Thursday, April 15, 2010

it's not evolution

I have mentioned before that the Gurdjieff Work has a specific aim that produces rather specific results.

That being said, I'm not at all sure that Gurdjieff's aim remained the same over the course of his lifetime. There's absolutely no doubt that his methods of teaching and working evolved and changed... that his message evolved and changed... that the people he surrounded himself with also evolved and changed. All of these things are the signs of a dynamic, living, flexible work, a work in progress, a work that deepened its understanding of itself and reacted accordingly.

That is to say, Gurdjieff was not a static man, and his understanding was not a static understanding. Hence a work that is uncomfortable... uncomfortable in the sense that it is "unreliable," that is, it does not offer us a security blanket, a refuge to sit within and meditate. It requires a dynamism of interaction with life, and a corresponding flexibility both in the method and in the pupil to respond to new levels of understanding as they become available.

When Gurdjieff originally presented the work to Ouspensky, it was clearly a highly sophisticated branch of Djana Yoga-- a product of what Gurdjieff referred to as "the way of the yogi." The brilliant intellectual exposition of the ideas as recounted in "In Search Of The Miraculous" leave little doubt of that.

Nonetheless, after Ouspensky split from Gurdjieff, the work eventually morphed--through successive decades and through intimate contact with his principle inheritor, Jeanne de Salzmann--into a branch of what might be called Hatha yoga, or physical yoga.

Because its roots lay in a powerful intellectual tradition, literally transmitted from a higher level, it was unable to stray too far from that--but the strength of the movements as a practice, and De Salzmann's immense facility with them, re-created (of necessity, and, I think, quite rightly) a new form which relies to some extent on the Hatha idea of "storming the gates of heaven," by applying attention and sensation as "levers" to slowly pry consciousness "upwards."

Of course to put it this way is far too simple, and introduces suggestions that could easily lead to inaccurate understandings of the current state of the work, but I bring the point because (wearing, as I am today, my heretical "question everything" hat--and what a spiffy, wiseacreing little hat it is!) there is question in me as to whether we can actually have the "greater degree of attention" De Salzmann calls us to via invocation--or, to put it in other terms, will power.

That is to say, can we, by the force of our own effort, acquire a new level of attention? To do so suggests that we can "do"--something that Gurdjieff emphatically insisted wasn't possible (and yet Hatha Yoga rests its laurels on the premise that man not only can "do," but must "do" in order to develop. Hence my perhaps unwelcome and [to a certainty] partially inaccurate comparison of De Salzmann's approach to Hatha Yoga.)

I am not at all sure we are able to do any such thing. I am equally unsure that we can, as we are in our present state, understand anything whatsoever. Understanding is not actually a product of what the ordinary mind is capable of. It comes only if energy from a higher level arrives to help us. It's unfortunate to have to put it this way, but those who do not understand this do not understand what real understanding is.

Man, in his ordinary state, is fundamentally incapable of real understanding. It is only by impregnation by the divine that man can attain any new level of inner truth. And we resist this action in every possible way--both consciously and unconsciously, because we would have to give ourselves up in order to do that.

This leads me to the question of what the place of Bhakti Yoga-- the way of the monk, the way of Love-- has to do with the Gurdjieff work, and why it seems so much less represented in the lexicon of techniques, approaches and teachings we're left with. To be sure, almost everyone in the work "agrees" that love is the force that must eventually emerge from "real" work-- and yet the active practice of love and compassion in the work seems rather lacking. Heck, people hardly even talk about it.

Damn! We screwed up there, folks... the Fourth Way is supposed to be a combination of the other three ways...

but we went and left one out!

There are many who have left the work precisely because of this supposed lack, and yet love, real love, is at the heart and soul of the work itself. So much so that it seems to me that Gurdjieff's own evolving practice must have brought him ever more intimately to that question as he grew older--for that is, in the end, the overarching and lasting effect of the work he brought us.

Once again, to be sure, any real practice of love can emerge only as the result of a better inner connection, and perhaps there is no "direct" way to work on this... or is there?

We come here to the question of islam-- of submission, of surrender.

Ultimately, a recognition of our inability-- our inability to attend, our inability to develop or to understand-- leads us to a place where we have no other choice but to surrender to a higher power. It is perhaps only through confronting the despair of our inability--the inner state which consists of "weeping and gnashing of teeth"-- that we can wear down the thick layers of buffers and open ourselves to the compassionate force of a higher energy-- an energy of love, an energy of the holy spirit-- that truly can help us.

This leads me to even more awkward questions. For example, we say that the Gurdjieff work is about "inner evolution," yet is it really about any such thing, in the strictest terms?

In some ways it is. Evolution represents a movement towards a greater order--a force that goes against the law of entropy.

In other ways, it's not. It's about recovering what was lost. As the Hindus would have it, every man is imbued (filled) with a spark of the divine-- all of us already inhabit the very body of God itself. It is our connection to it that has been lost. In inner work, we're not trying to "evolve," we're trying to go back home.

The intellectual branch of the work-- the ideas-- is magnificent, but it is deeply unable to appreciate what this means, because any fundamental understanding of this question only lies within the capacity of emotional center, and then only when a connection between mind and body has prepared one for said understanding.

This work is, in fact, the deepest possible expression of love, and that is the reconciling force that draws a bridge between the physical manifestation of reality--sensation and inhabitation of the body-- and the extraordinary intellectual appreciation of what both concept and consciousness consist of.

So in my eyes, we are not working to "evolve" at all. We are here to try and learn how to love.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

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