Monday, March 31, 2008

Reaching upward

In my own experience, it's been proven over and over that I work without knowing at all where it will lead me, in an inner sense.

I find that my spiritual search is always for something beyond myself, beyond what I call "I" and what I experience as my ordinary state. If I was not calling out to something distant, a force that may well be within me, but which I am separated from by a vast landscape of misunderstanding, then how else would I understand it? The fact that this "distant object" (if you'll excuse the concrete metaphor) is an inner quality just makes it more mysterious, in my eyes.

It suggests that within each of us there is a vast landscape to be transversed in order to reach what is "real" within us. That landscape is populated with intense sensations we do not know, deep emotions we have not yet felt, unimaginable visions, tantalizingly sweet yet unfamiliar smells, and mysterious, subtle, and evocative tastes.

Some of Gurdjieff's best music gives us a sense of this search: the sound seems to carry us through an immense and unfathomable desert on a quest for lost integrity. A sensation which is fundamental, what the Germans would call "√úrsprunglich" -- derived directly from the original root of Being--which we have misplaced.

The author of "The Cloud of Unknowing" presents us with a similar search for this fruit that can hardly be tasted. It's also a characteristic feature of Dogen's Zen. What we search for is not what we are, and not even what we can imagine. Even our search itself is not part of what we search for. This reminds me of something Andre Enard told me years ago:

"We must surrender everything... even our wish."

In conducting my search, I try to understand my place. I use the Lord's prayer for that; for me, it seems to clearly establish where I am, that is, on a lower level than the possibilities which are available to me.

This prayer embodies a repeated and distinct appeal for help. It has been part of my sitting practice for many, many years now, and I still do not fathom its depths or clearly discern its meaning. I do know that it represents a vital call for assistance, and this is one of the reasons I use it.

The idea of needing assistance in spiritual work is common to almost every religion. It's true, in the New Age understanding of religious practice, there is an idea afoot (perhaps not totally off base) that we already have everything we need, and everything is up to us. That particular idea is not, however, a significant part of any current Gurdjieff understanding. It also isn't common to Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism. It appears that this attitude of self-sufficiency stems (more than likely) from influences of Buddhist practice.

I think the idea of complete self-sufficiency is a good thing. We might contrast it, however, with the many well-established practices that claim we require help from "higher Beings."

In my own case, I do not believe in higher Beings--entities "above us." For me, this question is an established fact, not a belief some of you may recall, Gurdjieff once told Ouspensky, "there will be facts."

Of course I don't ask anyone else to take it as fact.

In my own case, I can report that understanding this shattered my entire life and left me terribly uncertain about many of the things I used to believe. Apparently most of them are wrong, and some of the things that I was absolutely certain were untrue were established, after the fact, to be absolutely true. It's very difficult to remain philosophical or detached when your world gets turned upside down in such a manner.

Speaking once again of my own practice here. In this context of Beings which are greater than ourselves, I understand that I need help from being of a higher level, and this being may well be personified, that is, it may take the aspect of Christ, or Krishna, or Buddha. Those of you who have read Frank Sinclair's "Without Benefit of Clergy" may recall his Christmas story about Gurdjieff instructing his entourage to call on Christ for help.

I doubt this story was apocryphal or peripheral in any sense. Gurdjieff understood all too well that we are helpless the way we are. If we don't attract the attention and assistance of something above ourselves, we are stranded. And, as he so rightly points out, why would anything higher than us want to be bothered with us in the first place? (It would be the equivalent of us noticing bacteria... something we do, of course, do, but only when we want to exterminate them.)

I think that the only way we will ever be willing to submit in this way and admit our helplessness is in the same way that alcoholics do: admit we are powerless, and come to believe (or even better, know) than a power greater than ourselves can restore us to "sane being-mentation."

An aim of this nature cannot spring from the mind alone. It must be formed of the body, and expressed through the heart.

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

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Today we were, once again, in Grace Church in Nyack, New York, for the Sunday service. You can see a photograph of the interior on the easter Sunday post, or here, should you wish.

The practice of Christianity is much larger than the practice of Christianity.

The Gurdjieff work was referred to by Gurdjieff himself as esoteric Christianity... yet we see that the thrust of Gurdjieff's work, like the thrust of Dogen's Zen Buddhism or Yogananda's Hinduism, was much larger than the confines of the practice itself.

Real work transcends all form.

In taking in the sounds of an Episcopal service--the haunting plainchant at the beginning of the service, the invocations, blessings and prayers--the uplifting voices of the choir--we hear echoes of services that, no doubt, reach back through time to places and eras so remote as to be unimaginable. Worshippers in ancient Egypt, for example, probably followed forms not too different.

And in the images that sing--yes, the color is another form of song-- from the exuberant stained glass of high Gothicism,we see glorious echoes of Hinduism's cosmic visions of Krishna, and Buddhism's wildly colorful pantheon of Gods and Demons.

So when we enter a Christian church to worship, it's not about Christianity. It's about the universe. It's about every religion, every search, every form. If we relax and open our hearts to Christ, we find that the act must by default include every Muslim, every Sufi, every Hindu and Jew and Buddhist.

Everyone is discovered together in Christ, just as Dogen expounded Buddhism as a collective inhabitation of the dharma: everything has Buddha-nature, everything is one thing. And indeed, Gurdjieff himself tried to explain this, although in my experience it's not talked about much in the Work these days.

There is--there can be--no real religion of exclusion. If we are not all brothers together in our work, we're not working.

For myself, in the present time, I find myself ever more drawn into a path that calls for relationship, search for the effort to compassionately support the other.

I feel we must each seek within ourselves--down to the very tips of those mysterious inner roots I so often mention--for a deeply physical, emotionally feeding understanding of the nature of our being and--yes--our mortality.

To me, it is only here, in the myriad, scintillating, smallest and finest spaces within myself, within each tiny crack and crevice, that I discover--day by day and hour by hour, digesting the food of my life--the intimate associations that teach me of how tiny I am, and how deep and all--pervasive the sorrow that permeates all of creation is.

This material sorrow I speak of arises not only from my own lack, which is serially profound, but from the struggle of existence itself against the merciless depredations of time.

To assume part of the burden of this sorrow is, paradoxically, joy--because in assuming a portion, however tiny, and carrying the sacred sense of that sorrow within me, I am rewarded in ways that cannot be expressed using words. Outwardly, it manifests in a quite different kind of appreciation for my life and those around me.

In becoming organically willing to suffer, to receive, my life, I become much quieter both within and without.

This stillness is not the fearful stillness of withdrawal, but rather a process of engagement.

Love to all of you on this second Sunday in Easter--

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

Thursday, March 27, 2008


At this time of year the light gradually arrives earlier and earlier, and the birds at the feeder sing more exuberantly. The other evening, in blue-gray, deepening dusk, we saw the primeval silhouette of a great blue heron against the twilight sky, headed for the salt marsh at the mouth of the Sparkill.

I continue reading Paul's letters before sitting in the morning. Paul is an interesting character from my point of view, because it seems undeniable that he underwent a unique enlightenment experience.

The letters seem to me to be particularly apt reading for people in the Gurdjieff community. Paul, after all, was writing to a small community of seekers, certainly outside the mainstream of life in his day. And he consistently spoke to the necessity of developing inner qualities as opposed to outer ones.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 we find him saying, "... aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one."

Paul reminds us here of the need to avoid causing trouble which may stand in the way of our inner work. We are all bad mechanics when it comes to ordinary life; our emotional impulses usually rush us into situations where we say and do things that would not cause us trouble if we just kept our mouth shut and exercised a little patience. Our tendency with life is to reach out into it and interfere, rather than allow it to flow into us and inform us.

Living quietly certainly means living with less tension, with less agitation. And minding our own affairs certainly lies in the direction of staying close to ourselves and seeing how we are, rather than focusing on other people and how screwed up they are: an activity that I myself, and I think, indeed, all of us are much too involved in, and ought to pay much closer attention to. The "default" within us needs to be to continually come back to our own work, rather than an involvement with outer life which distracts us from it.

A few paragraphs later, in 1 Thessalonians 5:5-18, we come across the following text (italics mine):

" are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing."

"But we appeal to you brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, gives thank in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

I cannot imagine a more compassionate, intelligent, or supportive direction. There needs to be an effort that arises from within the inner life to treat every other member of the community with respect and compassion, even if we don't agree with them, even if we think they are wrong or misguided.

We cannot build a sound community structure on criticism, suspicion, accusations, and feelings of superiority over others. This is the way of the outer world.

As I have said to others before, one of the big questions in the Gurdjieff work -- as in any spiritual work -- is "what do I have to give up in order to work in this community?"

Community, after all, is not structured according to what I want. It has to meet the needs of the many, and I will definitely have to give up many of my ego-based assumptions, some of my attitudes, and some of my individual authority in order to participate.

In fact, if I show up in any community with the intention of being a power possessing being, or a "teacher," or someone important, or any kind of being that is going to show everyone else what to do and how to do it, I am already off base. My intention should be to participate and offer to the best of my ability. This is how I try to conduct myself at the office. It usually works out a lot better than the way I used to do things when I was younger.

I'd like to make an addendum to the exchange about teachers and teaching: this is a reply I wrote to David's comment, which I want to publish to make sure all readers see it:

Hopefully readers will understand that we all have to weigh and measure what others say through our own experience. Anyone who doesn't "verify for themselves" fails to follow Gurdjieff's primary directive. So, hopefully, no one will ever "take my word for it"-- but will only tuck my observations under their belt and then go out to live their own lives and do their own work.

I believe that's the aim: not to mechanically and habitually listen to or follow others, but to discover how to actively listen to ourselves, from within.

In this way we discover our own personal authority, instead of that conferred on us by outer circumstances or other individuals.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Understanding each other

I’m interested this morning in what we mean by “understanding.” The word has a special meaning for people in the Gurdjieff Work; it’s considered to be the measure of an individual.

One thing we might try to “understand” before we try to speak of anything else is that what we seek is actually beyond understanding: as Paul says in Philippians, we seek “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”

So (as Dogen so often emphasizes) the aim for inner unity and its consequences actually lies beyond understanding. Understanding as we understand it now is conventional, a product of this mind, this state of awareness. By the time we actually understand, something quite different has taken place in us...

Why, then, the interest in understanding?

When I was much younger my own teacher once asked me whether I understood the question of sensation “down to the marrow of my bones.” We were one-on-one at the time, after a meeting (allow me to make that distinction clear for those who may be concerned lest I speak here about material from my group.)

I saw that I didn’t understand the question at the time, and I was honest about it. It took many years after that before understanding arrived. But what was signature to me about that moment was that Betty didn’t know whether I understood the question or not, and she was honest about that.

Well then.

We can’t really know anything about another person’s level of understanding through presumption. We can watch them act like an idiot, or do something contrary to work principles, and make some reasoned assumptions. But even that doesn’t necessarily tell us what their overall level of understanding is. Understanding changes just as much as levels of attention and consciousness do—it is, in short, a moving target--, and under many circumstances, it’s sheer arrogance on our part to presume we know anything much about another person’s level of understanding.

Yes, perhaps there are some few instances. But in the big picture, from what I can see, there is no one at the level of a Mme. de Salzmann or a Gurdjieff in the Work right now who could actually know another person’s level of understanding without a good deal of intimate personal contact. Even then, many assumptions would have to be made. Let’s face it, even Jesus Christ himself did not appear to have understanding to some of the more elevated Jewish religious authorities, and one might presume Christ had more than the average amount of presence.

By way of analogy, imagine you are given the contents of an opaque bottle that has a hundred different pebbles in it. You may guess it has pebbles in it, but you have no idea of how many pebbles there are, or what size or color or shape they are. You can make guesses, but the odds are that if you ever saw the contents of the bottle—which is forever impossible in this hypothetical case-- you’d discover you called a very great lot of it wrong.

We are all opaque bottles to one another. The act of presuming we know what another person understands all too often rests on a willingness, and perhaps even a will (driven by a heavily buffered egoistic impulse,) to judge the other. And this is one act that contradicts every inner principle of contrition, humility, and compassion we seek to cultivate through inner practice.

In fact, in the right state, it is not even possible to do it.

I’ll offer you some examples from my own life.

My wife and I have a very close friend, a woman named G. She is a member of my original group. She introduced Neal and I to one another, and I owe her a very great deal beyond that one deed in terms of life-changing input.

Nonetheless, G. is nothing like me. She’s interested in things I’m not interested in and perhaps even skeptical about, and we sometimes lock horns and disagree intensely, even unpleasantly.

I have come to see over the years that this woman is a very special force in my life. The struggles and disagreements I go through with her mean absolutely nothing relative to the gift of her presence.

She has deep experiences of her own which I do not have; she has a tremendous life work as a registered nurse, caring for terminally ill patients and seeing them and their families through their final moments. She is generous, kind and engaged; supportive and patient. She’s smart and active, outgoing and involved, even inspirational.

She can also be a huge pain in the ass, and she indulges herself in some new age ideas and practices I find patently ridiculous (despite my apparent exigencies, I’m a doggedly orthodox Gurdjieffian when all is said and done.) Nonetheless, I have learned to respect those “ridiculous” things, because perhaps…just perhaps… I don’t know everything, and perhaps I should be open to learning from her, and cultivate a compassionate respect for her practice, even though it differs so much from mine.

She’s taught me that as a peer, simply by staying in relationship with me. And it is this willingness to stay within relationship that organically becomes teaching.

I can allow those sniping, nasty little parts of myself that fault her to be there, but they are now folded into a much larger “sheet” of my own inner understandings that forms a deep respect.

I can cite another example of a friend in the work who is much older than me who I had a positively disastrous encounter with six years ago. I unintentionally crossed her and she lashed out at me in a very nasty manner. Of course I judged her right back with equal intensity.

As time wore on I began to see that we did not understand each other at all, and had simply fallen victim to one of those stupid chemical explosions all of us are prone to. We now consider each other friends and, even more important, she has become a real teacher of mine.

I see the real value of the other only when I put my impulse to judgment aside and open my heart to the real, the human, the inner qualities they possess.

In deepening my own work, I begin to see that my understanding of everyone else’s understanding is flawed. Almost every dismissive, reactionary, accusatory, and negative response I have to others is based on my own fears and inconsistencies.

Ultimately, in my own experience, the only judge of our actual understanding is God; all our presumptions about one another stand exposed as arrogance when the light shines on them.

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Teachers, teaching, and the logical end of things

For some time now, I've been pondering the extent of this blog and the logical limits of both the medium and the enterprise.

When I established the blog over a year ago, I set out to offer a contemporary record of the Gurdjieff Work from my own perspective--in action within one single life--on a more or less daily basis. I did so because I felt a "public face" to the work of this kind was fundamentally lacking--so much of the Gurdjieff Work is conducted behind closed doors.

That was the summary intent of the blog; the "all and everything," so to speak, behind its raison d'etre.

I think this aim has been accomplished.

Two days ago, a reader left a derogatory comment to the effect that I have a "diseased" wish to be a "teacher." It was accompanied by a command (!) to cease the activity.

This comment probably derived from a superficial reading of the blog's material, which spans over 340 posts to date. In addition, it probably came from a person who does not know me personally--or, if they do, certainly cannot not know me very well.

I'm glad this comment came up. It has provoked a number of useful questions in me about the idea of "teaching" and the role of "teachers" in the Gurdjieff work. And it occurred to me that we're conflicted about this in general. Perhaps, not in small measure, because many people who do set themselves up as "teachers" in this day and age seem to attract a lot more membership than the Gurdjieff work does. Are we jealous? (Should we set out to recruit Eckhart Tolle to the work?)

I wonder. And at the same time I wonder, why this fear and denigration of teachers? What's bad about teachers? ...Just asking questions here, folks.

Before Michel de Salzmann died, he said a number of times that "the community is now the teacher." This appears to suggest everyone in the Gurdjieff work is actively engaged in teaching each other.

Today, people toss the comment off almost casually, but to me, this instruction of his was nothing short of spiritual genius. First of all, it is inherently true.

Second of all, by codifying it, that is, stating it as the current premise of the Gurdjieff Work, he acknowledged the need for all of us, collectively, to take responsibility for teaching each other-- which is what all of life is really about anyway--and to begin the gradual deconstruction of the pre-existing leadership structure by introducing leaderless (peer) groups.

Third (for better or for worse) he directly empowered the whole community with ownership of the tremendous force that has been established within the Work itself.

If we handle that badly, it's our own bad. But we cannot have it both ways. Either we all pull up our pants and collectively teach each other, or we wait for the power-possessing beings in the chairs at the front of the room to tell us how "it" is, and how we ought to be. Personally, and with all due respect, I'm a little too old for that.

We must become our own teachers.
In that context, the whole point of the Gurdjieff work-- and of group work in general, as I learned during my membership in AA--is to trust and share one another's experience.

The last time I checked, accusations and demands were not compatible with trust and sharing.

If we don't tell one another about our experience, our effort, our personal insights, where is the group work? Imagine Ouspensky's men in a prison together who agree to escape but then refuse--or are afraid--to share their information with each other? How far can they get, if they need each other, but won't trust each other? Does that concept remind you of anything? ...Your group? ...Your life?

Think about it.

In my own experience, those actually willing to share any truly intimate parts of their own work are rare. We're all fearful, defensive, and stingy most of the time. We spend our time secretly concocting our own private plan for escape, distrusting those around us--who may be, we suspect, devising inferior plans.

How "open" are we, really? Do we just talk "open" or do we do "open?" This question is just as valid from an inner as an outer point of view.

In summary, if the community is the teacher, we're all teachers. And indeed, these days, I try to take the position that everyone I meet is a teacher of mine. Every life situation is a teaching, and I am always learning. When it hurts the most, I am learning more. The more exposed, the more emotionally naked I am, the more I accept what arrives, and the more I am learning.

If I began (or have conducted) this blogging enterprise out of a wish to "teach" people, I'm not aware of it. I set out to share my own personal studies, observations, and opinions, which may or may not be accurate. As regular readers will probably know, I may revise them as necessary.

In addition, every reader can freely come here (and leave) accepting or rejecting as little or as much as they wish. I don't expect any comments; I don't await any praise or accolades; in most cases, I don't even know who reads the blog, or why. What little food my ego gets from this activity (and I must admit this is pathetic) consists of looking at a sitemeter count of recent visitors. Something which I will admit I do rather frequently, and derive some small pleasure from, seedy little human thing that I am.

Aside from this dubious 'payoff' the only benefits I appear to gain from this enterprise are from the regular demands I place upon myself to examine the questions raised by both my own spiritual experiences and the material I read and develop in the context of my own search.

Yes, it's a fact: I present it all as if it were true. But if I didn't think and sense and feel that it were true, it would not be worth writing it down, or worth reading. And every time I publish an observation, I run the risk that someone else will evaluate that observation as crap. So I have to expose myself, to drop my defenses, in order to disseminate.

If this is all an exercise to acquire importance or in a "diseased" way set myself up as a "teacher"--then so far, it seems to be a resounding failure.

My entire life has been one lesson after another in how unimportant I am, and an ongoing process of confrontation with my own inadequacy, arrogance and contentious behavior. Every time I think I have made a little progress, my life rises up to slap me down one more time and make sure I understand my place. Readers who actually follow the blog--as opposed to dropping in on it to make special grand, impromptu pronouncements about my intention and effort--will have read a few posts about those experiences.

Anyway, enough of that. The point is that no enterprise can go on forever, and I believe it would be better to end this experiment intentionally than to let it trickle out.

As such, there is a forseeable end to the Zenyogagurdjieff blog, and--no matter when that end may be--it is, like all other endings, inexorably creeping up on us.

As it happens, I am already considering what "new" type of blog may follow on its heels, something a "a bit different."

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

Monday, March 24, 2008

signs of spring

This afternoon I got home and discovered we are raising free range ants in our kitchen. Life is filled with colorful variety, I'd say.

Speaking of color, this particular winter jasmine plant grows out of a stone wall in my back yard constructed of Hudson Palisades basalt. It blooms exuberantly long before the rest of the local trees and shrubs get going.

There's something about the intersection between the stone and the flower blossoms that strikes me today... a parable that lies somewhere in between fine-grained crystalline material over sixty five million years old, and a contemporary plant that blooms in the first cold days of spring. But I can't quite discern it... it is a juxtaposition whose truth seems to lie at the tip of my tongue... at the back of the neck... on the delicate edge of my inner experience, like a whiff of perfume... but it won't come out any further, lest too much definition damage its integrity.

These yellow flowers seem ephemeral, impermanent: yet they have a subtle, undeniable, and invisible staying power conferred by billions of years of organic evolution--and as to being ephemeral, well, even the stone itself has that quality. Just yesterday we were down at the base of the palisades on the Hudson and one could see the stone walls of that ancient magma flow tumbling down in a stately, slow collapse into the riverbed. It may take millions of years, but they too will eventually cease to exist in their present form.

Pondering this impermanence humbles me; and once again, that question of humility continues to be the heart of my own questions as I go forward into this spring season.

Early this morning, before I sat, I was reading Paul's letter to the Phillippians, which seems to offer a most excellent advice:

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death-
even death upon a cross.

(Phillippians 2:5-8, New Oxford Annotated Bible.)

I think the point about obedience is telling: how much obedience must we agree to within the process of submission? Apparently it calls for everything.

And then there's this:

" out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you to both will and to work for His good pleasure.
Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world." (Philippians 2:13-14)

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
And may we all shine like stars.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday

Church this morning, resplendent with impressions: cosmos.

The mysteries of life from death: yes, mysteries. He gave it a magnificent new shape, yet the mystery of resurrection is not the property of Christ alone. It is the mystery of buds opening after the bare bones of winter begin to yield to waxing sun; the mystery of a wood duck, parading its kabuki mandarin plumage in the drab dead brush of last year's marsh.

The universe began to exist; of this there is no doubt.

How we ended up here, now, is another question:

Examine the questions of physics, biology, all the sciences: attempt to explain it. How can this much complexity, this much beauty arise from our "accidental," chaotic, random universe?

The sheer diversity of impressions of actual life beggars any attempts at explanation; beggars any attempts at understanding, because in the end the presence, the magnificence of existence defies every assault, every violation of the intellect.

If we actually see it, we see how impossible even existence itself ought to be.

The only tools of understanding that this mystery yields to are those of sensitivity, the emotive sense of touch: an innate feeling of what is that words always fall short of.

Nonetheless, in the singing, the light, the sound, the glorious colors, the stonework, the soaring ceilings and the bustle of a congregation filled with the young and the old: in this something sacred lies.

God bless you all on this most holy of Christian days.

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

Friday, March 21, 2008

To be a vessel

I've mentioned more than once how we are vessels--quite literally, containers -- into which the world flows.

This is indeed a fact, but the way we consider it, we usually think that it refers to the way that the outer world enters us. We are so firmly attached to this level that it is nearly impossible to conceive of it any other way.

This interaction with the outer world only represents one side of our nature. This set of impressions that belongs to the outer world is powerful, and does a great deal to feed our work, but it belongs to the lower. That is to say, this is the portion of our work that takes the coarse material of the world into the crucible of the birthing soul. The analogy of alchemy is apt, because it is this coarse material that must be transformed, and the vessel of the flesh, of this body that we dwell within, is the vehicle within which that transformation takes place.

In the act of transformation, we will discover that the world is nothing like what we think it is. We live in the midst of an alien planet that we have absolutely no understanding of. If an angel should appear -- this is rare, but it does still happen -- the shock of it is so great and terrifying simply because it is a brief moment where we are privileged to see reality clearly.

We're not prepared for that. Moments of clarity produce terror because they are so absolutely foreign, and because they reveal a world, through revelation and revolution, that destroys everything we think we are, and everything we think we know. Those who have read the Bible will know that Christ never hesitated in describing the arrival of the kingdom of heaven as calamitous. "For as the lightning comes from the East and flashes as far as the West, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." (Matthew 24:27.)

When we hear that description, it may remind us of the way that a thunderstorm charges the atmosphere with electricity. This is not very far off the mark, because the Beings and forces that transubstantiate themselves through us are all electromagnetic in nature. The levels above us manifest through that quality, and inject a "charge" into the octaves below them if conditions are right.

This may sound peculiar, but one need only look at Gurdjieff's explanation of the law of octaves to understand it better. He made it quite clear.

If we refer to the Enneagram, and we understand the differences between the two kinds of energy that are present in from the two different laws, we see that man's work as a vessel takes place at an intersection. Energies from this level--the one we live on--enter us and need to be worked with. The notes do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si--represented within the multiplications that begin with 142857 --all belong to this level, to the octave that we represent.

But the note do--and the consequent shocks that arise from its intervention-- come from a higher level. (Notice that the note do represents both birth on this level, and also birth on the level above us if our inner octave is completed.) It is the work of the finer, higher inner impressions that we receive--which we must learn to identify and prepare for through inner discrimination and inner effort -- that can help to raise the temperature within the crucible, so to speak. And, as I have also explained, a crucible that leaks bleeds out all its heat and energy. We have to learn how to seal our container.

In order to do this, we first need to discover the inner world -- the world of the crucible -- and know that it exists. Then we have to take in material of both the inner and the outer world that we have been so far squandering (think here about the numerous parables in the Bible about servants who did not know how to manage money properly!) and through a process of raising our inner temperature -- through friction that arises between seeing the contradictions between our inner and the outer world -- fuse the two together.

What comes from above, the material that is sent to us to feed our inner work--this "electrical charge--" is mysterious and often ephemeral. For many years, it may seem vague and insubstantial. There's no question, it is not always available -- I explained this in a post earlier this month--and it takes a great deal of patience and effort to acquire it. It is certainly beautiful, but it doesn't get served to us on a platter.

In this work, almost everything consists of preparation, and of patience. When will what we need arrive? As Christ told us, "...about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24:36.)

We must continue in unrelenting efforts to roll the stone away from the tomb of our ordinary, habitual way of living.

In doing so, we dare to hope that this mysterious force which cannot ever die will rise up within us, and lead us into light.

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

Experience is material

How do we reconcile the exploration of intimate inner practices with what appear to be purely theoretical explorations?

One cannot, in the end, realistically divorce practice from cosmology. In Dogen's Zen, for example, they are intimately linked, and Gurdjieff was no different.

One of the stated aims of Gurdjieff’s teaching was to connect the profound and ancient heritage of eastern teachings about man’s inner state with the understandings of modern western science. This remains, in today's Work, an ongoing effort. Science, like religion, begins with the presumption that we lack understanding. Both disciplines represent an effort to acquire it.

On this note, I just completed Paul Davies’ book, “Cosmic Jackpot”—highly recommended. It covers, among other fascinating subjects, the nature of physical law, and whether or not it is unique. (That is not, by any means, a given.)

His explanations of the current state of physics, along with the interpretive suggestions he makes about consciousness and cosmology towards the end of the book, display an uncanny consonance with many of the things Gurdjieff said about creation and the nature of the universe.

When we study the nature of our own experience through self observation, we are participating in an essential act linked, at its very root, to the reason for creation itself. As Davies explains towards the end of his book, it certainly appears as though we exist specifically in order to experience the nature of reality: we are sensory tools that arise as a direct consequence of the act of creation. As such, he argues, intelligence and consciousness are fundamental to the properties of matter.

Indeed, let’s consider this: if there is no consciousness to experience the existence of the universe then, for all intents and purposes, no universe exists. Existence cannot arise in the absence of consciousness, because in order for it to arise, a comprehension must take place. As I have said before, there cannot be nothing. Nothing named is already something.

As regards intelligence being a fundamental property of the universe, I agree with Davies; you can find similar ideas in my essay “Light and the Resolution of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle,” which predates his publication by several years. He and I might argue about the nature of the fundamentals, but the premise remains.

In yesterday’s post I examined the understanding that higher emotional experience is a material quality of the universe. That particular observation is a subset of a broader point:

all experience is matter.

Experience arises from matter and cannot exist without it. Matter, we might say, originally arose in order to create a physical vehicle for experience.

Matter exists through relationship, and the content of experience is formed only through perception of relationship. Relationship arises on every level of the universe, beginning with the family of subatomic particles and extending upwards into ever more complex structures that consistently display emergent properties. Physical reality is actually an emergent property of quantum behavior.

At a certain point in the development of the latent emergent properties within ordinary matter, consciousness arises. We classify the range of entities modern science recognizes as aware under the term “biological life.” Man’s exploration of the computer world has, however, made it clear that awareness may not be the property of biological life alone (Davies certainly discusses and explains this in his book) ; and indeed Gurdjieff assigns living property—hence awareness—to all materiality.

His thinking is thus consistent with Davies' premise that the qualities of life and awareness are pervasive, rather than limited to biological organisms alone. Hence he, too, argues for consciousness as an inherent property of matter and the universe, not an acquired one. This puts his understanding many decades ahead of his scientific contemporaries.

Gurdjieff referred to man’s principal responsibility as “taking on a share of the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness.” In other words, Gurdjieff described a universe with an inherent emotional property which all organisms ought to participate in. These emotive properties of the universe arise within the context of the finest energies, or highest rates of vibration, within matter. The universe is, as I explained in the essay on the enneagram, constructed from love—the very highest emotional property.

This idea shouldn’t be foreign to us. After all, just about every religion puts God’s love at the heart of the universe. What is perhaps not well understood is that the material nature of the universe is constructed of God’s love.

Love is a physical substance.

Every physical manifestation of reality is a direct and immediate expression of the divine, and constitutes a sacred arising which carries a price. The material relationships that give rise to the reality we experience are constructed of these very fine vibrations.

I bring all of this up to underscore the questions raised in yesterday’s post. We need to understand the theoretical underpinnings behind our practice in order to see why it isn’t random, or based on faith alone.

Four weeks ago, I had a conversation with my seventeen year-old son—who professes agnosticism—about the nature of God. The explanations I gave him—which are much along the lines of Davies’ examinations of the question—helped him to see that the questions of God and the universe are far more complex than the image, as Gurdjieff put it, of a “venerable old Jew with a long flowing beard.”

In the evolution of their relationship, Gurdjieff eventually told Ouspensky that faith becomes necessary. Ouspensky wasn’t happy with that: it appears he never understood the question in a right way. In fact, he cites Gurdjieff’s religious leanings as a primary reason for his split with him.


Gurdjieff had it right; but he never advocated a blind faith. He advocated a faith through seeing. And in this case, the ability to marry the depths of our inner experience with a more tangible scientific understanding of what it consists of, and why it takes place, helps to support our faith.

This work of thinking can never be a substitute for sensing, but it can certainly function as an admirable assistant.

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Emotion is material

Greetings from the road, dear readers! Shanghai (and its budding Chinese Gurdjieffians) are just behind me. Today, another post in a now longstanding tradition—made from the business class lounge in Seoul, South Korea.

Many of you who study the Gurdjieff work are probably familiar with Gurdjieff’s admonition to Ouspensky (found in In Search Of The Miraculous ) to study the action of higher hydrogens in man.

For many, this recommendation probably seems peculiar--abstract-- theoretical. What does it mean? Is it even possible?

After I got sober in 1981, I spent twenty years in the Gurdjieff Work studying this question without anything but the briefest glimpses and insights into the matter. Of course I had the costly experiences of my drug years to fall back on as a point of reference, but there seemed to be no way to reconcile those chaotic, soaring flights into never-never-land with any real experiences born of inner work.

The difficulty of approaching this question through actual experience leaves many members of the Gurdjieff Work wondering just what the question of "studying the action higher hydrogens" is all about. Ouspensky, after all, penned those words many decades ago, and from what I can tell, not much useful information has turned up on the subject since then.

Suspended in the air between Shanghai and Seoul, as I now find myself, and traveling at something close to 500 mph, it occurs to me that perhaps the subject deserves a few contemporary comments.

Conventional wisdom compares the action of higher hydrogens to the experiences induced by drugs such as LSD ...indeed. Opiates, nicotine and other drugs also mimic the action of specific higher hydrogens—which explains their highly addictive qualities. After all, if our organism, starved for right food, suddenly finds it available in abundance, it immediately craves more, even if the source is a dangerously ersatz one.

Sufficient inner work may bring a man to moments when he discovers what it means to have such experiences without taking drugs.

Today, however, I want to talk about the effect of higher hydrogens in a context somewhat different from ecstasy and “hallucination” (which, of course, is only hallucinatory if it’s induced via external agents.) This will incidentally touch on an important related question of cosmology.

Some of the higher hydrogens that can act on man produced sacred experiences of a different order. The experiences I speak of are experiences of gratitude—of humility—compassion—of a true seeing of the self and its scale within nature. They are, in other words, not ecstasies or colorful visions—none of which are actually very helpful to a man’s work, despite their intense allure and the often mistaken impressions they convey, for example, that something truly momentous is taking place. Most (but to a certainty not all) of that is window dressing.

Instead, I speak here of a different level of emotional experience.

These are not conventional or ordinary experiences of emotion. I refer to much deeper arousals that spring from the very marrow of the bones--that rise from unknown and unknowable wells and penetrate into the deepest crevices of a man’s being-- and, for the moment of their action, transform his experience in such a way that a different level of understanding can touch him. They simultaneously manifest as emotions, sensations, and thoughts: they arise within three-centered experience and acquire a hitherto unknown dimensionality.

In moments like this we encounter the truth of a famous adage of Gurdjieff’s-

Everything is material.

You may not think so now, but it is a fact that gratitude and compassion do not begin as experiences. Before we encounter them, they are already substances: an intimate part of the physical structure of the universe.

In the same way, sorrow is a substance, as is humility. These are physical aspects of reality, not fleeting neural experiences that man produces through biological electrochemical reactions. These higher emotional phenomena—like Gurdjieff’s “Sorrow of His Endlessness-“ already exist. We’re just not aware of them. They are not emotions that "belong" to us. We don't "have" them: they are sent.

What takes place as a result of inner work is that man is eventually able to sense these substances through the action of higher hydrogens.

This is one of the most essential things we work for, to acquire a physical relationship to these higher emotions. If we are fortunate—if we connect our inner parts deeply enough, the hydrogens that allow the organism to sense these realities are produced in greater quantity—just as Gurdjieff explained to Ouspensky.

That is called the awakening of conscience.

Right now, our relationship to gratitude, humility, compassion and so on are almost totally mental. We call them emotions, but they are products of our personality, the coarseness of our outer life. That is to say, they are produced by and experienced through the lower centers.

At best they are mere reflections of what is not only possible, but necessary, in order for our work to deepen.

If we work, and if we work more specifically to understand this question, we may eventually reach a point in our work where the question is no longer a theoretical one, but rather one with the presence—and the power—to bring us to a moment of question—and of suffering—that can no longer be avoided.

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

Negativity, attitude and questions of service

Over the years, I’ve had occasion to observe a lot of decent people be utterly consumed by their negativity.

Negativity is a poison that feeds on the inner substances a person needs in order to live more wholly. If it’s nurtured, if it is nourished and coddled and encouraged—which is a pretty common practice, from what I’ve seen—it slowly begins to eat away at a person from the inside out.

Once this starts happening it is very, very difficult to stop it. This means there needs to be a constant inner vigilance to see as much of our negativity as we can and to go against it wherever possible.

This isn’t easy, because negativity justifies itself automatically and surrounds itself with a seemingly unending series of buffers. It grows directly out of what I call our rejecting part—that part which refuses to accept the world on its own terms, which are, in fact, the only real terms available, regardless of our opinions about them.

Our rejecting part has more muscle than almost any other part of personality, and it gets an enormous amount of exercise. If I observe myself meticulously I see very quickly how very much of what arrives on the doorstep of my awareness gets rejected, primarily through the mechanism of judgment.

This leads me to the second subject of today’s post, the question of opinion. I see that I’m full of opinions. We all are. The issue for me lies with the fact that my opinions all spring directly from partiality: few, if any, of them have a balanced center of gravity, and almost none of them really serve anything but my own sense of self importance.

The word attitude can mean, among other things, angle. And I think it is the angle at which our awareness positions itself in relationship to the arrival of incoming life that determines what we can take in, and how. Usually—due to our habit of rejection, and opinion-- we’re posed at oblique angles to incoming data, and we deflect it without suffering a real taking in of what it consists of. The fact that we take it in partially (remember, a lot of it has been deflected) means that we process it partially and make all of our decisions (many of them, of course, emotional) based on incomplete and inaccurate data.

Becoming more whole means facing life head on, and being willing to take in life more directly—which lies in the direction of intentional suffering.

I’ve been pondering this question more in regard to my own attitudes in life lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my fundamental failure is in not recognizing life through the primary tool of understanding which relates to service.

I am here to serve those around me. Not to judge them, control them, or fix them, but to support them in the best way I can without interfering in a negative way with their life or their path.

This is true of everyone I encounter; not just the people I appear on the surface to be legally or socially responsible to, but everyone I encounter, no matter how irritating, nasty, weird, or useless they may appear to be to me. The role needs to become one of unconditional offering.

That requires a good deal of suffering because I have to allow those around me to be what they are, and still try to meet them honestly and with an open heart.

This means I need to hold the question—and the taste—of how to be of legitimate service in front of me far more often than I do.

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

a somewhat fishy premise

Lo and behold.

Continuing to read Paul Davies’ book “Cosmic Jackpot” (see yesterday’s post) I discover more questions.

After populating the world of particle physics with an expanded list of bizarre particles and sub-particles that perform miraculous, impossible feats--which are by the way classified as "natural-" we come to what may be the final act.

The mechanics of the expanding universe dictate a required amount of overall mass and energy in the known universe. Simply put, this amount of mass is absolutely necessary in order to explain the observed rate of expansion.

The problem is that a great deal of the mass and energy that has to be out there is missing. It doesn’t show up anywhere, in any form. For this reason physicists have dubbed the missing material “dark matter” and “dark energy.”

Guess what?

It turns out that only 4% of the required mass and energy in the universe is visible and measurable by instruments! Basically, that means that 96% of the universe is, for all intents, missing. We can’t see it—we can’t measure it accurately—we don’t know where it is, or what it consists of. Amazing, huh?

Let’s proceed, remembering that what I just stated is scientific fact, not conjecture.

OK. So according to modern science, there is invisible force and invisible matter we know nothing about and cannot find anywhere that makes up the vast majority of the universe. Or so they say.

Since we can’t explain what it is, see it, locate it, or measure it, at this point in time it absolutely qualifies as a supernatural force, since it exists outside all of observed nature—its existence appears to be required for nature to function as it functions, but no observation of it within nature has ever been made.

How is this different than a religious belief?

It isn’t. In both cases, invisible forces that lie outside any known set of observations of nature are invoked to explain natural events that appear to the observer to be inexplicable without the invocation of said forces.

There are two differences I'll cover here.

One. There are a lot of people, over the centuries, who claim to have seen God or had encounters with God. No reputable scientist, however, has ever claimed to have seen anything whatsoever of dark matter or dark energy. So based on anecdotal reports, we’d have to presume there is actually more evidence that God exists than dark matter or dark energy.

Two. Scientists, who claim to be “objective,” and base all their arguments on facts, seem to have no difficulty whatsoever in invoking supernatural forces to explain things they don’t understand. They simply run a verbal con game on the world at large by calling them "unidentified natural forces."

On this premise, I think we all have to agree that, like dark energy and dark matter, God is an "unidentified natural force."

The next time you look around you, just think about the fact that we can only see 4% of reality. Mull it over. Think about what that other 96% is- where it is-

what it is.

For all we know, it’s right here in us.

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

Monday, March 17, 2008


I’m currently reading Paul Davies’ book “Cosmic Jackpot,” an interesting review of the current state of cosmological theory. The book raises some legitimate questions about just what we know—how much we know—and why we are even in a position to know anything at all.

It’s fair to say that the book covers territory Gurdjieff couldn’t possibly have anticipated, although, one suspects, that like the Buddhists-commensurate adapters to change—he would have found ways to incorporate it into the understandings he passes on in "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson."

Several apparently irreconcilable differences of opinion would, however, arise.

For one thing, since space and time are, according to modern physics, inextricably linked in what is called the space-time continuum (both space and velocity affect time, just as time affects space) physics now believes that time and space were probably created together. In Beelzebub, Gurdjieff indicates that time predated space, that is, that time was affecting the Creator himself, forcing him to create space in the form of what Gurdjieff calls the megalocosmos in order to counteract its destructive influence.

In addition, one of the more likely scenarios of creation includes multiple universes (aka the multiverse) which would would imply that the act of creation—presuming we agree there was one—was multifaceted rather than singular.

I recommend the book, which may have the effect of expanding our intellectual awareness enough to help us see that it is insufficient, that is, it's unable to grasp the essential nature of the universe—which may in fact be the whole point of the author’s effort. (I haven’t finished the book, so can’t render an opinion here.)

I am reminded, as I plumb the relatively fantastic conceptual depths of this subject, that we have different faculties within us that can comprehend questions of this nature in a very different way.

Along with every other cosmological entity—sentient or otherwise--we are absolutely legitimate transmitters, receivers and trans-substantiators of cosmic energies in our own right. That is to say, each and every one of us participates, willingly or unwillingly, in the process of exchange of substances—Gurdjieff called it iraniranumange—that first began when the universe was created. In our own case, as with other organic beings (Gurdjieff’s tetartocosmoses, composed of cells, or microcosmoses) we have a nervous system, combined with the unique property of awareness, that allows us to experience the exchange of substances in unique ways.

Taken from Gurdjieff’s point of view, these abilities do not belong to us, nor were we created solely so that we could use them for our own pleasures. They arose directly as a consequence of needs of the planet, as well as the universe itself. This means that man finds himself above all in a position of service in relationship to the rest of the cosmos.

It’s true that man needs to use his intellect to try and understand the type of questions Davies raises. Because of our focus on the intellect, however, we forget that the body and the emotions, too, have intellects that need to be turned to this end. And it is all three intellects that are needed to ask the questions about the universe, incorporating additional parts foreign to the thinking brain.

These parts think in different ways; they sense and understand without words. Instead, their tools of expression are nerves that spread through the body like roots, connecting the organism to itself, and the larger cosmos around it, in ways that Gurdjieff seems to have understood much better than any contemporary science.

When we reach for understanding, hopefully, we reach inward as well as outward—we begin to use parts less familiar to our ordinary thinking—and we sense our connection to, and existence in, this universe more tangibly, as an organism that is a part of it, rather than one set apart from it.

As we live within our Being, we are living within the being of the universe itself: we are both a property of it, and the property of it. It is true that we can acquire something we “keep for ourselves,” but this has to be taken in context. After all, the universe itself is our Self. So what we get for ourselves, we get for the universe.

Of course this, too, is too big a concept for us to wrap these puny things called thoughts around, so let’s just breathe deep, sense life, and go forward with a positive sense of our possibilities.

They, like the universe, may well indeed be endless. We cannot know that, but we can explore it.

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

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Food from China

I've been stalking the back streets of shanghai again, where old traditions mix freely with new ones.

For example, the design of the baskets this woman is using to present her vegetables--as well as the beautiful radial symmetry of presentation- probably haven't changed much in over two thousands years, maybe even more, but it's reasonably certain she has a cell phone in her back pocket.

The markets here present, as all markets do, an impression of glorious abundance. They also invite, however, the dangerous practice of taking it all for granted, instead of inspiring a conservative gratitude more appropriate to what it costs other organisms--and the planet itself--to bring us the food we eat.

Yesterday I had a wonderful meeting with some very sincere folks here in China who share an active interest in the Gurdjieff ideas.

They have a Gurdjieff web site in Chinese. I'll be posting a link to it later.

It was heartening to meet people on the other side of the world who share our interest in the ideas and practices of this work. They've managed to connect with it despite considerable language obstacles and what amounts to complete isolation from the formal organization, which is a feat in itself and bespeaks the level of their interest.

The work is, indeed, everywhere--but above all, it is within us.

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

Friday, March 14, 2008


If I develop the sensibility of my work, every day becomes an unexpected encounter with the inner state.

I say unexpected, because I am eternally at the beginning of my encounter with my inner self. In every moment, it is a new encounter.

I call it an encounter because when I am present to it, one part of this Being meets another part. And we are like friends that have been separated; we know each other intimately, yet have forgotten one another.

The sensibility of my work is the inner sense of work, the taste and touch and smell of my inner state, as opposed to the sensory inputs of the outer state.

To be sure, I continually encounter radiant forces outside me that enter this vessel. There is also a force, however, that emanates from inside me, and this is the force I wish to develop a greater sensitivity to. To be in relationship with.

Gurdjieff’s movements can be taken many different ways, but when one finds one’s self in a class led by a real master of movements teaching, sometimes this force becomes much more tangible. And of course the development of a sense of this energy within the body is part of what the movements are designed to help with.

Movements classes, of course, are quite special conditions. The aim is to discover this force within the context of ordinary life, that is, walking down the street, or while having tea with a friend. In this way I discover that everything is movement, and the efforts and lessons I take with me from “assuming different positions”—just ordinary living, observed-- may be part of what actively instructs me in my relationship to life itself.

In each of the ordinary outer circumstances I encounter, I have an opportunity to see what it means to be in relationship to an inner force at the same time. My study of a connection to sensation can mark the beginning of this search, but ultimately the search must lead me past sensation, and, while still including it, forge into a different kind of territory.

This force springs from wells deep within the being that cannot be plumbed, and that don’t always yield the sweet water of their support very readily.

So I meet my life “head on,” but hopefully with more than just my head active. And I see how I am—physically, organically. I discover what it is to be an ox: to pierce the nostrils, tend the horns, grow fur. In doing so, I discover that I am an animal quite different than anything I imagined.

In fact, I have to throw imagination away, because it is entirely insufficient. Who could imagine what we are? Not possible. When we encounter it within truth, we are not what we imagine. We are something else entirely, just like planets and stars and suns can hardly be imagined, but only encountered.

Dwelling within a complete ignorance of rationality, but a true experience and understanding of a vibration that penetrates to the very marrow of the bones, I see that I am insufficient.

There is something that is entirely sufficient, but it is not me.

What is this? It has no name. It is alive, but it cannot be touched, or seen, or smelled, or tasted, or heard, because while it exists everywhere and in everything, it is hidden from the outer senses and everything that is external. It wears that clothing, but is itself invisible.

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

Thursday, March 13, 2008


It's not like I go every day with wonderful new understandings dripping into me like golden honey.

Most days are a real struggle. Even with the dependable support of sensation, I am not available enough most of the time. Oddly enough, the development of a more muscular inner facility has the paradoxical effect of making one’s deficiencies ever more glaring.

It reminds me of something that a guitarist friend of mine recently said after playing my Froggy Bottom guitar. The Froggy Bottom is an exquisite instrument, possibly one of the finest, cleanest sounding steel string guitars made anywhere in the world. Demian, an adept musician, pointed out to me that playing an instrument this good reveals every weakness in the artist’s execution.

If our inner organism improves its work, so that we see our mistakes in an ever clearer light, we probably ought to be grateful. I don't always find it that way, however, and I say that with a twinge of wry amusement.

I see that there are many parts of me -- perhaps of the majority of them -- that want to be fabulously, fully, shockingly enlightened, filled with the universe until whatever it is that "I" am bursts under the pressure, leaving nothing but irrevocable union with God. And that, of course, is nothing more than crude desire, tempered by the fact that I struggle every day with every effort towards greater awareness.

Mercifully, in the deepest moments of connection, all of that goes away.

I got up at 4 a.m. this morning and flew to Qingdao to attend a business meeting. On the plane I was overcome with a very deep connection that settled everything--for a little while. Within it, it was clear that my work is submission, and that in the midst of this type of work, I am not really capable of offering much to anyone else.

My Chinese office liason-- a cheery, quick witted young woman with an unexpected depth to her own inner questions -- was next to me, asking me quite ordinary things, and I had to offer her the best that I could from within this moment of stillness, which I much would have preferred to nourish in silence. In responding, I felt a sense of resignation, even exhaustion, as I allowed whatever force was at work to penetrate me.

Above all, then, I saw how incapable I am of offering anyone anything real, when the real absolutely has no words to convey it.

Later today, Joyce -- that's her name -- and I began to talk about remarkable experiences she’s had, dreams of the future that came true, shocks that she had that made her realize there is something more to this world and this life than what meets the eye. This time, I was able to meet her with a bit more, but all through those moments together, I once again saw that it takes years to convey anything sensible about the ideas.

You can slam anything down on a sheet of paper, and people do. Go to a bookstore and check out the spirituality section. You will see hundreds of books by supposedly developed and enlightened people. Alive and kicking today, cranking out audio cd’s and whatnot.

Many appear to undergo “enlightenment” by stepping on the inner equivalent of land mines--which is admittedly very impressive and exciting.

Even the slightest taste, however, suggests that real Enlightenment--without quotation marks--is like a nuclear bomb. I'm not sure the landscape that it leaves behind it produces popular books you can buy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

For me, increasingly, it is the things that cannot be written or explained, the things that are as sacred and private as our most intimate sexual congress, that lead me deeper into my own work. I read less and less contemporary spiritual books as that takes place. If I'm going to read anything these days aside from Gurdjieff's Beelzebub, Meister Eckart or Dogen seems to be more my cup of tea.

Perhaps that's because I prefer stones that have stopped rolling and gathered a respectable covering of moss.

Green is good.

…An addendum to yesterday’s post: In considering man as a note in an octave, perhaps it makes sense to view Gurdjieff’s man numbers 1-7 as individual notes.

Hence we’d have men numbered and “noted” as follows:

1 re
2 mi
3 fa
4 sol
5 la
6 si
7 do

We might surmise that man number seven--“completed” man—is found at note do, having completed the process of his inner octave and become whole. This allows him to function as a participant note in the octave above him. Oddly, all this would mean in a certain sense is that man number 7 becomes nothing more than fully human.

It might also be interesting to compare this idea to the description of the divisions of the society of Akhldanns.

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

men as notes in a higher octave

Coming directly on the heels of yesterday’s post, man speak with forked tongue. I’m going to cover a theoretical point that I think will be of interest to many who feel frustrated by their daily struggle for a connection.

One of Dr. Welch’s famous questions—I heard him ask it many times—was “Why don’t we work?” A corollary I have also heard many times is, …“Why can’t we work?” And indeed this issue baffles all of us. What makes us available? Unavailable? Why are there times when more work is possible and more help is available, and why do we sometimes find ourselves, so to speak, “in the desert” for long periods of time?

Of course it’s possible to talk about the obvious individual details—about our lack of effort at attention, muscular tension, how we squander energy, failure to feed ourselves properly, and so on.

However, today we’re going to look at an overarching reason for this problem of connection and lack of connection.

Man cannot do. This is a fact that has implications far and above out of the ordinary.

When it comes to inner work, man can only complete his octave with the intervention of help from a higher level. The enneagram explains this dilemma visually by clearly and unambiguously depicting the intervention of energy from the law of 3 as it penetrates the octave, lending assistance at the points where shocks enter.

If you haven’t considered the diagram from this point of view before, do so. The key to understanding our abilities and limitations is directly related to this question.

First of all, we need to understand that every man represents a note in an octave above him. That is to say, his “do”—the point of contact with the level directly above him—is a note (for example, a “mi,” or a “fa”) in a superior octave. This is because of the intimately interconnected, fractal nature of the universe. (See the relevant diagram in the enneagram essay at, which instantly explains it far better than any words can.)

The student of inner energies and the centers will eventually see that energy within his inner octave is in constant movement. At various times in the development of any progression of energy within an octave, one or another center (chakra) may be more active, passive, or neutralizing, and correspondingly more or less available to contribute the hydrogens (levels of vibration) it is associated with to the welfare of the organism and its level of work.

Here’s the key: this holds true as well for the octaves above us.

That means that we can only receive energy in accordance with the progression of the octave we are contributing to. If the note we represent in that higher octave is not "active," we might suppose we cannot receive much from it. In this case our position must be one of containment.

The biblical parable of new brides trimming the wicks of their lamps as they await the bridegroom is about just this matter. As the energies move within an octave, the “bride” (the female, or receiving, part—which is us) must wait, and must be prepared, for the arrival of the active energies (the bridegroom.)

The waiting bride trims her wick in an act of conservation, conserving the light—that which helps her to keep an appropriate attention, to see—so that she will be ready when the bridegroom arrives. Much of the effort in Gurdjieff’s movements relates to developing the attention in preparation for arrival of something higher.

I’ve said before that much of our work consists of preparation. We can’t “call God down” to us. The higher energies we need for help cannot arrive outside the context of law, so we have to wait for their lawful arrival according to the progressive development of an octave above us which we cannot see, but invariably contribute to.

This realization that we are each part of a greater whole, a fragment of an entity on the level above us, may change the way we see our lives. It implies possibilities--and responsibilities-- that we are otherwise unaware of. Who else-- and what else-- depends on us and our work? It may well be that there are other people on this very planet who belong to the same octave we do. Are we a fraction of a single soul from the bardo, fractured at birth here? We don't know.

If it's so, then our relationships may be very much deeper and richer than we suspect. The question as posed doesn't just inform us of an interesting technical reason for our spiritual limitations; it raises the question of just who is "other," and who may be another part of ourselves.

That may cause us to bring a different kind of respect to life.

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


It's a difficult thing to come back this effort day after day and deliver material of any real quality.

I can't be sure I even achieve quality on any consistent basis; all I can do is show up and make my best effort. Today, I wrote something that was quite clever but fairly intellectual in the morning. I looked at it tonight and I felt that it didn't deliver the goods. So I tossed it.

I can't say why I know it didn’t measure up, except to say that more and more, I try to speak and to write directly from an immediate experience, unless I have some specific and intelligent point to make about work ideas. It's easy for me to blather on endlessly about connections between things, to theorize, and so on. But that practice bothers me when I encounter it. When I catch myself doing it -- which is probably nowhere near as often as it happens -- I try to blow the whistle.

So I'm not going to try and say anything clever today. I'm just going to speak pretty directly about the state of observation.

Today, as I pondered -- as usual -- the fragmented nature of my inner state, and the difficulty of weaving together any coherent fabric from the many threads of energy that arise, all I saw were the deficiencies. This was one of those days when I question what all of the efforts in my life have been worth. I don't feel that intelligent; I'm not sure I have done anything of a clear value in life; in fact, I am not even certain of exactly what that would mean. I have some ideas—but none of them relate to the things I do, or make.

My own personal observations about the nature of life on this planet have deconstructed most of my assumptions about what constitutes value. In a sense, Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" has had its way with me, in forcing me to question all the assumptions I ever had. I realize I may be wrong about everything.

From the outside, others see me as a man who is relatively successful, supposedly somewhat gifted in the area of art and music and writing, and who has been, for the most part, supposedly, a reasonably decent human being.

From the inside, the landscape does not necessarily take any of that into account except as circumstances that exist. I don't find that being "successful" -- whether personally or financially -- consists of the external circumstances. The "talents" I have don’t appear to be mine. The only time that anything of value arises from them is when -- if you will excuse the new age expression -- I am channeling something. That is to say, what is good in my expressive work is not born of me, I am just the vehicle through which it arrives.

On top of that, my varieties of consciousness are fragmented, and it's clear to me that I don't turn my awareness to the service which it ought to be suited for, if I were more whole. My inner weaknesses are apparent, and I can only achieve anything by hoping that help is sent.

I remember that many years ago, Henry Brown told us that we are in the Work because we are weak. If we were strong, he said, we would not need a work, a spiritual path, to guide us. We would already be able to, as Mr. Gurdjieff says, "do." But it's pretty clear in my own case that that is not the case.

There are implicit ironies here, because despite my obvious deficiencies, a great deal was given to me, for reasons I don't understand at all. Maybe in these desperate times, damaged vessels are better than no vessels at all ...and maybe we are all in that position.

I don't write this to imply that I feel negative about life-- that's simply not the case. I am certainly dealing with the routine complement of negativity which everyone sees arriving in their life on a daily basis. That's nothing special. But there is no overwhelming depression, self-deprecation, or self devaluation involved. In fact, I know that I do have a value, and that it is an inherent value that arises with each breath I take. That provides support.

This doesn't change the fact that I see, more and more, what the difference between the quick and the dead is, and ask myself how I can be more quick and less dead.

It is already a big thing to know one's own value. To know how the organism and Being itself supports value. This does not free us from the obligations of self observation and the effort to understand. It does not free us from the obligation to strive to Be more and to bring our efforts more into alignment with what is necessary for a man without quotation marks.

And it's only by sensing our own nothingness -- that is, as is so often said, seeing our own lack -- that we can begin to know what more is needed.

I am reminded today of a tale about a Sufi master who was asked who was greater, the spiritual master who attained a complete and blissful union with God, or Mohammed, who always felt that he fell short.

The Sufi master replied that of the two, Mohammed was the greater, because he understood that no matter how far one goes, no matter how much is given, and no matter how much one "achieves," one must always go one step further.

I have always felt a truth in that story. Mohammed never stopped working; no matter how good it got, he never rested on his laurels.

From my current perspective, that seems to constitute success,

without quotation marks.

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

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Laws, parts, understandings

It is easier for me to see the actions of parts than the laws that govern them. It's rare that I catch a glimpse of what is whole, and begin to taste a relationship between my parts.

It's much more common to sense the lack of relationship between parts-partiality-which condition, more often than not, leads to the arousal of negativity.

I had a challenging day in the office today and had to discover an inner "stop" on a number of occasions in order to go against what I would call "immediately negative impulses." This isn't a rare event. It always goes like this with me.

Oddly, I see that these immediately negative impulses share something in common with a state of greater inner unity: they are organic. That is to say, they arise from the same source that the organic sense of being originates in. This is what gives them their force: a force which is suddenly and unexpectedly drawn from the reserves needed for a better kind of work.

So my negativity is born of my partiality. It represents the expenditure of something that could easily-with a little restraint, with an effort of containment, serve a higher purpose.

Going against immediately negative impulses isn't easy. There has to be a certain amount of preparation, of presence, there to begin with. In other words, if I don't lay a foundation within practice-if there isn't an effort to encourage inner unity in advance- then there's no mindfulness available within the moment where the negativity needs to be seen as a force separate from, but arising within, the self.

Without that, I become my negativity. I start out identified with it and have no option of detachment available to me.

One of the potentials here is to see that in the practice of containment, we can derive a great deal of energy from what might otherwise have expressed as negativity. And here I recall a story about Jeanne De Salzmann. Someone once asked here where she got all her energy, and she replied, "from my negativity."

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

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mercy, and the merciless Heropass

This morning, the sun shines into my hotel room on the 39th floor of the Meridien Hotel in Shanghai, illuminating three cobalt blue rice bowls on my desk.

Within me are accumulated results of everything that has already taken place within this life, meeting this moment of all the results that have accumulated outside me. I sense both my planetary existence and the fact that I am a container for forces I do not understand.

I’m grateful for the presence of the sun, and the even more extraordinary fact that I am here to sense it. How creation arranged things so that we exist at all is beyond my understanding. Perhaps it is better to just resign myself to this and gratefully receive it. I think too much, anyway; and none of that serves the immediate purpose of receiving, which is done within blessings and silence, not plots and machinations.

Perhaps as I sense this body and breathe in this day through my lungs and through my skin, I can make an effort to be more in relationship with the inner and the outer state. I don’t know. I awoke this morning with more than the usual available to me; in the middle of Lent, and approaching Easter, a great deal of energy is being put into the atmosphere of the planet through prayer, and the high holy days always create something that may serve each of us as well as the Creator.

After all is said and done, in every real and deeper moment of my work, I sense with all of my Being that our efforts and our work are ones of service. Of offering. Of making myself available so that the inexpressible may express itself.

And above all, I feel an organic sense of gratitude for this opportunity. If this is all I can achieve in one lifetime, to offer myself with humility and as much sincerity as can be mustered, this will have been something real. It may not be the building of pyramids, the composing of masterful symphonies, or the painting of great paintings, but it will have been an effort to serve God, as best I understand it.

All the rest of it is, in the end, just a great deal of noise. I think that in the measurement of the cosmos, it is the deeds, the faith, and the offerings--not the works--that will last.

It may be that one act of kindness, that truly comes from the heart, is more durable than all the works of man put together—

and time may fear that more than it fears the pyramids.

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