Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No Certain Words

Yesterday was a day filled with the deep promise of the color of spring. The blue sky, sun, and birdsong overwhelmed me with their perfection.

Is life just things that happen? No, it is a rich wine I am invited to drink--if I am up to some serious drinking.

I take the famous dog Isabel for a walk in the park. We set off into the woods, walking on less familiar paths.

I pause to examine a single briar vine, decorated with tiny buds and the ever so smallest green leaves.

Every set of leaves emerges from this pink stem as if by magic. The edges of every leaf are tipped in splendid red.

My sense of familiarity consistently betrays me. Suddenly I see--filled with life, expressed within the magnetic experience of this organism I inhabit--that nothing is familiar.

I don't know where I am; I don't know where I came from; I am never sure of where I'm going.

Within the midst of this mystery, all of the parts that clamor for acknowledgments, for recognition, for something more concrete to hang the hat of my ego on, take a back seat.

If there is one thing the inner path and the opportunity for work affords me, it is the courage to admit that I know nothing. In the midst of my knowing, my collections of facts, and the vast repository of not-inward-formation our technology and society have produced, it's possible to look at a single tiny leaf and admit that the truth within it is inexpressible. It doesn't matter how much biology one understands; it doesn't matter how much analysis I engage in.

If I truly become more open, none of this is necessary.

Of course, within this moment, what expresses itself is not of the mind. Or, rather, it comes from a mind that is more whole, unique, composed of multiple parts, and able to sense in a way that the intellect alone cannot comprehend.

Accompanying the sensation of this moment is a deep and lasting sorrow.

Should I call this remorse?
Remorse of conscience?
A sensation of the sorrow of God?

There are no certain words for life. Men would have them, just as they would have happiness, and joy, and a thousand other things that desire produces. But if I take just one step past desire and into mystery, I discover cravings that do not spring from the obsessions I usually occupy myself with.

There are ten thousand paths that point towards joy; there are another ten thousand paths that point towards detachment and freedom.

But how many paths point us towards the sorrow at the heart of the universe?

A quietness can be born in which I appreciate the bliss of unknowing. This stillness invites a sensitivity that is more willing to receive.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dancing with God

We dance with God
And then go home,
And write reports about it.

I wrote this little poem earlier this week after listening to exchanges about inner work.

I have had the great privilege in the last few months of working with Martha Heynemann in a poetry group. Martha's approach to poetry is an effort to discover a path towards the sacred using this art form. In her estimation, it's well-suited.

I can't speak for her, but I will speak for myself from the impressions that have collected in me as a result of her guidance.

In poetry, it is the spaces between words -- the things that are not said -- and the use of metaphor, which also leaves space, that creates the opportunity for sublime expression. Much of what is searched for remains unsaid, and falls into a place within the listener that needs to be discovered, rather than stated.

So, paradoxically, it is what we do not say, and must (in this medium of poetry) never say, that conveys the essential meaning from within.

I bring this up because I think we all make too much noise.

I am very guilty of this myself, to a certainty; from the time I was young, I was accused of having verbal diarrhea. It has taken me many years to become more concise and my expression and to find a place within myself that is more relaxed and willing to listen. This is an ongoing work, and never a place I finally "arrive" at.

In speaking of my experiences -- and here I speak specifically of those experiences where a higher force touches us -- I am in perpetual danger of becoming a clerk of the sacred. The more such experiences one has, the less one ought to talk about them. It may be painful for all of us to live in a world of exchange that is composed mostly of allusion, when everyone hungers for the definite, but the definite is the enemy of the true. (That statement, also, is an allegory, which should not be taken as definitely true. What is said must be read between the lines.)

When I go directly at things, when I reduce them to words and lay them out on sheets of paper -- or spread them like butter in conversations -- I always run the risk of saying too much, of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Just as in seeking an intimacy with my organism, an intimacy must also be cultivated within the relationship of exchange.

Words should be chosen carefully and used sparingly.

There are a few other thoughts that I had over the last day or two. One of them is that we often speak of being "in the moment."

This expression is misleading.

My effort must be to be in this moment, not "the" moment. When I say "in the moment," I have already outsourced the effort to a different moment, not the one I am in. Do I understand this? I must stop outsourcing the moment.

It is this moment that needs to be in front of me.

And this morning, when I sat, it occurred to me that the fruit the tree gives is always sweeter than the fruit taken from the tree.

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quietly Attending

There's a great deal going on.

No matter how I meet my life, it's always busy. Children need to be managed. Business matters arise. Friends call; problems surface; the unexpected arrives.

In the midst of all this, there's a need for intimacy. If there is something lacking, it is this; the intimate examination of Being.

That intimate examination needs to begin with the organism, which has the potential for a connection I usually neglect. Even when the organism issues a call for relationship, it's easily avoided; the contingencies of life, and identification with them, draw me away.

There's a bird's nest in the mind: a comfortable, constructed place where entangled thoughts reside. To be sure, it's a place with the potential for nurture; a place where something new might be born. But there I sit, up in the head, happily ensconced among the brambles.

And below? Below there's a fox hole, a dark den where something animal, something connected with the earth, resides. There, too, something might be born and nourished. But the fox is primarily nocturnal; it's clever, elusive, careful to remain hidden most of the time. And why not? The fox is eternally hunted by the hounds of life. It's grown smart enough to known when to hide, because it is eaten so often: for five hundred lifetimes, perhaps, it's been eaten.

The call for relationship between these parts, these animals of dens and nests, is interfered with by my thinking, which enjoys living in a perpetual state of evaluation. In taking too many measurements, the dimensions of the temple are obscured. There is a time when the artist needs to put the ruler down and just appreciate the aesthetics of the work from a different point of view.

So I wonder, am I able to bring a new quality to my effort today: an effort of quietly attending, attending to the arising of sensation without the interference of words and thoughts?

Can that part step aside to just intimately examine what is present?

Can that intimate examination consist of something other than ideas?

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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fox Holes, Bird's Nests

A recurring theme in my examination of my work is the question of inner and outer perception. Of course, we could also speak of this as inner and outer impressions. I'm reminded, perhaps, of fox holes and bird nests.

One of the aims in Zen and in Yoga, one might say, is to go ever deeper within.

This, I think, is a good aim. Because I forget that there is any depth at all within me -- because I do not have a good connection with the organs that collect finer impressions -- there is often a flatness here where there should be depth. In order to attain any depth, it's necessary to place the attention quite specifically within a part of the body and to bring the effort and sensation to that point.

Now, there are a number of ways to do this, and I don't wish to provide instruction here. Not on specifics, anyway. What I do wish to mention is that this point of work is not well understood, and needs to be investigated much more precisely, much more thoroughly, and needs to be investigated actively within the context not of just sitting in meditation, but ordinary life.

Avoiding this question within this moment because I am overeducated, tired, bored, indulgent, or impatient will not help my work.

The reason for this need is, paradoxically, because the point of inner work is not just to go deep inside.

It is not just to develop a comprehensive sensation of the inner parts of the organism. It's true that the organism is divided into sensory apparatus for inner and outer impressions, and that each one forms what might be called a separate system. The important point is that the system is not separate at all--it's a whole and single entity, a co-operative structure that interacts. I can't, for example, separate the coarse from the fine if I don't receive any coarse in the first place.

Because of my proclivity for engaging in dualistic thinking, whenever I run into systems that have interactive structures of this kind -- for example, the universal system of evolutionary and involutionary forces --I begin to separate them, as though one were good and the other one were bad. So, for example, I might say "Evolution is good. Involution is bad." Or, on the other hand, I might say to myself, "An inwardness is a good quality. Outwardness is a bad quality."

I forget, perhaps, that neither one can exist without the other one. I even forget that if I am receiving something from a higher level, that is in and of itself an involutionary action, because an energy from above is moving down to me. So in my zeal to evolve, I lose sight of the fact that my own evolution depends on involutionary forces.

One of the tricky things about understanding inwardness is that I know next to nothing about it. If I actually began to experience a specific understanding of this question, it becomes enormously attractive. The temptation to fiddle with it is moreover nearly irresistible. I come to it without understanding, and especially without understanding that it is able to work in its own way if it is not interfered with.

I come from a world where all we ever do is interfere. There are even whole systems designed to help interfere. They tell me how to interfere, when to interfere, why to interfere, and what to interfere with.

Perhaps even worse, the cultivation of inwardness is beguiling. The process tends to draw me deeper and deeper into itself. Sometimes this even takes place at the expense of what is necessary.

So in my effort to go deeper inside myself, is there a chance I am actually forgetting myself?

Does my effort need to be to stand in the middle, at the intersection of the inner and outer worlds, at an interval between two notes? At this point where involutionary and evolutionary forces meet? Isn't that, after all, exactly where consciousness -- such as it is, such as I experience it -- actually resides?

This is a delicate question.

Somehow I think that if I am not inward, I lose something. Or, if I am not outward, I lose something (this last is more common.) Where I believe I lose something, however, is in not being poised between these two sets of forces. Ultimately, within the question of this work with my inwardness and my outwardness, there is a need to bring the two together. One must strike an intelligent balance.

There is a risk in this place. The fox-hole peace and security of inwardness, the bliss and safety of immersion in a gift that is given, must be sacrificed.

The bird's nest of my ego, and my identification with my outwardness must also be sacrificed.

...And where, then, do I find myself?

Is it, perhaps, in a place of exquisite uncertainty, where there is nowhere to lay my head--where conditions must, first and foremost, be accepted?

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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Brief announcement

My new instrumental CD, "Elapsed Time Remaining," is now available in its entirety for download at www.compliquations.com.

The entire contents of my last two CD's, Compliquations, and Genetically Modified Freud, are now also available at the same site.

What is the price of a soul?

While sorting through old books in my possession, I came across a copy of Goethe’s Faust.

Faust sells his soul to the devil in exchange for information, for knowledge. The one great flaw I can see in this premise is that Faust, given how smart he is, certainly ought to know that no matter what you do, there is one thing you never, ever do, and this is to sell your soul to the devil.

Why does he do this? Perhaps it’s because Faust is quintessentially human: there are deals to be made, advantages to be gained, and everything is a negotiation. (“Faust,” by the way, means “fist” in German; and what more appropriate name for one who wishes to so firmly grasp?)

Well, never mind those little details. The discovery of the book got me to pondering about the soul, and death, and so on, and the pondering has continued, so to speak, unabated for days now.

Everything has its price. If man is, as Gurdjieff contended, a “soul in embryo,” then his life is the price he pays for it.

I don’t, however, properly understand this. From the perspective of ego, I behave not as though my soul belonged to God, but as though it belonged to me. As though my life—and my soul—were my own property, to dispense with as I please.

In regard to this, I have a thought about religious conservatism. Despite all its excess, it generally has at least one thing right, and that is the idea that the soul belongs to God, and that our behavior should be moderated accordingly. (Readers will probably agree that we get more than a little of that flavor from "Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.") If there is any one great failing in the interpretations of the religious conservatives—be they Muslims, be they Hindus, be they Jews or Christians—it is that the understanding of just how our behavior ought to be modified is very subjective.

Secularism, on the other hand, has popularized the view that man’s life belongs to him and him alone; the idea is, in some senses, enshrined in the principles of the US constitution, although it’s fairly certain that that particular philosophical angle wasn’t first and foremost in the founding father’s minds when they wrote it.

Modern science, leaving no room whatsoever for the idea of a soul or a God, can’t move past that same premise, because it lacks the philosophical equipment. So many of us—even those who are supposedly religious-- grow up in a confusing environment where the ego ultimately takes a front seat. To be fair, the problem isn’t a new one; it’s been this way in civilizations for thousands of years.

In an age that, due to an overflow of information and the polarization of science and religion, must increasingly come to grips with these questions, we need the philosophers more than ever. Hence I was most amused to be sitting outside the library of the Gurdjieff Foundation last Tuesday and overhear the following snippet of conversation from within the library itself:

“Do we need some Kierkegaard in here? Do we have any Kierkegaard?”

“No, we got rid of all the philosophers.”

...To be fair, the library is a very small one, but I’ve perused the books, and there are more than a few we might want to consider “getting rid of” and replacing with some good solid philosophers.

Back to the subject at hand. I don’t own my life or my soul. These elements of Being are not mine alone (despite our mantra of “I Am”), they belong to a set of forces much larger than me. They are a product of the intersection of many reciprocally interacting energies, and this “I Am” which I may (or may not) experience from day to day is not my own property, but rather a manifestation of something much larger which I lack the understanding to comprehend.

If I do “have” a soul, such as religious believers propose—and yes, I feel certain there is a truth in this, although exactly what truth, I don’t profess to have properly understood—then that soul belongs to God. It is, moreover, a very expensive piece of property, and I have it only “on loan,” so to speak. If we examine the many parables Christ told about masters and servants I think we can garner a flavor of this idea: man is “given” his soul because there is work to be done on it; it's an unfinished entity. This is, of course, one of the main underlying principles of the Gurdjieff work, & we encounter this idea, or the seeds of it, in most religious practice.

In all the Christian parables, and in other works, we also encounter the idea that failure to do one’s work gives "bad results."

As the custodian of this precious entity called a soul, I understand my work to be the process of inward formation: of carefully learning how to digest the food that is given to me in life, that proper growth may occur. I don’t take this work seriously enough most of the time for three reasons: because I think this thing called “life” is mine to do with as I please, that my “soul” is my own property, and that there is plenty of time to get whatever needs to be done, done.

And here we come to the crux of my point:

I don’t see that the price I pay for having this life, this soul, is my life itself. In other words, the coin I must pay with is what "I" am,

and I make that payment with death.

Thus the process of coming to God is enormously, impossibly expensive: in doing so I must absolutely surrender what I believe to be my very most precious possession: my life.

To be sure, I am given the choice of surrendering this life willingly or unwillingly, but surrender it I will and surrender it I must. This is the point where my (and Faust’s) quaint little ideas that I can make deals, and that everything can be negotiated, come to a ruthless and uncompromising end. Apparently I can make a deal with the devil... but I cannot make a deal with God.

One might say that the devil, unlike God, is a salesman.

It is in the understanding, perhaps, of how I surrender my life and why I surrender it that something new may be born. Surely, we are offered enough parables in the Bible alone (from Abraham’s sacrifice right up through the crucifixion of Christ) to offer compelling evidence as to just how important understanding this question, that life des not belong to us, is. And, of course, this question is also central in Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism.

We live in a culture where the ego clings frantically to life. Even fundamentalist Christians do. In an exquisite irony, a recent study shows that in conditions of extremis, they cling to life more steadfastly than those without faith: in other words, when dying slowly, of disease, they live longer than those without any faith: on average, 30% (!) longer.

So despite their intense belief in Jesus, they aren’t really in any hurry to meet Him personally.

I can’t blame them, really. Given the way most of us behave in life, it doesn’t seem like a final interview that’s likely to go well. So, the more certain you are you will have it, the more incentive there is to put it off for as long as possible.

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

rolling rocks down hills

I have spent the last two days in intensive work of various kinds at the Gurdjieff Foundation. When I got home this afternoon, I felt like I needed some good old manly exercise. So I went up on the hill behind our house, a very steep wooded hill, and began to put in stone steps up to the storage shed. There is plenty of stone to work with; the area I live in is called Rockland Cunty, because it's littered with an unholy amount of glacial till.

This is the kind of exercise I absolutely hate doing before I have started it. I always hesitate and stare at the stuff in front of me and part of me says, forget it. Don't bother. This is going to be hard. I stand there like a professional exhaustionist who gets too worn out just thinking about doing work.

At some point or other, something in me commits. I begin.

Once I get started, I get deeply into the rhythm of it and am so satisfied with the demand that I just keep going and going. I will work without rest, deprive myself of food and water, and push myself to the point of exhaustion before I stop. Honestly, it's ridiculous. I often catch myself in the middle of these situations and ask myself why I don't stop and rest.

If ever there was a good illustration of different "I's" at work in a man, this is one of them.

Perhaps I should explain here, for readers that don't know this, that I am a rock hound. That means I collect rocks, mostly crystals and fossils, but I also have a weird and obsessive relationship with rocks of any kind, any size, shape, color, or provenance. In addition to my intense attraction to biology, I have never met a rock I didn't like. I pick up misshapen, unlikely, objectively valueless rocks and form relationships with them. To me, a rounded piece of granite looks every bit as good as a diamond. There is nothing rational about it, and perhaps that is one of the things that makes me enjoy it so much. This obsession with rocks compounds the project, because anything that involves rocks is twice as likely to become a subject for identification.

Well then. Having started this project with my beloved rocks, I saw other things that needed to be done with big rocks at the same time -- I'm like that. So I gradually began to move each separate project forward, as appropriate, given the materials directly at hand. The projects all eventually involved moving impractically large rocks. It's not good enough, you see, to just move little, reasonably manageable rocks around. The aim is to find rocks which it would be objectively insane to try and move, and then find a way to move them.

Ahem. Anyone who wonders why and how Stonehenge and the pyramids were actually built need only reflect on people like me.

We did it.

At one point, I decided it would be capital to move a huge rounded boulder into position next to our compost dump. The boulder was much higher up on the hill, but it looked like it would roll easily. As it happens, it must have weighed 250 pounds, well out of any reasonable range for a single man to move in any other way.

I managed to move it.

It did roll easily. It moved so easily, in fact, due to its very round shape, that it rolled all the way down the hill.

To my absolute horror.

There are lots of things at the bottom of our hill--for example, cars--that you definitely don't want giant rocks to hit. To compound the problem, the hill comes with some fairly high walls at the bottom which are perfect platforms from which said rocks could conceivably launch themselves majestically into the air ...if some idiot rolled them downhill.

I swiftly discovered that any round rock this big has a mind of its own once it gets moving. I found myself chasing it down the hill in a panic, realizing as I did so that even if I caught up with it, there was absolutely no way of stopping it.

I got lucky. The rock hit bottom and just rolled around in the driveway harmlessly, having done little damage. Even the delicate little boxwood tree which it ruthlessly rolled over on its way down seems to have sprung back up quite happily.

I'm not quite sure why I am telling you this story, but it seems that once in a while -- at least once every five or six hundred essays -- there ought to be an anecdote that is passed on just because it happened.

Are you disappointed? Shall I contextualize it for you?

Okay, it's not difficult. If you want to know how small and helpless you are, get a really, really big rock and start rolling it down a hill towards valuable possessions without any control over the path it takes. You will soon realize how basically helpless we all are when confronted with the realities of physics, let alone the relentless arrival of life at our doorstep.

...Another thing took place today that completely surprised me -- an absolutely unexpected event. I won't go into any details, other than to say that it was about a matter that has been worrying me for 10 years (no exaggeration, really) related to my divorce which, yes, was almost that long ago. The matter worked out in my favor, and instantly erased about 10,000 moments of inner considering I had devoted to trying to figure out how to handle it.

There was no way to have predicted this. I did absolutely nothing, but for some perverse reason I am left here with the feeling that I have accomplished something. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. As usual, I am reacting to life, not acting.

Perhaps we could call the relief of the pressure of inner considering an accomplishment, but it is an accident, not an intentional event. Even my intentional attempts, like rolling rocks down hills, don't work out that well.

So I need to see that my intentions, like my emotional state and everything else, are at the mercy of events much larger than me. Rocks are constantly rolling down hills in my life, and the best that I can do is try to ground myself in the gravity of my body and the vibration of my sensation in preparation.

I will leave it at that for today.

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

Monday, March 16, 2009


The emotional state needs support.

Just like the body needs a certain amount of food if it's not going to experience exhaustion, the emotions also need a certain kind of food in order to stay positive. In the same way that we often don't feed our body with the appropriate food -- resulting in various kinds of disease -- we often don't feed our emotions properly either.

Unfortunately, there aren't any nutritional charts for emotion. You can't look at the three major food groups for emotion and decide which one you are low on. So emotional management becomes much more difficult than just eating bread or vegetables.

Every once in a while, I reach a point where the emotions don't have enough support, and I feel very low. Sometimes this is the result of disease; a viral infection will often produce a low point in the emotions, especially when it is beginning. At other times, after weeks and months of stress, sometimes unacknowledged, I hit a low point.

We talk about not expressing negative emotion in this work, but that is a lofty goal. There are times when I have to be honest with myself and see that I am negative, and allow the ordinary parts to express that in one way or another. Not with raging or destructive behavior, but rather, simply to verbally express the anguish and ask the questions that the state puts in front of me. Many years ago, my group leader Henry Brown mentioned that it is very important not to repress negative emotion. I think the bottom line is that there are times when I have to let the tea kettle vent a little bit, lest it explode.

Jared Diamond has written a number of very good books, the most famous of which is probably guns, germs, and steel. In his book Collapse, he writes about why societies fall apart. In reviewing this question of emotional support, I believe there are analogies between his analysis of what societies do and what we do with our inner lives.

One of Diamond's central arguments of collapse is that resource depletion has led to the destruction of many large societies. As societies grow larger and larger, they cut down more and more trees, deplete more and more soil, and eventually reach a tipping point where the ecological infrastructure can no longer support the population. Of course other factors are involved -- disease, climate, and so on -- but in most cases, we can see that the initial weakness in large societies was overpopulation and resource depletion.

I think that our personality -- or, if you will, our ego -- functions in much the same way. It grows larger and larger over the course of a lifetime, aggrandizing itself with its arrogance, and using others to get what it wants. By way of analogy, we are overpopulated by our ego. It is crowding out our life. Take a look, for example, at Bernie Madoff, the villain du jour-- perhaps a prime example. We love to blame men like this, but he is just ourselves writ larger. The ego appropriates everything growing around it in its zeal for expansion. In the midst of grabbing everything around us, we exhaust the inner resources needed to support a positive emotional state.

There is a perpetual belief that outwardness is what feeds emotional well-being. I meet this in people constantly. Everyone I know usually asks me to measure my satisfaction in life based on how much I like my outward conditions. I have reached a point in my own work where that measurement no longer seems applicable. No matter where I am, or what I am doing, my measurement of satisfaction --that is, how well I am fed -- arises from my inner relationship first.

So yesterday, the wife of a good friend asked me, "How do you like being unemployed?", and immediately I saw that I did not know how to answer her properly.

I don't "like" or "not like" being unemployed. Here I am. This is my condition. Whether I am employed or not, I meet my life every morning as I get up. I have to breathe in and out, and attend to my responsibilities, whatever they are. There are good moments and there are bad moments, from an external point of view. There are even moments like yesterday when my emotional state isn't well supported.

In the end, it all adds up to living and experiencing life within the context of consuming impressions.

This enterprise we who attempt to work are engaged in is quite different than liking or not liking this or that composer, or enjoying a walk along the banks of the Hudson River.

In examining my inner state this morning, I see that there is a mistaken impression in me between the work I undertake and the life I lead. There are a tremendous amount of resources--an overwhelming amount of resources -- devoted to the idea that the external events in my life, and my manipulation of them, are what matters. When I sit in meditation and attempt to turn the soul towards God and engage in an act of surrender, prying the ego loose from this state is like trying to pull a limpet off a rock with nothing but my bare fingers.

That's well nigh impossible. There's no point in using force; I have to be patient, sit quietly, and sneak up from underneath in order to wedge anything into the problem and let go.

The amount of inner resources that I use to support this devotion to outer life is tremendous. It's the equivalent of racing around cutting down all the trees in the immediate vicinity to build houses and burn fires. That activity looks important, but in the end it takes away what I need for my inner growth. If I live in a small and intimate way, in a way that is more contained and involves more attention, I use a lot less resources. I have less of an impact on my environment, and so I am not engaging in the resource depletion that exhausts my emotional state.

Well, this sounds great. The fact is that it is often next to impossible to avoid strip mining one's life. One has to do one's best to attend and accept the fact that there is going to be a good deal of waste. Every moment that the connection with my sensation is not actively attended to, I am spending resources I ought to be conserving.

All this leaves me with the question of how I meet the moment of collapse -- that moment when my inner resources are weak, and I can no longer muster the emotional support needed to stay positive in the face of the hammering that I take -- that all of us take -- when confronting the ordinary and often difficult circumstances of life.

This morning, in asking that question, I am brought once again to a very simple phrase which seems to contain everything one ought to understand about this question.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done."

This simple phrase is the non-identification of Mr. Gurdjieff's effort; it is the nonattachment of the Buddhists; it is a call to me to surrender myself to a force of love that descends from above and can help me. Of course, I don't know the hour or the day when this force may arrive; I am left in the position of having to offer myself unconditionally, and with faith.

This idea of faith often sticks in the craw of the dogmatists in the Gurdjieff work, but if we don't have faith, nothing is possible. Mr. Gurdjieff himself advised us to have faith of consciousness. In my experience, this is a call to us to invest ourselves in a more active openness that may call that greater love I speak of down to us.

Why "Thy kingdom?"

Well, strip mining my life and depleting my inner resources in a desperate effort to shore up my earthly enterprises is all an investment in my kingdom. I suppose I can't avoid this; I'm not a monk, I don't live in a cave.

Nonetheless, I see there must be a wiser way to use my inner and my outer resources, so that the temple is a solid structure with clean floors, patiently and attentively awaiting the visit of an authority that offers a support I cannot manufacture for myself.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2009


click here for the podcast version

Arrogance: "The taking of too much upon oneself as one's right; the assertion of unwarrantable claims in respect of one's own importance; undue assumption of dignity, authority, or knowledge; aggressive conceit, presumption, or haughtiness." (Oxford English Dictionary)

How much do I know about myself?

In pursuit of this very high aim of my work, this aim of understanding what real love means, I need to be able to see how I am. How I am stands in the way of my aim. And what chiefly characterizes me is my arrogance.

If I examine the definition of the word, it appears to be a description of what we call ego. As long as I live in my mind, as long as I think and think and think, I won't see this quality in myself. To truly stand alongside this quality requires an impartiality -- a connection between the centers.

It doesn't get rid of the quality; no, that would be far too easy. This quality is the center of gravity for what I call my "being" as it stands today. And it is only by becoming a companion, a friend, to it -- by doing what Gurdjieff calls "separating myself from myself" --by watching myself, that I can begin to discover how I really am.

There is much rich material on this question in the Bible, Luke, chapter 12. for example, Christ says to us in 12:37, "Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching..."

So I need to discover what it means to watch myself, not as a critic, but as an observer. And that watchfulness cannot come from within the intellect. The watchfulness has to be born from an active interest arising not just in the intelligence, but in the other centers as well. This means an active interest also from the body and the emotions.

Of course, for many years, this idea remains theoretical. We hear about it over and over again in groups, and from books, and we repeat it to each other even when we don't understand it properly. This doesn't mean we are incapable of such understanding; all it means is that it takes many years to truly understand. People who want to do weekend retreats and swiftly discover a new spiritual wholeness don't belong in the Gurdjieff work. It is a slow, deep work. There are other, quicker ways to arrive at something.

What that something is is open to discussion -- to a certainty, there are other real things one can come to, besides what Gurdjieff pointed us to. But the Gurdjieff work points (at least initially) at arriving at a very specific something. This "something" is a legitimate and grounded organic connection between centers that has a more durable nature. That connection in and of itself produces the possibility of receiving a new kind of material within this enormously sensitive tool called the body that can support a very deep and transforming kind of work.

Such work changes one's attitudes in a way that cannot change like the weather. It creates a part that stands aside from and slightly above the parts that change all the time. It creates a living experience that transcends the day to day reactions of the emotions, and the day to day instructions of the intellect, and even the day to day trials and tribulations and pains of the body. It summarizes all of these elements of life without eliminating them.

Could we liken this experience, which Gurdjieff would have referred to as non-identification, to what Buddhists call detachment? There seems to be little doubt about it.

Here we discover a synthesized experience that includes all of our arrogance, all of our emotional reaction, all of the temporary nature of the body. That summary of our nature, and the humbling experience of it as a fact, leads us in the direction of what we call, in the Gurdjieff work, real feeling.

And what is this "real feeling?"

Well, that is exactly the point. This real feeling is everything that arrogance is not. A human being who truly works, who submits to authority, who works and watches while they await the arrival of the master, will slowly have all of the arrogant qualities in them eroded, until they begin to truly sense their own nothingness -- not as an idea, but as a Truth.

Truth, in this case, as an organic experience of life that offers an inescapable and moment to moment understanding that I live.

Oh, I may say to myself, that's rather silly. I already know that I live.

But there is no truth in this. I only know that I live if I know that I breathe; if I can sense my cells as they participate; if I sense the way that this body receives energies I do not understand.

And that, that is just the beginning -- even this miraculous discovery is no more than the ground floor of understanding--or maybe even just the steps up out of the basement. Until I truly know that I live, which is an experience that is reborn over and over again within each moment of each day, I cannot begin to acquire any real humility in regard to my position in life.

Almost everything that goes wrong in my life, and almost everything that is going wrong on this planet, stems directly from arrogance. If one had to pick a chief feature for mankind, it would definitely be this one.

Arrogance acts in sheer defiance of this experience of a higher Truth. It is an appropriator of all that is good and true and loving. It gives permission to destroy without regard for the other. And how often have I exercised that license in my own life? I am perhaps fascinated by the idea of a movie character named James Bond who has a license to kill, but I don't see that this character is me.

So my aim, as I attempt to stand beside myself and see myself, is to gain an organic sensation of humility. This is the only force that can stand against my arrogance, and because it is rooted in the opportunity for real feeling, it is much stronger than arrogance. Arrogance is swept away like dust in the wind when this organic sensation of real humility arrives.

I see that I use these phrases has so often: organic sensation, organic sense of being. Perhaps it sounds repetitive. But there doesn't seem to be any other good way of describing an experience that arises not from my head's experience of my life, but an experience that arises from three centers within the organism. And it is, after all, only this experience that helps to create what we call "I am" in this work. An "I am" that is not born from arrogance and the ego, but from an experience of the fundamental unity we share with this planet, other life forms, and the creative force of the universe itself.

So today, as I begin -- and every day, I begin anew, let me make no mistake about that -- I hope to rediscover a connection between my parts, to re-member the severed limbs of my sensation, my feeling, and my intelligence, until there is a whole body available to me from within which to perceive the flow of this water called life.

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

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What is the aim?

Click here for the audio podcast

Yesterday, a close friend of mine in the work -- a woman who has in many ways become my teacher -- copied me on what was, in some ways, a routine piece of e-mail.

In other ways, it wasn't routine at all. It was a magnificent reminder of what the work is aimed at, how we work, and why we work. I'm not at liberty to publish her words, but I will speak my own along the same lines.

Over the past day, in examining this question of why we work, I have reviewed Frank Sinclair's comments in "Without Benefit Of Clergy," as well as comments about what both Jeanne De Salzmann and her son Michel guided the work towards during their own lives.

An unfortunate fact, I have discovered during online exchanges with people who consider themselves experts of one kind or another on the work, is that the understanding of the work is poor. At least, one would have to conclude that from the tone and level of the exchange I encounter. The work has nothing to do with arguing about ideas. If you think that's what the work is about, by all means, go ahead and do it, but this is not how I wish to work. I am, as it happens, an extremely argumentative type, and I do it myself, but that is not working.

The aim is not to have parlor room discussions about the ideas.
The aim is not to show up for meetings like a good little doobie.
The aim is not to adhere to a doctrine, or adopt a belief.

The aim of the work is to open ourselves to a higher influence.

This is not done with the mind. Not the mind as we understand it, that is, this part of ourselves called the intellect which we spend so much time nurturing. It must be done with a different part of ourselves, a mind that is much more whole, and composed of three parts.

It absolutely isn't possible to convey the type of work that is necessary in order to understand this in writing. The only way I know of to convey it is through 20 or 30 years of struggle in groups, with older people who know what they are doing, and even then, it may well not be successful. A man has to learn to take responsibility for himself in a new way in order for anything new to be born in him, and everyone -- myself included -- doggedly clings to all the old ways, the irresponsible ways, in every way possible, simply to avoid taking responsibility.

I've noticed that there is a judgmental sternness afoot in many self-appointed branches of the work. People want to adopt a severity, an extremism; they want a purity and an austerity, an adherence to rigid principles, the ability to disagree and condemn. Above all, everyone wants their opinions to remain sacrosanct.

In the midst of this, this blatant clinging to the ego, everyone loudly professes that they are being objective. The more complicated everything is, and the more right they are, the more they think they are working.

I know this game. I have certainly been a part of it for almost all of my life. But I grow increasingly weary of it. The work is not to argue and oppose; the effort must become an effort of offering and sharing. It must be an effort not to break down, but to support.

Do I see that my outwardly oppositional manifestation is actually a reflection of my inner state? I had better start doing so, because my manifestation in the outer world is nothing more than an exact reflection of my own inner disorder.

While we are at it, reminding ourselves of the need for this organically compassionate effort, let us also diligently remind ourselves that there are many ways to open ourselves to a higher influence. The Gurdjieff work doesn't have a monopoly on the effort, or the means.

As I have said so many hundreds of times, the work must become organic.

If I do not understand this, I must make it my aim. Until I understand what this means -- understand it not with the mind of my intellect, but with the mind of my body -- nothing real can happen. Even when I do understand this, the understanding is not permanent. I must understand it, understand it again, and then re-understand it ten thousand times in all ten directions before anything real begins to live within me. And even after I have well understood this with two of my parts, I must repeatedly stand in front of my lack, and call for the help -- the third force -- that can knit my being together.

Dispense with words. Turn the attention towards the organism.
Discover what it means to have a real connection with the body.
Discover what it means when the call to work comes from somewhere other than the intelligence of the intellect.
Discover what it means to have a living attention in more than one part.

This is the place where the beginning of an understanding of Love is born, and that is the aim of the work: to understand what real Love is. Anyone who thinks the work has a different aim has failed to understand even the first thing about why we work.

What is real Love? It is not even close to the emotions and words we use to describe love, in ordinary terms.

Love is the fabric the universe is constructed out of; it is the material of existence, the Web of creation, and the dialogue between man and God. It is transcendental, ineffable, indescribable, sublime, and perfect.

It is a force, an energy that calls us to our knees in prayer, whether we want to kneel and pray or not.

Let those who have ears, hear.

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

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Adopting Form, Creating Structure

It's a recurring theme in my writing: form, structure, meaning.

The universe has been, since its inception, engaged in an endless act of adopting form and creating structure.

What does it mean to adopt form? That which is unmanifested manifests. Within this moment, a nearly infinite set of possibilities -- beginning at the quantum level, where everything is probable, and possible, but not yet defined -- actualize themselves as they emerge from the probable into the actual. So the emergent nature of the universe is not just really the emergent properties of matter. Reality itself is an emergent property -- it manifests within every instant from a set of probabilities, from a non-rational, non-local simultaneity, into what I call a rationally local manifestation.

All of this sounds quite technical and philosophical, but what it means is simple.

Within this organism, as the impressions of what I call life arrive, the unmanifested is continually expressed through manifestation, in a process of discovering itself.

This receptacle I call the body is, so to speak, a measuring tool for that which adopts form. In the adoption of form, matter engages in creation. Every instant of living and perceiving becomes an act of measuring creation through participation.

For matter, the adoption of form is materialization. For consciousness, to adopt form is to recognize manifestation within this moment, that is, cognition (= apprehension, or perception.)

Adopted form creates structure. This is the way the universe functions. For example, when the universe was extremely young, a superheated plasma of undifferentiated energy adopted form and began to create what is now call matter. The moment that matter began to exist, the emergent property of created structure appeared as subatomic particles combined to form structures called atoms, which then combined to form structures called molecules.

Once again, this sounds like a lesson in physics or philosophy, but it is really the story of what I am. Within my adoption of form -- my immediate perception of manifestation as it arrives -- I create structure. This structure of how I experience my life is an emergent property of all the impressions I gather. Without an intellect, the structure would be quite different, but with the emergence of intelligence, the structure obtains a flexibility that transcends the stimulus response mechanisms of Skinnerian biology.

Put in plainer language, to create structure is to form relationship, to contextualize. This can happen in one of two obvious ways: mechanically, that is, the way that atoms and molecules do it, without any conscious intelligence, or consciously, that is, under the supervision of an agent that makes choices. Stuart Kaufmann speaks about the question of agency at some length in "Reinventing The Sacred." Readers are encouraged to refer to his arguments about the implications.

The creation of structure is what forms my life. Once the impressions of life adopt form, that is, once the unmanifested becomes manifest on the doorstep of my perception, the creation of structure is inevitable. Both the biology and psychology of man are designed to create structure. The adoption of form is cause; the creation of structure is effect.

So within the act of living, I constantly adopt form and create structure. This always takes place within the context of mystery, because I don't know how form will manifest as it arrives.

Within the midst of constantly adopting form, and constantly creating structure, man's intelligence searches for meaning.

The search for the meaning of the structure is an attempt within us to demystify this process. If I can identify a context for why form is adopted--a reason that things are the way they are-- I think I can explain the mystery.

Science believes that it can explain why form is originally adopted based on a reductionist, cause-and-effect process arising in strict accordance with the laws of nature. Religion believes that it can explain why form is originally adopted based on a supernatural agency, that is, an agency which transcends the obvious laws of nature.

Since some laws of nature are clearly violated by the nature of the quantum level, it appears that science is further out on what is already thin ice these days. Nonetheless, neither discipline appears to be able to demystify the adoption of form.

What I am left with is one indisputable fact: within every living creature, the sensory apparatus, including the brain, creates a record of adopted form, and a structure arises in response to that.

I can call the structure neural if I wish to, because it clearly has a physical component. I can call the structure conceptual if I want to, because the neural component clearly generates a process based on what man would call ideas.

The only certainty is that there is a structure. The adoption of form informs; it creates a structure within receptive material locations. So all conscious beings find themselves within an eternal and continuous process of adopting form and creating structure. The process of assigning meaning comes afterwards.

Forms keep being adopted. It's in the nature of the universe to act that way. But all created structures are temporary. Every created structure metamorphoses; we usually call this process "destruction," but there is no such thing as destruction. The only thing that exists is transformation. Every so-called destructive process creates something new.

The assignment of specific meaning to the adoption of form and the creation of structure is a slippery thing. Meanings are built on created structures, and all created structures are temporary. So anything I believe, any structure I create and then assign meaning to, inevitably arises from a static situation which will live out its life and change into something else.

It's okay to live this way, but in order to do so, I ought to understand that meaning itself has transformational properties. That is, meanings themselves change along with everything else. The universe is in constant motion, and I need to retain an actively flexible stance in response to it.

Perhaps the irony of the way that I live within myself is that I discover a particular form and a particular structure and then cling to it, as though it could be lost.

I forget that I live forever within the midst of form and structure, and it is impossible to lose either one.

What is needed is a new understanding: the freedom to let go of the specifics and expand my understanding by embracing the inherently unknown condition of life.

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

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Living Act Of One Moment

Most people on the path eventually encounter Zen Buddhism and its tradition of koans as what one might call an "expedient means" of enlightenment.

Generally speaking, we run into five or ten of the most famous koans, such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?", or "Does a dog have Buddha nature?", and that's about it. But there are literally hundreds of koans, the vast majority of which do not consist of a single strange and unanswerable question like these two.

I recently picked up a copy of Dogen's koans, as collected in "The True Dharma eye: Zen Master Dogen's 300 Koans," edited by John Daido Loori. For the most part, the koans consist of exchanges in the moment between masters and pupils. It's true that the majority of them contain questions, but some of the questions are actually rather straightforward, and, to the discerning ear, appear to be susceptible to a straight answer.

Nonetheless, every straight answer is met with a morphology that seems to bear no relationship to the origin of the organism.

What characterizes every single koan ultimately has nothing to do with the form of the words it contains. In a certain sense, it is impossible to answer a koan with words. In an even greater sense, it is impossible to explain the koan with words, which, I ought to point out, is slightly different than responding to it with words.

Nonetheless, it is possible to describe the conceptual framework, and that's what I will attempt to do here.

The essence of every koan is revealed by the common thread that runs through them all. Each one represents a moment of relationship. Now, when relationship is dominated by the mind, regulated by facts, and interpreted by association, relationship has adopted a form. And in order to understand what this means in relationship to koans, we will need to take a brief look at form itself.

I often find myself critiquing a particular form. For example, I might say that Christianity in the form of the Church is too limited, and has lost its essence. Or I might say that the Gurdjieff work isn't open enough to the public. I might say that the people I spend time with have become stale, that I'm tired of my job, and so on.

In each case, I fail to see that the question is global. It is not just one part of my life -- one particular form, for example, the path I am following -- that is stale, uninteresting, boring, and so on. In fact, I meet this problem at various points in my day in every area of my life. So while I focus on a tree: the path I am on, and what's wrong with either it or the other people in it, I overlook the forest, which, if I ever saw it, I would see is my whole life.

What I am getting at is that our entire life is the form. For every single individual, everything is the form. We each create a unique and complete form within ourselves. Thus, there isn't "a form" called Christianity, or Buddhism, or the Gurdjieff work. These are all just labels that various people agree to adopt for their apparently similar, but in fact entirely different and unique, forms. The forms touch in some specific places, true, and this is what makes it possible for the labels to be applied, but they touch in no greater sense than two cells touch, where a few molecules enable them to connect with one another. 99.9% of the other molecules on the cell membrane don't have much of anything in common. They can't form a connection.

Anyone who doubts this in the least need only look at the acrimonious debates that arise within forms, where (to cite a common example) adherents who thought they were members of the same religion suddenly decide it's necessary to split up and form different sects... and then perhaps kill each other.

This brings us back to a recurring theme in these essays: that which is inwardly formed.

As I come to my path and walk it, I walk that path completely within my own form. Every response I make is dictated by that form. So every answer, every explanation, every observation I make springs directly from habit. And it's not the habit of the label of my form; it's the habit, the form, of my entire life itself.

The Zen Master leaps over this obstacle. In the complete and absolute abandonment of form, every potential response arising from habit has been abandoned. Within the moment of exchange, there is no presumption of response. Response is absolutely liberated from the shackles that contain it. This means that any response whatsoever becomes the "correct" response to the koan, as long as the state that the response comes from is a state of liberation.

Hence the frequently absurd, obscure, or even impossible responses. It is not the nature of the question that they point to; they point to the nature of relationship, which is creative, lies only within the moment itself, and is not subject to interpretation. It is to be lived within this life, not analyzed and redacted.

In a perverse and ironic development, the record of a koan itself becomes the exact embodiment of everything that it is not. Even this, of course, could be overcome if one was truly liberated, but I am not. My nature automatically grasps the idea of not grasping.

I referred to the "organism" and "morphology" earlier in this essay because every Zen koan is a living organism in the midst of development. We are not examining philosophy, psychology, or religion here: we are examining biology and physiology. We are examining the evolution of Being within the context of relationship.

This examination cannot be done the mind. It must be studied within the living act of one moment, and if, within the living act of one moment, I am able to transcend my habitual nature -- abandon my presumptions -- for even just one second, I will see that this moment is absolutely unknown, supremely unexpected, unpredictable, inexplicable, and completely liberated from everything I think I am and everything I think I know.

This, of course, is a formulation, but before he lets his arrow fly, the archer must first take a look in the direction of the target.

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Within this life

One of the features of Zen Buddhism is its emphasis on the ordinary. Without drawing any definite conclusions, the observation of, and inhabitation of, the ordinary is carefully investigated.

Gurdjieff was equally committed to the rediscovery of the ordinary. He said that an ordinary man -- an obyvatel, or good householder --might well achieve more than someone who set out with a grand aim in mind.

A question arises as to how I perceive myself within ordinary life. I see that I am within this life. This life is not within me; I am within it. So I do not include life, life includes me.

If I begin by seeing myself as containing life, then life belongs to me. It's a grand thing, this! I am the owner of life! I make myself the boss of everything that happens. Sound familiar? Roughly speaking, the whole planet runs on this energy. It is a perspective born strictly of the ego. Once life belongs to me, it ought to do what I say, and I can have control over it.

If, on the other hand, I begin by seeing life as containing me, I am part of a whole -- a very tiny part of a vast whole.

We can liken these two different perspectives to Gurdjieff's practices on considering. When I perceive the origination of life as being within me, I consider inwardly. If I perceive life as originating outside of me, I consider outwardly. The motive forces are diametrically opposed: one is all about the power of ego, and the other one is about service.

Please be clear that I'm not speaking here about events and circumstances. The question here lies within an organic perception of the act of living.

If I sense myself with a finer perception, if I make an effort to be in relationship with the sensation of the body, I find myself as being more within life. This is where the organic sense of being takes me: I inhabit my life. I meet life on its own terms, its unpredictable, unfair, and even unreasonable terms. There is no separation from life; in discovering of the self within life, the self is included in life. It is ordinary. It is part of a continuum. It's only if I try to take possession of life, to claim that life is inside me, that I separate myself from the nature of life.

So, then, what is the nature of what takes place within the organism? After all, it, too, appears to be life. I think the difference lies in the understanding between the point of origination and the point of conclusion. We touch here on Dogen's discussions of cause and effect. I must see this in broad terms, because of course situations are reciprocal. In broad terms it is a question of the term "work in life" and what it means.

If the cause of life is inside me, then I think I am the center of my work, and can transform life.

If the cause of life originates from without, then life becomes the center of my work, and life transforms me.

The first proceeds from the controlling nature of ego, the second proceeds from the humbling nature of acceptance and humility.

I am a point that receives the nature of life. A vessel into which the world flows. In a sense, the entire world exists with or without this vessel; the absolute truth of the Dharma is immutable, regardless of the presence or absence of the vessel. The vessel is temporary; the Dharma is eternal. The vessel discovers itself only in the context of "within this life. " It cannot discover itself anywhere else, because this is the only location it exists in. For the vessel -- this expression of consciousness -- to discover its self within itself isn't possible. It discovers itself through the outward consideration, the realization, of relationship. This is another feature in Zen. Every koan is about the relationship, not the explanation. The explanation is always incorrect -- even the correct explanation is incorrect. It is the relationship that expresses the truth, not the facts.

Within this life, self remembering consists of understanding the relationship.

How do I receive my life? I stands between two sets of forces, the inner and the outer perception. The outer perceptions want to take life and hold it; they are the coarse elements of our sensory ability. Our inner sensory perceptions, which are geared and tooled specifically to receive the impressions of life, are capable of a different quality of relationship.

In a certain sense, I am here to suffer my life: to allow it. Remember that Mr. Gurdjieff told us that the non-expression of negative emotion is a practice that gives us a clue about what the idea of intentional suffering means. I won't spell it out; the question of the relationship between being within this life and not expressing negativity is a living question.

Within this life, we meet each other on the common ground of our own humanity. What could be simpler?

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

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The food of life

click here for the podcast

In "The Historical Jesus," John Dominic Crossan points out that one central feature of Christ's ministry is the taking and sharing of meals. In the miracle of loaves and fishes, the wedding at Cana, and the Last Supper, Christ partakes of food with his followers and disciples.

In every instance, the taking in of food becomes a miraculous process. The changing of water into wine and the multiplication of loaves and fishes indicate a transformation which takes place in the act of eating.

In Dogen's Shobogenzo, chapter "Kajo," or, "ordinary life," we find the following comments:

"A miracle, in every instance and for every person, is always eating meals. This being so, sitting alone on Great and Mighty Peak is just eating meals."

"My late master, the eternal Buddha... says, "When hunger comes I eat a meal, when tiredness comes I sleep. Forges span the universe.

"Hunger coming" is the vivid state of a person who has eaten meals already. For a person who is not experienced eating meals, hunger is impossible. So remember, we for whom hunger may be an everyday state are, decidedly, people who have finished a meal. "Tiredness coming" may be further tiredness experienced in tiredness. It has totally sprung free from the top of the brains of tiredness. Therefore, it is a moment of the present when, in vivid activity through the whole body, the whole body is totally turned around." (Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha Press, Book 3, pp. 188-189.)

So we discover that Dogen's understanding of this process was quite similar to Christ's.

The question might appear baffling, or strictly allegorical, if it were not for Mr. Gurdjieff's words on the matter as explained to P. D. Ouspensky in "In Search Of The Miraculous."

Here we learn that man has three kinds of food. Ordinary food which we eat and digest in the gut; air; and impressions. Impressions clearly are a form of food, and yet modern science completely fails to recognize that fact. Little consideration is given to the idea that if you take in the wrong kind of impressions, you can get sick, in the same way that you will get sick if you eat rotten meat or breathe polluted air.

Because the human being is a resilient machine, we can absorb an awful lot of bad impressions before it ruins us. But the risk is always there. The Buddhist's practice of discrimination, the Christian's and Sufi's practice of action through love, and all of the rituals, forms, and the moral teachings of religions are actually designed specifically to prevent people from taking in bad impressions. In a supreme irony, many of these forms become so rigid that they turn into a bad impression of their own.

It isn't just the forms that become rigid. It's we ourselves that become rigid. We adopt our own "inner form," ostensibly to prevent ourselves from taking in what we think are bad impressions, and low and behold, our inner form itself starts to prevent us from getting the right food. This happens to just about everybody, which is why the Buddhists worry so much about the discrimination of the conceptual mind.

This is why intelligent flexibility within the moment is so important.

The most important action a man engages in in his effort at spiritual transformation is the manner in which he takes in his impressions. Generally speaking, a man is going to get enough food for his gut and his lungs just through the instinctive process alone. Impressions are quite another matter, because the sensitivity of the organ and its ability to drink impressions in deeply deteriorates steadily over the course of a lifetime. A child is born with the ability to drink in impressions very deeply indeed, and there are few barriers to them. As a man grows up and learns to discriminate, however, that ability becomes more and more constricted. Hence Christ's adage that a man must "become as a child" in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. It may not seem related, but the act of becoming more open to impressions is certainly part of what this phrase means from an esoteric point of view.

In the Gurdjieff work, the idea of "being open" is talked about a good deal. There are many different meanings for these words, some extremely esoteric, but in a general and exoteric way they indicate a need for flexibility, and the need to be open to the arrival of impressions within the body.

So once again, we find a common thread buried in the midst of traditional practice on opposite sides of the world, and the one man in the past century who was able to explain the nature of this thread in a technically practical manner was Mr. Gurdjieff.

Of course, anyone can gain a technical understanding of this question from texts. The real question is how to obtain a practical understanding of this, which can only arise through participation in the organic state of being. And, of course, we can see how very clearly Dogen indicated that in the last sentence of the quote at the beginning of this essay. What he is describing there is the same new vessel for new wine which Jesus Christ referred us to.

Many years ago, when I was getting ready for our summer vacation, my group leader Henry Brown asked me what I was going to do over the summer. I told him I was going to make a concerted work effort and read several different religious texts and study them. Now, Henry was an avid reader, and he had nothing against these ideas. But his comment to me on that day was "sometimes work is just taking in impressions."

So before we work, when we work, and after we work, the work we always undertake is the ingestion of our impressions. If we develop a greater appreciation of the sacredness of the process of life, as well as the sacredness of its material nature, our work will deepen and we will be well fed.

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