Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gravity and the perception of separation

It seems as though I am only getting to about one post per week these days. It has been a busy week, many meetings with work people. As is often the case, I encounter a great deal of material that it isn't appropriate to share in a blog. One of the disciplines in putting a public face on this work  is the need to separate formal work within groups from what one publishes.

Of course, after the fact -- quite long after the fact, as it happens -- people frequently publish things that went on in groups. This is usually done long after those involved have either left the work, or died. In my own case, I have a growing collection of essays about meetings with significant figures which I just can't publish now. Eventually, they will see the light of day, but it will not be this day.

Instead, let's look at a theoretical question, and then talk about practice.


Earlier this week I had the distinct impression within myself that there is a belief within the conscious mind that it is separated not only from the rest of reality -- the animals, plants, rocks, and even the events that take place -- but from the perception of itself. That is to say, I have two natures in a broad sense when it comes to the immediate experience of consciousness. 

Let's avoid getting this idea tangled up with the "two natures" discussed in the Gurdjieff work, as in the context of a higher and a lower nature, just for the time being.

The immediate experience of consciousness, under ordinary conditions, consists of "identification" and "sleep."  The Buddhists might call this attachment.  Broadly speaking, in terms of the Gurdjieff point of view, this simply means that I am habitual, perceptually rather coarse and insensitive, and don't even know I'm conscious. 

If one practices what we call "self remembering," that is, an awareness that is more than one centered -- in any event, this is how I generally understand self remembering now, at this point in my work -- one immediately perceives the separation between the habitual manifestation within the being,  and the awareness that there is something else. Thoughts, opinions, emotions, and even physical sensations arise -- that is to say, I observe the manifestations of my various relatively unconnected centers -- and I see, to a lesser or greater extent, that none of them are actually "I." 

Here I reach moments in inner work where I see that "I"-- this ordinary consciousness -- is identified, and that there is something more whole and more sensitive that is able to perceive independent of the automatized functioning of the various centers.

Then there comes a moment when there is a sensitivity that suggests that even this perception of separation between the seer and what is seen is, ultimately, inaccurate. 

One must begin to re-inhabit the ordinary manifestation, to allow it its place, and at the same time begin to understand, to understand with the most delicate tendrils of a new kind of intelligence, that both a state in which one is identified, or asleep, and the state where one sees that, are fragments that remain separated from a real sense of conscious Being, what Mr. Gurdjieff might have called real "I."

"I"  am not apart.  My sense of separation  from anything, in every case, is incorrect. I am reminded of Lord Buddha's statement on p. 225 of "Beelzebub's tales to His Grandson:"

"It transpired that in his explanations of cosmic truths Saint Buddha had told them, among other things: ' Each of the three centered beings existing on the various planets of our Great Universe, and of course on the earth also, must in reality be nothing other than a particle of that Most Great Greatness which is the All-Embracing of all that exists; and the foundation of this Most Great Greatness is there Above, the better to embrace the essence of everything existing."  

There is a lot more to this passage,  which contains some most interesting commentary about the exact nature of Buddha's message,  but I will leave it up to readers to go check it out.

These theoretical questions about the nature of separation bring me back  to a point that I make to myself over and over again, in the course of my work: I must inhabit my life in a new way.  Consciousness itself must be worn like clothing.  I am reminded of Dogen's mangificent allegory in "Den-E",  The Transmission of the Robe, from the Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross, book 1 (page 125.) The robe is the clothing of liberation;  as Dogen deftly extends the allegory in this essay,  we slowly begin to realize that the robe is not a garment made of fabric,  but the Buddhist experience of life itself. 

The Gurdjieff work has the same aim; to clothe oneself fully in life,  so that one lives - one does not think one is living, analyze living,  or fail to meet life-  one abandons the separation within the context of a full experience that springs from all the centers.

Well, of course all of this is highly idealized, isn't it?  Nonetheless, perhaps we can catch a whiff, just a slight taste, of what it might be like, on the edges of our perception, when we are quite still within.


I have the possibility of discovering gravity within myself.

This is not just an ordinary gravity; not just that force of nature which Gene Kelly seemed to so easily  and delightfully defy, with his perfectly relaxed body, and his effortless ability to move with an inestimable grace.  Yes, that was a perfect kind of magic -- and yet that is not the magic I seek within my work.

 There is a different kind of gravity that grounds a man or a woman.  It is only born of inner work, and can never be acquired in any other way. Even then, it is hard won, and one may spend many years before one gets a taste of it.  Most of you in the work -- most of you reading this -- will give up early, before you ever know what it means. Some few of you will be determined enough, and suffer enough, and stay with it long enough, to come to know exactly what it means.  In any event, the good news--for those who are persistent-- is that this possibility is far more available than it used to be, thanks to the unrelenting effort of those many who have worked over the last hundreds of years in this manner.

The sense of inner gravity is born of a connection with sensation. We study sensation carefully over a long period of time in the Gurdjieff work;  this is no casual study. You will note that this study is not undertaken the same way in other works, because the question is not properly understood elsewhere. If it was, you'd hear about it; and you don't.  

If one does not develop a sufficient connection with sensation,  the foundation for an approach to three centered work is not laid down. 

There are, of course, very powerful works within the three traditional ways that can lead us to enormous understandings, but in the fourth way, the aim is somewhat different,  and the inner cathedral  which the fourth way is attempting to help us build -- the breathing cathedral, as my dear friend and mentor Martha Heynemann puts it -- cannot be built without that foundation.

So I discover sensation;  I discover sensation through breathing, one breath at a time, mindfully, without manipulation. The breath feeds the sensation;  perhaps I begin, slowly, to understand with more than just my mind that every cell in my body is a living creature with an extraordinary potential. 

In any event, I attend quite carefully to this inner sensation, even if it is faint and distant, hoping to feed it so that it will help grow.

Then I slowly begin to see that a gravity can exist which draws my life into me quite differently. I can be still within myself;  I can discover myself within repose as life arrives.  I become a receiver of vibrations of varying qualities,  and rest more objectively within that state of receiving,  because the weight of the gravity within my being and within my body roots me to the place and time of my existence in a different way.

My mind doesn't help much with this. The mind is agile and clever, and has many different facts at its disposal, but it is nearly useless in this work. Later, of course, perhaps it becomes useful in a different way, but at this moment,  at this point of work,  it must surrender its dominance, and it actually needs to become passive for me to receive something more real.

Well, enough of that.  I only write of this today because I write from where I am. Tomorrow, it will be something different. It always is -- work is like that.

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

Friday, May 29, 2009

Nobody gets anything

I woke up  before sunrise this morning  with the question of sensation and breathing in front of me, as is so often the case in the morning. 

 Last night, my wife and I went to see the movie "Up,"  which is, by the way, not just a brilliant masterpiece of comedy. It's also a masterpiece of magical realism, and a heartfelt examination of the human condition.  Very highly recommended.  

Before the movie, we went to a local restaurant so Korean that every other customer was Korean.   Situations like that are usually a guarantee that the food is authentic, and it was. 

During the meal, Neal and I pondered the question that everything that takes place in the universe is chemical. 

 If we take a planet like Mars, where there is not much running water (if there is any life, it is tiny, and very difficult to detect) we can see that there is not a whole lot going on in terms of chemical reactions. The range of impressions a living organism might take in on Mars is still vast, of course,  but it is pretty much limited to rocks, wind,  and gradual erosion.  Go take a look at the pictures on the website for the Mars lander.   You will see what I mean.

On Earth, on the other hand, there  is an incredibly rich range of experience taking place in terms of chemical interaction. Chemistry has, so to speak, just about reinvented itself with the advent of organic life, in the same way, as Frank Zappa once put it, that Eddie van Halen reinvented the guitar.  

 You could take a look at the periodic table of the elements (like the guitar) see what it consisted of, and think that you pretty much knew everything. 

Right up until stuff starts happening that you never expected. (click the guitar link for a demonstration.)

 So we, as living organisms with an awareness, can take in an incredible range of impressions. And it is useful in this regard to understand every living organism as a kind of "pore,"  an aperture of awareness,  into which and through which pour all of the sensory impressions of this rich interaction of chemicals and energies.  

Each conscious organism is actually an individual and personal representation of the total force of consciousness itself, which permeates the universe and is a fundamental condition of reality. We are, individually and collectively,  sensory tools assembled  from an incredibly creative set of atoms and molecules; all of us in service to something much greater than ourselves.

Scientists argue about how this happened. Of course, the secular view is that it all took place by accident. That explanation now begins to look a bit thin to many people in the science community;  it is, by now, becoming clear that there is something peculiar about the nature of the universe and life itself that suggests a much more active agency. (Those interested in the question of agency and its role in conscious experience might want to read Stuart Kauffman's superior "Reinventing The Sacred.")

 Over the course of the last 3+ billion years,  this planet has produced a vast body of conscious experience of life,  all of which has been absorbed through the organisms that experience it and offered onward at the point of death, or, as  Mr. Gurdjieff called it, "the sacred rascooarno."   

 Death is a necessary force, and yet it is impossible to understand it. Even Gurdjieff himself pointed out  that there is absolutely no way for a man to understand what Death means until he experiences his own death.  

So life itself culminates in an impenetrable mystery.  Yet, as we stumble through this set of experiences, our ego causes us to insist that it belongs to us, and we presume that somehow it can be explained.

 In the midst of this confusion, mankind  razes forests, builds cities, piles up pathetic little mounds of things which he thinks he "owns," and kills his fellow men as though the process were necessary and routine

Mr. Gurdjieff  wrote the lengthy book "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson"  with a set of complex aims in mind, not the least of which was to disabuse men of of their pathological and criminally egoistic obsessions  regarding the nature of their agency, that is to say, what we are here for

The whole point of the book is that mankind doesn't get it. 

What don't we get?  

We don't understand why we are here. Everything that we do, in a broad sense, misses the mark-- the main message in Ecclesiastes.

Right in front of us, in the action of taking in impressions, we discover the essence of everything we are supposed to be doing on this planet.   The badly deteriorated state of the internal connections in the organism prevents us all, in the course of day to day activity, from understanding any of this.  And perhaps the greatest difficulty lies in the fact that, even if we agree to this premise --  which is far from a certain thing, for most people -- it is still entirely theoretical. One can wrap one's intellectual mind around this question day and night and not get anywhere.

That brings me back to where I began, which is, breathing and sensation. It's quite necessary to understand the organism itself in a new way in order to understand even the first thing about what we are. 

 Because of formal considerations, most readers will understand, I am unable to directly report to the public on the process or the contents of any meetings I attend at the Gurdjieff Foundation. There are, however, moments when it might be appropriate to pass on a broad question which was raised, and which, in the scheme of things, is always in front of us all anyway.

  Like most teachings, the Gurdjieff work has "lines," that is, groups of people who work together that were originally formed by individuals who worked personally with Gurdjieff. One of the unfortunate consequences of this is that groups split up. (I remarked last week, in response to someone who was lamenting the continuous  and often contentious fragmentation of the work,  that the Giurdjieff work is a form of bacteria -- constantly undergoing reproduction by meiosis.)

 I am in the Welch line of work. This means that I meet in a group that was originally formed by Dr. Welch, the physician  who was in attendance at Gurdjieff's request at the time of his death. As a consequence, I had occasion to meet with Dr. Welch speak  in person numerous times while he was still alive.

One of the questions he raised over and over again -- almost every time we met -- was, "Why do we work?"

 This question was raised again last week in intimate circumstances.  So I put it in front of the readership, as I put it in front of myself.  

Why are we here? Why do we work?

 It's not as though we are going to find any definitive answer to this question. After all, we don't get it. The whole world is, in a sense, missing the point, even those of us in spiritual works who have signed on to, and practice, complex cosmologies and intricate theologies.  

It's not as though there are no answers. But the answers, such as they are, cannot be penetrated the mind.  They arise in the organism in the context of experience, and cannot be verbalized.

Gaining an appreciation of this through a new connection with breath and sensation can lead us to the edge of an understanding that is new and different.  

And the content of that understanding, in my own experience, always begins with the understanding that I don't understand.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers heard.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In memorium: Betty Brown

Who is this unmasked woman?  Well, without her, you almost certainly wouldn't be logging on to this site, or reading these words.

She is my former group leader and mentor Elizabeth Brown, who died quite peacefully on Wednesday, May 20.  

She didn't like being called a teacher or a group leader.  I remember that in one of the last work events she attended, she told us: "Don't follow me... I may not lead.  Don't lead me.  I may not follow."  Unpretentious and practical to the last, she insisted from the beginning that we find our own work, and not rely on so-called "group leaders" to guide us.  I distinctly recall her saying, on many occasions as we sat together at the Gurdjieff Foundation, "What would you do if this building closed its doors forever tomorrow?"

She was disdainful of those who fell under the thrall of charismatics and blindly followed the  instructions of "power possessing beings."  In fact, when she took me into the work she made me take a vow that I would never put the Gurdjieff work--as an organization, that is-- in front of my personal obligations.  Instead, she asked me--as she asked all of her "nestlings" (we call ourselves "Brownies") to work in life.

Betty- Teal, as she was known to her best friends--was not one of those "faux Sufis" who one sometimes encounters in the Gurdjieff work.  For her, the work was never about appearances.  She was all-American, solidly middle class, watched a good deal of television, read ordinary books, cooked ordinary food, and did ordinary things.  Her husband Henry was an admirer of Melville and Patrick O'Brien and an avid Yankees fan.  They were solidly Republican (in an age when that still meant something) but never talked politics.  They even ate hot dogs

One never went over to their house only to discover one's self amidst the trappings of inner work. No, one went there and discovered one's self within actual conditions, despite the persistent ordinariness of the surroundings. Teal had a knack for delivering the unexpected, of shaking things up when one least expected it.  Not in any colorful or ridiculous way--not in the manner of one who engages in the "showmanship" of demand--but surprisingly, gently, causing you to realize that all along, there was an inextinguishable spark in her that was keeping the lamp wick trimmed, and the flame of inner interest lit.

Not to say that she was gentle at all times.  She held my feet to the fire until I flinched on more than one occasion.  

Our group was with her, in body and then in spirit, for over twenty-five years.  It takes that long, working together, to begin to discover something real--perhaps longer.  This "haida yoga," this "fourth way," this formless form, is not a way of weekend workshops and overnight sensations. It's a work that slowly penetrates into the bones of the matter until one discovers one's self up against the threshold of the unknown.

Many years ago Betty sent me her favorite translation of part of the Tao:

In dwelling, be close to the land;
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true,
In ruling, be just,
In business, be competent,
In action, watch the timing.
No fight; no blame.

I've had it posted on my computer monitor for many years now, wherever I work.

God bless all of you today.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Naked and Alone

Back  from China, and in  the midst of recovery  from jet lag.

One of my essence-friends, a woman with whom I usually agree, objected to my use of the words "naked and alone" in the last post.   Her contention is that the perception we are alone comes from ego;  in her formidable world view,  we are all part of God, and any perception to the contrary is a false one.

I don't actually disagree with her concept, but there are several problems with it. 

First of all, it ignores the fact of levels. Consciousness manifests itself on many different levels, and in every successively lower level, the fragments of consciousness are smaller than they are on a level above them. Thus, in an actual sense, a separation -- we could call it an adumbration,  or branching -- of consciousness does take place, and it isn't possible -- short of being a fully realized master -- to reconnect with the wholeness of consciousness as it exists in the body of God -- that is, the entirety of the universe itself. 

 The second difficulty I have with this is that any premise that supposes we understand the context of such consciousness is purely theoretical. It's nice to talk about it,  and it may even be true, but that doesn't mean we are there

In the process of opening,  consciousness is required to confront itself within multiple contexts. The idea of "seeing" as it exists in the Gurdjieff work is, in part, a process of consciousness rediscovering itself.  

Treading the path involves a recognition that we have become separated.   In order to reconnect -- to participate in the process of religion -- we must first understand that we are separated. Awakening is, in part, acquiring this understanding.   The ego needs to see how helpless it is. This is why Mr. Gurdjieff said  a man must come to know his own nothingness. For a man to know that he is a part of God, on the other hand,  he would have to come to know his somethingness,  which is not an exercise Gurdjieff emphasized to us, short of "I am- I wish to be." 

In any event,  having an intellectual discussion -- or argument -- about the nature of ego, and whether or not we are part of God, is somewhat beside the point.   When I said that we need to discover what it means to be naked and alone,  I meant something quite specific within the context of a deep inner work  that does not lend itself to the kind of intellectual analysis that my friend delights--and has expertise--in.   

Interested readers will need to spend time studying this remark of mine within the context of Islam -- that is, submission -- in order to understand what I am getting at.  If they do, they will discover that what I mean is not part  of a thought process.   It is a three centered experience  that involves a surrender to something much higher.   

It is entirely true that this could offer us the opportunity -- if the process were consummated -- to reconnect, to actually discover what religion means in an inner sense, instead of the outer sense that society understands it in.   But in order to have that opportunity, one must participate in the process. 

One cannot skip over the rungs in the ladder jut because one has been told about what the view from the top may look like. As it's said in AA: "The elevator to sobriety is broken. Please use the steps."

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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

There is no "Gurdjieff Work"

Out there in the world -- or right here, in this space, or anywhere you want to indicate -- there is this huge mass of technical data called "the Gurdjieff Work."

It consists of writing, of facts (and rumors) about the man and his life, of a complex cosmology as recorded by P. D. Ouspensky. There are stories, and stories about the stories. A cast of characters. All of it a record -- if you will, what Mr. Gurdjieff might have called a Legominism.

But what is all of this? It is a construction, a building. Like all constructions and buildings, it has an outward form and an inside space. It has been erected by men, and will have a lifespan. Someday it will crumble. Everything man constructs is like that.

The building has a purpose. It provides a space within which something can live, and work can be done. It puts, so to speak, walls -- metaphysical walls in this case -- around an enterprise.

But the building is not the enterprise. The enterprise is a living thing, a process, a set of relationships and circumstances: the living, breathing fact of engagement. This act of engagement cannot be named. The minute that we name it, the minute that we create the characters and assign the roles, assemble the facts and admit to a plot, it's no longer a living work. It's Hansel and Gretel: children lost in the woods who are tempted by a house made of candy.

The candy, in this case -- the beautiful decoration that lures us into the house -- is all this technical information. Whether we glean it from remarkable and subtle metaphysical works such as Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson (which we read, and all too readily bastardize with the crude substance of our minds) or pick it up from our "teachers," in the end, it's external. It's window dressing that lures us into a room with a witch and an oven.
Whatever we are up to -- and we don't really quite know what we are up to, do we? -- it is referred to as "inner" work.
Inner work must ultimately free itself from attachment. Yes, it is an inevitable requirement: inner work must then rediscover itself in relationship to the outer. But it begins with a freedom that does not count the beans, or assemble a building according to a set of construction plans. A man needs to throw out all those beautiful diagrams that have been handed to him, settle down inside himself, and take a look at the earth under his feet. He needs to discover that there is dirt -- or sand, or stone -- in the ground of his life, the place that he stands, and he needs to discover, if there will ever be a building of his own, how he can build on that surface, for himself, not according to a plan (a plan which was designed by someone else, somewhere else, for a different surface and even a different kind of structure) but according to his own experience, and what is necessary and appropriate for where he is and what is required in that place

So it isn't possible to have a real work until the plans for the work are thrown away. To be truly open and to truly question involves throwing the whole ball of wax away and standing there naked with the dirt under our feet.

That is much too frightening proposition for us; much safer, instead, to wear armor called "the Gurdjieff work," isn't it? We put that armor on and we think we are superior to the "Christians," "Muslims," "Hindus," "Jews," and so on. Come on, admit it. How many of us don't actually think that way, deep down inside? We hide in our shell like a hermit crab, thinking that we have the best shell, never seeing that it is a shell that was discarded by others, that the organism that formed it has been dead for quite some time. We are weak and have forgotten how to form a shell of our own, so we scuttle around grabbing whatever we can to find to make us safe.

And we waive our pathetic little pincers at anyone who comes near us that looks like they might try to take our shell away.

It takes courage to truly go up against the unknown, naked and alone, and yet this is what every man must do throughout the course of his life, whether he wants to or not. We put on the clothing of our ideas and our beliefs, but underneath that thin layer of nothing, we are always naked, and forever alone. And that is, in the end, exactly the way we face death. Naked and alone.

So we might as well try to acquire the courage to discover how this is now, instead of relying on a defense that protects us, in the end, from nothing.

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

Traveling and pondering

A personal note I sent to friends this morning. It seems a good piece to wrap up this trip with.

On the train to Nanjing.

Following an experience while sitting this morning-one of those sittings that calls everything into question, until even the questions themselves cease to be, ceded to the Authority of a power greater than "how" or "why"-
-I ponder the following:

What does it mean to be held to a higher standard?

What would it mean if right now, within this immediate moment- and within all immediate moments- my effort is being measured against a standard set from a higher level- emphatically not my standard, not emanating at all from my will, but emanating directly from a higher will?
A standard I may even acknowledge intellectually, as a hypothesis, but cannot truly sense, and do not understand?

Perhaps I can then dispense with ordinary questions of morality and relativism. True, these principals exist and do not go away- and yes, I must even understand not only that I operate under them, but how to operate under them. Yet they are but a fraction of the larger question.
What is my responsibility? With what parts do I answer that call?

I see that I want to "do." Part of my wish-perhaps an essential part of my wish- is actually a wish to "do.". I am so engulfed by this paradox that only on rare occasions may I sense it, and then, only when a very fine material becomes available- a material which we can only define, if it is at all within our grasp to do so, as Grace.

It is within seeing the deep and urgent necessity of surrendering my wish to do, to act, to control, that I truly begin to discover my nothingness, and to begin to sense-not with my intellect, but with the finer parts of my attendance- my nothingness, and how utterly I must acknowledge the phrase:
"THY will be done."

My responsibility-my work- begins with, and rests on, a deeper understanding of what this means.

Within the privilege, and the bliss, of such an offering- the very same sacrifice required of Abraham, that is, a sacrifice of everything that is born of me- the flower of remorse opens for a moment, and the tears of my own inadequacy and iniquity arrive.

I'm not worthy of that blessing, but I suppose none of us are.

Within all of this, can I make an effort today to remember that my work-my effort-my Being itself-is forever measured, in an active, living, and intimate manner, against this awesome and unconditional love that births us and gives us life?

How do I meet my life in regard to this? In each moment, I am given the opportunity to explore that question.

The choice is mine.

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

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Luggage Carrier

This morning, I begin to write not knowing what I will write.

I've noticed that I have a habit of thinking about what I will say before I say it. There is a process of formulation in the midst of life. The intellect creates a precondition based on surrounding circumstances, and the body delivers it.

Because I am reasonably clever (not a quality that I think becomes a man very much, in the end) I am often successful in putting across formulations that work. More often than not, they are designed to make people laugh -- and, of course, to show how clever I am. If there is a better example of the subtle works of ego, I don't know what it is.

I often catch myself in the midst of this formulating, and wonder what it is all about. The freshest and most delightful exchanges in my life seem to arise without such formulation. They are spontaneous and live within the moment, without a plan that precedes them. One might say that they are responsible -- a peculiar use of this word, to be sure, but there it is. I say responsible because they are a legitimate response, something that arises in direct relationship, not a pre-planned event to show off the ego or the intellect.

They come from not knowing.

This, of course, is the wellspring of anything real in the enterprise that we call "art." Real art arrives from nowhere and expresses itself perfectly and effortlessly. And the real art of living, as I have said before, lies not in the making but in the seeing.

So I don't know what will come as I write this. It simply arrives.

This is something like my life. I try to formulate it and imagine it; there is a part that attempts to preconceive it, to picture it, to lay it out in front of me the way it will be (or, perhaps more accurately, the way I think it ought to be.) But when my life actually arrives, it is utterly mysterious, magical, in every moment.

It isn't like the formulations or the imagination. It doesn't match the cardboard cutout that I made of how it should be. It is, instead, miraculously unformed, and a continuous surprise. It is playfully, delightfully, beautifully free of all the baggage I bring to it.

Of course, I usually don't see that, because I have all these heavy bags I need to carry. Parts of me are convinced that all of this stuff is absolutely essential and must be dragged along to each moment. Every moment needs a big, impressive pile of stuff in it. When I arrive at moments without my pile of stuff, it could be dangerous. The stuff is a talisman I hold in front of me in the desperate--and perpetually doomed--hope of eliminating this absolute uncertainty--which is, like it or not, the very essence of this process of living.

I evolved--man evolved-- to be flexible enough to handle this, yet I have become quite rigid.

I would like to end my career as a luggage carrier, because the tips seem to be extraordinarily low. I keep trying to do that, but I keep forgetting. Every time I forget, I pick the bags up again. As in a dream, I suddenly realize that I am carrying the bags. I drop them again, resolving to never again have a bag in my hands.

In the next instant, I discover myself with bags weighing me down once again.

So I come back again and again to this effort to stop making the effort of carrying all these damn bags.

Perhaps that's enough for today.

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Saying No to No

Back in Shanghai, where a crisp impression of both newness and continuity with the moment was available this morning. Up early (at 5 a.m.) I walked down Nanjing road, into places, sights and smells which I already know, but are also new, fresh, and different.

When I am away from a place, its existence becomes a faded memory, a shade of approximation. It's only in the immediate presence of the actual impressions of a place that I can understand that place; before and after that, its existence is purely imaginary.

I saw this morning--as on many mornings-- that there is a negative polarity within me that actively opposes the meeting of life. I have inner parts, or pathways, that construct dialogues of doubt and of "no;" parts that do not want to meet the mystery of life--its ever-present quality of active manifestation of the unknown into the knowable. They oppose the idea of meeting life at all. Like a sulking child, those parts seem to want to stay home and hide.

We sometimes call this "resistance" in the Gurdjieff work. I suppose the word "resistance" is sufficient, but the concept doesn't speak to the depth of its roots, or the question of why "parts"--tendencies-- which, for all intents and purposes, don't even want to live, form in me.

Where do they come from? Many mornings it seems I find myself having to say "no" to this incessant, plural "no" which arises in me. That's necessary first, before I can begin to undertake even the ordinary work of life. My working hypotheses for a number of years has been that this negativity arises because of a lack of decent connection between centers. It's more prevalent in the morning because the various centers are not up to speed with each other yet.

It occurs to me to examine this in the context of Mr. Gurdjieff's adage, "Like what it does not like.". In this case, "it" does not, it seems, like much of anything at all. "It" mechanically resists engagement; constructs a fabric of "cannot;" refuses to discover even a benign neutrality. "It" embodies an animated rejection. Perhaps it's just here that I can discover what that mysterious "it" consists of. "It" isn't even alive. It is just this... thing... inside that seems to want to drag the effort downward. To stop me, what lives in me--the parts in me that need to be responsible and to act--before I even begin.

And I can see how it is an "it." "It" wants to become what I am, it wants to be "I am," even though it has no right.

The church fathers called such "inner voices" the work of demons, or even the devil himself, and in an odd way this makes sense. This impulse towards "no" is a reflexive one, automatic and mechanical; it mirrors what Gurdjieff thought of as "evil," that is, that which is not conscious, is merely mechanical. And I think he had this one right. It is, after all, the banality of what we call evil, its utter stupidity and ordinariness, that is perhaps most shocking. In the movies, when we create villains, it's not uncommon to polish them up with some kind of glamour, but real evil is not like that at all; despite the proclivity it has for creating drama and excitement, its origins are all too frequently almost clerical and clinical in nature. It feeds on rationalization, and clothes itself in the routine.

As Krishnamurti said, such qualities are not the qualities of "others." Such things begin right here at home, in each of us. These automatic impluses towards "no" are the embodiment of a real, manifested force that works against wish, and against the vibrant force of a real inner life. They give me a very practical opportunity to see my mechanicality from a slightly new perspective.

The effort to bring one's self into positive awareness as an opposing polarity to this "impulse towards no" is part of what it means to become more actively inwardly. Not only do I make the effort to see where "I am," I also make a choice to affirm my possibilities. Here I discover yet another meaning of the phrase, "Use the present to repair the past and prepare the future."

The negative polarity works hard; it is always engaged in an effort to dominate the inner exchange. But it's possible--perhaps--to measure this from the perspective of opportunity, instead of pitfall. My inner life would become flabby and weak, were there nothing to exercise itself against. This reminds me of what I have been discussing in the past few posts; life is not about my happiness. Life, everywhere, is a struggle. We see this in biology, and we see it equally active in the evolution of inner psychology. By struggle I mean efforts; I am here to make efforts. Not to be happy. It's true, happiness can arise from efforts. Real happiness may not be able to arise from any other locus.

There is one thing that is certain, the habit that mankind has developed of trying to avoid effort in an effort to create happiness -- to achieve, as it were, "effortless happiness" -- is a futile one. Real satisfaction arrives in the organic investment in the act, whatever the act is. The inner impulse towards "no"is an impulse to negate action, to try and stay in one safe and comfortable place. Of course, no such thing is possible. It's only within the context--the exquisite anguish -- of action that I can discover the resolution of the polarity between yes and no, in the intervention of the reconciling force. I say "exquisite anguish," because it is the uncertainty of the present moment, and my wish to avoid exactly that, that has to be faced.

So even as I dwell, appalled, within myself, surprised at this wish NOT to be, and discovering (all over again, each day) the need to resist the resistance, there is a pivotal moment where this inner angel I wrestle with is overcome, and "I am- I can" arrives within.

That is perhaps a small moment of liberation, but a real one.

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

Friday, May 1, 2009

All here together

One of the symbolic meanings assigned to crabs  in traditional Christian art, and possibly other art as well, is that of the body. The body is a shell that the spirit wears.   In the end, it is discarded.   But what it had in it goes on to feed something else.

So we find ourselves inhabiting this exterior coating.   There is a mystery implicit in this, because "I" don't know who or what I am -- really, I don't, I merely have constructed a set of assumptions about what I call the "self" -- I don't know where what I am came from, and I don't know where I am going to. 

I simply know that within any given moment, in degree, according to the level of presence I have, I may suddenly discover  what may be the only thing that it is truly possible to know and understand fully -- that I am within this body, having these experiences. 

That is, there is a consciousness here in this body that has these experiences.

The body is a hard shell that comes with all kinds of caveats. It has wants, needs, desires, lusts.   It hurts and complains. In some ways, it runs the whole show, and yet, it is clear that there is more to it than the body alone. The body is simply an instrument.

Within this  body, a force manifests itself. If I am more sensitive, I can make a choice -- I can be more active, and attempt to be in relationship this force. The force will be different; there are times when it is more present, times when it is less so.   The awareness within the body has to learn to adjust to the relationship, to seek the relationship, to cultivate the relationship.

What does that mean?

The effort within me needs to be to discover this organic sense of being again and again. Within the context of receiving life, of inhabiting this hard shell of the body ( and I speak metaphorically of the hardness, understanding that the "hardness" consists of its coarse materiality)  there is an effort to discover what it means to drink life in like water, to take an impression in more deeply.   

To take an impression in on behalf of something greater than the immediate expression of what we call "I."  

In the taking end of impressions more deeply, I can begin to understand what was meant by the allegory of changing water into wine.  I'm offered the opportunity to participate in life in a way that defies explanation using words.  It is Rumi's beloved;  it is communion,  it is the beginning of a step towards unity.

...And where am "I"?


Among those who are v..e..r..y serious about movements, it's not uncommon for people to be concerned about whether they are in the first row, second row, and so on...  you get moved back one row, and you begin to feel crappy. Are you perhaps not "good" enough?  Ones with "authority" may even tell you you're doing it wrong!  Ach du Lieber.

People worry about such things, even good, solid, senior "movements people" who have been around a long time.   We're all human.   

...Am I important? Am I losing my place? Will people see me and think that my effort is inferior?  Let's be honest with each other -- never mind the movements teachers-- who doesn't have these thoughts, in one context or another?

At the same time, is this why we work? Are we all worried about how important we are? About whether other people value us? 

My goodness me-- I am like that! And as I look around me, I begin to sense that we are all like this at times. 

This reminds me of something that is said in the Philokalia:  even the man who perfects himself (and there is no complete perfection on this level) slips back and discovers that he is tested once again. The ego is constantly present; it is here to educate us and lead us back to humility as we see how we are.

And just how are we?  Well, we are all here together

No one is in front or behind. The trees aren't in front of us or behind us;  the fish are not below us;  the birds are not above us. We are all here together, on this level. Our failure to see how we participate together in a community of life, our insistence on ranking one another, has everything to do with our arrogance and almost nothing to do with sensing our smallness.

When I finally learn within myself that I do not need to be worried about whether I am on top or on the bottom--whether I am in the front row or the back, whether the man at the top thinks I am fantastic or just a piece of dirt--and I focus instead on living my life, and inhabiting my work, that will be some progress.

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