Sunday, October 31, 2010

payment, suffering, and offering

In the Gurdjieff work, we speak about needing to make payment.
We also speak about suffering.

In its "classic" form, this is one way Gurdjieff framed his work. We must pay, and we must suffer. Certainly there are plenty of Old and New Testament stories to support this perspective on man's position.

Nonetheless, the form concerns me. I say this with reservations, because there is absolutely no doubt in me based on years of experience than an enormous amount of payment and an equal amount of suffering must take place. Nonetheless, these are words, and because they automatically narrow the question down to certain points which are plagued by our associations, in my eyes, they can't possibly do the question justice.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that payment and suffering are ideas, and that they constitute a form. We hear them and we accept by default that they are true -- and we even have experiences that support that idea. But we don't question our relationship to them, what they really mean, or how we are "stuck" in our form.

Payment is for capitalists, and suffering is for victims. Offering, on the other hand, is-- quite simply-- human.

We are not trying to be capitalists or victims. We are trying to discover something much greater than these ordinary qualities. So when we label our efforts with such words, which are routinely associated with rather coarse lower activities, perhaps we are coarsening our effort itself.

Not only that, we are investing ever more deeply in the form, rather than letting it go. Payment and suffering may become a form of drama, rather than an act of contrition.

This occurred to me this morning when I was having a conversation with my wife Neal; she talked about how deeply our friend Eve who died last Thursday had suffered… and in another context, how all those who make efforts in their inner work must pay.

I was in complete agreement with everything she said (which highlights how questioning itself does not consist of opposition, but rather inquiry, a fact my competitive nature tempts me to forget), yet it occurred to me that what takes place, if it takes place, must take place voluntarily -- intentionally.

And there is a transformation implicit in the act of paying intentionally and suffering intentionally.

To pay intentionally and to suffer intentionally is, put in a different way, to offer. So if we need to frame our efforts, then framing them in a form that involves a giving, which is what payment and suffering are -- we give material and emotion to the quality of life -- offertory is a more powerful interpretive symbology, which contains both the giving and the intention.

Looking at this from yet another angle, payment is material, and we pay with the body. Suffering is emotional, so it connects to feeling. Where is the place of the mind in this? It must form the intention. If we don't, the offering is not an offering any more, it is simply an extraction.

Great nature can easily extract what it needs from us. Only we are able to offer what we have to a higher level. This is part of the question of what consciousness is... it contains and expresses an element that lies outisde the machine, that has the ability not just to suffer or pay, but to choose to suffer and pay.

One could conceivably argue that this discussion of offertory--as opposed to suffering and payment-- is a form of revisionism. Nonetheless, we must reinvent the teaching and the language, each one of us, in each generation, for ourselves--hearing what was said before and incorporating our own understanding. Otherwise we become, as I said recently, mere parrots.
In my view, to offer is a much more powerful paradigm that better describes my relationship to life and the effort that is needed to meet it. I am going to pay and suffer within the context of that offering, but I can focus not on what is given up and lost, but rather, my intention, which is in a direction that emerges from my aim.

If I am going in the direction of my aim, I am engaged in an act of sacrifice -- that is, the effort to make my actions align with the sacred by offering myself.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A living work

I keep finding myself in the midst of life... And, invariably, daily, within the question of life itself... a compelling question, one that arises not from any casual thought, but from the depths of the organism itself.

Work in life, I see, must be a living work. It can't just remain a work of the intellect, a theoretical work. That may be where it began for me, many years ago, but it has since- like water percolating downwards into the darkest, most intimate parts of the earth- penetrated into the very bones, the marrow, of my life.

This is how it needs to be. My work needs to permeate me, to saturate me, or my wish has no power.

If I misunderstand this need... If I keep searching from within intellect... My wish is a lost wish. I'm puzzled by where it is, why it doesn't motivate me more... Why, as Dr. Welch used to say, I don't work.

So many of us reach middle age without a clear understanding of this point. It's at this point, however, that the shock of realization can become most powerful, and create the most fertile possibilities. That moment when I see that I am turly growing older, that this process ends in death (yes, finally I begin to irrevocably admit that to myself, rather than equivocating it) and that the "meaning" I try to extract from the achievement of outward tasks pales in comparison to that question.

I am headed towards an appointment with death. How am I conducting myself?

So it's here, at this age, where I face the real terror of the situation, that I discover the greatest possibility. It's possible for the elements inside my body to enter a new relationship, where the intellectual urgency of the situation...fused with the beginning of a meaningful emotional understanding... meets with a newly energized, active physical force that actually has the power to sustain an effort in life, instead of just thinking about it.

We talk a lot about that force, and we read about it. Yet we have so little understanding of it. In some ways, the discussions about it and the intellectaul framing of it- the form we assign it- are a hindrance. It's only by the living of it, the sensation of it, that I can investigate it, and the moment I deconstruct that to attempt an understanding, I have already misunderstood.

In a way, then, it is only in the silent contemplation, the silent appreciation, of this moment that I can approach the question. (The only medium I have discovered with the potential to leave enough open air in the question to allow it to breathe naturally is poetry.) These discussions of life we engage in become wearying... They're so repetitive,, aren't they? We must find a way to be more than just parrots... and yet the parrot in us so dearly loves itself.

We have both an obligation and a responsibility to engage, and to exchange. It's not enough to just sit here absorbing the vibrations- I'm called upon to be active enough to stand in the middle, between the active and the contemplative elements of my life, and to supervise a dialog between them.

Ah, that sounds good... Yet "I" don't "do" this. If it happens, when it happens, it is the living work itself that does it... And perhaps we might say that this living work has no "I", at least not as it is understood now. The living work is already connected to- arises from- transmits- a force that transcends this little "I" that loves itself so much.

So to be touched by this potential for a living work already requires a surrender. I don't well understand the nature of that surrender... I can taste it with the soul much better than I can touch any part of it with the mind.

And it's that intimate contact alone which can lead me deeper into this question of what I am, and why I am here.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No prepared statements

The idea of living in the moment is often forwarded in spiritual works–the Gurdjieff work as much as Buddhism, for example. But how often do we actually approach anything that way?

For example, I have a spare hour here, and I thought I would post to the blog. But immediately, I see that what I want to do is plan something out–have a subject, say something special and intelligent. There is an inability in me to just take the enterprise as it stands, as I am, right here, right now, and begin to speak, quite naturally, dictating just what comes, and not some plan which I have devised.

Even when I try to stop for a moment and launch myself, so to speak, “into the void,” in that very instant, I find myself making plans about what to say. It is insidious: there is a part in me that forever wants to generate the form that will follow, not participate in the form that precedes me.

This was a rich week, filled with plenty of impressions. There were conflicts. (There always are, aren't there?) I read my poetry and showed slides of Asia at the Orchard House Café in Manhattan on Wednesday. There have been a number of exciting walks with the famous dog Isabel. (Who is doing just fine, thank you.) And the whole week has been filled with a windy, cloud-spattered sky, and the green, red, and golden colors of autumn.

Above all, there is a sense of being here. Just being here. Not much needs to be done; the simple act of existing has a gravity to it that transcends much of the activity that life requires. Oh, yes: the activity takes place. It is real. And yet the relationship is with the body, with the gravity, with the inner sense of self, not with the activity.

When Jeanne DeSalzmann says that we are taken–that was the word she usually used for it–it is this activity that we are taken by. What goes on around us consumes us. There is an absolute conviction, isn't there, that the activity is what it is all about? At least, I find it so, unless and until the gravity of my own Being is strong enough to resist that. At that point–a point I have been at any number of times this week–most of the activity, although it needs to be engaged in, becomes an afterthought, and seems, in many ways, unimportant.

So if the activity–if the daily requirements of life–seem unimportant (and I mean that in a qualified way) then what is important?

Well, paradoxically, these exact same daily requirements are all of paramount importance, but in a completely different way.

What is important is the relationship to Being within the context of these daily requirements. That is to say, the inhabitation of these daily requirements, this daily bread–if you will–and the inward flow of these impressions of life, these absolutely ordinary impressions of life–which are the selfsame water which, under the right conditions, turns into wine.

The New Testament parables about this phenomena of changing water into wine were characterized by Maurice Nicoll, in “The New Man,” as the transformation of one level of truth to another. That transformation can only take place right now, within the human being who perceives it. And it is nothing more or less than the transformation of the ordinary. In this transformation, the levels of vibration in the body quite literally change-- tangibly, organically.

So the daily requirements are still here, but the relationship to them has changed a great deal. Specifically, the way that they nourish the Being has changed. And it is this nourishment of Being that becomes interesting and is of such paramount importance, as opposed to the things that take place.

Things that take place are all dead ends, in a certain sense, unless they are ingested in such a way that they participate in the inner transformation of my life. This is why people can reach the end of their lives wealthy and famous, and yet be terrified and alone. It's not uncommon. When things alone are what a human being pursues, they are left, in the end, with nothing, because things in and of themselves are perishable, and ultimately useless.

Only the transformation of the soul matters in the end.

That transformation takes place by small degrees, in the taste of the air by the side of a marsh, in the yellow color of leaves about to fall; it is in the wings of birds and the curl of a cat in my studio.

We think we will find ourselves in the grand gestures, but it turns out that all of life--what it is, what it can be– lives within the smallest details.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reality check

I dedicate this post to my old neighbor, Susan Brooks, who died of breast cancer yesterday.


When we inquire–when we attempt to discern what is formed inwardly, when we seek to see this–what we seek, I think, is an understanding of what reality is.

I'm using the psycho-scientific Western word–reality– but one could just as easily use Truth, or the Dharma. Whatever form we choose, whatever linguistic box we try to stuff this understanding into in order to make it comprehensible, there is a belief within us that there is some fundamental root. A bottom line. Something that is real, fundamental, not invented.

What this prompts me to ask of myself is, what is real in me?

When I meet with others in relationship–and perhaps most especially when I meet with them in groups–there is an artificial construct present. Ever notice that? It is false personality at its best–a manifestation that actively conforms to expectations, that has learned how to fit into each situation and cover itself.

I see that there is no relaxation or freedom in this construction. It's completely invented; it poses as real, but is entirely imaginary. It has pretensions of spirituality, compassion, concern--and it pretends to be listening–but in fact, I'm nothing like that. At least much of me isn't.

In my immediate circle of spiritual friends, I observe others around me and I see that for all of us, there is a huge gap between the way that we behave when we are meeting, and the way we behave in "real" life. In other words, everyone has constructed a functional lie--essentially, if you will, for display at group meetings. Even more interesting, what we think is concealed may not be that hard for other people to see... a rather disturbing thought, eh?

Well, perhaps I'm being a cynic, and perhaps I'm being too hard on all of us.

After all, we do this everywhere in our life–it's just that it becomes more apparent when we sit down together in groups and pretend that we know how to work, that we know what spirituality is, when in fact, we are all sitting there together because we know nothing of the kind, and in our heart of hearts we have a desperate question about that.

Do you remember that story Ouspensky told in “In Search of the Miraculous”, in which he reported that Gurdjieff challenged them to all be absolutely honest in their meetings-- at which point they discovered that this was categorically impossible?

No trust.

As I recall, Henry and Betty Brown more than once said of us, “When we walk in the door, we all bring our best lie.” This may have originated with Dr. Welch. In any event, it's an astute observation, and one that we earnestly forget in our zeal to work together.

There is a need, when meeting with others and exchanging, to just be as normal and natural as possible. This is incredibly difficult--unless, that is, we make no effort to be present whatsoever, which is basically unacceptable by any measure.
Ah, and the habits-- the habits! I am thoroughly indoctrinated, polluted, with year upon year of exchange in which I use the same language as other people; repeat the same expressions; cover my back by using the same qualifiers to preface each statement I make–among them, the classic “it seems to me," which I mentioned a few weeks ago.

Even worse, I am passive. There is a need to be more active–to engage in the exchange, even when it is risky or dangerous. There has to be a willingness to get it wrong–if I don't get it wrong, I will never learn anything new! Conge makes a wonderful observation about this:

"When I move toward a more authentic attitude in myself and want to put it to the test of an encounter in life, and especially an encounter with another being... in a flash, everything is destroyed! Nevertheless that's what we'll have to experience, little by little. What does it matter if I fail every time! I have to come back to it, I must go towards it, I mustn't let myself be discouraged or stopped by the fact that it's almost impossible. It will be almost impossible thousands of times. Then, suddenly, perhaps something will become possible I don't know on what day, at what moment, or even why. If I don't attempt the experiment I do not allow the condition that is necessary for this latent possibility to be fulfilled. This form of work is very painful... And yet, it's impossible to escape. I must go through that: put something to the test, exposing, risk it. And risk it knowing that I will lose every time! ("Inner Octaves," Michel Conge, Dolmen meadow editions, P. 98)

There has to be a willingness to engage in friction, perhaps even conflict–it's only when I am up against my actual negativity (as opposed to my denial of it) in an exchange that I have to truly confess how I am to myself.

The fact is that I am reactionary and confrontational. I have a powerful ego (or at least I flatter myself that I do.) I am also kind of snotty a lot of the time.

This all reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine in the Gurdjieff work, who also happens to be a doctor. I was talking about a pain in my neck (which is thankfully gone... unlike the ones I give to other people) and likened it to my gluteus maximus (a muscle in the buttocks) which, when it spasms, can sometimes be relieved by using acupressure.

My doctor friend pointed to his neck and head and said, being very practical, “...but there's no gluteus maximus up here.” To which I responded, pointing at my own head, “No... you're right... but I'm pretty sure that in my case, there's an asshole."

No matter what I wish to believe about myself, those are the facts. It drives a lot of what goes on; even when I'm pretending it doesn't, that, too, comes from my ego. Trying to sterilize those qualities and isolate them so that they don't show up in exchanges with others is pointless. That's just a new kind of dishonesty. It's rubbing up against the sharp places that causes me to learn something new about my inner life and my relationship to myself. If that doesn't happen, the buffers just get thicker and thicker, until I am thoroughly lulled to sleep in the fervent belief that I am working.
It may seem obvious to say it, but this artificial construction that I present to others which selectively edits out my faults isn't at the root of Being.

And Being isn't a different, magical quality of existence that stands apart from ordinary manifestation. It includes ordinary manifestation.

It is the awareness of what I actually am–and the suffering of it–that can produce something closer to the question of what is real.

If there is any legitimate taste of reality to be had in this life, it begins there.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Inquiry and energy

If I had to summarize the entire Gurdjieff work, what its essential nature is, in a single word, that word would be “inquiry.”

The origin of the word is from old French enquerre, a variant of the Latin inquirere, based on quaerere, "to seek."

Of course, today, we use the word in the sense of questioning, investigation, to seek information. I've mentioned before that the idea of information, properly understood, is that which is inwardly formed. So in a certain sense, inquiry is to seek that which is inwardly formed.

This is a subtle thing. What is inwardly formed is forever in movement; if we study ourselves, we see that. What we are actually studying is movement and its nature: the transformation, from moment to moment, of Being–such as we experience it, however we experience it.

Our lack of inner unity causes us to have a poor experience of Being. Because we cling to definitions and a wish for something static, we want Being to have a form–a recognizable, reliable context that can be referred to over and over again. “I'm like this”–“he's like that”–we forever seek a way of codifying that which constantly changes. We don't really wish to awaken–to engage with, and experience, the fluidity of awareness. It requires, among other things, a commitment to uncertainty–which is decidedly uncomfortable.

We want, in short, to stick everything in a box. Life, however, does not fit in boxes–no matter how elaborate or complicated we make them. The box makers–that is, all of us–frantically try to keep up, constructing more and more elaborate, elegant boxes to stuff experience into, yet the effort is invariably in vain.

What is inwardly formed: what we inquire after, what we seek: this is not a thing. It is a movement. Because it is a movement, an experience of energy with forever changing and routinely unexpected natures, the mind is unable to grasp it. Our mind–our ordinary mind–is static.

This higher energy, as it is often referred to nowadays, wishes most earnestly to be expressed in life. It is not actually interested in arriving and manifesting while we are sitting in meditation. It does not want to be cloistered; its ultimate wish is to be in life, and of life, even though the life it is of is quite a different life than what we conceive of in our ordinary state.

Mankind stands between Scylla and Charybdis. If we engage with the energy in a cloistered way–if we become monks, if we sit, if we meditate and go inward–we fail to be in relationship with life, which is why the energy caused us to be born in the first place. If we go outward and engage fully in life, we lose contact with the higher energy that supports us, and are only able to be in relationship with it at its coarsest and lowest levels.

There's a temptation for everyone on the path to believe that meditation, and the states that it produces, is paramount. That this inward state, this private cultivation, is where God wishes to touch life through us. It's not surprising that we believe this; meditation can certainly produce sublime states. Nonetheless, what the divine truly seeks is an intimate contact with ordinary life itself, a direct and unmediated contact, which is only possible through the opened Being of living organisms.

If one refers back to that wonderful book, "The Cloud of Unknowing," one is reminded that the author divided the world into actives and contemplatives. The activists believe that one should get out there in life and do things: politically motivated Buddhists come to mind. Bravo! The contemplatives believe that one should go deeply inward and discover endless fathoms of prayer. Again, Bravo! Both directions are valid. Both directions are useful. But each direction lacks a certain kind of engagement. Lacks a certain kind of relationship.

One of the great opportunities of being a human being is to discover the middle way: the fulcrum of an intelligent, active Being, consciously and knowingly poised on the threshold between an inner and an outer experience of life. This is no easy place to be: temptation comes from both directions! Life wants to drag us into it; contemplation wants to drag us out of life.

Perhaps you know the feeling. It's a conflict. Each one presents compelling arguments. Only an active, organic, and ongoing engagement with the energy itself can resolve this dichotomy.

Our inquiry–our effort to stay on our toes, to be constantly in movement, anticipating the next pose, swinging the weight of our awareness, body, and feeling freely (and perhaps even joyfully) into the unexpected with a freedom that we did not know was possible–is conducted here, in this middle ground. No matter what we are doing, there was always a possibility here, even if, as my old group leader Betty Brown used to say, it is "only" sensing my feet.

There is no greater satisfaction in life than to dig into the present moment, moving outward from the very marrow of our bones themselves, and to find that this active energy within us both sustains and feeds every instance of manifestation.

The old Zen masters used to suggest that we need to step across the threshold and into the void–to enter the unknown–and then go further. It means giving up all the forms and conceptualizations, and dwelling more entirely within this action of inquiry, which can be–in so many words–a blank slate.

This state of being a blank slate–not having any words already written on us–is not a state of nothingness or uncreatedness.

It is one single moment of pregnancy, which lasts forever.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trust and Sorrow

Pondering, in the midst of life, as the leaves change along the Hudson River.

Mr. Gurdjieff used to speak of “impartial" mentation. Impartiality was, in his eyes, a highly valued quality.

The dictionary definition of this word means to be “fair and just.” But that is not quite what he meant, I think.

To be impartial, in the terminology of this work–this inner effort we engage in–is to be whole. I am not whole; but I don't see that.

Identifying with each part as it manifests, I believe that it represents something whole. I am puzzled when it doesn't give good results; my assumption is that my being functions wholly and in a consistent and coherent manner, but that isn't the case.

We spend years in this work milling around both within and outside ourselves, observing the established and irrevocable fact that we are not whole, and asking ourselves why. Why, why, why? Why am I fragmented? Why don't the things I do work out well? Why do external influences have so much power over me?

This business of questioning is good. It is powerful. It needs to be applied, ruthlessly, to every single aspect of my investigation of life–up to and including the question of whether or not this endless questioning is what is needed.

Is it? And do we really question everything? Or are we actually quite selective in our questioning, and very careful not to touch our dogmas?

I submit this. The questioning isn't primary.

What is primary is seeing.

I need to see exactly how I am. I don't need to see how I am in a vague, philosophical, or insubstantial manner. That's how my mind usually functions; the mind, which is capable of significant acrobatics, puts on a rehearsed show which looks spontaneous and spectacular, but which is, in fact, totally predictable and, as Gurdjieff said, mechanical.

The mind is, in fact, quite weak. It's not doing its job. It is forever fooling around, and it rather enjoys it.

So there is a need, in the approach to this effort of seeing, to be much more specific, in a non-thinking kind of way. A different quality of mind needs to arrive--one which is much more interested, and much more active, than this part which deals with ordinary day-to-day nonsense (and which is actually quite passive, despite all the noise it makes.)

This precision, this act of being quite acute and detailed in my immediate, active seeing of how I am inside: a seeing which is born both of the mind, sensation, and feeling–this very act of becoming intimate in a specific way, putting, so to speak, the point of a needle directly into the center of how I am in this body, of how the energy manifests in this organism– this is what is needed.

I can't afford to monkey around. I need to get right to the point here. This exact point. Do you understand what I am saying? It's a question of roots that grow into the very bones themselves.

Thinking about how to work is not working. Thinking about how I am not working is not working. One comes, eventually, to the conclusion that almost everything that involves “thinking” is thoughtless: thoughtless in a bad way, that is, without substance.

There is a kind of thoughtlessness that involves escaping my insubstantial thought; by releasing the critique and the analysis, and simply trying to be present and empty of such material, a new experience can come.

That experience defines both my fragmentation and my dwelling within the fragmentation; I see that I am, myself, in the middle of different parts which are not united well, not harmonized.

The quality of "thoughtless," yet living, attention that arises here in this specific point is a good tool for investigation. It questions not by definition, but by its nature. It is impartial: fair and just in what it sees, whole, not glued together using artificial methods and tension--efforts I call "working," although of course they are anything but.

I need so much for a new emotional quality to enter my work. This quality of feeling is required. But it can only be invited, called; I cannot force it to the point.

If I truly see, what I see is this.

I do not trust.
I always fall short.
I am in pieces.

Each one of those observations could be expanded on at great length. I mentioned that I do not trust first, because it is the greatest and most egregious failure in me. Without trust, nothing is possible, and I lack this first, before I lack anything else. The other two simply follow from it.

There's a great deal talked about in spiritual literature, poetry, even in the work, about ecstasy. Happiness. Freedom. All of this is wonderful material. It sounds good. But it is an intensely dangerous thing.

Why do I say that? Because all of these things sound like they are pleasurable. And they are, up to a point, but each one of them is a kind of deception, a lie we believe out of ignorance.

It may sound peculiar-- or even threatening-- for me to say this, but ecstasy, happiness, and freedom are not ecstatic, happy, or free. There is only one Truth, which lies above and beyond each of these defined qualities.

When that Truth penetrates a man, it begins and ends its work as Sorrow. A Sorrow which is deeper, more penetrating, and more profound than any other potential experience of feeling.

I have said before that one of the most unique characteristics of the work that Mr. Gurdjieff brought to us was the potential to experience this level of Truth, which passes all understanding.

It may sound grim or bleak; it may sound as though it is the opposite of what we want; it may sound like a goal not worth pursuing. What I am speaking about here, however, is an experience of a different level. It does not--cannot-- correspond to the understandings we have.

In a life lived in many wrong ways and for many wrong reasons, this is one thing that, when it arrives, is-- irrevocably and forever--right.

It is what we were born to receive.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Yesterday my good friend Kathy Neall asked for an explanation of Gurdjieff's "system of hydrogens" suitable for non-Gurdjieff people, or beginners.

I'm not sure there is any easy explanation of this material. Even longtime members of the Gurdjieff work find this material very challenging, and eyes often glaze over when the subject comes up. Part of this, of course, is because the work has taken a very different turn over the last three quarters of a century, and technical material of this kind is no longer emphasized, at least within the confines of the Gurdjieff Foundation itself.

The other reason is because it's damned difficult to understand this material. Touchy-feely people hate it.

Readers are invited to take a look at "an alternative study of Gurdjieff's chemical factory" at for my essay on the subject. I wrote this a number of years ago, and I rarely tackle technical information in this much detail--or from such an intellectual point of view-- in this manner any longer. Nonetheless, it has some merit. And, disturbingly, I find that if the right switch is turned on in me, I can still babble about it ad infinitum in what sound like very intelligent ways. Sometimes it almost sounds like I know what I am talking about.

There's the danger.

I'm writing today about this subject because this morning--directly as a consequence of my friend Kathy's inquiry-- something rather magnificent and interesting occurred to me about the very term "hydrogen" itself.

Coming on the heels of Stephen Hawking's most recent book about the Big Bang (The Grand Design) in which he argues, disturbingly, perhaps, that the universe adds up to... nothing... (well, on an optimistic note, I suppose the Buddhists may not be disturbed) this question of creation, and what it means, may be more current than it has been for a while.

Mr. Gurdjieff used the term "hydrogens" to describe the key substances, occurring on various levels, or, in other words, vibrating at different levels of intensity, which create both the material universe and man's possibilities for evolution.

To be fair, he also included some obscure and technically even more difficult references to carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, with some peculiar and decidedly unconventional interactions between them, in order to describe the chemical factory. That material fell by the wayside; today, people both inside and outside the Gurdjieff Foundation who study these ideas -- which must clearly be taken allegorically -- refer almost exclusively to "higher" and "lower" hydrogens.

Ok. Why did he call them "hydrogens?"

What occurred to me this morning, which I want to pass on to readers as a subject to ponder further in both an inner and an outer sense, is that hydrogen is the fundamental element in the periodic table. That is to say, from a physics point of view, everything starts there, and complexities -- the complexity of the entire table of the elements, and the entire consequential development of the material universe, "evolves" from hydrogen. It's the cornerstone of the universe, so to speak.

Gurdjieff did not offer us a single hydrogen. His cosmology is composed of multiple "hydrogens" that move up in a scale of vibration. Since each "hydrogen" can be conceived of as forming the base of its own periodic table, what he has offered us -- what he offered us, in fact, many decades before physics took it seriously -- is a multiverse, that is, a universe of multiple universes. Hawking and his associates are now basking in the limelight of this idea, but Gurdjieff got there first.

Each hydrogen, in effect, creates its own universe and its own periodic table of the elements, with a completely evolved, adumbrating (branching) series of evolving interactions, relationships, and laws. These levels -- each of which constitutes, in essence, a universe unto itself -- are nested within one another, and, in fact, any level incorporates, and is built by, all the levels both above and below it. It is a fractal structure... an emergent structure... which i have pointed out many times before in this space.

This enormously sophisticated vision seems to me to effectively anticipate where modern physics has led us, right up to and including string theory, which poses that the entire universe is made out of vibrations-- undeniably, another fundamental tenet of Gurdjieff's teachings.

It's tempting to engage in further philosophical discourse about all of this, but I think it would be best to just let it percolate right now.

Instead, I am sitting here in the garden, in the late morning sun, listening to the birds, looking at the yellow dahlias blooming, and sensing the organism within the very real context of vibration that Gurdjieff proposed.

There is a tangible accessibility to his ideas, which can be experienced not just as ideas, but as facts, arising within the organism in relationship to my immediate conditions and the natural environment. There is a definite sense that just beyond the threshold of this consciousness, this level, there is a higher hydrogen-- a new "Do," the beginning of another octave, another universe -- which understands all of these questions in a single, comprehensive gesture of clarity.

Of course, I don't live in that place. I can taste it -- perhaps there is even a scent of it in the air -- but it is a hint, not a fait accompli.

It is good to think about these questions -- but not too much. It's much more important, I find, to actively seek the relationships within the body, and in the context of the organism's relationship to life... feeling my way forward, and I do mean feeling-- not thinking, sensing, or emoting my way forward-- like the blind men and the elephant, attempting to use the most sensitive parts of myself to come to a different understanding about my relationship to life.

Like most blind men -- and, I think, like all of us, because almost all of us are quite blind -- I am clumsy about it. Even my sense of touch -- which ought to be much better, given that I live so blindly -- is lazy from lack of use. It needs exercise. And too much intellectual dawdling -- wiseacreing, as Mr. Gurdjieff used to call it-- just keeps me planted in an armchair which is far too comfortable in the first place.

The ideas in this work are not ideas. They are potential realities; formal, or abstract, representations of forces that can become alive and transform inner understanding.

The difficulty is in stepping across the bridge between all this thinking, and a tangible experience of the organic sense of Being.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's complicated

So much of the experience of life consists of attempting to fit a template over everything.

I was walking the famous dog Isabel this afternoon at lunch time, and attempted to just be as open as possible, without slapping my interpretations on top of the experience.

Of course, it was impossible–the intellectual mind (that portion of the intelligence which is referred to as intelligent, but isn't) stubbornly insisted on interfering.

At the same time, I sensed, there is always the potential for a presence–and an energy–that comes from the core of Being, from the organic sense of one's self.

Dispensing at once, and entirely, with the inherent pessimism Ouspensky brought to the art of inner Work, I affirm for myself, now, as then--a little trickle of water from the well of reality is always available!

Taken affirmingly, each action can become a prayer in that direction.

I participate in many conversations over the course of a week regarding the nature of life, Being, and our inner work. We are for the most part rather interested in speaking about such things– you, as a reader, are probably interested, or you wouldn't even be reading this right now.

Such conversations are attractive. They suck us in, and away from the observation of this moment, subtly and effortlessly. Beguilingly, even. They even sound like they are leading somewhere.

At the same time, doesn't it strike you from time to time that we make everything too damn complicated?

I have an impulse to run, but I'm not sure I even know how to walk. I formulate spectacular aims for my life and my inner and outer work, and I formulate spectacular insights into cosmology, morality, and so on. It's a habit of mine. I think I know more than other people, I think I am smarter, and I think that I'm able to figure things out.

All of the energy of Being stands in opposition not just to those formulations, but to all the formulations. Being isn't complicated by such nonsense. It just is.

There is something refreshing about being able to walk along the banks of the Hudson River on a beautiful fall afternoon and not have to explain everything. When the tyranny of the associative mind, which rarely lets up, softens enough so that the cacophony is not in the foreground, there are myriad sensations and impressions that are unavailable when I am identified with the worrying.

There is an attention. It isn't forced. It's completely spontaneous.

The real need, I discover, is to live within this Being. Not to think about how to live within Being, or come to the moment with a formulation about what would be good or bad, desirable, or undesirable. Coming to the moment as I am, with a distinct and specific awareness within this body-- not forced, invented, or imposed, but rather, arising spontaneously from a relationship that is cultivated through a gentle and attentive intimacy-- I see that my explanations are really rather pointless. It is the unmediated flow of life in the body, the falling of impressions into the deeper parts of being, that matters.

I could call it work, but it isn't work. I could call it understanding, but it is not understanding. I could claim it as my own, but it does not belong to me. It is all part of one thing. That thing doesn't have a word for it... it's not even a thing.

Every limitation and interpretation imposed on it arises from a collapse of meaning, not an increase.

What I mean by this (just watch me get away with saying that, LOL) is that every effort at interpretation, of necessity, actually strips infinite layers of meaning away from what is taking place, in order to reduce it to something much smaller-- tiny, even-- something “understandable,” when in reality experience is being deliberately impoverished by fractional parts (individual lower centers, if you'd prefer I use Gurdjieff jargon) which are, by themselves, inept and incapable--all in an attempt to stick it into various boxes which are much too small for it.

As such, efforts by the ordinary mind to discern or impose meaning are actually a destruction of meaning. Meaning, real meaning-- Truth, as we might to refer to it, or, the Dharma-- can only be sensed from an inner level, or state, if you will, different than the one we usually inhabit.

It struck me today during this walk that we talk about men having two natures. I have even written about it myself. But I don't think this statement is accurate. Man does not have two natures. And there are not, as De Salzmann was known to say, two worlds.

Man has one nature, and there is one world.

What man is afflicted by–what I am afflicted by–is the perception that there are two natures, the perception that there are two worlds.

Where this division arises in the psyche and the spirit is a difficult question.

The act and the art of Being is to execute deft "inner footsteps" around such questions and, so to speak, to go straight in the door without all the long introductory conversations. We all seem to spend a lot of time talking about and thinking about what we are, who we are, how we are, and why we are that way. It serves a certain purpose–but it does not awaken the parts which are separated, it does not call the various lower centers together. Something entirely different is needed for that.

The tricky part is that we keep getting stuck in these theoretical conversations and formulations. It makes part of me feel smart and sound smart to say things such as “man has one nature, and there is one world," but the information (even if it is correct) is worthless except in the context of direct and immediate experience within the organism itself. That is, it doesn't actually qualify as information unless it has been formed inwardly.

And, as I think most of us have learned by now, I don't get up out of bed in the morning and say “this morning, I will experience one nature and one world," and then have that happen to me.

As I have pointed out before, however, it's possible to start the morning with a specific and intimate observation about how I am. That may carry over into the day: I might actually take a look around me from time to time, to see how it is to be here within this life.

A sensitivity to a finer vibration within is possible. It just takes time, patience, and a little bit of attention...

a simple approach, without all the philosophical wiseacreing.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Technique and Feeling

My Birthday Post. I am 55 today.

It's said in the work that nothing significant can take place in terms of man's development until emotion begins to particiapte.

In the Gurdjieff work (for those unfamiliar with it) we generally use the term "Feeling" to distinguish this "finer" emotion from our coarser, or more ordinary, emotional quality. The distinction only becomes palpable once one has had an
experience of what we call a finer emotion; nonetheless, it is a legitimate distinction.

I've written extensively in the past on the development of emotional center, drawing on both personal experience and the considerable amount of technical data available in writings by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. (some of this essay material is available at In summary, a great deal of insight into the technical--that is, biological and physical processes--that create the conditions necessary for the inner evolution of a finer emotional capacity can be obtained simply by correlating various pieces of information from these sources.

Putting these various pieces together leads to some fairly cogent explanations of "how it works," and points towards exercises that ought to facilitate the process. Those exercises, furthermore, share a consistency of both aim and method with various yogic and tantric techniques, underscoring the overall validty of all three systems, and reinforcing the legitimacy of Gurdjieff's technical observations relative to traditional practices-- the underpinnings of which, a thorough practice will reveal, he often understood better than the practitioners themselves.

All of this technical data, while fascinating, has become of less and less interest to me over the years. In the first place, I find, "manipulative" exercises of any kind--even the ones which claim to be "non--manipulative"-- are of limited and temporary value. Everything we seek is in constant movement, and the temptation to fixate on specific exercises which produce interesting "results" encourages us to stay where we are, rather than attempt to move in concert with where things are going.

De Salzmann actually addresses this issue in several places in "The Reality of Being," so she must have been sensitized to this issue from experience in her own work.

The second difficulty with this "technical approach--" the cogent (or otherwise) explanation of such matters, including my own-- is that it depends on the ordinary mind for its origin and impetus.

One can, of course, accuse practitioners of "the mysteries"-- that is, efforts that are aimed at points of origin "outside the mind"-- of shamanism; that is, in other words, a primitive, obscure, and perhaps even annoying kind of subjectivity. These "mysteries" are the point where Zen begins; they are the foundation of the investigations Meister Eckhart undertook; every esoteric practice, no matter how technically it may cast itself (the various yoga schools, with their highly elaborated systems and techniques, come to mind) must eventually come to grips with these unredactable territories.

They apear to be subjective, but only to "outsiders." In reality, the penetration of ordinary being by Being--and this is what we all seek-- can never be subjective; its manifestations, as well as their consequences, lie firmly and forever outside the analytical and essentially corrupted Form of our ordinary being and intelligence.

To experience a real manifestation of Being is to see and understand, over and over again, the anguishing contradictions between our ordinary self, and what is actually possible. Said quality of Being is of a different order... It's as different from "me," as I am, as the divine might be from the human. Our Form, as we have constructed it within (Gurdjieff referred to it as "personality," but he used that term, I think, intending a much broader scope of meaning than we understand by contemporary association) is the only truly subjective element in life, and one of its dismissive techniques is to subjectively label things which threaten it as subjective... it has enormously powerful defense mechanisms and a survival instinct which rivals that of the body.

These survival instincts, by the way, lie in all three centers. The habits of the mind, the emotions and the body all have an equal wish to survive and defend themselves; these mechanisms drive a great deal of our day-to-day reaction.

Readers may see the irony implicit in this rather technical discussion of the inherent limits of technicality. Nonetheless, we need to examine this question--from within the question itself, so to speak--in order to understand, at least rationally, that what we are attempting when we attempt to move towards an inward Being
isn't rational, in the sense we usually use the word.

I am reminded of the first words (as I recall them) of John Krakauer's fine book, "
Into Thin Air:"
"Climbing Mount Everest is not a rational act." One might say the same of climbing Mount Analog.

How, then, to call... to evoke... to invite... the appearance of a finer emotion, of feeling? Is there a way to approach this from the reductionist perspective of the intellect... the reactive perspective of ordinary emotion... the hungers of the body? If we perpetually dwell within all three of these limiting circumstances, what lies outside the circle?

What impresses me more and more about Gurdjieff's work--as it is practiced by those in direct lines of work, i.e., individuals who studied with Gurdjieff himself and received tacit permission to pass the work on--is the immense subtlety of the practice. As Dr. Welch used to say, "The Work works." That is to say, it is a living entity in its own right... it may take many years for this entity to awaken in a man or woman, but when it does, a profound and very nearly self- sustaining inner transformation begins... this living soul knows how to heal itself, and to grow.

Attempts to study the effects or results of the work from outside, relying on texts, documentation, or even testimonial, are doomed to failure. Attempts to study the effects of work from any point of view, inside or outside the doors of the Gurdjieff Foundation, are doomed to failure for as long as they rely on the intellect... on convention... on predictability, technique, and assumptions.

The only way to experience and study this work is from inside... inside one's Self.

And it is the very question of this search for Self which allows for the creation of conditions under which Self... "real" Self, as Gurdjieff names it... may slowly emerge from beneath the deep sand that covers it.

This can never be done mechanically, that is, according to a rote set of principles... which is why it's so vital to work in actual groups, participate in community, and in the presence of older and more experienced people, if one wishes to engage in real work. "Question everything"... this constantly active stance of inquiry is in itself, perhaps, the most essential seed practice of what Gurdjieff called "self remembering."

Real emotion... Feeling, as we refer to it... develops in a man or woman only after very many years of such immersion in inner work. It's quite distinct from the many (perhaps even laudable) temporary results which can arise and manifest themselves in a human being during shorter time frames over the course of a lifetime of work. Many folks give up too soon, because they feel they aren't "getting what they want."

As though it were up to us, and our own egoistic demands of the divine, to decide what we "get," and when we get it.

What we refer to as Feeling is in the bones. It can only arise through a firm and well grounded foundation established over many years of trial and error... it does not arrive without a great deal of payment, and even then not always. And it only arises when and if one has done enough work to attract the forces which are necessary for its development. That is, it only comes when help arrives.

These conditions generally arrive only after one has reached the absolute conviction that everything one has attempted and is attempting is utterly hopeless. In some senses, the best thing that can possibly happen to a man or woman is to lose everything, because we have to lose everything in order for anything new to enter. Like Dogen's home-leavers, everything has to go.

As such, it may well be that the Gurdjieff Work... and sister works such as Sufism and Zen... are poorly suited for the modern world. Today's attitude is, generally speaking, that everything ought to be available on a hard-cash basis, answers must be given at once, without any real work on our part, and that results and gratification ought to be delivered either immediately on payment, or very shortly thereafter.

...Ideally, in fact, enlightenment ought to be offered on the internet as a free download.


May the living Light of Christ discover us.