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.


  1. Years ago, a group leader compared the enneagram as we have it to a cross section of DNA. That may be. But what is most important about the enneagram is not so much what it says as where it is from, and the processes that gave rise to it. How to see it from the inside, which I would think is the next step after external consideration of its form.


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