Thursday, December 17, 2009

Down to the roots

Some of us hit things for a living.

Last night I was asked by a percussionist what the Gurdjieff work was all about. I hate it when people do that; it puts me in a place where I feel as though I've been asked to explain Der Zauberberg in ten words or less.

I gathered my wits... such as I have, anyway... and explained that the Gurdjieff work is a system to discover a new way of being, a different connection to the body... it also, I continued, proposes a vast and comprehensive cosmology, but that may be almost beside the point. The cosmology, furthermore, defies compression into any brief discussion.

Those were, more or less, my "ten" words.

In examining this question of polarity... this question of negativity... we come up against over-arching philosophical questions, lofty questions that hammer against the impenetrable ceiling of what we know, and echo back down to the to empty rooms we live in without providing any clear answers.

We're left here in the midst of our own intellectual confusions, uncertainties, and questions, each one of us more than likely convinced--in one way or another--that our own particular point of view (inevitably borrowed from someone else) is the correct one.

I realized this when I considered, the day after writing my post on polarity, that it would be possible for me to write a second post, proposing a rather different cosmological premise, that contradicted some of the premises in "polarity," and that nonetheless made a great deal of sense and retained its own integrity.

Because of this dilemma--the propensity of the intellectual mind to invent multiple "solutions" to problems, to generate a diversity of explanations, experiments and hypotheses--most of us engaged in the act of inner questioning usually don't know quite which way to turn. The most sensible--the most intelligent--the most sensitive man--begins to see first of all that he isn't so sensible, intelligent, and sensitive. His ideas are not conclusions, they are explorations, and his thought process is a series of hypotheses--not all of them, unfortunately, testable. I mean, we're not going to pull out a measuring tape and find out how many inches long God's weenie is.

We discover ourselves in the midst of a process, not an answer.

One of the few comforts available for those who study and eventually accept Gurdjieff's cosmological premises is that, as he explained it, they have the benefit of being true... that they come from a higher level, "influences c" as he called them, and that they should not be confused with other cosmologies which are man's own inventions. For myself, after decades of study, I am entirely satisfied as to the truth of Gurdjieff's assertions, but of course one can hardly expect most people (who have neither the interest, time, nor patience to sort such things out) to sign on to such a proposition.

Hence the need to propose--and move on to--a new, a different, a deeper practice. It isn't, after all, the intellectual premises that we truly feed on-- even though they may be what initially attract us to this work. What we seek is, after all, truth, and truth is not and cannot be a product of the mind alone. We who are accustomed to seeking truth almost entirely within the parameters of the thinking mind, who have never paused to consider the deeper truths of the emotions, of the body, bring years of intellectual habit to the beginning of such understandings, and cling to these habits of the mind more intensely than a dog protects its bone.

But there is something inside us that allows for the possibility of a different experience. Down at the lowest levels of what we are--of our physical connection to ourselves, our inner sensation of being--there is an ability to sense and come into relationship with this experience of impressions that the body makes possible, and that in fact tethers us to the body.

This is worthy of deep study. The entire sensation of life: that is, the physical sensation of life-- is a phenomenon that is never far away from us (after all, it quite literally creates our existence) and yet rarely examined. We have the capacity to see how this is, to discover ourselves within the ongoing and irrevocable sensation of the body, and yet we do not have the inclination.

We don't see the value in it, and we don't have an interest.

Those who may have (or still do) smoke cigarettes will have a bit of an idea about this, because nicotine is an analog for one of the higher substances that makes such a connection possible. When we smoke a cigarette, we are touched by just a hint of what a real connection to sensation might be: hence its use as a sacred substance by the Native Americans, and its new role as an abused substance in modern society. (Please don't use this as an excuse to start smoking!)

This deeper connection to sensation, which needs to become active in its own right within our work--a living thing that supports our effort from its own initiative--may lead us to examine the ground floor of our connection to ourselves. This is where we can discover, as Gurdjieff explains, that there is a perpetual tension at the root of what we are. Our muscles are always inappropriately tense; as I explained in "Polarity," there is a tangible, material, physical rejection of ourselves, expressed in this tension.

Yoga describes it as the constricting serpent: a subtle, ubiquitous tension that strangles the life out of us. The idea of "kundalini," or serpent energy, is erroneous in at least one sense, because the energy of life does not belong to the serpent; the serpent is the force that blocks it. The energy itself is prana (read T. K. V. Desikachar's "The Heart Of Yoga" for a more detailed explanation of this.)

This "coiled serpent" of tension lies beneath everything we do, and even with an excellent connection to ourselves--should we be fortunate enough to develop one--, we discover that we need to take an active stance against this tension.

Only by examining it repeatedly, by being in touch with this root arising of our rejection, can we begin to take any steps towards letting it go. This is a lifelong process, because the fear within the organism repeatedly returns to this tension. And in the end, although much is indeed up to us, only grace-- in the form of a higher energy-- can fully and truly free us from this rather hellish little secret that lies at the root of our own tree.

This "attending to the root" is not an intellectual matter. The practice itself does not even really lend itself to explanations, because the only way to discover and engage in it is through an actual sensory experience; one that cannot be readily invoked by exercises or arrived at through verbal descriptions. Only a lengthy and intensive practice of self-observation can lay the foundation for the arising of the experience needed to sense this question and begin to investigate it. And once engaged, all intellectual constructions are of little use. This is an active and intimate practice, a deeper knowing of the self which eventually brings us into touch with emotional parts we do not, as a a rule, know we have.

It is the arrival of a mystery.

So while we are strongly drawn to the lofty cosmologies, the ideologies that purport to tell us how it is (or why it should at the very least be that way), we're turned in the wrong direction. We will find it more useful to throw all of that out, and to delve deep into the roots of our organism, seeing how we are from this very physical, experiential, and --yes, I do say it often--intimate point of view.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

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