Monday, March 26, 2012

A living work

Bas relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud
ca. 883 B.C.
Metropolitan Museum, New York

 It's common for us to feel separated from our work; as though we can't get it together, we constantly forget ourselves, it's only within the special conditions of meetings and work events with others that we find enough energy to be present, if at all—and so on. There is a constant struggle to remain aware. Even Gurdjieff himself mentioned this when he said to Jeanne de Salzmann, in response to her question about how work was for him, to come by his room at 2 a.m. and hear him weeping and gnashing his teeth.

 There is, however, hope. Work can become a living thing. This is a both a principal and a law; a principal, because without the awakening of the work within one's inner life, one doesn't suffer enough to grow; and a law, because enough effort of the right kind issues an irresistible call.

 Make no mistake about it; the world will do everything it can to take your work from you. The external world of the forces of personality are greedy and relentless; everything about life insists that there is no real need for inner work, and, in fact, the machine of the universe is constructed in such a way that on this planet, the forces which attempt to keep man from working are enormous. This is what was meant by Gurdjieff's mysterious remark about man being under 48 laws on this planet; for all intents and purposes, we are grapes caught in a wine press, and it can extract everything it needs from us without our effort—without us being aware.

 So the world drains us of what we are; yet, if our inner work, our essence, wakes up and becomes a living thing, it becomes impossible for the world to take this from us. A man or woman can form an inner part that is as firm as an iron rod, always upright, intelligent, supporting the effort to see life. This is a living energy that does not forget and does not go away, because it does not belong to the laws or the forces of sleep.

This doesn't mean we become more like gurus or gods. It simply means that we become more like humans. Humanity is supposed to have this living element in it, this force which animates, which leads to a different kind of consciousness in relationship. Work in life is supposed to be a living thing that always carries a thread of presence within it; and it can be this living thing, but only if we form in ourselves a fierce determination to resist everything that life throws at us and tries to break us.

 For thousands of years, the spiritual path has been defined by many as an effort to become extraordinary; yet the path is definitively to become ordinary—in the sense of ordinal, knowing one's position, and conforming to law.  We may speak of "special conditions" for spiritual growth, yet this is nonsense; there are no “special” conditions. In the end, everything is ordinal, everything conforms to law. There are just conditions from one level or another. They only look special to us, because they foster obedience to a higher order: one we are not usually aware of.

It might be more appropriate to speak of “typical” behavior rather than “ordinary” behavior; because our behavior on this level is strictly according to type. What we are is typical; what we seek to become is ordinary, that is, under an order. That's what understanding means. We see that we stand beneath the order above us; we become ordinary, within in order, instead of seeing ourselves as apart from it.

In becoming human and becoming ordinary, we inhabit the circumstances where inner growth can take place. The Zen tradition has a fairly good understanding of this problem, which is why masters such as Dogen eschew the ideas of enlightenment and non-enlightenment, insisting that we must go beyond these formulative conditions to attain understanding. In every circumstance, to go beyond is to inhabit the ordinary with one's living presence: an essential feature of nearly every koan, and the Zen landscape in general.

Temptation, as framed in the Lord's prayer, is every force of external life, of personality, that insists it is more important than essence. Resisting temptation has little or nothing to do with doing “bad” things; it is not an external moral imperative, which is where the question has rested for the most part for thousands of years.  Temptation is the inner action of yielding to the forces that want to take one's work away from oneself. 

And it's only when one has been tested over and over again in the fire and continues to insist that one will keep trying, that one will keep working, that one will not give up—it's only then that help is sent, enough help, in fact, for essence to remain awake.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.


  1. ok.
    All so true and just.

    BUT how does this relate to the 'ordinary householder'?
    Perhaps not at all.

    It remains a special work for oh so special people...who find themselves drawn to it.
    The groups, movements, Sundays, special meetings etc (how many times a wk?
    This is only for a kind of urban middle class intelligentsia. Let's get real here.
    This is not a work for Bedouin tribesman (or 'fishermen'). Gurdjieff is kidding us and we are kidding ourselves if we think this is.
    And where are the fruits of it?

    In what way has this world become a better place because of all these all so aware Sundays - and repainting - hopefully using ecopaint (smile).
    One could compellingly sense that this work has done absolutely nothing - no (herald of the) coming good.
    Or Bennett's (making a ) New World
    What could we point to that this work had made 'good'.
    Any more than permaculture or whatever. Of course the average good group member will think that with lots of work he/she will be in a better more mature place to act in the world.....

  2. Paul,
    Let's not confuse levels, or how action relates to them.

  3. This is the paradox... We must act in the world, and in that world we are as puppets, but living puppets who can resist the pull of certain of the strings; that's all we can "do".
    But the horizontal world does not change in this way. We remain under 48 Orders of laws. That is why I hit upon Lee's subtle use of the term Ordinary, Same root as that in number; ordinance.

    It is only in the invisible and vertical axis that we can hold agains the song of the sirens; only by strengthening this vertical conduit can we allow for the flow of energies BOTH directions. Because we are not on the bottom OR the top, we are in the middle and our purpose and function may be likened to a nail, which has no other purpose but to hold two things together.

    The nail has no action of it's own; it does not move around making decisions. It is fixed in place as in the crucifixion, of which we have our share. What's more, it's action becomes invisible, taken for granted, so long as the chair we sit in doesn't collapse.

    I believe that this our true work, and it is for a distant future. Christianity took 312 years to begin to break through the soil of the "world", and became it's se;f AND it's opposite, just as a shadow is the opposite color from the object.

    It's extremely important to make a separation between the baby, the bathtub and the water of the tub. There water may be filty, the tiub may be cracked, but the baby lives and grows, invisible to it's parents eyes, which is why people often measure the height of children against a wall. To measure their growth.

    Why should not the inner work move so quickly that it becomes a freak of nature? I trust the Work itself, and I trust Mr. Gurdjieff. I do not "trust" the world to change on account of my puny personage.

    In fact, war or no war, I simply don't care, as it is out of my purview. Do you know the exercise to keep one's being inside an atmosphere of 18 inches?

    Tomy general presence this has a greater meaning than simply to build attention and will: it is a royal road to Doing" in the measure which is mine and nobody else's. So long as I sat tend to THAT work, the entire "world" will change for me. Perhaps not for anyone else, but for me, it irrevocably changes for the better.

    Change the world? Look to thyself, as you ARE the World.

  4. thanks for the comments team - they do really help

    I lose the plot sometimes out here in the jungle and mix up levels....

    I should know better but sometimes life particularly challenging!

  5. I like your phrase 'the zen landscape in general' (smile).

    From a humble householder...


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