I return to the space here after a lengthy hiatus.
Many personal matters needed attending to... and, frankly, I just didn't feel like writing for a while. Regular readers will recall that I often discuss the tension between the fact that it is impossible to express what we seek (or are up to in our search) in words, if our search is real, and the dilemma that we can only use words to communicate with one another about anything. There are times these days when the idea of writing about inner work wears me out just thinking about it.
Martha Heyneman mentioned to me recently that she has grown weary of reading prose about spiritual matters, and strongly prefers poetry. I certainly understand why. The irony of writing prose of exactly that kind here is not lost on me.
Now that I have neatly managed to dismiss my own efforts, let me mention that I have recently been reading Frank Sinclair's "Of The Life Aligned," which I must highly recommend.
I will guiltily admit that there are selfish reasons for it. He makes many of the same points I have made in this space about Gurdjieff's Eastern Orthodox roots, the intimate connections between Hesychasm and some of the more esoteric practices in the Gurdjieff work, and touches on numerous other ideas which you will find echoes of in my writing.
One reason for this may seem obvious; we are both members of the New York Gurdjieff Foundation; I certainly know and respect Frank, and have worked with him on a number of occasions. We are not, however, really the same "types" at all–as must be the case for two individuals, come from two different worlds, and representing two "different universes unto ourselves." What is striking to me is that our work has led us to so many quite similar views. Perhaps we merely represent a stodgy orthodoxy; more likely, convergence on such matters is inevitable if one spends enough time working.
In any event, I wholeheartedly recommend the book, which has a wealth of touching, personal and compelling elements, not the least of which is a vital and lovingly rendered portrait of his wife Beatrice Sinclair, a truly extraordinary woman. She exemplified the intimately personal, yet expansively universal, possibilities that Mr. Gurdjieff's frequently misunderstood, and oft understated Work, can effect in a human being.
All that being said, I have probably made too many book recommendations for this summer.
The subject of labyrinths and mazes has been on my radar lately. These artifacts from the middle ages and earlier feature prominently in romantic mythologies, fairy tales, and the popular imagination. Numerous explanations have been offered for why these elements were incorporated into sacred architecture such as the cathedral at Chartres, but there has always been an air of mystery surrounding them. Borges may have come close to the meaning when he conceived of them as abstractions of the process of living itself.
When I approach my own life from within an awareness, a more active connection--which is not always possible-- the active and tangible sensation of dwelling at that very moment within an extraordinary labyrinth is present.
There is a moment of awareness where one sees where one is (true, this is rare, but it does happen) and in that moment of seeing the entire warp and weft of life is revealed as a single, complex tapestry-- the entire weave having already been conceived from one end to the other. In the same way, a maze or labyrinth--its beginning, its middle, and its end--must already exist in its entirety in order for any point within it to exist at all.
The navigator of that passage (be it a maze in which one may get lost, or a labyrinth that lays out a firm and unerring path to the heart of God) can only ever find themselves and see themselves within that one point, but the entirety already exists, embracing and encompassing both the awareness within the labyrinth, all the paths and ways it has trod, and all the paths and ways that lie before it. The idea certainly bears some relationship to time as discussed in Maurice Nicoll's "Living Time." It bears further examination and contemplation in light of the Augustinian idea of predetermination, and Gurdjieff's related explorations of that concept.
In any event, the abstract contemplation of this matter is hardly the interesting point. What is very interesting is the effort for a seeing within life of the immediacy of this moment, of the extraordinary and exquisite detail of it, which can arise when the centers begin to work together.
At moments such as this, it's no longer necessary to think about what labyrinths mean-- and about what life means (and isn't that always the ultimate question, after all?) Instead, I begin to have a sensation within life, and I experience life within what Frank Sinclair would call a new order, a new alignment-- rather than trying to analyze life.
I think Martha's predisposition to poetry these days stems from the fact that poetry leaves magical spaces between the words to explore the possibility of this seeing in a more active way-- whereas prose, terrifically efficient and factual though it may be, will always be too clumsy to lead us to that place, leaning as heavily as it does on the thinking part.
The difference between mazes and labyrinths is this: a maze is a puzzle that has to be figured out. One can succeed or fail. A labyrinth is a contemplative path that always leads to the center. There isn't anything to figure out, no success, no failure; it is there simply to be experienced.
In this new inner alignment we seek, a transformation may take place.
The maze-- that unreliable place of sleep in life, where one so easily becomes distracted, gets lost, dies-- becomes a labyrinth: a place we can trust in, in which a contemplative, single, unerring, and unbranching path leads us slowly but deliberately towards the heart of our life.
May the living light of Christ discover us.