Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the fourth language

My wife and I put in a beehive this spring.

It's not the first time I've kept bees; I did many years ago in Georgia, and my father has been a beekeeper for close to 20 years. Watching the bees, with their extraordinary-- yet (for man) immensely complex, largely inexplicable language-- reminds me of how very, very much communication in man depends solely on words. (To be sure, gestures and facial expressions are a vital component of our communication, but that is in the process of being completely overwhelmed by the amount of sheer verbiage spewed over the Internet and in print.)

Other Beings of the planet -- all over the animal and plant kingdom -- rely far more on chemical scents to exchange information with one another. Of course, we also do that, but we do it unconsciously. We are just as tied into the web of biological being as every other creature, yet exist in a state of denial that sets us apart.

Of course we are not about to get up in the morning and develop a language that we can use in our immediate surroundings that is different than that of words.

Or are we?

When the centers become more active -- when there is the participation of two or even three centers in an experience of life -- it immediately becomes clear that our routine verbal exchanges fall short of any ability to describe it. To be sure, there is a language of the emotions, and a language of the body, and each one of these minds takes in impressions that describes them quite accurately in its own language. But I don't speak that language, that is, this part that is writing does not speak that language.

If I pause for a moment as I write this, and attend to the sensation of my body, my breathing, or the vibration of the organism as it lives, I get a taste of an alternative mind, speaking in an alternative language. Now, I don't call it a language (paradoxically, using this language I am using) because I don't understand that it is a language. I am so accustomed to believing that language is only a capacity of the intellect, and only communicated through words, that I fail to see other languages. This despite the fact that one of the dictionary definitions of language is "any nonverbal method of expression or communication." (One would have to admit, if one were being objective, that by far the vast majority of the language on this planet is molecular--not based on sonic vibrations.)

So in fact, I am experiencing life -- it is being expressed and communicated -- through three different languages, the language of the mind and words, the language of emotions, and the language of the body and sensation. It is only when those three capacities blends together simultaneously that what one might call "the fourth language" emerges. Just as Mr. Gurdjieff developed what he called "the Fourth Way" in order to synthesize the three main branches of yoga into a single whole, the fourth language is the language of attention -- the language of the entire Being participating in an experience of life. And it is just that fourth language we must seek, if we wish to deepen our experience of our life.

Trapped in my associations as I am, I rarely have this experience. I talk about the possibility of the experience through associations. I formulate my exercises and approaches to the possibility through associations. I discuss what it might feel like or did (or doesn't) feel like -- again, through associations. The one thing that is certain is that is extremely rare for anyone to communicate in the fourth language, and that when it happens, it is an inner experience that does not submit itself to analysis.

I think it's quite difficult for any of us to even remotely conceive of how heavily we are dominated by association. To become free of this problem is a very big thing -- and it involves sacrificing, in the sense of giving up, much of what I assume and believe about what I am, how I am, and how I "ought" to be.

Our abstraction from the world of alternative languages, and our failure to take the impressions of them in properly may be, in large part, one of the chief reasons for the deterioration of man's psyche as recounted in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

It's quite interesting to me to observe this, because as I grow older, I have become more and more aware of the experience of emotion as a language and sensation as a language. In both cases, understanding that they are a language draws my attention to them and encourages me to listen to them more closely. They speak in more detail and more eloquently than I usually notice, because I am so hypnotized and distracted by words. They actually form much stronger connections with the environment than the intellect and the words can, but I am, in a word, asleep to that.

It's just this action of forming deeper, more molecular connections to the planet that interests me. And it is only with the fourth language, one more wholly formed from the participation of three centers, that this can take place.

As a parting note-- anyone who has questions of just how intimately connected we are to the world of chemical languages through other organisms might find this article about the link between bacterial infection and intelligence interesting.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


My apologies to the readership for the fact that I have not managed to get a post up for quite some time.

It has been a time of transitions and changes. People we know well have died quite unexpectedly; grave illnesses have struck friends, and many other reminders of how temporary the conditions around us are have arrived on my doorstep. Right now, as is so often the case, I am traveling--currently in Georgia -- and in a few weeks I go over to Asia. Everything is constantly in motion, and here I am, moving within it. Echoing through every step that is taken is a single impulse which arises again, and again, and again within the organism:

offer, offer, offer.

I am forever learning how to offer myself to my life.

Over and over again, in the midst of this life, I pause to see how vital the effect is of just taking in one single impression more openly. It is the reflection of blue sky in the black marble of a train station floor at the Atlanta airport; it is the red of geraniums and the green of their stems gathered together in the flower beds of the town square.

It could be anything; it is everything.

We are here to drink life, and yet we rarely open our mouths, so to speak, to let the water trickle in. Our thirst for Being is a wish for this water, but we are so preoccupied we forget how to drink.

I see this over and over again in myself: identified with what is in front of me and what must be done on this level, even the immediate sensation of something higher may fail to remind me of the need for deeper relationship.

And why don't I open? Well, for one thing, the experience is overwhelming. I boldly think that if I could let the world fall into me, if I had the opportunity to take every drop of water and make it into wine on my own, within this body, I would do it -- and yet, when it happens, I see that I am in no way prepared to accept this capacity and meet it honestly.

That real sensation of life penetrates so deeply, suffuses so utterly, that it overwhelms. I am not ready for this -- no, I cannot drink this deeply. I have been put here, like all of us, to take in the impressions of this world in such a way as to offer them upwards, but I cannot surrender enough of myself to meet that task. When I am truly touched by that which falls inwards, the sensation erases what I know-- and I am afraid of that.

The process of seeing friends and family grow old, sicken, and die, combined with the pondering of this capacity that the organism has for drinking life in much more deeply than we generally understand it, serves ever more as a reminder of the presence of mortality. If sufficiently engaged in, if cultivated and deepened, the sensation of life itself as it is lived now becomes a reminder not just of life, and the celebration of the magnificence of consciousness, but also a reminder of death, of the eternal presence within the now of what Gurdjieff called the merciless heropass--Time.

Merciless just because it contains both life and death within itself, this incredible and terrifying contradiction that we inhabit. And, as paradoxical as it may seem, a force that actually stands apart from God -- just as it was presented by Gurdjieff.

In the midst of this, the sensation of life through consciousness brings me to a greater awareness of the constant presence of love, which is a substance that blends with everything as the one reconciling factor that can make the oscillation of life and death bearable, at least in some measure.

Somewhere within the eternal manifestation of this mystery -- which has been vouchsafed to the souls of men to encounter and ponder -- is the question of what Mr. Gurdjieff meant when he referred to "the sorrow of His Endlessness."

That sorrow is not an abstraction which exists outside of us, or in some other place, either physically or cosmologically. That sorrow is part of the foundation of material reality and of the universe itself. It is here, now, around us and within us, helping -- in the manifestation of its eternal mercy and love, which forms both the material and the spiritual-- to create the universe. It embodies the contradictions of time and eternity; of limitation and infinity.

Every man has the capacity within him to open his heart and sense some of this. It is how we are made, and what we were made for.

This is how I experience it today.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The origin of life

I recently finished reading "Genesis."

Not that chapter in the Bible-- No, I mean the book on efforts to create life in the laboratory by Robert M. Hazen. The book is a rather good book, and I enjoyed the read, but I don't think scientists are going to create life in the laboratory. Every decade, there are claims that there is a breakthrough just around the corner, but life is immensely complex and scientists are still completely baffled as to how and why it arose, exists, and functions. Every single time we learn something new, it raises new questions. Their number expands exponentially, while what we actually know moves forward arithmetically.

The reason for this can be found in Gurdjieff's explanation of the nature of life on earth.

Persistent readers of this blog will know that I've mentioned before that organic life on earth does not even represent a "note" in what is called the octave of the solar system. Organic life is what is called a "shock," that is, it is a material force that applies a certain amount of necessary energy from outside the existing system in order to assist in its evolution. Admittedly, this idea has little to do with modern science, although romantic scientists (see "The Age of Wonder" by Richard Holmes) might have found it a bit more palatable and plausible. But it illuminates a specific quality of life that we don't discuss or consider very much in the context that Gurdjieff presents it in.

Any adequate study of the ennegram will make it quite clear to the inquirer that the energy for shocks in any given octave must come from a higher level. That is to say, the force, or energy, that makes it possible for energy in an octave to continue its evolution according to the lawful notes in the scale must always emanate from "Do," from the level above the one that the octave is on. This means that the octave itself must be open and receptive to the arrival of energy from a higher level. Another way of putting it, couched in the terminology of Christian symbolism, is that the holy Trinity must enter into every situation in order for anything to develop in a proper way. "God," in other words--the intervention of the divine, of a higher power--is the essential ingredient for every omelette.

Other religions understand this idea equally well--although perhaps not quite so specifically in relationship to the law of three--by saying that without the presence of God in a man's life, nothing is meaningful and nothing can happen.

We are told by Gurdjieff that organic life on earth represents a shock between "all planets" and the earth. (See pgs. 136-137 in "In Search Of The Miraculous," P.D. Ouspensky, Paul H. Crompton Ltd. 2004 edition.) As such, life itself is indeed a creation from a higher level, that is, in its very nature it is inherently divine. Now, this is exactly how the creation of life is presented in Genesis in the Bible -- it is the direct creation of the divine, a manifestation of God.

The difference between the point of view of contemporary creationists, who would have it that God "waved his hand" and "made it so" (premises which any right-thinking person will soundly reject,) and the Gurdjieffian point of view is that Gurdjieff--without making any specific calls about the mechanisms of natural selection and evolution-- maintained that life is imbued with a divine energy.

That is to say, what animates and makes things alive in organic life is a higher energy, an energy from another level.

Ergo, it's not going to get teased together in laboratory test tubes.

This goes some way to explaining why life aggressively and obviously contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. This nagging fact has been bothering scientists for generations, and those of limited imagination and intelligence have come up with any number of specious explanations for the problem, none of which really solve it at all. The reason that life contradicts this law is that it comes from a higher level. It has a different set of laws acting on it; or, we might say, it has less laws restraining its behavior than the laws of the level it manifests within, because it is not of this level. It is a shock appearing on this level from above to help development.

Of course, many readers may say, "Well, big deal. All he's saying is the same thing that the Bible says... God created life... blah, blah, blah."

But I think there is more to it than that.

First of all, this means that organic life on earth in general, and man in particular, have been sent here as a kind of help. That means that life was created with a responsibility conferred upon it by a higher power to assist in the creation and maintenance of the universe (a premise introduced by Ouspensky, and elaborated at great length in "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson.") Life has a role to play -- it's not accidental in any sense of the word. The reason that things have proceeded on this planet the way they have for the past three or more billion years in terms of the evolution of life have proceeded in that way exactly because there is a reason for it.

Life, in other words, is performing a specific service that is not quite within our capacity to comprehend.

In the strictest context of evolutionary understanding, nothing exists unless there is a reason for it. This is going to sound a bit peculiar, but there is absolutely no reason for life to exist without a reason. If it were completely purposeless, it wouldn't have arisen in the first place.

We live, after all, in a universe governed not by accidents, but by laws. Nothing ever takes place by accident at all; everything must follow law. In the strictest sense, this is exactly the way that Gurdjieff presented his cosmology; it is also, in the strictest sense, exactly the standard that must be applied to the claim that life arose and evolved by accident.

One can't postulate a universe where everything happens according to law and is also a random accident. It just doesn't work that way. Even the things that appear to be random accidents strictly follow laws. We may not have discerned what all laws are --in fact, every scientist would definitely admit that if pressed -- but the laws are there. Ever apparently random action within the universe is, in its essence and at its heart, absolutely deterministic --another premise which Gurdjieff also intimated.

Secondly, it's fascinating to sense, to experience, to realize that the "sensation of divinity" which normal men (men whose sensitivity has not been progressively destroyed by the overbearing reasoning of intellectual partiality) have about the world is accurate.

Organic life on earth arises and manifests directly out of the bosom of divinity, creating a world that is miraculous, divine, magnificent, sublime--and impossible to explain with books, facts, and machines that tear it into little pieces for analysis. It isn't just a story invented by overly imaginative middle eastern cattle herders around campfires four or five thousand years ago; it isn't a fantasy engaged in by tree huggers and new agers. Organic life, and man, are active manifestations of divinity, both individually and in the collective.

If we truly understood this, if we could see it impartially, our respect for nature and our place in it would undergo drastic changes. Unfortunately, without the development of more sensitive faculties, this same idea -- no matter how magnificent it is -- remains largely theoretical.

It's up to us to develop our sense of the divine within the organic bodies we have been given. Since they are imbued with an energy that is quite literally divine in relationship to this level -- since the action of life and the action of living are active manifestations both of the divine and on behalf of the divine -- they have capacities we have not explored, sensitivities we do not understand.

I'll leave the readership with one last thought about this question.

Since organic life is a shock -- man is a shock. And a shock is not a thing, it is an action. So in mistaking ourselves for something that is static--for objects, material, or things--we mistake ourselves for notes, when what we are is a vibration, a energy, that moves through the system on this level, but emanates from and is connected to the divine.

This is an indicator that although the material manifestation of the human being, that is, the body, may belong to and be a property of nature, the nature of consciousness is that of an energy, a vibration, an action, a reconciling force.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is work?

This question, of what "working" consists of, is something of a classic question.

Gurdjieff's teachings were launched into the world largely (but not completely) by Ouspensky's "In Search Of The Miraculous," which introduced a very specific -- and, to be sure, original -- set of ideas and understandings about what "inner work" consists of. It was presented as a rigorous, demanding, immensely complicated process. Frankly unappealing to many people. Steep mountains to be climbed, complex thoughts to be pondered.

Above all, intellectual.

There is no doubt that the majority of our understanding of this teaching -- as with the majority of our understanding about anything in life -- resides in our intellect. We lean on the intellect so heavily for understanding about life (if there is any understanding) that we are consummately unaware of the presence of other minds within ourselves that can also understand. Science even somehow confuses emotion as a subset of the thought process, even though it seems quite clear that its perceptive apparatus is quite different than the intellectual intelligence. And aside from our obsession with athletic abilities, little or nothing is ever said-- even in spiritual works-- about the mind of the body, which has an extraordinary sensory ability that has every wish to blend itself with our ordinary waking consciousness, yet almost never does.

The Gurdjieff work has evolved considerably since those Ouspensky days, almost 100 years ago. One wouldn't necessarily know it. Ouspensky's wiseacreing has produced an explosion of tiny little intellects that fuss endlessly over its many details, like ants crawling about on an anthill. Even worse, with the advent of the computer age, it has infected a new generation of "on-line-Hasnamussian-individuals" (let's have some fun, and label them OLHI's) obsessed with detailed intellectual interpretations of, and arguments about, the vast parable known as "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson"-- an activity that defeats the very intent and purpose of the book. And there are few, if any, Gurdjieffians, inside the Foundation or out, who could say (with any honesty whatsoever) that they have never been a part of such activities--off line, at the very least.

Mea Culpa.

It is certain to say that the practice within the relatively-- and perhaps lamentably--closed doors of the Gurdjieff Foundation now emphasizes a different set of practices, understandings, and ideas. The center of gravity of understanding itself has, in fact, changed. Unfortunately, it's possible that although he understood an enormous number of ideas, and did a tremendous service to us all in passing them on, Ouspensky never did understand the center of gravity of the work. That, at least, is my impression, despite the enormous respect I have for the man and his ideas.

There is a call being issued from deep within the work today. It is not a call being issued by the intellect or the intellectuals -- it is not a call to figure things out, to create a more complex structure, to categorize, analyze, or organize.

It is a call to live more deeply within the organism.

This call, to a new sense of connection with ourselves, is a step in the direction of a much more religious practice within life -- religious, that is, in the very real sense of a sobering cultivation of our relationship with what is sacred.

This call is more important than any call that has ever been issued in the work before. Mankind is in relatively desperate shape, and it is up to all of us, in every practice, to take at least a few steps in this direction, rather than relying on the idea that our so-called intelligence can provide us with any solutions.

Above all, we need to acknowledge that we are not "intelligent." We are, instead, stuck in our heads, which is a unique and remarkable brand of stupidity that does a super job of posing as intelligence. I don't usually see that the kind of material I call "thinking" isn't even necessary. Most of what happens in life could be conducted without this steady flow of associations, yet I am completely addicted to them.

The situation reminds me strongly of the situation I found myself in when I was an active alcoholic -- which is, thank God, over 28 years ago. At that time, I was well aware of the fact that sobriety was the only real choice in front of me, yet I kept drinking. In the same way, now, I know and understand beyond any doubt whatsoever that the majority of what takes place in me from a "thinking" or an intellectual point of view is in most ways relatively useless for my work. Yes, it serves me extremely well in life, where I need to earn money so that I can buy nifty machines like the computer I am using to write this blog.

But when it comes to my work, it is the enemy. It tethers me to a set of preconceptions that prevent me from establishing a new inner relationship.

Do readers see this question? Do you understand what I am getting at? Referring back to the construction inside me, the ball of mud and sticks and twigs that I have formed inside and call "myself," do I see that it is not of the moment?

That is just a collection of garbage washed up into this moment by the river of life?

The opportunity to reach deeper in myself, to have an extraordinary and completely different experience of life that begins with an acknowledgment that I don't know where I am or what I am doing -- that begins with an acknowledgment of sensation -- that begins with an organic sense of being that blossoms into an invitation to participate -- now that, that is living.

And even though this opportunity is forever in front of me, calling to me, demonstrating over and over again that it is available to me despite my inadequacy, somehow, I am led off the path into the brambles. My mind strays. My attention is caught by this, that, and the other thing.

So I don't know what it is to work, right here, right now.

Actually, that's not quite true -- some parts of me, which relate to and arise from intelligences that have nothing to do with this associative part that communicates, are even now reminding me of this other possibility, a possibility in which there is more inner union and participation, less division.

Those parts are relatively weak -- or at least, my relationship to them is. They can make a good effort to get my attention and I still manage to ignore them. After many years of work, I still don't understand how that happens. So whether I am a beginner, or an experienced man, I am faced with the same dilemma: despite what I do understand, it is not enough.

I have spent half a lifetime in this work, and every day, even with help, I forget what it is to work.

I need to remember this much more intimately, in my sensation, and my feeling. If I don't intentionally turn the attention in the direction of those two perceptive faculties, my "work" will be useless.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.