Sunday, November 30, 2008

more poetry

Getting organized for my trip.

The day started out with a wintry mix of snow and sleet. It's been cold and wet all day.

I'm suffused with a subtle, underlying sense of the sorrow in the universe. It is a material, tangible sorrow, played to a counterpoint of absolute joy. These two forces blend together equally in every material arising; the reconciling force of love holds them all together.

They don't arise from sentiment; no, the source of their arising lies deep within the roots of reality, in places where the simple, ordinary emotions of man cannot go. I draw the sustenance for Being from those roots, and I blossom--intentionally or unintentionally, with or without my participation--into what I am, but the fineness of the earth from which I spring lies beyond my reach or understanding.

Yes, it sounds like poetry, not the Gurdjieff work. But the Gurdjieff work, as I grow older, does not seem reducible to a set of ideas or formulas, methods of working, and so on. It is a whole experience where nothing can be divided from anything else, and the entire world sings within the blood of the individual who works.

If not poetry, then what?

It's a privilege to participate in this life, this act of perceiving. How often do I remember that? How often do I turn myself back to the deepest of appreciations, an appreciation that rises from sensation, moves through the intelligence, and finds itself embraced by a sorrow that is right and good and necessary?

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Flexibility


This morning, a friend and I were exchanging mail about the experience of age, and time. Having just replied, I discover myself sitting here pondering the question of time, memory, and how it affects us.

One might think this was largely an intellectual enterprise, but, surprisingly, I believe there is an important relationship to emotional reaction.

As we go through the time of our lives, having experiences that build a web of connections within us, we are assembling a structure. This structure is sometimes referred to as personality in the Gurdjieff work. In any event, it is a vast network of connections that determine our behaviors.

As we grow older, and more and more material is added to the structure, it becomes more and more rigid. At least, that is the case in many people. Of course there are always exceptions. But the point is, for most of us, we undergo a process that Mr. Gurdjieff called "crystallization."

Crystallization takes place on many levels. For example, DNA is a crystalline molecular structure. It, like us, has a set of memories which it uses to measure and evaluate, and seeks to replicate.

Crystals are highly organized entities. Once they begin to organize, they follow a set of nearly inexorable internal laws. In order for a crystal to manifest as anything other than itself, it has to actually be destroyed, to dissolve, and be replaced by something else. Even then, the new thing follows the shape of the original crystal. In mineralogy, such minerals are called pseudomorphs.

I think we're much like that. The material we acquire causes us to become rigid. And our rigidity is expressed, quite often, in the emotional reaction we have to new material as it arrives. Our tendency to reject things begins with the fact that they don't fit into the rigid crystalline structure we have. The structure itself, moreover, has a defense mechanism. It does not want to take in a foreign material. Even if it does, it wants to fit it into the shape of what is already there. So in encountering our inner state, it can't remain as what it is; we turn it into a pseudomorph, changing it until we can force it into a pre-existing mold. This may well have something to do with what the Zen masters called the "discrimination of the conceptual mind."

So we have a rigid little fortress in us.

Mr. Gurdjieff's aphorism states: "Use the present to repair the past, and prepare the future."

That's exactly, come to think of it, what DNA does.

This invites us to discover a kind of flexibility; not only a retrospective flexibility, but an anticipatory one. Our consciousness finds itself poised at the intersection point of everything that has been, and everything that will be later.

We are the agent that observes and collapses quantum probability.

Everything that has already taken place is classical reality, a manifested fact, a locatable, measurable, concrete entity. Directly in front of us --now-- is the moment when all that can be --a set of probabilities we call the future --"collapses" into our experience of what it is. Our mind, oddly enough, even knows this, because it is a tool for evaluating probability and resolving it.

The tool, of course, does not belong to us: a product of billions of years of evolution, it belongs to the universe, which produced it for reasons rather too inscrutable for us to directly know. Our belief, as a species, that it was produced "for" us, that we own it, and should do as we please with it, is a conceit that has, for the most part, not led us to a deeper understanding, whether of nature or ourselves.

This tool of awareness measures what could be and takes an action, makes a choice, to realize one probability over another. The more flexible and imaginative the tool remains, the better it measures probabilities, and the more able its choices can be.

This, to me, is strongly reminiscent of the role that the chlorophyll molecule plays in transmitting the energy from a photon into a sugar. It does this with a 95% efficiency because it is able to remain "open" to all the probabilities by exploiting a state called quantum coherence. (Those of you who are interested in learning more about this should read Stuart Kauffman's "Reinventing The Sacred.")

So flexibility, a willingness to arrive at the moment without relying on the crystalline structure of our personality, may well be the element that offers us a new opportunity to experience our life.

Noodling around in the head about time and the cosmos is a pretty cool activity, if one is interested in such things. But I don't think that it leads us directly to any lasting understanding.

Arriving within a particular moment and seeing that flexibility is needed, that our standard reaction will not serve, that we don't know what to do and have to discover it --this raw, unplanned and unscripted awareness of our responsibility for helping to decide what will be --is at the crux of our work. Every time I find myself in front of one of my children and remember that my effort could be to offer compassion and intelligence, rather than reaction and authority, I take a step into the unknown of both our lives, which we share together.

Mr. Gurdjieff famously and repeatedly told us we cannot "do." Of course this phrase has so many meanings that taking any one of them as "the" meaning cheapens it.

When I stand in front of a moment that requires flexibility, rather than the rigidity I am made of, I have the opportunity to see that although I may not be able to "do," I am offered the opportunity to be.

Once again, this reminds me of something I heard Henri Tracol say many years ago:

"Life is an experiment, which we are called upon to participate in. We have the choice, should we wish, to do so."

Thanks, Dan, for provoking this line of inquiry this morning.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Matters of the heart


After all the technical matters of the Work are set aside; after we have remembered ourselves until the encyclopedia is filled, observed ourselves until we are, so to speak, blue in the face, perhaps we begin to see that the gathering of data alone does not suffice.

Like many others, a great deal of my work begins with the need to overcome fear. I need to learn to just become still and quiet, to accept life, to go within myself to the innermost recesses, the most sacred and intimate places that I am able to be in relationship with, and to be there, sustaining, nurturing, and nourishing myself with an attention that is aimed at feeding my essence, not my personality.

Too often, I find myself engaged in conflict and argument with those outside of me. Every time I do this, I see that it does not serve myself well, any more than it serves God. It's that kind of activity that begins innocently enough, but ends the way things are now playing themselves out in Mumbai.

Most of us, of course, won't end up being terrorists; not terrorists, anyway, who go out and kill other innocent people. But we engage in a kind of self--terrorism, where we become fanatics attached to a set of ideas about ourselves or the world, worship them, try to impose them on our family or our job or our life, and end up -- for the most part unintentionally -- destroying parts of ourselves and others with anger and retribution.

How much better it is to sit in the morning after a cup of tea, in the darkness, and gather the attention to feed the organism. To sense each of the separate parts, to see how they have a wish to be more in relationship. To understand that each of them has a capacity of its own to help nourish the whole. A capacity that might fulfill itself if I were willing to allow it room.

Then to carry that understanding out into the day, where I can remember, for a moment, to approach those around me with more sensitivity, beginning with a sense of the connection between my mind and my body. A moment that I can hold present to remind myself that I don't have the compassion that I wish I did for dealing with others. A moment that I can hold present to remind myself that more presence is needed.

That can only happen when one creates a small reservoir of stillness, conserves it, contains it, and spends it wisely when it is most needed.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

technicalities

Before I move on to today's subject, I want to offer one last observation on yesterday's post.

One of the classic analogies that Gurdjieff presented Ouspensky with was the idea that men are in prison. Group work was originally predicated on the idea that one man cannot get out of prison alone.

A thought occurred to me this morning before I sat.

If men who want to get out of prison oppose each other, what progress can they make?

We all give for far less consideration to this question, I think, than we ought. It needs to become a much more active question, in front of us at every moment in every day.

***

There is a tension between the lines of work that Ouspensky gave birth to with his brilliant technical analysis of Gurdjieff's metaphysical genius, and Gurdjieff's dynamic, organic, and more intuitive method of working.

One of the hallmarks of Gurdjieff's work was that it changed over and over again. It has always been a metamorphic work, a work in progress, a work that reinvents itself for the people and the times that it finds itself in. This distinguishes it remarkably from Ouspensky's work, which, so far as I can see, has not evolved much at all from where it started. It begins with a scientific set of premises, presents them, and then hammers away at them, almost as though worrying the bone could put more meat on it.

In my own experience, working with the ideas Ouspensky presents is invaluable. Nonetheless, it is an edifice. It is like a building that was erected to suit a particular time and culture. It presents all the rules and structural laws for building. Those laws and rules are definite and have to be obeyed.

However, the structures that such laws produce must change over time to accommodate the societies and the peoples that inhabit them. It's possible, of course, to build a structure and then preserve it exactly, but it becomes a museum, not a place that people live in.

An excessive attention to technicalities and analysis is not a strength. It is a weakness. The attraction to detail, to the chewing over of facts and observations, to the repetitive examination of the meaning of specific words and ideas, all of these things distract us from an organic and living experience of our work, which is much messier, and far more challenging, than living according to a static set of ideas.

Our static set of ideas is an obstacle. Like Gurdjieff, we need to begin to understand a flexibility of understanding. That is a rare thing in our society.

For example, I read some political news this morning (unusual for me, early in the morning.) It was discussing the role of various network channels with traditional media roles (liberal, conservative) now that Obama has been elected. The representatives who were interviewed more or less said, "no matter whether we are right or wrong, our message and our role never changes."

This stands in stark contrast to a living, breathing relationship to real life, where -- as Gurdjieff admonished us -- if a man sees he is wrong, he must admit it, and address the situation.

We all pretend to ourselves that we have this kind of flexibility, but it is one of our great lies. If we examine ourselves carefully, we will all immediately see examples of how doggedly we cling to mistaken perceptions and ideas. There needs to be a certain willingness, an emotional willingness, to sacrifice this kind of nonsense if we want to grow.

To its credit, modern psychology has recognized that. Psychology, however, relies excessively on the mind for change, and the mind is a weak instrument. We need to recruit the assistance of other parts of ourselves to support an effort for change. The recruitment effort alone can help to bring about change we are interested in.

There comes, I find, a moment in one's inner work where one has to abandon all of the efforts at analysis. When do I move beyond the intellect alone?

When am I willing to take the step that brings me to an intimate, physical contact with my self that does not submit itself to clever descriptions?

When am I willing to encounter and remember a self that does not consist of my formulations of self?

Only in these places that are ruled by emotion and sensation, rather than formulation, do I begin to discover a relationship that transcends my expectations.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

the rejection of others

I don't think that we see quite clearly the manner in which we reject others.

This part we have within us which I call the "rejecting part" is quite subtle. It manages to run a great deal of our life while convincing us that it does not exist. It operates so reflexively, so automatically and mechanically, that we take it for granted and don't even bother to observe it. In fact, we are completely identified with it, and accept its manifestations without question.

I bring this up pursuant to the last post. We need every single manifestation of ordinary life for our work. Every individual we encounter and every circumstance we dwell within is material that feeds us. Our failure to actively participate in this fact of life is the chief reason that our inner life is starved of the substances it needs for our growth.

Christian and Buddhist practice make a great deal of compassion, and rightly so. The difficulty is that our compassion is largely intellectual. We think about compassion. It is a concept, an idea. Living it involves seeing that we don't have it, and that seeing needs to be an active seeing that is born of a certain kind of connection.

This connection is the connection between the mind and the body. Now, all of you have heard that idea many times. The difficulty, I see for myself, is that most of the time, we think that connection. The connection between the mind and the body is a very organic, immediate, and the literal connection. It is a physical connection that is experienced in the conjunction and intersection of the mind and the body. Just thinking about it is not enough. It has to move beyond an idea and into an actual, active, living and organic experience.

My wife pointed out to me this morning that it may not be that way for us initially. And of course that's true. It comes first as an idea, and it sounds right, or it sounds appealing. The effort of intimate attention, applied conscientiously over a long period of time, is needed in order to turn it into something more than an idea, and because we are relatively passive, we often don't bother with that.

If we do manage to reach the point where this becomes more than just an idea, then and only then do we have the opportunity to begin to do the work that Jeanne DeSalzmann calls "staying in front of our lack." Iif we do that work, we may begin to see that what we chiefly lack is emotion of a certain kind.

This emotional quality I speak of is not any casual emotion. Under ordinary circumstances, the only time when we get a taste of any emotional force close to this is through our negativity, which is, of course, an inversion of what is needed. But at least it is a taste, and that may lead us somewhere, if we begin to have a different relationship to our negativity.

On that note, I might mention, I myself find it is better to allow my negativity and live within it than to deny it. To allow it and see it feeds me more than any artificial repression could.

In any event, the rejection of life is all connected to this question. When we have a less partial relationship to our self, we begin to see that it might be possible to be in relationship to others in a different way. Instead of rejecting them reflexively, we might insert ourselves directly into our lives, inhabiting our body and our mind, seeing that something is missing there, while we are in relationship with the other. A more active awareness of how we are reveals the "vacuum" in the center of our being where there might, just might, be something more real that could relate to the other person, instead of letting the machine engage in its usual routine of finding fault with them, arguing with them, thinking that I am superior to them.

How do I experience that change in inner attitude?

I see that the other person is just as helpless as I am, unable to affect the quality of their manifestation. If they reject me, if they are cruel, or uncaring, or criticize me, it is only because we are all equally helpless. A little sympathy for that may cause me to raise the level of my sensitivity, not only for myself, but for them.

This work, this insertion of our awareness of our being, our mind and our body, in organic relationship, into the midst of absolutely ordinary life conditions -- not while sitting in meditation -- is the chief motive force for the beginning of real work in life. It requires a wish to meet life head on, look it in the eye, and squirm beneath the gaze of something that sees our own inadequacy. Only that discomfort, combined with the occasional and very real physical organic awareness of something that feeds us much more deeply, will call us to work harder, and with more love.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

anniversary


Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff blog.

My readership is no doubt wondering what the heck has happened lately. As I've explained before, I am in the middle of writing a new novel, which is absorbing a great deal of my writing time.

The book is on a roll, and one should never stand in the way of words that flow well. Those of you who write will understand that.

To compound the problem, in my personal work, I've been investigating questions that don't belong in public postings.

For those of you who find the blog worthwhile, and are drawing sustenance from its content, allow me to remind you that there are well over 400 posts available here. Browsing will probably turn up many interesting observations which even I myself have forgotten I made. So, by all means, shop around through earlier posts for subjects that interest you.

The good news -- perhaps it's good news, anyway -- is that I will be off work starting next Wednesday, and that I am going to China again on December 1.

Traditionally, I post regularly while I am on trips, and I will do my best to contribute a substantial set of observations over the next month or so.

Because the second anniversary is upon us, and because it seems as though the occasion ought to be marked by the publication of something significant, I am going to offer a statement from my personal work that I wrote about a month ago. It's brief.


What do we need?

Principally, we need others, for work cannot take place without relationship. Every attempt to avoid others, every attempt to avoid relationship, is actually an attempt to avoid work. We rationalize this in many different ways, but it is always an attempt not to work.

You will know the level of your work has truly changed in the moment when you first see that you need another person more than they see that they need you.

This is an extremely important point of work. At the moment than one actually understands this, the responsibility towards others changes completely. Many assumptions and habitual methods of behaving must be re-evaluated in light of this seeing.

Warm regards to all of you,

May your heart be open, and your prayers be heard.

Monday, November 17, 2008

surviving the low points

This picture, which I chose on the spur of the moment, is tempting me to somehow riff off the idea of a truckload of Cambodian monks. But I've tried it twice, and it's not working. So let's forget about that angle.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I found myself at a low point over the last couple of weeks. After a fairly rich summer -- which nonetheless brought many trials in terms of my physical state, due to the parasite I acquired and its aftermath -- I have reached the moment in the year where the tide begins to ebb, and one needs to practice more containment and gather oneself inward. That has been more challenging than usual this year.

Even allowing for the generous support which is provided both from within and without on a daily basis, things may become quite difficult--from the inside.

As that happens, one can discover that one begins to meet one's life differently. In my own case, people are noticing it -- I am more subdued, I have become quieter and talk less than I used to. This seems to be a fairly solid change, because it has been this way for some months now. I am less agitated than I used to be. Annie, my Christian mentor here at work, mentioned it today. She said I'm not "in character." She knows I'm not depressed or unhappy, but I am certainly not bouncing around the way I usually do.

The perspective I am gaining on the question of our life and the organism turns me back, as has been the case for years, to the question of who we are and where we are going. That is, who I am, and where I am going. An increasing awareness of the organism and the biological nature of this existence intersects with the awareness that there is an energy that expresses itself. These two features of life are distinct from one another, yet they cannot find a marriage without the intersection point inhabited by this thing we call consciousness.

In the midst of this, I see a disturbing temptation to turn in one direction or the other, rather than to inhabit both of them. To stand in the middle between inwardness and outwardness is much more difficult than to be outward or to be inward. Consciousness is a slippery thing that insists on polarizing in one direction or the other. Even more annoyingly, it tends to want to wander around like a cow out to pasture. Pointing it in a consistent direction turns out to be a rather difficult task.

It's notable that my emotional state has a great deal to do with my enthusiasm for work and effort. There has been a distinct arising of a negative polarity recently, and as the overall amount of energy available for support ebbs, the tendency has been to become attached to that. At the same time, the increasing equilibrium within me has managed to resist it.

Last week, I had a terribly negative confrontation with another individual who attacked me verbally in a completely unjustified and rather excessive manner, and although I certainly reacted -- physiologically, I got the usual shock treatment -- I managed to maintain my footing and come back at the other person in a very reasonable way, although I did raise my voice. I avoided accusations, ugliness, and simply pointed out that this person should not be behaving that way, especially in my own house. (This person was not, dear readers, one of my family or relatives.)

In the midst of what is, to some extent, a rather low point for me in an inner sense, that was a fairly good moment. It indicates that I am not totally victimized by external circumstances. That is certainly far from saying that I am free of them.

I see every day now that a good part of my energy needs to go against the negativity that spontaneously arises in me. It's especially difficult in the morning, because the parts that need to be better connected are not connected at all. Many of them work at different speeds, and they don't all come to a point of improved contact until later in the day. Until that happens, I am fated to inhabit the current inner circumstances and watch them rattle off a litany of things that are wrong, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and how I won't be able to handle any of them.

The situation is almost ludicrous, and quite amusing: anyone who knows me personally would tell you that I am generally optimistic, and have managed to handle an enormous number of heavy blows in life without collapsing. One of my very best and oldest essence friends once told me that I reminded him of one of those inflatable clowns with sand in the bottom, who, no matter how many times it was hit, would just pop right back up.

From inside, it looks quite different. All of that has been achieved at great expense and only by going directly against an overwhelming avalanche of inner dialogue that tells me everything is helpless. I can remember observing this in myself as far back as I can recall. I have a tendency to dump everything in one huge pile in front of me, look at it aghast, and panic.

It's this lifelong struggle against my spontaneous and automatized negativity that interests me. Why am I a fear factory? And what is it in me that finds it productive to struggle against that?

In the Gurdjieff work, we are told many things about negativity. That we don't have to express it. That non-expression of negative emotion is a preparation for the work of intentional suffering, which helps complete an octave. That we have a right to not be negative ( as I recall, Maurice Nicholl said that, not Gurdjieff, though he may have been quoting him.)

All the things that we are told sound great. But when the tire hits the pavement, and the rubber starts smoking as the heat of our negativity burns off substances we need for other purposes, nothing sounds great anymore. All it is, is us, up against ourselves, up close and personal, where -- if we're working -- we see our own dirty underwear, and we not only see it, we smell it, and we taste it.

In other words, when we confront our own negativity, we are forced to -- as we used to say to each other when I was at prep school -- eat our shorts.

This is a sobering experience, bound to quiet down even the most agitated man if he really sees himself. Most other questions in life pale in significance if we really began to experience our inner state and see how fractured it is.

This confrontation with our own negativity is a key part of seeing our partiality in a concrete sense. There is no need to rationalize why we should do it, or where it is going. All we need to do is be there and see it.

What needs to happen will then--slowly--take place.

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

work and imagination

A personal note. Today marks my 27th anniversary in sobriety.

I've just inadvertently created the longest hiatus on the blog since I began writing it. I just have too many projects open at one time.

Periodically we return to the question of struggle in real life, and what it means in comparison to the aims of the work, which are to grow a second being--body.

The two enterprises are not unrelated. The astral body cannot grow if we don't inhabit the organic body and counter all of the physiological and psychological struggles that it presents us with. You can't get a butterfly without a caterpillar. So all of the things that we encounter in ordinary life are absolutely necessary for our work. That's why we are here.

As Henri Trachol said, "You are born of your wish to be." We are incarnated in this flesh because of the need to grow. If there were other ways for the growth to take place, it would.

It's tempting to divorce the spirit from the flesh, and there is a separation. But in our existence, spirit and flesh are joined together. We need our real life, and we need every phenomenon, circumstance, and challenge that it presents.

Well then, my readers.

This summer, I came under fire from a senior member of the work who mistakenly thought that I equated the aims of Alcoholics Anonymous with the aims of the work.

Now, I don't get that reaction from every senior member of the work. Peggy Flinsch, on the occasions I have mentioned AA to her, expresses a heartfelt and enthusiastic support for the organization. She knows all too well how real it is, and how real the work that is done in it is. Her comment to me on the matter several years ago was, "More of the people in the Work could benefit from that organization." Not because they drink too much (although that weakness, along with the recreational use of drugs, is more prevalent than it ought to be) but because the kind of work that is done in AA has all of the elements missing in a lot of group work as it is conducted today at the Gurdjieff foundation.

Nakedness. Honesty. Trust. You get that in AA. How many of us can actually say that we dare to do that with our own groups? Go to a few AA meetings and discover how raw and honest they are. If we took all of the emotional clothing we wear off like that in the Gurdjieff work, we might get somewhere.

Why don't we do it? There is a very simple answer.

Fear.

I got browbeaten for bringing up AA. It wasn't pleasant. I struggled with--and am, as is evident, still struggling with--the reaction I got from this other senior member of the work, because he is a man who I respect (within the limited range that circumstances permit.) However, despite his seniority, his gravitas, and his many years in the work, there are some things he clearly doesn't understand, and the struggle with alcoholism is one of them. This is a man who knows how to drink, but he doesn't know how to not drink.

I know how to do both.

So what is the difference between Alcoholics Anonymous and the Gurdjieff work?

Alcoholics anonymous is filled with uncomfortably real, dirty, messy, traumatized people engaged in a life and death struggle. They know it's real, they know it's life and death, and they have to drop all their pretensions. They have already hit bottom. They have been beaten, pummeled, drugged, and destroyed by their own behavior until they see that they are nothing, and they have to claw their way back up out of the gutter.

The Gurdjieff work, on the other hand, is filled mostly with rather comfortable people leading rather comfortable lives who flatter themselves that they are on a higher level than others, and going places others can't go. They fantasize that they are engaged in some magical enterprise.

I suppose it's hateful to characterize it that way, because I have a deep love and respect for the Gurdjieff work and the people in it. Nonetheless, I see very few people in the Gurdjieff work who have really hit bottom. I have seen those people in AA-- in AA, the majority of people at the meetings have hit bottom.

There is a difference. You can't begin to understand yourself until you hit bottom. Not only do you need to hit bottom, but you have to bounce off it again and again until you are beaten senseless by the impact. I speak not from theories here, but from experience. Really beginning to understand yourself is hitting bottom over and over again throughout your life.

Working is hitting bottom. Imagination is thinking that we are special.

It is, in fact, that simple.

On a cosmological scale, we are smaller than bacteria. Insignificant little organisms scuttling about on the surface of a fairly small planet. We assign ourselves grand abilities and speak of ourselves and to each other as though we were important, but very little, if anything, that we do is of any significance whatsoever, even in relationship to this small planet itself. Some very few individuals such as Christ and the Buddha actually made a difference on this planet.

Most of us don't.

I think that when we measure ourselves against how small we are, and how big our egos think we are, we may have a chance to go up against our imagination about ourselves and actually do some work. But as long as we flatter ourselves with the idea that we know more than others, are more effective than others, more powerful, more attractive, more spiritual, or more of anything else, we are screwed. Well and truly screwed. Only if we realize that we are more egoistic than others do we have a chance of reaching towards a smidgen of the truth.

Well, enough of the sermon. I continue to look at those around me and the way they behave, and I question what we are doing in this work. Are we truly trying to become more ordinary, or do we want to be special? What are we going to drop the pretenses and realize that we have developed very little? When are we going to develop a connection with our organism that creates enough compassion in us to actually care for others, instead of just going through the motions?

We don't have long on this planet. Every moment of every day is a moment that is gone and will never come again. I was at my father's 80th birthday this weekend; he is an old man, and clearly doesn't have too much time left on this planet -- maybe another 10 or 20 years, if he is lucky. And the weekend before this, I went to see Betty Brown, my old group leader, who is 88 years old, and standing upright in her life like a lightning rod, despite a stroke and the loneliness of her retirement community where there are very few people interested in the work.

Encounters like this remind me that my life is passing. I don't have much time left either. For all I know, my time will be even briefer; any of us could die at any moment. How much of my attention do I turn to the events of today in order to work harder? I need to ask myself this.

This is one of the most difficult times of year to do that. A great deal of the energy that supports me during the year starts to become more dormant at this time. This is a planetary, or astral, phenomenon, not a failure on my part to be more connected. All of us in the northern hemisphere are affected by this at this time of year. We must do the best we can do under these more difficult circumstances, knowing -- as brother Lawrence knew when he saw the tree -- that the leaves will grow again in the spring.

I hope to become more active in posting here again. As I look back over the last two years, I see that this enterprise has not only provided a service for the work, it serves as something of a diary of my inner life. Perhaps few people would dare to expose such a diary; again, as I mentioned before, we don't really trust each other.

What do we need to do in order to begin to trust each other?

In ending, I will offer you a brief prayer I have been using in my sittings that seems to me to touch upon the questions of trust and faith.

"Heavenly Father,
I come before you naked and alone,
offering myself in service to your greater glory."

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Circumstance and Being

In examining the situation we all find ourselves in, we discover, as we work, that there is an inner and an outer, a theme I have come to many times in this blog.

This week I formulated a slightly different way of expressing this, which is framed in the questions of circumstance and Being.

Circumstance is that which lies around us. We have a "stance," an existence, a place where we stand, which consists of this organism, taking in all its impressions of this life. That "stance" is surrounded by all the external events that affect it. Hence, circumstance.

What is affected is Being. One might say that this is the "stance" in circumstance, but that is only the case if Being deepens. In man's ordinary state, all that is there to receive life's impressions is personality, and so everything external affects personality. Essence, the emotional core of man's being, is buried and has little legitimate interaction with the impressions of life.

I bring all of this up because I became interested this week in the difference between grief that is experienced through circumstance, and grief that is understood through Being.

All of us encounter a great deal of suffering in life. The suffering produces grief. This question of suffering and the way that it affects man was, of course, one of the main interests of the Buddha. He wanted man to become free of suffering.

Gurdjieff, on the other hand, offered us a bold and magnificent inversion of this idea that can only be appreciated through an entirely different order of experience.

He said that man needed to suffer more, only in a new way. His teaching said that man needs to learn how to take on a portion of the sorrow of God, who he referred to as "His Endlessness."

Under ordinary circumstances, the way we usually are, as we encounter suffering and grief, we encounter it only through circumstance. Everything that we learn about it, we we learn through external events. That is to say, our grief and our suffering is cause-based. Someone dies, and we feel bad. We see an individual we know in distress, and we grieve for them. The laws of cause and effect continually deliver such experiences to our doorstep.

A great deal of this kind of grief and suffering may end up looking senseless to us. Men encounter calamity and disaster, reach their hands to the heavens, and ask "why?" I've done it many times myself.

More often than not, no answer is heard. This sometimes leads us to presume that the universe is devoid of answers, and that any God there might be is an uncaring God.

There is, however, a completely different way of encountering suffering and grief, and this is part of what Gurdjieff called intentional suffering. That subject is actually an extremely complex one with many levels of understanding, so we will have to just barely touch on it. What I want to bring us to is the idea that suffering and grief, if they cease to be understood through circumstance, are related to the question of remorse of conscience -- another central concept in Gurdjieff's work -- and taking on some of the sorrow of His Endlessness, or, the universe itself. And this act can become intentional, if mediated through the effort of real inner work.

Being itself is capable of encountering grief, sorrow, suffering, as a substantive or substantial experience, that is, based on an actual experience of a certain kind of material energy. The energy is independent of circumstance. By this I mean that it is not produced by good or bad things that happen. It is, for lack of a better description, "atmospheric" in nature, that is, it exists within the vibration of the fabric of the universe. (I hate to put it that way, because I'm not into descriptions that express what might be consdiered a cosmological "New Age" attitude, but that's the best I can do.)

The encounter of suffering and remorse through Being, rather than circumstance, can only be achieved through a great deal of inner work. If, however, it touches us even once, we begin to have a completely different understanding of many ideas that we have heard but don't know much about. Compassion, for instance, can only be truly understood once it is mediated by these forces. Humility and remorse of conscience are water drawn from this same well of grief through Being.

This week, I became a bit more cognizant of the understanding that all of the key emotive forces which can help our work must be connected to the ability to take in grief and suffering through Being, rather than circumstance. This is directly connected to a great deal of what I have said in the past about understanding the difference between the inner and the outer.

This question of circumstance and Being touches in every way on our confusion about life itself. We think that circumstance is life. We don't understand that life springs from Being, and not from circumstance. We think that the water produces the well. Our societies are arranged to encourage this, and we spend very little time pondering it from an organic point of view.

Only an inversion of this habitual understanding can begin to lead us into the darkness that the water actually comes from.

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

Sunday, November 2, 2008

cooking


New feature on Doremishock.com, which may need a word or two of explanation.

I grew up in a conservative and traditional family. My mother, D.A.R. to the core, used to can fruits and vegetables, bake pies, grind her own meat, and so on when I was young. I grew up in her kitchen learning how to cook many different things. She also taught me other household arts such as cleaning, sewing, and ironing. Not necessarily the kind of thing every little boy learns from his mother, but my mother's mission in life from the time I was very young was to make sure I was fully prepared to lead a responsible life in as many ways as possible.

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are of spending time in the kitchen cooking things. I've been cooking on my own at home ever since I was in college, because I can usually make better food than most restaurants serve, and it costs less.

Both my children have followed in this family tradition. My daughter (featured above, at easter in our tiny little kitchen) is currently an assistant pastry chef in her spare time while she attends Cornell. My son, who is 17 years old and addicted to rock band (last week when I was home sick I was inadvertently forced to listen to a Judas Priest concert, which was not something I expected to have to do in my later years) watches iron Chef more than just about any other television program, and has taught himself his way around the kitchen better than a lot of adults.

My wife is the Queen of Soup (along with Queen of Everything Else.) She can make anything liquid and make it fabulous.

I bring all of this up because of how important it is to understand how we cook and how we eat. All of the work that we do is cooking. All of the "seeing" we engage in is a way of feeding ourselves.

If we begin to appreciate this in multiple dimensions, it can help our work. As I have pointed out at other times, one of the principal conclusions of John Dominic Crossan's "the historical Jesus" was that food and eating were central to Christ's teaching and practice.

Mr. Gurdjieff also made meals a central part of his teaching work.

Hence I have added a page with recipes to Doremishock. This page will feature recipes I make up at home.

Go. Cook. Eat. Enjoy.

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