Wednesday, August 8, 2007

what is air?

On the road in China. Back across on the ferry, towards the modern mecca of Shanghai. Hours in cars, ever pondering. Today I have already walked across hotel lobbies lined with fossiliferous limestones; trudged up factory staircases where coarse quartz nuggets and sinuous hornblende stringers dance in the frozen majesty of their own personal ice age: negotiated textile prices, contemplated yellow bitter melon flowers and the ochre red of roadside bricks, and eaten jellyfish, tripe, and pumpkin flavored sticky rice cakes.

On: from business, to business.

I have recently devoted a number of posts to various theoretical questions, and now discover a wish to return to a few discussions of my active work interests and the questions they raise.

In order to do this I sometimes end up sharing more intimate personal observations, including material that may not be of practical use to readers without specific personal direction—which, sadly, can’t be offered in a blog.

My apologies there. Follow as best you can.

As my work progresses, more and more often I find myself engaged in a study of my precise physical state, such as it is.

When our work centers around our attitudes, our ideas, our psychology and its inevitable consequences—all of which arises from our personality and its contact with the outside world—we inevitably study our interaction with the outside world, and aim at results that correspond to the outside world. In other words, we seek to understand the external, be in right relationship to the external, fix the external—as if that were in fact possible.

It’s perhaps inevitable that inner work begins in the external. As it progresses, however, if it deepens, becomes more organic, we begin to see that the root cause of how things are, how we are, arises from an inner state that is not so much mental as physical in nature. The inner state—our ennegram, our solar system in formation —is what is out of kilter. We’re not connected right inside.

Gurdjieff certainly placed emphasis on this, asking his pupils—among other things—to study their tensions, study their postures. He went so far as to state that attitude, mental state, arises from posture, that is, the physical manifestation of the internal begets the outer relationship with the external. He asked his pupils to begin with the coarse—external physical posture—but ultimately we need to progress to the fine, that is, the detailed sensory study, through what G. would have called “active being-mentation”, of the channels within the body.

It all starts “in here.” We have to stay very close to home in order to conduct our study.

The root cause of “how we are” begins in the exchange of energies and substances within the organism. If we are not studying our machine—the parts of the machine itself, and not what arises from them—we are not studying what we need to study.

Consequently, I spend a great deal of my day trying to see just how I am in terms of inner physical state. In particular, I am interested in the manner in which breathing is connected to sensation. In my experience, this matter deserves a great deal more attention than it seems to get in everyday spiritual work… I just don’t hear about it much. In the Gurdjieff system, we read about this subject in chapter 10 of “In Search of the Miraculous” and then the subject disappears, submerged beneath successive massive waves of other ideas.

In group work these days it seems it is barely, if ever, touched on, when it ought to in fact be a much more central question.

The matter of man’s relationship to what he breathes and in what manner he turns his attention to it is of critical interest. Nothing fundamental can change in man without a new kind of active participation of the second being food—air--, and nothing fundamental can change there unless the attention is directed at it. In other words, in order to digest more of what is available in the second being food, one must turn to an understanding of the third being food, that of impressions, for assistance. The whole chapter of the chemical factory in “Miraculous” draws a picture of this question in some detail. If you consider it carefully, you will realize that these subjects of air and impressions are intimately linked.

Breathing with attention—not manipulation—forms the connecting link between mind and body, between psychology and sensation. If we wish to develop a real sensation—as discussed in yesterday’s post—we must better understand this connection. Hence there needs to be a much more active precision in attention within the experience of interaction between breath, mind, and body.

The question of just what that consists of needs to be studied on a daily basis.

It is not just breathing in and out, and the awareness of it, that we need to study. It is a question of exactly what we are breathing in and out. It is even a question of where we are breathing in and out. What organs can take in the breath? Where does air go in the body? How does it feel when I breathe in? Out? Can I affect the quality of that through directed attention alone?


It’s well worth the time, when practicing Zazen, to settle down and study this question with great precision, without any manipulation. Not to count breaths- not to try and “use” breathing for any “special” purpose—just to breathe, to know breathing, to seek the very deepest roots in the body and discover the manner in which breath penetrates and feeds them.

Gurdjieff pointed out that for most normal beings—he did not include man in the list of “normal”—breathing air brings with it an inestimable bliss.

What did he mean by that? Aren’t we in the least bit curious?

Can we discover a path towards that bliss within our ordinary life?

We can.

Inward breath, gratitude. Outward breath, gratitude.

Love to you all, within the limitations that circumstances permit.

May your trees bear fruit.

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