Friday, October 9, 2009

What is Being?

The next issue of Parabola magazine will feature writing from the upcoming new book "The Reality of Being" by Jeanne De Salzmann, which is scheduled for publication next year -- probably in May -- by Shambhala publications.

One thing I think I should make clear. I'm making this announcement in the blog strictly because there are readers who may not hear about it through other channels. Yes, it is on the order of an advertisement, but it's simply in service to the work. The book is likely to be an important one, judging from what I know of this remarkable woman and her works.

I must also provide readers with the caveat that I have not been privileged to see or hear any material whatsoever from this upcoming book, so please don't make the mistake of thinking that anything I am about to say on this subject is colored or influenced by it. My observations are, of course, indirectly influenced by her work, in so far as all of us who study these questions work within a collective group of influences that is an amalgamation of the work of all those who went before us.

Ok, enough disclaimers, I think, to satisfy even the most rigorous "defenders of the faith."

This question of Being is central to the Gurdjieff work. It is, in its own right, as mysterious, impenetrable, and resistant to reductive analysis as the Tao, or what the Buddhists refer to as "enlightenment"-- which, to be perfectly fair, some Zen Masters say doesn't even exist.

One of the greatest difficulties all of us have in struggling with this idea is that we treat it as an idea. Being is treated as a concept, a place to go to, a state that can be attained. In a certain sense, we all view it from the perspective that we aren't there yet, but we could get there, if we only tried hard enough. Or something like that.

As though we weren't already Being, whether we want to or not.

One of the delightful things about the Buddhist position on Enlightenment -- that is, the suggestion that it doesn't actually exist -- is that it indicates we are already there. Put in somewhat different terms, enlightenment is, viewed from the perspective of set theory, a larger set that already includes "non-enlightenment" within it. So even within "sleep"-- this lower state of consciousness that dominates us -- we participate in the total expression of a higher, enlightened state. One could alternately view it from the Hindu perspective -- everything is a dream in the mind of God. There is no way out of this. No matter which way we turn, no matter how low we sink, or high we fly, we are within the mind of God. If you will, a fragment of the mind of God.

I'm not suggesting that we use this concept stupidly, that is, as an excuse to sit on our rear ends and do nothing from within an illusion that we are "completed." It can, rather, serve as an inspiration to bring us to right now.

Right now, we are a divine expression of reality.
Right now, all of the potential that we wish we had is already there.
Right now, the higher is at work within us.

One could argue that this is delusional -- that it contradicts everything Ouspensky said about Gurdjieff's teaching: about how far we have sunk down, how messed up everything in us is, how impossible it is for men to develop, and so on and so forth. There are those who seem to delight in this rampant kind of pessimism. I'm not one of them. The motive force of Love, which creates and powers the universe, does not leave us quite so bereft as the dark ones would have us believe.

Let's instead remind ourselves of what Beelzebub says to his grandson: it's possible to have hope of consciousness. It's possible to have faith of consciousness. It's possible to have love of consciousness. That is a hopeful message, not one that leaves us begging in the dust with no bowl to put our food in. I think that that kind of positivist attitude creates more possibilities for us than a pejorative attitude towards our thoughts and circumstances that assumes they are all almost irretrievably corrupted.

Being is an affirmation of existence. Not a negation of it.

Such an affirmation cannot begin in the mind alone, nor can it be limited to it. Yes, one third of the expression of this affirmation must be undertaken by our intelligence. But the other two thirds -- an affirmation of the body, through sensation, and an affirmation of the emotional state, (perhaps through what Jeanne De Salzmann might call "sensing our lack")-- are also indisputably necessary to rediscover the compelling ground-floor nature of our existence.

Being does not arise from one center. Under the right conditions, it may "appear" within one center, but because it is missing the support of the other two centers, it is lopsided and falls over on itself the moment that it attempts to become vertical. The only way for us to discover what is called a verticality is for all three of these ordinary parts to begin to participate together.

So the idea of consciousness, the idea of Being, it's not an idea. It is an action. It is a particular process that takes place within the context of organic interaction. When the centers are more connected, this action is more possible.

We must resist studying this with the mind all the time. As counterintuitive as it may seem, we actually have to go in the other direction, away from the mind. We do not want to look this question directly in the eye, because the mind will take it from us. Instead, we want to look away--perhaps to the side-- in the way that Christ suggested. (Matthew 6:3: "But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth".)

It is only through this intentional "defusing" of the mind's interference that the right expression of the body and emotions can begin to come into play. -- well, if you are wondering what that's all about, it's rather a tricky thing, isn't it? Don't think about it. Try to sense it instead.

As I've pointed out many times before, the emotions and the body represent actual, comprehensive, and complete minds of their own within the human body. We spend so much time experiencing ourselves from directly within the mind of the intellect--identifying with it, that is-- that we are mostly unfamiliar with these other minds. We don't know that they can wake up and become conscious in their own right, and have their own conscious wish that is as strong as -- or stronger than -- the wish of the intellect. We don't invite them to come participate and support us. We don't make room for them. We don't realize that if we had their support, our work would become much deeper and more powerful.

There is a parable about where this "organic wish" needs to be born embodied in the story of Christ's birth. He was not born at the inn-- it was too crowded. The inn is the intellect, the place where personality dominates. It is already full up with residents.

The only place where something new to be born is in the stable-- the manger--that is, the place where animals are fed. That is to say, what is new in us can be born in the place where the organism is fed.

In the body.

There is room there for something new to take place, and there is, as the parable indicates, a tremendous amount of support there. It's even possible that the birth of something new in this place might attract something higher that brings great gifts (the three Kings.) But nothing can take place within the ordinary workaday environment of the inn. It's already filled. Our difficulty is that that place is where we spend all of our time. It's much more lively! Filled with interesting people, good food to eat and things to drink, lots of noise and chatter. Why would we ever want to leave there?

Why, indeed?

If we constantly bring our experience back to the practical question of the organic sensation of the body, we are constantly grounding our effort and attention within a vessel that has the possibility of receiving in a way that the intellectual mind cannot. This receiving is not accompanied by the cacophony our minds create -- the tower of Babel. It has the potential to take something in a much deeper way. A much more essential way.

The taste of this is unmistakable. It is a capacity that man has forgotten. If he remembers it even once, he will never sleep soundly again. One taste of reality will create a lifelong search within a man.

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

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