Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Deepening the question

Surrounded as we are by the stunning, almost impossible-to-believe complexity and beauty of nature, how is it that we manage to separate ourselves so thoroughly from it, and become relentless "biped destroyers of nature's good" as Gurdjieff referred to mankind?

The damage that we do arises from a disconnect between the nature of our organism, its biology, and the intellectual (associative) mind, which has established itself as an independent authority. This mind, which seems to understand so much and have so many extraordinary capabilities, is actually lacking in fundamental tools of perception which are necessary to see our relationship to nature. Said tools lie within the scope of the emotions and the physical, or moving, center.

Emotions are generally experienced as a reactive force, but that is a relatively crude interpretation of their function. Emotions are above all sensory tools. They are just meant to sense reality in a quite different way than the intellect does.

The emotional center is capable of a completely different level of sensation than what we call "emotions" in ordinary life. In the Gurdjieff work, we often refer to such emotive abilities as "feelings" to distinguish them from ordinary emotions. In some ways, for me, the word lacks sufficient force, but it does indicate the delicate sensory capabilities.

Under generalized conditions, the only way a man will ever come into contact with this type of emotional sensation is by the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs, which have the unfortunate effect of presenting everything at once, and in a completely disorganized manner. This is why cultures that use them for enlightenment purposes (shamanic cultures) do so only under the guidance of men with a great deal of experience in such matters. We don't have that benefit, so for us this path is fraught with unacceptable risks.

The reason that these drugs produce such effects is because the human nervous system is specifically designed to be able to perceive in that manner. It evolved that way. It isn't accidental, and it didn't arise by chance. Human beings are, by purpose and intention on the part of nature, able to see things in manners and on levels that the intellectual mind simply cannot comprehend.

Except in very special and unusual cases, in order for the emotions to function in this manner, years of work and meditation are necessary. No one wants to bother with this these days; more immediate gratification in the form of ordinary sensory pleasures is, as it always has been, very readily available. On top of that we have stacked an incessant stream of media, which functions pretty much the same way cocaine does, that is, by artificially overstimulating the senses until they are incapable of functioning normally.

If mankind reconnected his parts, his appreciation of nature and his place in it would deepen immeasurably. That does not seem like a likely prospect right now, given the overwhelming tide of blunted sensibility that is sweeping the planet.

It may sound pessimistic to say that the chances for mankind as a whole in evolving back in the right direction are low, but Gurdjieff himself would definitely agree. He always maintained that mankind's evolution as a whole would never be able to progress past what was specifically necessary for the planet at any given time. We may not even be meeting that benchmark right now as a species. Most of our activity seems to involve the wholesale destruction of our natural environment with absolutely no regard to the fact that without it, we will expire.

Nonetheless, as individuals, every one of us has opportunities. Every single one of you who is reading this has already made a choice to try and understand something differently. That doesn't mean you have withdrawn from life, or refuse to participate in what is taking place -- good or bad, media-saturated or otherwise.

It means that you are trying to learn how to draw a different kind of food from the life you live.

This food, which may well be subtle and difficult to encounter at first, is a food composed of impressions which is connected to the act of attention, the act of intention, and the inflow of air into your body, both inside and out. In other words, the work you -- and I, and we -- are attempting to undertake involves an increase in understanding the sensitivity of the body. It involves learning to discriminate between coarse impressions and finer ones. It involves knowing that your inner parts can take in impressions of a very different order than the ones that your outer parts can.

Now, it may be that you don't have any experience of this -- aside, perhaps, from some memorable psychedelic experience that you had as a youth. Nonetheless, you believe that a greater sensitivity is possible. Perhaps you have even tasted it on rare occasions.

That being said, you now assume that the taste itself is rare, and that it will always be rare, or even unattainable.

Mr. Gurdjieff said that no effort is ever in vain. If you work, if you deepen your work and look within yourself seriously--not just as a hobby, but as if your life itself depended on it--nothing needs to be rare or unattainable. Everything that we need is available. You are breathing what you need in and out at this very moment. The difficulty is that you are not acquiring it. That can definitely be changed with work. So if you feel that your work falls short, or you don't have enough marvelous experiences, or that nothing will ever actually happen, don't pay attention to that.

Just work.

As you work, don't just look upwards. Look downwards towards those roots from which your plant grows. Seek yourself in the cracks between yourself, in the dark and silent places where your Being arises as blood pulses and cells feed themselves.

Every growing thing that reaches for light first draws its sustenance from the hidden places where water flows.

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

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