Saturday, September 13, 2008

What is work?

It's a common thing, in the Gurdjieff work, to talk about working, what working is, how we work, whether we work, and so on. After all, we do call it "the work.".

Right now I am reading a book by a man by the name of Stuart A. Kauffman, "Reinventing The Sacred." Now, I'm not at all sure the sacred needs to be "reinvented" -- although he means well. Nonetheless, this is a complex book with some excellent points, and I am only a hundred pages into it, so I can't say with any certainty where the author is ultimately leading us. He raises many vital questions that anyone involved with religious work or the sciences ought to be considering. And he does have many things absolutely right, among them, that emergence is probably one of the most compelling forces in the universe, a force that remains almost completely unexplained by science at its current level of development.

While I was reading, I came across this quote on page 90:

"If we ask what "work" is, it becomes surprisingly difficult to define. To a physicist, work is force acting through a distance (such as pushing a hockey stick and accelerating a hockey puck.) But chemist Peter Atkins says work is more than this. It is the constrained release of energy into a few degrees of freedom."

The italics are my own. I added them because this is a striking definition of work; it connects the idea of work directly into aim. The point is that the energy in work is aimed at is these very "few degrees of freedom"--yet which of us, if pressed, can say that we know what freedom is? It seems clear that the real use of energy for a good purpose needs to be a use that relates to freedom, but we don't know much about that. And if this particular definition of work does not bring the movements to mind--well, then, what does?


Work involves the gathering of energy as well. So it is not just about the release of energy; it is about acquiring or receiving energy. At the foundation of biological life on this planet (with some very few exceptions we will not cover here) is the act of photosynthesis, which is all about receiving energy and converting it into a form that can be passed on or acquired by other creatures. This model alone serves to prove that a definition of work includes receiving. Stuart Kauffman has not so far included this concept in his book--a surprising omission, considering how much else he has covered.

So in order to work, an organism does not just expend energy within a few degrees of freedom. An organism must first make sure that its mechanism is functioning well and acquire energy. In the biological world, this acquisition usually operates through what Gurdjieff called "the law of reciprocal feeding," but in the metaphysical world of man's higher energies, a man must learn to be open in order to receive energy. It is not until this happens that he can do anything else whatsoever.

This is where Mr. Kaufman and I part company, despite the fact that I admire his book, intend to finish it, and heartily recommend it to everyone who thinks about these matters.

The sacred does not need to be "reinvented" -- it needs to be discovered.

Mr. Kaufmann and the scientific community fully intend to "reinvent" the sacred by using the mind alone -- and he has an excellent mind, no doubt about it. The difficulty here is that the mind alone is unable to comprehend. Understanding consists of sensing and feeling as well as thinking. One can only discover the sacred by combining the three centers so that they all work simultaneously. And the strictly intellectual scientific approach, as it is understood today, just does not and cannot ever understand that.

I will probably comment more on this nonetheless fine book at a later date. In the meantime, I want to mention one other thing.

Today a friend of mine passed on some wonderful notes from a talk by Don Alberto Taxo, a native teacher from Ecuador, who was stressing the very critical moment that the planet finds itself in. Taxo said a number of things that I've mentioned many times in this blog, most particularly, that one of the most important things we can do right now is to develop a sense of gratitude for our lives.

This theme has come up so often in my own work that it is no longer a question, it is a condition.

Taxo's contention is that it is vital for every working --I mean this in the esoteric sense -- organism to reach deep into their sensation to understand the question of gratitude right now.

I totally agree with him. Everything I have been writing over the last two years points towards this effort. We must sense, we must offer ourselves, we must be grateful. This gratitude must spring from a connection to the organism, beginning in the very roots of our being.

Some of you may have encountered this teacher's material already, I don't know. It's making the rounds. At any rate, it's quite possibly true that at this particular moment in the planet's destiny, nothing could be more important than offering ourselves.

The more we are opened, and the more that is asked of us, the more difficult everything becomes. There are forces that align themselves against effort. We must keep going.

This reminds me of something that took place when I was reduced to ashes over seven years ago. Demands were placed on me that seemed impossible, confusing, otherworldly, and I did not understand anything that was happening. At the same time, I saw that I had been given an incredible amount, and along with the demand, Grace was abundant.

I recall breaking down in tears at the steering wheel of my car in a supermarket parking lot. The feeling, sensing, and thinking that were taking place within me had reached a crescendo that can't really be described.

All I could say to the forces that were working on me was, "I will not give up."

When God gives us work, He may well give us work that is beyond our understanding and beyond our comprehension. Of course it will be that way much of the time; how else could it be? At these times we must take a vow within ourselves to go forward with faith regardless of circumstance.

We must not give up.

I say this because I think that what Gurdjieff said in Beelzebub is entirely true. There are many cosmic forces affecting both this planet and the solar system -- let's not bother trying to describe them, pretending that our tiny brains are able to properly comprehend these questions -- that are depending very much on the work of man. Our work is needed. We are needed.

We have not been put here casually; let us not be put here in vain.

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

1 comment:

  1. You write, "what is work?"

    First let's get the scientific concept out of the way, which is very easily defined:

    Work is force applied to overcome inertia.

    No matter what formula you use, it will fall under this definition.

    But, what is "The Work?"

    This is an extraordinarily difficult question. As I wrote in my little blurb in the Gurdjieff international review in the article "paradams", the work is sublime, elusive and mysterious.

    You walk into the building thinking one thing, and you walk out thinking another. You make a statement about what the work is and an elder will knock you off your horse.

    Back to the science for a moment -- I am very fond of chemist Peter Atkins, and enjoy your rendition of his description of work as the constrained release of energy into a few degrees of freedom.

    I would add that according to his description of work, that the constrained release of energy into a few degrees of freedom also means a movement towards greater symmetry.

    But back to the Work -- it is a process of coming alive where beforehand we were dead. It is the awakening of parts of ourselves that have gone into sleep so deeply that it might as well be called comatose. It is the death of the imaginary parts of ourselves which releases energy for a rebirth and realization of potentials of a real Self.

    Going back to the definition given by Peter Atkins. Let's use the scientific definition of the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of a certain amount of water by 1°. This imparts energy to all the molecules in the water so that they act more energetically and travel further or faster while playing bumper cars. Eventually, if enough heat is applied, the molecules have enough energy to turn into a gas, at the boiling point. Then they gain a great deal more symmetry, because they will fill whatever space is around and become humidity, whereas in the state of water, they are trapped by the shape of a physical vessel, and if energy is taken away from them, the water becomes ice, which has even less freedom, being crystallized.

    Surprisingly, this does have a great deal to do with The Work, because it is said that we are to work harmoniously so that all our centers enliven simultaneously -- this is the same thing as achieving a greater symmetry.

    So the work has to have different prescriptions for different men, but it can be generally said that the work involves asking a man to work on those aspects of himself which have fallen behind the rest. The beginning of the work is a remedial to the lopsidedness of a particular man (or woman).

    Only after this lopsidedness has been corrected can a second stage of The Work start. So you might find a man with a flabby body but a quick intellect assigned to physical tasks; a man with a fit body but an undeveloped intellect is going to be told that he needs to challenge his brains every day as if his brains had polio or had had a stroke. And almost all men have damaged emotional centers which have to be set right, mostly by getting rid of unrestrained imagination (daydreams and phantasmagorias) and the destruction of the negative emotional center, which Mr. Gurdjieff asserts is not really a center at all, but a built up apparatus something like the formatory Center, which has no real right to exist or place in a man without quotation marks.

    Events are without intrinsic meaning -- man is an animal who appends meaning to events, and who establishes an imaginary picture of the self as the result of these appended meanings which are usually perjoritive to himself. Then as a reflex action, he needs to imagine a self to combat this prosecution of himself, which has occurred reflexively, and which has been supported by society and education, which only reinforces the war between the imaginary self and reality, to say nothing of the war between the imaginary self and the derogatory imaginary self which has been subsidized by the appended meanings to a man's circumstances when he is very young.

    All of these are constant gigantic leaking of the energies he takes in through food, air and impressions. You talk about gathering energy, but who can gather energy into a sieve? So again, the beginning of work is hermetical, that is, it involves the sealing of energetic leaks and the creation of an alchemical vessel which can hold the energy that the organism is taking in.

    There is a fairytale about the boy who sold the cow for grain, but the sack had a hole in it so that by the time he got home only three seeds were left in the bag. That simply won't do if we want to work on ourselves (unless as in the story, the beans that are left are magical, in which case it is a comment on separating the fine from the course or the gold from the mud etc.).

    You are absolutely correct in saying that we have been placed here for a reason, not casually, and we need to develop gratitude for life. But in order to have gratitude for life we ourselves need to be alive. Remember Jesus telling the mourners to let the dead bury their dead. Cryptic perhaps, but not from the viewpoint of the Work.

    First, great parts of us need to die -- no great loss since these are all unreal parts of us anyway, but like a child's fantasy, they are sentimentally held on to and very difficult to banish. Then we need to enliven ourselves -- we need to be alive, all the various parts of ourselves. Then we can be of service -- to what end we are not allowed to decide, but with gratitude comes surrender to the urgent need of our help. We are needed. We are needed to work. Sublime, elusive and mysterious, but that is the work we are called to by the Angels ascending and descending the ladder of Jacob, who blow on horns to try and wake us up. And thank God for Mr. Gurdjieff, who spent his entire considerable life force to give us the tools and ideas and compassion so that we could become his students, shining like stars in the dark void of space.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.