Sunday, October 18, 2009

A discussion of levels

A number of different encounters over the last week have repeatedly reminded me of how poorly the idea of levels is understood in science, in the general population, and even in spiritual seekers.

I thought I might take the occasion to write an essay -- and perhaps several essays -- investigating this question of levels and how we experience it.

On Friday night, I was discussing some of the implications of the enneagram with someone who recently read my 2003 essay, chakras and the enneagram. We were discussing the implications of the conscious "shocks" and what it means that they emanate from the law of three, as is clearly depicted in the diagram.

One could say many things about this, but perhaps the simplest thing one can say is that the shocks come from another level. The "source" of the first and the second shock which help the octave to develop emanate from do; the energy needed to accomplish this comes from a higher level.

This much ought to be obvious to everyone who studies this subject: we aren't "conscious" in the sense of the way that the Gurdjieff work uses the word conscious. That is, we are not even able to engage in conscious labor, i.e., the first shock.

Conscious labor is something that works in us and is on the order of help sent to us which can move us forward.

The second shock is no different.

Man's belief that he can "do" relates exactly to this question. If man were able to provide these shocks, they would be coming from his level. And they don't. So anything that leaves us under the illusion that we are in control of the process of our inner development is -- to put it bluntly -- an illusion.

We cannot develop without help from a higher level.

Mankind makes a specialty of ascribing magical and miraculous powers to himself. The world has been treated to thousands of years of charlatans parading so-called "abilities" to heal, to cure, control, command, compel, and manipulate people and objects. The last two centuries have seen installments and sequels of this perpetual comedy, as increasingly media-savvy gurus and spiritual masters appoint themselves to supervise the development of hordes of eager pupils.

All the while, the esoteric core of every single religion has always reminded man, quietly and in a sober way, that we can't do anything without God's help. Of course, the exoteric memberships of the churches, temples, and mosques take this quite literally, but it is most important to understand it from an inner point of view, and this is exactly where we are getting it wrong in today's world, where works are mixed up like alcoholic drinks in a blender and served up in four different flavors at once, with a sprig of mint leaf. We are perpetually doomed, it seems, to seize the circumstances of this level and pretend that they can address the questions we need answered.

So the question of levels is not understood. It is not understood even by esoteric groups who think they understand it, because the only way to actually understand the different level is to encounter it in person. This is a rare and terrifying event, if the door to another level truly opens any more than a crack. That kind of experience puts a shock in a man that will humble him permanently.

My wife brought the question of levels up this morning when she began to discuss inner considering. We talked about the difference between inner considering -- which is, most of the time, a kind of self judgment -- and a sense of one's own nothingness. The two are quite different, because they are connected to different levels of experience.

Inner considering, the action of judging ourselves (or others), is a negative emotion that springs from this level. If we judge ourselves and decide that we are "bad," because we have done bad things, thought bad thoughts, and so on, we are engaging in a kind of destructive behavior that stems from automatic associations and emotions. We may feel worthless as we do this, but that is not a sense of our own nothingness. It's just feeling crappy.

To sense one's own nothingness is to have an experience that touches on another level. This is a deep and organic experience that takes us to a connection between the higher level and ourselves. It is, in other words, a religious experience, not a prosaic experience. Inner considering will always prevent us from having this kind of experience, because it is actually a form of egoism. Inner considering always puts us in front of everything else. We are the center of the universe. If we are worthless, we are the worthless center of a worthless universe, but no matter how we pitch this to ourselves, it is egoism.

To sense one's own nothingness is the beginning of a loss of egoism. It only comes when the action of higher substances in a man begin to act in the right way, so that the ego is weakened. If the ego does not become weaker, if it does not pay out some of its energy to help the essence develop, we can't become more open to higher influences.

It's a little difficult to approach this idea, because we can't go there on our own. Only many years of inner work and self observation, and the incremental deposits that that puts a man, can lead him to a place where something more becomes possible. More often than not, our impatience, our unwillingness to go well past the point where one wants to give up, is what stands in our way.

Most of the delusions that man engages in stem directly from his failure to sense quite clearly the fact that he is on this level, and that there are levels above him and below him. Unfortunately, mankind has little or no sense of this whatsoever, and an intellectual understanding of it is the next best thing to useless. One must sense this question in the organism and feel it with the emotions, not just think about it.

We need, in other words, to acquire a little humility.

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



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

ego and essence

I had some encounters this week with a young man who has a powerful ego. They were wearying; one forgets how damaging ego really is until one sees it at its worst. The delusions are exaggerated, grotesque; and it's easy to forget that we all have this same problem. Instead, like any substance abuser pleased to find a person with a problem worse than their own, we think to ourselves, "what a jerk that guy is."

The bottom line is that personality is in a perpetual state of denial. It is an addicting substance that feeds itself. I suppose we need it; without it, many of the ugly little things we have to do to stay alive -- the compromises we make in relationships, in business, which are largely compromises between our little selves and any legitimate morality -- would become unbearably painful. It acts, in other words, like a convenient mask, a big soft covering of felt that we put between us and the reality of where we are and what we are doing.

The alternative, we are taught, is something that Mr. Gurdjieff called "essence." Now, readers familiar with the Gurdjieff work -- probably most of the readership -- will be familiar with this term.

But are we really familiar with it? What do we understand about essence?

It's easy to get drawn into theoretical discussions about essence. It takes a different kind of inner work to actually come into contact with essence, to discover how different it is than personality, and how much deeper inside the body it lives. We don't hear about this particular question in most other kinds of work. Not, at least, in the (relatively) specific terms we do in the Gurdjieff teaching.

Descriptions of essence are one thing. You get them in the texts. To have, on the other hand, an actual organic sensation of essence-- which is an entirely different entity than personality-- is a revolutionary experience. I say revolutionary, because until one has this sensation, one has no idea that there is anything other than personality. From a certain point of view, one might as well be discovering America. It's this huge, unknown continent, rich in wildlife and unknown resources, which has been there all along with no one to attend to it. And, if we are lucky, it may issue us an invitation to open its doors and explore it in person.

This is probably one of the reasons it is so difficult to transmit the ideas in the Gurdjieff work to people outside of it. Think about it. It is actually difficult to transmit the ideas to people inside the Gurdjieff work.

That's because "transmitting the ideas" isn't about transmitting ideas, it is about slowly and gently bringing people towards a state where they have a real experience of something new in themselves. This is a rare thing indeed. A very rare thing. The mind, personality, and intelligence, are exceedingly clever and persist in presenting experiences as "new" in order to defend themselves. There are any number of ways that mental or theoretical insights, connected to a set of impressive associations, can convince a person that they have achieved some new level. All of these things are, of course, delusions of one kind or another.

One experience of essence is enough to begin to strip away the delusions.

And what do we find then? Essence and ego are, for all intents and purposes, nearly opposed to one another. The growth of essence will mean the diminishment of ego. Not that we will lose ego; not that it will be destroyed. What will happen is that it will begin to shrink and assume its right place in a structure it was usurping. That happens naturally, as awareness resides more within essence, and less within personality. There is no need to "make" it happen. (That does not need we should not take care. No ego shrinks with any reasonable degree of willingness.)

So how, one might ask, do we come into contact with this mysterious property of essence? We need to do that though a connection with the organism. In order to do that, we need to study the organism.

Unfortunately, a great deal of what we all engage in when we try to attain what we call "self-knowledge" is the study of personality. We look at how we think, and our automatic behavior, ad infinitum -- we quantify them, analyze them, pick them apart and whine about them. All the while, the part of ourselves that we need to know -- the "self" that we truly can acquire something new by understanding -- goes begging.

That part, which can only be sensed by creating a stronger connection between the mind and the body -- a more intimate connection -- is asking for a kind of self-knowledge that isn't produced in the books or our ideas.

This study of the essence is, in other words, much more closely related to our study of sensation than we may suspect. Essence is not a theoretical entity. It is a living force in our bodies that we can encounter. It has an intelligence that takes in life very differently than personality.

The transmission of this "idea" usually takes many years and requires a good deal of patience. One has to work well past one's frustrations and one's perceptions of inability and negativity in order to touch something real--one must go, in other words, well past the point where one wants to give up. And in this regard, community and relationship become important supports -- a matter which is well understood in many esoteric works.

Above all, the transmission must take place between individuals working together in person. All the words in the world will not effect this transmission. This is why we need to seek each other in real life, and be together in real life, after we have read the books and the posts on the Internet.

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

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.