Friday, June 29, 2007

Belief and Faith

Belief. Faith.

These two words crop up all the time when discussing spiritual work. Some of us may recall that Ouspensky said he left Gurdjieff because Gurdjieff's work became too religious for him; Ouspensky wanted science, he wanted verifiable, quantifiable work, and Gurdjieff told him some things simply had to be taken on faith.

I constantly encounter people who ask me what I believe. Then, on the other hand, there are the priests, the evangelists who ask me if I have faith.

So, what is the difference between belief and faith?

I will try to state it quite simply. Keep in mind that what I am about to say is a whole teaching in itself that takes a great deal of time to understand.

To believe is to want to understand without work; to have faith is to be willing to work without understanding.

We are back to the question of the free lunch which we examined a few days back. Belief is a free lunch; you can believe in any old thing you want to, because it is very easy to believe. All you need to do is take a group of facts, make up a story about them, and presto! You can believe anything you want to. Belief is available by the cartload at Barnes & Noble. Just pick a book, any book. Even if it's fiction, it will tell you what to believe.

Even this blog.

Belief is the easy way out in life; it requires nothing more of a man than the surrender of his judgment. Once that is done, any action is justified, so long as it fits into the beliefs. Belief refuses to ask the tough questions. It is a creature of the personality, formed by the most superficial parts we have, and used as a weapon to prevent anything new from entering. The stronger the belief, the more powerful the defenses. Every single one of us can see this in action in us if we are willing to look closely enough.

The mechanism works in the following manner: personality uses belief as an immune system to protect itself. New material, fresh impressions of the world that ought to be feeding the essence, are either parasitized by personality to bolster itself or-- if they appear to be too threatening and cannot be assimilated into the belief mechanism-- are attacked and destroyed. It would be bad enough if this just functioned on a psychological level, but it usually translates into direct action in the real world, where personality becomes so invested in its own survival that it uses actual physical violence to preserve itself, projected through the mechanism of belief. This is precisely where terrorism and war originates.

It's no wonder that belief is on the ascendancy on this planet. Even in the most traditional and conservative cultures, the idea of making sure everything is as easy as pie is the disease du jour. And belief is the easiest thing in the world. As Gurdjieff pointed out to Ouspensky, men believe they can do things, they believe that they have free will, that they are conscious, and so on. Because they believe this, they need make no effort to acquire any of these qualities.

Faith is a different question. Faith does not presume to understand; its premise is that we do not understand everything up front, we cannot understand everything up front, and that something is required of us if we wish to gain understanding. Faith involves taking a risk; it involves betting the farm.

Sometimes, we hear talk of "blind faith." but faith is never blind; faith has eyes that, in seeing , know their limitations.

The eyes of belief are drunk on their own power. The eyes of faith dwell within the cold sobriety of unknowing. They take measurements, acknowledge mystery, are willing to make an effort. They know that nothing real can ever be acquired without work, and they know that what we work for can never be known until it has been paid for.

When we have faith, we are willing to do the work without the presumption of reward. we work because we can work. We seek because we can seek. We make efforts because we can make efforts. It reminds me of Suzuki Roshi's comments, in "Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness," that we sit just because we sit. That is what we do. We don't know why we sit, or where sitting will lead us.

We just sit.

One of the chief diseases that belief causes is the belief that we are special. That is what belief is all about. Faith seeks union; belief divides and separates.

This reminds me of Gurdjieff's remark that our aim should be to become "a man without quotation marks." The chief characteristic of quotation marks is that they separate text from the body of a document-- the text becomes special. To be without quotation marks is to lose the imaginary separation that we create with our belief. To lose the idea that we are special and different, to just become very simple and ordinary.

Being ordinary is much more difficult than it appears. And certainly, in our world of personality and ego, no one strives to be ordinary.

The idea does not even exist, does it?

Maybe we need to learn to distinguish between believing what something is, and understanding that something is.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Chalk is cheap

In the early 1970s,I attended Phillips Academy, Andover Massachusetts. In my junior year I took mathematics from a professor nicknamed "Mad Mac."

He had many highly effective classroom practices designed to keep bored students awake. Some of them involved beaning people with flying pieces of chalk, or speaking for quite some time in a monotone before suddenly and instantly raising his voice to a rebel yell, delivering a shock that hit hung-over, hormone addled teenage bodies like a bucket of ice water.

Another thing Mad Mac would routinely do was to literally go berserk, scrawling equations on the chalk board at breakneck speed. As the sprints escalated, he often began to run past the end of the board itself and extend the numerical madness onto the classroom walls. He would carry on like this, seemingly unstoppable, until the chalk board was entirely full.

Then he would pause for effect, scrutinize us intensely from behind the bottle-thick lenses of his bible-black, 50's mad scientist eyewear and ask us,

"What comes next?"

At that, he would spin around on his heel like a posessed dervish and attack the blackboard with an eraser until, in just a few seconds, it was completely blank.

Then he would pause again, before delivering the next revelation in a samurai slash of chalk, spitting out one mathematical banzai after another like a certified psychopath.

This erasure tactic was a great way of preparing us all for some new and quite astonishing revelation. More often than not, in moments like this, the concept that was introduced changed everything we had already learned: recast it in a new light, thrust it into an unknown context we had never encountered before.

Our memory of this life so far is like a blackboard that is filled with countless hieroglyphic scrawls. Our personality perpetually--tyranically-- recalls all that has gone before us, and filters impressions of everything that arrives through this.

Nothing we encounter ever assumes its own color; in passing through the filter, it picks up all the colors the filter already has in it, and it arrives wherever it is going within our body or our psyche permanently changed so that it fits the configuration we have assigned,rather than a configuration appropriate to where it began.

As I grow older,I become increasingly convinced that we need to erase the blackboard. Turn around, look behind us, and in one encompassing gesture, erase everything.


What could happen then?

Something may arrive that has its own color. The color green, for example. Or any old color you please, just so long as we understand-- we don't know this color,

it is new.

Every single association and emotion I have that I bring to a particular situation assigns characteristics to it that it does not actually have. Erasing the blackboard might give me a chance to reinvent everything that already exists within me. If the blackboard has been erased, the possibility of discovering a new formula, a bigger, more comprehensive formula that includes all the previous formulas within it suddenly exists.

Right now that formula is unknown, unsuspected. There is no way to know the new formula now because the blackboard is full, and the presumption is that everything on the blackboard is complete as it stands.

It's an act of faith to do this. An empty blackboard is frightening; hell, everything I ever knew is up on that damn blackboard.

Have at it, my friends. Chalk is cheap.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cows and kittens

Gurdjieff once said to Ouspensky, in the context of the wish that things in life were different, that "in order for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different."

It is not in the nature of the universe for things to be different. Things are as they are. They are always exactly as they are. They always will be exactly as they are.

This state of "exactly as they are" follows precisely and irrevocably from everything that has already taken place, beginning at the quantum level, and extending up to the level of galactic interactions. An inexorable force consisting of an (for all practical purposes) infinite number of already completed events stands behind each and every moment.

It is an illusion, a vanity, to believe that anything can be different. In any given moment, if we abandon the imagination, we may begin to see that things are exactly this way now.

It is useless to wish that they can be any different than this. The only thing that can be different in a moment is our relationship to it.

I'm sure some readers will find this assessment pessimistic, and argue that this eradicates the concept of freedom of choice, free will, and all those other supposedly "free" things that we so fervently believe we have or can get.

In the popular imagination, "freedom" is a supposedly inalienable right of man. We talk incessantly about freedom of every imaginable kind: political "freedom," sexual "freedom," spiritual "freedom." Men have relentlessly killed each other in the millions for thousands of years in order to obtain this thing we call freedom.

Way to go, guys.

Freedom of what? Freedom from what? "Freedom" is an imaginary object, a psychological chimera; it constantly changes its nature, depending on the experience of the subject.

Let's just examine this exact moment here in front of us. For me, it is this moment as I write: for you, it is this moment as you read. They are two different moments, but it is all part of the same moment.

Can this particular moment really be different than it is?

Are we "free?" If so, how?

It is just as it is, isn't it? For it to be different, something would have had to be different before this, and it is too late to make that happen. This is worth pondering; there is an implication within this that our entire perception of reality is erroneous, based on the idea that we have a choice about what we confront in life.

There is no choice. We always confront exactly what we confront, not what we want to confront. No bargains with reality can be made. (Read Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical thinking" for some thoughtful, well considered pondering on this subject.)

In this universe of absolute physical and chemical laws, every moment is born directly from the foundation of every moment that preceded it. To argue that what takes place within any given moment could be different than just exactly what takes place--or, even more amusingly, that human beings can somehow control it- would be to argue that cows can give birth to kittens.

The only thing that we can do with this moment that might actually make this particular moment different is that we can attempt to inhabit it.

That term carries within it the implication of various degrees, various potential " levels of consciousness," as Gurdjieff would put it, but that is the only thing that could be different. No matter where we are and what happens, what comes at us and enters us is what comes at us and enters us.

This effort to inhabit life is the place where real freedom-- inner freedom-- might lie, but it is a freedom that is practiced in a special way. It can only be discovered in the context of obedience, because the point of space and time which our consciousness inhabits and experiences exists only within the context of universal law.

Every creature, every organism, every event, is bound firmly into the matrix of this reality that is experienced. Each conscious creature, organism, and circumstance is an expression of intelligence.

Taken together, everything that arises in every moment, taken in its sum totality, is the expression of the single Universal Intelligence.

Christians call it God; Dogen would call it the Buddha Dharma; Rumi, in his simple and disarming way, just referred to it as the Lover.

So there we have it. Freedom through relationship: born of intelligence, practiced through obedience.

May your cows give milk, and your kittens take naps.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

letting the bird go

There is a practice in Asian cultures of letting a captive bird go.

Of course, this practice is fraught with all kinds of symbolism, for any culture. Today I'm just going to discuss its relationship to relationship.

When we work to form an inner union, there is a temptation, the moment anything coalesces, to do two things. One is to grab it; the other is to push it farther.

Of course there are whole practices that center around the idea of "storming the gates of heaven." Physical or Hatha Yoga has a wide range of exercises designed to capture, store, and manipulate energy. I can't comment in any great depth on these practices, because I don't engage in them, even though some people have showed some of them to me and I have seen some of the more exotic ones performed by yogis in documentaries.

Have they produced an endless range of enlightened masters? Perhaps you can seek answers for that question for yourself. Such work is not my way.

I have found it useful to take the advice of my teacher, who said to me a number of years ago in no uncertain terms, "don't force it." If we refer ourselves back to the nooks and crannies of Gurdjieff literature, J. G. Bennett himself confessed in his book, "Idiots in Paris" that his intense practices alarmed Jeanne DeSalzmann. She repeatedly warned him that people working under Gurdjieff in other groups who had attempted the same things obtained "bad results."

Based on my own experience, I'm not sure any of us ought to risk finding out what "bad results" might mean. There is no doubt that when things really change in a human being, that is, when changes begin to become physical in an inner sense, instead of just changes in ideas or mental states, they cannot be undone. Gurdjieff made this quite clear to Ouspensky in "In Search of the Miraculous."

So we want to be quite careful how we work. As Dogen often said to his followers, "I respectfully ask you to take good care."

When something real it is brought into relationship within us, in that first moment where it is recognized, it can be a good thing to just let it go. It does not, after all ever actually disappear, just because it leaves our immediate line of sight. Once a relationship is formed, once it remembers itself, it is able to do work on its own of a kind that we are unable to supervise. This could be one esoteric meaning of separating the coarse from the fine. We (as we are) are what is coarse; the new relationship that forms is what is fine.

And, after all, perhaps we can admit to ourselves --we cannot separate the coarse from the fine. This is a type of work with which we are for the most part unfamiliar. In the lessons of alchemy, it is said that the gold will attract the gold; and it is certainly not the lead--what we are, as we are now-- that transforms itself into gold.

Another agent is at work there, wouldn't you agree?

It is a good thing, I suggest, to treat the beginnings of a more coherent inner union like a delicate animal-- a bird which we have encountered in the wild and been fortunate enough to capture and hold in our hands for just one moment. Long enough to appreciate the extraordinary beauty invested in this creature.

In that moment, if we are within attention to the moment, we may recognize that this beauty needs to be free, that if we try to restrain it, we will almost certainly crush it.

We open our hands and let the bird go. In that moment, we reach a relationship with the bird -- and everything it represents --which is far more important than the one that wants to hold and keep the bird.

So for me, this metaphor of letting the bird go extends deep inside, to the precious places we discover which cannot be touched with rough hands.

May your trees bear fruit, your wells yield water, and your birds fly free.

Monday, June 25, 2007

gruel and rice

There are times, when I sit down to write entries in this blog, that no one obvious subject has presented itself. That is to say, in the past day, or two, or three, no one specific insight, overarching question, or focused subject is at hand.

Instead, I discover that I have spent the last few days thinking less and existing more.

We tend to view life from the point of view of the highlights. In this overstimulated world we live in, the highlights are often perceived as having to be progressively bigger and brighter in order to be meaningful. We watch this go on in capitalism, where companies always have to be bigger, more profitable, and more productive every single year. We watch it go on in the media, where every film opening has to be bigger than the last one.

We do not tend to watch it in our own lives, even though a great deal of our lives are led this way.

Frustration arises from this situation. First of all, life is not just about the highlights. All of it is equally valuable and equally valid. The fact that we are rarely in a state to appreciate this slips by us in our ordinary understanding. We are all addicted to the big event.

Living like this, ,we can't get no satisfaction. This is a question worthy of serious examination in the sense of our relationship to our lives.

Dogen speaks of the monk who is fully realized as being satisfied with morning gruel, satisfied with afternoon rice. In other words, the monk derives his satisfaction in life from the details, the ordinary events, which have become so feeding that he truly appreciates their nature. Everything that he encounters within the continuum of what we call consciousness has a flavor, a taste, a value that is more real. He no longer seeks incessant stimulation of exotic kinds.

What stimulates arises from within and draws its motive force from relationship. Forming a relationship to the small things, the details, is a worthy redirection of the attention. The more sensitivity we have to a given moment, the more likely it is that the food of that moment will reach parts in us deeper than the gatekeeper.

Of course there is a lot more to it than this. Dogen spends a great deal of time explaining that the way the mind divides reality into dualities, even the duality of "enlightenment" versus "no enlightenment," is fundamentally in error. The mind that pretends to grasp this is already in error. Can we understand that?

If we understand, we don't understand.

Hence I find myself living within the ordinary. There are no special ideas, no special insights, no wisdoms to impart. I am merely experiencing this life. Within that ordinary experience there are myriad details, like the gruel and rice Dogen speaks of. And within relationship to each one of those details, as it is savored, there lies the experience--potentially, of course,-- of the Buddha Dharma.

That being said, the following experiences were of interest over the last day or two.

There are many butterflies at the catnip. The mint grows in profusion. During the day, the criesy of a red tailed hawk feeding its young filter down from the woods on the ridge above our house.

The salt marsh at the mouth of the Sparkill is ancient. I can see boulders left there by the glaciers, lurking beneath the peaty soils formed over the last 10,000 years.

In places, between the reeds, no trace of man can be seen.

Trees are lungs. Water is blood. The water must meet the tree in order to form the fruit.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water..

Friday, June 22, 2007

Hudson River, 6 a.m.- impressions

I was down at the Hudson river early this morning. This is what it looked like.

This picture is taken at a gap in the Palisades known as the Sparkill gap, the first place north of Manhattan where the huge basalt dike dips down towards the river enough so that people can land a boat and move into the countryside behind it. Consequently, this was the first spot on the western Hudson north of Manhattan colonized by Europeans, and--starting with the Dutch-- white people have been living here since the mid-1600's.

This area also saw the establishment of one of the first thriving communities of former slaves, so it has been an area of mixed race for hundreds of years as well.

There is something magical about this particular spot right here at the river. Carlos Castaneda said that certain places are special, have a special kind of energy, and this is certainly one of them. The confluence of the Palisades plunging towards the river, the salt marsh at the mouth of the Sparkill, and the mighty Hudson River in the distance, combine together in a way that cannot really be captured in any way other than through direct experience.

I come down here often. Last October I obtained a seminal understanding in the spot where this photograph was taken.

This morning, there was a wind blowing from behind me out towards the river. As I walked towards the sunlight, a tide of insects swept in front of me, carried by the wind: thousands of tiny motes shimmering in the sunlight as they rushed towards a destination all their own. These insects are a whole world unto themselves; I am so large, and so utterly immaterial to the nature of their own being, that I might as well not exist at all for them.

But we are not so different. Like us, these tiny creatures have a heritage that stretches back billions of years, and in their tiny bodies carry the same DNA. Amazingly, the odds are that we even share some specific genes in common. Nature tends to obsessively preserve anything that works well, and it discovered a great deal of what works well so long ago that it boggles the mind.

There is a timelessness to it all.

Insects have been swept forward by the wind through this particular stretch of terrain for as long as it has been a stretch of terrain. It is always morning; the Redwing blackbirds in the marsh are forever singing their shrill, lilting songs, and the stately phragmites salt marsh grass is always lifting its feathered stalks into the sunrise.

As intangible as we seem to each other, these insects and I, this landscape and I, we are a part of each other. Along with the trees, the marsh, the river, the gas of the atmosphere, we are all part of this one experience called Earth. Our unique consciousnesses perceive the world quite differently, and yet each perception is entirely true and entirely valid.

You see, there is magic.

The magic is not created by wizards. It does not ride on the backs of dragons.

The magical spell, the secret words that create the living universe, are written in the simple text of G-T-A-C: the four bases that form DNA. And of course, there are other, more fundamental magic spells written in the language of what we call elements.

Why we humans persist in creating ever more perverse worlds of fantasy to entertain ourselves when there is so much mystery and sheer magnificence in the natural world continues to baffle me. If we just open our eyes and look around us, we will see that we are in a landscape ever more alien than anything we could dream up if put to the test. We don't know anything about these organisms around us. We name them and forget about them. Or, conversely, we plot their demise, an activity they are utterly unable to comprehend in any way.

Developing a connection to ourselves means developing more of a sensitivity to this world we inhabit. To invest ourselves in the experience of our relationship to this planet, the fact that we are not at all separated from it. Not in a romantic way driven by narcissistic fantasies about saving the planet, but in a practical way, through the actual sensation of ourselves within this life, so that we become genuinely sensitive to the beauty of the environment we inhabit.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I got busted today for mentioning death in a post a few days back, and then not going into this subject in more detail.

Hence the picture; the the lid of an Etruscan sarcophagus in Tarquinia.

The Etruscans are largely forgotten; for a culture that preceded the Romans and clearly consisted of a blend of Hellenistic and local influences, they left remarkably little record of exactly who they were and what they were up to. We have their elaborate tombs, which celebrate not death, but life, and the mere fragments of their civilization. The bottom line is that we probably know more about what they thought of death than how they lived, and the cheerful pictures in their tombs suggest they thought death was not such a bad deal. That may make this particular sarcophagus lid, with its rather dolorous expression, an anomaly.

The figure on the sarcophagus seems more evocative of the effort of living than the sorrow of dying: a woman not fully formed, struggling up out of the mass of volcanic tuff from which she is carved.

In the same way, all of us struggle to form ourselves in the midst of a life that begins, in youth, like a hot, fluid, magmatic substance and slowly cools and solidifies over a lifetime, until most of us find ourselves in one sense or another trapped in circumstances we did not plan for and under conditions we never anticipated. It is up to us to cope, and, if we're lucky, find a Being within that context.

Hence the fear of death. We are afraid of not Being.

The irony is that if we were not, there could be no fear, because we would not be there to feel it. In a sense, our fear itself is a testament to the fact that we exist, even though we could still exist without that fear.

This reminds me of my ongoing question, can there be nothing? This is a good koan for anyone that lacks for things to ponder.

Anyway, the friend who busted me, up close and personal, pointed out that our fear of death is a fear that comes from the body.

I tend to agree.

Our body is afraid of dying; it does not know anything than what it is, it isn't well-educated, and in its partial manner, derived in large part from its biological origins, it wants to stick around. It does not recognize itself as a chrysalis in which something remarkable can form. In fact, it does not realize that in a higher sense it is nothing more than a creation of our Being itself, and from that point of view it can never be lost and will always exist.

We might think of the body as being something like a leaf on a tree. It is a part that is grown within the conditions it arises in in order to collect a certain kind of energy to feed the higher self. When its work is done, it shrivels and drops off the tree, but the tree is still there.

As we grow older, I think most of us lose our fear of dying a bit. I see this in my much older friends. Nonetheless, the body will always have its fear. The only way to integrate that into a healthier and more understanding picture is to work on the question of the inner unity that we have discussed so often in this blog.

As for myself, I have stared death down on a couple of occasions. I saw death looking at me in the mirror the day that I quit drinking in 1981; I saw death when I had a head-on collision in 1995. Both times, death did not look like anything I thought it would, and my reactions were nothing like I thought reactions to death would be. In both cases, my guardian angels were looking over me, and although I stared down the gullet, I was not swallowed.

Nowadays when I wake up in the morning and sense my breathing, the overwhelming sense is one of mortality, but it is not depressing. It is just one more fact that needs to be incorporated into this existence as I explore what it means to be human.

Jeanne De Salzmann announced after Ouspensky's death, "there is no death." I have heard others with varying degrees of authority say this.

I agree, it is true, there is no death, but there is an end to the body that we are in now. This is a sobering matter that should be considered quite carefully as we proceed through each day. Dogen remarked that bodies are hard to get and that the Dharma is difficult to encounter (Eihei Koroku.) He therefore advised us to practice as though extinguishing flames from our head.

As usual, his advice is unerring.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the single stitch

There is an old folk saying, "a stitch in time saves nine."

In these modern times, when not too many people use needle and thread, I suppose it sounds antiquated, but back in the old days when people did a great deal of sewing, it was more current.

All of us lead lives where things do not get done that should be done. On top of that, things get done that should not be done. All of this is a consequence of the fact that we do not attend to our lives. As I pointed out yesterday, we are all wrapped up in romantic fantasies about where we came from, what we are doing, who we are, and where we are going. These fantasies distract us from seeing what is needed in the present moment.

This seeing in the present moment is "the single stitch."

If we attend to our lives, pick up the needle of our attention, string it with the thread of our sensation, and draw it through the present moment, it can bind together the elements that are needed to keep the cloth hole.

In the absence of this action, trouble results. Later on a great deal of attention is often needed in order to repair things that could have been taken care of with minimum effort, had they only been attended to at the correct time.

Speaking only for myself, as an alcoholic I did a tremendous number of things that were harmful to other people, never mind myself. Many of them are shameful. In addition to that, there were many missed opportunities which can never be recovered in any meaningful sense.

One thing that they do teach in Alcoholics Anonymous is a task that Mr. Gurdjieff set his students: use the present to repair the past, and prepare the future.

The whole practice of being a recovering alcoholic is centered in the idea that I am not drinking right now. We try not to waste time thinking about how we used to be drinking before, or how we might be drinking in the future. All of the effort is to be focused on not drinking right now.

Another thing recovery taught me is that you cannot beat yourself up for the rest of your life for the things you did wrong. You have to suck it in, tighten the belt, face up to the things that you screwed up, accept responsibility, and move on.

This analogy is directly congruent to everything that is needed in ordinary life. We don't need to look back and feel bad about what we did or didn't do. What we do need to do is understand right now that we have an opportunity to act in a right way, to think in a right way, to be here in a right way, to the best of our ability, according to our understanding of what our responsibility is.

Remember the thief on the cross next to Christ. We can take his example.

It's never too late to repent.

May your flowers bloom abundant.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

romance and myth

Another impression garnered from a morning walk along the Hudson with the famous dog Isabel, who does not make up stories.

One of the traps that I think we fall into is to perceive our life as a story, a myth, a romance that we make up as we go along.

It is true that our life is an adventure in which we never know what will happen next. The unfortunate fact is that the ego tempts us to make up the story line. Just about everybody falls into this trap; we all begin to invent reasons and meanings for everything, and to write scripts not only about how things ought to turn out, but also scripts about how things should have taken place.

We all become the authors--and the victims-- of a perpetual rewrite. We are heroes, we are victims--above all, we are always the central character. Everything revolves around us. The rest of the world is just the backdrop, the canvas upon which we paint a master picture. (Okay, I admit I am mixing metaphors. So sue me.)

This kind of thinking is what leads us to feel regret for the past, and invent relatively absurd fantasies about the future, almost none of which will ever come true. If we learn to observe ourselves, we can see ourselves inventing tiny little fantasies like this all day long. The habit penetrates down to the smallest details of life. It swells up to occupy entire lifetimes.

This morning I was musing that the parable of Don Quixote is pathetic for two reasons. One of them is that he is completely wrapped up in his self invented fantasy of the life of chivalry. He absolutely and irrevocably believes that everything he does, he does for good, and for honor, and that all his actions are noble.

We understand that to him these things are real, and that is why he gains our sympathy. At the same time, we see that he is a complete idiot. He invents one fantastic story after another based on his personal interpretation of events. All of his ideas about things are wrong.

This complete and utter misunderstanding of what life is is one source of pathos.

The second source is how wrong everything keeps turning out. His fantasies lead him to take one colorfully wrong step after another, and he does objective damage in successive situations as he labors under the illusion of doing what is "good. "

There you have it in a nutshell. Every single one of us is Don Quixote.

How can we live in this moment of life without inhabiting a storyline of our own making? How do we separate the bathwater from the baby and throw it out?

Perhaps we have to start from scratch. Every single moment has to become a blank slate, a moment that exists only within this moment.

Pretend there is no story. Pretend that nothing ever happened before this. Pretend that we are characters on the first almost blank page of a novel who have been given an identity, but nothing else. Everything that happens from here on in happens unexpectedly-- incredibly-- and the character must react to it with the most intelligent improvisation and sensitivity he can muster. He has nothing to rely on but his own heart beating, his own being -- who he is, as he is.

Now pretend that that it is like this all the time. Every new second is a new sheet of paper and the character is always a new character. An entire unexplored life is before him, in which anything is possible. Lets play the devil's advocate --nothing has ever happened before, nothing ever can happen before, because there is no before. And nothing can happen ever after, because there is no ever after.

Happily ever after is a fairy tale.

I agree this sounds impractical. Nonetheless, I believe there is a possibility in front of us to throw away much of what we think we are and much of where we think we come from. We can toss the assumptions and the presumptions and get on with the consumption, that is, the consumption of life from a point of view that begins in an original moment -- a moment as original as the unique and true originality of each moment.

The less baggage we carry with us, the fresher everything seems. If we invest ourselves and our experience of this moment, and accept it with as much joy as we can muster from an attitude that begins from optimism and an inherent faith in the truth of this moment, I think things will weigh us down less.

until tomorrow --

Till the soil, tend the garden, toes in the dirt with joy.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Feeding the soul

When I saw my teacher this weekend, she commented that it is difficult to maintain the positive inner attitude when one is in an environment where people are debilitated, and dying with somewhat monotonous regularity.

I felt that this was a sobering observation, and will take a good deal of pondering. After all, much of my work over the last six years has been aimed at understanding how to create physical inner conditions to overcome negativity. It appears nonetheless that the emotions -- that is, our ordinary emotions, which are part of the standard equipment this body comes with -- may never acquire complete immunity from the difficulties imposed by the observation of reality in experience.

This stands in direct contrast to an energy process that can draw in material and fill the Being in such a way that negativity is unable to arise. That process is definitely possible, but as we are today, even if the process is known, even if the method is understood, it is not permanent and it is not invulnerable.

Perhaps it is possible to reach a point where our ordinary emotional state does not feel negative towards the prospect of death. I do not know the answer to this question. I have seen an awful lot of theoretical statements about it over the years. None of them seem to be much more than that, because for every single human being, the experience of death and all of the ideas that surround it are completely subjective until we come up against it ourselves. That is the proving place, the point where we are tested. Watching the person who trained me and empowered me to undertake my own work come up against this point, and seeing the very sober truths that she is confronting in regard to it, gives me pause.

The only thing that leads me to believe that even this can be overcome is that I used to have a terrible fear of death. Encountering states within my own being that did not admit of the possibility of negative experience or attitude changed me in the sense that I am not so afraid anymore. I started out my life afraid of dying, and afraid of losing my ego.

Those two things do not look as bad as they used to.

As I have mentioned in other places on this blog, I am reasonably certain that the whole aim of the inner work is to surrender the self in exactly the same manner in which it is surrendered at physical death before physical death actually takes place.

The effort to nourish a new kind of inner unity and fill ourselves with what is needed to achieve that is a mystery in progress. We will know where we are going when we get there.

For now, those of us who are interested can be satisfied with the fact that work is not only available, but also possible.

Taken correctly, every moment of this life feeds the growth of those extraordinary flowers inside each of us. To participate in the nourishment of each bud and to await those glorious moments when our flowers open to release their perfume and attract their pollinators is a magnificent thing.

So let's get on with it.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

the positive side

We drove to Vermont and back this weekend to see my teacher. She raised many important questions and there is much material there to digest.

It's true that I have focused my work for the last five years on negativity, and I frequently talk about that.

Last week, Kath asked me, "where is the positive side of this?"

Mea Culpa.

Those of you who have read my essay on the Enneagram will know that it is my absolute conviction, based not on theories, but irrevocable personal experience, that love lies at the heart of the universe. The universe is created by love, and sustains itself on love. Ultimately, there is nothing "negative" in the universe. The entire enterprise is founded on and fed by a force that is infinitely merciful and compassionate.

Of course this contradicts the idea of the Law of three, which predicates a positive force, a negative force, and a reconciling force. Or at least it appears to.

In fact, it does not contradict this law, because the law of three arises from a single source which is whole. We may call that force God, or Dharma, or Allah or Jaweh, for lack of a better word, but it is one force. It only divides itself into three forces as it manifests in what we call reality. Paradoxically, even the negative force, the denying force, is born and draws all its sustenance from love. (Meister Eckart delved into this at great length in his sermons and the book of divine consolation.) Our entire conceptual perception of "negative" is based solely on a flawed understanding of relationship. And I suppose that stands to reason, because our own inner negative perceptions arise from a flawed condition of relationship.

All of us have the opportunity to do an inner work that connects us to what we might call the source of prime arising, to connect us to God. This inner work is a work of self re-membering, of taking the inner parts which are separate and making them whole again. In doing so, we join together the parts of a mechanism that is divine in nature. We are not separate from God; we are within God, not apart from God, seeking God. In a supreme irony we dwell within the very heart of compassion and mercy itself, and are blind to it.

Our biblical fallen nature lies within our perception of duality. When Eve ate the apple, she acquired the knowledge of something called "good" and something called "evil." The fact that such things do not exist at all -- there is only one thing, and it is called Truth -- points to the delusion we signed on to when we acquired an intelligence that discriminates. This discriminating intelligence directs a barrier between what we call the self and the love that creates it.

I speak here of mysteries. I confess it. My understanding is in most ways no better than yours. But I do know that this infinite mercy and compassion sustains us all, and that we are held within its hands at every instant of this existence we experience.

I furthermore know that we have the right to participate. We do not have to be shut out of this essential quality that runs the universe. The fact that we have lost the ability to sense the bliss that God intends all of creation to find its repose within does not mean it does not exist. There is a way to it. The doors are not shut. Ouspensky's pessimism, his obsession with how enormously difficult everything is, is misplaced. Gurdjieff's great wail of anguish about our condition, "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," states the case but hides the cure. The possibilities are greater than we can imagine, and more immediately available than any of us suspect.

Let's not forget that the 20th century did not just produce Gurdjieff. Paramahansa Yogananda brought us a much more positive message. Some may feel that his way was too naïve, too simple, altogether too hopeful. I suppose they would probably feel the same way about Jesus, who also chose to affirm man's possibilities with love rather than speak endlessly about how deteriorated and lousy he was. It's probably true that we need a bit of the bitter draught Gurdjieff served up; at the same time, let's remember, there much to be gained in sipping a bit of Rumi's divine nectar.

My teacher spoke this weekend of moments where nothing needs to be done, of moments where she simply sits quietly and receives the impressions of her life. To me, these moments, where we discover a true peace that requires nothing more than service in the act of perceiving, are at the heart of what it means to be human and what it means to be alive. The rest is a merry-go-round with the lights, and music, and the appearance of movement, but we always end up traveling in a circle instead of arriving at the destination we think we are on our way to.

These moments of sitting quietly and taking in our life quite simply with this organism we have been given are real work. In those moments, I sense the loving hands that hold us.

More and more often, as I grow older, I believe that the heart of our work is joy, the heart of our work is acceptance, the heart of our work is to find a way of supporting and valuing, rather than criticizing and tearing down. There is an infinite amount of bliss and joyfulness available within every life that can somehow be found if we approach an effort towards becoming whole.

That bliss and joyfulness does not come from the ego or the deeds of the ego. It does not come from any deeds we do. It springs solely from being in a relationship with that force which descends from the source of prime arising and travels in a current through the entire universe, creating everything along the way.

Let us affirm ourselves and our possibilities. Let us not dwell on pasts that seem to weigh us down, on sins not paid for, deeds not done, potentials not realized.

Let us stand up now in our lives and throw every burden that weighs our souls down away.

Let us meets every adversity with effort, let us treat every individual--including ourselves-- with respect, let us remember that within each one of us is a spark of the divine, an ember that just needs to find a little air in order to begin to glow with a new light.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Human beings love the idea of change. Often we use this special word, "progress," to describe change, and accept it as having an unconditionally positive meaning.

I am not sure it is appropriate to refer to the word progress as either positive or negative. It means change of state, or a transition from one form or moment to another. The entire universe is engaged in this activity at all times, and it is only mankind that imposes the perception of "good" or "bad" on this process. It seems highly unlikely that planets, animals, or microorganisms have any idea that what is taking place from moment to moment is good or bad.

It is all just true.

Human beings are in love with the idea of change. This idea is bandied about a great deal. Politicians, psychologists, social and mechanical engineers, doctors, lawyers, and so on all talk about the need for change. But what we end up with is not actual change; instead, we collectively endorse a hypnotic state which convinces everyone that change is taking place, while everything resolutely continues to proceed exactly as it always has. Lyrics from the song "We Won't Get Fooled Again" by one of my favorite rock bands, the Who, come to mind: "Meet the new boss: same as the old boss."

This certainly takes place in an outer sense. As Gurdjieff pointed out, "civilization" has not really progressed in many thousands of years. The technological trappings of man's existence have become more sophisticated, but men still kill each other and destroy everything around them with little regard for common sense.

Just the other day, for example, I drove past the local Costco store. For five years now it has been surrounded by several acres of woodland. All of that was torn down in one or two brief days over the last week. In the process, hundreds of trees were cut down. Tens of thousands of individual plants of various kinds were destroyed--in fact, the number is probably closer to the hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions. We can be certain that hundreds of small animals and millions of insects lost their homes. Billions, perhaps even trillions, of microorganisms were destroyed as the environment changed from one of cool, dark, moist woodland to a smoking, barren wasteland that looks like an entire division of the Nazi army just rolled over it in tanks.

Soon this devastated landscape will be paved with concrete and asphalt and yet another shopping center will be born. Never mind the fact that 80% or more of the landscape here in the Edison, New Jersey area is already paved, destroyed, and crammed full of redundant shopping centers.

People call this "real estate development."

I call it habitat destruction.

It can be guaranteed: no one ever stopped to think about the fact that billions of individual lives were destroyed in this process. The fact that it amounted to a holocaust of unimaginable proportions to this many organisms never entered the minds of the people who are making the money doing it.

If we stopped taking processes like this for granted for even a moment and consider them, we would see how unbelievably arrogant man is. To us, we are the only thing that matters. Even more striking is the manner in which man runs about wailing and moaning if nature returns the favor. Anything that happens to other organisms is "progress." When we are destroyed by a natural event-- for example, an earthquake, or a tsunami -- it is a "tragedy."

Let us now reverse the focus and discuss inner change.

"Inner change" are the perpetual buzzwords of spiritual work, but the entire psychology of our organism is designed to prevent it. No one actually wants any inner change.

What we want is a hypnotic state in which we discuss change and agree that change is taking place.

Every form eventually falls into this trap when it is practiced.

Chief feature, which we were discussing yesterday, is the central point around which a man's being revolves in his ordinary state, and it is fundamentally opposed to change. Its entire existence is devoted to various means of self preservation. It manages to produce an enormous number of circumstances where what presents itself as change is actually a clever way of preserving the status quo. It is the hypnotizing factor that keeps everything real in us proceeding in a repetitive circle around it. It looks like everything is going somewhere, but it keeps deflecting back upon itself.

In order for real change to take place, a tear-down on the scale of what happened outside Costco last week in Edison, New Jersey would have to take place. The entire habitat of the ego, along with every organism that it supports, would have to be destroyed. In this particular case, the analogy is reversed -- something that was built needs to be torn down so that the organisms can begin to grow again. In seeking inner change, we're seeking to get back to the green- that which is alive, organic, and vibrant within us.

Jesus Christ said, "I bring not peace, but a sword."

In light of our resistance to change, it's worth thinking that one over.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

yet a bit more on my favortie subject, negativity

The question of chief feature comes up when we discuss negativity. My friend Kathy (see yesterday's comment) frequently refers to this oft--forgotten aspect of the work. She sees it as a central question.

There's no doubt that an understanding of how chief feature manipulates us, and how it manages to remain invisible as it causes us anguish and keeps us in a state of fear, is helpful in beginning to understand that we don't have to be that way. I forget that sometimes, so I'm glad she's around to remind me.

One of the most compelling things about the work that Ouspensky and Nicoll did with Mr. Gurdjieff was that they continually reminded us that we have a right to not be negative. That is to say, negativity as we experience it is not a natural state for men. It looks like it is, because the world is immersed in a sea of it at most times, but that is a delusional impression. The world is also paved with an enormous amount of asphalt and concrete, but that is not a natural state. We have just come to accept it as one as we continue to destroy the environment which sustains us.

Jared Diamond had some pretty interesting things to say about that in his book "Collapse." Basically, no matter how degraded an environment becomes because of man's interaction with it, to the current inhabitants, it looks normal. So no matter how depraved our inner conditions are, by the time we get there, they seem to be entirely logical. The conditions, whatever they are, seem to be irrevocable and inescapable. And to compound matters, we engage in an elaborate inner dialog to sustain that impression.

Why is that? Why don't we want to believe that there is an alternative?

I've been pondering that. Simply put, sleep cannot see sleep. From within our negativity, from within our hypnosis, there is no alternative, and there is not even the possibility of doing much more than imagining one. Chief feature, buffers, denial -- put them all together, they are powerful.

We don't have to be that way. But in order to find anything else, we have to actually believe it is possible and wish for it.

Oddly enough, when I tell people that there is a way to begin to understand one's inner negativity, understand where it originates, and feed oneself so that one can begin to extinguish it, no one seems very interested. I have not figured this one out yet. All around me, I see people who are angry, depressed, frustrated. They snap at each other, they feel unfulfilled in life, they don't get what is wrong with them. A lot of them ask me why I am happy most of the time, especially at work, where we are all under a lot of pressure and the situation keeps changing in unpleasant ways.

In order to tell people why I am like that, I would have to tell them everything, and that takes a way long time. No one is patient enough to listen.

Besides that, no one wants to know all of this. Hearing that you would have to undertake a long-term work involving meditation and self-study seems too complicated to them. They want to get rid of their negativity by turning on the TV.

And of course, that works, if only for a little while.

Perhaps we could say that the first step is to take responsibility for our negativity. This is exactly what alcoholics learn to do when they want to recover from alcoholism. And in the end, speaking as a long time experienced alcoholic who has been in recovery for over 25 years, I can tell you that negativity is an equally addicting substance. It's powerful, it's exciting, it can be fun. I have watched people fall in love with their own negativity until it consumed them. It feeds on and ultimately destroys their essence.

Negativity works the same way as alcohol, in that it creates an incredibly powerful denial mechanism to keep itself alive. That is because this state keeps itself intact by feeding on higher energies that belong to other parts. It is strictly parasitic. Like all parasites, it is not particularly concerned with the effect it has on the host, as long as it can earn its livelihood.

Taking responsibility involves taking a cold, hard look at the negativity and admitting that it is ours. First we have to take possession, and we never do that.

Take a look -- isn't it true? Whenever we are negative, it is because of what someone else did, isn't it?

One can undertake a work that will lead one out of this mess. That much is certain. But, as I said before, people just don't want to. Their negativity is so much a part of what they are that they cannot conceive of themselves without it. It preserves their separation from everyone around them, from the rest of the world, and reinforces the ego.

This makes them feel important. And for most people, that's what it's all about.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

quotation marks, and negativity

I'm in one of those conditions today where the absolute, tangible, penetratingly sensible roots of my consciousness find their origins in the spaces between cells.

The kind of energy that makes this possible isn't available all the time. Then again, nothing is possible all of the time, even though anything is possible some of the time, and everything is possible given enough time.

My mother always used to tell me, "make hay while the sun shines." According to reports, William Segal--whom I often saw, but, to my regret, never knew personally-- frequently told people, when they had to accomplish a task, to make do with what they had.

So the idea is to go with what's in the air. We have to build our temples and conduct our rites of prayer from what we have, not what we wish for.

How can I speak from within this connection? I mean, literally, speak, because as is so often the case, today I dictate this blog, so that the words spring directly from the act of speaking.

We are animals. I breathe. We breathe. Every single breath feeds every single cell. This is my condition. I am alive and made of flesh.

What is it, as Mr. Gurdjieff so often said, to be a man "without quotation marks?"

Quotation marks represent not the real thing, but a reference to it. Something someone else said; something someone else did, something that happened elsewhere, at another time.

A man with a quotation mark at the beginning and end of his existence does not live within the crevices in his cells. He does not walk on a planet, breathe a gaseous medium, absorb colors and sounds, taste food, touch hard and soft things. He thinks about these things. He analyzes them, classifies them, and defines them.

But he does not live within them according to the possibilities offered by his organism.

This organic sense of being is not an end in itself. It's just a beginning. What makes it valuable is that it raises so many questions about what we are.

Again and again, the more I practice, the deeper I dig, the more I see that we do not know anything about what we are or where we are. We are all a gargantuan mass of assumptions and associations. All of that has to be completely tossed out, thrown away, left behind in the immediate sense of being here, organically, in order for me to begin to see anything.

These are the moments when it becomes apparent that the entire intellectual and conceptual structure of the mind falls short of the mark.

On a day like today, I stop thinking. I just exist. Every event that arrives, arrives as it needs to arrive. Every response arises as it needs to arise. It's odd; everything that needs to be done is available in the doing. There is no need to worry about it. In business, a request is made, and even though the mind seems empty and stupid, the response is forever in the fingertips.

Where did it come from? I don't know. I do see that I spend an enormous amount of time packing myself with information, worrying in unnecessary ways, attempting to manage, when all of it is just right there.

When Mr. Gurdjieff spoke of tension, he spoke of tension in the body, which certainly takes a great deal away from us. But there is also a great deal of tension in the way that we think. It is only when we get rid of it that we discover how unnecessary it was in the first place.


I am going to take a left hand turn and mention something that occurred to me over the past few days which relates to the discussion I have been conducting on the question of unity.

Mr. Gurdjieff told his followers that there was one thing man could "do." That one thing was to not express negative emotion.

That teaching is often understood to refer to the external expression of negative emotion. That is to say, he was indicating that we can avoid acting negative, speaking negatively, and so on.
He furthermore intimated that this work was preparation for what he called "the second conscious shock," or, intentional suffering.

Let's forward an alternative point of view on this question.

To "express" can also mean to squeeze the juice out of, to extract a substance.

At this stage in my study of negativity, which has been conducted intensively for a number of years, it occurs to me that the place where negativity is "expressed" is within us. When there is tension between centers, pressure arises. That pressure squeezes energy up out of the system into channels it does not belong in: it "expresses" negativity.

Once this imbalanced energy is present in us, it has nowhere to go but outward, where it quickly becomes destructive. This explains why negativity has great power: it comes directly from substances that could have been used otherwise.

From this we see that non-expression of negativity must begin in a much deeper place. Trying to "block" it at the point where it exits the body is much too late.

To not express negativity is to discover how to create inner conditions that prevent it from ever arising in the first place.

All of the discussions I have conducted about the Enneagram and the nature of the six inner flowers relate to this specific question. According to my investigations, it is only through the formation of a new and more complete inner relationship that we can begin to work on the question of not expressing negativity. And this is the one work which Mr. Gurdjieff said man could "do."

So in fact, man is capable of one extraordinarily important -- I daresay invaluable -- work which any man can undertake if he wishes to.

Negativity, however, is just so darned exciting and interesting that the idea of absolutely, positively getting rid of it doesn't seem to occur to us.

After all, if there is one thing we have proven over and over again for thousands of years, it is that mankind is utterly fascinated by destruction.

In this, I am no different than you are.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The arising of sensation

After selecting the title for this blog, I instantly realized that it might just as well have been titled, "the arising of attention." However, sensation and attention are two different things. So, why would this title be interchangeable?

Sensation and attention have several things in common. First and foremost, we do not have them. That is to say, we do not have them in any significant sense relative to the way that Mr. Gurdjieff and Jeanne DeSalzmann used the terms. Secondly, we are relatively mistaken in our understanding of what they are. In order to understand them in any real sense, we must already have them, and instead, we all find ourselves working towards them.

And third, they arise from the same source.

There are many exercises that are meant to invoke sensation. There are many exercises to strengthen attention. All of them produce results if they are undertaken properly; there is little doubt of this. I think it is fair to say, however, that in most people's experience, the results are relatively temporary.

Example. One sits in meditation and develops a very good, deep relationship in the body. Or one is doing movements, and one develops a new and interesting kind of attention for a moment. But the minute the special conditions are over, it's gone. Not only is the relationship gone, but even the memory of it is gone. We keep climbing this hill over and over again and sliding back down.

In the case of sensation, which is where we will focus our discussion today, one can use the attention to "point" at various parts of the body and develop a deeper sensation of them. The attention can also be used to point at various parts of the body and relax them.

It is not my intention to dismiss such efforts. However, I wish to raise a larger question here, and examine the idea of unity in the process.

The reason that the sensation we achieve in exercises and effort is fugitive is because sensation does not arise from attention. Attention does not create it.

Discovering sensation in this manner is kind of like poking a hibernating animal with a stick. Sure, it stirs and wakes up for a minute. However, the conditions within its environment-- the temperature within its den, the amount of ambient daylight -- are such that it needs to remain lawfully asleep. It won't wake up until conditions are correct, and let's face it, a guy poking it with a stick is hardly the arrival of springtime.

So what is "springtime?"

If one develops a more permanent sensation of the body, it arises from unity. That is to say, once the partiality -- the separation -- of the inner state is sensed and known, and work is undertaken to correct that, parts become more unified. And it is in the integration of the inner parts, which must be carefully sensed and studied, that we discover a new quality which can lead not only to sensation, but to many other extraordinary things.

You may remember that in "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," Beelzebub says the following to Hassein:

"So in the meantime, exist as you exist. Only do not forget one thing: at your age, it is indispensable that every day when the sun rises, while watching the reflection of its splendor, you bring about a contact between your consciousness and the various unconscious parts of your common presence." (Chapter 7, Becoming Aware of Genuine Being Duty.)

This serves as a direct instruction to undertake the work of enlisting our separate parts to create the kind of unity which has been discussed throughout this blog.

Working on the specific points of separation, and bringing them into relationship, causes a current to flow. The lawful order in which this current flows is described in Gurdjieff's enneagram and the multiplications that accompany it. It is from the flow of this current that the deeper sensation of the body which we seek arises.

Because of this, I am not certain that the exercises which point attention in the direction of sensation serve the purpose they are intended to. There is no doubt that those exercises took me to a certain point, but I never got past it. A revolution had to take place in order for that to happen. Once the revolution was over, I understood that I had been undertaking the effort backwards.

The whole point of studying the material separation, the physical partiality, of the inner state is to understand the machine and how to correct its relationship. The unfortunate consequence of Ouspensky and Nicoll's books-- which at the time they were written were terrific contributions to the Gurdjieff ouvre-- is that much of the understanding of the work relates to the study of people's psychology -- especially if people glean the majority of their understanding of the work from the books. This is particularly, although not universally, true of people who have never actually studied in groups coming out of Gurdjieff's direct line of work. It is not possible to know how that work is actually conducted by reading the books.

It takes a different kind of animal to penetrate the animal.

This is why I continue to emphasize relationship to breathing, and, to all the other animal activities that we engage in -- eating, sleeping and waking up, eliminating -- as paths to understanding. The key to what we are does not lie outside our animal nature. It is contained within it. The vitality of the entire cosmos is expressed within the arising of organic life. If you want to feel the pulse of God, you need look no further than your own blood. We do not exist apart from our higher nature, or apart from nature itself, or even apart from God. We exist within these things. Our perception of separation is a delusion created by ego.

In the matter of the development of sensation, I believe it would be more practical to concentrate on the inner understanding of feeding the various parts the right food, and fostering their relationship with each other. If these tasks are undertaken in an effective manner, sensation will arise. It will be far less fugitive, because it will arise from a stable relationship that it can feed on and sustain itself from. Not from our erratic attention, which itself ultimately relies on the same relationships in order to manifest in any way other than temporarily.

It will wake up and live.

Now that's springtime.

One of the questions I was asked yesterday by a good friend was why we would do this.

I tried to explain, but probably did a clumsy job. The best I can do today is to say the following:

"We'll know why we want to be in Rome when we get there."

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Reading sutras

Those of you who follow this blog will know that I frequently discuss the following two things:

First of all, that all of our work essentially consists of taking in impressions through the body, and that developing a new and deeper connection with the body is vital to this work. This was a central tenet of Gurdjieff’s teaching, and perhaps the most vital information contained in it. If one encounters the Gurdjieff work and manages to understand – I mean, to truly understand – only the single fact that all impressions are food, this one understanding comprises almost everything one needs to know in order to truly work. If one understands this-- when I use the word understanding, I refer to an understanding that cannot be born within the intellect, and cannot be achieved through analysis-- everything else will eventually follow.

Secondly, that we can find everything we need to know and understand about the nature of life and consciousness within the study and experience of nature itself.

In Dogen’s Shobogenzo, there is a chapter entitled “Kankin,” or, reading sutras. Sutras, for those of you not versed in the language of Buddhism, are texts which contain teachings.

Dogen well understood that the temptation in Buddhism is to attempt to understand it through the reading, analysis, and recitation of sutras. This type of intellectualism is endemic in most intelligent spiritual works.

However, Dogen was a master of what we would call the Gurdjieff work. He well understood that the taking in of impressions was the essential heart of our work.

All the quotes that follow are taken from page 226 of the 1994 translation of the Shobogenzo by Nishijima and Cross, published by Dogen Sangha press.

In the very beginning of this chapter, Dogen says the following:

“At this time the reality of hearing sutras, retaining sutras, receiving sutras, preaching sutras, and so on exists in the ears, eyes, tongue, nose, and organs of body and mind, and in the places where we go, hear, and speak.”

And there you have it. The practice of working with sutras is the practice of taking in impressions, achieved through the connection of the body and the mind.

Immediately afterwards, he says the following: “The sort who because they seek fame, preach non-Buddhist doctrines, cannot practice the Buddhist sutras.”

Seeking fame by preaching non-Buddhist doctrines is, I believe, an allegorical reference to becoming trapped in the intellect. The translators of this text mention in the footnotes at the source of this quotation from a sutra has not been located. It may be that this particular reference was an original from Dogen himself.

The next line says, “The reason is that the sutras are transmitted and retained on trees and rocks, are spread through fields and through villages, are expounded by lands of dust, and are lectured by space.”

Here, Dogen is specifically telling us that all of the sutras that we need to learn from, all of the teachings we seek to understand, exist within and arise through nature itself. The teaching lies within everything,--it lies within every fragment of everything-- because, as I have pointed out in the essay on the Enneagram, the nature of the universe is fractal, that is, every level contains a complete replica of all the levels within itself. If you download the essay, you will see a visual diagram that depicts the nature of this fractal relationship.

Everything is connected to everything else. In a real sense, if one truly and fully understands one thing, everything can be understood.

That of course, would be a very big thing. As tiny creatures, we just do our best to understand one part of one thing.

May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

unity and movement

One of the difficulties that we all have looking at a diagram like the Enneagram is that it is a static diagram. Like all forms, it pins down the universe, which is constantly in movement, onto a cork board where it can be examined like a dead thing.

We cannot examine anything without form, yet the paradox is that form kills movement. This understanding is directly related to the understanding from quantum physics that nothing can ever be observed without being affected by the Observer. We might consider the experience of life itself as being something like a liquid, which is warm and constantly in motion, yet which freezes and becomes solid in every instance of its contact with consciousness. In this way, consciousness never experiences life in its warm, liquid, natural state, where everything is eternally in relationship and constantly changing, but only experiences it as a crystallized object.

I believe that the Zen parable about Baso relates to this question. His teacher came to him one day in his hut after he had been practicing intensive Zazen meditation for 10 years.
"What have you been up to?" he asked.
"I am sitting zazen," replied Baso.
"Why are you sitting zazen?" asked the teacher.
"In order to attain Buddhahood," replied Baso.
The teacher picked up a tile and began to polish it with his robe.
"Why are you polishing that tile?" asked Baso.
"In order to make a mirror," replied the teacher.
"How can you polish a tile to make a mirror?" asked Baso.
"How can you attain Buddhahood by sitting zazen?" replied the teacher.

Dogen has some very interesting things to say about this parable in his Shobogenzo. I will not recapitulate them here; you can go read them for yourself in his chapter on the eternal mirror, should you wish to.

What I would like to focus on today is that the action of polishing is a circular movement. The action of sitting is static.

This is not to dismiss tiles, or mirrors, or sitting. We simply wish to point to the circular movement of the polishing, which is about a relationship between the observer and the observed. The observer and his interaction with what is observed are in movement- the tile is "being polished." Dogen actually points us to the polishing as being a central question in this parable.

When things spring from the participation in relationship itself, they are quite different when they arise from an expectation of a future result. Polishing may make tiles into to mirrors, and sitting zazen may turn men into Buddhas. The potential for everything is there. It is the participation in the activity that is essential.

The Enneagram points to an inner movement of energy that passes from point to point within a human being. Understanding it intellectually or trying to come up with complex formulations about its meaning are all valid activities, up to a point--but this is not a point to get stuck on. One has to take the next step, which is to discover the living meaning of this diagram in the movement of self within the self. The inner nature of what the diagram depicts must be uncovered and understood. The diagram is about relationship and movement, not about analysis and structure.

The analysis and the structure are all there, just as tiles and the mirrors are there. But the point does not lie within knowing that there are tiles or knowing that there are mirrors, or knowing that tiles can become mirrors. The point lies within knowing that we participate -- we polish the tile. In this inner participation, in discovering the inner movement, we discover a new unity that may offer us the opportunity for a warm bath of understanding, instead of being locked in our usual frozen state of knowing.

Dogen's expounding of the eternal mirror in the Shobogenzo is a challenging and complex rendering of what I believe to be an essentially cosmological question. He is attempting to help us penetrate to the root of reality and discover where it arises.

I completed the chapter this morning after working on it for about a week. This complex set of ideas left me with the impression that consciousness itself is a mirror, that there is a reciprocity between the inner and the outer, that everything that arises is reflected by the experience of being, and the experience of being gives rise to everything. We live in a universe of mirrors reflecting mirrors.

Of course this is a distinctly philosophical conundrum. It's eminently cool stuff, but we could think about it all day and all night for the rest of your life, and not really get it.

What interests me more directly at this point is the study of that inner flow of energy which the Enneagram invites us to. That study can lead us to an experience of movement and unity, which is encompassed within each breath, if we seek it.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.



Friday, June 8, 2007

What is the Gurdjieff work?

The intention of this blog has never been to regurgitate Gurdjieff and Ouspensky wholesale. You can go to plenty of other places on the web to get that kind of material.

To me, there seems to be an unfortunate impression abroad in the online Gurdjieff community that the Gurdjieff ideas are a sophisticated intellectual circus act, and that much of the important core of the Work can be located in Ouspensky's texts.

That's okay, for those who wish to believe that. However, the Gurdjieff work is not just a set of complex esoteric ideas cribbed out on sheets of paper. It is a living entity that breathes in and out through every individual that engages in it. There are as many versions of the Gurdjieff work as there are people practicing it, because every individual's work and aim belongs to themself.

In this blog, I try to speak about personal practice, as derived from 25 and more years of actual struggle and experience in my own living work.

This means I try to speak directly about my own experience. It's not going to sound just like the material in the traditional body of the Gurdjieff literature. This blog is not about the Work in theory, it is the Work from the perspective of practice, as it is passed on in current practice. There is a significant difference, as anyone who joins the formal Work soon finds out.

If it resembles "new age" material, that is probably because new age efforts have some real material in them. I suppose outsiders might find it quite shocking to hear from someone on the "inside" (ha ha) that many, many people in the formal line of the Gurdjieff work study all kinds of new age ideas. They do new age stuff. They see new age movies and read new age books. Even some of my close friends in the Work do this.

Ach du Lieber! Quelle outrage?!

You know what? There's room for everyone out there, gang.

Here's how I see it.

One of the essential characteristics of inner development is to learn how to respect others and their efforts, not intentionally devalue them as inferiors of one kind or another.

Another essential characteristic is transparency and responsibility. People who wish to say something negative to someone else should be willing to stand there naked, to reveal their identity. To hide behind anonymity and judge is to avoid the essential question.

Take note, in this blog, you know who I am. I don't hide behind obscure pseudonyms. If we don't have the courage to be who we are, where is our Being?

And then there is the ultimate question of compassion and humility. People who have a real organic sense of self must try to avoid flinging their monkey poop at others

...being human, none of us succeed at this all the time. But-- poop ever in-hand-- do we understand that the effort to be present should be present?

There is a terrific in danger in believing that we know something about the Gurdjieff ideas and are hence somehow "above" other people. The moment any of us go there, we are living through ego, and we think that we are something.

It can hardly be described as a moment where we, as Gurdjieff repeatedly wished for all of us, fully sense our own nothingness.


Recent events have provoked me to begin writing a major essay on our collective struggle against negativity, which is a task I have had in front of me for nearly a year now. I have repeatedly put it off because of its scale, and the fact that it will require me to lay bare much hard-won personal material.

This essay will be a follow-up to my 2003 essay on the enneagram and its esoteric implications, which is available by clicking on the link.

Stay tuned.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


In order for a human being to develop spiritually, it is said in the Gurdjieff system that he has to have an aim. That is, there has to be a direction, something that he knows he wishes to achieve. In the absence of aim, man mills about in many directions and achieves very little, although there may be a great deal of impressive activity.

In a sense, the entire chapter of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is about this. Solomon discusses the fact that he achieved an enormous amount in the external world in terms of acquiring power and riches, but determined in the end that all of it was vanity. He concludes with a lofty aim indeed, a single aim which must transcend all other aims: to worship God.

I think that an aim of a real sort takes an entire lifetime to achieve. Of course there can be intermittent aims, mileposts on the way to the overarching intention, but in the end, there has to be an overarching intention, a single unifying principle that gathers a man's life together and points it in one direction.

In undertaking this kind of directed effort, many men are successful in the external world. We see them: they become leaders in politics, law, business, entertainment. You can just about find them all by counting off all the professions and the most successful people in them.

The difficulty with this kind of aim is that when a man puts his aim outside himself, he can only achieve things in an outer sense. That is to say, his aim exists outside him, in the world, and it keeps drawing material out of him in order to serve it. In this way he has an effect on material existence, perhaps even a powerful one, but his inner state remains relatively unchanged.

People go through whole lifetimes like this and abruptly wake up at the end wondering just what the hell happened to them.

Now, the idea of work on spiritual matters is generally understood, it seems, to change man's psychology, but this is a misconception. The ultimate aim of an inner work is to physically change the inner state. In the process of this physical change, many other things happen, and of course the psychology of a man changes, but the physical changes must come first.

So in our esoteric investigation, a real aim begins with the understanding of physical change, and everything else follows.

Where is the difference between this and external aims? The materiality of the inner, not the outer, world is changed. Thus, we see truth: everything is material. It is simply a question of which materiality we choose to affect, inner or outer.

It's very tricky. Because the outer world and its attractions are so utterly compelling, every effort to understand things from an inner point of view gets co-opted by the outer. Forms- religions, icons, idols, images- replace real inner study, and our sleep- lack of awareness of the nature of correspondence between the inner and the outer- hypnotizes us until we absolutely believe that our investment in outer conditions is changing us.

The direction of aim must change, and be pointed inwards. Then the entire process is inverted and a man or woman begins to draw material into the sphere of their inner solar system, rather than having it drawn off and depleted by the inexorable force of larger proximate bodies. One begins to consume one's life and it all becomes a completely extraordinary kind of food.

My own studies have led me to a specific set of aims in regard to these questions. The formulation- which must remain flexible- changes from time to time. This week, I formulate them thus:

Open the flowers.
Empty the vessel.

For those who are interested in such activities: they are lifetime aims, "big" aims. That is, do not expect to "achieve" these aims; merely expect to be working on them. In addition, don't set goals for what will "happen" if there is progress in these areas; simply engage here because this is where engagement can be attempted.

As to why, "Why" can grow only from engagement.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.