Saturday, July 26, 2008

Changes in state

Coffee is, to me, one of the four major food groups. And of course, like most people, I prefer it made fresh.

This final morning at Silver Lake, some of us were up with the roosters, milling about the coffee cart in the almost eternally bustling kitchen.

One man picked up a carafe, poured it—and then, having already committed himself, suddenly hesitated and asked, “Is this coffee from last night or this morning?”

“Everything here is from last night,” I replied, “only some of it has changed its state.”

There was laughter all around—and of course I, like everyone, enjoy delivering the comedic blow of a clever remark. But then I walked away to write, and immediately began to ponder the question in light of my work this past week.

This is how materiality functions. The universe--both here and abroad—is always working with the same quantity and identity of matter. It is the quality of the matter that can be changed. The miracle of transformation, which operates at every level of the universe, is that matter has this property of being able to undergo a change in state. The phenomenon of emergence causes remarkable things to take place: atoms organize themselves into molecules. Molecules eventually make cells, and consciousness emerges.

Technology exploits this property of matter to great effect. We are fascinated—hypnotized—by technology and the almost wizardly abilities it confers upon us. But it’s our addiction to the external technologies (and the external in general) that causes us to forget that there are technologies that can change the state of our inner material.

The materiality of the question is at the heart of things spiritual. In Gurdjieff’s cosmology, everything is material, and this means that everything is subject to the application of technology. The inner technology which we seek to apply can cause our internal material to undergo a change of state: and in this change, we are no longer dealing with last night’s stale coffee, the sticky, stinky inner gunk we have bottled up and dragged along inside us (perhaps, even, for many years, rather than a single night.)

He is offering us the chance to make fresh coffee.

And in fact, he reminds us, a man who can make a good cup of coffee is already a man who understands something, and can begin to work. It’s a matter of applying the understanding right now—this morning—which is when the change of state we desire can take place, with the application of attention. It takes some coffee grounds, some water, and some heat.

Here’s my own recipe:

I take the hard, indigestible little beans of my assumptions, my resentments, my judgments, my inner criticisms. I grind them finely using the mill of inner observation. I grind carefully, with attention, until they are reduced to their sediments, prepared for treatment.

Then, using the inner fuel of remorse, I heat water: the energies that have been given me within this body: higher or lower, never mind; we must work with what is at hand and what we have. It’s a subtle thing, this fuel: it needs to arise from the organism itself, and the action of all its parts.

When hot, at the right moment (as best I can judge; such matters are for artistic chefs, not ones who cook “by the book”) I pour that water over the grounds, filtering them carefully until their finest essence is extracted.

I pour myself a cup—black, because this particular brew should not be mixed with things that make it soft or sweet—and suffer the drinking of it.

And it’s in this distilled draught of what I actually am—as opposed to my imaginary picture of myself—that I find the substances that can help wake me up.

Which is, after all, what making coffee is all about.

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


  1. Your analogy between making coffee and the state of “I am” is well taken.

    As a mathematician would put it, “This is a necessary but not sufficient condition.”

    I am convinced that Mr. Gurdjieff brought us the necessary and sufficient conditions. It is the sufficient condition that I feel is missing here and that I have tried to bring to this Forum.

  2. Thanks for your contribution.

    Those who choose to remain anonymous certainly have the right. From the beginning, I was forced to forgo that relative luxury so that readers could be sure there was a legitimate, identifiable face on the enterprise, not a man behind the curtain--as is the case in so many on--line exchanges today.

    I would urge all anonymous posters to at least adapt pseudonyms, like my personal friend rlnyc, so that others can respond knowing which individual is posting.

    Moderating a stream of anonymous comments makes it inordinately difficult to know who's saying what to whom.




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