Tuesday, December 30, 2008

fundamentals


I was planning to write a rather clever piece today about the relationship between the evolutionary pressures on eusocial insect societies and three lines of work. But as I sat here contemplating it, it seemed a bit too clever, if not contrived, and too intellectual for my current state to be truly interested in.

Instead, I find myself pondering how everything we do and everything we think we know stems from a side of ourselves that can't "do" anything, and understands almost nothing.

Despite this fundamental truth, we stubbornly insist on interpreting everything -- even our inner work -- from this part.

It's only when the centers become a bit more integrated and a different kind of energy is available within me that I begin to see how fundamentally inadequate my ordinary state is.

From everywhere within the ordinary state, there is an insistence on its priority. There's a great deal of talk in spiritual work about putting this aside, but there can be no putting it aside from within what it is.

Only other influences can lead me to the point where there is any putting aside whatsoever. Those influences have a wish for me, but it isn't a wish I can truly touch from my ordinary self. It needs to be attracted, perhaps. As is said in alchemy, one has to have some gold in order to make more gold. One has to do enough work to develop a bit of magnetism, which may then call towards what is needed.

How does this take place? I don't know. How do I become filled with a sensation, attracted to an intimacy that can support me?

If the seed arrives, perhaps I can plant it, and help it grow, but the seed must do the growing of its self. To imagine that I can take on the work of that seed is akin to believing that I can get a tree by gluing green pieces of paper to a piece of wood. No, the seed must grow on its own. I can function as an attendant, perhaps even a guardian, but it is up to me, "as I am," to provide the environment which may foster its growth.

This means that the ordinary self (which is already, within this possibility of intimacy, not quite so ordinary anymore) acquires a responsibility. I discover a responsibility to myself. The taste of what is real in an inner sense begins to matter to me.

Even then, most of the time, most of me doesn't care. Any man or woman can all too easily get the taste of God in them, and yet proceed to spit it out. It sounds kind of terrible, but there it is. We are fed the Divine with every step we take and every move we make, and we regurgitate 99.9% of it without a second thought. It takes that subtle force we refer to as attention to become willing to swallow a bit more.

These extraordinary influences -- the ones which seem so ephemeral, so fugitive, and which we work so hard to encounter -- are not rare at all. We dwell within an immeasurable sea of extraordinary influences. The divine -- even the highest particles of the divine -- penetrate everything, and are found everywhere. We are perpetually bathed in the conscious light of God itself, but have next to no sense whatsoever of it.

It's peculiar to live within an existence where one sees this and understands that one can do little or nothing about it. Perhaps the whole idea of faith is to invest oneself in a tacit agreement that this Divinity is already the silent partner in our lives.

The partner -- Rumi would call it the Friend -- is always present. We are not.

How do we hold open our arms to take in this light?
How do we breathe with gratitude?
How do we honor this work of living we are given?

Alone, we cannot even ask the questions properly. In partnership, much more becomes possible. But even then, to acknowledge the support, and reciprocate, is just the beginning of the journey into our life.

So yet again, today, I am called to remember this intimacy:

This possibility of being much more interested in precisely how I am within
--and where I am within;

Of containing that interest and holding it in front of me;

Of nurturing it and allowing it to remain intact;

All the while encountering the ordinary circumstances of this ordinary life... where nothing is ordinary at all.

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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

evolution and society

This Christmas, my wife gave me "The Superorganism," a new book on the social insect societies by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson. In the midst of all my other reading activities -- which are, frankly, far too many -- it seemed necessary to pause and to get into this as well.

Superorganisms are a fascinating subject. The level of cooperation that takes place in insect societies (speaking here of ants, bees, and other highly social insects) is very nearly perfect. Altruism rules the society, and the individual serves for the sake of the preservation of the whole.

Ouspensky saw this as a horrific sacrifice of individuality, the sign of a degenerate society. He claimed that insects at one time had much greater possibilities, but that they fell from grace, and were reduced to their tiny size and their slave-like existence because of their failure to evolve further.

The authors of The Superorganism paint a radically different picture. Our emerging understanding of the characteristics and mechanics of evolution don't suggest anything of the kind. Rather, they show a supremely adapted mechanism, a magnificent example of how mechanical the universe is, and how beautifully it functions. They furthermore illustrate the property of emergence, which is one of the chief laws that run the engines of creation and the evolution of consciousness itself.

So, writing from a perspective limited by his time and circumstances, Ouspensky called it way wrong. There isn't anything "fallen" about insect societies at all. They are beautiful organizations, and, as I said before, very nearly perfect for the purpose they serve. As it happens, eusocial insect societies dominate in every climate where it's possible for them to survive. Not only that, the total biomass of ants on the surface of the planet is very roughly equivalent to the total biomass of humans. In other words, they are insanely successful at cooperating and conquering the challenges that they face.

Unlike human beings.

If humanity wants to survive the coming age -- an age where we have run out of money, and are rapidly destroying all of the ecosystems that support us -- we are going to need to learn to pool our resources and cooperate altruistically in a manner we have never done before. Failure to do so will almost certainly lead to collapse of the kind that Jared Diamond describes in his book of the same title. Will we be able to put aside our petty differences, our greed, our egos -- yes, that's the ultimate question, isn't it? -- in order to serve something higher?

It is terribly difficult for us to do this in our own spiritual work. It is equally difficult for us to translate this effort into ordinary life. And yet that is exactly what is needed from each of us if anything is to move forward in a positive way.

Speaking only for myself, I see the forces of involution are powerful. There is a constant temptation to go towards the lower. To avoid receiving energy, even when it is generously sent; to refuse to be open, even when the openness offers itself; to wish for revenge even when it is clear that compassion is the better choice.

Am I a bad person? No, I'm an ordinary person. This is the human condition. We all flatter ourselves that we are better than this, but we aren't.

I am reminded here of a phrase from the confession of sin in the Catholic and Episcopal catechism:

We have left undone those things which ought to be done,
And we have done those things which ought not to have been done,
And there is no health in us.

Where, if at all, do we discover a greater impulse towards consciousness and responsibility? If it doesn't begin within each one of us individually, it will never translate itself into society at large.

I'm sure that as I read "The Superorganism" more commentary will creep its way into the blog. The study of evolutionary biology and insect societies is rich territory for analogies to the spiritual quest. Of course, it's true that one can find these analogies almost anywhere. But right now, for me, biology is the soup du jour.

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas eve 2008

It's Christmas Eve, very early in the morning. As the Christian world prepares for this celebration of Hope and Love, the appearance of a new light in the world, I find myself once again contemplating what this question means.

As I have pointed out before, it's difficult for anyone who is serious about the Gurdjieff work to separate it from Gurdjieff's contention that this work truly is, so far as we are able to understand it, "esoteric Christianity."

I am called once again to remember what Frank Sinclair told us in his fine book, "Without Benefit of Clergy." He recalled the moment one Christmas when Gurdjieff himself advised those around him to call on Christ for help.

Mr. Gurdjieff understood something real here, something that is almost impossible for those of us who live in the modern western world of the 20th and 21st centuries to understand.

He understood that the forces that wish to help men are real and living forces, and that the individuals who live on levels higher than us are real individuals, not metaphors, or folk figures, or figments of a religious imagination.

This is a chasm we are unable to step across in any intellectual way. Mr. Gurdjieff offered us the refined material of "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" in order to try and find a way to let something penetrate deeper into us, something on the order of a key that could unlock some of the understanding our intellect is so lacking in. Of course, our intellect deconstructs even the best of material until its value is corrupted.

Nonetheless, we soldier on.

Today I am called on -- in an inner sense -- to remember that something higher has a wish for all of us. I have an individual responsibility to remember this. If I don't work -- if I don't make an effort to strip myself naked emotionally and say yes, to be willing to receive something that can help -- the entire state of the planet suffers. I know that probably sounds grandiose, but it isn't personal. The planet suffers with each and everyone of our lacks, both individually and collectively.

When am I humble enough to ask for help? When do I begin to understand the act of prayer in something more than a mechanical way?

When do I acknowledge that my search for Christ must become a living thing, rather than an idea?

This only happens when part of me steps aside. Every part of me that thinks it is me, every part that grasps, and plots, and plans, and analyzes, must becomes silent and make room for other forces.

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Confidence

We often hear people speak about having confidence in themselves, or confidence in another person.

This question of confidence is a point of work for all of us. What does it mean to have confidence?

Confidence is trust; it implies a willingness to be intimate with another person. So if I have confidence in someone, I am willing to confide in them, willing to expose myself more, to offer more of myself.

We also speak of confiding in God. The idea here is that we expose ourselves to God; we trust God, we are willing to let God see even the worst in ourselves.

This question of confidence comes to a point where we examine our confidence in our inner work. Are we willing to trust our inner work? Are we willing to expose the most intimate parts of our self to it, or are we going to continue to hide behind, and reinforce, the barriers between us and what we might become?

Are we able to drop something, to allow our work to penetrate us more deeply?

Another question that comes up in this regard is whether or not others have confidence in us. As we work, if we discover that others are not confident in us, well, this is exactly what we should expect. After all, everyone's inner life consists of a heavily defended castle. We man the ramparts and take cannon shots at anyone who tries to come in.

If one's work begins to live in a more organic way, a couple of things take place in regard to this question.

One of them is that we see we need to have more confidence in others. We have to expose ourselves to them honestly, to be more naked with them, to be more in the moment with them.

The second thing that takes place is that we see that they are not confident in us at all. This is shocking in many ways. "Look at me," we say to ourselves. "I am working. I am making this effort to be honest and naked. Why don't they trust me?" And some of that may even be true. Maybe we are working. Maybe we are offering something good. But we need to remember that no one trusts anyone, and for good reason.

As I mentioned last week, we're not trustworthy.

So we are left in the awkward position of having to have more confidence in others than they have in us. This is the kind of risk we take if we really want to work. We must put the best of what we have in front of us on the table for others, even if they reject it -- and they will. We have to learn how to be patient, to suffer rejection, and to constantly offer ourselves, without force, without reaction (of course that's impossible, but we can at least try to go against it) and without the expectation that others should value us. In real offering, we will have the inevitable ego reactions, but we need to put them aside.

Here we see that having confidence in the other doesn't mean being emboldened at all-- it means taking a risk.

I have certainly had a lot of difficulty with this myself. I see that I don't know how to approach people, I don't know how offer myself to people properly, and I am always in reaction. Learning how to put this aside is a lifetime work, not something I undertake and master in a few months or even years.

This comes back to something I also said a few weeks ago. It's an important point of work when we see that we need the other more than they see they need us. It's up to us -- it's our responsibility -- to begin to learn to have trust and confidence in those around us, even knowing that they, like us, are untrustworthy.

This opens the door of the castle in us a crack, to let a bit of compassion and forgiveness seep into a place that is dark and has not seen a great deal of light.

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Heart of the Wish

Another in the series of posts from the business class lounge in the airport in Seoul, South Korea.

Life is a lot of work.

It begins for everyone with the sweet urgency of orgasm, and is channeled through the bloody ordeal of childbirth. This is no casual way to begin an enterprise.

Nonetheless, we grow up as if by accident, and everything that happens to us, just happens. Almost as though there were no rhyme or reason. For every man, the living of life becomes a search for meaning. In the process, we egoistically paint life in our own colors, as though we invented the pigments and the palettes... as though they were not already there before we ever came along. We are witnesses who mistake ourselves for creators.

In the end, almost without exception, we take everything much too casually, until we get a terrible shock and see that this enterprise we call life ends.

What does that mean?

This wish for meaning is born of our desire. Of course, the Buddhists say that desire is one of the great roots of our difficulties; the extermination of desire is an aim in Buddhism.

But perhaps Buddhism -- and we ourselves -- misunderstand this idea. It seems clear that desire is at the heart of life. There is no organism that does not have the desire, buried deep down in its DNA, to reproduce, to follow a set of natural laws, to replicate. To live correctly (every cell has elaborate repair mechanisms built into it) within the context of its origins and its destiny.

So we can't really separate life from desire. Without this organic desire, there wouldn't be any need for life at all. Something different must be meant by this idea of the extermination of desire.

What is that?

Whose desire needs to go? And whose needs to take its place?

We -- along with everything else living -- are born of a wish. Only we don't know what that wish is. We grope around like blind men, trying to contact it and make sense of it.

Almost everyone who is reading this (unless they came across this blog entirely by accident) has been fortunate enough to contact the ideas in the Gurdjieff work. We know that this work makes sense.

Peggy Flinsch-- whose masterful reading of "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" is now available for purchase in .mp3 format—explained last summer that she encountered the work ideas in the form of Beelzebub's Tales when she was quite young, not long after her sister died. A unique and terrifying set of circumstances that prepared a place in her to receive something real.

So when she encountered the ideas, immediately, she saw that life didn't make sense, what other people told her didn't make sense, the church and religion didn't make sense.

But Gurdjieff's ideas -- they made sense.

And why is that?

The work is a way of moving towards the heart of our wish, of discovering this motive force that lies at the core of living itself. That is no easy thing. It begins with a sweetness, like orgasm, that lies in a subtle recognition by the intellect. It has a gestation period. It goes through a phase of bloody struggle and childbirth.

The analogies may sound a bit too clever, but they're real. We are trying to let something new be born in our lives and in ourselves. This is possible. Make no mistake about it. No matter how intellectually we may take the work now, no matter how distant or obscure some of the ideas may seem, it is possible for us to have something new born in us. This is a fact. And once we encounter it as a reality, instead of a theory, all of the meaning in our life gradually begins to coalesce around it. We discover a seed at the heart of this question of wish. It becomes our responsibility to help it grow.

So now I speak a bit more personally about the heart of this mysterious force we call “wish” as I encounter it this morning, very early on, in my hotel room in Incheon.

What is this wish in myself? This wish to be? “I wish to be.” What does that mean to me? I resist the words; as words, they strike me as insufficient. I have never liked them. They fall short. And yet, they are the mantra of this work.

I wish to breathe in and out. I wish to know this. I wish to see it early in the morning, to sense the organic connection that exists between the body and the mind. I wish for the heart to open, for the emotional force that can help reconcile my contradictions to enter and participate in my work.

I wish for the moment when I am reduced to willing helplessness, when sweet quicksilver arrives and penetrates beyond the marrow of the bones, into the watery places at the foundation of being that I do not even know exist most of the time.

I wish to know the Lord, and understand my place. I wish to serve willingly, consciously, to say yes instead of no. I wish to feel the sorrow that has no limits, and the joy that lives within it.

I wish to feel the prayer arise within me, as naturally as the swell of the wave finds the beach:

Lord God our heavenly father,
We praise thee, we worship thee,
We magnify thy glorious name.
Evermore praising thee and saying,
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,
Heaven and Earth are full of thy glory,
As it was, is now, and evermore shall be,
World without end,
Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Availability

We speak of "becoming available."

But what are we becoming available to? Why do we need to become available?

There is work, and then there is Work. Both are possible when one submits oneself to the discipline. But Work is only possible once one begins to understand how to distinguish between the two.

Becoming available has many levels of understanding within it. For a long time, the understanding of what this means is rather personal and, of course, largely intellectual. Under such conditions we ask questions with the mind. We don't realize that our efforts to penetrate understanding with this part of ourselves are pointless. In a way, the worst thing we can do is worry away at the ideas like a dog gnawing a bone. Sure, we do it. But we all know by now -- don't we? -- it doesn't work.

Ultimately, we become available in order to be changed enough that we can Work. And that Work consists of efforts unlike anything framed within the limited context of the form.

Work consists of an effort that may have roots in the Moon, but the leaves spread out towards the sun. It is a cosmological endeavor, that has very little to do with how we conceive of ourselves or our lives. It contains the entirety of our life within it, but it is so much larger than our life, so far as the incidents go, that ordinary life can be understood as a fragment. It is still part of what is necessary, but it is by far the smaller part.

Something much larger wishes to emerge, to manifest through us on this level.

It is always calling us.

We don't listen.

Well, I am tempted to say more on the subject, but I'm not going to. The trip has been long, the hours have been grueling, and I am headed home tomorrow. It's unlikely there will be another post before Thursday or Friday of this week.

Until then, readers, let us all be intimate with ourselves, love ourselves, and continually look for the subtle inner spark that can help ignite an organic sense of understanding and sensation.

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Love and light in Shanghai

Today I went to see the Yoko Ono exhibit at the Ke Center in Shanghai. This is Yoko's first solo exhibit in China.

I haven't been to see any of her other installations or shows, so I didn't know what to expect. I can say that this was a perfectly respectable show when compared to other installation art. One piece in particular -- many dozens of coffins with trees growing out of them -- was very striking. I haven't reproduced images here, because I don't have copyright permissions (and am unlikely to get them, since Yoko is not in my current circle of acquaintances.)

Included in the installation was a lengthy video piece about Yoko's work to try to spread a message of love. And although this is of course a horizontal and exoteric message, I think it is a good one, and I think that she is doing a good work in spreading it. In the video she says that the forces of destruction move fast, too fast for the intellectuals to keep up with it. And of course she's correct. Destruction is driven by emotional forces. If we don't tap into an emotional force that goes in the other direction, the intellect will never be able to counter the damage.

While watching the video, I found myself emotionally moved by the forces which wish for us to bring love down to this level. We are, after all, meant to be mediating this creative force of love, receiving it and passing it on. Our inability to do so effectively is a source of great anguish if we come into contact with it at all.

Encapsulated within the entire almost mythical saga of the Beatles in general, and John Lennon in particular, is the myth of creation and destruction. John Lennon's untimely and violent death, contrasted with the essential beauty and positive hope of the message he wanted to spread, speaks of wish, and inability, and loss. Standing in Shanghai nearly 18 years to the day after he was murdered (Dec. 8 1980) , it seems unbelievable that the world has changed so much, and yet remained the same. Paralysis in the face of our own violence continues to astonish us -- witness the recent events in Mumbai -- and no one suspects that the answers to what is needed lie within a man, not in the actions he takes outside of himself.

Of course, it's unrealistic to believe that the whole world will ever start thinking about inner work. I've been reading Michel Conge's "Inner Octaves" (very highly recommended) where he makes the point--among many others, of course -- that there will always be only a few people working in the directions that can actually bring peace. The rest of us are left to flounder as best we can.

Of course it's not bad to devote oneself externally to the work of love and peace, but it is much more important for all of us who understand the arts of inner work and meditation to work to bring down the light from above within ourselves--again, as best we can. Without this effort to bring a positive force down from above and allow it to express itself within life, all the external work in the world will come to nothing.

I was describing an idea about peace to one of the young ladies that works with me -- Rechal -- yesterday in terms of discovering a relationship that is based not on Chinese and American, not on race, not on religion, but on nothing more or less than two human beings in relationship with one another.

In relationship, in the moment, is it possible to meet each other on the common ground of our own humanity?


This question needs to come first. We can discuss love and peace later on. If we don't have a tactile, organic, intellectual, emotional, and physical experience of each other, there will be no love and there will be no peace. We have to experience each other as living creatures first and develop an organic respect for that. If we attempt that work, the possibilities of love and peace follow, as surely as day follows night.

This leads me back, in an admittedly somewhat rambling manner, to the things I have said in recent posts about reevaluating our relationships with one another, about having a new experience of one another that is not based on opposition.

In her own way, using her own abilities, Yoko is asking us to do the same thing. So there is a current on the planet flowing that asks us all to acknowledge a new possibility. No matter who we are, and no matter where we go and what we do, if we remain in front of the question of this new possibility, much good may come of it.

We are here above all to experience love and share it. This experience and sharing of love takes place on many levels, in many different octaves, from the level of all Suns (and even the level of the Creator himself) down to the levels of quantum physics. The whole universe is made out of love. Actually, no matter how crazy everything looks on this level, there isn't anything else there. Every single object, event, and circumstance is a manifestation of love.

Let's all try to keep that in front of us as we go through our day.

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Reinventing the Work

In every generation, a spiritual work needs to be reinvented.

Of course, the forces in the world work directly against this. There is a great wish in everyone for things to be frozen, to remain the same, because this is safe.

This is the exact antithesis of spiritual work, which requires a constant risk and daring in order to encounter Being.

Consequently, every spiritual work becomes a dogma very quickly. The Gurdjieff work is no different. All over the Internet -- and presumably all over the world -- there are people that want to freeze it in the state that Ouspensky brought it to the world in. Such people often get angry when they encounter what they see as deviation. People even get Ouspensky confused with Gurdjieff, as though they were on the same level.

The problem here is that understanding is very, very different than knowing. We can know the work through Ouspensky, but we can't understand it through him. It's very important to recognize that distinction. Gurdjieff did leave us a text which can help lead to understanding, but it is unique, and works in ways impossible to describe.

Understanding is unique and fragile. People who have truly understood something pass that understanding onto others, who instantly intellectualize it. In that process, the believers believe that they understand. The new ideas, the new understandings that are brought are parroted and repeated until they become meaningless.

Understanding never becomes real in anyone until they encounter something absolutely real within life that they see quite clearly they don't understand, and never understood, yet always thought all long that they did understand.

That first encounter with something that is actually true is usually a huge shock. It can destroy people. Especially people who have invested too much of themselves in dogma.

So every one of us needs to come to a real understanding of our own about the spiritual work we are in. This is a process that takes many years. While it goes on, we repeat what other people said before us in order to take on protective coloring, to camouflage our lack of understanding with words. But all of that is a mask we can wear only so long as we pretend. The moment something real answers -- the first time we ever encounter something that is truly miraculous, and beyond our understanding -- the mask has to start to come off.

That is the point at which we need to discover ourselves, rather than the selves we have cleverly adopted through the language of our work. In the process, we must unmask the adopted self, which is hardly a comfortable process.

We are increasingly confronted with this bogus, ersatz self, and see how terribly pompous and limited it is.

And that -- the discovering of ourselves -- is where the real risk lies. Because it involves gradually surrendering the "life" we have inhabited up until then, in the faith that this tiny seed of what is new will grow to take its place. We have no idea of where that will take us, and while we are young in this process, things look threatening and dangerous.

In fact, they are threatening and dangerous. What is born when real understanding first arrives is tiny and soft. It needs to be nurtured, attended to, nourished and treasured. This brings me back to the point of intimacy that I talk about rather often. What is born in us when we first encounter a real understanding is actually a child, and needs to be treated tenderly and intelligently.

In this process, we have to completely reinvent everything that we thought we understood up until then. The transformation of understanding is a transformation of our entire conception of what work is, from a conception that resides in our intellect, to a conception that lives in our organism, in the cells. This process is so radical that the ordinary mind can do nothing but interfere. And even that realization creates a struggle -- not a struggle against our life and against what we are, but a struggle for what we can become.

In every generation, we have a responsibility to discover an understanding for ourselves. We can't lean on the people that came before us. We can't lean on textbooks and phrases. In fact, we can't lean on anything. Trying to stay upright and immobile, which is safe, is a denial of the movement required in order to let the energies that work on us circulate.

As I've pointed out before, I think everyone who enters any spiritual work does so because they want to know "the truth." This presumes, of course, that there is a single "truth," which is a presumption. I'm not saying there isn't; I'm just pointing out that anything that we think for ourselves is a presumption.

The fact is that we learn truth, such as there is any, organically, in fragments, and by degrees.
Within the context of that understanding of truth--any understanding of truth -- the discovery has to become personal, radical, and, ultimately, in defiance of what we know.

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

our intentions towards others


I continue to be interested in how we experience our intention towards others.

In point of fact, we have very little intention towards others. We just let everything that takes place between us and other people happen more or less by accident. Each one of us shows up at the meeting point of our mutual exchange with a set of assumptions about the other person and then reacts based on that. We have little point of contact with any real perception—by this I means perception within the moment—of the other.

This particular point is striking to me in my own work, because I continually find that there is at least a willingness to be within the moment with other people more of the time. Every time this happens—and it is frequent—I find that I manifest entirely differently than I would have expected when I measure the situation against my previous, automatized assessments of others, before we stand face to face.

Being face to face, in other words, appears to call on something different in me, and causes me to react in a much different way than my conniving associative parts pre-formulate.

This leads me to propose that having an intention towards other people before we get there in front of them might have a powerful effect on our experience of both ourselves, of other people, and of life. It would involve a willingness to be open to the moment, rather than dealing from a deck of cards we have already stacked.

This proposition leads me to another question which I pondered while sitting this morning. The question relates to exactly how we behave in groups—how we value the group and the individuals in the group.

In “In Search of the Miraculous,” Ouspensky mentions an exercise given by Gurdjieff in which everyone in the group tried to be completely honest with one another. The experiment started off in a grand manner, but everyone quickly saw that it was absolutely impossible to be that way with one another.

The problem here is a very real one, because a group can’t really begin work together until a certain degree of honesty is possible. This is because a real exchange of our inner work that could help us actually support each other—as opposed to just talking about the idea of support—can’t begin until we are willing to trust others with very intimate parts of ourselves.

We all quite rightly avoid that. We’re all too aware, collectively, of how we bash each other, keep accounts, of how everything becomes an occasion for opposition and competition. We know that if we truly begin to show the most intimate and sacred parts of ourselves to one another we run the great risk of having others—yes, even group members—actually abuse that. We abuse chiefly because we all act with no conscience whatsoever, and are prone to bastardizing and cheapening anything that is given to us.

And we know that precisely because that is the way we are ourselves.

Perhaps we come a wee bit closer here to what Ashieata Sheimash called “the terror of the situation,” eh?

So how do we change this state of affairs?

First, I think, we ought to try and make a pact with ourselves to take responsibility for how we are. It begins there, with seeing what we are and how we are. At this point, we need to take a vow to make a conscious effort to oppose this tendency in ourselves: to change our polarity of attitude. ( This goes back to what I mentioned in the recent posts “An ongoing enterprise” and “Negativity and intention.”)

There has to be an active wish to value the other differently.

I can’t imagine a proposition more radical. Never mind, for the moment, ordinary life, where everything seems to tend “downwards with enthusiasm.” In the Gurdjieff work--though we may flatter ourselves with how "real" we are--few of us really understand this practice. People are set against one another in oppositions that are entirely unnecessary.

True, it’s endemic to humanity; true, the conditions of work are meant to rub us up against one another until the friction generates insights.

If the very point of the insights, however, is to learn to develop trust, to respect the other, to learn how to love,--as I myself contend—then why wait twenty or thirty—or fifty—years? Why not begin to take responsibility now for a more tolerant approach?

Perhaps we need to re-evaluate how we see not only ourselves, but the other people we work with. There could be a radical re-evaluation from an inner point of view: based on forgiveness, based on compassion—

based on a willingness to accept the other regardless of how they are.

Here we have Christ’s turning of the other cheek: It is one of the actions that must inevitably follow Ashieata Sheimash’s “realization of the terror.”

Of course, you are thinking to yourself-- we can’t do that.

And we can’t.

But a man’s wish should exceed his circumstances,
else what’s an effort for?

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

a bit of dis-ease

I have been on the run for a lot of this trip, working 14 hour days stacked on top of jet lag. It has finally caught up with me, as it sometimes does: I have a sinus infection.

This has left me tired and without as much energy as I sometimes have. Paradoxically, it has also left me perhaps a bit more open to certain smaller aspects of life that I don't always notice.

I'm about three hours north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province. We drove across the new bridge that crosses the estuary; it has done away with the charm of the clanking ferry which regular readers may already be familiar with. Instead, there is a brave New World that rises 200 feet or more above the waters, taking you across the whole affair in under five minutes. It's like this everywhere I go in China: everything is bigger, newer, faster. Just as we paved over our farmland to erect shopping malls, so they are paving over theirs in order to make the stuff we fill the malls with. One would think we have given ourselves the impression we don't need to grow food anymore.

We get so distracted by the outside, you see, that we forget to feed ourselves properly. Our conditions provide food if we are present to them. Otherwise, they provide a kind of empty stimulation that excites us but does not feed us. We have to begin to live more intimately within ourselves in order to feed ourselves properly. Otherwise, we're paving over the farmland of our essence with the shopping malls of our personality.

So, even though I'm not feeling well, I try to remember to return to an intimate sensation of my cells. To remember -- with their help -- that I am made of cells, and that each one of them is a living being in its own right. I have this false perception of myself as an individual -- actually, I'm not undivided at all -- but what I really am is a community. And it's the moments when I recognize that in a more organic way that I begin to realize there's far more to life than the building of malls and the gathering of stuff.

Gurdjieff certainly understood this idea of community in an inner sense. Nowadays, we cheerfully refer to the statement Michel DeSalzmann made, "the community is the teacher," and we think that it means the community of our fellow Gurdjieffians.

And perhaps it does.

But it also means our inner community. Mr. Gurdjieff did not refer to deputy stewards, stewards, and so on as an idle concept. A good householder attends to his inner household. It's a community.

Do I see that? This is certainly related to Jeanne DeSalzmann's admonition that we have to see our partiality, see how we are made of parts. Do I do that? Or is everything just a question in the head?

Being sick can help us. If by this we are drawn back to a more intimate relationship with the body, perhaps we see that there are individual parts that work together to make us what we are. Now, one of them doesn't work so well: maybe it's the nose. Maybe it's the lungs. Maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, I have an opportunity to see how the various parts support each other, and how rarely I acknowledge that.

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

Sunday, December 7, 2008

an ongoing enterprise

I was speaking with my daughter, who is about to graduate from Cornell, this morning about the role of a teacher or a parent.

The question came up of what distinguishes a worthy teacher or a worthy parent. I told her that a real teacher or a real parent always has a wish for their child or their student to go further than they did. This is a tradition in Zen Buddhism, where every generation is supposed to try and go further still.

And, you know, it ought to be a tradition everywhere, for everyone.

If we are trapped in the considerations of our own ego, then we fear the next generation. We are afraid of being replaced, instead of hopeful that that is what will happen. Most certainly, history, mythology, and literature are filled with stories of those who would not let go: elders so obsessed with their own importance that they tried to crush the young, even their own young. Many of us will probably even encounter situations like this in our own life.

Let's try to make our wish bigger than that, shall we? Like bodhisattvas, perhaps we can all agree to take vows not only to try and help our children and our students go further than we do, but also our fellow men. Let us work together in a spirit of cooperation, supporting each other in the hope that the next man may go deeper, may climb higher, may become more whole than we are. What helps one child helps all children; what helps one man helps all men.

Ah. Perhaps those of us in the Gurdjieff work are too hard-bitten to believe in such an idea.

Is it too sentimental? I don't think so. The bodhisattva vow is hardly unique to Buddhism. As Christ said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13.) The idea is not sentimental. It it is a real idea, related to real work. If we are not willing to surrender ourselves for a greater good, in both an inner and an outer sense, how worthy can we possibly be?

This question of worthiness visits me frequently. I've spoken many times of the deep sorrow we encounter if we truly begin to sense our own nothingness. This is no exercise, no philosophical idea I speak of here. This is the hard and difficult ground of real inner work.

We are actually unable to see our own nothingness ourselves. This is back to the question of man not being able to "do." We need help for that. If grace comes, we begin to experience a real and organic sorrow. This is not a sorrow of our self or for our self; it is a sorrow that belongs to God. If the Creator is truly sorrowful, as Mr. Gurdjieff maintained, He has to be sorrowful because His wish for us is so great--like the wish of the worthy teacher or the worthy parent for the child to go further.

And we do not go further. We fall short. We are not worthy.

This is a recurring theme in religion; yes, there are friends of mine out there who are going to argue this point with me, but I will not let go of it. If there is a sentimental idea on the table in front of us, it's the idea that we are already perfect, but just don't know it. Even if this idea were true--which no one actually knows, although it sounds very important when someone says it--it hardly applies to us. And Mr. Gurdjieff certainly didn't present it that way. We ought to move past such dreams and on to the more concrete realities of our inadequacy.

This question of "laying down our life for our friends" touches on a question of inner work, as well as the more obvious implications it has for our outer and earthly manifestations.

There is a need for us, at a certain point of our work, to be willing to let go and make room for a different part of ourselves. In this regard, our personality, our self as we now understand it, is the parent, and it must find a way to support the child and allow it to go further. This is a very difficult concept to understand, even when it remains in front of us as an idea and can be subjected to formulation.

How very much more difficult it is when we discover ourselves in front of this question in a concrete way.

Are we able, within all the power and maturity that our well-developed personality confers on us, willing to step aside and let the child of our essence grow?

Even more important, are we able to open our Being enough to allow a real force, a higher force, for growth to enter? Confronting this kind of question takes a kind of courage most of us don't have in us.

Perhaps each of us needs to adopt an inner bodhisattva, a part of ourselves that vows to stay with the work until everyone -- in an inner, not an outer sense-- is liberated.

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

Friday, December 5, 2008

negativity and intention


I've been taking a practical look at this question of my negativity over the last couple of days.

The question relates to broader investigations, including the investigation of what it means to be intentional. And of course, inevitably, the question of negativity arises in the context of our inner partiality, that is, the failure of the centers to be in proper relationship, and the consequent leakage of energy which then "goes bad."

My negativity is an active force. It actually arises with a wish for itself. How clearly do I know this? Not very clearly. Because I am so often identified, I take my negativity for granted. I don't see it as a force; how I see it is, in a real sense, by believing it is what I am. And for as long as I believe in it as what I am, there is no escaping it.

It's only if I have a separation from this experience and understand it as an arising phenomenon, rather than an inescapable premise, that I have a chance to go against it.

And this, of course, is one of the few places where Mr. Gurdjieff said we could "do." We are able to go against our negativity. He advised us to oppose our negativity through an act of non-expression of negativity. Not non-experience of negativity; no, he expected us to experience our negativity quite fully. The point was not to lose the negativity by expressing it outwardly. In other words, negativity has a value for us, if we see it and keep it contained. There is a close parallel here between the idea of non-expression of negativity and the nonattachment of Buddhism.

All of these understandings, placed in relationship with the negativity I see arising in me, especially in the morning, caused me to ask myself several things. One of them is whether or not it's possible to go against the negativity by seeing it and simply saying "no" to it.

Is it possible to be in relationship to the organism in such a way that there is an active intention to oppose my negativity?

And does Jeanne DeSalzmann's admonition to us to make an effort to "see our lack," and thus attract a relationship to something higher within us, bear a relationship to this question?

I find that it does. I need to be prepared within myself to encounter the fact that I am negative, and to suffer it.

In that encounter, I have to understand that negativity is a force of its own that has a wish, a wish that I must make an effort not to be taken by. There needs to be an active effort to create a polarity in Being that is positive, that is, to consciously know that both ends of the stick are there. [And here, perhaps, I begin to discover a constructive use of that force called imagination.] Unless both polarities are simultaneously present, the opportunity for a reconciling force -- and, thus, the transubstantiation of my negativity -- cannot exist.

This means, in my own experience, that there needs to be an effort to be more intentional in relationship to negativity. That intentionality actually does include an effort to be positive, only not an outward effort.

Furthermore, the intentionality and the effort must seek both their origin and their support in a relationship between the mind and body, that is, within the organic sense of being.

It's absolutely possible for a man to become aligned with forces powerful enough to eliminate inner negativity. This is an extremely unusual state, and cannot last long with us the way we are. Only with Grace does it truly become possible, because here we speak of a level where man truly cannot "do."

It is, however, this constant effort on our own to oppose our negativity that may lawfully attract the attention of a greater force that sees our helplessness, and is willing to intervene.

I am reminded here of Matthew, chapter 6, 28 -- 30.

"28: And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30: Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"

If I am willing to go against my negativity with an active intention, a faith, that something greater than this mechanical and destructive impulse in us is possible, I begin to work on a possibility that can clothe me in an inner glory, rather than the squalor my negativity seems to prefer to dwell in.

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

what is "doing?"

Over and over in the Gurdjieff work, we encounter the famous phrase, "man cannot do."

It sounds very impressive when repeated. As though we knew what we were talking about, and perhaps even had a broader grasp of the real issues, than those in other works. It's not uncommon for us to flatter ourselves in that way. Despite our wish to be, we certainly remain vulnerable to our vanities.

Today, pondering my existence and effort from the perspective of China, I asked myself, what does this phrase actually mean?

What, in other words, can a man not do? And perhaps more to the point, what should a man do? What should he want to do, and what would lie within the range of his abilities if he could do?

I'm not sure any of us know the answers to these questions. The idea of doing implies an informed agency--the knowing of what is required, and the direction that needs to be taken. Surely, none of us are quite clear on these issues, are we?

In examining my own inner state, I see, I understand little about doing. What little I understand relates to the question of how to better serve forces higher than myself. "Doing," in other words, begins with serving something other than my own egoistic purposes. If I wish to "do," my "doing" must begin with a wish to "do" according to a set of laws that comes from above my own level. It begins with coming under a different set of influences.

The most prominent religious instruction I can think of that speaks to the question of doing comes from the Lord's prayer: "Thy will be done." Here I encounter the idea that "doing," understood from the esoteric viewpoint, involves allowing a higher power to express itself through us.

How this might differ from our ordinary conception of Gurdjieff's "doing" remains unclear, and is worthy of examination.

In the context of my remarks about coming under a different set of influences, G's implication of the need for a powerful and consciously expressed individuality only makes sense to me if we take the meaning of the word "individual" in its most literal sense. A Being which is undivided, hence, acts in unity with a higher Will because it is not separated from it.

This idea presumes a clarity of purpose that echoes Meister Eckart's proposal of a complete emptying of the will of the ordinary self--all so that the only will remaining is a Divine Will.

In other words, to “do”—whatever it is—means something very much other than what I can conceive of from my ordinary state, which is the perspective I am all but forced to examine the question from.

In our spiritual effort, Mr. Gurdjieff advised us to make sure that we had an aim and kept it in front of us. Is our aim to "do?" What do we want to do?

In further pondering, last night, before I went to bed, a radical proposal occurred to me. What if real "doing" consists of nothing more than taking in all of the impressions of our life in a right way, so that we transubstantiate the electrochemical substance of causality and effect -- that is, the events and circumstances of consciousness and being -- according to the requirements of a higher power?

In the chapter "Beelzebub's opinion of war," Gurdjieff says the following:

"...I learned that these sacred substances, 'abrustdonis' and 'helkdonis,' are precisely those substances which enter into the formation and perfecting of the higher being-bodies of the three-brained beings--that is, the 'kessdjan body' and the 'body of the soul'--and that the separation of the sacred 'askokeen' from the two other substances proceeds when beings, on whatever planet they may be, transmute these sacred substances in themselves for the forming and perfecting of their higher bodies, by means of conscious labor and intentional suffering...

"In this connection, the following personal opinion was formed in me: "If only these favorites of yours would seriously ponder all this and serve Nature honestly in this respect, their being-self-perfecting might then proceed automatically, even without the participation of their consciousness..."

We probably have nothing more than the tiniest of intimations about exactly what Mr. Gurdjieff means here. The passage does, however, call the question of what precisely "doing" means, in a way different than the way we usually take it.

It seems apparent that if man is supposed to "do" anything at all, it's connected to the mysterious process he describes here, and not to our ordinary conceptions of the matter.

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


Monday, December 1, 2008

Lounging around

Another in a series of posts from the business class lounge in Seoul.

Fielding information from cyberspace; contrasting it with the pulsing realities of organic experience. The two seem so divorced, at times, it's difficult to reconcile them. And I become increasingly concerned by my impression that the exchange of information is eclipsing the experience of actual life. Humanity is collapsing into an imaginary space divorced from the needs and realities of organisms. We do this at our peril; we all fall victim to the error of mistaking the symbols (numbers, letters, words) for the events, objects and circumstances they represent.

At the same time, an experience of organic sorrow continues to percolate through me. That is an experience no amount of words or "book study" can convey. Nor one which book study or exercises can truly prepare us for.

Religion: the re-connection of our "inner ligaments," the actual experience of a connecting tissue which allows us to share the energy of the divine. This actual experience--as opposed to the search for it, methodologies for achieving it, the discussion and analysis of it (as though, ultimately, such a thing were even possible--!)--that is what we seek.

I'd like to try to keep my senses--all of them--turned towards the inner on this trip, as best I'm able.

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