Thursday, August 14, 2008

rushing past the taste

I am by nature an impatient type. One prominent feature in my inner landscape is the tendency to go too fast. Certainly, this has to be genetic -- my son definitely has the same tendency.

One thing I notice about myself is that I am perpetually rushing past the taste of food to get to the swallowing. It would do well for me to slow down and savor the taste of both my food, and my life, a bit more precisely.

Of course, I'm only able to observe this habit clearly in myself, but I rather suspect that most of us are like this. The urges of the stomach and sex tend to drive us forward more powerfully than we are consciously aware of. Perhaps one of the chief features of sleep is that while we think away furiously, thinking that the thinking is in charge, the belly and the sex organs are running the show from behind the curtains.

Don't get me wrong here. There's nothing wrong with eating or having sex. Gurdjieff certainly didn't think so -- his size alone indicates that he ate enough, and his sexual appetites were not a hidden matter. I think that the question is whether or not we are aware of these urges. Seeing them in operation rather than letting them just operate is an educational experience. Seeing them, furthermore, may put a bit of a spoke in the wheels. The trouble they cause arises from our lack of awareness of them as forces in life.

In my own case, the question becomes how to slow down. How to more fully savor life in its individual tastes; how to let the impressions fall more deeply within me. And certainly, this is possible. Only, however, if I become more interested in the taste, as well as the swallowing.

It's particularly difficult to organize the machine and the inner energies when one travels across multiple time zones. I have always maintained that it takes about three days to get over jet lag, but that isn't true. What it actually means is that after three days, you don't tend to pass out in your hotel room at eight o'clock at night. It takes about a week for the inner clock to reset itself fully, so that you get to a morning -- as I did today -- where you wake up and you realize that you feel pretty much "normal" again. Whatever, that is, "normal" means. As one gets older, "normal" develops all kinds of unpleasant aspects one never considered when one was young, and none of them seem normal, despite the fact that they have moved in to stay.

My wife Neal referred to this kind of unexpected and unpleasant development as "the new normal" some years ago while we were in Costa Rica, contemplating an SUV I had cleverly managed to wedge perpendicular to the road between two rather high banks of dirt during a rainstorm.

Anyway, negotiating the vagaries of time changes, jet lag, business appointments, and perpetual immersion in a sea of Chinese people, one comes to a moment where it appears the adjustments have been made.

At that moment, one sees that one constantly makes assumptions about one's inner state, assumptions which are usually wrong. We are not very much in touch with ourselves, we haven't developed very much -- no matter what our fantasies or arrogance may tell us -- and it's a surprise to see that we didn't even know how we were, or that we are again how we "usually" are, until we get back to a more familiar place. The bottom line is, we stumble from one moment in life to another, much like Mr. Gurdjieff's drunkard, who wants to go to the Place D'Etoile, but will be lucky if he gets to the next lamp post.

This reminds me of a thought that I had this morning about the dailyness of life--which is the territory from which all these deceptively rambling thoughts are garnered.

The Obyvatel-- Mr. Gurdjieff's famous "good householder" -- makes his living by not thinking that he's special. He doesn't try to do anything special. He doesn't act like he's special. He tries to meet his responsibilities within the context of ordinary life. He may be a drunkard, but he's a drunkard who is smart enough to know that the next lamp post is what he needs to aim for.

How many of us can say that?

Speaking as a former drunkard, or, rather, a drunkard who hasn't been drinking for the last 27 years, I can say that I distinctly remember walking home late at night on a cobblestone street in Hamburg, when I was so totally smashed that my awareness had become completely detached from my body. I recall staring down at my steadily marching feet and being astonished that they knew where to go, and were taking me there.

It was nice to have a reliable partner like that , seeing as I had abrogated every possible claim to responsibility. The lesson drawn from this is that moving center, at least at that time, was far more sensible than the rest of me. It suggests we might want to think about respecting and trusting our "unconscious" parts a bit more than we usually do.

Sometimes, they are the parts that can see the next lamppost.

So. I am routinely confronted with the dailyness of life, and the manufactured cravings that food and sex thrust upon me (not to mention fear and money.) I want things to be less daily, and more special. I want to be more special.

I miss the point, which is that ordinary life already is special. Or, as Jack Nicholson said in the movie,

"...what if this is as good as it gets?"

There are, of course, moments when it can be seen that this is indeed as good as it gets. The moment this afternoon, for example, when I saw a dirty curb with a bit of moss on it and was filled with a sense of how enormous and beautiful and quite perfect this moment was. But that's not how I usually am. It takes something special to help me see things like that. Something special that does not belong to me, but that occasionally inhabits me.

In the meantime, immersion in and acceptance of my ordinary life--the way of the good householder -- is the path towards that possibility. It's true -- I will sleep through much of this. With some luck, however, I will remember to come up for air every once in a while, and be grateful that at least I have encountered a real work in my life, even if I fail at it too often to mention.

So here's to the good householder, who seeks responsibility, rather than avoiding it; who shoulders his burdens in spite of his fears rather than because of them; and who loves life enough to participate in it, even when what it requires is not much fun at all.

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


  1. we call that "smart feet".

    Since feet represent the part of the body that has the most contact with the earth and the "world", that's all Jesus had to wash of his diciples to make them completely "clean".

    Mr. Gurdjieff said, "I have good leather to sell, for those who wish to make shoes".

    We are not meant to be conscious of much of our ordinary life. Four stages of competence tell us that we go through unconscious in-competence, conscious incompetence, conscious cometence and finally what we are learing sinks into the subconscious, where it belongs. Talking, writing, reading, tying one's shoes, walking, riding a bike; driving a car, etc... these are all hard won unconscious competence for most of us. Who would like to require consciousness for any of those? There would be no time for anything else but telling oneself to breathe, to walk and to talk. That would be a nightmare.

    Mr. Gurdjieff's consciousness and concience have nothing to do with that. That's why one cannot learn the work from a book, just as one cannot learn real pranayama from a book.

    But it is good to have "smart feet". then we can tack towards our fuller aim.


  2. I too am a very impatient person. I have found out that my impatience sometimes generate physical reactions in the form of bodily pain. I think most of all are impatient, particularly those of us living in America where, according to our dear grandfather Beelzebub:

    “When I found this Mister, to whom I had a letter of introduction, he, as is proper to every genuine American businessman, was up to his eyes in innumerable, as is said there, ‘dollar businesses.’”

    One reminder factor in my work with my impatience is to remember whenever I find myself impatient two simple words Mr. Gurdjieff said to a disciple who came running to a meeting with his. He said:

    “Never hurry.”

    On this matter of patience a thought occurred to me not too long ago that I want to share with you and your readers.

    “Patience is the mother of will; God is the Father of Will.”

  3. apologies for all the typos in my last comment above. i am on the road and trying to fit in comments while in a hurry. Mr. Gurdjieff might have said "never hurry", but he also often said "scurry, scurry" (sic), which means "make fast", "hurry, hurry", and he called his work haida yoga, which translates as "hurry up yoga".

    Odd that this comes up just as I have a zillion things to take care of in my outer life, and no-one to talk to about the subjects that interest me. That was Mr. gurdjieff's lament also, that he had to come down to the level of his listeners. Where I am, it's the bible belt, and if you wanna talk about anything, you get a lecture on Jesus, from a fundimentalist view, which is as pathetic as the jihadists of Islam.

    It's a NUTTY world. I just have to laugh.



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