Thursday, July 2, 2009

Organic valuation

I see that there is a difference between value and judgment.

My wife Neal and I took the famous dog Isabel on an early morning walk along the banks of the Hudson River this morning. The sunlight was streaming in through the phragmites reeds in the salt marsh. It was tempting to think that everything was perfect and that existence on the planet is nothing but wonderful, but the deer flies did us the service of banishing that fantasy by relentlessly trying to suck a blood meal out of us.

When I receive an impression, the tendency is for it to be taken in by a single center. Whichever center that is (most often the emotional or intellectual center) it renders a judgment. That is to say, part of me says "this is good," or "that is bad."

The judgment is automatic. It doesn't wait for the participation of anything else; each center, having assumed center stage (if you will excuse the pun,) proceeds to file the experience in a little box of its own choosing. Judgment is a case-closed kind of affair; close on its heels follows the feeling good or feeling bad that always results from this kind of conclusion. And, of course, it's all intricately tied up in knots by vanity and self pride.

This makes for a tightly wrapped parcel: impenetrable, one might say. And that's a good description of how I am.

When more than one center participates -- even if two are working together -- the possibility of organic valuation comes in. So instead of judging, I value, which has a feeling element in it -- that is, a quality related to the activity of a higher part of emotional center, not just the ordinary reactive one.

This quality of organic valuation is an essentially sensory one, which transcends the idea of value -- that idea of value being all that judgment really deals with. I use the word organic, in the same way that I use it when I speak of "the organic sense of being," to denote a quality of valuation (or a quality of being) that is greater than the idea of value or the idea of being. This is because we are constantly caught up in our ideas of things, rather than the real experience of them.

So when I use it, the term "organic" means, quite specifically, not "natural" or "wholesome," but of the whole organism.

The other night, my wife and I were with Livia, another close friend from my group. We had occasion to recount a few memories of our recently deceased group leader, Betty Brown. The most vivid memory I will ever have of Betty was the night she said to me, of sensation, "make it organic."

It is in the making the sensation of our life organic that we begin to discover what it means to live, rather than have ideas. Ouspensky had ideas; Gurdjieff lived. Living is, of course, a much messier proposition, but it is the difference between the chicken that runs through the kitchen and the one in the soup pot. One is exciting; the other one can feed you.

In this organic valuation of life-- this sense of living from within, and using (insofar as I am able) all of the abilities of my organism -- I discover something more objective about the experience I receive. It acquires a three-centered quality: there is the content of the thought about it, the intellectual content (and indeed, that thought might well have judgment within it) but there is also a feeling, a sensitivity that transcends the judgment. There is a sensation which transcends the judgment, too, by simple reason of the fact that our physical sensation doesn't get so easily taken up by these convoluted matters of the mind and emotion.

For a moment, I discover myself inhabiting life instead of critiquing it. Taken as a whole, I can no longer say that this or that is "good" or "bad" -- instead, I discovered that this or that just simply is.

This experience is a simpler experience than the experience of judgment. My indulgence in judgment is an open invitation to the involvement of countless associative attitudes. Immediately after judgment enters the picture, there is something in the organism that senses the fact that judgment just isn't right. I think that this is probably my conscience at work, letting me know that my presumptions are essentially bogus. But in any event, as a result, the first thing that happens is that an endless series of rationalizations (either pro or con) kicks off, spinning around in circles to support (or to reject) the act of judgment.

It takes me away from the outside world -- I am plunged into an inner maelstrom of thought and associative emotion that draws me away from what is happening here and now. Put in other terms, put in the traditional terms of the Gurdjieff work, my attention is taken.

And it all began with the interference of that one-centered judgment I spoke of at the beginning.

If there is an effort to bring more than one center to the situation, the possibility of organic valuation arises, and in the act of this organic valuation, the attention does not get caught so easily by the turning thoughts of associative mechanisms. Instead, a feeling of wholeness and relationship to the experience arises, in which one senses the essentially sacred nature of an impression, and the fact that all impressions -- every single impression -- has a nearly equal value. That may sound curious, but we are not talking about a flat landscape where everything is the same, boring, uninteresting, and relatively indistinct -- no, we are talking about an extraordinarily rich landscape where everything contains the luminous quality of the miraculous.

This question of organic valuation is intimately tied to the receiving of impressions and the responsibilities that are incumbent upon us as organisms. Again and again, throughout the course of a life involved with countless external details -- all of which are necessary -- I see that it is not the details themselves that matter, but how I encounter them, how actively I inhabit the conditions around me and make an effort in the direction of valuation, rather than judgment.

I have said it before: Art is not in the making, but in the seeing. The real artist, true artist, is the artist of the soul. The real architect is the architect of inner being; the real dancer is the one who moves in accordance with the music of their inner energies; the real musician is the one who writes a score in which the symphony of his sensory apparatus, the work of all of his centers, plays together in that greater harmony which no individual instruments can achieve.

Yes, it sounds romantic. But there is nothing romantic about this enterprise, unless we take romance to mean adventure and mystery. This theme is an aim of the real world and living in the real world. It is an aim not far off what the Zen Buddhists aspire to: a moment when life and art, when what is seen and the seeing of it, merge seamlessly into a single whole, where judgment and all of the ego-based machinations that accompany it fade, and where instead a humbling valuation and appreciation of what is arises.

This is, in fact, what Christianity and Islam aim for as well: a moment in which my own judgment, the action of my own will, is surrendered in favor of a higher principle, the action of which produces in us a sense of organic valuation.

In that organic valuation, I urgently and instinctively sense that my responsibility is to praise the Lord; this, one of the atrophied instincts that Mr. Gurdjieff so earnestly hoped might reawaken in the body of man.

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


A new page, "large oil paintings," has been added to the Compliquations web site. This page contains images of several major pieces, including all three panels of the "revelations" triptych.

In addition, there are a few more pieces of "art noir" on the oil paintings page. I have added some very disturbing images from my unfinished series of the seven deadly sins. I don't paint things like this any more, thank goodness.

Several new poems appear on the poetry page.

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