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.

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