Sunday, January 13, 2008

Water, Flour, Yeast, and ice


Happy Jan. 13, to all those who remember this as Mr. Gurdjieff's name day. Let's raise the Armangnac to him!

This morning, before the frost thawed, I was walking the famous dog Isabel in Tallman State Park at the top of the Palisades. It was just cold enough for the beginnings of ice to form on the ponds in the remains of the old ice making operation. Thin plates of ice created an extraordinary spontaneous geometry in the ephemeral gray shapes of gracefully curving feathers and precisely defined maple leaves, scattered across the surface of the black water.

How astonishing it all was! in some places, thin spikes of ice radiated out like swords, interrupting the scattered leaves and feathers. In between the shapes, black water alternated with the reflection of blue sky. Taken together, it formed a piece of abstract art too refined for men to create or comprehend.

The maple leaf shapes intrigued me in particular, because the forest in the area is predominately swamp oak and sweet gum (which makes complete sense, given how wet it is.) It seemed as though nature had decided to add a missing type of leaf to the assortment.

As I inspected the maple leaf shapes more closely, I realized that they were incomplete representations of typical water crystals -- that is, fragments of six sided shapes. It reminded me that when water forms a relationship with its self as it solidifies, the relationship creates a six sided form.

This struck me at once, because this morning I had intended to write a post about the traditional allegory of spiritual development as "baking bread." Some of you will probably recall that Mr. Gurdjieff referred to this on a number of occasions.

Picking up the theme I have been developing for some weeks now, the analogy of baking bread can be likened to the blending of the three classes of energy within the body: inner energies as perceived and stored within the organism, outer energies that arrive through the senses, and higher energies from above.

In our own case, the water that is used to bake bread represents the inner energies. Water is liquid, supple, constantly in movement: it carries things from one place to another, and it makes life possible. The energy that flows within the six inner centers is our water.

This provides a beautiful analogy to the natural world, because water is the foundation of all organic life as we know it. Once again, we see that biology and the natural sciences provide us with instruction that relates to inner development: the inherent property of water is that its crystalline relationship is formed as a six sided structure. This relates directly to the Enneagram and to multiplications: to me, it suggests that water has an inherent property that relates to the flow of energy within the system. We can infer that throughout the universe, water has this rather special property which is completely unique, and makes things possible that cannot be done any other way.

So water truly is a sacred substance, not just because we need it, but because, from a molecular point of view, it is an essential part of the emotional structure of the universe, in the same way that the six inner flowers of man form the emotional structure of the Being.

Not coincidentally, quartz also has a six sided habit, and other extraordinary special properties, including one electrical on in particular which is being used at this instant to make the medium by which we are exchanging this information functional, but we will stick to bread for the time being.

Just as water is an essential ingredient for our bread, so also is flour. Flour is the coarse, physical substance of impressions of life that are added to the water within through the five senses. If water can be likened to the emotions, perhaps we can liken this to the body.

As we all know, all you get when you add flour to water is paste. It is capable of forming a powerful kind of glue which can hold things together, but it is relatively inedible.

It is possible to bake that paste and create the unleavened bread of Jewish tradition: the bread that the Israelites ate when they fled Egypt. This is bread that has gone through all of the processes that are necessary, but is still missing something, and does not quite satisfy, even though it sustains.

In order to get the bread that we view as "complete" bread, one has to add yeast. In our analogy of inner, outer, and higher, we can see that the yeast is the higher energy that comes from the law of three. We can liken this to intelligence, intelligence, intention, and attention.

By itself, the energy formed by the six inner flowers is magnificent, but it becomes a static -- crystalline -- in the same way that water and quartz form crystals that are magnificent and beautiful, but permanent and inflexible. (Perhaps the images of gems of incomparable beauty found in the famous Buddhist Flower Ornament scripture might be likened to a description of these states.)

And of course, by itself, flour alone -- that is, the impressions of ordinary life -- is "flat," and separated into many tiny grains. Even though taken together it forms something whole, there is no cohesion, no connecting tissue. The only way to form a real connection between the particles is to add water and to knead the dough, until gluten appears.

Nonetheless, bread will not rise unless yeast is added. Now, of course, bread never actually "rises" -- what bread does is expand in all directions if yeast is active. In other words, yeast takes a two dimensional substance, our flat unleavened bread, and adds a third dimension. It provides an expansion of perspective.

From the biological point of view, yeast itself is a living organism-- consciousness, an inherent property of organic awareness. This is the organic sense of being. Added to the work of the inner flowers, and the impressions from the outer world, the attention and the intention provided by organic awareness, consciousness, allow for an expansion of the substance of Being.

This is far from a complete process, of course. Bread has to be baked before it is complete. for that, fire is needed. So even if we spent a long time preparing the dough, and do it correctly, we cannot get bread until we have been tested in the fires of suffering.

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

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