Monday, December 31, 2007

the five senses

Someone asked me this morning how important the five senses are to our inner work. It seems like a good question to examine into more detail, in fact, such a good question that it ought to be examined by us collectively.

It's safe to say that modern science does not recognize any senses other than the five "ordinary" senses. It's equally safe to say that there are senses inside that sense things quite differently, and are capable of sensing things that the five senses don't adequately cover.

The inner senses have their own specific organs for receiving and processing impressions, and their own range of abilities, which we are for the most part unfamiliar with. When idiot savants perform astonishing feats of mathematics, or display extraordinary artistic or musical abilities, the origin of these achievements may well lie within the range of what the inner senses are capable of.

We don't know. What we do know is that things go on which are absolutely inexplicable when considering the action of the five ordinary senses alone.

The outer senses are absolutely vital to our work. Man was not put on the planet in order to live within the inner senses alone; that's been discussed in this blog in several different postings. The inner senses need the outer senses in order to develop. The outer senses need the inner senses in order to develop. The law of reciprocal feeding operates here, as it does everywhere. Within an edge condition, it is the meeting and blending of the various sets of impressions that create exchange, growth, and evolution.

One-sidedness in any kind of development is no better than parthenogenesis, i.e., asexual reproduction.

Here, again, nature becomes our instructor. It has been known for several hundred years -- and perhaps much longer, among intelligent people who study such matters -- that there are animals that can reproduce asexually. They don't need mates.

Sexual reproduction, in fact, is entirely unnecessary from a biological point of view. The organisms that do not use it seem to succeed fairly well, from an evolutionary point of view, over long periods of time. Biologists are still somewhat at a loss to explain why sexual reproduction has become so dominant in the natural world. This is especially true of larger organisms, where it's safe to say that 99.9% of them reproduce sexually.

The simple fact, I think, is that a much richer set of possibilities for development arise when two different elements blend. Within the blending of disparate factors comes the possibility of change, and something entirely new emerging.

This suggests, among other things, that the nature of man was created in order to allow a certain kind of sexual reproduction to take place, where a new potential of consciousness is created between the blending of inner and outer impressions. That is, in fact, almost exactly what Mr. Gurdjieff posited.

Here's another thought.

Without the five senses, and the interaction with the ordinary world, the higher would not be able to penetrate this level and perceive it. Without perceiving it, it would not be able to draw any food from it. In other words, the five senses may be part of what one might call an "astral food web," that is, a means by which higher organisms -- which are composed of more mobile energies, and not crystalline molecular entities--gather what sustains them. If we view it this way, we would then understand organic life as part of an ecosystem, which--once again--is pretty much the way Mr. Gurdjieff pitched the idea to Ouspensky. The difference between his ecosystem and the ecosystem that biology proposes today is that Mr. Gurdjieff's ecosystem extends from the top to the bottom of the universe.

He was a man who understood how to ask the big questions.

If you remove the five senses from the picture, it's like taking all the anchovies out of the food chain. Without any anchovies, the birds don't have any food to eat. Without any bird droppings, the pelagic microorganisms that feed on the nitrates don't have anything to eat, and they die off. Then there's nothing for the anchovies to eat. Remove one link, and it's all over.

So: here's a universe where everything depends on everything else. You can't have a God without men who sense through the five senses, and you can't have men without a God who needs their perception as part of his food.

A lot of religious works seem to be dedicated to somehow transcending the five senses, getting out of the body, and living on an astral level of some kind or another. I think all of these works miss the point. There is a reason for incarnation. It is necessary; it is vital; it is inescapable. We need to be incarnated. We would not be down here on this planet sensing as we sense and doing as we do if it were not necessary. This is another lesson that nature always teaches: every single element is there for a reason.

All of this being said, because man is so intensely invested in his outer senses, to the point where he believes that that is all there is, inner work begins with the necessity of going deep inside to discover the place where inner sensation arises.

Equipped with that understanding, one can begin to recondition a receiving apparatus appropriate to the needs of both the inner and the outer being.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Worm Ouroborus

Once in a while, some R&R.

Today, for a change, I'm offering a poem I wrote this morning, by way of mentioning that I've added a page to featuring a mixed bag of poetry I wrote this Spring in China.

Worm Ouroborus


There is a serpent underneath my feet.
Asleep, it stirs,
And moves the rocks and earth

Concealed, I might survive this insurrection.
The coward’s way is always quite attractive-
So it seems.

But then,
They say
To always think outside the box.

Should I attempt
To swallow myself-
To disappear in paradise-

…Or is that just a snake oil
For invented maladies?

And if I should succeed
Will I excrete the ego
A hardened, squamous turd
That I’m best rid of?
Flush it down, and walk off
Free and clear?

Mythology reveals
No clear instructions,
Nor does Freud,
Or Jung, or Marx or Engels.

Damn. They’re no friends.

Looks like I’m on my own-

Please place suggestions
In the box.


I’ve done it-
Thrust head between my legs,
And sunk my teeth deep in my ass

…And now I’m rolling downhill, fast.

It’s good because, they say,
Until you hit your bottom,
There’s no overhead.

This is no time to render
Philosophies--warm, moist, and tender
Here is where the there is-

And I’m rolling downhill, fast.


The lowest low.

I creep on hands and knees
In breathless breathlessness,
Because I know,
I know,
I know,

In darkened temples deep inside
Where cowards dare not go
Resides the Pythoness,
Dervish mistress of the dead.

Give Her one chance-
She’ll squeeze this mousy life
’Til eyes pop from its head
In sheer astonishment.

She did that once,
She merely touched my tree
And it rained snakes
For week and months
And years.

I’m not afraid of fears,
And even draw some comfort there.
It’s my courage I distrust the most
That fairest of the fair
It opens boxes—yes—best left alone

And in the shaking, quaking darkness,
I hear the serpent moan.

Uncoiling now, from age-old slumber,
With scales of gold, and eyes bejeweled
It offers ice-cold bliss I cannot countenance,
Or fathom,

Islam- I must surrender
To that chasm,
And throw myself into it,
Once again-
Downhill faster,
Faster still,

There is no bottom.

Friday, December 28, 2007

inner/essence: outer/personality

In our continuing investigation of the question of inhabiting the juncture between the flow of inner and outer impressions, we can tie it to other essential concepts found both within the Gurdjieff teaching and Zen, as well as important Christian parables.

In the Bible, we may recall that Jacob is smooth-skinned, and Esau hairy. In other words, Jacob understands the relationship to the internal- hence his smoothness- and Esau is invested in the outer-hence hairy. (See Maurice Nicoll's The New Man for a more detailed discussion of this.)

By investing in the outer, Esau unintentionally sacrifices his ability to claim his birthright. Jacob has a superior understanding that begins with his inner state, and he claims the birthright as his own--using the way of the sly man, in other words, by an oblique method--not by "going directly."

This doesn't solve all of Jacob's problems, however--in the parable, having an understanding of the inner is just the first step on a long and difficult path through life. No matter how clever, Jacob still has to develop a right relationship with the outer, and he's surprisingly susceptible to naivete and gullibility--right up to the point of accepting the "wrong" woman, Leah, as his bride the first time around. It turns out that Jacob's nemesis Laban is, in some senses, just as cunning as Jacob is. We see from this lengthy parable about Jacob that the inner has a clear and absolute need to be in relationship with and understand the outer. By itself, it is incomplete-and, surprisingly, perhaps even not so smart.

One need look no further than Gurdjieff's magnum opus Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson for examples of the seeming cluelessness of higher forces when it comes to interaction with lower levels. In Biblical tales and mythologies we also find, refreshingly, that God is not entirely infallible.

So while it confers distinct advantages, beginning with a solid connection to the inner isn't the whole answer either. Something more is necessary: the meeting of two worlds, not investment in a single one. The outer must inform the inner in the same way that the inner must inform the outer. A circulation of Being is required. The enneagram is, among other things, a map of the circulation of being.

In the Gurdjieff work, we encounter the ideas of essence and personality. These two concepts are very closely tied to the understanding of how inner and outer impressions interact, as a further quote from the platform Sutra may help illustrate:

"The Master said, 'as for the three bodies, the pure Dharma body is your nature, the perfect realization body is what you know, and the myriadfold transformation body is what you do. To talk about the three bodies apart from your own nature would be to have bodies without knowledge. Once you realize that the three bodies have no nature of their own, this is what is meant by the four kinds of Knowledge of Enlightenment. Listen to my Gatha:

Your nature possesses the three bodies
which develop the four kinds of knowledge
they lead you straight to Buddhahood
if you believe what I'm telling you now
you'll be forever free of delusion
don't follow those people running around
talking all day about enlightenment."
(The Platform Sutra, p. 278, as translated by Red Pine, Shoemaker & Hoard 2006)

Those mystified by the comment that the three bodies "have no nature of their own" would do well to turn to and ponder page 1091 of the new edition of Beelzebub, where Gurdjieff describes the "fourth personality." This January 1924 lecture, by the way, receives far less attention than it deserves, since it almost incidentally discloses essential information about the structure of emotional center (the six inner flowers) which I do not recall Gurdjieff referring to in any other material. Anyway, the fourth personality-- " real "I"-- is formed by the three parts consisting of outer impressions (as received by moving center), inner impressions (as received by emotional center) and active intelligence, acting as the intentional mediator between these two worlds.

When Hui Neng advises us that "the pure Dharma body is our nature," he speaks quite precisely of what Mr. Gurdjieff calls our essence. This substance is close to what Christians refer to as man's soul -- it is given by God, and it comes from "elsewhere." The essence maintains contact with the Holy Spirit, whereas the personality has none.

"The perfect realization body is what you know." This is what Mr. Gurdjieff calls the personality. It is all the information that is acquired over the course of a lifetime. It is quite distinct from the essence for obvious reasons. Because the personality is formed from contact with the world, it is impure. There are deep connections between the concepts of both karma and sin and the formation of the personality through the receipt of outer impressions. Sin can only arise within personality; and then, only according to the ability of the receiver to discriminate. It is in the lack of discrimination itself that we begin to sin.

Essence is closely connected to the idea of the Virgin Mary -- essence has a purity that cannot be soiled in and of itself, because the inner impressions it receives originate from a higher source.

"The myriadfold transformation body is what you do." Here we come to the idea of third force, action as the mediator between the dialectic of inner and outer impressions. In a rightly ordered life, intention and attention, that is, active consciousness, inhabit the juncture and make transformation possible.

As we progress, we begin to see that all of these ideas are tied together into one whole understanding. Essence and personality relate to inner and outer impressions. Inner and outer impressions relate to the intersection of our two natures. Our two natures are defined by the inner and outer senses, and the inner senses are defined by the Enneagram. The Enneagram describes the vessel, the vessel is the crucible which receives the material that forms the being. In the end, it is all about the question of in-formation -- what forms inwardly in the context of consciousness which stands on the threshold between our inner and our outer lives.

I would urge readers to study the question of both inner and outer impressions quite carefully, to try and make an effort to understand exactly what an inner impression is and how one is fed by it. Only by knowing the taste of this particular action within the being can one begin to approach the much larger questions that are raised in the many essays I have written about the Enneagram, the inner flowers as the physical structure of emotional center, and the role of the vessel in the development of being.

In particular, it is important to begin by learning to experience the essence as a living inner force, and to assist it in its efforts to find expression within ordinary life through the organic sense of Being.

At the same time, it is important to stand aside from personality even as we experience it, which is the exercise Mr. Gurdjieff called "separation of the self from the self." Identified with personality, we cannot even recognize it. Once we step aside, we also experience it as a living force in its own right.

Enough for one day. One fish cannot swallow the ocean, even if it wants to. :-)

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Edge conditions

In biology, it's well understood that edge conditions are just about ideal for life.

For example, when an upwelling of deep, cold ocean currents meets warm water, carrying nutrients, there, in the juncture between the two, life explodes and congregates. Salt marshes are another good example of an edge condition. The one you see in the photograph is at the mouth of the Sparkill on the Hudson River.

Once again, we see that nature, understood correctly, contains all the necessary lessons. The question of intersection of inner and outer impressions is exactly the same.

From contact with inner impressions--from the cold, deep, religious core of silence--nutrition wells up within our being.

And continuously, the warm, sensuous outer impressions of life cascade in through the senses.

The two sets of impressions mix together to create a potential; within this meeting point arises what we call consciousness.

There is a mystery here. The inner impressions come from another level; the energy within the body may be of the body, but its origins lie beyond the body. What creates the body is what creates all matter; it is an intentionality that collapses the quantum state, a resolution of improbability into reality.

No one can explain this intentionality; the Buddhists call it the Dharma; the Muslims call it Allah; Christians call it God.

We all want to name, but perhaps it is best for this to remain nameless. Suffice it to say that there is a source from which all reality, all being, arises. We have the inner equipment to know this, not with the coarse parts of the mind, but the very cilia of our cells themselves--or, like the three little pigs, by the hairs of our chinny-chin-chin.

And, come to think of it, there's an interesting story. The pigs, by becoming progressively more inward and more contained in more and more solid dwelling-places, ultimately devour the wolf. Thus, the increasingly stalwart inwardness of the three-membered pig family learns to ingest the outwardness of the wolf, instead of the outwardness of the wolf eating the inwardness of the pigs. And it's on the threshold --at the edge--that all the real action takes place.

From within the upwelling out of silence and into being, something can enter into life, just as life can enter into us. It is our responsibility to stand on the edge and become the life that inhabits it.

It is in the effort to become sensitive to, understand, and dwell within the meeting point of these two conditions that our consciousness approaches the possibility of development.

Can we stand within our life, directly in the middle--the middle way of the Buddha--between both the inner and the outer, and help them to meet one another in a right way? We need to discover the meeting place, within ordinary experience, and see how we inhabit it.

To be between the devil and the deep blue sea is to willingly stand between the alluring desires of outwardness, and the seductive bliss of inwardness--both accepting the gifts, and assuming the responsibilities.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

confusion, inside and out

Crabs: hard on the outside, sweet on the inside. In Shanghai at this time of year, the freshwater crab is the seasonal delicacy.

This morning I came across this quote from Hui Neng's Platform Sutra (Red Pine's translation, as published by Shoemaker and Hoard, p. 37.)

"When a person's mind has no thoughts and is fundamentally empty and still and free of false views, this is the greatest of all causes -- which occurs when you aren't confused about the inside or the outside, when you are free of dualities. If you're confused about the outside, you're attached to forms. If you are confused about the inside, you're attached to emptiness. To be free of form amid forms and to be free of emptiness amid emptiness, this is when you aren't confused about the inside or the outside."

In pursuing this question of inwardness and outwardness, it's pretty clear that for the most part we live outwardly. We experience life through the five senses and are convinced that this is the only truth. If there is anything in us that needs to be changed, we must acquire the change from the outward part of life, through the five senses, through what we eat, or words, or yoga or tai chi practice, or breathing exercises, and so on. We seek to acquire through form, which is, of course, a form of desire.

Eventually, if we work diligently enough, especially at meditation, it will began to dawn on us that there is an inward life. We'll also see that inwardness can change us, much more radically than outwardness can. Then we begin to seek to acquire through emptiness, which almost immediately becomes the very "spiritual materialism" Chogyam Trungpa warned against.

What interests me about this Buddhist quote -- and about Hui Neng and Dogen in general--is that they repeatedly emphasize that inwardness is not everything either. It's not the solution... but it can actually become part of the problem.

Inwardness is incredibly convincing--the same as outwardness, maybe even more so--and once we first discover it, the temptation is to abandon outwardness in the interests of penetrating the inner. The miraculous nature of our inner being is just as much of an allurement as the outward senses of life. Just like ordinary life, it's a place to get lost.

The need, then, is to learn to inhabit the intersection between these two sets of sensory possibilities, inward sensation and outward sensation.

Hui Neng points us towards an interesting possibility: to be free of form amid forms suggests living within form, within outwardness--with awareness--but not being identified with it; and to be free of emptiness amid emptiness would be to live within emptiness, within inwardness--also with awareness--but equally without identification. So he posits a state in which we inhabit the juncture between the inwardness and the outwardness: in other words, true consciousness functions as a bridge between two worlds.

We should be careful, in our work, not to invoke the elitism of silence, which appears to be deep, but ultimately promotes duality by overemphasizing the inner. Of course, we ought to avoid any elitism at all, if possible, but this is probably too high a practice for us to fully understand.

Hui Neng also comments thusly:

"In speaking with others, remain free of appearances when you explore appearances, and remain free of emptiness when you enter into emptiness. If you become attached to emptiness, you will only increase your ignorance. And if you become attached to appearances, you will only increase your delusions.
And you slander the Dharma if you simply tell people not to use words. If you tell them not to use words, then people shouldn't use language. Language is words. You can say their nature is empty, but the nature of truth is not empty. The deluded only confuse themselves when they get rid of language." (Platform Sutra, p. 42.)

So what interests me right now is the juncture between inwardness and outwardness, occupied by Being, with an active understanding of the immediate existence of both aspects.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas morning 2007

On the way to church this morning-- a crisp, cool, and pristine dawn--I clear the windshield with a quick spray of fluid and a sweep of the wiper blades. Immediately, on the crystal-clear glass, countless paper-thin ice blossoms propagate in circular patterns on the windshield.

We marvel.

In the car on the way, I remark to my wife Neal that one of our chief failings is we think we are big. Each one of us seems to believe we are the center of the universe, and that we control the great influences that swirl around us. Of course, in most of us there is a practical part of the mind that logically realizes this is untrue, but the motive force behind us -- perhaps Western psychology would call it the ego -- persists in the delusion that it is all powerful.

Hence the need for what I mentioned yesterday -- submission.

We arrive at Grace Church in Nyack, New York, an Episcopalian place of worship. Built from heavy blocks of the local red sandstone, which was deposited in the age of the dinosaurs, it is a traditional, although tiny, Gothic church in the high tradition.

As we arrive at the equally tiny churchyard, a strange and misplaced taste of spring lurks within the winter frost.

Few people are in attendance. The church is dark.

This morning the sun comes through the stained glass high in the apse of the Church, casting rosette patterns of gleaming lavender and brilliant ochre light. They remind me of spectacular nebulae and areas of star formation--blurs of cosmic light in distant parts of the universe revealed by the Hubble telescope.

Candles surround us, reminding us of the light and fire that kindle meaning and relationship in every part of the universe.

At the end of the Church, a magnificent set of stained-glass windows recapitulating the passion. It glows with an incomprehensibly bejeweled presence that reminds me of the inner temple of the soul--that secret place which we all carry within our heart of hearts, but rarely glimpse; a place we seem to be forever creeping towards, in the breathless breath of our deepest possible confessional.

It is quiet this morning. There is no choir; all the big noise and celebration was last night at the midnight service, a service Neal and I are a bit too old and tired to make it to most years.

Even the church itself is holding its breath this morning. I feel as though we have slipped back in time, to a moment in the Middle Ages where the churches were filled not with pomp and circumstance, but with sobriety and the gravity of this brief life we live. Within the silence, a sense of humility, and a moment where I begin to recognize what Gurdjieff calls "our own nothingness."

I feel today as though I forever carry the beginnings of this soul through time-- as though the roots of my being lied buried far back behind me in time, in a medieval substance that I can still taste around me. In the chanting of monks, the bending of knees and the bowing of heads. I know this place. It has always been within me--how, I know not, but this is where the there is...

It occurs to me that events and time can begin to seem a burden in many lives, but it is actually the very weight of events and time that lift us up.

A paradox.

The minister--a young woman, fresh out of theological school, obviously brilliant--is new. An unknown, untested quantity. She's fragile, highly self-assured, yet nervous--a healthy blend of contradictions, provoking inner effort.

Hesitantly, she begins to speak of Marcus Borg and what he considers to be the "core question" of Christianity: did Christ bring us the light? What is Enlightenment? Weaving a complex web of associative symbolism about light, at first, she seems too intellectual--but then she wraps it up neatly--unexpectedly--masterfully--with a quote from Meister Eckhart, stating that the light is found within each one of us.

Perfect. In a sneak attack worthy of an old pro, she has deftly kicked the ball directly into the goal.

Now she continues the service, and she pauses -- actually pauses -- in the places where the catechism indicates silence should be kept.


This is a forgotten practice in the church. Silence is a dangerous thing. Something real might enter within the silence, and we spend most of our lives trying to avoid that.

She pauses more than once, intentionally. She pauses for long enough for us to notice the silence, savor the silence, taste the silence and physically encounter the solemnity of our wish.

Who is this young woman? I ask myself.

Something different.

Within the silence, I find myself asking yet another question. Do I come here hoping to receive something--

or is it what I intend to offer that matters the most?

Within the silence, there is a taste of both the joy and the sorrow.

May God's grace go with you--

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Monday, December 24, 2007


It strikes me that there is a disturbing tendency in all of us to want it to be easy.

The spiritual quest should be wonderful; it should lead to wonderful things; it isn't that difficult, and the end of the path is nothing but bliss.

Some of us--maybe all of us--forget that the great examples of spiritual discipline were, before anything else, examples of disciplined spirituality. Christ, who reached what some would argue is the highest state possible for man, went through terrible deprivations in the desert, accompanied by trials and temptations orchestrated by the devil himself.

As if that wasn't enough, men nailed him to a cross, humiliated him, and killed him. Even more astonishing, he made his peace with that. You can argue all you want about which great spiritual avatar was the most developed; it seems safe to say that no greater example of an effort at forgiveness exists in human spiritual history. One has to turn to mythology to find parallels.

Buddha went through years of ascetic deprivation before he supposedly realized none of that was necessary. Mohammed never felt that he reached the end of his path; no matter how far he went, he knew it was never far enough.

One of my best friends (who will probably read this and beat me up for saying it) maintains that all the suffering in the universe is created by us ourselves. This is significantly divergent from Gurdjieff's understanding, which is that there is a sorrow at the heart of the universe all Beings must participate in. I would have to say that I come down on his side of the question.

Perhaps we cannot know what all of this means. We can know that it means demands are made. They are made within infinite mercy and by loving hands, but they are made. We will all be subjected to trials.

In my own work, I have on several occasions been given a glimpse of just how absolutely forgiving and loving those hands are. It repeatedly stuns me to see how far short I fall of being able to understand that, let alone practice it. In life, everything is two steps forward, one step back.

I find myself on the edge of Christmas eve asking for help. I do not know what it is to forgive; I practice compassion only sporadically, according to my state; I do not dwell within enough humility, or exercise enough patience. In this particular moment, where we commemorate the birth of something quite extraordinary on this planet, something that never came before and has never come since, I examine where I am and what I am capable of.

I see that more is demanded. My efforts are not good enough. They must be aimed at the practice of Islam: submission. This does not mean I need to become a Muslim. It does mean I need to learn to submit my will to that of a higher power. "Thy will be done."

Having been intensely engaged in that effort for six years, I pray that I am given enough time in this lifetime to complete that task.

It is not easy. As I grow older, I see that time is short. Having been granted an excess of grace, I see that what we are given is never the point. It is what we earn that will be measured. The man who buries his coins in the field and does nothing with them has done less than the one who spends them foolishly, for at least the foolish one has a chance to learn that he is foolish.

The Sufis say that there are Sufis in every religion: in every effort aimed at reconnecting with the wholeness, there are those who seek the heart of God through love.

Let's hope that together, we all take another two steps on that path today.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

inward nature, outward nature

Over the past few days, there have been several discussions about the nature of inwardness and outwardness that provoke me to revisit this question.

Beatrice Sinclair was over for dinner on Thursday night, and she made the comment that "a princess never loses her inwardness."

Having contact with your inwardness -- your inner work -- at all times, even in ordinary life -- this is work in life.

Readers will recall that I have mentioned we actually have two sensory systems, each one belonging to one of our two natures. The outer sensory system, the five ordinary senses, takes in ordinary impressions, "coarse" impressions at a lower rate of vibration. These senses, which operate at the speed of moving center, are only capable of just so much and no more. When the Buddhists talk of being invested in an external life, and attachment to the senses, and desire, they are referring to man's habit of living through these five senses.

Hui Neng comments thus: "People of small capacity... possess all the wisdom of prajna, the same as people who are truly wise. So why don't they understand the Dharma when they hear it? it's because all these beings have deluded themselves into looking for a Buddha through external practices and haven't yet realized their own nature that they remain people of small capacity." (The Platform Sutra, p. 23, translation by Red Pine, Shoemaker and Hoard, 2006.)

All of the practices in the Gurdjieff work that seek to cultivate sensation begin with sensation received through the outward senses. However, as one begins to learn the meaning of sensation from inside the body, one eventually encounters a different kind of sensation that can arise as a motive force for Being. One begins to learn to discriminate between inward and outward sensation, and, consequently, may begin to see the difference between inward impressions and outward impressions.

When we say that people lack discrimination, it is precisely in this area that the discrimination is lacking. I would suggest, if you truly want to try to "stay in front of your lack," that you try starting here.

People rarely pause to consider the idea that they have a structure, an apparatus, for the inward receiving of impressions. This structure, the physical organs of emotional center, is built to receive impressions at higher rates of vibration.

Indeed, the idea is very esoteric -- it is inward, inner, and one doesn't even encounter it unless one encounters a Work. Even then, because so many works are confused and partial, one does not necessarily encounter the idea that the structure is quite specific and operates according to a set of laws, although that's completely logical. After all, the structure is a machine built within a biological organism, and every biological organism follows natural law.

Thus, when the Buddhists say that awakening is to awaken to your own true nature, this is literally true in a biological as well as an esoteric sense. On this level, it is impossible to separate biology from consciousness. On other levels, the manifestation of consciousness is different, and does not express itself through DNA-based organisms. Here, it does.

That fact invokes inevitable consequences that many works appear to wish to get rid of in one way or another. In Gurdjieff's system, however, we see a method that begins with and is rooted in the work of the biological organism itself for the development of Being.

Hui Neng commented thus: "All of you should listen carefully. Everyone's physical body is a city. Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin are the city gates. These five gates are all the outside, and on the inside is the gate of the intellect. Your mind is the kingdom, and your nature is the king. When your nature is there, so is the king... when your nature is present, your body and mind are present. ...When the Tathagata of your enlightened natures shines the light of wisdom on the land of your mind, the six gates shine with purity." (The Platform Sutra, p. 30, translation by Red Pine, Shoemaker and Hoard, 2006.)

Readers who go to the original text will see that I have edited some, but that is only because it is lengthy. I believe the editing still preserves the essence of the message: There are not only five outer gates of the five outer senses: there are also six inner gates through which something much finer can enter us.

Because of the variety of experience that can arise through the receiving of impressions through any combination of the inner gates--as I call them, the six flowers--we get a confusing array of interpretations of this inner structure. Only Gurdjieff's Enneagram brings a sensible order to that confusing array, because it understands the structure according to law.

Most of the Tantric schools preserve significant fragments of this knowledge, and of course, because everyone wants their own special river, every school claims that it has it right.

Maybe it doesn't matter who has it right. I think the point is that you need to discover the six inner gates within yourself and investigate the structure. People may disagree as to how the structure appears, what it consists of, and count the different numbers, but there is a structure, anyone who investigates for long enough will discover this.

Gurdjieff brought an undeniable order and a new kind of logic to this. Other schools get more and more confused and more and more complicated in order to explain the nature of the inwardness from a structural point of view; the Enneagram (which for some seems to be an extraordinarily complex diagram) is actually quite simple and beautiful once one begins to understand it from an inner point of view. In and of itself, it offers a path to work which can, as Gurdjieff himself said, accelerate the development of Being. This is why he called his work "Haida yoga," or, "hurry up yoga."

It's always true: when you know where you are headed, and you have a good map, you get there faster.

Getting back to the question of the intersection between inwardness and outwardness, once one cultivates inwardness in such a way as to bring a wholeness to the inner structural apparatus, it operates in a synesthetic manner, that is, it receives inner impressions in a single whole environment that mimics the arrival of information from the outward senses. That outward information is experienced as one single experience, even though what takes place is divided by the five senses into five separate sets of inputs.

That kind of inner unity within the six inner centers can lead to a completely new set of rather magnificent experiences.

One does not want to get too caught in this, however. The inward experience alone is not what develops Being. That is the mistake that so many make. Taking one last quote from our good friend Hui Neng, "...if you practice empty-mind Zen, you will fall into a featureless void." ((The Platform Sutra, p. 20, translation by Red Pine.)

The featureless void is beautiful. But there's no there there.

In this intersection between inwardness and outwardness, we discover the two natures in intersection. Once we create something more whole within ourselves arising from the organic sense of being, and existing within the circulation of energy that takes place when the six inner sensory organs are in relationship, we can retain it.

Our ultimate effort is to dwell within outward life in every circumstance, all the time, knowing that there is not only outwardness but also inwardness.

This retention of presence within is often referred to as having a new kind of attention. Perhaps that's dangerous. Does it need a label? That phrase has been used so much that perhaps people don't hear it anymore. Our understanding of it has become habitual.

We need to learn to attend to our inwardness and bring it into life so that it meets and blends with the outwardness of our experience. The vessel needs to be made whole in order for that to be possible, and only the intentional application of consciousness to the situation can seal the vessel.

Over time, as I may have mentioned before, the taking in of inner impressions can lead to the elimination of negativity. This is a long process. It is, however, inevitable--because negativity cannot exist if the structure functions properly.

And wherever and whenever inner negativity does not exist, it is replaced by something indescribable.

Much love to you all, as we gently approach this sacred moment referred to by the Christians as Christmas.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Many rivers

It's difficult to see how narrow we are. From within our narrowness, we believe we are wide. We are all Lilliputians: tiny creatures obsessed with the idea that we control forces much larger than ourselves.

We come up against huge forces that we give names to, such as religion, and war; we believe we have the power to accept or dismiss them, to direct them, to decide whether they are meaningful or not. In our arrogance, we don't see that they are bigger than we are, and have a meaning and an existence regardless of our opinion.

Last night, I was talking to a devoutly spiritual woman who insisted she was not religious, but philosophical. She dismissed the very idea of religion as though it were snot. She could not even see that she was, in fact, deeply religious, at least as it is generally understood by those who study such questions. But, like many people, she did not seem to understand what the term "religion" actually means (to re-connect, or re-member); she had merely adopted it as a slogan so that she could express reaction against it. In one of the deepest troughs of irony I have seen anyone wallow in lately, she described her intense meditation practice, centering around bliss, as "spiritual" rather than "religious."

Don't get me wrong. This person was a wonderful woman, intelligent, warm, and sensitive; I had a delightful conversation with her that I believe ended on a positive note, despite my habit of raising uncomfortable questions and challenging statements in order to see where she was coming from.

I walked away from it with, as usual, a further set of obnoxious personal questions about what we believe and think, and how it collides with the inevitable reality of existence.

One of the bon mots that this gentle woman served me was a stock phrase that I hear from almost everyone with a practice: "there are many rivers." Everyone repeats nonsense like this, as though there were a thousand different sets of practices that could lead people to consciousness, and any combination of them would work.

Human beings have fallen in love with the idea of many rivers because that way they can have their own river. Isn't that nice? A river of our very own. How special we are.

In acquiring our own majestic river, we forget one thing: there is only one kind of water. Yes, it may be salty or fresh, but water, in its essence, is still water, no matter how you flavor it or what you add to it. Water forms rivers; rivers don't form water. For once, it's not a chicken-egg question; we don't need to ask which one came first.

It is the water that is important, not the river. In falling in love with the river, we forget that it is not about the form of the river -- it is about its essence, what it contains -- that is, the water. You might say that we have all fallen victim to a syndrome where we cannot see the water for the rivers.

It's this exact disease of wanting our own river that the whole "spiritual" train derails on.

There are not countless different laws running the universe. There is a single limited set, a number of which are known. We may not be able to explain exactly why these laws are there, but we know that they are. In and of themselves, laws provide powerful constraints on every aspect of development within the universe. They constrain the direction that the interaction of matter can take; they constrain the direction of evolution; every cause and effect is ruled by law.

The question of the development of consciousness is no different. The whole point of Gurdjieff's enneagram is that it depicts the laws that govern such matters.

Not "aribitrary set of principles that vary according to the whims and beliefs of various individuals according to type."


As Beelzebub so often said to his grandson,

"...Well then, my boy."

We have to be very careful to avoid turning our work into a communist process, in which we adopt a set of slogans we repeat, and feed ourselves a steady stream of inner propaganda designed to support the regime. We should examine each statement we make with intelligence, and see how it all holds up. All too often, if we scrutinize what we are saying, we will find out that while it sounds marvelous, it contains inherent contradictions or even an outright lack of understanding of the terms we are applying.

This, of course, is the force of habit that dominates our daily exchange with life; we hear other people use terms, they sound good. We imitate them. Others are impressed because we, too, sound good when we say these things. So little of it is based on our own investigation and efforts; much easier to adopt the latest slogan.

Listen to yourself the next time you say some groovy thing that fits right in to the work you belong to. Do you really know what it means? This goes back to the point I made several times over the past week, about the fact that we don't even know what we lack. Our thinking part is unable to determine what we lack. The lack itself comes from our investment in that part.

It is definitely possible to know what we lack. We cannot do that with the ordinary mind. Man does not lack something generalized; what he lacks is something quite specific, which must be discovered by a careful investigation of the inner state. And, as Mr. Gurdjieff advised everyone quite clearly, a man's task is to see precisely what he lacks, in precise terms, and then set out to acquire it by lawful means. Not any old way, by kicking the football up and down the field at random until we happen to strike the goal.

No, Mr. Gurdjieff expected more of human beings that studied his system. He wanted them to become much more specific in their inner investigation, so that they would see and actually understand what it was that was missing.

He wanted us to have an aim.

I just want to pass on one more bit of information for readers. I have taken a brief break from Dogen's Shobogenzo and am reading the Platform Sutra, by Hui Neng, who was the sixth great patriarch of Chinese Zen practice. Hui Neng lived from 638 to 713 A.D. in southern China, not too far from Hong Kong.

This Sutra is the only Sutra outside the Buddha's personal core teachings which is held in the same reverence. It is highly recommended reading; it presents the essential ideas of Buddhism in a simple and accessible context, and lays them out in such a manner that some of their connections to the Gurdjieff work are easier to understand than by plowing the complex, deep soils of Dogen's fields. In its simplicity and beauty, it is comparable to the Tao.

The translation I am reading is by Red Pine and is published by Shoemaker and Hoard, 2006. There is, however, what appears to be an equally servicable translation available for free through links on the Wikipedia site.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


...back from china... jet lagged, and with a demanding social schedule in fromt of me for the next two days.. it is difficult to find time to post. So there may not be a post tomorrow and today will be short.

This morning as I was sitting, it struck me that there is a phrase that might summarize my essential experience over the past six months... one that captures the taste of what I was trying to express yesterday in Korea.

It's possible to live so that as we experience it, life falls directly into the heart of our being.

As we seek to open the flowers that lie within us, we may--with grace--eventually discover that the one at the center of our body--the one concealed within the golden treasure-temple-- is the center of life, a mirror that reflects the center of the universe.

When we are present--with grace--then our life, as it arrives, falls into us like an arrow caught by gravity.

The arrow does not seek earth: it has no need to. It is drawn to the ground by an inherent force that attracts it.

This is another meaning for magnetic center. In the work, it is said, our level of being attracts our life.

This doesn't mean the gross events of life, the circumstances.

Rather, it refers to how we experience them.

That is, life begins to fall directly into the heart of our being.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

absolute immersion

Once again, from the airport lounge in Seoul... returning from yet another trip to China. These "posts in transit" have become something of a tradition for me. Today, however, I'm travelling with colleagues, so I'll keep it a bit brief.

Over the past two days the primary theme seems to be immersion. I find myself within this life, utterly immersed in the experience of sensation, the experience of exchange, the experience of taking in the myriad impressions which feed the progression of life.

Above all, the acceptance of the immediate conditions is required; the joyful acceptance, although, joy in this case does not "arrive" as a development, or exist because it is willed; rather, it is the inherent condition, the fundament from which the experience of life springs. Within this experience of life, if we work in a right way, it becomes possible to discover a condition within which everything begins from joy.

I don't speak here of exhilaration, or excitement, or anything we might call "ordinary;" instead, I speak of a deeper motive force, one with roots in the bedrock of reality itself--a positivist expression of truth, one that leads me to firmly believe that joy is within the heart of all Being, just as bliss--which is a different but no less vital component of life and being--supports us all.

Can we--do we-- seek that fountain of joy and that bliss that dwells within us?

This question may seem divorced from the drab technicalities and "severe" demands of Gurdjieff's work; it may seem equally far removed from the intensity of Dogen's doctrinaire demands; but in fact it is the essence of both these works, and all work in general.

If we are not working to attain this active, blessed relationship with the fundamental, universal source of Love,

...what are we working for?

And if we do not discover it, in the end, in the midst of life...

well then, where do we expect to encounter it?

The Way does not, as some might have it, begin after death--it dwells within life. Absolute immersion in life.

Much love to all of you--

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

sheets of paper

The photograph is a glimpse into the back streets of old Shanghai, an environment fast disappearing under the pressures of modern living and real estate development.

A few days ago we discussed the ideas behind the law of accident. Today I want to examine law from a larger, but also more personal, point of view.

In the Gurdjieff Work we are given to understand than man, on his level, operates under 48 laws. It is said that we have the possibility of coming under the influence of different laws.

In essence, that means that we can develop so that less of the laws affect us, thus coming under a different set of influences. There is no escaping law; even at the highest levels of the universe law must be obeyed. It’s a question of which laws.

How do we understand this idea of coming under a different set of influences? It relates back to what I said recently about trying to think of what we lack.

We cannot think of what we lack, and we cannot think of how things are different under different laws.

It’s more or less like a piece of paper trying to think of what it would be like to be an oak tree. The paper comes from wood, true, but it has been flattened and rendered (in essence) two dimensional by a powerful set of outside influences. It retains, in every sense, its direct connection to the tree—it’s made of much the same stuff, from a molecular point of view—but the nature of the relationship has been fundamentally altered. In order for the paper to understand what it is to be a tree again, it would have to undergo a radical transformation of its substances which made them available for re-incorporation into the tree.

This is a big deal. It involves the complete and utter death of the paper: burning, pulping and composting, whatever. And from where the sheet of paper is right now, it has been so removed from its original tree-nature that it is all but impossible for it to understand its connection to the tree.

Coming under the influences of different laws involves changes just as radical, as unfamiliar, as unthinkable as the paper would face. We don’t think that way, though; all of us believe that whatever comes as we make our effort will be familiar enough to understand.

What if we’re wrong?

What we are searching for lies beyond what we are and how we are. It cannot be measured with the mind. Perhaps this is why many practices seek to transcend the mind. …I’m not even sure we can do that. If man cannot ‘do,” by himself he cannot transcend. He cannot even think of what it would be to actually transcend. Anything he imagines is not transcendental but rather, a different take on the ordinary—one more flavor in a bucket of what is and will always be nothing more than ice cream.

This is why we tiptoe up to the idea of inner change. It demands something entirely new… something we not only do not want to give,

It is something we by ourselves are unable to give.

Hence the law of three and the presence of the triangle within the diagram of the enneagram—the place where outside, higher influences must act.

When we see the enneagram, we see it on sheets of paper. We imagine it on sheets of paper. We have rendered it flat—a dead, two dimensional concept on pulp. This prevents us from understanding it as a living thing, a map of a set of forces with us which must be encountered and understood.

This most essential understanding of the diagram as an experience within the organism is where the journey from sheet of paper, back to tree, begins.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Information theory

The following quote is taken from today’s posting on the astronomy picture of the day web site.

“According to the Holographic Principle, the most information you can get from this image is about 3 x 1065 bits for a normal sized computer monitor. The Holographic Principle, yet unproven, states that there is a maximum amount of information content held by regions adjacent to any surface. Therefore, counter-intuitively, the information content inside a room depends not on the volume of the room but on the area of the bounding walls. The principle derives from the idea that the Planck length, the length scale where quantum mechanics begins to dominate classical gravity, is one side of an area that can hold only about one bit of information. The limit was first postulated by physicist Gerard 't Hooft in 1993.”

I came across this bit of information first thing this morning while I was preparing to sit, and it immediately struck me as containing an interesting question.

Leaving aside for the time being the question of what “one bit of information” consists of (which is probably the most important question of all…!), let’s reason thusly:

1. The total amount of information in any area is limited by its boundaries, not its content.

2. The universe is expanding.

3. The amount of potential information the universe can contain is thus increasing.

4. Information—what is inwardly formed—is the source of meaning in the universe. A universe with nothing in it would be meaningless, because meaning can only arrive in the presence of organized substance.

In my line of reasoning, we will presume that physics—like all of nature—tells us something of God, and that God is not apart from nature, but rather, the essence of nature itself. In other words, God is not supernatural, but quintessentially natural.

God is composed of all the information in the universe (we can add a magical “something else,” for those who feel that “everything is not enough”.) I’ll call all of that information in its totality—all events, all matter, and, even more importantly, all action and all experience—the Heart of God. The Dharma.

So we might say we live in a universe where the Heart of God is growing larger.

Consider this now in light of the idea that Gurdjieff first offered in “Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson:” God created the universe because time was gradually eroding the place of his existence.

Measured in the terms of the holographic principle, we might say that time was causing the total amount of information available to him to decrease. In other words, Time was causing the universe to decay—the meaning within it was being lost.

This sounds suspiciously like the entropic principle, that is, nature tends to move from order towards disorder in isolated systems. This principle states that systems with limited boundaries will eventually see their information “grind to a halt,” so to speak. Physicists are referring to this idea when they hypothesize the heat death of the universe : the descent of the system into a completely cold, static state, where no heat exists and the consequent movement created by it is no longer possible. There may be matter, but it has reached the state of minimal information: nothing is happening. It just sits there.

If the universe was, as Gurdjieff suggests, created because there was a need for an ever-expanding influx of new information—a movement towards maximal information--, it would make perfect sense from the point of view of physics. A dynamic and expanding system of exactly the kind we find ourselves within was required. And it needed expanding boundaries simply because the original aim was to ensure that the erosion of information by the action of time was conclusively counteracted.

So the “great circulation” of energy from the top to the bottom of what Gurdjieff called “the Ray of Creation” may be a movement designed to create an environment of increasing information through action.

Action, or choice, imparts “heat” into a system by applying the friction of consciousness. Consciousness, instead of remaining passive and mechanical (which would ultimately lead all and everything to the previously mentioned “heat death”) chooses.

So it’s consciousness itself, at every level, that applies the action required to “keep things heating up.”

As to the question of meaning, we can see why Dogen continually tried to re-educate Buddhists who believed that some form of empty oblivion was the ultimate expression of the Dharma. It is not the complete dissolution of meaning that creates and maintains the Dharma—the universe—but rather the presence of all information. So the practice of presence is participation in an additive universe, not a subtractive search for nothingness. This brings us directly back to the tension between the via positiva and the via negativa as discussed yesterday.

The universe forms information within itself. That is to say, in its creation it gave rise to matter, which organizes.

I have ruminated for some years about where matter itself comes from. Some of the ruminations resulted in my speculative essay about light and its relationship to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. (click the link , and then scroll down, to find the essay at

My basic question about this revolves around the matter of why we see so many dense nebulae out there forming stellar nurseries. My impression, all along, has been that the universe is not recycling old matter. The process of creation is ongoing—that is, in a manner that we most certainly do not understand, new matter is being formed all the time.

This is analogous to the process of the inward formation of Being. Something entirely new is taking place in the influx of impressions and the blending of inner and outer impressions. The universe of consciousness as it forms within each Being is an expanding one; as the boundaries of inner awareness expand, and the octave is completed, a new level of information becomes possible, because a completed octave is no longer a closed system; it is a note, participating in the octave above it. The inclusion of all the necessary notes “forms a new world” at the next level.

On that note, friends, let us all continue to devote ourselves to that deeply inward journey which creates new worlds.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

the positive way

As regular readers know, I not infrequently refer to Jeanne De Salzmann in my postings.

I did not know her well, but I saw her in person on a number of occasions, and a number of the people I know worked closely with her. She not only changed the Gurdjieff work with the intense and undeniable quality of her own work, she left a legacy we all owe a very real debt to.

Just yesterday, I mentioned her phrase "staying in front of our lack." And this morning, my wife used that phrase again. The phrase gets used a good deal, and with good reason.

However, this morning, I raised some questions about it.

I wonder whether it is time to erase the blackboard. When we use the phrases that other teachers left us, it is good, but we always fall into the danger of allowing it to become habitual. This particular phrase -- whose purpose I value -- has been used a great deal. Today, I am pondering whether or not it belongs to what is called the "via negativa." (Coming to what God is through negation—what He is not.)

That is to say, it focuses on what we do not have. It presumes inability, deficiency.

The inability may indeed be there, but it is only half of the question. There are also abilities. We could look at the other half of this question and offer the idea of “being within our lives." This offers a positivist point of view on our work.

After many years of immersion in the Gurdjieff work, which, combined with my devout Christian practice, is undeniably the heart of my own search, I am concerned about the danger of focusing on the negative -- what we cannot do, the way in which we are unable, all of the defects and deficiencies which we have. It may be time for all of us in the Gurdjieff Work to look at the question of affirmation. The via negativa cannot be all there is -- it is only one half of the question. If Gurdjieff was the great master of the 20th century in this way—perhaps Paramahansa Yogananda was the great master of the via positiva. And I believe that we need to discover a synthesis of the two ways in order to find a work that is whole.

Anyone who spends enough time on inner work will eventually discover that glorious, beautiful things can blossom in us. Nothing is all bad. We are not solely constructed of a lack. There are things we have as well as things we do not have. We need to learn to value the things that we do have, as well as perceive the things that we do not.

I may have mentioned before that it is necessary, on occasion, to completely erase the blackboard. You can absolutely fill it with equations that define exactly where you are, as my math teacher at Phillips Academy in Andover used to do. There is a moment, however, when everything has to be erased in one instant in order for an entirely new paradigm to arrive. If we do not erase the blackboard of our inner work, both in its form and its substance, the blackboard never has room for anything new to appear. So while we use the valuable phrases that our teachers left us, let us sip their nectar with caution, rather than chug-a-lugging them in the hopes of an elusive, highest-possible high.

I do have one other comment on the question of staying in front of our lack. This phrase has more than one meaning. In a sense, all it is is preparation for a much larger moment. As I pointed out yesterday, we do not know the stranger -- we do not even know what we lack. We continually define what we lack by what we think we lack, and what we think we lack is imaginary. Do we really know what we lack? That would be a very big realization indeed.

Eventually, the skin of imagination has to be peeled back by something greater than what we know now.

When that peeling of the skin occurs, we are faced with a real Moment in which we truly discover what we lack, an experience that is given, rather than created by our own effort. And in that moment, we discover what it actually means to lack, rather than what we think it means to lack.

In other words, the question is much larger than the words that form it.

This is often the case with questions, and it pays to remember it.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

After a set of posts that seem to be largely about theory of one kind or another, it seems time to delve into something a bit more personal, and a little less structural.

…Why spend time studying the theory? …What are we working for?

…What good are words?

Well, words may not be much good. It’s true. What we seek within, after all the explanation and understanding that we can muster, turns out to be much more sublime and mysterious than any form can offer.

What we seek, after all, comes from somewhere else. It is not familiar, it cannot be familiar …and yet we struggle to define it in familiar terms.

It is only when we reach the threshold of this stranger’s house that we understand that the stranger is truly a stranger. The house may appear to be familiar…from the outside… but if we enter, when we meet the master of the house, we discover that we know nothing of Him whatsoever. So little do we know, that in that very meeting we realize our essential relationship consists of ignorance… we do not even know ourselves, and in that encounter with the other, everything we think we may know about anything is quite honestly shattered.

In our search for Being, it is necessary to stop imagining. As Jeanne de Salzmann once said to a dear friend of mine when she told her she was finding visualization very difficult,

“Well, of course. …You are too thick.”

The other half of what we are is born from forces beyond the ordinary: forces that, for lifetimes, we only hear rumors about, forces that are assigned fantastic, mysterious, and magical powers… in short, forces we seek to describe on our own terms.

It’s exactly these terms of our own that betray us. If our search forever remains a negotiation within the familiar, how can we encounter anything new?

There is a good deal of trust necessary in order to open our hearts to a higher force. Within myself, I detect a lack of that trust; I struggle with it, knowing all the while that my life, inner and outer alike, stands poised on the edge of a possibility that eclipses all that we know and all that we think we are.

I want everything to turn on vast and majestic understandings “out there.” What I do not understand is that everything turns “in here”—it turns on this moment—that all the vast and majestic understandings are contained within the here, expressing themselves within the now. And that expression, in its very intimacy, becomes infinite, as though the lover, in the once-and-for-all moment of truly, selflessly loving his beloved, enfolds the whole universe in that selfsame love at that same time.

This is flowers unfolding and petals spreading bliss. It lies within the breath, within the body and blood, within the sacred sacraments of the food of Being. This unleavened bread—impressions not inflated by the vacuous air of my ordinary associations—is the food of life, just as the water of inner life becomes wine, in the act of consciously drinking it.

It is in the acceptance of our nothingness that we discover we are something; it is in knowing we are small that we become large; it is in submission that we gain freedom.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

Friday, December 14, 2007

forgive us our tresspasses-sealing the vessel, part 2

Today I am back in Hangzhou- the looming presence of the lake seems larger than life in the darkness, and the hotel grounds are awash with Christmas lights, something one sees more of every year in China.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

This phrase has a specific meaning in relationship to the idea of containment, which is the inner practice of sealing the crucible of Being, the vessel we dwell within.

Containment is a practice in many religions. Why it needs to be a practice can be explained by proper understanding of the enneagram.

Every negative emotion we have- every judgment, every inner movement arising from ordinary being which, in our nearly perpetual state of inattention, faults or devalues the existing moment, person, or thing—is a trespass.

The word “trespass” is a more accurate word than “sin,” which is what the modern version of the prayer uses. This because when energy which belongs in the right evolution of the octave “leaks” out of the vessel, it trespasses the boundaries of the octave it belongs in and collapses into different, repetitive, state.

Gurdjieff’s practices of non-expression of negative emotion and outer considering, Christ’s compassion, Buddhism’s mindfulness, are all practices specifically aimed at containing energy within the vessel. Intention and awareness--conscious action, or third force—are required in order to avoid such “deflections of the octave.”

To reject, to be negative, is to fail to take in what arrives. Each judgment or negative emotional impulse, spits what must be accepted—allowed, or suffered—back out into the world, instead of allowing its energy to enter the parts that perceive so that it can feed us. So in judgment, in rejection, we unconsciously force the very food we need for our development out of the vessel—it’s a form of inner “vomiting.”

“Lead us not into temptation” refers to our habit of inviting such negativity, of actually encouraging such leaks; “deliver us from evil” refers to being granted the grace of having an inner wish not to act on such impulses.

A careful examination of the inner process during daily life will help us to see just how often we engage in activity which “breaks the seals” on our vessel. Our habits are unconscious; taken from a certain point of view every unconscious action becomes a trespass.

This is why Gurdjieff said that man is constantly losing all the energy he needs for his development, and why he urged us to go against our habits—the idea has an inner, as well as an outer, meaning, after all. Our outer habits are bad enough, but they pale in comparison to our inner ones. We can change outer behavior all we want, and create the appearance of goodness and change, but if we do not change our inner behavior, nothing can really ever change at all.

Of course it sets an impossibly high standard to expect of ourselves that we remain forever conscious. We cannot “do” that—and, indeed, the prayer itself recognizes that. This is why this particular passage begins with a request to forgive us our trespasses. The understanding that we will trespass is implicit.

The further understanding that help is available in this matter is also implicit. The very structure of the enneagram itself shows us this visually in the form of the triangle—the law of three-in its role as vehicle for arrival of the energy that gives the shocks required to allow the evolution of the scale.

The only way in which we can ultimately understand and integrate all of the ideas in the Gurdjieffian oeuvre is by understanding the enneagram. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that men used to judge each other’s level of development by what they understood about this diagram. That’s because if taken properly, every single idea in Gurdjieff’s teaching can be understood from the point of view of the diagram, and integrated into one’s overall understanding of Being and its relationship to the cosmos.

I cannot stress this enough: in my experience, I'd say, if we rightly understand the diagram, it explains everything that is necessary for our inner development. That right understanding begins with the understanding that we are the crucible—that this diagram is a picture of our inner process. It’s how we work.

That is where our responsibility begins: how do we fill our vessel, and with what?

We’re not judged by the contents of our vessel so much as held accountable.

The whole point of life is that we reach the moment of death with the contents of our crucible—whatever they may be—completed. At that moment we are what we are. If the crucible is full of excrement, that is what we will have in our hands when we face the moment of accountability. Accountability is the principle behind karma, and it—rather than the cruder understanding of judgment as offered by the old testament—is the principle behind the global meaning of sin in Christianity.

Gurdjieff’s work approaches this set of ideas by offering the concept of responsibility.

The word is the choice of a true adept: it synthesizes the essential Buddhist concept of action-within-life with the Christian idea of accountability and illustrates a relationship in life—work within life—in the sense of the response that we offer as we discover ourselves within each “point” or note on our inner octave. Responsibility is the antidote for trespasses: as was pointed out yesterday, to be aware, to be responsive, is to begin to apply the required hermetic seal.

Hence Jeanne De Salzmann’s famous adage to “stay in front of our lack.” This effort creates a moment when we bring the requirements of our inner work—the attention to integrity of the inner, emotional vessel—into contact with the inflowing impressions of our outer life.

In itself, this is action within life—work within life—which helps seal the vessel.

And hence, of course, the ongoing emphasis in the Gurdjieff work on “work in life.”

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.