Friday, May 23, 2008

Fractals, levels, impressions

A comment left on yesterday's post made a good point, which encourages a bit of further exploration of the subject of sensation from a technical point of view. As you all know by now, I often enjoy pondering this kind of question -- so why not?

While we don't actually know what's possible --our imagination limits us -- under ordinary circumstances, we do not actually have an ability to have consciousness at the level of our cells. We may have a sensation that touches our cells -- or, as I would explain it, an active experience of the vibration which arises at that level -- but our cells are on a different level of consciousness than we are, and for very good reasons.

I explained in some detail in the essay on the enneagram that the universe is fractal in nature. The multiple-level version of the enneagram in the essay depicts this quite clearly in visual terms, and the Gurdjieff system also makes it clear, even though the term itself was not current in Gurdjieff's day.

This is yet another point in which Gurdjieff's teaching significantly presages a concept found in modern science.

Because of the fractal nature of consciousness, and the essentially emergent nature of the phenomenon as a whole, each level--up until that of what I would call "active sentience"--can only acquire and execute a level of consciousness appropriate to the work that has to be done on that level.

Man is often described as a "bridge between levels" because he stands at the crossroads between active sentience (my own term)-- a state of consciousness which is capable (has the potential) of comprehending the possibility of states higher than his own, and perhaps even experiencing some of them -- and what I would call passive sentience, a state in which intelligence and consciousness definitely exist, but whose comprehension is limited by the lack of an intellectual or emotional center, at least as we usually understand them.

If man tried to do the work of his cells, he would be hopelessly inept at it. Our consciousness is far too broad and too coarse to do that type of work.

Our cells are able to work at a level of detail and understanding hopelessly beyond our conscious ability to attain -- molecular biologists are still groping in the dark on 99.99+++% of it. In the same way, the work of perception that man undertakes on his own level is actually a rather detailed work of taking impressions that in some senses are far too small in scale in their substance to be absorbed by higher levels until they have been processed and concentrated.

Maybe we can take an example from the natural world to illustrate this idea. Baleen whales-- such as the blue whale, which is one of the largest whales on the planet-- are filter feeders that eat krill, a rather tiny crustacean. As they filter and ingest masses of krill, it is concentrated, digested, and converted into a huge and magnificent body. That body, of course, goes on to serve other purposes that krill cannot.

Men serve as receivers and concentrators of fairly fine material in the same manner. I have discussed this in various allegorical terms, including those of forming an inner solar system. Given the specific role of mankind on this level in regard to this function, I would suspect that consciousness plays an analogous role at every level. Taken as a whole, everywhere it arises, it functions as a perceiving tool -- a sensory organ -- for what it is, in essence a single universal consciousness. This single consciousness is composed of near infinite parts, because that is the nature of material reality--the vehicle through which consciousness is expressed. The fact that the parts experience themselves as unique entities (through the process of individuation, derived from the word {individual} which, rather paradoxically, means to be undivided) is a consequence of the partial nature of each fragment. Hence Gurdjieff's emphasis on developing impartiality.

This brings us back to Gurdjieff's contention that everything is alive, everything is to one extent or another conscious, and, above all, everything is one single whole thing. ...if that doesn't remind you of Buddhism, well, it ought to.

In our efforts to develop a higher level of sensation, we are attempting to discover an intimate , tangible, and very real contact with this fundamental fact. This approach is the question of what is actually true, which is something that must be experienced within a man, in a physical sense--not merely represented as a mental construct in his intellectual center.

Inevitably, because of the confusion our language creates, we express it in different ways and say different things. I am certainly guilty of neologisms galore; I have made up my own set of terms for many experiences because the ones that others used did not seemed to reflect my experience--at least, not to my satisfaction.

So, for example, the Zen masters used to call developing a certain level of sensation "attaining the marrow." (many such Zen terms have specific esoteric meanings, which we can't get into here.) My own teacher expressed it in much the same way many years ago when she told me I needed to learn how to sense myself "to the very marrow of my bones."

Now, I say that it is a sensation of the cells themselves. Our commenter Peter pointed out that it actually isn't. His explanation was perhaps a bit more accurate from a technical point of view. Anyway, both of the expressions about marrow and cells are allegorical; each one is meant to allude to a very fine level of sensation that reaches down for contact to a level below us, and increases our sense of inhabitation of the organism. We need to understand the terms used to refer to it allegorically, rather than literally, because we are trying to reach towards something that must be tasted, rather than understood with the mind.

Back to the question of concentrating impressions. As a man collects the impressions of his life, everything that ever happens to him "falls into his vessel"-- or, is inscribed upon the famous "scrolls" on which everything is recorded, as Gurdjieff referred to it. At the moment of death--what Gurdjieff called the "Sacred Rascooarno"--, that entire reserve of concentrated material is released and surrendered to the higher. Christians, of course, refer to this as the moment of judgment. Other cultures have other ways of understanding it, but every religious practice understands in one way or another that death is a surrender in which something is handed over. That something is the contents of or lives, in the form of impressions.

In this manner, we see that Beelzebub's "process of reciprocal feeding" goes on in not just physical but also metaphysical senses. And why should it be any different? The physical and metaphysical are not separated. They are forever intimately intertwined.

My good friend rlnyc may be coaxed here into sharing his classic tale of the dervish who waited to take care of things until the moment he died. I don't remember the details exactly. Rlnyc can probably tell it better. Anyway, it would be cool to hear his take on the subject -- if he is kind enough to comment for us.

Because we are having a holiday weekend here in the United States, there may be a pause in posts over the weekend. We'll play that one by ear.

Until next time,

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

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the dervish story. It is not mine but Mr. Gurdjieff's, which he wrote when he was trying out ideas for his books, and was part of the papers which he burned in the 1930s, which also included the "story of the three brothers".

    Mr. Gurdjieff had an experience which is worth describing: during his sojourn with some of the dervish brotherhoods he was taken to the cemetery where they exhumed two bodies. One was completely decomposed and stunk like death while the other body had hardly suffered any corruption and smelled like flowers. He was told that the first man was a prominent man who seemed to be the epitome of goodness, but his insides were rotten. The other was a lowly man could not do much in the way of ostentatious help to his fellow men but whose conscience was clean and whose inner body was pure.

    Mr. Gurdjieff wrote a story about a man who wanted to work on himself but always found himself in the stream of life and every single day he would say to himself, "I still have time -- I will work on myself tomorrow." But death overtook him suddenly and by surprise he found himself without a corporal body.

    He decided that he'd better get to work and quickly before his second body disintegrated or disseminated so he tried to work -- but all he could do was flail around, because there were no obstacles against which he could find leverage. At that moment he realized that he was doomed. He had failed to work while in the physical body, which is at a particular level where there is enormous opportunity for friction and obstacles to provide level for real work.

    This is extremely close to the concepts expounded by Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish renaissance man began to have visions of angels and devils and Heaven and Hell at the age of 56 and wrote a number of anonymous books which propounded a principle that man is held in place by society and the laws, ordinances and ethical and moral pressures which prevent him from acting out on his inner nature. At death, when these limitations are removed, a man's inner nature is revealed as either angelic or demonic, and he joins the community which is closest to his unconstrained inner nature.

    A simple mnemonic concept can be used to remember these precepts:

    "A tree falls where it stands".

    This is also why Mr. Gurdjieff refused to answer Mr. Ouspensky's repeated questions about reincarnation or recurrence: if a man feels that he has a future in which to work on himself, he will almost inevitably succumb to the "disease of tomorrow", as Mr. Gurdjieff would put it, where he fails to see that it is only work on oneself NOW that means anything.

    In the blog you write the following:
    "Man is often described as a "bridge between levels" because he stands at the crossroads between active sentience (my own term)-- a state of consciousness which is capable (has the potential) of comprehending the possibility of states higher than his own, and perhaps even experiencing some of them
    According to my own experience as well as the teachings of Mr. Gurdjieff, one cannot truly experience the "higher" unless one Spelunks down into the "lower" at the same time. As Mr. Gurdjieff put it, one needs to see three cosmoses or levels at the same time in order to begin to see objective reality. This follows the alchemical and hermetical axiom, "The Way Up is the Way Down."

    How far up and how far down is anybody's guess, but from this level, which is that a pivot point between the higher and lower, real work requires going in at least two directions at the same time, if not three. Up/down; out/in, simultaneously. A very big task indeed -- what Mr. Gurdjieff would call an elephant task, and a task that requires quite a bit of ready to spend Hanbledzoin.

    Mr. Bennett was once given an exercise by Mr. Gurdjieff which he was utterly incapable of performing. He went to Mr. Gurdjieff and told him and Mr. Gurdjieff said, "Oh, you simply don't have enough Hanbledzoin -- I will lend you some." The following week Mr. Bennett reports that he was able to do the exercise with complete ease. I find this quite interesting, as it points directly to the material nature of the hydrogens, and the fact that we might even have a lightbulb, but we cannot get it to shine if we don't have enough ready electricity. But we have been given the means whereby we can crank up the requisite Hanbledzoin, but it takes real work, and hardly anybody wants to do real work. We would rather sit in our boat on the currents of life and let it take us where it will, while pretending that it is our will which is steering the boat.



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