Thursday, April 28, 2011

Three centered being

Maybe the strictest measure of our partiality is our conviction that we can measure the world with words alone.

This conviction runs so deep–even in what I am saying right now, and how you are reading it–that it is unrecognizable to us. It is so much a part of what we are that it forms us. We are very nearly unable to conceive of anything without filtering it through this means of measurement.

The whole point, of course, of "three centered being," as Mr. Gurdjieff put it, is to measure the world not just with words, but within the direct and immediate organic context of emotional language and physical language–that is, the tangible sensory experience of feeling and sensation, both of which were always meant to participate equally in our encounter with, and interpretation of, reality. The fact that these two senses have been completely blunted- "Stumpfsinn, Blödsinn,"as he says in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson–escapes us. We are supremely unaware of what it might even feel like to have them become active parts of our being.

Yet this is exactly what needs to take place. Measurement of the world must begin to expand to include all three parts.

One of the ways this was expounded on in Views From the Real World was by saying that we must "learn the language of the horse." I recall reading this many years ago–there is so much Gurdjieff material out there, it seems the majority of it always ends up having been read years ago–and yet I had forgotten it. It was brought up again recently, and when I heard it it puzzled me.

Why, I thought to myself, would I need to learn the language of the horse? I am, after all, both the horse, and the driver, and the carriage. I am all three of these things. They are not separated from me–each one of them is a part of my being. That's the whole point of the parable.

So I "have" no horse. I am the horse... I already know the language of the horse. That is, it is also my language–feeling is my language.

And, although I have forgotten it, the language of sensation is also my language.

I do not so much need to learn these languages as remember them. This, in fact, is part of what self remembering consists of: remembering that these other languages are also my languages. All of them share in the creation of my Being.

This adds a new dimension to the idea of listening. We speak of this action frequently when we refer to how to conduct an inner work. But what is listening? Perhaps what I am listening for is these other languages, which I have forgotten, but might be able to hear–and even understand–the capacity, after all, is innate.

Is it possible for me to issue an inner invitation?

Perhaps I can become the language of the horse–fluently speak and hear the language of the horse. I can become the language of the carriage–fluidly speak and hear the language of the carriage.

Because, however, we rely on this one centered vehicle of words to measure the world, we create divisions–a perception that there is a separateness. Instead of actively and organically perceiving that we are horse, carriage, driver all at once, we decide–using words, ideas, constructions, formulations– that we are a driver who "has" a horse and carriage.

Perhaps we forget that we are also the carriage and we are also the horse simply because it makes us more important if we are the driver. In assuming this position of command, which is fractional, and actually powerless to fulfill its correct function without the participation of the other two parts, we fail to actively inhabit the unity, which is both necessary and possible.

It's often said that someone who drives well, or rides a horse well, becomes one with the vehicle. The experience becomes whole. There is no separation between the driver, the horse, and the carriage. They are a single entity. No one part assumes supremacy. Each has equal value; each has a job to do.

Impartiality consists of this singleness of experience, which expresses a specific organic presence that cannot be defined using words. The surest sign of any understanding of this is an experience that can definitely be recognized as impossible to reproduce accurately with one part–that is, words coming from the mind.

My wife and I were joking around last week, and we decided that if there were self-help magazines for Gurdjieffians, they would have articles such as

How to experience three centered Being using only two centers!

And so on. The idea is funny, but that's how we practice. We use the mind–a single center–to gnaw away at what three centered being "means," not understanding that such an approach is useless and impossible.

I come again, as I do over and over again, to how important it is to invest in, to attain, an organic sense of Being. A sense of Being that has roots which grow into the body, deep into the body.

This is not a hypothetical question. It cannot be treated as a hypothetical question.

It must be conducted as an active search.

I'd like to wrap up this post with two brief announcements The first is a new website which features my photographs and local natural history observations. The opening installment features some rather exciting pictures of a juvenile great horned owl we encountered last weekend. Check it out. You'll like them.

I am also going to publish some of my own poetry at this site from time to time. In this particular instance, all the poems on the site will be drawn from a single series, for reasons that will become evident upon a visit.

The Hudson River Diaries is the name of the new site. Enjoy.

On a final note, I am publicly announcing (since the magazine itself has already done so) that I am now acting as the poetry editor for Parabola Magazine.

We are engaged in an active effort to expand the role of poetry at Parabola. Submission guidelines can be found at the website (there is a link to it in places of interest on the right.)

Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff Blog readers are urged to pick up a subscription to the magazine–it needs community support in these trying times!–and submit poetry according to the guidelines, if you are a writer.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What is necessary and what is possible

One of the interesting and definitely unique features of Gurdjieff's teaching is that he assigns “numbers” to man. That is to say, there is a progression and a hierarchy of development, delineated in what one might call a scientific manner. One hardly encounters anything quite like this in other systems.

One part of me finds this system fascinating; the other part finds it annoying and even pretentious. Likely, there is some truth to it; yet, we are all men. Even Gurdjieff's legendary saint Ashiata Shiemash, Jesus Christ and Buddha were incarnated specifically to discover what it was like to be a man. So the condition of being human is a leveling condition, no matter what “number” a man is.

One of the distressing fallouts irradiating the Gurdjieff community is the habit of referring to man numbers 3, 4, 5, etc., as though anyone knew what they were talking about, or were actually able to distinguish clearly. In the worst cases, posers and con men have declared that they are man number 5, or 6, or whatever, in order to fleece their marks.

All of this numerical hierarchy stands in stark contrast to the intriguing Buddhist contention that there is no “enlightenment.” The declaration sweeps aside considerations of how to arrange a man in a line from bad to good, and calls us to just live. Gurdjieff himself remarked on more than one occasion that there was, in fact, only “one thing.” That being the case, even the divisions between men, real as they may be from a temporal point of view, are artificial.

Everything is part of the Dharma. It can definitely be sliced and diced up according to law, and understood in its minutia and particulars, but that does not change the fact that it is all one whole entity. And this habit of spiritual reductionism, as I have pointed out in other essays, is terrifically attractive to human beings. I pick things apart and think that that makes me able to understand them. In understanding the part, however, I invariably fail to understand the whole, and the whole is, in fact, composed of connections between all the parts, a number of connections so nearly infinite relative to my ability and my consciousness to understand that the process of trying to do so is inevitably doomed.

In any event, I am stuck with this man-numbering system of Gurdjieff's.

In the context of it, I was thinking yesterday about his point that the way of the Yogi–one would call it the way of man number 3, if one did such things–was superior to the way of the Fakir or the way of the Monk, since the Yogi–if he did reach "true attainment" (whatever that is)– would know what was necessary to complete the other two ways. Because the way of the Yogi is the way of intelligence–of the intellect–it has an ability to understand that that is not available to the other two ways.

So the intellect is essential in work. I cannot afford to be vague or refuse to exercise my mind. It is perhaps the most essential component of inner work, yet my mind is quite weak.

I don't know what is necessary. This is clear enough. I encounter what is possible in inner work; one of the classic mistakes, in my experience, is to encounter what is possible and think that it is necessary.

Not everything that is possible is necessary. Man has a huge range of possibilities in front of him–both inner possibilities and external possibilities. It's clear enough even from fairy tales (eg. the sorcerer's apprentice) that not everything which is possible in the sense of inner achievement and "power" is necessary. It's equally clear that outer life provides many possibilities that are hardly necessary.

Yet when I encounter a powerful inner experience, a real experience, which verifies itself, it is quite possible, because of my lack of development, that I will be inclined to believe that it is somehow necessary. This can cause me to reinforce false ideas that lead me off the path and into the forest. It is an incredibly common phenomenon. If what is possible is not congruent with my aim, to pursue it–no matter how fascinating or alluring it may be– is a distraction.

And yet, on the level I am at, not everything that is necessary is possible.

This is perhaps one of the central features of the Gurdjieff teaching. We have enormous possibilities that cannot be realized, because many things lie beyond our ability to “do.” All of the religious traditions place man in a scale, where help needs to come from above in order to facilitate his development. The enneagram, in its succinct depiction of the law of three intersecting with the law of seven, emphatically defines this situation in a visual manner.

There is a question of discrimination at hand here. One needs to conduct one's inner work with a sensitivity and intelligence in order to see what is necessary. One could even say that seeing itself, as I understand it, is in fact the act of active and intelligent discrimination to understand what is necessary.

To see may be to encounter the necessary.

One thing is quite certain. I am likely to get confused between necessity and possibility. Many things that are necessary are rather uncomfortable, and I tend to shy away from them. At the same time, what is necessary is what I need to point my aim at.

Let's examine one tiny microcosmic example in order to see how this functions.

I have heard in this practice of inner work (no matter which flavor I choose) that negativity is wrong. It's bad. I shouldn't have it. Yet the fact–the indubitable fact–is that I do have it. It is a real process, and it is well-nigh inescapable. Should I try to expunge it because of its badness? There are huge swaths of practice devoted to this kind of thing. It does produce compassionate individuals who are not outwardly negative.

Maybe this is terrific. I don't know. I admire such people, I have respect for them. However, I am in a work that is conducted in life. It doesn't have a set of rules or lists about how to conduct myself, as such. It asks me to be present to what I am.

So, if what I am is negative, I must be negative, and be present to it. This is most uncomfortable. I am forced to encounter myself exactly as I am, without any special layers of frosting that make the cake taste better. I have thousands of different flavors of inner frosting at hand–I am a professional baker, a frosting specialist– so to resist applying them is nearly impossible.

So there I am. It's possible to adjust my behavior so that I don't appear to be negative. This is, in fact, the way that society generally operates. Thick layers of frosting are spread over everything, wonderful words are spoken, World Peace organizations are formed, and then everyone proceeds to kill each other the instant something goes wrong. It's possible to not be negative, but no one has done what is necessary–which is to look deep inside and experience the negativity face-to-face.

My impression here–as in many places in life–is that we are in love with the possibilities, not with what is necessary.

I had an encounter with my 20-year-old son a week ago when he got a flat tire. He came to me asking me what to do.

He hasn't had to deal with getting a new tire for his car yet. He's smart, and very capable, so I basically told him to do it himself. He got very upset with me. This didn't look like help to him.

After we worked through it, I had to sit him down and explain to him that in this particular case, help consisted of having him do it himself. He needs to learn how to take care of these things within the context of his own life, without anyone else there to guide him. As I pointed out, I'm not immortal; I am not always going to be there to take care of these problems for him. If I deprive him of the effort of problem solving for himself while he is young, he won't be able to do it later when he is old.

I went on to explain to him that help, when it arrives, may not look like we expect it to. In this case, making him do it himself was help.

In the same way, in our inner work, what is necessary may not look like we expect it to. Once again, we are called to this act of an active and intelligent discrimination as we conduct our observation of ourselves.

What is necessary? What is possible? And what is the difference?

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A subtle work

This work of living is a subtle work.

It isn't anything like anyone expects; whether inner work is strong or weak, outer life has great strength, both in its material manifestation and the power with which it falls into us and affects us.

I can't think of any poet who captures the mystery of this process better than W. S. Merwin; and even a talent as great as his stands baffled by the depth and glory of what confronts us in the simple process of living. Perhaps his greatness stems directly from his bafflement.

Never mind the complications of politics, of money; of interpersonal relationships, children, parents, pets; careers, births, and deaths. Reduce it to a sip of cold water; Dutchman's breeches blooming by the roadside.

What we encounter penetrates us.

It is the depth to which we are penetrated that determines transformation. Nothing that falls on the surface can transform; only that which works deep in the body can change a man. And that working is not of a man's doing; no, it only comes with Grace. Do I speak of mysteries, and in tongues? Perhaps. Or perhaps I simply say true things that have not found their roots in everyone yet. I can't say.

What is certain today is that the sense of worship, like sensation and the work of the inner life itself, must become organic. There is no prayer–no real prayer–that is not organic. We cannot speak of prayers of the skin, or prayers of the flesh, or even prayers of the bone. We must speak of prayers of the marrow; prayers that find their origins in the blood itself, prayers that are drawn naturally from the deepest levels of a man's being.

And we must not only give prayer; we must receive it. Remember Gurdjieff's controversial (and to some, outrageous) statement to his followers that they should “steal” the prayers of others–after all, he advised them, the prayers of others were weak, and "could not reach God."

An odd idea, I think... or at least so it struck me, as I was walking the famous dog Isabel along the river at lunchtime today.

To take someone else's prayer...?

To take prayer in general, to take it in, rather than offer it up.

Trying to understand this outside the provocative context of Gurdjieff's fairly narrow statement, the sensation arose in me that life itself is a process not only of praying, but of drinking in prayer. An echo of Michel Conge's statement: “The whole universe is prayer. The whole universe is response to prayer." (Inner Octaves, Dolmen meadow editions, P.156.)

There is no existence separated from prayer. Existence not only emanates prayer in all of its aspects; it also receives it, takes it in. So prayer–this same question of worship which I took up in my last post–is a form of reciprocal feeding that emanates from, and feeds, higher emotional center. I feel unfortunate saying that, because we have now used technical phrases that come from what one might call “Gurdjieff work jargon” to describe a sacred process, which is much larger than the narrow context such language wedges it into.

A man's responsibility is to develop his inner sensitivity enough to begin to participate in this kind of reciprocal feeding. Jeanne DeSalzmann used the expression “higher energy” to try and express the medium through which this exchange takes place.

It is good, but in my own heart today, I find it is not good enough, because we speak of everything, and yet can say almost nothing.

So here we are. Called to life. Called to the gravity of life. Called to discoveries within ourselves that do not correspond to the standard texts or answers; called to material that does not come out of books and is not formed from mental ideas. Called, in point of fact, to the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of this existence.

Called to the organic experience of being.

If there is anything to listen to: if there is anything to be heard–if there is anything to be understood–it lies here, within, where roots grow and the breath pauses.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An unerring sense of gratitude

Inevitably, if we vigorously engage in the practice of "questioning everything," habits will arise.

It eventually turns out that we question some things a lot, and other things very little.

Some questions never get asked at all. Other questions are frowned upon. Not all questions, it turns out, are created equal. It may even be that a wide range of questions is needed, but a narrow range is substituted. Questions, after all, get asked according to convention. Originality may not be rewarded, or even desired.

Currently, I am questioning praise and worship, and their place in the Gurdjieff work.

Now, one might argue that praise and worship are strictly in the domain of religious practice, and that Gurdjieff did not call us to a religious practice, as such. I would, as all regular readers already know, argue the point: Gurdjieff specifically called this work esoteric Christianity, and Christianity is in fact a religious practice. Arguing that the Gurdjieff work is not a religious work is sheer nonsense. Applying hedge clippers of that kind to this work will leave you with nothing but a dead stump when you are done.

In any event, let's get back to the question of worship and its place in inner work, whether ordinary or extraordinary. Are the praise and glorification of creation unnecessary as an aim within this work? Are they unnecessary as a means?

Where is my center of gravity on this question?

On page 55 of "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," Hassein cheerfully announces to Beelzebub's servant Ahoon:

"Didn't he just say that we must not oppose forces higher than our own, adding that not only should we not oppose them, but should even submit to them and accept all their results with reverence, at the same time praising and glorifying the marvelous and providential works of our Lord Creator?"

One might reasonably infer, reading this quote, that in Mr. Gurdjieff's eyes mankind is indeed under an obligation to engage in the praise and glorification of the Lord Creator and His works.

Said praise and glorification is an ancient practice. It is deeply embedded in the liturgical form of most religions; we know that it has been there since very ancient times.

To be sure, in religious contexts, it is organized--even distinctly Biblical. There are hymns, there are chants, and so on. In the Sufi dervish practices, whirling is construed as a form of worship; we therefore add dance to the list of said practices, and might go so far as to infer that the Gurdjieff movements–sacred movements as they are–are indeed a form of worship. It's fair enough to say that we may experience praise and glorification during some movements–and that's as it should be. But I'm not speaking of what is sent or given–I'm speaking of what is offered.

What are we offering?

I see praise and glorification of all creation as a fundamental requirement in inner work. Not as a rote act, performed mechanically through a sense of automatic duty. No, praise and glorification must become as organic as the rest of my practice.

This may sound like a peculiar concept; yet, anyone who has read the practice of the presence of God may encounter just such an understanding.

My effort is to continually deepen my sensitivity, the way I take the world in, so that what is inwardly formed becomes more whole. In this process, the entire world takes on a new dimension, and the worship and praise of all creation begins to well up from within all the cracks in this crust of personality, until it moistens this dry desert I live in.

In such conditions, when water arrives after many years without rain, green plants spring naturally from the soil. I don't need to ask myself to worship; worship arises naturally.

Admittedly, we can all see that this is a high practice. In my ordinary state, if I want to offer worship, the mechanical form of worship is about as much as I can muster. Nonetheless, if I don't try to approach this question and ask myself where the center of gravity of praise and worship of creation is within me, I will never look for it–and if I never look for it, it may never bother looking for me.

Inner work does not exempt us from ordinary emotional experience, or render it undesirable or unnecessary--even though we do seek to connect to a source higher than that. And the wish to worship and praise creation ought to be a natural and ordinary--perhaps even instinctive-- emotional experience, a reflection of a higher one that may invoke it naturally.

I cannot ignore this question... hence I ask myself what the act of worship that Hassein refers to consists of. (He may be an innocent, but his grandfather looks on him with great favor–in fact, on the following page, he tells him, “You are right, my dear Hassein, and for being right, even before the captain returns I shall tell you anything you like.”)

For me, questions of this kind are more important than ever at this time of year. The Easter holidays do not fall casually in spring; many awakening energies are reaching the planet, and even the crudest of atheists sense something different in the blooming of flowers and birthing of animals. It's incumbent upon us at this time of year to engage in the classic practices of repentance, contemplation, and worship.

We have been given an enormous number of gifts. Not just material gifts; we have also been given gifts of the spirit, which are there, no matter whether we attend to or deny them.

My availability during this period is critical. Much material may try to reach me now that I need; what I am seeking is an unerring sense of gratitude, as I mentioned yesterday.

An unerring sense of gratitude. This phrase came to me over the weekend. I had to roll it around on my tongue, so to speak, for several days to understand what it was trying to communicate to me–and I fear that too much reductionism, too much analysis and picking apart of the idea, might not serve it well. I prefer to just hold it in front of me for now as a question.

What would it mean to have an unerring sense of gratitude?

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

River, Dog, Hill

Notes on today.

I never know quite where I am, or what is going on.

This seems to be because I don't have the presence of mind. By mind, I don't mean the mind that runs the show on this ordinary level. That mind seems to be reasonably functional most of the time. What I mean is a certain kind of intelligence, a presence, that is informed by a higher energy. I say informed, because this intelligence is inwardly formed by the presence of this energy.

I need to be there–that is, to be here–in relation to this energy. There is no other practice. The invention of words and ideas, and the pasting of them onto situations, does not pass for work. Only the sensation–the feeling–the intelligence of a finer energy, which is perpetually trying to reach me, can help to inwardly form a relationship to the real.

Its connection to my ordinary existence is generally transitory and ephemeral; yet the sensation that it is here with me never completely goes away. The difficulty is that I am unable to attend to it in a meaningful way.

Even the marginal presence of a finer energy offers me the opportunity to invest more deeply in my life, to inhabit the condition I am in, and even to do so seeing that I am, in a certain sense, a blank slate. When I am walking the dog down by the river, climbing up the hill, there is nothing there but river, dog, hill. There is no need to carry anything else in me, and there is no need to refer to all of the insistent contexts that are not with me: work, electronic devices, the Internet, money, politics.

I see the presence of all those elements in life as ideas passing through me, but they are not real in the way that the color of the marsh is real, or the way that the ruby crowned kinglet preening its feathers is real.

The real is immediate. The real is in relationship to my investment in this life. It isn't in my head being made up from moment to moment. It is an impression that I am receiving.

So I'm puzzled by this, because my understanding isn't very clear. There is an elemental state that is possible, a tabula rasa, in which I stand in relationship to this world, to this body that is inhabited, the sensation of my cells, the feeling which penetrates me as the world comes in, and the intelligence that perceives it-- all of it standing independent of the analytical facilities that are still in operation.

What is this? I don't know. I stand, mildly bewildered, at the intersection of forces I am unfamiliar with.

There are times when the feelings become so sensitive that even the slightest impression is overwhelming. At times like that, the sense of the world becomes quite definite, and yet completely other than my usual sense, which is blunted.

There is a need for me to stand in suspension: between both of these worlds-- invested in this world, and in relationship to a force which comes from places I do not understand.

Here I am.
No matter where I go, the river is around me.
I am surrounded by hills, and my dog is loyal.
Somewhere in me, there is an unerring sense of gratitude.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The blind watch breaker

Regular readers of this space will be familiar with my ongoing concern about how much time we spend using very habitual language to repetitively investigate the question of why we are not present.

If we are not present–as, I think we agree, we are not–we should at a minimum invest our ordinary attention in an effort to see this and be less habitual.

We ought not race past the ordinary requirements of life in our effort to discover the extraordinary: on the contrary, an ordinary attention to the necessary details of life is the essential foundation of practice. Nothing can happen if we don't attend to the ordinary; despite assertions I have heard to the contrary, a failure to respect the ordinary and make legitimate efforts in regard to it potentially invites a profound failure to understand anything real about inner work.

It's exactly this kind of nonsense that leads men to imagine they have psychic superpowers of various kinds. Gurdjieff referred to people of this kind as tramps and lunatics; his model for a solid practice was the obyvatel, the "good householder"-- an ordinary man who sets out to do nothing more but absolutely fulfill his responsibilities, putting him already well above most other people.

Unfortunately, this question of using the ordinary attention–as we must–to investigate the extraordinary produces all kinds of perverse and contradictory results... and we rightly ought to be aware of that.

Despite the fact that it's quite clear ordinary language does not suffice to describe the territory we seek to inhabit, we must continue to use it. Forced to accept the contradiction, we become lax; we use the same words and descriptions over and over again, speaking in a strange kind of code to one another. Our forms of exchange–whether they are religious, esoteric, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or what have you–become hypnotic, and yet we don't see that in the least. We don't even halfway invest our ordinary attention in an effort to be different in this matter. Even worse, perhaps, because we use the same words, we delude ourselves into believing that we share a common understanding, when it is likely that that is anything but the case.

We speak an enormous amount about listening. And it's true, we don't listen; and (ah, yes, welcome to the classic Gurdjieffian "endless list of qualifying statements!") listening also means more than just hearing the words.

However, if we don't listen with our ordinary parts and hear how blatantly repetitive and habitual our exchanges have become, how codified and formulated our words are...

just what are we listening to?

The cosmic all?

Once again, where is our ordinary attention? Do we use it for anything? Or do we treat it as something to be thrown out with the trash, because it's not sufficient for that magical kingdom we are so surely destined to inherit?

Above all, especially in the Gurdjieff work-- but I will hardly exempt the Buddhists, Christians, and the rest of the religious gang from this critique–we pick things apart with the mind and think that we are going to understand them by doing it. Mankind studies this aspect of himself; that aspect; those other aspects he forgot to study the first time, but which need to be studied. An endless number of books get written. An endless number of workshops take place. Everything becomes an act of deconstruction: a picking apart of the situation to look at its insides in bits and pieces. We are blind watch breakers: unable to see anything in the first place, we start taking the watch apart to see what makes it tick, unable to even know it is a watch in the first place.

Above all, we fail to understand that all these little parts we are seeing only have meaning in relationship.

Recently, while participating in events that followed this general course, it occurred to me that what we engage in could be called analytic deconstructionism. We take things apart and analyze them, always forgetting that life is a whole thing. It won't be possible to understand the whole thing by picking it apart-- we even sagely discuss amongst ourselves how we understand that it won't work–, yet we keep doing it.

The Buddhists have a fairly good term for the wholeness of everything: Dharma. This word encapsulates (at least for me; others may feel differently) the idea that everything is composed of a single whole truth. The wholeness of reality is always complete; it is the collapse and failure of our perception that sees it otherwise. We can't separate the ordinary from the extraordinary; they all exist together. We cannot separate sleep from wakefulness; the higher from the lower. They coexist, and any attempt to expunge one another is, at the ultimate level of understanding, impossible. Higher levels contain lower levels. Unity contains disharmony, and so on.

Of course, without an actual experience of this union, everything is theoretical, and we continue to engage in our destructive activities, whereby we pick the world into pieces and think we will gain understanding. Even the best of us, the avatars, are guilty of it.

Something new has to happen. This idea of an organic sense of being, of an investment in life, changes things somewhat. Maybe the first thing that it does is render us less interested in picking things apart. The problem is not in the picking apart; it is in the belief in it, the investment in that, instead of the investment in seeing the connections and the wholeness between things.

This does not mean that we engage in some mushy, vague and imprecise new age activity whereby we just merge with the cosmic all. Of course, it is true that the ordinary attention is not enough. It is, however, necessary: necessary, but not sufficient. The mind: by this I mean the intelligence, the attention, must become a more precise tool, whereby we inhabit the reality we encounter, experiencing it in a different way.

Information and our understanding of what is needs to change. Information is what is inwardly formed.

What is inwardly formed cannot be transformed without the participation and action of a different kind of energy, which does not belong to this level.

This is lucidly illustrated in the enneagram, which contains most–if not all–of the information, inwardly formed understanding, that a man needs in order to see what is necessary for transformation. So much of what is needed for inner work is so properly and objectively defined in this diagram that it fairly boggles the mind. Nonetheless, for most of us, it remains little more than an attractive looking symbol with some odd and intriguing properties, in the end having little or no real connection to our experience of ourselves.

Let me speak frankly and say that this should not be the case.

Perhaps the difficulty is that this information is not so readily accessible. It would take effort to understand it, and generally speaking, we shy away from work by copping out and claiming that nothing can be understood, there is no understanding, everything is a question, etc., etc.

"Understanding" of that kind is quite false–what Dogen probably would have called “non-Buddhist thinking”–and yet it is easy to sell, because it lets us off the hook. We can continue to be vague and insubstantial and touchy-feely.

Perhaps the greatest trap is that being touchy-feely is in fact very important. It is just that doing so without the clear direction of an active mind, one which is more invested in union than dissection, leads one into all kinds of bear traps. We start out wanting to make what Gurdjieff would have called "super-efforts," and end up lying on the couch with the remote in our hands.

Don't get me wrong. Everyone deserves to spend some time lying on the couch with the remote in their hands. The issue here is that one cannot afford to take up residence there as a permanent lifestyle.

We live in a universe of law. That is not a vague and insubstantial proposition. There is a relentless and precise demand put in front of us.

It does not exclude an obligation to the ordinary.

We would all do well to ponder that for a while.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Announcement: The open center in New York will host a significant Gurdjieff workshop event May-20-21.

Coming back from China always involves a period of disruption, in which I have to readjust to a diametrically opposed time zone and accommodate myself to the renewed flow of my usual impressions–that is to say, impressions of the place where I live, as opposed to hotel rooms and factories.

This particular weekend, my wife was away, so I spent four days largely by myself, doing little or nothing of any significance. It was a moment to simply stop, to live, to attend to small day-to-day things. Jet lag imposes a bit of a monastic regimen; one wakes up at extremely early hours, drinks coffee and meditates before the sun is up.

There is a lot of quiet. It is a great deal like doing the “stop” exercise not in the midst of a movement of the body, but in the middle of a movement of life itself.

And perhaps that is worth considering: is the exercise actually an allegory for what is necessary in life? Can it become more than an exercise--can it become a practice? A moment when we stop and study ourselves not just in the pose of the body, but in the pose of the mind, the pose of the emotions–maybe even the poses of our instincts and our sexuality–until, in a snapshot moment, we "stop" within the context of our entire life, take a deep breath, and see that we live.

There can be a good deal of satisfaction in attending to the small things in life just as they are. I fear we are losing this art.

We have become accustomed to so much overstimulation that it almost seems like a requirement. Even in the midst of a reduced demand like the one that I experienced over the past four days, the itch of stimulation seems to be ever present and wants to be scratched, even if by something so insignificant as e-mail, or surfing the web.

In contrast, I filled much more of my day with tasks like doing the laundry and hanging it out to dry; making sure the kitchen was clean; walking the dog. There is an odd wish in me to make sure that the small things in life are properly ordered. This is so far removed from the scale in which any of us usually think–the scale of jobs, money, world crisis, and so on–that it seems like a completely different world. Do you know what I mean? We forget to attend to the small things that are actually around us in life, the real things, and we are lost in dreams about things that are far from immediate, or that we have absolutely no control over.

We have lost our sense of inner gravity. We are floating, instead of grounded on our own planet.

This question of control has come up for me repeatedly. I like to control things. This is hardly special; I notice that everyone around me seems to like to control things as well. We all like it a lot. This is the case despite the fact that no one really has much control over anything. Things go wrong, and we throw ourselves up against them like Don Quixote charging a windmill with his lance. Of course, we should not be passive; nonetheless, we need to acknowledge to ourselves that beyond a certain point, we must see what our limitations are and accept them.

This particular question applies to inner work as well as outer work. The attachments that convince me that I have some kind of control over my inner life don't serve well; dwelling within a form of acceptance of my condition turns out to be more useful over time. If I just seek the specific gravity of my own being, stop, and plant myself there, many other things seem to take care of themselves.

There are times when I wonder whether or not my overall approach to life is actually a massive form of interference. Reducing my attention to what is immediately around me and trying to be more present to that turns out to be far more useful than my grandiose plans.

There is a great deal to discover in the dailiness of life. I forget this constantly. Then, suddenly, I am reminded: reminded by softened sky behind trees waiting to bud out; reminded by the color and texture of my dog, and the chair she is lying on; reminded by what can only be called an emotional understanding, which intervenes to join my thinking (when it is still for a moment) and the organic sensation of this body.

It is in those moments that life seems to acquire an unusual depth, which is always there, but which I am not there for. Peculiar, really; there are absolutely glorious qualities to tiny things.

Why don't I see that more often?

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Entertainment value

Yesterday's post may seem tongue-in-cheek. Nonetheless, it raises serious questions about how we disseminate information in a spiritual work. The Buddhists, for all their foibles, have found effective ways to get their message across... good marketing is a skill, and an art.

Many religions have developed effective marketing, but more esoteric works generally find it rather difficult. Now, one might believe this is the whole essence of esoteric work–it is supposed to be obscure, secretive, hidden. But I think that that is a mistaken understanding of what esotericism is all about. It isn't necessarily secretive or hidden–although it has been just that in eras where persecution was a danger.

What esoteric work is is inner work. This means that it is focused inward, towards a centric view of the soul, rather than outward, towards an action of man in life.

Of course, in Gurdjieff's method, a balance between the inward and the outward is essential. That being said, it's still necessary to get the ideas about inner work out in front of the public. If one is a religion, with attractive formal trappings, this is an easier task. And religious organizations well understand the question of entertainment–if something doesn't have an entertaining aspect to it, people simply aren't very interested. This is probably more true than ever in today's entertainment-centered world.

I have been known to dabble in entertainment myself; I used to have a rock band. (Neutron Blonde's recordings can be heard by clicking the link.) More recently, while I was in Cambodia last month, I encountered some unique foods... to put it bluntly, I ate a tarantula. In the interest of offering the readership some flat out, unabashed entertainment, here is the link at YouTube:

Be forewarned, it is not for squeamish people! I didn't, however, do this to gross people out: I was just interested in the impression of what spiders taste like. To me, this was no big deal: I can eat almost anything, as a consequence of my many years of traveling in Asia, where unusual food traditions abound.

What is the role of entertainment in esoteric work?

Entertainment need not be idle amusement. To entertain can mean to welcome as a guest, and to feed.

Over the years, the Gurdjieff work has become a relatively stodgy, formalized organization. There is nothing outward or colorful about it. Yet, paradoxically, Gurdjieff himself was anything but stodgy. He was a masterful entertainer, famously hosting elaborate dinners with much laughter, a great deal of drinking, and so on. He presided over many public demonstrations of his movements, openly advertised in newspapers. He packed lecture halls.

There is, in short, absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he understood and actively implemented the value of entertainment in attracting people to a spiritual work.

Today's Gurdjieff work seems to have lost that touch. Perhaps it's because “the master” is no longer alive, and only he was capable of understanding. That does not, however, seem to me to be a very likely explanation. It sounds more like a cop-out.

More likely, ever since he died, we followers have been fearful of taking "wrong" steps--a disease that seems to have dogged and plagued successor generations for decades--and have pulled our antennae in more and more over the years, failing to get out there in front of people and let them know that the work exists--and that it can even be fun and joyful.

Yes! Joyful. Self remembering isn't self-flagellation- it isn't self-criticism. It is the deepest form of self-discovery.

Some brief footage retrieved from the archives that was taken at the Prieure nearly a century ago shows a young Jeanne de Salzmann on the lawn, doing the "stop" exercise with a group of adults and children. Above all, the impression one gets is one of joy and openness. They are having a good time. No formal, oppressive tone is in evidence. Instead, an air of spontaneity is conveyed.

The film is, consequently, entertaining-- even delightful.

Entertainment relies on this air of spontaneity. If entertainment is not in the moment, it generally isn't effective. It may be elaborately planned, rehearsed, and executed, but the air of spontaneity is always present.

If we don't understand the value of entertainment, both in ordinary life and in spiritual work, we miss something. One might argue that entertainment is mere frivolity, but this simply isn't the case. Entertainment is an invitation--it is a force and, like any other force, can be turned to service. It can serve higher interests as well as lower ones. And at its best, it can be effectively used in a lighthearted way to spread very serious messages, as John Stewart has so ably proven with his masterful Daily Show.

It's interesting to me that a man of Gurdjieff's stature, who relied so ably on entertainment to spread his ideas, has left behind a legacy of foundations and people displaying so little facility in this area. One would think there would be more films; that there would be public displays of movements, especially in large cities like New York.

Where is the movie based on Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson? The book offers the opportunity for a world-class piece of filmmaking, but, so far as I know, no one has ever attempted it... even though Gurdjieff himself openly foresaw such possibilities. Peter Jackson ought to tackle it.

The whole question needs, in my opinion, to be examined more thoroughly. The work ought to be joyful. It ought to be open, lighthearted, spirited. And it should present itself to the public–and to itself–with that open quality of joy.

Entertainment in all of its many guises might help to serve that purpose.

May our prayers be heard.