Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Structural issues

In the study of inner conditions, it can take many years of careful observation in order to understand some of the points that Mr. Gurdjieff made to Ouspensky. Compounding this matter--the challenge of investing all the time, that is -- it's an objective fact that the scientific system of inner evolution which Gurdjieff expounded is a detailed and highly technical one.

Inevitably, just as not everyone has a naturally adept moving center, not everyone has an inherent ability--or inclination--to understand the more difficult intellectual aspects of this work. Some people are bad at movements. Other people can't think very well. Still others are an emotional mess.

Well, this is what we have to work with.

Over the years, it seems as though people with particular strengths have divided into camps. There are those who enjoy the study of the ideas -- they almost revel in them -- and invest in a strongly psychological interpretation of the work. Then there are those who act more like shamans, feeling and sensing their way to every discovery. All of these approaches are valid. Each one of them has its strengths and weaknesses. And every approach seems to "partly forget" that in an effort to attain a three centered being, all of the centers need to be working together.

Gurdjieff's original teaching, as expounded to and by Ouspensky, has all of the trappings of a high Djana yoga practice, that is, an extraordinary intellectual development that grasps the principles needed to master the other two branches. Nonetheless, it seems clear he abandoned that and moved into a much more intuitive and direct approach through experience in his later work.

One could engage in a great deal of argument about why that took place. But we won't.

Subsequently, Jeanne DeSalzmann made what appeared to many to be significant changes in the way that the Gurdjieff work was conducted. My own investigations and experience lead me to conclude that she never deviated whatsoever from the original premises and intentions of Gurdjieff's work. She was working on a specific point, at a specific level, that she had a comprehensive understanding of. It was, and is, so to speak, the ground floor of the work.

That is not to say that it is a "lower" work. The ground floor of this work is higher than the top floor of some others. She was not, as far as I can see, of a strongly intellectual inclination, and it was not her place or her intention to expound further on the structural and theoretical premises Gurdjieff introduced. There is no doubt he left a great deal unsaid; and he did this because those who came after him would have to make the efforts to understand those matters.

Every one of us who keeps the Gurdjieff work alive in our own practice -- whether we are priests or shamans, movers, empaths, or "scientists" -- has a direct responsibility to help move the work forward in whatever way we are able.

For my own part, in presenting the material to the public in a contemporary forum, I have attempted to balance structural and theoretical work -- of which you will find a good deal in the hundreds of other posts on this blog -- with experiential and so-to-speak "touchy-feely" material. For myself, caught between the demands of an active intellectual life and a fairly sensitive (as well as potentially explosive) emotional part, it is not always clear as to where the strongest values lie.

There are times when I have specific and meaningful insights about the structure of the work that are definitely theoretical in nature, but nonetheless appear to be significant. Some of those are embedded in the essays at the doremishock.com website.

There are other times when it seems to me it's nearly impossible to convey anything real to people through the medium of theory. Actually, I tend to lean in that direction, and have for some time.

That does not mean that theory is useless. In terms of practical work, there can be moments where a significant (and only partially theoretical) insight explodes like a supernova in the midst of an actual experience. That happened to me this morning.

At such times, the structure that is revealed and the connections that are drawn are so vast and intricate that they defy any ordinary attempt at explanation. In instances like that, I feel like I have looked over the Grand Canyon and then been left to describe it in 50 words or less.

An even more significant problem is that that's all people really want to read: "50 words or less." I try to keep these essays short, so that readers won't get bored, and so that no one is asked to swallow oceans in a single gulp. Generally speaking, with some few exceptions, long books filled with endless detail about esoteric matters bore the death out of me, and I suspect I have plenty of company on that one. I think that esotericism is a strong wine, best sipped one small glass at a time.

Today I am faced with the dilemma of attempting to describe the structural insights that I had without writing a long piece, and it simply is not possible. Consequently, I am going to write an essay for publication on the doremishock website. I hope to have it done before I leave for China next Monday.

The piece will consist of a further examination of the structural nature of emotional center -- which is, I wager, far more complex than most of us suspect. It will also offer some suggestions as to why the role of this center in inner work is so absolutely vital. In doing so, we will touch on some much larger questions about the inner structure of man that may help better explain why Gurdjieff contended that man has the structure of the entire universe in him.

The reason for this rambling prelude is to give readers a heads up. Those who are interested in structural matters should prepare themselves -- if they have not already done so -- by reading the essay on chakras and the enneagram. It is required reading for the next set of theoretical insights. In addition, the essay "on the development of emotional center" is important reading if one intends to grasp the nature of the new material.

So. We'll see if I can pull it off.

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

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.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Saving the earth


Back from a work week, with many new impressions.

One of the peculiar effects of conducting a public enterprise regarding the Gurdjieff Work (this blog) is the need for compartmentalization. According to well-established Work principles, which in my conservative set of shoes I definitely follow, I can’t make public any substantial exchange or discussion that took place. Furthermore, more than once during the week, I found myself having thoughts about my experience—and the work itself—which required a decision. I either had to keep such material private, in order to later make it available to this readership, or speak about it in the course of the week, in which case I would be under obligation not to write about later.

Standing between the public and private faces of the Gurdjieff work in this manner creates questions of responsibility that cannot be encountered under alternate circumstances.

This forced me into a much more intensive examination of what was required in terms of exchange during the week. Fortunately, the distinction between what was appropriate for the moment and what was appropriate for later quickly became clear enough. And there are, of course, some quite ordinary events that took place during the week that fall under no reasonable formal strictures.

Following the past week’s observations, there is little doubt left in me as to whether we in the Gurdjieff work take both the enterprise and the activity too intellectually, and too theoretically. It quickly became apparent – distressingly so, to myself and some others- that we cannot even stand up from our seat at dinner and get as far as the kitchen without losing our attention and forgetting to remember ourselves.

I don’t say this by way of judgment. It is just a heartbreaking and humbling reminder of everything Gurdjieff said about our inabilities. Unless our work becomes more organic, as I’ve said many times, and obtains the support of both the body and the emotions in order to function better, the mind is in no way strong enough to keep us on track. If we don’t learn humility here, on the ground floor of this effort, we won’t learn humility at all. And I do believe our humility is fundamentally lacking. We may well be following in the footsteps of Martin Luther’s adage—since we must sin, sin boldly—but I think we are taking his advice a bit more enthusiastically than necessary.

During the week, I ran into a number of ordinary conversations on the subject of saving the planet. Right minded people in the Gurdjieff work, just like those in other spiritual works, are very concerned about this. We all have this perception –undoubtedly correct –that the earth is being desperately damaged by our activity, and that something must to be done to fix it.

I share this concern. On the other hand, the lessons of this week made it quite clear to me that, for the most part, we can’t even get the dishes done with attention. We want to save the whole planet by heroic effort, but we are unable to carry an intention from one moment to the next. If we’re unable to attend to ourselves, how can we attend to the needs of an entire planet? The situation reeks of the contradictions Gurdjieff pointed out, the huge gap between human aspiration and human ability.

The belief that man can “save the planet” is both anthropocentric and grandiose—certainly, at least, if we take “saving the planet” in the outward form that it is conventionally meant. It is a conceit, a vanity, that puts us (as usual) at the center of events—a fundamental misunderstanding of our scale, our location, and our role.

The real question in front of mankind is whether the earth can save man.

Man was placed here to serve a specific purpose which he is, at this time, in apparent danger of failing. The overall level of consciousness in humanity doesn’t seem to be increasing—at least to me. The species appears to be caught in a downward spiral in which we are degrading both our cultures and our environment. The loudest spokespeople of the moment are, perhaps all too appropriately, the suicide bombers.

In order for man to be saved—to be preserved so that he can serve a higher purpose—he has to be worth saving. This isn’t a new concept: the idea that the hero has to first be worthy is a very old one. And in order for man to be worth saving, viewed from the perspective of our work, he must make an effort.

We can’t be sure—but we do know that Mme. De Salzmann indicated that the future of the planet depended on the quality of our work. If man can’t contribute what is needed by the earth for its own work, it may well rearrange things so that man no longer occupies the position he is in now—because the earth will take steps to obtain what is needed by whatever means necessary.

In other words, we are far less important than we think we are.

We all need to redouble our inner efforts, first for our own sake, but second and third for the sake of humanity, and for the sake of the planet.

In the coming days, I’ll be introducing a number of essays—as yet unwritten—that relate to these questions. Readers will encounter new structural insights that recast my earlier work on the questions of the enneagram, relationship between the centers, and the dynamic of inner and outer impressions in a different, and hopefully more integrated, light.

At the same time, we’ll try to remember together that our collective effort must always be to absorb the theory and then move well beyond it, into practice—as always, the territory where the bones discover their own flesh.

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

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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Call and response

Is the process of our effort at seeking an artifact of the organ kundabuffer's maleficent effect-- are we seeing the question upside down?

Could it be that we are what is sought?

I raise this question in light of the idea that we are—that all organic organisms are—receivers. As Gurdjieff described it, organic life on earth arose specifically to fill a gap—to facilitate the transmission of energies from planet to planetesimal (earth to moon) which would otherwise not function properly. Life is here to receive energies, process them—concentrate them—and then transmit them on.

The idea isn't just a theory. Sufficient practice in the Gurdjieff method can verify it, providing one is willing to make the effort.

This idea, as an idea, raises questions regarding the traditional understanding of the nature of spiritual search. In searching, it’s understood that we are the seekers—that we are reaching towards something. The traditional paradigm, furthermore, is one of separation: we feel separated, and understand it as our responsibility to reach out, to search, to discover.

How often, however, do we consider the idea that what we so avidly seek may be seeking us?

The inner search proceeds in two directions. Just as we search for what is real, both within us and outside of ourselves, so does the real seek for us. The higher levels of which we are a part—which could not even exist without us—are in just as much need of us as we are of them. The wish to reconnect, to recreate the admittedly metaphysical (but in the end, above all, physical) ligatures that bind the levels together is reciprocal.

When we call out in prayer, hoping that our voice will be heard, all too often we are, by our very effort itself, drowning out the voice which calls to us. Certainly, I have moments like that in my own work: moments when it becomes quite clear that what is required does not come from my end.

This does not excuse us from our own efforts at prayer—no, there is certainly an obligation on our part to seek, to call, to wish and to hope—but it does call on us to recognize that there must be an active respiration to our inner effort. That is to say, there must be inward and outward breath:

call and response.

Call and response is an ancient song form, common in what we call “primitive” (read: more essential) cultures. Anyone who has listened to composer David Fanshawe’s original African folk recordings ,which formed the core of his African Sanctus piece, cannot fail to be moved by the form, which contains something in it so ancient it defies the constraints of any cultural history.

Contained within this form is an inherent understanding that the universal language of exchange consists of call and response. As discussed in the last post, call and response is related above all to deeply rooted biological needs and functions, above all sexual; but the presence of this reciprocity of seeker/sought, caller/respondent at such deep levels speaks to what may well be a primal structural element of the universe. If sexual blending, conjugation and reproduction, is the engine that drives the universe, all the way from the atomic and molecular to cosmological levels, then call and response is the reciprocal seeking that makes it all possible.

So here we are in these bodies, having these experiences: as I have pointed out many times, perhaps one of the few exact things that man can verify at all for himself. In the absence of any further work, or the attainment of what Gurdjieff might call an objective state, the balance of all forms (artifacts of our conceptual mind) become conjecture of one kind or another.

We begin with the body: in our ground--up attempts to verify, this is the only place we can start.

In the context of incarnation and the nature of the body, the energies that seek to be received, expressed, and transmitted are already extant within the body. The very existence of the body and its animating awareness are already, as Zen masters might claim, a “perfect expression of the Dharma,” that is, complete within and of themselves. (A contention the lesser-known U.G. Krishnamurti also offered.)

So in the act of receipt and transmission, the tool—the organism—is already complete and (relatively) functional. It is the awareness that fails us, not the equipment. True, our awareness is part of our equipment: I think the point is that it has forgotten this simple fact.

Hence the Gurdjieffian practice of self-remembering. Here we attempt not just to see ourselves—although that is, to be sure, a great part of the aim—but also to reconnect with the deepest of inner needs to participate more fully in this act of call and response: not just mechanically, as is relentlessly required by Great Nature herself, but consciously—that is, in a manner whereby the energies that are transmitted become actively appreciated, rather than just passively received.

Let us move on to a more specific point of interest. In the Gurdjieff work, we often speak of having a connection to sensation. One doesn’t find this idea very prevalent in other spiritual practices, if it is present at all. We are supposed to seek a connection to sensation, cultivate it, keep coming back to it.

And here is the question of sensation, examined from the point of view of receivers.

Do we seek sensation or does it seek us? What is the implication of the reversal of the process?

As I have mentioned before, there is a turning point in the inner experience of the organism which we can aim for. This is the point at which the call for sensation, rather than issuing from our effort, arises instead directly from the organic wish and need of the body itself. At this point of us, we do not seek sensation: sensation seeks us. And it is in this primary and primeval re--ligature to the very presence of our bodies themselves—the reconnection of the inner tissues--to the re-discovery of what one might call their underlying animal nature—that we first begin to truly understand that there are potentialities within us that call to us from minds we do not know.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Territory, recognition, repetition: musings on biology and ego

When we speak about Ego, we rarely conceive of it in terms of biology, despite the fact that all of man’s psychological mechanisms—even those supposedly ascribable to what Gurdjieff calls “the organ kundabuffer”—inevitably arose, and continue to arise, from our biological roots. The fact is so obvious we rarely countenance it.

Sitting in the bungalows at silver lake, enjoying a moment of stillness, the air is filled with a lilting cascade of birdsong. The cadence is linguistic, as much as musical; after all, for the bird, this is his language. And the similarities between his assertive, repetitive lyric and the conversations we ordinarily engage in suddenly stike me.

Language is, in man, used—among other things, and perhaps above all—to demarcate the territory occupied by ego. We use words to construct the inner castles we hide in; words to advise others of our powers and proclivities, words to warn and ward, words to build political relationships (both inner and outer.) In short, the function of language in relationship to ego is perhaps comparable to the function of birdsong for male birds.

In both cases, a defensible territory is laid out and proclaimed. In both cases, repetitive phrases--based on a process of natural selection which has preserved that which is found to be effective--are used. In my own experience, men tend to engage in this kind of verbal territorialism far more than women do, using words in a form of competition, one-upmanship in which one’s manhood (read: biological fitness) is determined by who can be the wittiest, the cleverest, the most intelligent—or, in the intelligentsia, above all, the deepest. Deepest, of course, in what usually turns out to be a superficial kind of way.

In examining my own conversational habits—habits I observe in those around me as well—I see that I have a specific repertoire, a group of subjects, stories, expressions, approaches and techniques—which seems mutable, flexible and creative, but which is, in its own way, almost as limited as the relatively brief set of phrases that birds use. I say the same things over and over; tell the same stories, present the same set of relatively clever spins. I’ve watched myself presenting this way for years now, and it surprises me how often I repeat the same things. I construct and present the subjects I discuss in order to gain recognition: I’m laying out my territory.

Territory, repetition, recognition: it’s the standard repertoire of nature. It may appear to belong to me; after all, I’m the one who appears to be directing the show, even though it turns out to be a relatively mechanical set of habits. In the end, however, it’s the product and the property of nature herself; it stems from urges and behaviors that are rooted much deeper in the psyche than I suspect. And now, today, I suspect that ego itself has roots that run this deep: which may be why it seems so impossible to root it out..

Ego knows what kind of food it needs, and it uses language in much the same way that birds use song. One of the foods ego certainly needs is sex; like birds, we use language, our use of it—and not only the words, but (like birds) the very cadence of the delivery itself--in order to attract our mates. In Gurdjieff’s universe, where sex is the engine that drives “everything,” no surprise that language itself is driven by this mechanism. It furthermore raises, of course, the question of just how much of what emanates from ego has, as its ultimate aim, a sexual purpose: rather more than any of us suspect, I think.

It’s worth a careful examination, this study of our birdsong. Not so that we can fault ourselves for being this way: repetitive, competitive, territorial. Not so that we can find a way to pull the fungus of ego up by its mycological roots, either; that is—probably—not only impossible, but also even undesirable. We need the ego, after all; this is one of the unusual features of Gurdjieff’s teaching, as opposed to, for example, the Buddhists. In Gurdjieff’s map of the inner world, the ego has a value, one whose measurement is perhaps in part attributable to its biological roots. In this work, it is not the ego which poses the problem: it is our relationship to it.

And thereby hangs, perhaps, the whole tail. I mean tale.

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

Friday, July 18, 2008

Interlude

One of my readers mentioned a few posts back (like what it does not like) that they didn't understand the language I use. They indicated, however, that they felt they understood Mr. Gurdjieff's language, and were definitely more comfortable with it.

The comment came along with some rather disturbing editorial remarks about people who had been in the work thirty or forty years who spoke nicely about attention in the moment, but then went home and beat their wives.

...If you happen to be one of those people, please stop.

Beating your wife, I mean.

I have been pondering this anonymous contributor's remarks for several days now. My pondering runs thus. One option we all have is to stay with what we understand -- or think we understand -- and what we are comfortable with.

But what can we really learn, then? It is what we do not understand, and what leaves us uncomfortable, that urges us forward into the unknown, where we can learn something new, instead of leaning on the crutch of our own personal known.

For myself, when I come up against what I do not understand, that is where the interest lies. And as I get older, I begin to see that everything falls into this category. The parts of me that really need to understand something need to understand something that is not understood. The parts of me that think they know something are all mistaken.

And it is in this contact with that which is not understood -- this cloud of unknowing -- then I begin to learn humility.

Not a sentimental humility, but one that penetrates to the marrow of the bones, helping me to understand--as I cannot help myself--that this vessel, this flesh, and even this being itself, are nothing more than a seed and its leathery husk.

This morning, in my sitting, I once again found myself up against the questions of inner unity, and exactly what it means. Not in an intellectual sense, but in a physical one.

I have repeatedly expressed the sense that we are unable to use words to describe or define the effort that needs to be made to cross the bridge between our external state, and everything that it represents, and the inner mystery which might, among other possibles, be described as the inconceivable and incomprehensible state of a Buddha.

We live our entire lives unsuspecting, rubbing right up against this state. To us (to our intellect, our form) it seems both tangible, intellectually understandable, and incredibly distant, impossible, conceptual -- a goal to strive towards, or a distant land to be reached.

We don't understand that it is right here, already touching us--if only we knew.

What would it mean to truly open the door and invite something real to share this table?

This is a question that needs to be pondered from within the innermost depths of the being, seeking the nectar of flowers that only open in darkness. Relaxing the body, the mind, and everything in them--letting it go. Making room for something entirely different to enter.

Well, there's something else I don't understand very well.
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Starting tomorrow, I am on vacation & attending a work week with Neal, so ZYG blog posting will be mostly suspended.

Thanks to my new iPhone -- a device I recommend to everyone who finds technology useful--there is the off chance I will get an opportunity to sneak in one or two posts. Ergo, for those who prefer forward motion to archives, keep one eye on this space.

Regular readers, as well as new visitors, are invited to explore the sizable library of earlier material until posts resume, on or about Saturday, July 26.

Until then, may your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

be well!

Lee

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Water


Yesterday, my friend rlnyc left a comment about Islam on my last post.

I was pondering this question this morning while sitting, in relationship to a question I have been working on in general about the nature of what it means to submit to God's will: not from a verbal point of view, but to submit.

The essential difficulty with the idea of jihad, as the extremists in contemporary Islam understand it, is that they have completely mistaken the nature of the enterprise. Rlnyc pointed that out. Just to expound a bit more on what he so deftly touched on: the way that such men interpret submission is always through their own minds.

When any man attempts to get another man to "submit" to the will of God, according to his understanding, he isn't working to help the other man submit to the will of God at all. He is trying to get him to submit to his will. Throughout history, ordinary religious men have perpetually misunderstand their will as being the same as the will of the Almighty. This is an inevitable pitfall generated by the very nature of the external self.

Everything that we think -- everything that we form with our conventional, associative minds, through our contact with external life -- is, inevitably, the will of man. Ecclesiastes shapes its entire message around the fact that all external activity is vanity, again, that is, the will of man. Paul's tension between the spirit and the flesh is meat cut from the selfsame animal.

All of the ideas we form within ourselves about everything -- even these ideas I am writing, and you are reading, now -- are firmly attached to the external, and represent, as it were, the will of man. This is, of course, a somewhat imperfect representation of the situation, but hopefully you can sense the way the analogy is developing.

In the Lord's prayer, immediately after the acknowledgment of the Lord's supremacy, the first idea that is introduced is that man's will must be retired so that God's will may enter. In the same way (as the author of The Cloud Of Unknowing says) we cannot know God with the mind, we can also not define the Will of God with words. The Lord's prayer implicitly contains within it the understanding that we don't and can't understand God's Will.

Not with these ordinary parts, anyway.

The entire form that we adopt -- the external life we live, the ideas and opinions we have, everything that Gurdjieff used to call "false personality--" is a seed, or, more properly expressed, the shell of a seed. It is a husk, nothing more than a protective layer.

Within it lies an element that, under the right set of circumstances, can change and grow. The parable of the mustard seed in the Bible is about exactly this question.

In order for a seed to change and grow, it has to let something quite different into it. That something is referred to as "water." The role of "heavenly water" is sketched out by the life and deeds of John the Baptist in the New Testament. Water was, and is, necessary in order for the seed to grow. The seed in us has to surrender the hard shell which protects it from the outside, and allow water to enter. At that point, the seed dies, and begins to become something very different than a seed.

In our current state, attached to our form, invested in protection, we cling firmly to the shell. We have the mistaken idea that somehow this seed-shell we live inside is already a tree--that is, that where we are, how we experience, what we think, and so on, actually has some relationship to the will of God. This mistaken idea of what we are stands in the way of anything new happening.

The Buddhists understand this in the sense of attachment, and they say we must surrender all our attachments. This idea of surrendering all our attachments is the same as giving up our form, or shedding our husk. That is, realizing that what we manifest within which is formed in terms of external factors is not part of what we seek from an inner point of view.

The parable of the mustard seed is a yogic parable. The seed has to know when to generate. If it lets water in at the wrong time, it may germinate when it is too hot, or too cold, or too dry, or too wet. In other words, germination itself already has to take place within the context of consciousness.

This, perhaps, is the biggest challenge of the seed: to know that it is a seed, and to understand what seeds are supposed to do. For as long as a seed thinks it is a tree, it is unable to undertake anything that will help it. It has to slowly, carefully open itself to something quite magical -- a hydraulic force, something mediated by a metaphysical water --in order to begin to grow.

The nature of the human vessel, of this organic body, is much subtler than anything our Western minds can reasonably accept. We are, in fact, "germination vessels." And one might surmise, from a careful reading of Gurdjieff's explanations to Ouspensky, that our impressions of life themselves ultimately help mediate the very water that will help us to germinate.

Each living creature is "attached" to this energy from a higher level--the holy spirit--by a "thread" that extends down into them. It is as though we are the growing tip of a root that extends downward from above; the leading edge of an exploratory tendril, dropped from a higher level into this one.

The will of God belongs to what descends from above. It is animate, living, and authoritative. It has no opinions whatsoever, because it doesn't need them. It has no language, because it speaks in the tongues of physics and chemistry. It does not speak of this earth or these things that "we" wish for or desire, because both its origin and its aim belong to needs and tasks that we, at our present level, are unable to understand.

It is, in other words, truly mysterious. Every effort that we make to drag it down to our level and "explain" it is a waste of time. Only the efforts within, in which we attempt to open ourselves, to submit in an inner sense, are profitable. And, as Mr. Gurdjieff said in the his aphorisms,

"Know that this house can only be useful to those who have recognized their own nothingness and who believe in the possibility of changing."

Our own nothingness, I believe, consists of this entire collective misunderstanding of humanity, which breeds divisions and an effort to impose our own will on the will of others.

Much better that we look to ourselves to see what is lacking, than to always see so habitually and so easily what is lacking in others.

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

Monday, July 14, 2008

One never knows


In my efforts to take the time for some other areas of life, there are less posts right now than at other times. In particular, I have learned the value of pacing myself rather than slamming myself into every activity I engage in with too much energy--and not enough patience.

So I'm balancing my personal enterprises between this one, the execution of some new pieces of artwork, my family responsibilities, the careful attention to some respectable pieces of cooking, and a bit more attention than usual for our three cats and the dog. Along with time to just take in nature, as it is.

Today, rather than plumbing the cosmic depths of some specific esoteric idea, I just want to offer a personal soliloquy.

There are moments in life when one begins to see the futility of attempting to extend one's work beyond the parameters of one's own inner life and one's immediate environs.

To be sure, we all have grandiose impressions of ourselves, our potential, our abilities, the way we can affect things and the way things can affect us. On rare occasions, those impressions may contain a grain of truth. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was aware of the fact that he was exceptional, and certain that he had the ability to leave a mark that would be remembered by his fellow man. Despite an early life of continual setbacks and failures, he never stopped trying to improve himself, and when the moment came, he was prepared to step into shoes so big that no one since his time has been able to wear them.

Most of us aren't destined for larger than life legacies. It is all we can do to step into the intimacy of our own life itself, and make an honest effort to plumb the depths of what we are within this moment, and within ourselves. That, of course, is the aim of inner work--which is quite different than the outer work that Abraham Lincoln so selflessly undertook on behalf of his fellow men.

Both kinds of work are necessary, but only one kind feeds the inner life and the growth of the immortal soul.

In some ways, each one of us has to make a choice between centers of gravity as we go through life: either the internal, or the external. There are some people who manage to walk the line between fame and inner work successfully, but I think they are rare. For the rest of us, we have to discern what is more important to us: to be important in the external world, or to grow something different within ourselves that has integrity and balance.

When I was young, I wanted to be a famous artist. As I grew older, this became less and less important to me, and by now, the center of gravity has shifted 180 degrees. I no longer want to be famous, and I no longer want to be an artist. I may still be a person who draws things and makes things, but I would rather go quietly through life, without any celebration or recognition.

What is important to me is to try and see how I am, and this is no easy thing. It is much more difficult, for example, than being an artist. With enough training, and enough inside knowledge of the tricks of the trade, anyone can do a fine painting. Gurdjieff made a point of this often enough with his contention that a man who observes carefully can do anything externally. Much is made of that lore in the stories that get passed around in the Gurdjieff work.

Inner work is much trickier. It requires a balance that is only born through humility, and chemical substances that don't get acquired reflexively. It also requires help from a different level, help of a kind that we are unaware of and don't even know how to ask for. Above all, I think it involves a change in what the Buddhists call the ego-state.

Let us consider the word "state" here as though it referred not to a condition, but a government. The many "I's" within us are a corporate structure, an inner governing body that continually squabbles, and is just as dysfunctional as the American Congress.

Anyone who lives in America can see that our system of government is a perfect reflection of Gurdjieff's "doctrine of I's." Every few minutes, some new actor appears on the stage to derail the process of consensus: the system is dominated by greed, bribery, chicanery, influence, and subterfuge. Problems get studied endlessly, but no solutions are ever offered. Every moment of decision making seems to end up being nothing more than a decision to lurch to the next moment of decision making.

We complain about the government, the corporate structure, and the way that it ruthlessly sucks everything into its vortex. People speak this way about almost every government.

How many of us see that our inner lives are exactly the same?

Of course, it has to be that way. Man cannot, in his external state, create institutions that are any better than the ones he has within himself. On the rare occasions when a man who has a superior inner quality, such as Abraham Lincoln, comes along, he can change everything. That man, however, is never the man that anyone expects him to be -- Lincoln, after all, was a dark horse, an outsider, and the most unlikely of presidential candidates -- and he never does what people expect him to.

The first thing that Lincoln did after he was elected, for example, was to take all his rivals and form his cabinet from them. In other words, he made his enemies his friends. This is really a kind of genius -- to take all of these squabbling, bickering parts that don't work together, introduce them to each other, and help them to see the benefit of mutual support, instead of dissension.

For myself, if I don't try to see the inner state, and its lack of unity, I cannot begin to change the government. Ego is a government of I The Person; inner change is movement towards a government of We The People. The inner government must become one of a tripartite nature: powerful, intelligent, compassionate. Each of those parts must balance each other and work together.

Increasingly, the steps in this direction are, for me, very personal. I have learned that one can know a great deal, and even understand a great deal, and yet be unable to pass that on to other people. The knowledge that one gets from another is often practically useless; it may be filled with amazing facts, but facts are not reality. They are just reflections of it. It is only our own encounter with reality, and how deeply we drink it in, that creates a man's inner life, and his soul.

Neal and I were walking the famous dog Isabel Saturday morning early, up the road that leads from the salt marsh at the mouth of the Sparkill creek towards Old Tappan, and I sensed it thus.

In the Gurdjieff work, we have a massive form, composed of "the ideas." One can read "In Search of the Miraculous," or other books from the ouevre, and encounter thousands of important facts about the universe, the nature of work, and so on. Nonetheless, even if one studies these ideas for years, and masters certain aspects of understanding, none of that information contains the world within it.

Walking up the road by the creek, seeing the trees, the birds, the rocks, the shrubs and the flowers and even the light that penetrates the air -- all of this transcends everything one ever intellectually learns about the nature of the cosmos. There is more contained within one real moment like this than in every book that was ever written.

We are vessels into which the world flows. If we truly understood that -- understood it, rather than just hearing the words or thinking about it --that would be a tremendous help to our work. And that work is a personal work, a loving work in which we learn how to love ourselves in the right way. A work that creates a new form of self-valuation that consists of questions about everything we do, everything we think, every emotion we feel, every sensation that strikes us. Gentle questions, not harsh judgments. Participation, not rejection.

A form that is about how it is right here, rather than what it might be like over there.

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

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Like what it does not like


At the very end of Gurdjieff's posthumously published "Views From the Real World," there is a list of aphorisms.

Each one is a meaty little piece of advice about how to conduct our inner work. Most of them seem, on the surface, to say something rather straightforward. Not only that, most of us in the Gurdjieff work are quite familiar with them and have probably been hearing them -- or versions of them -- for many years.

So we assume we know what they mean. Of course, we're well behaved, politically correct little Gurdjieffians, so if asked, we'd reflexively deny that. It's the stock answer: of course we don't understand. Everything is a mystery, yada yada yada.

The underlying part of us that takes things in always makes assumptions, however, and one of the first things that it always assumes is that it knows what's going on. That happens so automatically that that part is telling us we know what's going on, even while our mouth is saying to other people that we don't know what's going on.

Consider it thus, fellow seekers:

We think we understand that we don't understand. This is a corollary to Andre Enard's comment that "We dream the dream we are awake."

Anyway, given the propensity of Gurdjieff's material to reveal unexpected depths when pondered in detail, I thought I'd take a closer look at some of the aphorisms.

I hit a wall almost immediately with the very first aphorism.

"Like what it does not like."

We would generally assume that this means that we should go against our habits, our mechanicality. ...But conundrums immediately rear their ugly heads. If it is our habit to seek pleasure, does this aphorism mean that we should become accustomed to seeking pain? Surely, it is not a call to masochism. Simplistic explanations, in other words, don't serve the aphorism at all.

Peeling back the layers of the onion, we discover that this saying is more than an aphorism (i.e., a terse statement of truth.)

It's a koan.

What is "it?" Do we know what that is?
What is it to "like" something?
What is it to "not like" something?

All of these questions have to be examined carefully before we might presume to begin to understand the direction that the aphorism is pointing us in.

Once we begin to do that, we see that the aphorism is asking us to examine how we are in the present moment, to study the inner condition and see what we are attracted to. Before one can like what it does not like, one has to see it and see it liking. So contained within this kernel is the seed of the separation of self from self, and the act of seeing. In other words, the aphorism points in the direction of having an immediate attention to how we are.

"Well, duh," you are probably intoning by now, "that's so obvious. That's what everything is all about in this work anyway."

...But how obvious is it, really?

How often do we have the ideas, but not the attention?

The attention to life isn't composed of ideas. Ideas are the policemen; ideas are the institution; ideas are the property of the government and the state.

The attention is something else again. Real attention comes from a certain subtle kind of inner energy that does not belong to the government or the state.

The attention is an insurrection. An effort to defeat the form and find something much, much larger than the idea.

Something that lives.

Several months ago I heard Peter Brook assert that our very conception of the work itself-- all of the ideas that we have about it, everything that we think about it -- are our very greatest obstacle to inner work. Our conceptions, or, perhaps more properly put, our preconceptions, stand directly in the way of our working. And it is even the very idea that we know what working means or what work is, or that we know what we are, and what we are doing, that defeats us.

The effort at attention is perpetually hidden within, encapsulated by, the ideas, just as ou own attention is hidden within the act of what we call mentation. And this aphorism is a classic example of that. It reminds me once again of Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he advocates a circumcision of the Spirit.

Only by discarding the external portion of our spiritual quest -- the coarse and excess flesh of the idea, the form, that which insulates and conceals the inner reproductive apparatus of attention-- can we hope to progress.

So there is my little thought on this particular aphorism, for today.

Going forward, I plan to study some of the other aphorisms and comment on them a bit. Not excessively or extensively; after all, I would prefer to touch gently on the subjects, not pound them with a ball peen hammer.

In the meantime, I'll share one other thought that I had this morning.

Over the course of my life, I have had numerous occasions to deal directly with people who have crippling thinking disorders. By thinking disorders I mean disorders of the associative center that prevent them from organizing their thoughts in such a way as to function in good relationship to ordinary life. There are a lot of psychological terms for these disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and so on.

Regrettably, I know several of them up close and very personally. The diseases are complex and debilitating; they cause terrible problems both for the individuals that have them and the people around them.

I bring all this up because the associative center frequently gets a bad rap in the Gurdjieff work. People speak of it disparagingly, as though the things that came out of it were all crap. We talk about associative thinking as though it were worthless, and often all but sneer when the subject comes up.

This is a bit typical of all of us. We don't appreciate how important the ordinary parts of us are. All you need to do is spend some time around one person with a disorder like this and you will begin to get a whole new appreciation of associative center, just how important it is for ordinary functioning, and just how grateful we ought to be that we have one at all, let alone one that functions well for us.

If we don't learn to value these "devalued" parts, we are not balancing our inner life. Every part of us that helps us function -- even a mechanical one -- is our absolute friend and confidant, and to be treated with love and respect, not like a second-class citizen that we are only putting up with until the cosmic consciousness we wish for shows up.

Learning this lesson is part of right self-valuation. Be glad you have a machine. Be glad it works okay. Thank God every day for that.

It is the beginning of appreciating life for what it is, instead of what we wish it were.

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

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ego and vanity

One of the chief themes in Ecclesiastes is man's vanity. We are firmly and forever hypnotized by our own self-importance, even when we stare up at the sky and are confronted by the incomprehensible scale of the cosmos.

Pondering this question, it strikes me that the pervasive vanity spoken of by the author of Ecclesiastes is roughly equivalent to the ego of modern psychology ...I have a problem with the word ego, because in spiritual works it tends to get slung around like hash in a cafeteria. Everyone uses it as though they understand what it means-- as though we had enough distance from it to be objective about it.

And nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

In studying the idea of the three minds, or three centers, that Mr. Gurdjieff proposed, it occurs to me that labeling the deficiencies of our vanities with a single word, "ego," may fall well short of what we need to understand. We speak of the ego as though it were a single thing... as though, in other words, we had an inner unity, which it is indubitably true that we do not have.

Let's suppose, for a moment, that each "mind" of man -- the body, the emotions, and the intellect --has an ego, that is, a motive force based on vanity -- that is peculiar to it. There is an ego of body. There is an ego of emotion. There is an ego of intellect.

The idea isn't a big reach. I think if you look around you, you may see that most human manifestations arise from vanities whose centers of gravity can be found in one or the other of these three centers.

In each case, the centers have a conceit that they are powerful. We see the extension of this conceit of the body in the myths of the super--powerful: bodies that live forever, can perform impossible tasks, and that exude a health and vitality far out of proportion to what is realistically possible. A great deal of modern culture goes into the worship of this ideal, in sports, health and beauty products, and so on; not to mention comic book super-heroes.

The emotions, too, fuel their vanity on exaggerated ideas about what is possible: this is especially visible in the world of popular music, where massive amounts of amplification are used to convey an invincibility of emotional sincerity, whatever type of emotion it may be. Love lasts forever, and sentiment replaces effort wherever it can.

The intellect is no different. We live in a society that is built on the unstable foundations of an endless number of theories, almost all of which fail when they collide with reality.

Given the proclivity of these "center based egos" to project themselves so forcefully on the larger canvas of popular culture, we should probably expect to discover similar features in our own psychic life. We do, I think; or at least I do. And it is these features of vanity within these three centers that I need to become aware of.

More often than not, the breaking down of the ego is cast in terms that suggest there is only one ego. Gurdjieff's own theory of the multiplicity of "I"'s suggests that perhaps there are many different egos. In any event, the breaking down of the ego is by no means just cleaning the furniture out of our psychological attic. That activity stems from forms, words, and understanding that are all born on this level, and it is our very entanglement with this level in itself that lies at the root of the problem. Every one of our centers is too invested in attempting to draw all its sustenance from the external, and, even worse, firmly believing that it can do so. In the absence of an alternative, the centers become more and more diseased, as they attempt to fit life to the form of their own desires.

Reframing it in somewhat new terms, all three centers must lose their ego in order for something new to take place. Each one of them has to learn to submit to a higher authority. It is a mental, physical, and emotional process, involving dreams, sweat, blood, and tears. A great deal of suffering is necessary in order for us to begin to understand this. Suffering taken not only in the ordinary terms, that is, things that are objectively difficult for us both intellectually, emotionally, and physically, but also taken in extraordinary terms.

The extraordinary form of suffering is in allowing: in accepting the conditions we find ourselves in, and willingly engaging in them, rather than struggling to escape. And perhaps the real "terror of the situation" is that, even long after this is understood with a more than just one part, the wish to run away does not leave us.

To stand up within our self, to learn how to occupy a vertical position between the inner and the outer, is the beginning of being willing to see what we are. And until, I think, we suffer our vanity for a very long time, we will continue to make terrible and terrifying assumptions about who and what we are. And we are so far gone, on the whole, that it is only the great equalizer -- death itself -- that can bring some of us back to sobriety.

I have mentioned this before, but I'll say it again. The most memorable sitting I was ever at was many, many years ago on a Thursday morning at the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York.

Peggy Flinsch led that particular sitting, and she began it with the words: "We are tiny little creatures."

Indeed.

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

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's never now


One of the inevitable contradictions that arises in spiritual works is the question of what the master called on his followers to do, versus what actually happens after he dies.

Almost all spiritual masters -- from Jesus Christ to Buddha to the lesser, but nevertheless extremely significant, teachers such as Mr. Gurdjieff-- call on their followers to make an effort to develop a consciousness within this life, to make an effort now, to discover a personal authority now.

Generally speaking, from what I've seen, the organizations that carry on teachings after a master dies codify the teaching in such a way that the authority must always reside in the master. The root teaching almost invariably says that the individuals are supposed to acquire the same kind of authority that the master did, but that's just what they say. In organizations that follow in the footsteps of the teacher, to actually acquire a personal authority is almost forbidden; no one should be allowed to develop a meaningful personal authority that would supersede the master. Of course, no one would ever admit this, but the cultural immune systems of organized works and religions enforce the rule nonetheless.

We see this, for example, in Judaism: the Messiah is always coming, but he is always coming later. He won't be coming now. You can relax and stop worrying about that. In fact, if the Messiah comes now, he will screw the whole thing up. So the entire organization becomes invested in making sure the Messiah doesn't come. It's never now.

Christians have decided, on the other hand, that it is okay for apocalypse to come. The nonsensical but powerful idea of the "end times" has obsessed many biblically literal Christians in the South, who are blissfully unaware of the fact that there is absolutely no Old or New Testament support whatsoever for this made-up idea. They are quite eager for everything to be destroyed, at which point -- in the future, mind you -- then the Messiah will then be allowed to come. The proposition of actually attaining what Christ called us to, the idea of an inner transformation which puts us in direct touch with our Father now, is forbidden.

In Buddhism, great masters steer people away from the idea of enlightenment, because the idea itself implies that enlightenment is something that will happen later, in the future. --Not now, where it is supposed to be happening.

Of course, every practice produces some few mavericks who actually do discover something on the order of what the teacher was aiming at. The cultural immune system often tries to kick most of them out as quickly as possible, because others aren't willing to accept it. Even worse, because such personal authority is usually fragmentary -- that is to say, development arrives in almost all men quite partially -- the next thing you know, things split up and people go in different directions.

This is one of the difficulties with religions and practices that rely on personal revelation. Once you have admitted to the idea that any individual in the organization can attain an authority, you invite a splintering action.

The Mormons certainly discovered this. The idea of founding a religion based on the idea that anyone could prophecy turned out to be terrific, right up until it turned out that this meant anyone could be a prophet. Some time after crafting his religion, Joseph Smith realized this, and belatedly introduced an injunction that he was the only person allowed to prophecy--but by that time, the cat was out of the bag. Mormons began to spawn a seemingly endless number of authorities. You can read a fascinating account of the difficulties this created in "Under The Banner Of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer. The book, incidentally, is required reading for people who study religions of revelation. He raises a great deal of interesting questions in the last chapter which all of us ought to pay some attention to.

In any event, what happens in organizations that have codified teachings is that the power possessing beings at the head of the organization want to control the authority. One of the aims is to make sure that no one acquires an authority greater than the founder. The founder becomes a sacred cow, an object of worship. I have encountered this phenomenon myself in the Gurdjieff work. On several occasions, I've intimated that not every single action Mr. Gurdjieff ever undertook was entirely conscious. That is to say, I implied that he was human like the rest of us.

The reactions that I garnered from this statement were extreme. Many people got very, very upset ...darn, I never knew Gurdjieff needed so many defenders.

It surprised me, because it seems self-evident to me that this proposition has to be true. After all, we are taught that even Jesus Christ was a man, and had human characteristics. If he was so far above us that he did not experience any human failures, then he didn't experience what it is to be human, did he?

If you are human, but perfect, then you aren't human. You can't have it both ways.

Gurdjieff, alone among a wide range of spiritual masters, seems to have foreseen the pitfalls of master-worship. He drove a great many of his followers away just to prevent this kind of nonsense. It's a great irony, then, that we see it rearing its head in the almost cultlike devotion that some direct towards his memory.

I think it's safe to say that Gurdjieff's wish for us was to find a personal authority. That was one of the great points of his work, in some ways. Never mind whether the organizations we are in allow us to have a personal authority or not. If we get hung up on that, we are missing the point. Here is the question.

Are we willing to let ourselves discover a personal authority?

Or are we actually much more interested -- as Ouspensky by his own admission was -- in letting someone else be the authority for us?

The cult of charismatics that dominates so many spiritual works underscores the tendency towards this disease. The whole phenomenon of charisma is, in fact, a poison that distracts people from their own work. The moment I meet a charismatic, I'm suspicious. Call me undeveloped if you want to, I just don't trust that kind of energy. It's the people I don't like that I'm interested in. If someone is not oozing a suspiciously attractive kind of energy out of their pores, but nonetheless has a presence and a message I find compelling, well then ...there, to me, is one who may have an authority. The highways of spirituality are littered with the wreckage of people who mistook charisma for development. Consider it.

Can we actually recognize authority? Remember, many people who met Jesus Christ in the flesh did not see his authority. This implies that everyone's ability to understand what real spiritual development is is impaired. So maybe we don't know who has authority. Maybe we don't know what authority is. Maybe our assumptions about it are incorrect.

The next time that we see our egos raising their hackles at the prospect of someone else's authority, it might be a good idea to focus on where our own authority within ourselves lies, rather than worrying about whether they are or are not an authority. Just as we can discover an organic sense of being, so, too, we can reach within towards an organic sense of personal authority, an authority which belongs to us, and not to those around us.

Mr. Gurdjieff wrote about this eloquently in one of the last essays in "Views From The Real World:"

New York, March 1, 1924.

"You should understand and establish it as a strict rule that you must not pay attention to other people’s opinions, you must be free of the people surrounding you.When you are free inside, you will be free of them."

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