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.

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