Saturday, August 16, 2008

Free Range Spirituality

In the organic food business, they sell us a product (not an animal, mind you, to them it's a product) called a "free range" chicken.

The image, as Michael Pollan explains in his excellent book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," is a marketing ploy that conjures happy chickens ranging free and unconstrained across the plains, pecking at wild grain and seed in the way that nature always meant.

Nothing, unfortunately, could be further from the truth. The average American "free range" chicken--unlike the Chinese chickens in the picture above -- lives out its life densely packed into a shed with many thousands of other chickens. The only difference that makes it "free range" is that the shed has a small open door, so that if the chicken wants to go out, it can.

All the food and security, however, is in the shed. The chicken doesn't want to go out-why the hell should it, when everything it needs is right there?

Hence, our "free range" chicken is raised, well, exactly like ordinary "factory farm" chickens, the only difference being that their chicken slum has an aperture.

When we enter a spiritual work, we all tend to end up as free range disciples. No matter what form we aspire or ascribe to, we believe that it's the one that really provides "freedom"-whatever we think that is.

We sign on to the agenda and then swiftly settle down with our fellow spiritual "chickens," content to be fed the rich fattening "grain," or ideas, with the rest of the flock. Yes, there may be a door over there with light coming in and some green grass showing, but why should we risk leaving? After all, all our pals--and all the goodies--are here in the shed.

It's safe here, guys.

If we want to truly experience our life, however, we've got to leave the shed. The shelter of forms and the safety of communities in "harmonious" agreement become pacifiers--distractions that fatten us up until the butcher comes along.

It's only when we realize that we have to take our work directly out of the orderly, comforting, and reassuring confines of the spiritual coop and into the dangerous, messy conditions of actual free-range life that we can acquire the opportunity to be come REAL chickens.

This parable bears a resemblance to Gurdjieff's Sufi tale of the magician's sheep-an illustration of which is, as some readers know, the frontspiece for

So "work in life" becomes paramount. Not just in the external, abstract, and parabolic, but also in the most concrete inner sense. It pays to examine our "free range ideas"- the ideas, or associative thought patterns we have, which bogusly preserve the appearance of free and unfettered self-observation and awareness, but which actually just serve to preserve the illusion that we are outside under blue skies, flexing our wings and pecking at seed.

Now, here is the trick of the parable, which is just like free range chickens. It's easy to be outside under blue skies. Remember, the magician who hypnotized his sheep did so so that he wouldn't have to fence them in. Just like the "free range" chickens, they were free to leave any time. The only thing that prevented it was their hypnosis.

Above all, our habituality preserves our hypnotic illusions. So breaking the spell, even in a simple and temporary way, can be useful.

A rich ambrosia of inner and outer experience lies just outside the boundaries we paint for ourselves. And it doesn't take much effort to discover it.

But you gotta go out the door first.

And maybe that is why Gurdjieff kept driving his "disciples" away from him.

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


  1. It's very true, what you say. But there are no "free range chickens."

    Every living soul (I use the term soul advisedly -- just meaning a breathing creature) has been crucified/incarnated into one place in one body and into one body of time. Whether one meets the so-called "Work" or not, it makes no difference, which is why Mr. Gurdjieff advised that the conditions of life in which one finds oneself at the time at which one finds the Work, are exactly the conditions which are needed to be studied without desire to change them. A desire to change anything is a conundrum which prevents seeing reality, which is objective -- as things actually are.

    The only other worry I have is for your readership. Although I am sure that many of those who have found your blog are in some way or other connected with some sort of groups who try to follow Mr. Gurdjieff's teachings, I am also pretty sure that you have readers that have not found the authentic lineage that the foundations represent.

    In teaching music and make it a priority to explain that just like a card game, there are rules to learn. After learning the rules one can play the game and even cheat, but without learning the rules everything is an accident -- beginners luck runs out very quickly.

    You and I both found a Gurdjieff Foundation and placed ourselves under its auspices; this alone is not an easy thing to do. There are loads of so-called Gurdjieff groups that are run by insane people who don't know what they are doing in the slightest. They may even do some good, like those who practice medicine without a license till they get caught.

    Before I found the Foundation, and during my search for the authentic transmission I went to many pseudo-groups, some of which were a joke and some of which had been snared by the devil so that the people in them felt special -- the opposite feeling you get of your own nothingness and lack of being when confronted with the authentic Work.

    As you and I both know, everyone comes to the authentic Work on an equal basis; everyone has a blind spot which needs to be pointed out by another, so that we act as mutual sandpaper on each other's glaring flaws and faults. Left to one's own devices, the devil gets in through the weakest spot and wreaks havoc, turning the work into a facsimile which goes round and round the exitless magic circle while deceiving the supplicant.

    Many who have taken this route end up spoiled for the real work, and those who take charge of the work of others have taken on the burden of that karma, which is a sin against the Spirit and virtually unforgivable.

    But to know that one is in a cage one has to first put oneself in a cage. Only then can one examine and differentiate between the imaginary bars and the real bars.

    As we both know, it is incredibly difficult to find the real work, and you have to have submitted to the real work with savvy in order to eventually be able to work alone in the outer realm of life.

    You need to know the laws in order to break them; otherwise you are innocent by mentas non compitas, and in Christian as well as in Gurdjieffian terms, you do not exist.

    And if you know the laws and wish to be free of them (and not simply break them), you must place yourself under laws that are superior, not in the sense of grandiosity but in the sense of more strict -- like military law or diplomatic law supersedes civil law. Then your freedom from the lower laws is gained only by an adherence from higher laws, which make you more responsible rather than less, and compasses your freedom into a tighter circle than civil law.

    You can get away with breaking civil law and usually not pay much consequence, like jaywalking or petty theft, but if you are under higher laws they are more forcefully unforgiving. You have less rights in a court martial than you do in a criminal court.

    So, if you want to leave the chicken coop and become a "free range" chicken, or in the parable of the magicians, be a black sheep, then you leave the comfort and security of the shepherd and run off into the unknown. Life is much harder. Survival is uncertain. Wild beasts are everywhere, rabid and voracious.

    If you are the black sheep who runs away, you have no talons, no claws, no fangs. Those were all dreams. Now, facing reality, how are you to survive?

    No, even though you are speaking in your post of those who have joined real groups under the auspices of the authentic transmission, one HAS to find and submit to such an authority before one can run away or be cast out, and during that time of submission one has to be wickedly sly and clever, stealing if necessary, the knowledge needed to survive "in life."

    I have met many who have spent decades "in the Work"; who have spent years in movements classes, attended thousands of sittings, gone to untold "Work Periods," and whom, if the crutches were to be removed, wouldn't have a leg to stand on. And I know the reason why.

    They refuse to suffer wholeheartedly, conscientiously and intentionally. They mistake spiritual consolation for progress, and dammit, it "feels good". Therin lies the danger which Madame DeSalzmann brought, goaded by Mr. Segal and her meetings with Krishnamurti and others. She did well, and certainly accomplished what no other could, but the work "turned" at mi-fa, and is askew at present (my own opinion).

    Even if Mr. Gurdjieff said at the beginning that everyone entering the work starts at the same place, this is a conditional statement. People are not the same in either their preparation, diligence, magnetic drive or intelligence in all three areas: mental, emotional and physical. And the last thing for a man is to turn and face himself without wax, vaseline or gauze in front of the lens.

    Recently I had the experience of meeting someone who is quite successful in the outer world as well as working tirelessly to try to remain faithful to his percieved Christian responsibilities. We had a very interesting talk but I came away with one giant shock.

    The man actually wore rose colored glasses. Always, and has been doing so for years. Frankly, I have never seen a real person wear rose-colored glasses while talking about spiritual matters. To me it was an incredible shock and earned a place in my pondering for a long time. I spoke to some of his friends and those who knew him and they said yes, not only does he wear rose-colored glasses and has for as long as they can remember, but he is a complete optimist, and thinks he can actually change the world. Well, maybe he can.

    But I know one thing he doesn't -- and that is that everyone wants to change the world thinking that it would be better would if everyone would just listen to them and act on it. At the same time there is one person who is closer to them than anyone else, whom they have the greatest trouble changing, even if they knew what to change, and that is -- themselves.

    We both take steps to change the world; he like the boy in the story about throwing starfish back into the sea; whereas I wish to change the world without anybody knowing about it. That's an inside job, and those who know how the work really works are like burglars -- they steal what matters most to people -- their mechanical suffering and peace of mind and negativity, while leaving little gifts of outer considering behind.


  2. well, darn. that is one lucid comment. the whole post was worth writing just to draw that out of you.




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