Monday, August 29, 2011

My cup runneth over

I don't know how much I am given, and my vision is unclear.

There is a lack of trust. Gurdjieff's "sleep" is generally, in the intellectual way in which we process things, taken to mean some deficiency in the logical thought process, a lack of clarity. Certainly he discusses the idea of man's psychological and psychic deficiencies under the umbrella of terms such as “sane being-mentation." And of course we probably for the most part agree that this term sleep stands in opposition to a quality called awareness, or, as the Buddhists would have it, awakening.

What, however, does this awareness consist of? Can it be fabricated from the "awareness" that we have, just by gluing broken pieces back together? That sounds like a Humpty Dumpty process to me. Is it merely a hyperactive, more acute form of what I already am?

Or is this awareness a process of what we refer to as attention? That sounds good–and certainly, my practice involves having a "good" attention– “mindfulness,” as the Buddhists would call it. Nonetheless, mindfulness is a complex subject–even while the essence of it must actually be simple.

For example, to be mindful means to empty the mind of what it is already full of, so that one can be full of mind itself and not its subjective contents.

Secondly, in my own experience, being mindful often involves avoiding the blather of the ordinary mind–making a left turn, so to speak, around the corner, and refusing to get involved with its revolutions. This action paradoxically appears to lead one further away from attention, rather than towards it.

This situation reminds me much of the maze at Chartres, where one approaches very close to the center over and over, but is again and again inexorably propelled back outwards towards the periphery–perversely looking away from, rather than towards, God, in order to rediscover our relationship. I believe there is perhaps a more subtle message in this process than we consider–it is not a "life" process, not an exoteric process, but an inner, a psychological process that is being illustrated in this physical encounter.

So in a peculiar way, mindfulness involves getting rid of the mind as we know it. Any awakening out of my sleep is an awakening out of the mind I know. Awakening into a quality that is quite different, one that is tangible, and seemingly always near, yet not manifested.

What, you might ask here, does all of this have to do with the question of a cup that runs over? Of an abundance?

We live in the midst of abundant attention. Just as all the world is a form of prayer, an offering of glories to the higher forces of creation, so all that is created is created within abundant–even infinite–attention. Just think of the amount of attention that manifests in the movement of every atomic particle; the construction of every protein molecule, the growth of every leaf, the wings and feathers of birds, the intricacies of insects, and even something as simple as the chirp of a cricket.

Attention is abundant and manifest, even in me–although I may feel a separation from it, it cannot avoid expression. So in a certain sense, when I fear my lack, when I fear how I am not, the fear itself is insubstantial. In fact, I am–and this inseparable and factual manifestation is as whole and complete as is the rest of creation. I fear that I am not because of a lack of trust. (Here we touch on yet another meaning of the first conscious shock, the Abramic prayer, I am, I wish to be–the affirmation of what Gurdjieff called conscious egoism is the abolition of fear of one's self.)

All of this inner work we do is simply by way of an effort to put ourselves in the path of Grace: to try to prepare for the moment when Grace arrives. Grace is forever next to us, forever manifested in the air we breathe, and even in the small amounts of attention we have; Grace is abundant and freely given.

Yet I lack trust.

So in a sense, my sleep is asleep to the senses that know Love and Grace as active forces; and these senses are in a certain way quite unlike the ones that are used to run my daily life. They are more finely tuned; they are designed to receive quality, not quantity; they are designed not to demand for myself, but to offer up worship. I am here, after all, to work on behalf of forces much larger than me, which I have little or no understanding of.

How can I take this life in in a deeper way and offer it up in the midst of my bumbling stupidity? I have excellent company in this question. Brother Lawrence probably asked it of himself, as he stumbled around the kitchen.

I don't know the answer to that–except see that I cannot do it. Here is where my lack lies. I am unable. Whenever I am touched by something real–the first and most palpable sensation is always a sensation of sorrow, even anguish.

As Kierkegaard said,

“It is otherwise in the world of spirit. Here there prevails an eternal divine order, here it does not rain on the just and the unjust alike, here the sun does not shine on both good and evil. Here only one who works gets bread, and only one who knows anguish finds rest, only one who descends to the underworld saves the loved one, only one who draws the knife gets Isaac."

In sleep, I lack anguish. In awakening, it discovers me. It may be paradoxical to suggest that when we seek God, when we seek love, when we seek awakening and grace, that we seek not bliss, but anguish–and yet it is certain that the two are, in the end, indistinguishable from one another.

There is no need to seek grace; but there is a need to let it find me.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Don't do anything

What if everything I do stands between myself and Being?

What if it is not possible to Be, in all my doing-to-be?

Gurdjieff famously advised his pupils, “Man cannot do.” We generally believe that this is a descriptive: it defines a condition we inhabit.

What if it is, instead, an imperative: a command? What if what he means is that man must not do?

Doing, after all, emanates wholly from my own ego and my own will. I stand within life, at the helm of what I see as my own vessel, commanding each situation and action as though I were in charge, I knew where I were going, and I knew what to do. The doing emanates outward from me. I am radiating my energy into the world, making it do my bidding.

Of course men endowed with the capacity of reason (not all of us are, you know) understand that this is ludicrous. No one makes the world do his own bidding, even though our psyches perversely try to convince us on a moment to moment basis that that is not only exactly what we ought to do... but what we do do.

Lo, world! Be as I wish you to be!

Perhaps the entire dilemma arises from the fact that this is my will being done, in direct contradiction to the Lord's prayer, Thy will be done.

I must do nothing. I should do nothing. In fact, only when I begin to do nothing do I do anything. And in the middle of life, no matter where I am, and no matter what inner or outer actions are taking place, perhaps it is possible to do nothing. Perhaps it is even imperative to do nothing. If I do nothing, something else can be done.

And in fact, the Lord is incredibly generous in this effort: the moment that I do nothing, the Lord does everything.

Everything is exactly as it was. All of the events are still taking place: I am walking, I diligently tote my camera–the famous dog Isabel is behind me or in front of me, I am surrounded by trees, reeds, and catbirds. The Hudson River is still there.

Nonetheless, everything is different: I am not doing anything. Everything is already sufficient, already complete, and I simply walk forward into life, without any need to do. Each moment is sufficient unto itself, without my interference.

Every one of my efforts stands in the way of real effort.

Real effort is the abandonment of effort, but the abandonment of effort in a new way, from a new gravity, with an openness that defies the opaque nature of my personality.

Grace is only one heartbeat away.

Seek it by doing absolutely nothing.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The path of the heart

Last week, my wife and I were watching the DVD “Chartres Cathedral: a sacred geometry.” (Thanks, Luke Storms!)

Chartres was built during the 13th century--the same utterly extraordinary and deeply spiritualized century in which Rumi, Meister Eckhart, and Zen master Dogen lived and worked.

Among other fascinating revelations on this DVD–which is definitely well worth buying!–it turns out that the façade of Chartres Cathedral has numerous unusual esoteric features.

First of all, the façade of the cathedral contains an esoteric reference to the Hindu system of chakras. This isn't surprising, when one considers the work of Paramahansa Yogananda, who not only cited many underlying links between Christian and yogic practice, but also wrote an extensive book on the Gospels.

The narrator in the DVD refers to the correspondence between the medieval iconography of Chartres and Hindu chakra philosophy as coincidental, but anyone who watches it will realize this was not a coincidence at all: it was the definite product of what Gurdjieff would have called a school (a point that is explained early in the documentary.)

Second of all, there is a direct correspondence between the elevation of the rose window on the West façade and the location of the maze on the floor of the cathedral. If one takes an architectural rendering of the façade and lays it flat over the floor plan, the maze and the rose window are directly superimposed. Since the center of the rose window is Christ–that is, God–the maze clearly represents the path to God from here on earth. And, as anyone knows, the center of a maze is referred to as the heart of the maze.

So Chartres Cathedral physically instructs us: the path to God is the path to the heart.

It reminded me at once of the masthead for this blog, which is been there since the first day it was published:

“There is no I, there is only truth. The way to the truth is through the heart."

That statement has been on this blog since the day I started writing it because it was sent to me many years ago by way of personal Divine revelation. The words are not mine: they belong to God.

I don't claim to fully understand it; it is a work to be undertaken, and progressively understood through the challenges and trials of life. It isn't for anyone to explain what it means; it's a question to be engaged in, a practice to be lived. Every once in a while, I get a taste of this truth–just a taste–and in moments like that, life is transformed.

Mr. Gurdjieff undoubtedly called all of us to walk this path of the heart. His work is above all a work of Love.

Given the deep and long-standing connections between yoga practices and Christianity, as illustrated in the connections between the Chartres cathedral and yoga systems, one can see that despite the many obvious relationships between his work and Asian esoteric systems, Gurdjieff never actually deviated from the original eastern Orthodox practice of his youth: because there is no contradiction between Orthodox Christianity and yoga, there is no need to separate them. There is, of course, also no difference between real Islam (as opposed to the destructive exoteric varieties we see in today's world) and Christianity, or Judaism and Christianity: all of the religions actually spring from the same root, and at their esoteric heart can never be different from one another. It is only our own deficiencies that divide them.

Gurdjieff was not just Christian; he was deeply Christian, irrevocably Christian. He was also, in every sense, deeply and irrevocably Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist. His teaching emanated from the heart source of every religion, and calls us back to it.

Despite many blessings, and the abundance of grace which is bestowed in life, I find I have a poor connection to my own heart, and an impoverished understanding of what it means to be compassionate and loving. I am reminded of this constantly, despite the arrogance with which I approach other people and life conditions. I forever find myself in the middle of horrifying situations where I am being, let's face it, a complete idiot, an unashamed egoist–I have no real ability to be any other way–and I see that this is exactly what I am.

If there ever were instances where one could experience what the very saintly Ashieta Shiemash called “the terror of the situation,” these would be the instances indeed.

Intentional suffering–opening the heart–involves being there in the middle of these absolute truths about how I am, and accepting them.

Perhaps the heart just needs to break before anything new can come in.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Immediate Grace

I suppose one could argue that I am on a religious kick in terms of my blog posts these days; I will just plead guilty as charged. After all, I am in a work whose magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, is nothing more or less than an epic where all the major characters seek to find a right relationship between man and God.

What is that right relationship? Where is it? When is it? What is its character?

Questions, beyond any doubt, which mankind has been asking itself for millennia. Aside from atheists–whose wilfull ignorance excuses them from the debate, God bless them–these are the most essential questions.

We're accustomed to rushing this way and that way seeking God. It's tempting, as it always has been, to run off to exotic foreign countries and meet with the apparently grooviest and deepest people one possibly can in order to find God. Gotta go to the coolest places: vortexes, pyramids, menhirs. Find this sage, or that guru–the ones who really "have it." Gotta work with them.

Does this sound familiar? Sure it does. The only difficulty here is that this is not inner work–this is fashion and politics. Every outward event that draws me away from the immediate experience of Grace is already off the mark.

To make a talisman out of anything, or anyone, is already an error. What is needed is right here.

The immediate experience of Grace is available at all times and in all places. It is never withdrawn; existence itself is a state of eternal, permanent, and immediate Grace. The fact that human beings have lost the ability to sense this does not change its truth. Immediate Grace is touching us at all times; it never loses contact with creation.

What does it mean to say that something is immediate? To be immediate is to be without mediation: from the root -im (not, as in immoderate, immobile) and mediatus, that is, intervening, mediated or moderated.

This means that to be immediate is to be without any brokerage: the immediate experience of Grace is unmediated. I speak here of that Grace which exists without any agent to deliver it. It is already present. There is no need to have another person intervene so that we can experience grace; there is nothing between us and God except Grace itself, which is of God, and in fact an embodiment of God's Will.

It might sound facetious to say so, but there is nothing between me and God except God. No translator is necessary, no special and secret technique is needed. A belief in any kind of mediation is already a betrayal of faith, a lack of trust, a sign of deficiency.

There is no more Grace, for example, at Chartres, or embodied in the Pope or the Dalai Lama, or on a mat at the next fabulous retreat week at a Zen monastery, than there is around me right now as I dictate this–or around you as you read it. There is more attractive power, perhaps, working together in groups–that's usually true. There is no denying the value of this.

Nonetheless, my aim needs to be to personally awaken to the Grace that is already present, through the opening of my own heart. To look around, to breathe, to sense, to see–to remain immediately available through the senses to the mystery of what is around me.

That includes the mysteries of strangers at the supermarket checkout, as well as white tailed deer peering at me from behind the bushes in the early morning sun. If I selectively believe in only that which appears to the eyes or sounds to the ears to be sacred, I have misunderstood the sacred.

Seek not things; seek an inner movement. Seek an action. To participate is sacred. To receive is sacred. To honor is sacred. Each action has the potential to be worship; each action has the potential to offer thanks.

Grace is the substantial arrival of thanks from the Lord Himself for our efforts of presence on His behalf. This is manna from heaven that can sustain.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A technical work

Is the path to God a technical work? To be technical means "to do with art-" the "skillful means" of the Buddhist.

Over thousands of years, mankind has produced an endless series of technical treatises about heightened awareness and the approach to the consciousness of what we call God. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Gurdjieffians, Muslims– everyone's in on it. There are tens of thousands of competing sets of how-to instructions, ancient to modern.

However, if you're a man–a male of the human species, that is–you are probably accustomed to starting up computer programs or assembling mechanical devices without reading the manual, and expecting them to work anyway. You fish your way through, and because of a combination of experience and intuition, things often work. (Sometimes, they don't.)

So it seems that for many of us, our natural instincts instruct us to skip the instructions, yet we still produce them ad infinitum.

Gurdjieff never wrote what one might call his own technical instruction book. He certainly gave a plethora of technical instructions to P. D. Ouspensky, who wrote them down in In Search Of The Miraculous, but his own "instruction book"–Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson–isn't an instruction book at all. It's a mythology. It may be popular with academics and other intellectual types to characterize mythologies as abstract sets of instructions, but mythologies by their very nature are meant to be intuited and speak to the unconscious part of the mind, not dissected and rationally analyzed. So if they are instructions, they're neither linear nor literal.

The notable divergence of these two texts, which are different in both content and character, has led to what one might call competing versions of Gurdjieff's teachings. Ouspensky, to some, is the purist–remaining faithful to the original teaching and its technical nature; to others, the heart and soul of the teaching lies in Gurdjieff's emotive and mystical writings and personal teachings, which do not subject themselves to facile explanations--or to reductionist comparatives to Ouspensky.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: when it comes to mysticism, technical works don't actually work. If they did, the planet would be overflowing with Enlightened Beings. Hmm? And it's not- au contraire, mankind is very deep in galoshes indeed.

The knowing of God is an effort to know an unknown which cannot be known, and every technical approach ends up being one more brick in a tower of Babel. Mystical Christian texts (the most important and vital of which are, in my limited and inexpert opinion, The Cloud of Unknowing, The Practice of the Presence of God, and Meister Eckhart's teachings) certainly take this into account, and Zen Buddhist texts (my personal pick is, as always, Dogen's Shobogenzo- read it all, don't cherry-pick it) are all founded on the premise that the knower must go beyond knowing. This certainly doesn't submit itself to technical analysis or techniques. Yet we persist in attraction to them.

The knowing of the unknown involves, inevitably and foremost, the unknowing of the known, and everything technical is known, or at the very least suggests that we can know (the ultimate arrogance of humanity's intellectualism being the presumption that with enough effort, anything can be known.)

On the contrary, for mystics, the world must, in a sense, become unknown to them, but this is a different kind of unknowing: it is not an unknowing born of ignorance. Intelligence must still be present. So there is a mystery-- and an apparent contradiction-- here.

The Lord does not wish for me to be born in ignorance or to live in ignorance. The wish is, instead, for the soul to be born in presence and to live within presence--including the intelligence, which is in fact essential to the process. Meister Eckhart advises thus:

“...the Eternal Word is spoken internally in the heart of the soul, in the most interior and purest part, in the head of the soul, of which I have recently spoken, in the intellect." (Sermon # 2, from Oliver Davies' Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings, Penguin Classics, 1994 P. 113)

When I speak of a "work within life," which is a common and compelling theme in the Gurdjieff practice, I thus don't speak of a technical work. I speak of an organic work, of a work in motion, of a work in sensation and intuition. Breaking it down into constituent parts and trying to glue them back onto or into my experience of life may be how I begin–of course, that is how Ouspensky understood it–but it can never be where I end. The Lord has given me a whole life, not many small pieces that I need to stick back together for Him. When I engage in a technical work, I am Humpty Dumpty. I have fallen off the wall, and then create a cohort of King's horses and King's men to try and reassemble my fragments.

How can I bring a work of living into the fullness of life? Perhaps I cannot. There are no manuals; there are no bargains to be made or prayers to be traded. Everything within me must be unconditionally offered, without expectation. This truly requires the surrender of the cohort.

And in surrender, no army knows what will come next. That is why surrender is feared: I rely absolutely on the mercy of what I surrender to.

I lack trust; I don't surrender. Here, perhaps, are the very horns of the dilemma itself.

May our prayers be heard.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The house of the Lord, part 2

Meditations on the 23rd psalm, part 2

Originally, I planned to continue with what amounted to a technical analysis of the Psalm, but it seemed to be completely out of context with the first post–some kind of fancy and annoying intellectual exercise–so I erased it.

Instead, I'm just going to speak about my own experience candidly. This is more in the moving spirit of the Psalm, rather than the analytic content.

There is a Grace that comes within the abundance of life. Now, I have spent a great deal of my life experiencing it through fear; I think we all do. Many times, my reaction to fear is so visceral it seems to swallow all the alternatives.

Nonetheless, I find that this isn't entirely necessary. In the wholeness of life, in the sensation of the body, in the grounding within the spiritual centers of gravity–the abdomen and the heart–it's possible to discover a condition that does not have so much fear in it. If fear begins anywhere, it begins in my lack of connection with myself. The moment that I begin to attend in a different way, there is less fear. I can even look fear directly in the eye and know that it is not the master.

Grace never leaves me, even in the midst of doubt. My misappropriation of life itself, my mistaken perceptions about who is in charge–even this does not stop Grace, which the Lord bestows according to his own laws, not mine. As Brother Lawrence so eloquently pointed out, even if I remind the Lord that I am not worthy of Grace–and I truly am not worthy–this is not my decision to make.

Mr. Gurdjieff surely knew that a man who works will find Grace–or, rather, that Grace will find him. His emphasis on responsibility and service–linchpins of the efforts he calls on us to make towards Being–are nothing more than the foundation, the fertile earth, in which Grace can be received.

I find myself moving through life asking myself how I can discover, through attentive practice, a way to offer compassionate support–not only from what I think, or what my emotions tell me, since these alone are not enough. Compassionate support begins with my sensation of myself, grows roots from the interaction with the mind and with feeling, until there is a more whole approach to life. It is grounded in gravity, it dwells within gravity. This is not the gravity of the planet, but the gravity of the soul, which binds us together enough to see life a bit more for what it is.

Day by day, and hour by hour, and even minute by minute–I don't know anything. I dwell within this eternity created in each day, attempting to serve, hoping for the consciousness which transcends my own, and praying for the mercy that is necessary to open my heart. Without this prayer, I'm not sure there would be anything meaningful going on in me, since it appears to me that above all I am required to constantly offer prayer and thanksgiving for this life I have been given.

That all may appear to be in rank contradiction to the realities expressed by my outward manifestations–a man struggling with himself, trying to earn a living, saying snotty things to his wife and children sometimes, yelling at the famous dog Isabel when she misbehaves.

I catch myself ten thousand times a day like this: these are my conditions. Yet even they are not separated from the Lord; even they are exactly part of what He is, and cannot be denied or separated. The ordinary tribulations and the questions are as much a part of His Being as the glory of an August day.

It may sound strange, once again, to speak of Gurdjieff's work as a religious practice; yet there is nothing but religion in it, and if a man finds his soul, he will see that this is the only thing Mr. Gurdjieff ever wished for any of us.

Every human being who undertakes this work must find it for themselves in their own heart, and speak of it in their own voice. This is not just a romantic calling; it is our duty.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The House of the Lord

Meditations on the 23rd psalm: part 1

The title of Gurdjieff's "All and Everything," first series- better known, perhaps, as "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson-" appears to be about man and his intransigencies, or about the cosmos and earth's place in it. The title, however, subtly points us to a more comprehensive interpretation: All that Is, or, more specifically, God.

And, indeed, so it turns out to be: a book exclusively centered around the duties and responsibilities incumbent upon "all three brained beings of the Great Universe" to His Endlessness.

This question deepens as a man looks further, and deeper, into the extraordinary lens Gurdjieff sets before us.

Where are we?

We find ourselves in the House of the Lord.

In the last line of the 23rd psalm, the prayer reads, ..."I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever."

The House referred to here is life; more specifically, my own life. I am called to dwell within- to inhabit- this living circumstance, which is not just "my" life at all, but rather the very same House that the Lord dwells within: the House of the Lord and this circumstance of life are in fact one and the same.

When the Lord clothes Himself in Glory, that selfsame Glory is the Glory of awareness, the Glory of life incarnate; there is no separation between life and Glory, just as there is no separation between the House of the Lord and this life that I am called upon to inhabit.

This may seem theoretical to me, because there is usually no capacity in me to see, let alone understand, that within this life itself, I am not what I think I am, and life is not what I think it is. In every step, with every breath, within each circumstance and each action, I am the very embodiment of the Lord: not just an agent of Divinity, but Divinity itself, expressing its own will and its own action, according to both the law and the will of divinity.

To argue whether or not "I" am or am not divine is hardly the point: this is no more than an egoistic exercise in sophistry. I am called upon instead to understand organically- from within the depths of Being, from within a conjunction of centers and energy, from within a wholeness- and to embody the Divine awareness that both creates and manifests at every moment, in all Being- aware or unaware.

This same embodiment is the aim of Zen; the attainment of the dharma is no complex feat of skill; it's no more than the immediate inhabitation of life. This dwelling within is never later, and never a thought: it's not an idea, but an actual embodiment, lived through the body, seen through the body: sensed through the body, spoken through the body, for life itself in all its guises is indeed not just the visage of the Lord but even the Word of the Lord itself, as it emanates from every Holy Source of arising, and returns to it. Even inorganic matter participates in this embodiment- nothing can be separated from it.

As the prayer says, "Thou art with me." I am never even a step away from the Lord; I am called to inhabit His house at every moment as I pass through this incarnation, shadowed by the deep questions of life and death.

The Lord has embodied Himself in all places and all things; no consciousness or manifestation is exempt from inclusion. To dwell within the House of the Lord is simply and merely to Be; to be without the sound and the fury, the Sturm und Drang, of "my" life. This is to step into prayer, to step into the receiving of life, the acceptance of life into this vessel so exqusitely and carefully prepared for it: as it is, where it is and when it is.

I belive that I somehow have the right to determine the terms of this exchange, this transaction, but in fact absolutely no terms whatsoever belong to me, or even exist within my reach. Like the Being in the 23rd Psalm, all the conditions are already determined; no alternatives exist. Each condition and circumstance lies in the hands of God.

My mistake has always been that I presume to control the exchange, to believe in my own authority. This in sheer defiance of an ever-present and abundant Grace, which I very nearly dare not acknowledge; after all, to do so in any moment destroys every moment in which I entitle myself to appropriate that Goodness which is not my own.

Already under authority, I am obliged only to acknowledge it. Already within conditions, I am responsible only to see them. All of the struggles I invent to surpass my conditions are futile, for all conditions are already unsurpassable and infinite; every weakness and strength I seek to discard or enhance already has all of its limits and potentials set and realized.

I am only able to inhabit: to see. Beyond this, all is given; and given furthermore from a Generosity, and a Love, beyond my own capacity to comprehend.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Technique and feeling

My friend Douglas and I were most fortunate to be present at the emergence of this swallowtail from its chrysalis yesterday.

The last group of posts have focused on various questions of structure, technique, and cosmology, the study of which is rewarding in any inner search.

I embarked on studies of this kind many years ago, and from time to time, when meaningful insights present themselves, I occasionally return to revise or otherwise expound on the material. Nonetheless, in what has to be considered an exquisite irony, the insights never come from an assiduous practice of technique.

Knowing how things work doesn't make them work. Things just work, and we just observe them working.

As the Muslims say, everything is actually in God's hands, and any other opinion is false. Events only take place in so far as God wills them. We can see from the studies as presented over the last 3 days that even when men feel that they are willing their own inner work, the lessons implicit in the involutionary and evolutionary forces of the enneagram demonstrate that everything ultimately arises from, and returns into, the will of God.

If a man acquires will–an aim which Gurdjieff said was in fact quite necessary–we will discover that it isn't his own will. At best, he will acquire a will that is an incarnate, or fundamentally limited, version of God's will–and the only action he can take with that will that ultimately benefits him is to surrender it back to God. So in the end, as Meister Eckhart says, after we have acquired it, our aim must be to completely empty ourselves of our own will... until nothing but the Will of the Divine is left.

We come back to that question–what is it to open the heart? Well, certainly, we have inklings of what it means on this level. And there are certainly external, societal, familial and social understandings related to this. After all, there are myriad horizontal actions of the law of octaves (Dogen's myriad causes) as well as the verticals ones we're usually more interested in. But we put the idea of opening the heart firmly within our mind, where it does not belong. The mind cannot open the heart, and the body cannot open the heart. We can prepare for opening the heart with what Mr. Gurdjieff referred to as intentional suffering, but even here, we are not quite sure what that means.

The only thing that seems certain is that opening the heart requires the touch of a force from above us.

All of our efforts, all of our prayers, within the tiny sphere of our own eternity, are turned towards a hope of consciousness and a hope that we may develop enough depth of feeling: enough sensitivity to feel our way forward through the blindness. This is what it takes. The constant attitude of prayer; a constant feeling of sorrow. Not sorrow for the small things that our ego throws in front of us; a sorrow that arises from the fabric and texture of life itself, that lies at the root of every beauty and every sensation. A sorrow that is breathed in with the air and that clings to the edge of every leaf.

It's only with the awakening of our feelings that anything can take place. Techniques, to be sure, are interesting, and formulations may be informative. Nonetheless, skillful means never open the doors of the heart. They belong to the Lord, and only He holds the key, or knows when He might turn it in the lock which we ourselves, in our blindness, have set there.

Go gently into sun and shadow, sky and the rain
In the midst of the noise of life
Be with the voice that does not speak.

May our prayers be heard.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Desires and non-desires

One of the well-known remarks that Gurdjieff's saintly protagonist Ashieta Shiemash made to his followers was as follows:

"And so, only he who consciously assists the process of this inner struggle, and consciously assists the "nondesires" to prevail over the "desires," behaves in accordance with the Being of our Common Father Creator Himself; whereas he who consciously assists the contrary only increases His sorrow." (Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, P. 340).

This of course reminds us of Gurdjieff's premise of non-identification, or, if we are Buddhists, the cultivation of detachment; and Christian asceticism is not far off this mark either. Nonetheless, followers of the Gurdjieff method continue to question each other and themselves about exactly what was meant by this.

Returning once again to the character and nature of the two conscious shocks, and the prayers associated with them, we can perhaps begin to develop a deeper perspective on this thorny question.

In the preceding passage, Ashieta Shiemash lays out what could be considered an encapsulation of the forces in action on the opposite sides of the enneagram:

"'And we must be suffering, because this being-impulse can come to its full manifestation in us only through the constant struggle between two quite opposite complexes of functioning issuing from two sources of quite opposite origin, that is to say, through the constant struggle between the processes of the functioning of our planetary body and the parallel processes of the functionings arising progressively in accordance with the coating and perfecting of our higher being-bodies within this planetary body of ours, which processes in their totality actualize every kind of reason in three-centered beings.

"'Consequently, like all three-centered beings of our Great Universe, we men existing on the Earth, owing to the presence in us also of the factors for engendering the divine impulse of Objective Conscience, must always inevitably struggle with the two quite opposite functionings arising and proceeding in our common presence, the results of which are always sensed by us either as "desires" or as "non desires." (ibid- Italics are mine.)

If we understand the "two opposite complexes of functioning" as referring to the two opposite sides of the ennegram, we can see that the desires belong to the right side of the diagram, which represents both the physical incarnation ("the functioning of our planetary body") and the involutionary forces of self-affirmation. The non-desires, on the other hand, clearly represent the evolutionary forces of surrender (intentional suffering) represented on the left side of the diagram, which represent the higher centers.

In other words, the struggle between desires and non-desires is a representation of the struggle between the self and Godhead, in which the self must be utterly surrendered in order to complete Gurdjieff's second conscious shock. The action, in fact, has little to do with man's involvement with the external world, but is rather an inner interaction that has been progressively misunderstood and literalized until the exoteric interpretation focuses on our outward behavior, emotional tastes, and moral compasses. (Hence Beelzebub's contempt for man's ideas about good and evil. See pages 1040-1046 in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson--which, by the way, includes a remarkably compelling description of the involutionary and evolutionary forces under discussion in this series of essays.)

The question of the struggle between desire and non-desire must ultimately draw a man much more deeply into the nature of his personal manifestation relative to a higher authority. Once again, we encounter a taste of Meister Eckhart's direction here. Or, to put it in Christ's words, once a man gains the whole world (his ego, his self, and his relationship to the external) he runs the risk of losing his soul in the process.

If we were to extrapolate any further, we might surmise that the impulse of divine conscience, also mentioned in this particular passage, represents the reconciling force or "do" that mediates all of the interplay between these opposing forces. It is, after all, a specifically designated divine force active in all of the three brained beings of the universe, qualifying it for that role. Hence its position in the diagram that opens the essay.

What we see in the Enneagram is a map of the vast cosmological engine in which energy, on its involutionary path, is separated from its parent source–the Father– undergoes a painful process of individuation–and then discovers that this must be surrendered if it is to return to the source. The entire process is a divine process–not belonging to man, and mediated entirely through the assistance of the divine, who must intervene (by way of the conscious shocks) on both sides of the process in order to help it along.

Thus, in a peculiar yet instructive paradigm, God intentionally causes man to fall away from him, and helps in the process, but then assists in his return. Echoes of certain sophisticated Christian theologies abound here. Sin–the involutionary force–is necessary. Without it, there is no polarity, and without polarity, the movement of energy is impossible.

Here we furthermore encounter a powerful and comprehensive image of one of the basic Gurdjieffian practices: we forget ourselves, and we must return to ourselves.

The Enneagram has this basic principle of inner work built directly into its visual language, inserting the principle into the workings of the cosmos itself. We may feel alone and desperate in our perpetual forgetting of ourselves, forgetting of our Divine nature, forgetting of the principles of inner work.

Yet, seen from the point of view of the Enneagram, the cosmos is manufactured with this challenge built into the very fabric of its own existence.

Even God, apparently, cannot remember himself sufficiently–perhaps, in the end, the price that He paid to create the cosmos, and one of the sources of His endless sorrow.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Prayer, involution, and evolution

Expanding on yesterday's post about the 2 prayers and their relationship to the conscious shocks, the following possibilities offer themselves.

Each of the 2 conscious shocks–in the form of prayer–takes on a dual role of both holy affirming and holy denying. This relationship is complex, but important to try and understand.

I am- I wish to be

The first shock, conscious labor, is accompanied by a prayer of affirmation of the self.

This is entirely appropriate, because it takes place on the right side of the enneagram, which is the corporeal, or incarnated, side of the diagram. It corresponds exactly to Gurdjieff's comment that a man must become a conscious egoist in order to work. Embodied in this flesh, a human being's first task is to affirm themselves consciously. This means to take responsibility for one's Being.

This is actually a holy denying action, since one must paradoxically deny the Lord in order to affirm oneself. It's notable that Gurdjieff's mythological protagonist Beelzebub fell from grace in heaven specifically because he affirmed himself and his own ideas, instead of His Endlessness. We see a direct connection here between Beelzebub's actions and the first conscious shock, as well as an explanation of why he is banished–that is, incarnated–in the solar system.

There is, in other words, a little Beelzebub in all of us.

The energy of the first conscious shock is involutionary. It is a folding inward of the higher towards the self, a gathering of energies. This shock is affirming from the perspective of the self, but denying from the perspective of the Lord. Nonetheless, it is absolutely necessary as part of the process. One might say that one has to leave the Lord in order to come back. The parable of the prodigal son comes to mind.

The understanding also casts a light on the ideas of original sin in Christianity; man begins from a point where holy denying (affirmation of the self, which may be perceived as sinful) is a requirement for his existence and development, not an option. This is consistent with some of Meister Eckhart's views on the nature of sin, as well as brother Lawrence's observation that he put his sins between himself and God, to advise God that he was not worthy, and that God studiously ignored him, and continued to send blessings anyway.

The path is fraught with danger because the path must be fraught with danger. (Job 5:7: Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.) No one is exempt from negotiating this territory. The difference between the conscious egoist and the unconscious egoist is that the conscious egoist is aware of the danger; the unconscious egoist blithely ignores it.

Lord have mercy.

The second conscious shock, intentional suffering, requires a movement into the emotional and spiritual side of the enneagram.

The shock that is required here is the exact opposite of the first shock–this is a holy affirming action–that is, it is a surrender to His Endlessness. In other words, it is the surrender of the ego which was painstakingly and actively affirmed in the first stage of work, and an affirmation of the Lord. The shock is, of course, a holy denying action in relation to the ego.

Ultimately, we are required to surrender everything we have gained in order to complete the process. The evolutionary process of the second shock is a returning outward of everything that was folded inward in the first stage. And, in the same way that organic molecules must without fail be correctly folded in order to do their jobs, what was folded inward in the first stage must be rightly folded, lest what is emitted in the second stage during the unfolding be corrupted.

Why does it work this way? Well, Gurdjieff gave us an oblique answer to that in his conversations with Ouspensky. He pointed out that men already think that they have will, and so make no effort to acquire it.

In the same spirit, it is impossible to surrender your ego to God if you don't have one.

As Gurdjieff explained it, what we think is ego, or "I," is actually just false personality. Hence the work to acquire a real ego, in order to have something to give up or offer, makes perfect sense.

The shocks are not one-dimensional. Each shock actually embodies both a yes and a no- the two shocks manifest an internal friction that maintains a dynamic action. The beauty of understanding the system from this perspective is that the reconciling factor always remains "do," regardless of which role the shocks play, and which perspective they are viewed from.

The action of the Lord is always necessary in order to reconcile our contradictions.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Prayer and worship in the Gurdjieff Work

Perhaps the best commentary on the place of prayer in the Gurdjieff work is the chapter on prayer in Michel Conge's exceptional book, Inner Octaves. This fine piece of work is, unfortunately, unavailable to the general public–a situation intentionally created by those who control the publishing rights, but, in my view, profoundly mistaken, since it only encourages the illegal distribution of the book–which is absolutely inevitable in the day and age of the Internet. Anyway, if you can get your hands on a copy of this book–legally, of course–do so.

During the last month or so, I have been pondering the question of the Enneagram and centers of gravity. Today, in a parallel but related line of inquiry, some insights arrived regarding the nature of the two principal prayers used in the Gurdjieff system. The below excerpt is from a brief new essay on the subject, entitled Chakras and the Enneagram: Centers of Gravity and Conscious Shocks, available to read on line, or for download in .docx format at

The below commentary occurs in the context of the essay's wider field of investigation, which I daresay will be of interest to Gurdjieffians, if perhaps not the general public.

The two prayers

There are only two principal prayers found in the Gurdjieff work. This may seem odd in what is so clearly a religious practice, despite protestations to the contrary. We needn’t feel this is so unusual, however; the early Hesychasts and the writers of the Philokalia managed to reduce their practice to a single prayer, the “Lord have Mercy” prayer alone, which was deemed fully sufficient to achieve salvation.

One could argue that point; however, what is certain is that Gurdjieff reduced the essential prayers in his system to the only two he considered as absolutely necessary, according to the science of the Enneagram. I say this because each prayer is, as it happens, specifically related to one side of the diagram, and directly related to what Gurdjieff called a conscious shock.

I am–I wish to be

This prayer is the Abrahamic prayer, that is, the Old Testament prayer for being that founded the work leading to Christianity. It derives from the statement that the Lord made to Moses when he encountered the Lord in the form of a burning bush: “I am that I am.”

This prayer is specifically related to the first conscious shock, which is a work of essential affirmation and conscious labor. This particular work relates to the energy on the right side of the body–an energy which, esoterically speaking, is directly related to the work of the individual and their own personal effort. This work might be contextualized as an effort to show oneself as worthy through preparation, although there are many other dimensions to it.

Lord have Mercy

This prayer is the Christian prayer, i.e., the New Testament prayer that represents the covenant of love brought by Christ. It is furthermore the Prayer of the Heart, as practiced by the Early Church Fathers of the Philokalia. It belongs to the second conscious shock, and the left side of the Enneagram. This work relates to the energy on the left side of the body, which is sent from above as help. The prayer itself represents a call for help, and is in fact an abstract of the core of the practice of both Christianity and Islam--that is, submission.

Both prayers are absolutely necessary in order to achieve harmonious development, and furthermore stand in technical accordance with the principles expounded in the science of octaves.

Because each one is specifically associated with a conscious shock, we see that worship, in both the old and New Testament form, is actually an essential--perhaps the most essential-- component of the Gurdjieff system. It is just worship in what one might call an unfamiliar context.

This makes perfect sense, because if we wish to discover a truly effective worship, certainly, it won't be one we're familiar with.

May our prayers be heard.