Friday, August 10, 2007

Life in Work

On the road in Ningbo. It's been a long, hot day. While in the airport this morning, I pondered as follows:

How can our inner work become a living thing?

This is—or at least ought to be, don’t you think?—a vital question for almost everyone.

The perennial complaint: we don’t remember ourselves; we don’t remember our work. We trudge along on the hamster wheel of life. The mind—the whole mind, not just that part that formulates—isn’t strong enough to remember to work. Sleep is a powerful thing.

But what is this “mind” that isn’t strong enough? And can we will ourselves with this “mind” to become strong enough to remember our work? Can we “do” that? Which mind needs to become mindful?

The question is related to the living presence of sensation—the organic sense of being—and the act of awareness in breathing. These are parts- “personal assistants,” if you will—that can awaken within our effort, so much so that one cannot forget one’s work.

Then life divides itself into two channels, or streams:
--one in which the idea of work, the wish for work, and the physical awareness of work are always present,
--and the other, which deals with the mechanical, habitual, and day to day requirements of business and society.

On this business trip I’ve had occasion to study the conditions within both these streams of existence. They do not have to remain separate: conjunction arrives, they blend together, one and the other, so that there is both work in life- as it is called in the Gurdjieff work—and that even more important thing which no one ever speaks of—

Life in work.

It’s damned interesting, how we have—more or less—never heard that phrase before, isn’t it?

Think it over.

If there is no life in our work, how can there be work in our life?

Can we agree? A psychological work is a dormant work. Something else has to happen. Our work needs to become an actual living organism in its own right. Not a machine we kick-start that sputters and dies the moment we stop paying attention to it.

There are parts within us that want to participate in our life, but which we have little or no contact with. Parts that have a wish every bit as great as the one that brought us to a path, but don’t know how to connect with this formatory element we call “ourselves.”

Parts that want to help us work.

These parts aren’t getting enough food. They are not getting the right kind of food. Hell, they can’t even find food. Other parts—particularly the negative ones—are literally eating their lunch. If they are nourished, however, they can awaken and bring a whole new level of effort into our work.

A deep, ongoing effort to find and help connect the centers within, to discover the threads that bind our inner state together, can help these parts reach the surface and participate. I firmly believe that the reason Dogen emphasized the relentless practice of Zazen was that anyone who sits diligently enough, for long enough, cannot fail to begin to notice these parts.

These parts are asleep.

Once noticed, they can be encouraged.
Once encouraged, they will assist.
Once they assist, things change.

I am reminded of Gurdjieff’s explanation of the four personalities, which is found at the beginning of his lecture in the last chapter of Beelzebub- “From the Author.” Three of the four personalities comprise the intellectual, emotional, and moving centers…

Wait a minute…

Personalities?

Yes, that’s right. Each of these centers a being in its own right, just as intelligent, active, capable and versatile as the other, -- a person--yet think about it—the only part we generally know and experience as a person is the thinking part.

There are implications here. Questions that need to be asked about just what we are, and why we do not know fully two-thirds—or (read the chapter) perhaps even three quarters—of what we are as persons.

If we begin to know the moving center through sensation, and it awakens, we discover an ally that is often stronger than sleep. And if we discover the emotional center—if we open our inner flowers—well then, that is where a real work truly begins. We can discover within this work a joy, a satisfaction, an understanding and a gratitude that is unobtainable in any other manner.

Our inner work can—wants to—become love and joy, folks. It wants to live.

It’s in there.

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

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