Friday, April 30, 2010

Resistance

In my ongoing investigation, my questions, about terms we frequently use to describe our inner state, the term "resistance" is on the landscape today.

We hear this term used all the time, in conjunction, perhaps, with the term "struggle." We speak of our inner struggle and our inner resistance without, perhaps, being quite clear as to what these things actually are-- without examining them, so to speak, in the direct and organic context of the living being. Above all, as with the term "mechanicality," we speak about these things as though they were somehow outside of what we are, as though we were not already deeply mired in the midst of these very features and conditions which we refer to.

One of the expressions Mr. Gurdjieff used was that we are "in galoshes up to our eyebrows." These galoshes are, quite literally, all of these notions we have about ourselves, what we are, where we are coming from, what the obstacles are, and so on. Every single one of these features and characteristics is part of the accretions which have fallen into us -- the countless associative impressions we have formed -- over a lifetime. As I have mentioned before (well, I think I have mentioned it -- after three years in this exercise, who knows what I have actually mentioned and what I just imagine I have mentioned ?) we formed this huge construction in us over the course of a lifetime.

Gurdjieff called it "personality," or, perhaps more commonly, "false personality." Those were his terms. I don't know if I have an exact term of my own for it per se, as my experience of the whole ball of wax, the "everything" that is "me," is formed from a more touchy-feely, deepening, routed, and overall organic impression of this inner planet, which has formed over a lifetime as everything falls onto its "surface."

Accordingly, I would ask readers to just imagine themselves from inside themselves, and sense, so far as able, the entire construction with all of our parts: in my own case, so that I have an impression of myself that includes how I am physically right now, and how all of life has led up to that--how I am emotionally right now, and how everything that went before has set the stage for this-- and how I am mentally right now, and how all of that has been formed by everything that has fallen into me over the course of a lifetime.

Perhaps for just a moment I can get a sense of the surface of my inner planet--a tangled thicket of thorny vines, tangled branches, mud, sticks and stones, all thrown together in a hodgepodge, which I call my "self." Any semblance of order is purely theoretical and largely imposed by my fantasies about myself; in fact, things are quite a mess. And all I generally see about the planet is the surface; there is an enormous mass of "me" lurking underneath all of that, which exerts a gravity that inexorably draws life towards it and into it.

All of this, taken together as the current state, is the galoshes from which I peer out into the world. It consists of my experiences, my beliefs, my assumptions, my attitudes, and everything that has ever happened to me. So it has produced this reacting construction. This "device" which generally can't respond to anything honestly or directly, but always has to get out the crayons and color everything in so that it looks the way I want it to.

That is what I call "me."

From within this form, which insidiously collects and incorporates everything that arrives at its doorstep, I invent stories about how mechanical I am, and I invent stories about my resistance and my struggle. The stories are fascinating, so I don't very often take a close look at exactly where I am, a look that asks the question "where am I?", simply because the construction, the form, this accretive state of planetary experience, assumes that it knows where it is.

From within that assumption, there is certainly something I refer to as "resistance." That is, there is an active polarity in me... there are elements that are opposed to my wish.

Now, there are myriad polarities that exist within levels. That is, the wish to have this or that object or personal relationship which one can or cannot have.

But here, in relationship to this near-magical word "resistance,"we are referring to polarities between levels.

Putting it in even simpler terms (which, by now, many readers are probably silently begging for) it is the difference between sin and righteousness. Sin is the state in which I go against the higher, righteousness is the state in which I align myself with it.

So this question of resistance is a question of alignment. It relates to that tangled mess of my construction. Things are not straightened out; things are not in good order. We might say the energy in life does not appear to follow the path which we think it ought to.

All too often, our concept of alignment, of a new inner order, of what it means and how it ought to be, is formed almost solely by the intellect; it is generated by the construction -- the machine -- the false personality -- that is causing the problem in the first place. Well, of course it's that way. How else could it be?

The difficulty we have is that we don't see that we need to shake the tree in order to get anything to reveal itself -- we have, in fact, to shake the tree very hard indeed. And we are exceedingly comfortable in our tree. Everyone, for example, in this tree called "the Gurdjieff Work" takes great pains to make sure that the tree is treated with enormous respect, that no one kicks the trunk and scuffs the bark. It is a sacred tree. Even though that tree is constantly breathing, growing, changing, putting out new leaves and shedding old ones, it looks like a static entity to me.

And frankly, I prefer it that way. People come up to me and suggest new things, new ideas, different ways of practice, and I find myself... secretly, inside myself... grumbling,

"don't touch my goddamn tree."

Where I'm going with this is to infer that we don't study exactly what resistance is in ourselves. Mostly, we just talk about it. It's much easier to do than to engage in any actual observation of this nasty little problem.

A study of resistance involves seeing the organism within life and constantly questioning its reactions. I am, for the most part, completely unaware that there is resistance in all of my parts. Resistance-- and I will propose a label for that word now, "the refusal to open myself to higher influences" -- is a state that exists in every center. I resist higher influences intellectually; I resist them emotionally; I resist them physically.

Many years ago, when I first began to see this about myself, I realized that we have all formed a powerful part in ourselves which one could call "the rejecting part." The function of this part is to habitually and reflexively say no to everything. It is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the sole aim of defending the construction against all comers.

Let's look at it a little more technically. Some people will like that.

We don't have just one "resistance." There are actually three principal resistances within us. Each of the three main lower centers has its own strongly formed resistance. It seems quite likely that these are excessive manifestations of the negative parts of those centers, as though the center was improperly balanced and discharging far too much energy through that pole.

They are not that difficult to identify from an ordinary point of view. Pain -- especially pain without any clear physiological basis -- is the negative manifestation of moving center; anger and other negative emotions are the negative manifestation of emotional center; and rejection and argument are the negative manifestation of intellectual center. All three of these negative polarities have an affinity for one another and are more than willing to cooperate.

So, in a certain sense, man's negativity does not, as Gurdjieff pointed out, have a center of its own. It is, rather, constructed from partial manifestations of the three lower centers. The reason that these partial manifestations find such ready ground for operation is that negative manifestation, that is, the negative polarity of each center, does have a legitimate and right place in work. The problem lies in the fact that it isn't balanced by right work in the positive parts of centers, and that the reconciling part of each center isn't functioning very well as a mediator. Even worse, what it forms is a kind of "negative mirror," a type of three centered work which, although it is strictly based on partiality, has a perverse kind of strength because it is able to work in all three centers.

The association of this question of resistance within the three centers suggests that it is directly related to the three "granthis," or knots, in yoga, located at the base, center, and top of the spine, which block the proper ascent of the "kundalini" energy in man. (Readers take note: in its contemporary usage, the term "kundalini" is demonstrably incorrect, as T. K. V. Desikachar explains on page 138 of his excellent book "The Heart of Yoga." In strictly classical yoga terms, the word kundalini definitively refers to what blocks the flow of energy; the energy is prana.)

I should warn readers, having said all this, that these are suggestions and theoretical frameworks from within which to look at this question of resistance. While they are based on many years of my own work, and supported by various technical concepts presented in the Fourth Way and in classical yoga, they aren't necessarily "true." They simply serve as a jumping off point from which interested persons can conduct their own investigations.

Furthermore, having this technical kind of knowledge is not very useful to us. What is useful is to carefully study the question of resistance and to see where it is located physically, mentally, and emotionally.

What in me is saying no?
Why is it saying no?
How is it saying no?
Where does it say no?
Is it necessary to say no?

A state of attention-- of inner vigilance -- calls on a gatekeeper to ask these questions in the midst of life. And constantly asking the questions keeps us on our inner toes.

In conducting these investigations, one of the many questions I have is why there is resistance at all.

If there are parts of me that irrevocably understand that being more open will feed me deeply, why is so much of my construction mustered to prevent it?

It reminds me of the answer I got when I once asked a dermatologist why we get moles.

"If we knew that," he said, "we'd know everything."

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

is man a machine?

Last night I was party to a number of exchanges in which all the usual things were said in all the usual ways. Given our emphasis on "going against habits," the habitual way in which things are said and expressed in the Gurdjieff work absolutely puzzles me.

Are any of us actually aware of how much we imitate each other, use the same expressions, and say the same things over and over again? "It seems to me..."

Anyway, one could go on and on about this. What it got me to pondering was yet another radical question, perhaps a heretical question, in light of the fact that it strikes directly at the heart of everything that is said in the Gurdjieff work.

In the spirit of questioning everything, I found myself asking, is man truly a machine?

We hear this said over and over again. People repeat it like parrots. We all take it for granted, and perhaps even use it as the skeleton upon which we erect a stolid framework of self observation: "I act like this; yes, I'm mechanical. I act like that; again, I'm mechanical."

In other words, we mechanically assume we are mechanical.

Am I engaging in deceitful rhetoric? I think not. We need to carefully examine this question of mechanicality and see what we actually understand about it (if anything), as opposed to what we have been told, or blithely assume.

I looked up the definition of the word "machine" in the handy dandy dictionary provided on the hard drive of my Apple computer. It says, "an apparatus using or applying mechanical power and having several parts, each with a definite function and together performing a particular task." The derivation of the term is 16th century, originally denoting a structure of any kind; the original root is from a Greek word meaning "contrivance."

So far, so good. We are machines. But based on this definition, everything alive is a machine. The term becomes almost meaningless viewed from this point, because it is universal, not special. Indeed, that universalist definition is valid within the context of the Gurdjieff work; G. told Ouspensky that the entire universe is in fact a machine, which is essentially what Beelzebub told his grandson in the creation myth he presented. (The purpose of the machine was to overcome the effects of the merciless Heropass... but that is another subject.)

My point here is that a term this generalized may not be that useful in understanding our position. One could just as easily say "we are made of minerals." What does that actually tell us?

The term does not denote a "special" or alterable condition; it is an inalienable property of everything we call the material world. Our option is not to escape or rise above our mechanical nature. We don't have that choice. All we can do is place ourselves in conditions where we find ourselves under more or less laws. Assuming we accept the premise, even if a man moved an entire notch up the ladder, so to speak, he would still find himself to be a machine under 24 laws, instead of the 48 we are currently under.

The issue here, ultimately, is that the term "machine" is (rather sloppily, I think) more or less used as a form of Gurdjieffian shorthand to refer to the idea that we are not "awake."

That is, it is assumed to have something to do with our consciousness. We presume that machines have no consciousness. That is one default understanding of machines in the modern world.

For example, I look at my automobile. It can't think. Furthermore, I think we can reasonably presume, it never will think. It won't love its children. It can't even move around unless I press the gas pedal. So there you are. It is a machine.

But I am I like that?

I submit to you, dear readers, I am not like that. Something else is going on here. Those of you who think you are cars can stop reading here, but for the rest of us, we need to continue to examine this question of just what we are in relationship to the question of machines and consciousness.

In regard to this matter of consciousness and levels, we run into more questions. Gurdjieff emphatically stated that everything was alive, and that one had to go down to an almost unimaginably low level to find something that was not alive. Furthermore, there are multiple degrees and levels of consciousness, and although an entity might find itself under 192 laws (which is presumably rock bottom), this does not of necessity mean there is no consciousness whatsoever there.

In other words, this habit of referring to ourselves as machines, or completely unconscious automatons, is a habit, not an accurate fact. Like everything else we think and do, it comes straight out of the associative mind, that is, it is superficial.

We might even say that we have all agreed together that it is true so that we won't have to think about it anymore.

And this alarming thought makes me ask, how many other things are there like this in our work?

It might be more accurate to state that we have some qualities that are machinelike, and other qualities that clearly display other potentials. We are a blend: not one thing, not the other. But above all, we should not submit ourselves to habitual thinking or pessimism and paint ourselves into a corner where we think all we have available to us is this property of being a machine.

These questions, which could be expanded on at much greater length, are just the introduction to a rich intellectual exploration of the question of just what it means to be (or not to be) a machine, and how little time we spend examining the question from multiple points of view. The question itself ought to be challenged from every direction. It is by keeping the question of whether or not we are a machine alive in front of us that we discover ourselves actually living--whether mechanically or not.

The arguments, of course, are strictly theoretical up until this point. Now we can examine some experiential points of view.

I live within this life. I breathe, I walk, I speak -- I see the leaves on the trees and I hear the birds. The sunlight comes through the marsh in the early morning. I am here with this; it is here with me. It is not dead; it is not without consciousness; it is not a car that just sits in the driveway until someone puts its foot on the pedal. I have the capacity to love, to feel, to sense, to think -- my computer cannot do these things. My fingernail clipper can't do them either. Nor can my power mower or the looms I see in textile factories.

So I am not actually a machine -- certainly not in that way, anyway.

This means that my assumptions about what it means to be a machine have to be questioned. And above all, if I am going to investigate the question of being a machine, it needs to take place from a new and fresh point of view, not one dominated by my associations.

It has to be asked in a much larger context -- a cosmological context, in which I discover that my mechanical nature is in fact inescapable, and exactly what offers me all the potential that I have in this universe, which is also a machine.

I am trying to live, to be more aware. That is to say, I am trying to insert myself into the machine as a working part that participates properly, not reach some ephemeral or imaginary state of "freedom" in which I am no longer a machine.

Is this a subversion or reconfiguration of what Gurdjieff taught? I don't think so. I think, in fact, that it is utterly doctrinaire -- just not doctrinaire in the way that we usually assume things have to be doctrinaire.

So in a certain sense, by questioning and even rejecting the premise that we are machines, I come around to the experience of my own life -- which is where I always ought to try and be anyway -- and discover that the idea of being a machine is not one that contracts me into a limited range of possibilities, but rather one that expands my possibilities into a range that (excuse the hyperbole) spans universes.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.


Monday, April 26, 2010

the depth of work

This year we find ourselves in the midst of struggles. Friends are dying too young. Parents are growing older. The question of what we are doing here -- why we are here -- is more urgent than ever.

So many people reach the end of their life in confusion and dismay -- not knowing why they lived, what it was all about.

Mr. Gurdjieff once said that one of the aims of the work was "to not die like a dog." Living an entire life without any questions -- without a search for what is real -- reaching the end of it, even with wealth and achievements, and having nothing to show in one's inner life, never having formed anything real in oneself -- that is to die like a dog.

At least, it seems to me that that is what it is.

The possibilities in the Gurdjieff work have expanded far beyond anything we can read about in Ouspensky's "In Search Of The Miraculous." So many people have expended so much effort that the "miraculous" has become far more tangible. Those who work now benefit from an enormous reservoir of previous effort. Every one of us has a deep and awesome responsibility to that. We cannot drink from that water, take something, and then walk away without having to pay for it somewhere.

Of course, there are people who do that, but it is only possible if one is lacking in conscience, and furthermore has not, fundamentally, understood what it is we are really working for.

Make no mistake about it, there are many such people. We can't be responsible for them; the only thing we can do is attend to our own work and to take it as seriously as possible. Those who acquire something -- anything -- real in themselves, who have even one moment where they understand what the organic sense of Being consists of, who even once taste the real world -- well, then life becomes much more serious. It's possible to see what is at stake here.

We need to acquire a new kind of depth in ourselves. We must attend to an intimate part within us that contains the seed of real being. Yes, of course -- we must use our intelligence (such as it is) and think hard and long about many things -- cosmology, biology, physics, religion -- but then we must also sense with our bodies in a new way, and we must feel with our emotions in a new way.

This idea of using all of the parts of ourselves to meet our life is a unique and remarkable idea. Where else can you find it? Take heart! There is no need to die like a dog anymore.

Speaking of dogs. This morning, my wife and I were walking the famous dog Isabel--an occasion, regular readers will know, that more often than not leads to serious reflections--and I got onto the subject of the two great commandments. Mostly because I wanted to make a point about valuing ourselves, which is part of the second Commandment, but this evening I am going to write about something slightly different.

The first great commandment, of course, is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."

Gurdjieff rather famously said that man as he is utterly incapable of this--men can't even love those they know, how can they possibly "love" God, whom they do not know?

But how could that be? This commandment is, in the end, nothing more or less than a call to work with all centers to know God. We can at the very least try to do that.

The second great commandment is to "love thy neighbor as thyself." So the Commandments upon which, as Christ put it, "hang all the law and the prophets" both turn on a single quality.

The quality of love.

If Gurdjieff was correct, and man is fundamentally incapable of love -- in his present state, that is -- then Christ's words were wasted. He was asking humanity to start on a rung so far up on the ladder it couldn't be reached. That is what Gurdjieff implied--but I don't buy it.

The reason I am bringing this up is because Gurdjieff's pervasive pessimism about man was not so much a set of facts as a challenge. He was famous for demanding impossible things of his pupils and then giving them a quiet but heartfelt "bravo" when they informed him that what he asked for was unreasonable--or even wrong. Not only that, back in the old days, he wasn't canonized yet. Reading C.S. Nott's memoirs we discover that people had arguments with him-- loud, public arguments. He didn't want people to be sheep. He surrounded himself with people who struggled, who challenged, who didn't take everything he said for granted -- and he even gave misdirections intentionally, in order to see whether his pupils had the gumption to think things out for themselves.

Here we are, more than half a century later. The master has been converted into a saint. I attend events where his brooding, bald-headed picture presides over ceremonies like the Pope.

A work where people used to question everything has turned into a form of religion, where challenging what the master said is heresy... what, you don't think that's true? Just try it in a group sometime and see what happens.

Things are nowhere near as bad as Gurdjieff painted them out-- not, at least, for the individual who has a search within them. Our possibilities are real. And it is lawful that if we work and ask for help, it will be sent. Not only that, the capacity for discovering an inner force of love that will work on our behalf is far from gone in mankind.

Every one of us who searches has the capacity to search within ourselves and discover the seed of that force. Never doubt it.

In "In Search Of The Miraculous," Gurdjieff told Ouspensky "...if anyone desires to know and understand more than he knows and understands, he must remember that this new knowledge and this new understanding will come through the emotional center and not through the intellectual center." (page 235, Crompton hardcover edition, 2004.)

So Gurdjieff made it quite clear that in the end, that "third force" of yoga, the Bhakti yoga of the emotions--in the end, of love--was the only thing that could bring a new understanding to man--the only force that could truly foster inner growth.

Once again, we discover that the curmudgeonly old master never strayed too far from his Christian roots. And, perhaps more importantly, what he offered us was a chance -- through our own effort, our own questioning, our own work -- to make the understandings and ideas of the great religions our own, by causing them to come alive in us as real understanding, rather than just words that we profess a belief in.

The difficulty, you see, is that all three centers have to understand these questions. As man usually is, the only part that takes these ideas in is the intellect. For anything more real to form in a man, they also need to penetrate the body and the emotions -- an extraordinary process that takes many years, and cannot be undertaken directly.

Through that process, the impossible is achieved: things that before could not be true become true.

This is a very subtle work. Until we suffer and pay for all of these things, they are just concepts. As we suffer, and we pay, we discover many things -- and not all of them may be according to the canon.

Some of them may, in fact, even directly contradict what Mr. Gurdjieff said: and he may have intended it exactly that way. We can't know unless we work.

Above all, we should remember that the legacy he left us is as rich in parable as the Gospels -- and we all know how badly things go with mankind when they take those too literally.

May the living light of Christ discover us.




Wednesday, April 21, 2010

poetry

Some readers will already be familiar with the fact that I write a good deal of poetry, little of which gets published on the web--with the exception of pieces that can be found on Parabola magazine's web site.

I am a bit guarded about publishing material in this space because some publications will refuse work already published in this manner.

Nonetheless, my poetry has become an inextricable part of my inner work, and as such most of it could find its way into this space in a comfortable fit.

In the interests of offering the readership and the general public some small fraction of what I am up to in this area, today I am publishing a piece I wrote in Cambodia earlier this month.

The Eyes Of Man

Poems in transition-Cambodia, April 2010


I am here

On the road

On the edge of the sun

On the edge of the rain

Where the light spills across the rice paddies

Which are covered not by water

But by sky


This is how it's done:

The sky lays down in the earth

Beneath the water buffalo

And together they come to the edge of the green sea

Where the hills drop down

To sand awaiting footprints

That may never get there and

The horizon disappears

In an endless silver light


I am here

Where egrets stalk frogs and minnows

Unaware of the elegance of death

But dedicated to it nonetheless.


And here

Where the careless movement

of a woman's finger

Traces out the curve of her pearl earring-

Touches her silken black waterfall of hair-


These things are enough to prove

That love incarnates eternally

That heaven can never drink enough blood

To be done with this endeavor

But will throw life against death forever

Just to be there

When beauty falls into the eyes of men.


...


May the living light of Christ discover us.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reconciliation, and Mercy

There's no doubt that there are aspects of Gurdjieff's teaching that do not square properly with conventional Christianity.

At least, they do not appear to on the surface.

Yet there is little doubt that Gurdjieff did indeed bring us "esoteric" Christianity -- a Christianity stemming from the deepest form of practice, not dissimilar from the "prayer of the heart" presented in the Philokalia, as it was practiced by the early church fathers. And the "mantras" (such as they are) of the Gurdjieff work, "Lord have Mercy" and "I am- I wish to be," have the undeniable taste of Old-Testament submission in them. Both bushes and souls find themselves on fire together in the midst of such practice.

I've been pondering how we reconcile the question of the Christian teaching of man's eternal soul with the question of Gurdjieff's assertion, that is, that man does not have a soul unless he earns it.

They can't both be right. And this is not a question subject to the "verification" that Gurdjieff calls on us to perform.

Because of a series of extraordinary events in my own life which began many years ago and which I will not recount in detail, I don't believe in God anymore. I don't believe in Christianity either.

Instead, I crossed a line, speaking strictly and only for myself, where I know there is a God and I know that what we call "Christianity" is real; it truly is one of those rare teachings that came from a much higher level. All the monkeying around that mankind could possibly do with it will never be able to change that.

One of the indubitable results of stepping over a line like this, in which one acquires an understanding -- and I speak here specifically of an actual understanding, not a theory or a belief -- that something is absolutely and irrevocably true is that one discovers that one cannot just have part of something that is true. If something is true, all of it is true. Ergo, I can't take a Gurdjieffian paring knife to Christianity. My own understanding, put in general terms, is that if one thing is true, everything is true. There may be some readers who understand what I am saying.

The stories in the New Testament were not written by a gang of gullible rubes, shepherds and farmers--nor were they crafted by spiritual con artists out to make a buck. They came from some of the most intelligent, urbane, and well-educated people of the world they emerged in. For us to presume some form of ignorance or naïveté on their part is nothing if not disingenuous.

I will take that statement one step further. Many of the stories we encounter in Christianity -- for example, Saul being struck blind on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-6) are not fantasies penned by gullible individuals with an agenda to sell. These are true stories of things that actually happened, written by intelligent people who had a true encounter with those "miraculous" properties Ouspensky so eagerly sought. So I happen to know, in this specific instance, that what happened to Saul is absolutely true.

I know this statement will be controversial to many readers, but I stand directly on my word.

Once one sees in such a radical manner that Christianity is, in its essence and at its heart, absolutely true--without swallowing the entire oeuvre in a paroxysm of abject literalism-- one is left with the question of what one can "throw out" in order to align what Gurdjieff taught with what the Bible says.

Of course, people easily divide themselves into two camps here: the ones who say that Gurdjieff was a heretic and must be cast out like the devil, and the ones who say the whole Christian religion is fundamentally corrupted and meaningless. I know people in both of these camps. They are utterly contemptuous of one another; the question provokes a great deal of negative emotions and even outright anger.

I would venture to say both camps are correct. That is, of course, an outrageous contention, an irreconcilable contention, and furthermore -- I know you are thinking to yourself, as you cultivate and nurse that little sense of outrage that is growing in you even as you read this -- a copout. That is to say, it somehow sidesteps the whole question and pretends it's not even there.

That simply isn't the case. I will explain.

In Phillipians 4:7, we come across a resonant phrase used by the apostle Paul which has found its way into the Christian service. It neatly bridges the gap between all our various opinions, understandings, and questions.

Paul refers to "the peace of God which passeth all understanding."

Now, there is no doubt that men can achieve understandings. Understandings are not, let us be clear, beliefs or knowledge. Anyone can believe; anyone can know. These things are ordinary. Understanding is a different quality in a man's being. It is a moment in which a man sees that he is under a higher authority.

Gurdjieff spoke often of the difference between knowledge and understanding, and wanted those who practiced his method to comprehend that there was a difference. Furthermore, although he did not explicitly explain it -- although it is implied in the relationship of the law of three to the law of seven, as delineated in the enneagram-- a man does not come to understanding by his own doing. That is, a higher force must provide what is called a "shock" in order for understanding to be present.

A man must have an indubitable, concrete, and absolute experience of the higher in order to know that it is real. Only then can he begin to understand. It's safe to say that men join works like the Gurdjieff work in order to acquire just such an understanding... not knowing, of course, what they are bargaining for, which is going to cost far, far more than the coin of personality they are so comfortably jingling in their pocket.

Even after such an experience, a man's understanding is inevitably limited.

Paul refers to a quality-- available to man-- which passes all understanding. He calls this quality "the peace of God." But it hardly matters what he calls it. His point is that there is an inner state that transcends what we call understanding.

From this perspective, it's pointless to argue about whether or not we have an immortal soul, or whether Christianity is true or not. The truth, such as it is, is absolutely transcendental-- it lies on a higher level, beyond our understanding. This is exactly what the author of the famous esoteric Christian work "the cloud of unknowing" was trying to get to.

So. One can understand a good deal, but it does not eliminate questions. I still often ponder this question of a soul.

We are all part of the body of God. We can't separate ourselves from it. Gurdjieff himself told us that the finest particles of what he called His Endlessness permeated every aspect of reality. Along these lines, we may begin to understand what Zen Master Dogen was getting at when he said that there was no such thing as enlightenment. We are all already enlightened -- we are made of light -- we are part of this body of God. We have simply lost our sense of it. Which is back to what I was getting at in the previous post, when I explained that we are trying to recover what we are, not "evolve up" to it or re-create it.

Perhaps it isn't the existence or non-existence of the soul that is the question... but rather, the nature of exactly what the "soul" is. I suspect we don't really understand that question. And perhaps this is where we cross the line into territory that does pass all understanding.

When we discuss the idea that man "has" a soul, we are presuming (well, perhaps we are presuming) that this "soul" belongs to a man, that it is his -- that it is, in other words, tangled up with this peculiar Western idea of private property, instead of just being an aspect, or a fragment, of God's existence, and thus-- insofar as there is a property of Being in man-- it is not his own property at all, but rather, an expression of something much more, as the Germans would put it, raffiniert.

Ah, dear readers. I am afraid I have failed to clarify anything whatsoever. Such is the fate of man: doomed forever to ponder and to reason, but never to sort things out properly.

One might say that within the more expansive framework I have presented, we may find the seeds of a form of reconciliation between the traditional, more generous Christian teachings on the subject, and the almost calvinistic Gurdjieffian viewpoints, which often oddly (and perhaps accurately) echo the doctrine of total depravity.

But maybe that's the optimist in me speaking.

One thing that I will say with certainty. We do not say "Lord have Mercy" in any idle way in this work; we say it because it is a true property of the Lord: the Lord is infinitely merciful. The story of Saul on the road to Damascus (the same road, let us take note, which Paul encountered his enlightenment experience on) is the story of a man who was truly, to put it bluntly, a right bastard.

Yet the Lord chose him as his instrument, forgave him his sins, and opened his heart so that he could be filled with the Holy Spirit.

This property of Mercy suggests to me that what Mr. Gurdjieff said was absolutely true: no effort is ever wasted. The property of Mercy offers all men the chance for redemption at any point on the path...

if only we open our hearts enough.

May the living light of Christ discover us.


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.









Thursday, April 8, 2010

The sacred Impression

Landing today in Narita (Japan) I was utterly overwhelmed by the impression of the cherry trees in bloom along the runway.
Following along earlier impressions of the spring--unexpectedly early lilac leaves in our side yard, an early spray of forsythia along the roadside in Westchester- the impression reminds me of what this whole effort we call "work" is aimed at.

The principle task of men is to become servants of a higher power--not in the sense of externally mediated activities, the caring for of the poor, building of temples, singing of hymns or what have you--although all these activities are indeed laudable--but to become servants of the higher in an inner sense-- that is, to engage in effort that leads to an act of transformation within, one that allows our inner chemistry to take in impressions quite differently than we usually do.

All this, of course, was laid out in admirable theoretical detail by Gurdjieff, as recounted in Ouspensky's formidable "In Search Of The Miaculous." It is one thing to read the book, to try and "figure out" what all this obscure and sometimes tedious discussion of "higher hydrogens" is all about (and some scientifically minded folk might dismiss it outright, even though the premise of transformation of substances by the human body is entirely sound) but it is another to tread lightly into the territory where we no longer think about transubstantiation, about the possibility of change, and instead actually experience impressions in a different way.

This work is designed to help a man in such a way that if he works, and is diligent, the world can touch his soul. We are able to act as an intermediary between the material and the most intimate fragments of what can be called sacred consciousness; this is our purpose, and the allegory of the fall of man--of Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden-- is in large part a parable about the loss of exactly this ability.

No matter how low we sink, no matter how difficult or desperate life becomes, there is always hope for those of us who work--hope embodied in this very possibility, this magnificent opportunity--hope that we will, for just a moment, sense the world as it was meant to be sensed and as it ought to be sensed. Not in the way that drugs make possible--of course, there are drugs that can trigger chaotic, partial experiences of this kind-- but in that delicate and beautiful way that only the whole of one's being can.

Life conditions on the planet are unusually difficult right now--all the earthquakes taking place this year underscore the unusual tension on the planet--and a major change of some kind is under way in nature. (For myself, I suspect the planet is finally beginning to engage in activity which will counter some of the depredations mankind has visited upon it of late.) The conditions for individuals are correspondingly difficult, especially for those who are working: it is a more difficult time with more resistance than usual.

In these times, it is more important than ever to take heart and to remind ourselves that hope is there, and--could we but know it-- that we are cradled in the hands of powers far greater than ourselves. This idea is closely related to the idea of faith, which was the point where Gurdjieff and Ouspensky parted company. Gurdjieff maintained that it was a necessary element of work, Ouspensky would have none of it.

I am reminded here of Brother Lawrence, who saw a tree in winter; realized it would burst into leaves in the spring, and was filled with an understanding of the mercy of the Lord; it was the experience that caused him to lay down his weapons and join a monastery.

This is an excellent example of a truly sacred impression; understanding drawn directly from a simple seeing of the world that brought a different level of understanding into play. It contains the work of taking in impressions; transubstantiation of "water" (a bare tree in winter) into "wine" (the higher truth of its existence through time, and as a living element of the body of God) and hope-- the understanding that common experience, the "simple" taking in of impressions, is mankind's essential purpose, and a very high work indeed to be called to.

This seeing of truth is what we work for; if we see truly, deeply enough for the world to touch the soul, even once in a lifetime, we gain a treasure that cannot be gained in any other way.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Notes from Cambodia

After over a week in china, where spring is scattering its gentle blossoms over shanghai, I arrived late last night in Phnom Penh, dark and sweltering under an oppressive heat.

This morning it is raining, a biblical deluge, and I find myself locked in downtown traffic on a very long drive to a factory.

This trip has repeatedly brought me face to face, in an inner sense, with the incontrovertible fact that we cannot escape our ordinary inner and outer conditions. Regardless of whether or not we "develop"- and by this, in my understanding, I mean nothing more than to make the responsible efforts and do the responsible work our Creator calls on us to do on His behalf- we are still at the mercy of life: its physical infirmities, our fears, our anxieties.

How often I seek an excuse from these legitimate burdens! I wish for comfort: for pleasure: for a rest from work. Yet, as my mentor Betty Brown pointed out to me a few years after suffering the debilitating stroke that set her on a path of objectively heroic struggle at the very end of her life, just when she ought- by all rights- to have been given the respite she so surely deserved and had earned, "my life has always been one of work."

I don't like to acknowledge it--do not even want it to be so--, but true good fortune consists of constantly being called to be present to these most challenging conditions of our inescapable humanity.

It reminds me again of the story about one of Gurdjieff's pupils enthusing to him about some spectacular moment of inner revelation, to which the master wrly responded: "Ah. One day closer to golden day."

Speaking as a recovering alcoholic (sober now for over 28 years) I can attest to the fact that the inner work Mr. Gurdjieff brought to us is above all a call to spiritual sobriety. And that's the kind of work Betty Brown practised, right down to the end- even though she was known to be a bit fond of a tumbler of scotch, here and there.

There is no "golden day"--at least, not in any sense we would like. Everything real that we are ultimately offered in life is, first and above all, earned, and every happiness must be paid for. As Jeanne De Salzmann said at the beginning of the last major movements film (which is, regrettably, not available to the general public) everything is always in movement-going up or down. Nothing ever stays in one place.

I suppose this down-to-earth, feet-on-the-ground kind of work may seem dry, boring - uninspired - and utterly, perhaps even coldly, shorn of any of the magnificent doctrines of freedom and enlightenment offered to us by most religions (let's take the Buddhist's Flower Ornament Sutra, for example.)

But, as I ponder on an almost daily basis, what IS real freedom?

For myself, steeped firmly in the bittersweet and amber-colored brew of middle age, I see that freedom is freedom from my illusions. Freedom from the idea that I am here "for me," that I am intended as no more than the servant of my ego. Freedom from the delusional vanties Solomon so exhaustively catalogued and dismissed in Ecclesiates.

Freedom is, in other words, an ability to be honest about where I am and what is necessary. The retirement of grandiose and arrogant ideas that I can "do." Betty pointed me to this over and over again, God bless her. It's only through long trial and a continual inner confrontation with my lack that I begin to understand where she was coming from.

Have I attained such freedom? Definitively, no. Late in life, when asked by someone (it may have been Jeanne De Salzmann herself) how he managed to remain conscious, to be "awake," even Gurdjieff himself confessed to wrestling with his own his fallen nature in the middle of the night with "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Would it be presumptuous to say that the true master recognizes he's not a master? That was the core epiphany of Socrates, as revealed in Plato's Apology-- and indeed it was said of Muhammad himself that his spiritual greatness lay above all in his recognition that he always fell short of pleasing Allah.

Sitting here in this Khmer Toyota, bouncing over roads that are seeking every possible way to crumble back into the seas of ochre mud they cover, I'm oddly heartened by this idea.

If I am able to accept my lack-- to understand its inevitability--perhaps I may find a path within me that better understands how to ask for help.

May the living light of Christ discover us.

Friday, April 2, 2010

where am I?


Just bringing the readership up to date.

I've been In China sinceMarch 22 and unable to access blogger.

I'm in Phnom Penh right now and hope to assemble a post while I'm in Cambodia... who knows, maybe I'll splurge and write TWO posts.

In any event, apologies for the absence.