Monday, July 28, 2008

experience and intention

The common understanding in the Gurdjieff work is that it is a work of experiential nature. That is to say, inner development ultimately depends on--and must be verified by--personal experience.

Experience, however, is not enough. Everyone has experienced. Experience is, so to speak, cheap. In a certain sense, the whole universe is made of it.

There are a number of schools of thought about the significance of experience. Reductionist schools (schools formed by modern Western scientists) argue that experience exists, arises according to physical law, but is ultimately accidental and devoid of objective meaning. Some -- perhaps many -- Buddhist and Hindu schools might argue--at the core, anyway -- that experience is illusory or even nonexistent. Then we have the vast majority of schools, philosophical, religious and otherwise, who argue that experience must be interpreted through a cosmology or structure, at which point it is assigned a meaning -- usually a subjective one, even if it includes the concept of God.

So here we have three interpretive forms for reality: existence without meaning, nonexistence, and existence with meaning. Broadly speaking, this is the question of experience as viewed on a larger scale.

On the individual scale, experience inevitably begins within structure. That is to say, consciousness inhabits a body. In the classic yoga Sutra which Gurdjieff so famously and so often repeated, it is represented by the carriage, a vehicle which carries consciousness. (Astute readers will note that Gurdjieff's Beelzebub makes all of his voyages in the spaceship Karnak, whose name resembles the root Latin word for flesh, carnis.)

Despite the heartfelt efforts of the more nihilistic branches of metaphysics, it's difficult to dispel this particular condition. The flesh exists, and within it arrives experience. We are left with a choice between meaningless experience (and hence a meaningless existence,) and meaningful experience.

So, I ask, myself, what confers meaning?

It is not the experience alone, but the intention of the experience.

We have experience in our lives whether we want it or not. In fact, for most of us, more often than not we don't want experience. Life, as the Buddha determined, consists largely of suffering, then death. We have designed a thousand ways to distract ourselves from this objective suffering of inhabiting a body. We turn away from the reality of our incarnation. The entire condition of sleep consists of a turning away from relationship.

This past week, I again had the experience of seeing that I truly don't like inhabiting this body. It is terribly difficult. It is demanding. It can also be frightening. True, there are an awful lot of good things about it, but in the end, I don't think I would be here if I did not have a compelling inner question that could only be answered by confronting the question of mortality. And the body is, absolutely, the tool for that work.

It is in the turning back towards the experience of the body, within the body, that the glimmerings of meaning can begin to arise. This requires intention.

In our own work, we have three centers. When we begin to seek within ourselves, it always begins with the intention of the mind. It is only much later than intention can arise in other centers, and that only after prolonged effort to interest them in a cooperation. Until then, we live only in the mind. Our approach is partial; we analyze experience instead of investing in it. To invest in experience is to become clothed in it, saturated by it, to dwell within it and inhabit it. This kind of activity may not have much to do with what we usually believe living and experience consists of. There is an immersion required that is not of the intellectual mind.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, perhaps experience--and hence existence--within meaning does not stem from the constructions our intellect creates. They are all subjective; they compete with one another, but nothing can prevail, because everything is of equal weight. A man can spend his entire life constructing a meaning with enormous care, only to see it catastrophically collapse when some new fact he didn't take into account suddenly arrives on the scene. This is a rather common experience for human beings.

Meaning has to arise from within the organism, not be artificially constructed from outside of it. Animals--despite, or even perhaps because, of their obvious intellectual limitations--still have the capacity to live this way, but man has forgotten it.

In man, the only way for him to rediscover this capacity is to have an intention. The intention must be to have an attention within the centers. And that intention cannot arise when the experience of centers is limited to mental constructions.

The only way to remedy this is to form connections to the emotional and moving center which awaken their own wish. A man has to have a tangible, concrete, irrevocable experience and understanding of the actual existence of these centers in a different way before he can begin to see how they fail to be in relationship.

This means that a person can spend many years -- 20, 30 years -- in the work before they actually begin to understand this in anything other than a theoretical matter. It is only there that the real work begins.

To most people in today's world, this will seem like a pessimistic assessment; I'm sure it will drive many people away from the work if they pause to consider it. We want, after all, to obtain results right away -- preferably on a two-day retreat to some serenely pleasant environment upstate, or so on -- and go right back to our ordinary lives speaking wisely, and being more wonderful, more compassionate people. No one wants to put in the years or pay the hard coin it takes to gain something permanent and real.

If one persists, even the first real experience of seeing the centers -- or even their parts -- already consists of one of the extraordinary miracles Gurdjieff said man was capable of. To actually experience that there is something in us other than this mind we abuse is already a huge transformation. Of course, measured against the external world of substances, that knowledge doesn't seem to be worth much. Unless, that is, one wants to know what it actually means to be a human being.

Gurdjieff famously said "Man cannot do." For myself, I say it a bit differently. "Man cannot do much."

Man can have an intention towards himself. Yes, we may forget it constantly. Yes, we may be weak and confused. But we do have the potential to stand up inside ourselves and discover respect for ourselves and our organism.

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


  1. I want to quote two paragraphs from your essay because I find them to be at the heart of what you say. Here they are:

    “In man, the only way for him to rediscover this capacity is to have an intention. The intention must be to have an attention within the centers. And that intention cannot arise when the experience of centers is limited to mental constructions.

    The only way to remedy this is to form connections to the emotional and moving center which awaken their own wish. A man has to have a tangible, concrete, irrevocable experience and understanding of the actual existence of these centers in a different way before he can begin to see how they fail to be in relationship.”

    I want now to make a connection between these two paragraphs and something I discovered at a time I had completely abandoned the study of Ouspensky’s “In Search” for the study of Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales.” One day I realized that in “The Tales” Mr. Gurdjieff had completely abandoned the teaching of multiple I’s that he so much emphasized in “In Search” and substituted by the teaching of being-impulses. There is no mention at all in “The Tales” about multiple I’s and the entire book is filled with the teaching of being-impulses. I thought about all this and finally I came with an answer that I have shared with few friends.

    Reading your two paragraphs quoted above, and by the law of associations, my answer came back to me because you are pinpointing it with your paragraphs. The thing is, and I am sure Mr. Gurdjieff who was always searching for a better and exact language understood it, the idea of multiple I’s is based on mental constructions. On the other hand, the idea of being-impulse is based on organic realities. Being-impulse forcibly and naturally brings us to make connections to the emotional and moving center. So, a being-impulse of intention in the new language has a total different gusto and connection than an intention-I in the old language.

    I hope my poor English has served me well here to convey what I wanted to say.

  2. An excellent observation, which sheds valuable light on the difference between what O. understood, and where G. took his teaching. Many thanks.

  3. Man has been hypnotized by the two magicians. He believes many things about himself that are phantasmagoria.

    He neglects his body (carriage), his emotions are ALL negative (positive emotions arise and recede) and his mind is clogged with information, not even knowledge, because knowledge must be suppoted by under-standing., and under-standing is of the being.

    Man would rather run from his body than accept it and learn it and love it. He would rather daydream barstool ideas about "saving the world" than wake up. Even during the day when his spine is vertical, he is horizontal, and his emotions are ruled by the haps (chance) of the atmosphere - in other words, by his personal "weather. rainy day, sunny day, storms, tornados, hurricanes, sweet breezes, etc.

    This is the mad elephant.

    Humanity is going through puberty, and needs to put away his childhood toys, and the board games he playes which are caller, "I am powerful; I am pretty; I am conscious; I am Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu, etc..."

    Some other games he plays are "I am smart; I am attractive; I am sexy; and the list goes on.

    NONE of these are anything but the hypnosis that man suffers from, and he can only work to rid himself of these "games" and childish notions.

    His potential is elsewhere, and there are few that find it; but the Earth only needs but a few of such as these to allow mankind to stay.

    As Mr. Gurdjieff put it: "we are in the Solar Energy Business".

    There are some 80 octaves of radiation, and our eyes see one of them.

    We need to open our "Eyes", and wake up for real. Remember the "invasion of the Bodysnatchers"?

    I have always been on the side of the "Pods".


  4. To rlnyc:

    And yet there is the good Obyvatel, the people of the objective way. They too participate in the evolutionary race, although at a slower pace.

  5. to ed:

    yes, the ordinary person who hides the knowleadge they have; that this life is a chimera, and steadfastly performs his or her duties - beingparkdolgduties -- yes, these are safe, and vousafed to continue upward on the path.

    they have no need of a doctor or of repair, or need to take a shortcut or accelerated path; but there are among us those who must work towards the inner circle of mankind, the esoteric circle of the beekeepers and conscious mankind.

    a little yeast leavens the whole loaf. knowledge is material, and as the world is at war, some must collect the common sense that the masses are throwing away, even now.



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