Wednesday, September 26, 2007


This is a picture of Shawangunk coglomerate: the ore body the Shawangunk Mountains in upstate New York are composed of. The conglomerate is the remains of what was, hundreds of millions of years ago, a huge mountainous region mostly composed of quartz. Blindingly white quartz: a quartz filled with light, a quartz that reminds us, perhaps, of noble qualities, of purity. What a sight that must have been in morning sunlight!

It did not last.

The mountains stood at the edge of a sea, and, as they crumbled, trillions of shattered fragments of quartz were rolled for millenia along the shoreline, until they became soft and rounded. Despite this, the quartz did not lose its character. Even in fragmentation, it remained true to its nature.

Eventually this pebbly mixture was buried again, sank beneath miles of overlying sediment, and was subducted until it reached a depth where temperatures and pressures welded it back into an extremely hard, durable quartz ore body, perhaps even harder and more resilient than the original quartz outcroppings from which it came. In early America, because of its hardness, it became a preferred material for use as millstones.

The conglomerate is composed of many individual parts, but has been welded into a durable whole. In this sense, we are reminded of the possibilities that lie in front of us as we attempt to establish an inner unity that can withstand the pressures of ordinary life. No one of these pebbles alone can serve to grind grain, but welded together, they are up to the job. And together, they are beautiful.

We can't achieve unity without pressure and heat.

...I continue to return again and again to the question of how I meet the current set of conditions, which too often seem like pebbles that are trying their best to grind me down. In my resistance to them, I forget that they, too, are true pebbles. Basically, I choose to dislike these outer conditions-pebbles.

These conditions-pebbles are disordered, unruly, uncontrollable, abrasive and unexpected. They are screwing the whole freaking game up.

It seems to me that no matter what we do, collectively, we continue to find ourselves in a position where we meet conditions coming from a state not of confidence and right self-valuation, but of fear and negativity. We are all fear factories; if we look closely, we see that a great deal of our motivation in response to others comes not from any positive place but from fear. It wears a thousand disguises, but unmasked it is always the same.

Negativity is the most insidious condition we inhabit. It is present almost all the time: our preconceptions cause us to meet each moment of our life with a reflexive act of rejection. Even when we don't think we are rejecting, and we recast the rejection in special terms that put a good-looking spin on it, we are still rejecting. This set of conditions, whenever it is, is never good enough. We are perpetually looking for another set of conditions that will come along later and be better. And, paradoxically, we even reject the fact that we are negative.

Coming to terms with the fact that all conditions are in one sense equal--i.e., no matter what happens, we are always here with those conditions right in front of us--seems nearly impossible. Our personality judges everything almost instantaneously, and finds it wanting. In doing so, it rejects the influx of impressions as they stand, rejects life as it arrives, branding it as insufficient in one way or another.

We do this to people, we do it to things, we do it to events, we do it to circumstances. Many years ago, when I first really saw this part of myself in action, I referred to it as the rejecting part. Our rejecting part is bigger than any other part in us. It is so big that we are no longer able to see it. We see only small parts of it that have taken on clever forms of camouflage, disguising it as a part that accepts. It's a big shock if we ever really see it. Then we see we are not what we think we are.

The net effect of this rejection is the starvation of the essence. Here's why:

Essence feeds itself on the immediate incoming experiences of life.

If essence is free to do this -- if our inner chemistry is arranged properly, if we make an effort to open and feed our inner flowers--then essence finds the most ordinary circumstances satisfying. Everything in life, no matter how mundane, feeds us in a special way that cannot be described outside of metaphor or parable.

Christ called this changing water into wine. Another description of it is the peace of God that passes all understanding. The point is that when essence is fed, the entire experience of life changes. We discover that there is a joyfulness within life that we never knew about before. We do not have to base our lives around the premise of rejection. We may still have our negativities, but they do not act as tyrants. We begin to understand that they are not the continents, but the weather. We stop investing in cement and start investing in water.

The pebbles have possibilities.

One of my best friends, a woman who is not in the formal Gurdjieff work but has a great interest in and understanding of the ideas, has pointed out to me many times that Chief Feature seems to arrange itself around fear. Along with its bosom buddies, negativity and judgment, fear forms a triumvirate that rules us by exploiting the inherent weaknesses within personality: habitualism, literalism, dogmatism. (Remember, the original chief action of the organ kundabuffer was to reinforce man's experience of pleasure through repetition.)

Hence we propose chief feature according, logically enough, to the law of three: it is a stable, self reinforcing paradigm.

It needs, perhaps, to be balanced against a trinity formed of essential qualities: Love, positive attitude, acceptance. These grow not from within the mind, but from within physical connections formed within the body, through attention.

There is a tricky part to this: in understanding the idea that we dwell within two natures, we can eventually strike a balance between the ordinary self, the personality, which finds itself locked within this struggle, and a part--the essence--that is not so engaged by it. For some time, these imbalanced parts (with the weight primarily resident in personality and the effort towards essence) must learn to coexist, to participate side by side.

Gradually, with work on inner relationship, essence can get its feet under it. And essence, though weak, is ultimately as clever as personality: once it gains some strength, it finds ways to ensure it's fed. This may be what Dr. Welch was referring to when he offered us the oft-repeated observation that "the Work works."

Of course, so much of this is a work of the organism. It presents itself as psychology, but it depends on organic chemistry--and a more conscious awareness of organic chemistry, at that.


May our inner pebbles of essence merge and harden, even as we progressively attempt to soften the cement of our personality...!

And may your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting take on a rock many of us love to sweat, bleed, and tred upon.


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