my search. And yet it doesn't; I find myself falling back into sin, falling back into this state of forgetfulness, this state of lack of relationship, because of the simple and perhaps, now, terrifying realization of what Mr. Gurdjieff told us:

Man cannot do--

Which means something far more compelling, and alarming, that what it appears to mean on the face of things, when automatically and mechanically connected, within us, to the idea of what it's possible to achieve in day to day life.

Yes, perhaps it's only possible for me to begin to truly appreciate what this idea means when I divorce it from such mundane (and, frankly, egoistic) notions and attempt to understand it in the context of my inner life: most specifically, and above all, in the context of my wish for a connection to the Lord, and wish to serve, and what I myself am actually able to "do" in relationship to that.

It is only in the face of an inner nakedness, from within the acknowledgement of my own utter helplessness, that I begin to see what the saintly Ashieta Sheimash called "the terror of the situation": I am unable to bring about a relationship with God.

Instead, everything within me stands between my awareness and that Presence: all that is "me" prevents the real me, the wished-for me, which is an individual manifestation of the divine, from appearing. If self remembering is aimed at remembering any self, it is aimed at that self, not this self.

And so I seek absolution: deliverance from this state of iniquity, from this state of lack. The hope and faith that God will not abandon me in my perpetual hour of need and misunderstanding. That despite my lack, the possibility of help is always there.

In the third series--a series not often read in the present day--Gurdjieff reminds us that in ancient times, after a man died, on the third day after his death his friends gathered for the remembering day, in which all the bad deeds a man had done during his life were remembered. A peculiar ceremony to our sensibilities, perhaps: our habit, after all, being to extoll the virtues of the departed, usually in sheer defiance of how they actually were (for we are almost all the arrogant and vainglorious creatures of our egos, in the end.) Yet the ceremony makes sense to me, because in the moments of real remorse of conscience, when I do actually see my lack--as opposed to having knowing discussions about seeing my lack, which to the last word beggar the question (and the experience) of being driven to one's knees in desperate prayer--I see that iniquitiy, lack--yes, sin--define my relationship to the higher.

This is not to say that I step away from these experiences with an impulse to flagellation. Severity and self--disgust are appealing to the wishful ascetic, but they do nothing to bring me closer to what is higher in myself. In my own experience, only the effort to dwell more firmly and deeply within the organism; the effort to invest in the organic sense of Being, to rediscover the relationship and inhabit the very cells themselves-- and to continually come back to ponder, sense, and feel the lack of connection, the lack of relationship within me--can prepare any fertile soil for that mustard seed of hope which, Insh'Allah, may be planted in my breast and grow.

So today I awake and stand once more in front of this lack, understanding--and hoping--that the possibility, at least, of seeing how I am now is there--and that that possibility alone may lead to an opening in which something real may arrive, and something new be born in this unworthy soul.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

the bridge

I've been very busy this week, as my son goes to college tomorrow.

In lieu of a post this week, I have published a new novella entitled "The Bridge" on the Doremishock web site. It's a rather long read, so it couldn't be crammed into a blog posting.

This novella was originally intended as part of a novel I am working on, but is a stand-alone piece in its own right. Due to a metamorphosis in the format of the novel, it's no longer appropriate to the piece.

I chose to publish it on Doremishock rather than my creative site (compliquations) because its subject matter is appropriate to the venue.

Hopefully, readers will enjoy it.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer's end

We have reached the languid, late days of August, where the sun hangs lower in the sky and the color of the leaves begins to anticipate the next season.

Even in the midst of this ending, new things emerge. And an understanding begins to deepen.

The other day, I was reading Rainier Maria Rilke's "Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge." Perhaps surprisingly, even after 30 years of living here, my German is more or less up to it, without a dictionary.

In the very first page or two, I came across this extraordinary passage, which I will translate on-the-fly:

" I learn to see. I don't know why it takes place; everything goes deeper into me and does not stay in the place where it always used to end. I have an inner part that I did not know about. Everything goes there now. I don't know what happens there."

No comment, I find, could be closer to the heart of this thing we call inner work. These words could not be written by a person who did not understand what it is to discover one's own work within one's self. Not the "work" we read about on computer screens or sheets of paper. The living work of the skin, the lips, the tongue, the toes. This is where the words of life are written: in the body.

In the midst of the very real demands and cravings of the body, the artifices and constructions that emerge from personality and ego, the agitated turning of thought, and the confusion that outwardness constantly attempts to draw me towards, there is an organic anchor. There is the possibility of something real that grounds the merry-go-round.

Do you find it this way? It is in you. It is in all of us.

What is it in me that can hold me down and keep me from following the impulses, the temptations that I pray to the Lord not to lead me into? I'm not even sure why I pray that way- after all, any temptations I encounter are my own, and I am leading myself by the nose.

I see that every day.

It's this inner gravity that creates the possibility, and that is a force that can be trusted, even though it does not belong to me, and cannot be called at will.

It can, when it arrives, be cultivated -- it can be valued, be nourished, be treated with an intimacy. So when that weight arrives--after the search itself is surrendered, by Grace, and through mystery-- it can be relied on to anchor the situation.

Within this context, I constantly submerge within, and then emerge into, life itself. A life that is more solid and more definite than the imagination that owns me.

And as this happens--yes. Impressions fall ever more deeply into the body, into unknown places, where they feed parts that I am not even aware I have most of the time.

Slowly, the body, the Being, develops a taste for what is real. And this is not an outward thing. Every outward thing--every movement in the direction towards a material effort that grasps ideas, things, and circumstances like objects--defies and defiles the action that opens the heart and allows the world to come in to the body and be received.

So, it is hope, always to open the heart and allow the world to come into this body, and be received.

It is a great hope, one so rarely realized, in many senses -- yet, I have no wish to serve in any way.

All other service is merely in service to this service.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Esoteric Ecosystems

There's been a great deal going on this summer, leading to less posting than I have usually done in the past.

Last night a good friend in the work- a woman whose mother knew and worked with Gurdjieff personally--came over and we had a let-your-hair-down discussion about "where the work is at" these days.

Much of what she said ought to (and will) remain confidential, as private conversations should. One thing she did mention, however, struck me and seems reasonable enough to pass on.

Her comment was that Michel de Salzmann had the impression that the work in the United States was more "hard line" than in Europe: that is, that Americans seemed to him to pursue the Work with more intensity, and perhaps more tension, than in other countries. He felt that Americans were positively puritan in our effort.

It's unsurprising to me. I had the same impression of the work when I joined the New York Foundation many years ago, and it is a positive relief to me to see that we are finally, perhaps, learning to relax and breathe a little easier. Maybe our center of gravity is rediscovering the compassion--both for ourselves and others-- that is so essential to any real inner work.

Anyway, discussions of hard-liners and soft-liners aside, I wanted to discuss a point or two that I have been pondering over the past week.

One of the consequences of working "under" others: those in seniority, those whom we feel respect for, or even awe of, is a tendency to direct our work outward, in the sense of working "for" someone else's expectations, to satisfy someone else's direction, to become more worthy in an elder's eyes.

The outright danger here is that we unwittingly place ourselves in the role of children seeking to please a parent. The arrangement is all too common both in life and in the work. And I can think of nothing more crippling, in the long run, to the development one's own work- a work which truly stems from within a personal inner impulse, and which is inwardly directed--that is, a work in which we attempt to sense what we are, and not what others would have us be.

It's essential, absolutely essential, for us to embark on an inner voyage of discovery which we make ourselves the proprietors of-- which we absolutely take responsibility for-- and not a work initiated and directed by others.

In the end, a man who has a wish to be can accept no other authority figure but God Himself, and should not settle for less.

Ravi Ravindra mentions a comment to this effect from Jeanne de Salzmann in his fine new book The Wisdom Of Pantajali's Sutras. (the book is well worth buying for your library, offering as it does numerous insights Ravi gleaned from his years of association with both De Salzmann and J. G. Krishnmurti.) One must, she suggests, settle for nothing less than "identification with God."

The gradual but steadily increasing emphasis on the community of work in formal Gurdjieffian circles reflects an evolving understanding of this question. I believe we are seeing a fundamental change in the work here which is a consequence of the development of evolutionary forces that are slowly lifting it out of the territory in which it spread its roots. As this development takes place, the work Gurdjieff began may well acquire aspects that were inevitable, but not self evident, at the time he was alive.

In the process of such evolution, purists (and puritans) will definitely level accusations that such and such or so and so has "changed the work."

What is missed here is the point that people do not change the work.

The work changes itself.

This work is a "collectively conscious being" composed of a series of living organisms, developing within an esoteric ecosystem.

Now, you may have never heard that term before, and if you haven't, it's because I just invented it. (Presuming it's indeed a new term, I hereby formally lay claim to first authorship. Put me in Wikipedia!)

An esoteric ecosystem is an adaptable, living environment that exists within the general sphere of ordinary life, but follows a subtly different set of rules for development, being as it is under the influences of finer degrees of vibration and other forces not readily evident on the surface of things.

It evolves according to the general laws of ecosystems everywhere-- that is, gradual but steady adaptation to changing events and circumstances, and the development of new organs of perception and transmission according to surroundings, need, and the process of natural selection.

In understanding this we accept the general idea that esotericism--taken in its gross sense as the "inside" effort to connect with the higher--must still obey the same natural laws as mesoteric and exoteric works.

In seeing the Gurdjieff work--as well as other paths-- this way, we bgin to understand why static works cannot survive, and why change is actually necessary if any work is to preserve its vitality--pass its genes on, so to speak-- in the midst of dynamic and changing environments.

It's worth mentioning that although no one has ever, to my knowledge, used this term in regard to the stories in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, the successive and regularly re-focused and reinvented efforts by "messengers from above" to find a method of freeing men from the results of the effects of the organ Kundabuffer describes just such a process.

The idea of "esoteric ecosystems" need not only apply to spiritual works in general. There is a truth in regard to this idea that applies to each individual's own inner work. Sp perhaps this idea is worth pondering in a personal context as well.

I may well explore this idea a bit more in subsequent posts.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Family Fights

It's in the nature of relationships to discover and re-discover conflict. My kids are at home, tense, awaiting the onset of college, and of course we've had a few fights.

In the context of the sacred and the question of relationship, conflict is inherent. Ancient religious texts are packed with conflicts not just between men and other men, but between men and angels, men and God. There is a struggle, at least on the surface of things, that cannot be transcended no matter how far "up" or "down" one goes.

And there is fallibility, too, at every level--in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub, higher Beings keep messing up in absolutely spectacular ways, leading us poor old humans deeper and deeper into debacles we never should have been privy to in the first place. Hell, it isn't ever fair-- it is in fact so unfair that men, Beelzebub says, would have just about killed themselves out of sheer protest if they had seen the position that they were put in vis a vis the moon--leading the wise powers that be to implant the organ kundabuffer in man. Which left him, unexpectedly, in an even worse position after it was all over. (Apparently good foresight isn't a default characteristic of higher Beings, either.)

One wonders. Where's the accountability?

Well, it's right here.

The way Gurdjieff presented it, in a certain sense, cosmologically speaking, no matter how bad things go elsewhere, it's mankind's job to try and help "fix" them. In other words, no matter how wrong things go--no matter how bad they get, no matter how unfair they are--it is the job of the one who is "on point," the one who is there when it is happening, to be willing to pick up the pieces, take on the responsibility,

to sacrifice themselves--

in order to help put things right.

To sacrifice one's self is to make one's self sacred, that is, to enter into a relationship with God (an effort at consciousness)-- whether real or hoped for, implied or actual-- and to act as though one had not only the responsibility, but also the ability, to help put things right.

As Paramahansa Yogananda put it, we have to cast ourselves in the role of heroes in the events of our own lives. Christ said it even more succinctly: Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13.)

In a certain sense, then, my role might be to take the initiative and intervene on this level, to be willing to assume responsibility to do the right thing--an impulse that can only spring from an organic moral imperative, as has been discussed recently in this space. The bottom line is, it doesn't matter whose "fault" it is when things go wrong, it is my job to step up to the plate, and do the very best I can to put whatever I can right.

The fact that the inner moral compass of man has gone awry is no excuse: I am still obliged to try and find a way to reconnect with a higher inner impulse, and act from it.

So here we are on a path where we discover that the higher includes the lower, rather than ethereally transcending it. There are no white robes, but there are many piles of crap to step directly into. I have to face my own humanity directly--come to terms with it--be honest with myself about my inabilities, admit to myself that I cannot do, as Gurdjieff put it-- and carry on, without inner judging. I must learn to suffer how I am, rather than judge it. And that action cannot take place without help from another level.

It's only within the context of facing and including these truths, including the ones which reveal my own shortcomings, that anything real can be approached from an inner point of view.

From time immemorial there has been, in the esoteric Christian tradition (as well as many others), an implicit call to inner and outer action, along with a concommitant acknowledgement that it is in our nature to fail. We are called upon to feel remorse, and also expected to be courageous about it. And there is no excusing us from the responsibilities of living.

So I take heart from the fact that meeting the conflict within life as honestly as I can--admitting to the situation, my own culpability, and that there is a path to be navigated through the midst of my various inabilities within relationships--is indeed an opportunity to use the present to repair the past, and prepare the future.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back To Gravity

I haven't been posting much lately. We'll make this one brief.

One of the consequences of the retreat week I went on during the month of July was a realization that there are some things one just mustn't ever, ever speak about. It was a sobering realization, one that raised new questions about what we do and do not understand, and the absolute limits of what can be exchanged, even among the closest spiritual friends.

One may come to a moment in one's work where one sees this. Perhaps everyone does; perhaps only some people do; perhaps it's not required of everyone, or at all times. I can hardly claim to know. What is certain to me is that there are good and sufficient reasons for the "secrecy" that Mr. Gurdjieff called his followers to. Not the reasons one might think; simply because the reasons can't be thought, they must be experienced in an inner sense.

Furthermore, the things that need to remain secret have nothing whatsoever to do with the secular aspects of spiritual work: The outer events (meetings or otherwise), organizational issues, faces turned to the public, and so on. Maintaining secrecy in these matters is simply preparation for the more esoteric forms of secrecy, which must be preserved in one's own inner work.

The more quietly a man or woman goes on their path, the more time they may have to stop and see something quite remarkable.

They may even find the time to see a spider eat her web, for example.

Once again, all this calls into question the reasons for continuing to maintain this space and offer writings on my personal experiences- and thoughts about- inner work. Once again, I ponder the possibility of bringing the effort to a respectable and intentional end.

So, in any event-- yea or nay-- I find myself back in the midst of this life, contemplating inner gravity: contemplating the call and response of prayer, the effort to open to a relationship which consists not so much of accepting as of offering,

and waiting.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is everything sacred?

It's not uncommon to hear people say "everything is sacred." I've been known to say it myself.

Lately, however, something about this rather glib assertion--which offers us a deceptively easy way to sound profound, and "right," about a proper valuation of the world, the universe, and so on--has been bothering me. And after hearing the phrase from a good friend over the weekend, I have devoted a good bit of time to pondering this question, in the context of both experience and association.

In particular, what interests me here is why we usually don't experience everything as being sacred. On the contrary, the majority of our lives, we perceive that which is around us as ordinary, uninteresting, rather flat. It's only when we have a connection with the higher that the perception changes, and the organism suddenly begins to live in a new and different way.

What, exactly, is sacredness? Does it--can it-- exist independent of other properties? Is it an inherent property of matter? Of religion?

The primary dictionary definition of this word is "connected with God." So when I say "everything is sacred," I am indulging in a kind of pat universalism, in which I am saying that everything is connected with God.

Ho hum, not new news. Not even profound.

Yet we somehow take it that way.

Taken by itself, the contention is even dangerous- as if it were all taken care of, and nothing were up to us. It may invite us to sit on our rear ends and feel hunky-dory about all and everything, because, after all, everything is cool. It's all part of God, and we don't have anything to worry about. More or less like believing that because Jesus died for our sins, we need do nothing whatsoever: salvation is assured by default, as long as we accept Jesus as our personal savior. It's that easy.

Or is it?

For some of us, there is more to it.

We have experienced a hunger, perhaps, which is bigger than our complacency--we have had a moment, or moments, in which a three centered experience--which includes a new kind of feeling--reveals the sacred nature of the ordinary to us.

And that hunger leads us to a more active question inside ourselves: what is this?

So it's the experience of the sacred we are referring to when we use this phrase, not the inherent sacredness of that which exists.

Is the "sacredness of everything" contained within the matter of what is? Is it a default condition? I think not. Rather, the sacred only manifests in accordance with the level of consciousness that is present to perceive it.

So it's not so easy. "Everything" is not sacred. Even more drastically, and more to the point:

Without awareness, nothing is sacred.

This brings us to an essential premise: the nature of the sacred, and the nature of divinity itself, relies on the presence of consciousness. Without that consciousness, the sacred is unable to manifest-- it doesn't exist. So without our own effort-- without a connection--without the stunning, simple fact of this revolutionary new awareness that may be born in man, and other organisms (according, in each, to level and degree)-- nothing is sacred.

The sacred cannot exist alone. It relies, in other words, on relationship to exist. No relationship, no divinity--nothing sacred--nothing.

This does make sense, of course, in terms of material manifestation, because matter cannot exist without relationship. It is built, after all, from relationships between energies. It is in the emergent nature of consciousness, which roots itself in, and evolves from, those fundamental energies and their properties of relationship, that creates the sacred.

In this sense, perhaps, we can approach the idea that the sacred is not a default property. The sacred is an action, not a "thing"- a link to a higher level.

Consciousness in all its myriad forms, on all the levels where it manifests, bears a direct responsibility for the creation and support of the sacred. In the mythological context, we can understand this by seeing that "angelic hosts" have the duty of supporting and worshipping God.

Perhaps even the smallest of practical insights into this question can bring us just a bit closer to the sense of urgency with which Gurdjieff and De Salzmann represented the need for an effort towards consciousness. One might say that in a certain way, God lives only insofar as He lives within the context of relationship to His creation.

And it is in the very maintenance of that relationship--the work man is called on to do, in order to support the possibility of relationship on this level-- that we find the potential birth of the sacred-- the mystical link between this "lump of flesh" called man, and God.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Just a brief update for readers.

I have been writing a lot of poetry lately. This week, parabola magazine featured one of my more recent efforts on its website. Click on the link to read the poem.

Most of us, myself included, are addicted to our inner search. It is a passion, a thirst for the cosmic. The mind -- in my own case at least -- forms an image of the cosmic that lies outside of me, or, in any event, in some abstract space, an elaborate formulation. There is a belief in the cosmic, a belief in grand scales, a belief in transcendentalism.

Where is my attention in relationship to what is immediate? I am unable to drink anything as vast as what confronts me when I try to understand the cosmos. I see myself as distinct from this question, and trying to acquire relationship to it, rather than discovering myself within the question, and accepting my relationship within it.

Yesterday, as I was walking the famous dog Isabel, friends stopped their cars in the middle of the road to speak to me. Tree branches crashed down. Bees gathered around puddles of rain water.

Throughout, each event was miraculous, imbued with an energy higher than the energies I imagine or crave. It's the small things within the immediate that constitute the food for the soul -- these simple impressions that we can take in with a part of ourselves that is able to value differently than the cruder parts I usually meet life with.

So perhaps the key within life is to turn the sensitivity of perception towards the immediate, towards the simple, towards a yellow sheet of paper lying on the desk, or the curve created by my eyeglasses. The sacred, the divine -- all that is cosmic -- as expressed here within the immediate. It is always that way. I am what is lacking.

I wrote a poem about yesterday's walk. I'm including it below.

Bee Pond
From The Hudson River Series

Late afternoon walks itself down river roads
With no help from me,
I am here only to discover friends discover me.
Bright faces that lie past my appreciation,
In the realm of love, which I thought I had forgotten,
Or maybe never knew.

Past the junipers, and into shaded gaps-
A flood tide gathers at the base of quickening reeds.
Palisades turn their blind, indifferent faces towards
Dead branches,
Crashing down like poltergeists.

These are strange events I cannot measure with the mind,
Filled with the energies of time, and notable coincidence.

Take the power of legs, of breath, of air,
And climb hills tamed by asphalt,
Into the realms where ice was dug into the rock,
Saving itself for the dog days of July.

Here the squirrels still remember how to leap and pray;
Bees gather at the edge of tepid water,
Worshipping the wetness of the dirt.
The call of the ocean
Has not left their veins
For six hundred million years.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Monday, July 27, 2009

a question on negativity

An anonymous reader asked the following, which I think is a quite extraordinary question:

"Lee, I've been wondering in terms of the real flesh we seek to inhabit....what is the actual relationship of negativity to the silence we seek and in turn its relation to dharma by way of the possibility of being three centered rather than one or two centered?"

These are difficult questions.

I will answer them to the best of my ability, from the state I am in, within the context of my own experience.

Readers are also urged to evaluate these same questions in a similar manner, on their own terms.

We speak about silence, but we don't know what silence is. Even when we are in the midst of silence, we do not know its nature, although it may know ours. Silence is higher than any state we know from this ordinary moment; we might call it the Lord. The Lord does not submit to measurement. All of the instruments at my disposal are unable to probe this question; they must all, in fact, be utterly put aside.

In a certain sense, everything that I am in relationship to this is the negative polarity. I exist within the sphere of the negation of the Lord. So what I am, what I do, and say, and how I behave, what I think, the way I move, all of this is in opposition to the silence, in opposition to the Lord.

I don't know this. Within this state of opposition, so many phenomena arise -- things that I call "good" and "bad" -- and I am so involved with them, that I don't see my opposition. It is only in rare moments that something opens and more becomes possible. So much more, in fact, is possible that one should not speak of it, but rather -- yes, you guessed it -- remain silent.

How does this relate to the Dharma?

There is only one Dharma. It isn't divided. The divisions that I create in the Dharma, no matter how magnificent or complex -- or even simple -- they are, are illusions. They arise because of the opposition that manifests in me. So every perception of separateness is false.

How does this relate to individuality?

I use the word "individuality," because Mr. Gurdjieff often used this word, and it is an important word. It does not mean separateness, or specialness within separation. It means to be undivided.

To discover a lack of division is a big thing. I cannot force unity. I can invite it, but if it exists, it must discover me.

There is a specificity to the question of centers and to two-centered versus three-centered being. We can take it down to the most basic level. If you have protons and neutrons, but no electrons, there is no atom. If there is no atom, then cause and effect as we know them cease to exist. They will be something different. And there is no escape from the fact, no matter how you want to spin the question, that cause and effect is real, no matter how much nonsense you may hear to the contrary. Dogen said a great deal about this. Some earlier posts discuss the issue.

So reality -- the Dharma, which is not countless finite sets of relatives, but one infinite set of absolutes-- must have three forces. No real Being with the chance of manifesting with any force against my opposition -- which would, in its own way, become affirmation -- can appear unless three centers work in unity.

My negativity, or opposition, perpetually works to breed itself in the active hope of preventing this event.

I need to come to see the action of this opposition in myself. I am, as I am, unaware of it, and it takes many years of intelligent and, it must be said, rather gentle work in order to come to that. Going at it hammer and tongs with tools of iron will produce a great deal of loud noise and nothing else.

One might say, if one wants to approach the silence, one ought to try to do it silently.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

There must come a silence

I just returned from a week of retreat at the conference center.

During the week, one of those negative comments that turn up on occasion popped into my mailbox. It was filled with the usual judgments and accusations, proclamations that I don't know how to work, implications that the writer "understands" more than I do, and so on. These negative comments are so predictable--and very nearly identical-- that they would be funny, if they were no so sad.

This is the kind of material I don't want to bore the readership with; those who want negativity can go find it elsewhere. There is more than enough bitterness and anger to be had on the web in other places. Hence, in keeping with both the policy and the aim of this blog, the comment will not be published.

Allow me to make the point even clearer. I come from the Welch line of work--I knew Dr. Welch personally--and this is not how we work. The stated aim of the Welches was to pass on the teaching of Gurdjieff's work with love, and I will not betray it. Anyone who works in any direction that does not first root itself in an effort at compassion and love has failed to understand even the very first thing about this work, and working in general. Anyone who has further questions about this should refer to Ravi Ravindra's fine book, Heart Without Measure.

Now, of course, I do not write here in order to teach, just as--I hope-- you don't read it in order to be taught. This is an effort to raise questions, to explore together, in a spirit of compassionate awareness of our lack of awareness..

We come together--whether here or in person-- to share in an effort which must be valued, just as we attempt to value every other human being around us. We may-- we will, we do-- have ugly thoughts, but they are our property, they are our own responsibility, and it is up to us to work within ourselves to deal with them, insofar as possible. Outwardly, the effort must always be to practice containment, restraint, and compassion.

This brings me to the subject of today's post, which is silence.

I have said on many occasions that there is too much talk about silence, so I will try to keep this brief and to the point.

We must all carefully examine our collective addictions to text-based mysticism. Man is engaged in a vigorous worldwide enterprise of turning flesh into words. Instead, we must consider how words can become flesh. The essential mystery of the Christ lies within this question.

This is the aim: to let the words become flesh. To let our practice live in the flesh and not in the words; to let a quietness fill us and to enter into life as living, breathing beings,

not collections of words and phrases.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The nature of Good

Over the past four days, I've been on a business trip to Georgia. During that period, I have managed to read most of Jacob Needleman's 2008 book "Why Can't We Be Good?"

This book is a superior piece of work by an expert philosopher, but, far more importantly, by a real human being. I highly recommend it to all readers.

In the book, he presents an idea we have encountered before here in this space. An essential idea that cannot be escaped in examining the question of morality, good, evil, and inner work. He expresses it in his own language, of course, and in the eloquent manner that only a man with his education and experience can. Nonetheless, however the idea is expressed (and I certainly do use my own language for it) we always come to the same point of work.

Lists of rules about how we ought to behave and treat other people are useless. They do not constitute a true morality.

I mentioned this in a blog post in 2007 when I was in Cambodia touring Angkor Wat. Our guide, a terrific guy, was (unsurprisingly) well-versed in Buddhist lore, and able to cite long lists of behavior required of Buddhists. The lists tell us what is wrong with us, what we ought to do to fix it, how we ought to behave while we are fixing it, and how it will be after everything is fixed. Okay, let's be fair. Every religion works more or less this way. Right?

If only it were that simple.

The difficulty that man confronts in the context of good and morality is that good and morality rooted solely in an intellectual understanding are both weak and relative. It is only by planting the root of this question firmly in the ground of Being that anything meaningful results. The chaos we find ourselves surrounded by in contemporary society is a direct result of a failure to understand this.

In order to understand this more fully, we must understand what it means to have an organic sense of being.

Now, we may not have this sense all the time; we may only catch a fleeting glimpse of it, or perhaps we have just heard about it. At any rate, we must make it our aim. We must learn to dwell within this organic sense of being, this sense of self which can only arise as a consequence of the awakening of the organism to the need for work.

Right now, the organism doesn't really understand the work. Even if it awakens, it will still be ruled by biological forces. Well, we can't really help that. What we are meant to do, anyway, is not to fix that, but observe it.

The difference is that if the organism is awake, at least -- like the mind, which also wanders off in many directions -- it will be willing to contribute to the effort. And it is only as this awakening of the body takes place than any space at all can be prepared for the eventual arrival of real feeling.

Needleman is, in my opinion, heroically and unstintingly generous in offering us his own experience of this question. Of course, it is couched in language more suitable for the general public, and that is exactly as it should be. Nonetheless, he makes it quite clear that the root of all real morality must lie here within the connection between the mind and body.

I have a quite extraordinary experience when I was in Shanghai that was exactly of this order. It constituted a chance encounter with a prostitute in an elevator at the hotel I was staying at.

Now of course, like all ordinary males, I have plenty of sexual fantasies, and in my fantasies- which, I think, it might be unhealthy to suppress too much -- desirable women offer themselves to me, and I take lusty advantage of it. This is quite different to what actually happens in the real world, of course; I'm a slightly paunchy 53-year-old man. Hardly the stuff of any woman's dreams, mind you, (with the possible exception of my wife--I know I have played prominent roles in at least a few of her nightmares) but no matter how fat and ugly men are, they usually think they are fantastic and desirable. Unlike women, who, no matter how fantastic and desirable they are, usually think they are fat and ugly.

In any event, at my age, and with my looks, a prostitute in an elevator in Shanghai may be about as close as anything is going to come to my fantasies.

I wrote a poem about the experience which is posted on the compliquations poetry page. (scroll down to chinese poem #8)

The gist of it is that in the moment where the encounter actually took place, there was something in me that was immediately present which constituted a real morality. It was quite astonishing to see how instantly and clearly it manifested itself, exactly in accordance with, and in support of, every single thing that Jacob Needleman says about the question of objective, that is, organic, or real, morality.

When we are present, when our centers are working together, morality does not become a debate, a deliberation, or question. It presents itself honestly, solidly, and humanly without any hesitation whatsoever, and it makes a clear and irresolute decision regarding the situation which could never be arrived at if the centers were not working in harmony. Needleman gives several examples of his own in regard to this experience which I think are just wonderful.

How extraordinary, I think, to have an experience of this kind, to have the privilege of knowing such a truth within action, and then to encounter an entire book that lays the foundation for our understanding of morality directly at the feet of such experience.

The point, I think, is that experiences like this take the questions we have, and the lofty ideals we paste on things, and reduce them to something so simple, so utterly human, and so directly compassionate that we begin finally to understand that our intellect alone is incapable of mediating such transactions.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In The Eye

In the eye

We don't look each other in the eye, you and me,
We turn away,
Each to his wayward, inward self
Wrapping the vine of our attention
Around the twigs and brambles of an inner thicket.

In there dwells the mockingbird,
Deep and sweet in songs of imitation,
Shortly on to something new,
But always borrowed.

Can we sing our own songs, you and me,
Those notes so dearly won, from places we don't go?
Are there musics we can offer one another,
Eye to eye,
Without the fear of criticism or despair?

Come, let us lay hands together
On the loves that lie between us,
The chances we deny, and push away.
Let's be together here,
Loose the garments of conviction,
See the color of our costumes clearly,
Pull the briars off our tombstones,
And revel in a fattening-day
Where the saints stop marching,
And begin to dance together.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On the music

While preparing for a memorial service for my group leader Betty Brown, I had a new occasion to listen to some of the fine recordings of the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann music as performed by Larry Rosenthal.

At the same time, I listened to to a few of the harmonium recordings made by Mr. Gurdjieff himself. These two sets of impressions percolated in me for several days, and this morning, a distinct intuition arose.

If one listens to the harmonium recordings, it's quite clear that what we find there is different than the compositions created in the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann collaboration. And it became equally apparent to me that it is not possible that the person who was playing the harmonium -- that is, Mr. Gurdjieff himself -- provided the majority of the material for the compositions we now hear.

Why do I say that?

The harmonium recordings are stream of consciousness recordings. Individual chords, and some overall impressionistic effects, bear a relationship to the distinctive features of the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann compositions. DeHartmann's compositions, however, are complex, delicately structured pieces, with all of the professional nuances that one could and should expect of a musician.

Gurdjieff, of course, was not a trained musician of any kind, and his harmonium recordings reveal it. He was not, in fact, even what amounts to a fully competent "folk tradition" musician, judging from the recordings.

What we do hear in the harmonium recordings are a number of distinctive features of expression that are found in the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann compositions: an almost physical, and certainly emotional longing, a search; the sense that something ineffable and extraordinary lies in the distance, just beyond our grasp; major chords in juxtapositions that create a hint of joy and expansion. The sense that we are listening to an unformed, yet actively nascent, hymn.

I could say an equal number of negative things about the harmonium recordings, but I will restrain myself, lest my plastic angel's wings get a clipping.

Gurdjieff was, we may assume and believe, an ardent listener to and student of religious, sacred, and folk musical traditions--as well as somewhat of a genius in the remembering of them. This should come as no surprise-- after all, Gurdjieff displayed genius in many areas.

Genius notwithstanding, without Thomas DeHartmann, the achievement of the musical sophistication we hear in the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann music would almost certainly have been unattainable to him.

So I have reached the conclusion, mostly by listening with my head, my heart, and my ears-- that the majority of the material, including its overall structure, coherence, direction, and, yes, even emotional tone, is primarily attributable to Thomas DeHartmann.

I'm not sure if I am the first person who has ever said this -- I doubt it, because almost no idea is original -- but it seems worth discussing, because there is a veritable little industry out there devoted to making everything Mr. Gurdjieff did conscious, sacred, and perfect. There is a tendency to forget the fact that he was human -- a fact that C. S. Nott brings up in "Teachings of Gurdjieff-The Journal of a Pupil." Even when he was alive, people around Gurdjieff tended to ascribe his every single action to some higher level of cosmic consciousness at work, and every manifestation of his as coming from a fully enlightened, perfectly awakened Being.

The tendency to do this has not faded with time. Staunch adherents of the teaching become outraged when anyone suggests the contrary. I have been there personally and made the suggestions, so I'm not whistling Dixie about this little habit some of us have of pedestal-izing Gurdjieff... as though he might look better on our own soap box than he does on his own.

What interests me is that Nott dismisses any such romantic ideas. I think that what interested him more than anything else was how fully and absolutely human Gurdjieff was--human with all the foibles and failings that come with that. Many of us don't want angels as teachers. We are okay with a few devils, but above all, we want to learn from other human beings.

So just what was Gurdjieff's role in the composition of the music?

Gurdjieff was, above all, interested in helping those who worked with and achieve something for themselves. He did not want to do their work for them. He wanted to inspire them.

To inspire means, quite literally, to put air into -- to breathe into. Air, as we know, is referred to as the second being the food in this work, that is, it is a higher level of food at a finer rate of vibration than the ordinary food we eat.

Mr. Gurdjieff worked to help those around him acquire a higher level of food so that they could do their own work. In Thomas de Hartmann's case, he provided the inspiration, the emotional tone, the core relational experiences to be sought in sacred music. He provided the direction, the impetus, and he brought his own wish to the project. He helped DeHartmann turn his considerable compositional skills to a much higher purpose than that of putting on ballets. And yes, I'm sure he brought melodies and memories that powerfully informed the enterprise.

But he did not write the music.

That was DeHartmann's job. If Gurdjieff had, in fact, written the music, DeHartmann wouldn't have been needed. Not only that, he would have been taking the man's work away from him, and that was never the way Gurdjieff did things. (Nott describes the two of them as even having public spats over the process.)

As to whether or not the pieces actually represent real hymns and dances that Gurdjieff heard in his travels, well, we may never know. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Gurdjieff/DeHartmann music has ever been "rediscovered in situ," that is, stumbled across in its original form in some temple, monastery, or village.

If they were really from such sources, this makes every single existing such piece, for the time being, a "golden hamster"-- that is, a species discovered only one single time in the wild, and then never seen (i.e., heard) again.

I think it far more likely that we have here original works, in the overall spirit of their purported origins, which were created for Gurdjieff's own admirable--and, as it turns out, lasting--purposes.

In DeHartmann, in other words, we find a man who reached an extraordinary potential under the tutelage of an extraordinary teacher. The body of work that emerged from that is, primarily, his own. I say this because it is all too easy to take this work away from the man, all too easy to pretend that his teacher was all and everything.

We owe the man a tremendous debt of gratitude for the personal sacrifice he made -- personal sacrifices are always required when one puts oneself under the tutelage of a master -- and the enormous amount of work he did to create a body of music which has become one of the core experiences of the work.

Jeanne DeSalzmann may, apparently, have been of a similar mind, because many years later, when she needed additional music for the movements, she turned to him to write it.

So, today, a little Bravo to Thomas DeHartmann.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.