Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer's end

We have reached the languid, late days of August, where the sun hangs lower in the sky and the color of the leaves begins to anticipate the next season.

Even in the midst of this ending, new things emerge. And an understanding begins to deepen.

The other day, I was reading Rainier Maria Rilke's "Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge." Perhaps surprisingly, even after 30 years of living here, my German is more or less up to it, without a dictionary.

In the very first page or two, I came across this extraordinary passage, which I will translate on-the-fly:

" I learn to see. I don't know why it takes place; everything goes deeper into me and does not stay in the place where it always used to end. I have an inner part that I did not know about. Everything goes there now. I don't know what happens there."

No comment, I find, could be closer to the heart of this thing we call inner work. These words could not be written by a person who did not understand what it is to discover one's own work within one's self. Not the "work" we read about on computer screens or sheets of paper. The living work of the skin, the lips, the tongue, the toes. This is where the words of life are written: in the body.

In the midst of the very real demands and cravings of the body, the artifices and constructions that emerge from personality and ego, the agitated turning of thought, and the confusion that outwardness constantly attempts to draw me towards, there is an organic anchor. There is the possibility of something real that grounds the merry-go-round.

Do you find it this way? It is in you. It is in all of us.

What is it in me that can hold me down and keep me from following the impulses, the temptations that I pray to the Lord not to lead me into? I'm not even sure why I pray that way- after all, any temptations I encounter are my own, and I am leading myself by the nose.

I see that every day.

It's this inner gravity that creates the possibility, and that is a force that can be trusted, even though it does not belong to me, and cannot be called at will.

It can, when it arrives, be cultivated -- it can be valued, be nourished, be treated with an intimacy. So when that weight arrives--after the search itself is surrendered, by Grace, and through mystery-- it can be relied on to anchor the situation.

Within this context, I constantly submerge within, and then emerge into, life itself. A life that is more solid and more definite than the imagination that owns me.

And as this happens--yes. Impressions fall ever more deeply into the body, into unknown places, where they feed parts that I am not even aware I have most of the time.

Slowly, the body, the Being, develops a taste for what is real. And this is not an outward thing. Every outward thing--every movement in the direction towards a material effort that grasps ideas, things, and circumstances like objects--defies and defiles the action that opens the heart and allows the world to come in to the body and be received.

So, it is hope, always to open the heart and allow the world to come into this body, and be received.

It is a great hope, one so rarely realized, in many senses -- yet, I have no wish to serve in any way.

All other service is merely in service to this service.

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

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Esoteric Ecosystems

There's been a great deal going on this summer, leading to less posting than I have usually done in the past.

Last night a good friend in the work- a woman whose mother knew and worked with Gurdjieff personally--came over and we had a let-your-hair-down discussion about "where the work is at" these days.

Much of what she said ought to (and will) remain confidential, as private conversations should. One thing she did mention, however, struck me and seems reasonable enough to pass on.

Her comment was that Michel de Salzmann had the impression that the work in the United States was more "hard line" than in Europe: that is, that Americans seemed to him to pursue the Work with more intensity, and perhaps more tension, than in other countries. He felt that Americans were positively puritan in our effort.

It's unsurprising to me. I had the same impression of the work when I joined the New York Foundation many years ago, and it is a positive relief to me to see that we are finally, perhaps, learning to relax and breathe a little easier. Maybe our center of gravity is rediscovering the compassion--both for ourselves and others-- that is so essential to any real inner work.

Anyway, discussions of hard-liners and soft-liners aside, I wanted to discuss a point or two that I have been pondering over the past week.

One of the consequences of working "under" others: those in seniority, those whom we feel respect for, or even awe of, is a tendency to direct our work outward, in the sense of working "for" someone else's expectations, to satisfy someone else's direction, to become more worthy in an elder's eyes.

The outright danger here is that we unwittingly place ourselves in the role of children seeking to please a parent. The arrangement is all too common both in life and in the work. And I can think of nothing more crippling, in the long run, to the development one's own work- a work which truly stems from within a personal inner impulse, and which is inwardly directed--that is, a work in which we attempt to sense what we are, and not what others would have us be.

It's essential, absolutely essential, for us to embark on an inner voyage of discovery which we make ourselves the proprietors of-- which we absolutely take responsibility for-- and not a work initiated and directed by others.

In the end, a man who has a wish to be can accept no other authority figure but God Himself, and should not settle for less.

Ravi Ravindra mentions a comment to this effect from Jeanne de Salzmann in his fine new book The Wisdom Of Pantajali's Sutras. (the book is well worth buying for your library, offering as it does numerous insights Ravi gleaned from his years of association with both De Salzmann and J. G. Krishnmurti.) One must, she suggests, settle for nothing less than "identification with God."

The gradual but steadily increasing emphasis on the community of work in formal Gurdjieffian circles reflects an evolving understanding of this question. I believe we are seeing a fundamental change in the work here which is a consequence of the development of evolutionary forces that are slowly lifting it out of the territory in which it spread its roots. As this development takes place, the work Gurdjieff began may well acquire aspects that were inevitable, but not self evident, at the time he was alive.

In the process of such evolution, purists (and puritans) will definitely level accusations that such and such or so and so has "changed the work."

What is missed here is the point that people do not change the work.

The work changes itself.

This work is a "collectively conscious being" composed of a series of living organisms, developing within an esoteric ecosystem.

Now, you may have never heard that term before, and if you haven't, it's because I just invented it. (Presuming it's indeed a new term, I hereby formally lay claim to first authorship. Put me in Wikipedia!)

An esoteric ecosystem is an adaptable, living environment that exists within the general sphere of ordinary life, but follows a subtly different set of rules for development, being as it is under the influences of finer degrees of vibration and other forces not readily evident on the surface of things.

It evolves according to the general laws of ecosystems everywhere-- that is, gradual but steady adaptation to changing events and circumstances, and the development of new organs of perception and transmission according to surroundings, need, and the process of natural selection.

In understanding this we accept the general idea that esotericism--taken in its gross sense as the "inside" effort to connect with the higher--must still obey the same natural laws as mesoteric and exoteric works.

In seeing the Gurdjieff work--as well as other paths-- this way, we bgin to understand why static works cannot survive, and why change is actually necessary if any work is to preserve its vitality--pass its genes on, so to speak-- in the midst of dynamic and changing environments.

It's worth mentioning that although no one has ever, to my knowledge, used this term in regard to the stories in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, the successive and regularly re-focused and reinvented efforts by "messengers from above" to find a method of freeing men from the results of the effects of the organ Kundabuffer describes just such a process.

The idea of "esoteric ecosystems" need not only apply to spiritual works in general. There is a truth in regard to this idea that applies to each individual's own inner work. Sp perhaps this idea is worth pondering in a personal context as well.

I may well explore this idea a bit more in subsequent posts.

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

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Family Fights

It's in the nature of relationships to discover and re-discover conflict. My kids are at home, tense, awaiting the onset of college, and of course we've had a few fights.

In the context of the sacred and the question of relationship, conflict is inherent. Ancient religious texts are packed with conflicts not just between men and other men, but between men and angels, men and God. There is a struggle, at least on the surface of things, that cannot be transcended no matter how far "up" or "down" one goes.

And there is fallibility, too, at every level--in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub, higher Beings keep messing up in absolutely spectacular ways, leading us poor old humans deeper and deeper into debacles we never should have been privy to in the first place. Hell, it isn't ever fair-- it is in fact so unfair that men, Beelzebub says, would have just about killed themselves out of sheer protest if they had seen the position that they were put in vis a vis the moon--leading the wise powers that be to implant the organ kundabuffer in man. Which left him, unexpectedly, in an even worse position after it was all over. (Apparently good foresight isn't a default characteristic of higher Beings, either.)

One wonders. Where's the accountability?

Well, it's right here.

The way Gurdjieff presented it, in a certain sense, cosmologically speaking, no matter how bad things go elsewhere, it's mankind's job to try and help "fix" them. In other words, no matter how wrong things go--no matter how bad they get, no matter how unfair they are--it is the job of the one who is "on point," the one who is there when it is happening, to be willing to pick up the pieces, take on the responsibility,

to sacrifice themselves--

in order to help put things right.

To sacrifice one's self is to make one's self sacred, that is, to enter into a relationship with God (an effort at consciousness)-- whether real or hoped for, implied or actual-- and to act as though one had not only the responsibility, but also the ability, to help put things right.

As Paramahansa Yogananda put it, we have to cast ourselves in the role of heroes in the events of our own lives. Christ said it even more succinctly: Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13.)

In a certain sense, then, my role might be to take the initiative and intervene on this level, to be willing to assume responsibility to do the right thing--an impulse that can only spring from an organic moral imperative, as has been discussed recently in this space. The bottom line is, it doesn't matter whose "fault" it is when things go wrong, it is my job to step up to the plate, and do the very best I can to put whatever I can right.

The fact that the inner moral compass of man has gone awry is no excuse: I am still obliged to try and find a way to reconnect with a higher inner impulse, and act from it.

So here we are on a path where we discover that the higher includes the lower, rather than ethereally transcending it. There are no white robes, but there are many piles of crap to step directly into. I have to face my own humanity directly--come to terms with it--be honest with myself about my inabilities, admit to myself that I cannot do, as Gurdjieff put it-- and carry on, without inner judging. I must learn to suffer how I am, rather than judge it. And that action cannot take place without help from another level.

It's only within the context of facing and including these truths, including the ones which reveal my own shortcomings, that anything real can be approached from an inner point of view.

From time immemorial there has been, in the esoteric Christian tradition (as well as many others), an implicit call to inner and outer action, along with a concommitant acknowledgement that it is in our nature to fail. We are called upon to feel remorse, and also expected to be courageous about it. And there is no excusing us from the responsibilities of living.

So I take heart from the fact that meeting the conflict within life as honestly as I can--admitting to the situation, my own culpability, and that there is a path to be navigated through the midst of my various inabilities within relationships--is indeed an opportunity to use the present to repair the past, and prepare the future.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back To Gravity

I haven't been posting much lately. We'll make this one brief.

One of the consequences of the retreat week I went on during the month of July was a realization that there are some things one just mustn't ever, ever speak about. It was a sobering realization, one that raised new questions about what we do and do not understand, and the absolute limits of what can be exchanged, even among the closest spiritual friends.

One may come to a moment in one's work where one sees this. Perhaps everyone does; perhaps only some people do; perhaps it's not required of everyone, or at all times. I can hardly claim to know. What is certain to me is that there are good and sufficient reasons for the "secrecy" that Mr. Gurdjieff called his followers to. Not the reasons one might think; simply because the reasons can't be thought, they must be experienced in an inner sense.

Furthermore, the things that need to remain secret have nothing whatsoever to do with the secular aspects of spiritual work: The outer events (meetings or otherwise), organizational issues, faces turned to the public, and so on. Maintaining secrecy in these matters is simply preparation for the more esoteric forms of secrecy, which must be preserved in one's own inner work.

The more quietly a man or woman goes on their path, the more time they may have to stop and see something quite remarkable.

They may even find the time to see a spider eat her web, for example.

Once again, all this calls into question the reasons for continuing to maintain this space and offer writings on my personal experiences- and thoughts about- inner work. Once again, I ponder the possibility of bringing the effort to a respectable and intentional end.

So, in any event-- yea or nay-- I find myself back in the midst of this life, contemplating inner gravity: contemplating the call and response of prayer, the effort to open to a relationship which consists not so much of accepting as of offering,

and waiting.

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is everything sacred?

It's not uncommon to hear people say "everything is sacred." I've been known to say it myself.

Lately, however, something about this rather glib assertion--which offers us a deceptively easy way to sound profound, and "right," about a proper valuation of the world, the universe, and so on--has been bothering me. And after hearing the phrase from a good friend over the weekend, I have devoted a good bit of time to pondering this question, in the context of both experience and association.

In particular, what interests me here is why we usually don't experience everything as being sacred. On the contrary, the majority of our lives, we perceive that which is around us as ordinary, uninteresting, rather flat. It's only when we have a connection with the higher that the perception changes, and the organism suddenly begins to live in a new and different way.

What, exactly, is sacredness? Does it--can it-- exist independent of other properties? Is it an inherent property of matter? Of religion?

The primary dictionary definition of this word is "connected with God." So when I say "everything is sacred," I am indulging in a kind of pat universalism, in which I am saying that everything is connected with God.

Ho hum, not new news. Not even profound.

Yet we somehow take it that way.

Taken by itself, the contention is even dangerous- as if it were all taken care of, and nothing were up to us. It may invite us to sit on our rear ends and feel hunky-dory about all and everything, because, after all, everything is cool. It's all part of God, and we don't have anything to worry about. More or less like believing that because Jesus died for our sins, we need do nothing whatsoever: salvation is assured by default, as long as we accept Jesus as our personal savior. It's that easy.

Or is it?

For some of us, there is more to it.

We have experienced a hunger, perhaps, which is bigger than our complacency--we have had a moment, or moments, in which a three centered experience--which includes a new kind of feeling--reveals the sacred nature of the ordinary to us.

And that hunger leads us to a more active question inside ourselves: what is this?

So it's the experience of the sacred we are referring to when we use this phrase, not the inherent sacredness of that which exists.

Is the "sacredness of everything" contained within the matter of what is? Is it a default condition? I think not. Rather, the sacred only manifests in accordance with the level of consciousness that is present to perceive it.

So it's not so easy. "Everything" is not sacred. Even more drastically, and more to the point:

Without awareness, nothing is sacred.

This brings us to an essential premise: the nature of the sacred, and the nature of divinity itself, relies on the presence of consciousness. Without that consciousness, the sacred is unable to manifest-- it doesn't exist. So without our own effort-- without a connection--without the stunning, simple fact of this revolutionary new awareness that may be born in man, and other organisms (according, in each, to level and degree)-- nothing is sacred.

The sacred cannot exist alone. It relies, in other words, on relationship to exist. No relationship, no divinity--nothing sacred--nothing.

This does make sense, of course, in terms of material manifestation, because matter cannot exist without relationship. It is built, after all, from relationships between energies. It is in the emergent nature of consciousness, which roots itself in, and evolves from, those fundamental energies and their properties of relationship, that creates the sacred.

In this sense, perhaps, we can approach the idea that the sacred is not a default property. The sacred is an action, not a "thing"- a link to a higher level.

Consciousness in all its myriad forms, on all the levels where it manifests, bears a direct responsibility for the creation and support of the sacred. In the mythological context, we can understand this by seeing that "angelic hosts" have the duty of supporting and worshipping God.

Perhaps even the smallest of practical insights into this question can bring us just a bit closer to the sense of urgency with which Gurdjieff and De Salzmann represented the need for an effort towards consciousness. One might say that in a certain way, God lives only insofar as He lives within the context of relationship to His creation.

And it is in the very maintenance of that relationship--the work man is called on to do, in order to support the possibility of relationship on this level-- that we find the potential birth of the sacred-- the mystical link between this "lump of flesh" called man, and God.

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