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.

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