Monday, December 31, 2012


 This morning, my wife cut my hair just before my shower.

We always use a pair of electric clippers. While I was sitting there, naked, watching the hair fall to the ground, I was reminded of the way that Jews had their hair shaved off on their way to the gas chamber, and realized that I was undergoing the same set of physical sensations.

My nakedness and the loss of my hair seemed to represent being shorn of everything I was; the fact is that whether we are being marched to the gas chamber or not, we all inexorably approach death throughout this life, and only the humility of being shorn of my outward aspects—ego, pride, all the things that are attached to this world—may remind me of the need for real inner work and effort.

 After my shower, I pondered the poem I read last night, Celan's Todesfuge, and decided to do some work of my own on it. I studied this poem in German literature at college; it made an impression on me that was still with me when I found it in my collection of Celan's verse last night.

This relentlessly uncompromising poem stands as one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century, and perhaps any century.

A free translation of Paul Celan's Todesfuge.

I've taken liberties with some meanings:
Notably, Celan uses Lüften the first two times he mentions air, which means, literally, airs. I chose to interpret this rather as an alternative meaning, to give air to, to reveal, which is to say, roughly speaking, to inhabit what is seen. He uses the singular version Lüft (twice) later in the poem, suggesting the difference between the two is intentional. The interpretation is consistent with the overall quality of the poem, which is above all a witnessing; an opening of graves through acknowledgment.

The word Meister would generally be translated as master, but I have chosen to emphasize the musical aspects of the verses where the word Meister is used, offering a vision not just of mastery, but control; the mysterious figure who plays with snakes and sets his dogs on us is certainly a controlling figure, not just one who displays mastery. Hence my choice of the word conductor, which implies one who orchestrates Celan's music of death.

Celan has personalized the agency of death in this poem, and I've chosen to emphasize that by saying a man lives in his home, not at home. This emphasizes both the comfort that our agent of death feels in his role, and his ownership of it (also implied by his mastery.) I think it's consistent with Celan's overall intention, if not his literal words.

I can offer no excuses for my parsing of Celan's phrasing into an alternate verse structure. It just looks right to me this way, and some things in poetry must be done based on gut feeling alone.


Black milk of the morning we drink in the evening,
We drink noon and morning, at night
We drink and we drink;
We shovel a grave in what's seen
Where one lies unencumbered

A man lives in his home, he plays with the serpents, he writes
He writes in the shadows to Germany:
Your golden hair Margaret
He writes it and steps to the front yard the stars are like lightning
Calls his dogs to his side
Calls his jews orders a grave in the dirt
Orders us music to dance

Black milk of the morning we drink you at night
We drink morning, noon, we drink in the evening
We drink and we drink;
A man lives in his home, he plays with his serpents, he writes
He writes in the evening to Germany:
Your golden hair Margaret
Your ashen hair Sulamith
We dig a grave in what's seen
Where one lies unencumbered

He calls out, dig deeper in earth's kingdom
come one and come all, sing and play
He grasps sword from his belt and swings it
His eyes are blue
Dig the spade deeper, come one and come all,
and dance onwards

Black milk of the morning we drink you at night
We drink you at midday and morning we drink you in evenings
We drink and we drink
A man lives in his home
Your golden hair Margaret
Your ashen hair Sulamith
He plays with his serpents
He says, sweeten death with a song,
Death is a conductor from Germany
Stroke violins darkly, you'll rise up as smoke through the air
You'll have graves in the clouds where one lies unencumbered

Black milk of the morning we drink you at night
We drink you at midday;
Death is a conductor from Germany
We drink you evenings and mornings,
We drink you and drink you
Death is a conductor from Germany, his eye is blue
He hits you with bullets, precisely
A man lives in his home
Your golden hair Margaret
Unleashes his dogs on us, gives us a grave in the air
He plays with his serpents and dreams
Death is a conductor from Germany  

Your golden hair Margaret
Your golden hair Sulamith

The three being-foods of ego

Ego feeds itself principally off three different kinds of impressions that come into the body.

Ego is a lower manifestation of Self, or Purusha, that appears in the interaction of the first three universal principles, materiality, desire, and power. It is a mechanical or reflexive response to the action of life, not a conscious one — the conscious response only emerges at the level of Being, which relates to the fourth universal principle. Within the first three universal principles, ego lives in a world of hunger — what the Buddhists call the world of hungry ghosts. And the three forces it finds itself surrounded with are what it feeds on.

 The first being food for ego is material things. When this lower part of the Self encounters material existence, it takes it all as an affirmation of its own existence. This is a kind of food which feeds the ego with a concrete understanding of its own existence, which it takes as real. this is the equivalent of ordinary food which is chewed and digested by human beings. Ego takes the material and incorporates it into its being, constructing a concrete existence for itself.

The second being food for ego is desire. This is the equivalent of air in the being food of man — ego breathes desire in and out, wanting and not wanting. The interaction of wanting and not wanting with material creates the sensation of life.  All ordinary cravings arise here from the ingestion of this food by the ego. In addition, the existence of the material, compounded by the ingestion of craving, creates a situation where the ego needs to defend itself and its material existence. It is, for all intents and purposes, defending its food source, a primal instinct for every animal.

 In order to do this, the ego needs a third food, the highest food, power, which is the equivalent of impressions for a man. Power provides the force necessary to defend all three of the food sources. Ego enjoys feeding on power, because it confers authority on it.

Everything, in other words, that ego does arises out of hunger. Because of its automatic functioning, ego is insatiable; it doesn't see limits to how much material, desire, or power it ought to eat, and, in fact, the ego is almost always an obese creature. Because it isn't literally visible, this can, in its subtleties, be difficult to see, but the more exaggerated effects that overgrown egoists project around themselves can often be noticed.

The ego is furthermore a predator; it has no conscience to speak of, and will readily feed on anything in its immediate vicinity, if it can get hold of it. It will kill in order to feed, literally as well as metaphorically. Only to the extent that some level of conscience is actually present are any limits placed on its behavior.

 At the same time, we cannot make the ego an enemy. We need it; and if we try to make it an enemy, it will surely defeat us. Al 'Arabi Warns of exactly this problem in the Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom.  Referring to it, almost lovingly, as the "evil – commanding ego," he reminds us that the ego is fully capable of inflicting great damage on our inner work, if we don't recruit it to our cause. He suggests we make friends with it through negotiation, rather than trying to destroy it. This is reminiscent of Gurdjieff's principle of conscious egoism — an egoism turned toward the service of inner growth, rather than poised in opposition to it.

We should keep an eye on what the ego is eating, and make sure that it gets the appropriate food — not everything it wants, but what is necessary.

May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The enneagram and the Vedic Gunas

  A close reading of the enneagram in conjunction with an understanding of the universal principles and the Vedic concepts of the Gunas reveals close connections between the three, and illustrates some important facts about the development of force in the cosmos.

Note that the word Guna means piece of thread. These threads, or forces, are what create the fabric of reality on the loom of Tantra. Taken together, these forces form what one might call a miniature "law of three," or triad, of interacting principles. Placed in their appropriate locations on the enneagram, they illustrate a mirrored system of mechanical and conscious forces, each one of which represents what one might call a two-dimensional piece of fabric — that is, a flat world related to its self horizontally, but in a certain sense unaware — and unable to be aware — of a three-dimensional world. The Gunas, in other words, represent a kind of trap; without an outside (higher) force to render dimension for them, they become an exitless circle.

 Gunas represent the three primary constituents of what the Vedic schools call prakriti, or  nature — in essence, manifested material reality. These stand in contrast to the principle of Being, or Self, which is referred to as Purusha. The enneagram represents, in abstract form, the journey of Self through the material realm— around the circumference of the diagram—in an effort to complete Being. Only by help from the Essence of the Self (emanating from God Himself) which is represented by the triangle can this journey be completed.

 The first Guna, tamas,  represents darkness, or the principle of inertia and delusion. It represents the note re on the enneagram, the first consequent incarnation of God as material. Materiality is composed of light; all material existence is energy folded inward upon itself in an enormous containment of force. This containment of light energy (which can be released in nuclear fission, or compressed in nuclear fusion) results in a material reality that reflects and rejects much of the light that it encounters. In an allegorical sense, material reality exists in darkness and inertia. In and of itself, it has no motive force: no impulse, and no momentum.

The second Guna corresponds to Sattvas, the psychic entity forming the core of personality, light, and harmony. This is represented by the note mi on the diagram, corresponding to desire in the yogic system of universal principles. The darkness of materiality is opposed by the light of desire, whose essential and instinctive wish is to return to its source.

 The third Guna corresponds to Rajas, the principle of movement, activity, and disharmony. This is represented by power, the note fa, on the enneagram.

On the enneagram, arranging the three forces in this position exactly reflects the vortex in which the Self, or Being, becomes enmeshed, trapped and unable to move onwards from a world where the material manifestation of ego predominates, into a realm where the spiritual manifestation of ego is born and can begin to realize its possibilities. Sri Anirvan (see below) details this process in an exceptional manner on pages 106-109 of Inner Yoga; the passage should be taken as a whole, and is far too long to reproduce here without violating the applicable copyrights. Readers are urged to read the book and refer to it.

 Ultimately, the interaction of the three Gunas on this level presents a "magic circle" which cannot be escaped from without the intervention of an outside (conscious) higher agency. The intervention, in this case, comes from what Gurdjieff called conscious labor — a property which, appropriately enough, has a physical attribute (as opposed to intellectual or emotional) indicating its connection to the very material actions of this level. Material forces, in other words, require material remedies.

 What is of interest here is to see that the Gunas do not just drop away as the aspirant's Self (Purusha) acquires Being at the note sol, beginning its "ascending" progression from the bottom of the diagram upwards and to the left, back towards the absolute. The Gunas have an action in the spiritual realm as well as the material realm, and directly correspond as laid out on the diagram above:

Tamas correspond, in this case, to Being. Even Gurdjieff's conscious egoism, once manifested, is still a form of egoism, and separated from God, thus, still a material (not transcendent) entity which is not returned to its source and remains fundamentally separated. This is still darkness, albeit a new and higher form of darkness. We might call it conscious darkness; it is a darkness which has become self aware of its own lack, a property that is not extant on the right side of the diagram.  Being imbued with conscious awareness of one's lack does not by default mean one has the remedy for it. The invocation of higher, that is, truly conscious, forces emanating from the essence are still necessary in order to complete the action in this new triad.

Sattvas correspond to the note la, representing purification. Purification indicates a higher level of desire; specifically, a willingness to sacrifice. Purification represents a path to harmony.

Rajas on this side correspond to the note si, in this case, knowledge or wisdom. It may seem odd to have this highest principle associated with dissonance, but it is so because all of the knowledge and wisdom a human being acquires will forever stand in opposition to the transcendent knowledge of God. The esoteric meaning of this is that even if a man develops to the highest level, everything he has acquired falls short of what is actually necessary. Gurdjieff indicated this issue in the chapter the holy planet Purgatory in his magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson; and the abandonment of the intellect has had its worldwide esoteric advocates from Meister Eckhart through Ibn 'Arabi and Dogen, simply because there is no way, in the end, for the intellect to master God.

Even a conscious being, in other words, is subject to a new set of the same actions of the Gunas which ensnare those operating on the mechanical or material level of life. The spiritual path, once discovered, carries the same set of obstacles and pitfalls that the material life does... just written in larger letters, on a new billboard. Aspirants and adapts alike continually mistake the beginning of the spiritual path for a license to be free of such influences, when in fact they are ubiquitous.

In the end, only death — whether spiritual or physical — can truly free us from the action of the Gunas.

 note to the reader:

Significant credit should be given to Sri Anirvan, Inner Yoga,  available from Morning Light Press, for his lucid and vital explanation of these subjects in his essay Buddhi and Buddhiyoga.

Readers interested in a detailed treatment of these questions should refer to pages 99 through 112 (and onwards) if they wish to acquire a deeper understanding of the principles expounded in the enneagram. Although the essay is not about the diagram per se, the essential features of the information encoded in it, and its overall message, are discussed in his treatise.

Click here for a link to this article at the enneagram resource page.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sacred forces

The human being is a vessel for sacred forces.

Few of us know much of anything about what this means. The forces a human being is capable of coming under the influences of are much, much higher than any forces we are familiar with from our level. Al 'Arabi referred to man as the vicegerent of God; His earthly representative. He did not do so lightly; for truly, men and women were created to mediate the very Being of God, Himself and Herself, and allow this presence to manifest within the material world.

No clearer illustration of this can be given than through the prophets; and no higher instance of it can be cited than the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Because of our limitations, mostly imposed by our intellectual centrism, we have little real physical or emotional experience of this; all of the images become literal to us, in one way or another, and all of the intellectual ideas start out as democrats and become tyrants. It's only by opening our hearts, a part that has a completely different capacity for feeling, and by opening our sensation, an organic tool for the manifestation of sacred forces, that we can begin to truly understand anything other than this.

Such forces are called transformative or enlightening forces because they completely change everything. They do not change anything externally; they change everything internally. And it is impossible to overestimate how big this change can be, or how responsible a man or woman must be to it if it begins to arrive.

Some conduct spiritual investigations, their inner efforts, as though they could be disconnected from religion, but this is impossible. Zen is all about opening to God; yoga is all about opening to God. Gurdjieff, as well, brought a work that was all about opening to God. Specific philosophies and ideologies are ultimately meaningless; the aim is always the same, no matter what words it is put in or how much one squirms to try and find some high intellectual ground on which to build the pedestal for it.

One does not try to climb upwards towards sacred forces; one opens the Being to receive them. The Being — the Self, the Purusha — is a manifestation of God, waiting to receive the sacred influences that emanate from the center of all creation and instantly appear, by degree, in all of the material universe.

 Because of our physical incarnation and the vertical nature of our bodies, we perceive this as a situation of that which is above us and that which is below us; and sometimes, we perceive sacred energy as coming down into us, or moving up through us. Yet in reality, the energy moves in many dimensions — and in all directions. The direction is one of levels, not up and down or left and right. So we either penetrate or are penetrated, and above all, we were designed to receive, or be penetrated.

This is why our nature is, overall, essentially female — as is the nature of all material creation.

 Of course, there I go again, trying to explain things in terms of philosophies or ideologies. Yet the question is always physical; the physical, material manifestation of the sacred, a holy task vouchsafed to humanity, in so far as we can embody consciousness.

 I do not see the gravity — literally, the gravity — of my task, because I do not understand it. There is only one purpose in life; it isn't to ensure my personal security, get things, make money, and so on. The only purpose, the only real purpose — as opposed to the countless purposes I invent — is to receive this sacred force.

 The passion of Christ was sent to remind us of this fact. We fail to do so at our peril.

May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An ocean of Grace

 Surely today we come to a moment where the Lord is born; for every day, He is born in hearts and lives through them.

 We are like water; the vessels of our bodies and our lives fill up with the impressions of life itself, and the endless Grace that, sensed or unsensed, conscious or unconscious, accompanies them.

All of the impressions of life that flow inward are formed exclusively through Love, and bestowed exclusively through Grace; whether I honor them or fail them, their quality never changes. They enter me intact as emanations of the Lord; they dwell in me intact, as emanations of the Lord. Only my respect and valuation of them can be upheld and honored, or cast down and damaged, according to both my inner and outer attitudes.

When I do this, I am never damaging the Lord, but only myself, because I can do no damage to the Lord— only to my relationship with Him. All of the damage I ever do is my own damage, and never belongs to the Lord, because the relationship is always Holy and Loving from His end. Nothing of the made world, which was created through Love, can ever have any other quality; and even the worst of the made world is contained through Grace so that forgiveness is ever present and ever possible, and good will always eventually come of it... whether I can see that or not, and no matter how skeptical I am.

I am a place filled with water, a mirrored basin. The hills and mountains of life send rivers of experience down into me; they flow slowly or quickly, according to their nature; I receive them. They collect and form the substance both of Self and being. Within their depths, there is a quietness and a silence that accords to all deep bodies of water.

Generally, I don't sense how this is within me; yet, if I approach the Lord in humility, I may sense this stillness, with the waves of the Lord's Grace moving like ripples over the surface of what I have received so far, gently reminding me of the ocean of Grace which he has filled me with up until this point of my life.

 This stillness itself is a gift of Grace; and if I am fortunate, if Grace grants me this inner vision of mystery, of ripples moving slowly across the darkness of the water within the Self of the soul, then perhaps I begin to know something of my relationship, which cannot be drawn into cups and measured.

I am a creature of measurement; yet I come from the immeasurable,  dwell within it, and will return to it. These are understandings that can only be touched upon; it is only in awe, and acknowledging my own ignorance — on my knees, symbolically speaking — that I can come to the Lord.

 Seeking the inner Self, remembering the Self, searching within for Truth; all of this is to search for this ocean of Grace within me, which takes in the whole part of Being and encompasses everything. I don't even know that I stand on its shores; yet its waters are vast, and without compromise.

I stand on the shores and see that I know nothing; yet, ignorant though I am,  the Lord radiates his infinite Mercy and Forgiveness, even for my insufficiency.

 And every morning, as I awaken, He is willing to be born in this day within my Heart, no matter how poor a vessel it is, if only I make room for Him.

May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Mary and Christ Child: icon painting by Chantal Heinegg

Christmas eve. And thoughts are on the Lord, across the planet.

There's a great deal of discussion about having an attention.

But what is attention? What I think is attention is not attention; everything I think is always my own thinking, not a real attention. When I try to think about attention, already, I don't have it, because attention is not ever found in the thinking mind where words arise.

 In fact, every conceptualization I have of what attention is, and how I should get it or have it, already makes a mistake, because I think attention somehow belongs to me. In reality, there is only one attention, and that attention is the attention of the Lord.

There are many levels of attention, but each one of them emanates from Grace, begins in Grace, and ends in it. The attention that begins in ego and belongs to my worldly self is only good for just so much, and it is not much good for inner work. The best it can do is bring me up to the threshold of a place where something different could happen; and at that point, what I call my own attention must be entirely abandoned, because from that threshold on, it is useless.

I have to admit to myself that I don't know what attention is, and go on a journey within myself to explore what I am, and to seek for it. Only in the state of knowing nothing do I begin to know anything about attention.

If what I call Being — which is, generally speaking, being, lower case, an illusory state attached to the world — drops off, and ceases to be, something different takes place. Only from an emptiness that does not presume to have any Being can Being emanate. This is a different world from the world I know; and every piece of it I try to take as my own disappears as I grasp it.

In a certain sense, the floor must be swept clean; everything that poses for attention must go into the dustbin. Only if all of this debris is emptied can a space be made which might allow something new to enter; and even then, it doesn't do so at my command.  Despite what all the teachings say, it can't be exercised into me; it can't be demanded. My only role is to issue a call, in the hopes that I will be heard, and that Grace may arise.

  When the Lord arrives, He does not have discussions about attention. There is no question or debate; no intellectual process touches that which is intact. It arrives intact; it departs intact. In every instance, it is untouched, whether by the world or myself.  If I touch it, what is damaged is my respect, not that which emanates from the Lord. It is invulnerable; but my attitude is not, and to the extent I damage it, I become unworthy to receive.

These higher properties I seek to come into relationship with do not belong to a man or woman, but can only be expressed through them. Yet every discussion about them inadvertently sounds like one can have them and own them. This is only through my own ignorance; real understanding knows that it does not begin or end in me.

 Perhaps this is why I have a bit of an aversion to engaging in discussions about attention, and exhortations to get it or have it in one way or another. I can spend the rest of my life thinking I am going to grab God by the hair and drag him back to my cave; that's caveman thinking, all right, and that is where I am most of the time.

 There is a need to do more than sit around the fire and scrawl noble pictures of mighty animals on the cave wall.

There is a moment when one has to come out into the light.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A center of gravity

The Reality of Being contains four sections on an inner center of gravity.

The subject is a complicated one, not least because the idea sounds theoretical to most of us, and few have had any significant experience of what Jeanne de Salzmann talks about in these notes.

As with the development of all inner capacities, the inner center of gravity is subject to levels, and evolves according to its own octave and rates of vibration. This means that, like all other characteristics and possibilities for a man or woman, it can be experienced in various ways at various times, many of which are temporary, and some of which are weak.

Others are stronger and more durable. Each one, as it becomes more durable and grows roots deeper into the body itself towards the source of Being, comes closer to the root of Being which she speaks of. But this is a long journey, and even if I experience such energy from time to time in a powerful way, it's not enough.

The inner center of gravity is a physical center of gravity, as well as an intellectual and emotional center of gravity. It's often spoken of as being centered in the abdomen, but the true center of gravity which exists within the root of Being encompasses the entire body, and all of the gravity in each cell, as well as the stillness of an emotional center tethered to a firm anchorage, and the clarity of an intellect that is not disturbed by the nonsense I usually fill myself with.

The center of gravity provides a place in which, from a practical point of view, things stop spinning.

This concept is difficult to impart, because I generally don't see that things are spinning in the first place. That's quite odd, because I am very much like an uncentered piece of clay, with blobs of myself creating erratic motion in every direction, sometimes at great speed. This analogy of a piece of clay spinning on a wheel is very nearly perfect, because the erratic motion in my being, if I were to see it, is what would indicate to me that there is a very rapid spinning taking place.

Yet I don't. When the blobs of me that stick out in every direction smack into things, I'm surprised by it.

If I am centered, as clay is centered when two hands hold it firmly and gather it around the center of the movement until everything is properly balanced, then the movement seems to stop. If you have access to a potter's wheel, center a piece of clay and take note of how it appears to become still and motionless when it is centered, even though it's spinning at a rapid rate. The spinning is no longer of consequence to the clay; it does not affect its regularity or state.

Now, something quite extraordinary and very different takes place: the rotation becomes a force that can be put into service in the creation of something entirely new from the clay.

I can understand this in a piece of clay; and it is equally true in myself, if my being is taken within two hands, and centered.

 But we can only take this analogy so far, because the center of gravity is more than just clay spinning on the wheel. The root of being is connected to a universal force that gives birth to life itself, and everything that I am emanates from that root. My journey towards it — my effort to come into relationship with it — is a difficult one, because there are many parts of me that are not only disorganized, they resist. If they have any organization at all, it is an organization that stands in opposition to the root of Being. Everyone of the elements in that organization is attached to outer life in one way or another, and doesn't want to surrender that. Each one thinks it is a primary force, rather than the servant it ought to understand itself as.

De Salzmann does an admirable job of drawing us into a practical relationship with this question in these four sections, and it would do readers good to pay close attention to what she says about it. The inner center of gravity is not a place one can imagine oneself into; and for as long as it remains a place of the imagination, there is very little there. A fundamental inner change must take place for the formation of this force to begin, and this takes, for the vast majority of us, many years of practice.

It is not the kind of thing one does in weekend workshops.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Deeper into Feeling

It strikes me this morning that when Jeanne de Salzmann calls on us to experience and to make inner effort, above all, she wishes for us to see that there is an inner life, a sacred quality within us which changes everything.

The subject arose as my wife and I discussed the illness and recovery of a friend of ours who has multiple myeloma. We were asking ourselves the question of why we cling so to the outer life, the life in this body, when it seems so clear that there is a life of the soul that exceeds that of any physical Being. There are many questions raised here; but we live in the confidence that there is an inner life that is quite different than what the outer Self clings to.

One of the last things that Mme. said before she died, as I understand it was, "Be there in relation to a force. Then it doesn't matter so much what happens." I still have the words, written by my teacher on a slip of paper at the time she died.

 Be there in relation to a force.

 This force is the real force of life, the force of Self, Purusha, that force which is expressed in and through us... not created by our bodies, which we seek to save and preserve with our heroic medicines. What Mme. wanted us to see above all when she spoke of "seeing our lack" was how we do not understand this force within us. Not how we don't understand it as seen with our intellect; it's not an exercise for the mind. We need to see this lack with our feelings. The process is a journey into feeling, and without feeling, without a true expression of the deepest and most sacred kind of emotional understanding of this lack in me, nothing much is possible.

Satisfactory progress in work of this kind is to not be satisfied with one's progress. I always fall short. In sensation of the Self, I'm drawn inward. Each step is a step deeper into feeling, where the essential separation between the Self and its point of origin is more thoroughly experienced. This question becomes a specific point of organic investigation. I often refer to it as a point of intimacy. To become intimate with something is to make it known to myself; thus, in intimacy, I know myself.

 I sense this presence of intimacy in the wholeness of life.

 I am called ever deeper into myself by these inner efforts. After I have defined all the territory with my reading and my discussion and my words, I am drawn into places that are composed both of light and of darkness; that contain both the movement of intelligence, and its sister force of the unknown: those places that defy all my definitions.

 Both are necessary.

 And I am asked to do the impossible. To know, to understand the transcendent is the impossible; yet I must try. It is only in seeing the lack of my ability to approach this question in a right and a real way, over and over again, and feeling it with all of my parts, that something can be called from above to help us.

This is why I must see my lack; it is a call for help.

 They say this is the shortest day of the year of the northern hemisphere; yet the day is exactly as long as days always are. It is simply the day when the least light reaches me. The less light that reaches me, the more I ought to work; and so this day calls me to put in the longest day of work, in an inner sense. It is the time when the gates of heaven are opened just a little more, and a bit more help is sent; all of this symbolized by the arrival of the Christ child.

Help arrives when the hour is darkest; so in contemplation, I confront myself in the darkness, and reach towards the light,

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Conscious labor and intentional suffering

One might be able to effectively argue that the ideas of conscious labor and intentional suffering dominate the intellectual and philosophical premises of the Gurdjieff work more than any other two subjects. This may not have been the case in earlier decades, but the terms are certainly dominant today.

Interestingly, these terms do not appear anywhere at all in P. D. Ouspensky's seminal work on Gurdjieff's teaching, In Search of the Miraculous, a striking omission, given that the book purports to be a relatively comprehensive review of Gurdjieff's major ideas. A text search of Views From the Real World, the posthumously published texts of some of Gurdjieff's discussions with pupils — which is also purported to be a major source of his teachings — contains these words in exactly one place. To be sure, they also crop up in some private and unpublished notes from meetings, but the publicly available literature is very, very thin on these concepts.

 The only text that introduces and iterates the concepts at any length is Gurdjieff's magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

Given that these ideas are very nearly unique, talked about and found, by and large, in no other teaching or religious tradition whatsoever, at least not stated in this way,  I have the following questions:

Where did Gurdjieff come up with these two ideas?

Why they did not feature more prominently (that is to say, at all) in Ouspensky's extensive reportage on the teaching?

 Judging from their central role in Beelzebub, we must presume that Gurdjieff saw these two inner actions in man as being directly related to sacred forces. That is to say, every kind of relationship that human beings can form with sacred or higher forces requires these actions to one degree or another; they are indispensable. Yet he gave bafflingly few indications as to exactly what he meant by the terms, choosing instead to sling them about with apparent abandon in his text (the term conscious labor is used a total of 30 times,  and intentional suffering 21), as though everyone already knew what he was talking about.

Labeling them "Being-Parktdolg Duties," which, roughly translated from the original roots of Parktdolg, means "Being – duty-duty-duty," it is presumed he meant, by this, his famous "three-centered being." A reasonable presumption, to be sure, yet if so, why obscure the matter so thoroughly?

And why fail to explain this in greater detail, if it is so centrally important to understanding his work? He certainly went out of his way to explain many other subjects exhaustively, even to the point of redundancy. To this day, students of the Gurdjieff method continue to conduct discussions, investigations, queries, arguments, and rationalizations about these terms. No one ever seems to know quite what they mean; and, in fact, there are as many meanings as there are students of the method, because terms of this nature become uniquely subjective in the sense that each person who encounters them develops their own understanding of them, since there is no single doctrinaire definition available. The ambiguity, in other words, is built in—and that was, of course, perhaps quite intentional on Gurdjieff's part. Unfortunately, we may never know exactly what he meant.

 It's striking for an inner work to have unique and unusual features of this kind which can't be directly correlated with some ease to similar works and traditions; it's even more striking for a work to take them up as doctrine, even though the terms themselves started out without adequate parameters, and have not acquired any significant ones in nearly 100 years or so. Usually, people tend to latch onto things that are more recognizable. Instead, I often sit in rooms where the phrases are gravely pronounced as though one understood what they meant; when in fact, everyone ultimately admits that that is far from the case. It's more or less similar to scientists talking about dark matter.  All the evidence suggests it exists; but no one has ever seen it or proved it.

 Not that I'm a skeptic, not at all; but I have questions, many annoying and unorthodox questions... show me some conscious labor or intentional suffering, and we'll talk about it.

 I have studied these ideas myself for the majority of my adult lifetime, and I continue to have many questions about them. There are intelligible contexts I have discerned on my own, relative to my studies of the enneagram; but who's to say they are correct? The contexts I place them in do, at least, relate them to other traditions in an understandable fashion; to some, that will be an advantage, and to others, a heresy. So many people, after all, want Gurdjieff to be special — so special, in fact, that most average people have lost interest in his ideas and his work.

The fruit vendor can't just fill the cart with exotic fruit; he's got to have some bananas, or the monkeys won't buy.

Gurdjieff knew this. Do we?

 May your soul be filled with light.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What is the soul?

 Gurdjieff talked about the various different Being-bodies human beings can form.  The religions generally speak of a single soul; Gurdjieff talked about three different higher being bodies.

The three higher being bodies correspond, taken as a whole, to the three lower centers. These are the  astral (physical), emotional, and mental bodies.

The reason that this may seem to contradict the teaching about a single soul is that the "single soul" is formed of all three Being-bodies on the higher level, that is, it has a three-centered being that mirrors three-centered Being on this level. Swedenborg, in his discussion of levels (Divine Love and Wisdom), describes this situation in quite accurate detail, though in terms somewhat different than Gurdjieff's. Properly understood, it represents the same concept, just presented in terms the Christians of his era would be more familiar with. The lower and higher levels share a structural identity; a fact that's quite obvious, once realized—and, furthermore, in exact conformity with law, wherein the lower is a fractal iteration of the higher.

  From various descriptions, one might mistakenly assume that such higher Being-bodies are formed progressively, that is, one must follow on another. This isn't the case, any more than one has to have intellect "before" one has emotions, for example. These being-bodies are separate but related entities that undergo formation simultaneously to one another, creating, in their totality, the higher Self, or soul — and Gurdjieff's system is designed to work on harmoniously forming all three of these being bodies in a balanced manner, at the same time.

It should be noted by readers that all people do, in fact, have souls of this kind — but they are formed in different ways, according to the conduct of the individual. When Gurdjieff told his followers that men do not generally have souls, he did so simply to spur them to make greater efforts. He knew that all men have souls; anyone with his level of understanding knows this. It's a question of the quality of the soul.

 All of one's inner work and outer life, in combination and conjunction, is what forms the higher being bodies. The entire expression of impressions within a human being during the course of their life — all of the outer and inner impressions we take in, from sights of trees or animals, and the feelings they evoke in us, for example — is collected in the vessel (kunda) of the body, which is simply a physical vehicle for the concentration of these forces.  Each of these impressions is a thread. The entire experience of life, in every instance of its variety, ultimately forms the tapestry, the fabric, of the higher being bodies. Life itself, and the consequent impressions — remember, everything is an impression — form the soul on this loom (tantra) of experience.

Things can come into the soul; but nothing leaves. Everything that one encounters in life, everything that one does, every thought one has, every object one picks up and the impressions that ensue — all of this becomes a part of the whole. It is a one-way trip inward, up until death, when everything is emitted into the next level at one time.

  During life, the inner whole ought to be three-centered—that is, the threads that connect the lower to the higher body ought to properly conduct physical, emotional, and intellectual material to the corresponding forming parts of the three higher being bodies. We are, in other words, made of many different threads — a countless number of them, in fact — which connect to these parts that reside in the higher levels of Being. Each impression forms a new thread.

If the energetic forces in a human being are flowing properly, there will be a steady and perhaps even uninterrupted stream of these impressions flowing into the higher centers. This experience is very distinctive, and if it begins, it's recognizable; not from the outside, where it may not be apparent at all that a human being is living in this way, but on the inside, where the sensation of the Self changes irrevocably.

 Students of the path should take note, because one is ultimately responsible for everything. All of the ideas connected to karma and sin reflect back on the basic premises above. We own what we acquire through impressions; it forms what we take with us after death; and nothing can be expunged. The Egyptians represented this visually in the book of the dead, where the contents of the soul (represented by the heart) is weighed against a feather. The heart also represents, overall, one's intentions. Hence the emphasis on intentionality, a.k.a. mindfulness.

 All of the religious discussions and images associated with these ideas are, to one degree or another, accurate; but they seem to be abstractions to us. We do not understand that we are at every moment, within our work, engaged in the formation of this entity called the soul. Every single instance of Being is recorded; and all of them are measured.  Even in this present moment, those threads act as these words are read. The oddest thing about all of this is that we don't realize this is taking place. This is, perhaps, the true meaning of the saying that we are asleep.

  The higher parts of ourselves are all around us, at all times; in a certain sense, we are living with them at all times, and every instance of life is an instance of the life of the soul. Sensate or in sensate, we dwell at all moments within the eternal consequences of our Being.

 The question is whether or not we want to take responsibility for it.

May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Can everything be good?

Readers may be interested to know this is the 1,000th post on the Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff blog.

Following on the last post about negativity and the necessity of negative conditions, I asked myself, can everything actually be good?

This question is active in me today consequent to reading the latest issue of Shambhala Sun magazine, which contains a compelling and rather wonderful interview with Thich Naht Hanh, "The Country of the Present Moment."

 Not only do I wholeheartedly endorse his entirely positivist view, I wish it were true.

I say, I wish it were true, because I'm sure it isn't.

The Buddhist view, emphatically stated, is that we can escape suffering. Gurdjieff's view, just as emphatically different, is that we must not only undertake it intentionally— a practice which he reported that Buddha himself originally introduced — but that suffering is an inherent and integral part of the nature of the universe, a part, furthermore, that creates a great burden for God, one which we are obliged to help alleviate.

 We are wallowing in some deep metaphysical mire here, because, indubitably, in its transcendent essence, everything is perfect. That which appears to be imperfect is, in the end, a mistaken impression of that given aspect of perfection, which, being perfect, that is, without flaw, effortlessly embraces and resolves its own opposites. Al 'Arabi manages to explain this quite deftly, although our ordinary minds generally refuse to wrap themselves around such things.

 One could argue, metaphysically, that the sorrow of our Common Father Creator arises from the absolute need for bad and good as polar manifestations of material reality. Since they are, in fact, real from this point of view, their metaphysically illusory nature is a moot point. We experience good and bad, joy and sorrow, as real; pretending that it's otherwise is a conceit. Even Marpa, confronted with the death of his son, wailed in grief.

 Indifference — or, more properly put, I think, equanimity — is advocated by Meister Eckhart, and many other masters. But can we truly cultivate indifference to the death of our own child? The premise is absurd. Such a practice would be heartless; and in fact, the most enlightened practice must be, above all, heart full. It is compassionate; it is loving.

Compassion and Love cannot be known to radiate their light unless the light itself penetrates a corresponding darkness.

 It is this dispersal or erasure of the darkness that becomes the question. Is it even possible? We need our negativity — and we need the negativity of the world. Al 'Arabi made it quite clear that the task of beings on this level is not to pursue a universe of bliss. It doesn't mean we can't do that; it means that to do so is to avoid the issue.

If we can avoid suffering, but need it, should we avoid it just because it feels better, and there are ways of doing so?

 These become practical questions in day-to-day life; but they are metaphysical questions in terms of the inner practice, and they contrast the lofty pursuits of emptiness, stillness, and bliss against the realities of receiving energy, movement, and sorrow.

 Both kinds of work are necessary for the growth of the inner Self.

  May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Partial mentation

Sun dog, Sparkill, New York,  Oct 27, 2012.

 I've been pondering the question of negativity for many years now, and one of my consistent observations is that the overall inner state is generally more negative first thing in the morning, before all the inner parts have reached a more consonant rate of vibration.

 This disharmony in the rate of vibration between intellect, emotion, and the body is a common problem not only first thing in the morning, but throughout the day. In every case, partiality — the investment of being in a single part, rather than a concert of elements — produces polarities that inevitably cause negativity to arrive.

Put in plain English, it means that if I'm not in relationship, I'm negative. It usually begins with the thinking, which, left to itself, prefers to manufacture negative images. I'm not sure why this is so; but there is a part in me that consistently wants to imagine the world in negative ways. I watch it at work all the time. It seems to get out in front of me and want to stamp itself on many situations; and it has a tendency towards cruelty.  This is a contradiction; and a man or woman's intelligence is not measured by how many facts they know, but rather, how many contradictions they display. Were we to truly see ourselves, we would all be in very deep water here.

There are times when I am aware of this; there are others when I am not. Invariably, when I am under the influence of lower parts and lower energies, these negative emotional tendencies, and the contradictions which they produce, predominate. In general, if I see them, all I can do is stay there with them and wait it out. I have to be up close and personal with my contradictions if I want to understand that they are, well, contradictory. Every instance of a buffer is an example of turning away from a contradiction in myself which I ought to face.

I think we might all admit to ourselves that, while we wish, in enthusiastic paroxysms of spirituality, to subscribe to the rosiest possible view of the world, we inevitably meet innumerable trials and difficulties. In the midst of a universe created by Love, and ruled by Compassion and Mercy — all objective forces with incomparably higher natures than my own — the consistent impression is that God could have done better, isn't it? There is so much negativity both in me, and in those around me — in fact, in the world in general — it seems quite astonishing that all of this could arise from such objectively perfect roots. In the end, it appears as though negativity, suffering, and all of its consequent and attendant conditions are necessary. God would not create and administer a universe that contains these elements if they were not.

Why are they necessary? Why am I partial?

I must confess, I don't know. Many of the properties of God lie beyond my ability to imagine, and the motivations behind situations are equally inscrutable. One can know that everything blends into a perfect and seamless whole, while not understanding why that whole has so many parts that seem lacking. Evidently perfection must have imperfection next to it, else I would not be able to know what it was.

Perhaps one of the great burdens of man, in the material conditions he exists in, is to be an agent for the manifestation of imperfections. This is, in fact, one of our primary purposes; and yet, so much more is possible for us.

 In the practice of weaving my inner parts together, of tantra, I have to embrace all of the yarn on the loom — both the weak and the strong. I resist this; I don't like negativity or weakness, I would prefer to be rid of them. Yes — in an exquisitely painful contradiction, I feel negative toward my negativity. And in the midst of my iniquity, I blame outside agents — even God — for the way things are. I don't want to embrace my practice or my life.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A relationship with energy

In speaking of energy, we encounter understandings in yoga that get very specific about where it comes from, where it goes to, the channels it travels through, and so on.

 There is some truth to this. Nonetheless, in the end, all of the energies and forces that affect us are part of a single and whole field of energy. It is whole within us in the same way that it is whole outside of us, and all of it exists as a single thing. Energies appear to be separated; they appear to travel in channels and enter us or leave us in specific ways. But the energy is not limited in its action.

I generally think in terms of limitations. I've read books which define them; for example, they say it comes in the top of the head, it travels down the spine, and so on. Every single conception I can have regarding the energy, however, is a limitation, and inner energy itself is unlimited. So an inner energy can have any quality, and express itself in any way, at any time, in any part. Each of these expressions, mind you, will be entirely lawful; but I have little idea of the laws. So my preconceived ideas about what ought to be done, how I ought to receive, are insufficient. I need to present myself, and see what happens.

In this way, my role is very active: I'm an observer. I am a precise observer, a participating observer who is (or ought to be) there for each event; but I am not a director. I am not a commentator. I am not a presumer or authority.

 Now, this is a specific kind of work. There are other kinds of work; but this is not the kind of work that I undertake when I undertake a work with inner energy, according to the understandings that Mr. Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann brought. The teaching creates a harmonious atmosphere of inner trust, and this relies on what is, for all intents and purposes, a Buddhist practice of non-interference, in an inner sense.

As soon as I interfere, as soon as I touch, or presume, parts that have been attempting to build trust suddenly may discover — with good reason — that I cannot be trusted. There is a dissonance where there should be harmony. This gentle, quiet, and intimate work that needs to take place over many years is one of a great demand; but the greater part of that demand is restraint. Just as a truly masterful musician will only play the notes that are absolutely necessary, so the discriminating student of inner energy participates, but never exaggerates their role. The role must be seen clearly, and inhabited actively, but it must not be one that arrogates.

 It's a delicate thing, this, because in harmony, energy knows what it ought to be doing. I don't. In this sense, I ought to be prepared for surprises, for the unexpected. It's perfectly all right to follow suggestions, some of which have a degree of accuracy; but only for a while. In the end, the inner practice always has to be one of an unflagging attentiveness, standing on the tips, so to speak, of one's toes, waiting to move gracefully in the right direction with the next inner movement of a force that arrives.

If one attends, help always comes. This is a law.

 Some energy is always available; this force of Being rests forever within the seed of one's essence. Even in the most extreme cases, it only leaves the body with death, no matter how buried it is. (It can be malformed; but that's another matter.) Swedenborg makes some very interesting comments about this property in his Divine Love and Wisdom.

How do I honor this question? It's only by a willingness for relationship that that can take place.

 So I ask myself this all day long as I work. Where am I? Where is the energy in me now?

In every moment, this can be a question. If I live this question, the parts will find a right relationship.

May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


The conceptual mind misses the point.

In encountering the many different texts about yoga that discuss the question of breathing and breathing exercises, there is a tendency to believe that the exercises are actually about breathing, the way we physically experience it. One understands it that way; and one becomes involved with the breath and the body in a way that can be quite involving. But the real practice has, in the end, little or nothing to do with the mechanical process of breathing; and pranayama, control of the breath, is actually about the regulation of the life force, not air.

 It is, in other words, a practice of breathing the energy in and out of the body; a second breathing. This is a question of relationship quite different than that of the literal air we breathe, although the mechanics of air and air itself are indeed connected with it. Mistaking one for the other, however, is like thinking that hammers and nails are boards and walls. The higher energy is a dwelling that one inhabits, not the tools one builds it with.

 The whole aim of yoga is coming into relationship with this finer energy. In this way, we see that the work of Jeanne de Salzmann is above all Yoga, in its essence: the development of a relationship with a finer energy. This energy needs to be sensed with all the parts of one's being, because it feeds everything: the body, the mind, and the emotions. And the attention and sensation need to be directed, ultimately, not towards any hydraulic physical action that drives it; rather, attention and sensation must be invested in the presence of the energy itself.

 Without this presence, there is nothing. No work; only imagination. If and when there is a practice of presence, it is a presence to the energy.

One forgets this; everything else is attractive. The Christmas season, automobiles, that lovely young man or woman. It's perfectly natural and right for everything else to be attractive, but the center of gravity cannot be in them. The center of gravity must be within, inside the energy, and in the presence. The presence itself: the inner presence. The presence of Self is the breath. Breath is not what we think of as breath, in other words. Breath is the Lord itself, the energy, and its relationship to us, as much as our relationship to it. So when we talk about breath, we don't talk about ordinary breath; and when we talk about breathing, it is not the breathing of the physical body.

It is actually the breath of a higher body in man.

Many years of work may be needed in order to reach this point of understanding, but there is only one such point, and it cannot be varied by philosophy, argumentation, or theories. One must furthermore be quite careful about reading theories or abstracts about such things, because the inner understanding of energy is very specific, and not at all related to theory. The theories are elaborate, and the abstracts are detailed and descriptive, but they are all what is called ersatz in German — substitutes. And we absolutely cannot substitute what comes from the ordinary mind for what is necessary in the relationship to the energy.

 This was driven home to me this morning while reading Harish Johari's book on Chakras, which, while it provides a wealth of potentially useful information, also might be prone to create many misunderstandings. It also contains an enormous amount of  folklore which has been mixed into energy practices. The result is a set of superstitions with an elaborate and colorful veneer that becomes attractive to anyone who reads it. One must turn to texts such as The Reality of Being or Inner Yoga in order to find unadulterated understandings of energy work, and one immediately discovers that they speak in a very different language.

 This, of course, creates its own set of problems. The demand is great; and people want quick fixes, or things that are immediately tangible, that can be picked up, and touched. Breathing is like this. Yoga asanas are like this. Each one of them is taken as a gospel and undertaken as a thing.

But the work with inner energy is not a work with things. It is work of a completely different order. It brings us into touch with levels of materiality that are much finer than what our ordinary mind can conceive of, and contain dimensions that do not touch the world except through the bridge formed by consciousness in man.

 It is, furthermore, mistaken, in many senses, to talk about "control" of this process; because the process is not actually under our control. We don't control the process; what we try to do is bring ourselves under control, by using the reins that the carriage driver has connecting him to the horse to direct it and bring it into an intelligent relationship.

When this is done, the process controls itself. We assume the role of observers; and this is necessary, because we are not competent in these areas. They have been given to us as gifts; and we are custodians who ought to pay close attention to the generosity bestowed upon us in this act of life and living.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, December 14, 2012

touching and listening

A recent article in Science Daily on the sense of touch and its relationship to vibration sheds astonishing new light on our sensory capacity.

It turns out that the sense of touch is actually a form of listening. Touch is intimately connected to vibration; when we touch something and sense it, we are actually sensing vibrations. We are not just sensing the vibrations themselves; we are sensing their timing and their rhythm. So when we touch something, we are actually listening to music. Listening, to be sure, with nerves that are not found in our ears, but our skin; yet listening, nonetheless.

 This raises deep questions about exactly what sense perception is in the first place. It turns out that much of it is, in fact, a taking in of rates of vibration: the vibration of molecules against skin nerves, the vibration of air molecules, the rate of vibration of photons as they strike our retina. Perhaps only the senses of smell and taste currently seem to be left out of this picture. Yet some research already indicates smell may be included, and I suspect we will discover that taste, also, is ultimately and intimately related to rates of vibration.

 This is significant on several levels, not least of which because it can probably help to explain the phenomenon of synesthesia, in which one sensory input translates within the body into a deep experience of another; for example, touch may produce a sensation of color. There is, in other words, a logic behind the experience. The question runs deeper than this, because it demonstrates that music, which is, after all, all about rates of vibration, timing and rhythm, is perhaps the deepest and most comprehensive sensory language we have developed, even though we don't see it as communicating information of the kind that words do. It's possible for completely deaf people to become adept musicians because of this; the sensation of music is a bodily function, not just one of the ears, and now we see that the sense of touch also explains this unique phenomenon.

A deeper sensory experience of life, which is both the aim and the result of the organic sense of being which we are capable of, takes in these impressions of vibration and sends them much deeper in the body, directly into many cells that we don't often associate as being part of our brain. We think of the brain as localized, and existing in the head (and perhaps, in yogic practice, the spine or solar plexus) but the entire body is our brain, all of it thinks, and it thinks with all of its parts. Every cell thinks. There is no part of the body that is not actively engaged in thinking at all times, and the thinking is gathered into a community. When we speak of the idea of taking refuge in the community, the Sangha,  we can think of it as taking place within our inner community, as much as in any outer community. We take refuge in the Buddha; this is the Self, Purusha, the Christ consciousness. We take refuge in the Dharma, the truth, the natural law of manifestation, which may be roughly equated with prakriti; and we take refuge in the inner community of sensation — all of the vibrations in our life — that puts us in relationship with these two realities.

All of it is composed of vibration. This reminds me of a post I wrote a number of years ago, where I pointed out that the story of the blind men and the elephant is, to me, most interesting because the blind man attempt to know the elephant through touch — that is, through the most intimate sensation  available to us, the one that lovers use to know one another as directly as possible.

This, to me, is the whole point of the parable — not the blindness of the men, or their incomprehension, but their willingness to engage in life with intimacy in order to discover what it means. The fact that each of them only comprehends part of the picture is very nearly meaningless, banal; faced with any effort to understand, that condition is inevitable, and does not need to be illustrated using obvious metaphors. The men who made this story up were getting at a deeper question.

 It may seem like a far cry from spiritual practice to touch the bark of a tree; yet this is is, in its essence, exactly what spiritual practice is. It is our contact with the world through sensation and vibration that both the temporal and spiritual Self is born and fed; our presence and awareness to that immediate experience is what brings us both life, and the capacity to understand it.

It arrives in a language that does not have words, but speaks eloquently to the fact of our Being.

 May your soul be filled with light.

compassionate action

 When I speak about the inversion of intelligence and emotion, I speak about the fact that one grasps life with intelligence, and reacts to it with emotion. This means that one has, in essence, an unfeeling understanding of life, and then overreacts to the events that take place.

 What one is supposed to have is an emotional grasp of life, which one then reacts to with intelligence. This is exactly what compassionate action is. The compassion is the emotional grasp of life — what Gurdjieff called outer considering, which is, both in its gross features and its details, nothing more and nothing less than compassion.

He said, in other words, that we must always use compassion — putting ourselves in another's shoes, feeling what they feel — when dealing with others. Dealing with life must begin, he maintained, with compassion. This means he said that we must deal with outer circumstances by using an emotional grasp of them.

 Action takes place afterwards, and action must be intelligent. The intellect must act after compassion has grasped the situation. It's capable of using its deductive powers to understand how to react once compassion has evaluated. Without compassionate evaluation, it will always be mistaken in its action; with compassionate evaluation, it begins with an outwardly considered approach, and it responds appropriately. It doesn't respond shooting from the hip in the same way that emotion does; it uses its faculties to augment the compassionate perception and follow through on that with intelligent action that can support it.

This is a complicated way of saying that if we start out having sympathy for others, we will act intelligently towards them. An analysis of human behavior reveals that none of us are adept at this; we generally have sympathy only for ourselves (Gurdjieff called this inner considering) and act quite stupidly towards others as a result. This is not compassionate action; it is not an emotional grasp of life, followed by an intellectual understanding of what must be done to deal effectively with it. We have it backwards; consistently so, and yet we persist in this behavior.

Putting compassion first changes everything, but it requires a non-egoistic perception of the world. This is quite difficult, because the ego is inserted vigorously into every situation the moment it arises. This is why one has to discover a practice of "abandonment" of ego in order to begin compassionate practice. The ego must take a back seat if outer considering, compassion, is to take place.

This deduction is in fact obvious; if we are going to consider others outwardly, we can't do it by considering ourselves first. Yet the relationship between the two is not often explored in the Gurdjieff practice, because obscure expressions such as "outer considering" itself have replaced fairly straightforward concepts which are very current in the spiritual world, such as compassion. A dogmatic insistence on preserving what are now outdated terminologies originated by Gurdjieff has put his work further outside the realm of accessibility than it ought to be to people who are interested in compassion, but not in some weird thing called "outer considering."

An examination of this problem ought to be undertaken.  Gurdjieff's intentional obfuscation of language may have had its rationales — and certainly has legions of justifiers among the faithful — but to the extent that they render his work inaccessible, they are useless.

Consider this. Compassionate action and outer considering both involve, among other things, the critical faculty of understanding the impact one's actions have on others. If one is using obscure and difficult language that confuses others, perhaps one ought to think that through and find a better way to communicate. (That would itself be an example of outer considering and compassionate action.)

 In any event, it's quite important to understand that all of Jeanne de Salzmann's exhortations (and they are legion) to abandon our egoistic manifestations and our inner form in order to find a new way of responding to life are directly related to this idea of compassionate action.

There is no point in having freedom if it does not invoke this capacity for compassion.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Active and reactive intentions

 In the last post, we engaged in further discussion about the nature of the three minds in man and their effort to acquire a conscious expression.

This leads us to the examination of what intentionality means. Intention cannot exist without Being. Locked within the three ring circus of material, desire, and power, intentionality cannot arise. It's like a pinball being repeatedly bounced around between three low yielding bumpers. You can score 10 over and over again thousands of times, but that's all you can score.

The reason for this is that the these qualities are folded in upon themselves. Material knows only materials; desire knows only desires; Power knows only power. They need to come into relationship not only with themselves, but with all the other qualities or forces within the octave in order to acquire any understanding or knowledge of properties other than themselves. Only Being, the emergent property of a conscious entity, can help these three qualities to reflect upon themselves and see their relationship to other things.

And only through this reflection and the seeing of relationship can intention form.

To be sure, there are mechanical intentions, reflexive intentions, which we call habits. Habits are actually a coarse form of attention and intention. This is why Gurdjieff advised his adepts to cultivate their habits, at the same time that they went against them. To form a good habit can be quite helpful, because a habit is the seed of an intention. This can be contradictory or confusing to hear until we understand it in the context of levels and forces. As Ibn 'Arabi makes quite clear, every force at a lower level is a reflection of a higher property of itself, at a higher level. This means that lower levels can help us to discern both the nature of higher levels, and the path towards them.

 Intention is always formed in regard to relationship. Nothing is ever intended except in relationship to another thing. So in order to form real intention, first, one must discern relationship, and while there is such a thing as unconscious discernment of relationship — which Gurdjieff referred to using the word "mechanicality,"a somewhat overused word which I feel is no longer specific enough for today's work — it is conscious discernment of relationship, what the Buddhists might well call discrimination, that we must exercise.

Being can exercise this property; non-being cannot. This is because Being represents the arrival of agency, the property of "of being able to do things," which, as Stuart Kauffman points out, emerges through evolution but cannot be deduced through physics (see Reinventing the Sacred for an in-depth treatment of this subject.)

 The action of agency, aka Being, cannot be understated in importance relative to the existence of material things, because it represents a conscious force, both in Gurdjieff's cosmology and in other esoteric systems. Unconscious forces react; conscious forces act. Only conscious forces can truly form intentions, because they are able to perceive relationship in a new and different way, at a higher level. The conscious force has an awareness of itself — it remembers itself. The unconscious force does not; it merely exists.

This means, for the most part, that all the intentions we form are unconscious, or reactive, intentions. An active intention is of a wholly different nature and can only emerge in concert with a different level of Being. It's important to understand the difference between reactive and active intentions, because if we don't, we will constantly mistake our reactive intentions, which are many, from our active ones, which are few. Reactive intentions are always formed in relationship to materials, desires, or power (momentum and force.)

Active intentions do not have outer aims; they have inner ones. This is because an active intention recognizes, first of all, that nothing outer can change unless inner conditions are different.

It is, I think, safe to say that we have a limited experience of this kind of agency. The majority of what Jeanne de Salzmann attempted to teach, and wrote about in her journals (as recounted in The Reality of Being) relates to agency of this kind, which is able to act because it has obtained a level of freedom — and that freedom is, quite specifically, freedom from material, desire, and power, each one of which represents an attractive level of identification in man.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The burning bush

 The first of the two prayers in Gurdjieff's system, " I am — I wish to be," is derived from the original Abramic prayer, "I am that I am," the words that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush.

 What the heck, you may ask, is that all about? Why a burning bush? Well, there is a reason. The image was not chosen casually.

The burning bush itself is a symbol of yogic discipline and the purification of karma. One of the traditions when a disciple pledges himself to the authority of a guru is for the student to hand the master a bundle of sticks, symbolizing his karmic burden. This karmic burden is turned over to the master, who presumably has enough spiritual development to be able to carry that burden, relieving the student and allowing him to advance on the path.

God did not choose to appear by some freak accident in our burning bush. The bush symbolizes the selfsame bundle of karmic twigs; and the flame, which (miraculously) did not consume the bush, represents a fire of purification. In the action of appearing thus, God indicated that the ultimate dissolution of karmic burdens lay not in the hands of human beings, but only in His own. Indeed, the tablets that He passed on to Moses represented a set of instructions specifically designed to help humans avoid acquiring more karmic debts.

 Why do we find this peculiar yogic action and imagery at the root source of the Judeo-Christian tradition?

These images and ideas were not presented thoughtlessly; they came, originally, from schools, metaphysical systems that had studied such concepts for generations. The teachings from the Vedas and the original yoga schools, as well as the practical traditions associated with them, have percolated back and forth along the Silk Road trade routes between Asia and the Middle East for many thousands of years, to a certainty before any histories were written or records were kept. The distinct — or apparently distinct — differences between Eastern and middle Eastern religions are not, it turns out, so distinct after all. Not only were all of the religious traditions in ancient times seeking an identical result — reunion with the Divine — they informed one another in ways that aren't immediately apparent today. The division of religion into separate compartments has taken place due to an emphasis on differences. Not just an emphasis, in fact, but, in the case of the dogmatists, an insistence.

 Yet these lost schools of ancient thought were deeply connected; and they influenced one another.  the original teachings may not be apparent, but their traces run like threads through all of the teachings we know today. This Tantric fabric of ancient Eastern disciplines runs deep through all religious practice; and their existence is not a threat to existing religions, but an affirmation of them. In the same way that our genetic code affirms that we are all, for all intents and purposes, related to one another —brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers —this "genetic code" of religion is still present in the DNA of every major traditional world practice.

There is, in other words, something real at the core. In this particular instance, the real consists of a realization that man needs to purify himself; that his soul has been contaminated by contact with the material world, and that a new kind of effort is needed in order to expunge the influences that interfere with his attempts to reunite with the divine.

Couched though they may be in coarse literal terms such as stone tablets and top ten lists, the Commandments represent shocks from a higher level sent to help man cleanse himself of the influences which harm him: conscious labors, efforts directed at the reunification of the Self.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Conscious forces and the mind

In the last post, we examined the idea that each of the three minds in the body — physical, intellectual, and emotive — is subject to levels of expression, like any other phenomenon falling under the law of octaves. The degree of consciousness in an individual part depends on the evolution of its own internal octave.

This means, simply put, that any one of the three individual minds in man can be more or less conscious, and that it can in fact either be "awake" or "asleep" within the context of ordinary life.

Speaking in the broadest terms, if any one of the three minds is under the influence of one of the first three notes in the octave —re, mi, or fa — it is under a mechanical, or unconscious influence.  It is identified with either its material circumstances, its desires, or the power (motive force, or compulsion) that drives it. In most cases, all three of these unconscious or mechanical forces dominate the expression of the particular mind. We are, in other words, generally dominated by the inertia, impulses, or momentum of our parts.

Only if the individual part rises above this to the level of the note sol does it acquire Being.

 A mind that has acquired Being can be said to be conscious, or awake. Admittedly, this is only the first stage of three progressive levels, but it represents a level of freedom from identification with the material forces that dominate us. There is, in other words, a degree of objectivity. And it's important to remember that this degree of objectivity can be acquired in any one of the three minds, or all three of them. If any one of the three minds has acquired a degree of objectivity, its chances for recruiting the other two to raise their level is much higher.

 Gurdjieff's ideas are, on the whole, meant to try and raise the intellectual octave to the degree of objectivity. His movements are meant to try and raise the physical octave to the degree of objectivity; and his inner exercises — most of which are not recorded for review by the general public — are meant to try and raise the emotional octave to the degree of objectivity. By working on all three of these pieces of territory at the same time, the chances of the centers supporting one another is much greater.

I believe it's important to understand this so that one sees that the system has a deep integrity and structure to it. The overall context and the exact aim can be clearly stated in this manner. It eliminates much of the vague and insubstantial commentary on how the system works, why we have three minds, and where the failing of their relationship lies. The situation is specific; it requires specific explanations.

In what may seem to be a reflexive exercise, it should be noted that even the force of consciousness itself is subject to the law of octaves, and moves through an iteration of levels until it reaches Being, which is what we would call, perhaps paradoxically, "conscious consciousness." This is another point of inquiry that deserves a great deal more exploration.

Understanding that our various parts are under the direct influences of the forces of materiality, desire, and compulsion may help us to see more clearly where our motivations lie and why we have them. Most of the manifestations we have emanate from these relatively coarse substances — and, make no mistake about it, forces are substantial, not ephemeral. They not only arrive in substantial form (electromagnetic waves); they express themselves in the gross actions of the substantive world, which, as we all know, produce material reality, our lives, and everything that goes rightly or wrongly with them. It is all connected. The temptation may be to separate the microcosmos from the macrocosmos and pretend that they are not directly related; but they are indubitably directly related, and any psychological or spiritual exercise, no matter how coarse or refined, is actually an attempt to affect not only the macroscopic manifestations of our life —  objects, events, circumstances, and conditions— but also an attempt to affect the molecular basis of these events, since all of our thoughts, attitudes, and so on are ultimately molecular in nature.

It may seem strange to imply that having one thought or another influences the way that the molecules in our body work, but that is a physical fact.

There can be intended or unintended consequences in this regard; and the question of intentionality in relationship to the consciousness of our minds is an important one.

May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Being of the three functions

I'm connected to something much larger.

This connection, moreover, is not theoretical or intellectual; it is physical, practical, and organic. My difficulty is that I rarely sense this with a mind appropriate to that kind of sensation. I use my intellect to grasp my world, and my emotion to react to it.

It would be entirely possible to use my emotion to grasp my world, and my intellect to react to it; this, in fact, would be a far more appropriate ordering of the manner in which the minds work together.

In both cases, the mind of the body participates (to varying degree) in sensing the world, but in the second case — when emotion grasps the world first— it always works in conjunction with sensation, being already the superior force.

Intellect, on the other hand, rarely does, although it also has this capacity.

It's worth investigating this question in some more detail. This sense, the organic sense of being, is a foundational sensory tool within the mind of the body, an active mind, not the passive mind that the body usually employs. All three of the minds within human beings — physical, emotional, and intellectual — can be either active or passive in their relationship to life. If any one of them is active, the possibility that the other two minds will join them is much greater. But passivity breeds passivity— it can do no more. If I am in one part, and it is passive, identified with life, little more can take place.

If a part is active, an invitation is issued.

 The foundation of the organic sense of being can issue an invitation to the intellect to participate; it can also issue an invitation to the emotive function. It's actually easier for it  to issue the invitation to the intellect, because the intellect works at a lower rate of vibration. (Hence the above remark about superiority of emotion, which refers to rate of vibration.) In the invocation of sensation, I have already recruited a superior force to attract the participation of the intellect. Because sensation is inferior to emotion in terms of its vibrational level, it does not necessarily align itself as easily with this mind, although the possibility is of course ever present. It is, in fact, more likely that emotion may align sensation to work with it.

These are subtle questions, because one can only understand them once one pays close attention to the play of forces within the body, each force being the manifestation of a particular mind, with all of its qualities. Every mind has its own octave, and each octave iterates movement through the progressive developmental stages of materiality, desire, power, Being, purification, and wisdom.

Any mind that is active has reached the level of Being— and this is the level at which the three minds can begin to interact with one another in a more intentional way. Without this level of vibration, each of the minds is trapped within a cyclical revolution (used in the sense of the term circulating) of the forces of materiality, desire, and power. Because these essentially coarser forces easily produce identification, the minds remain separated.

 This is why it's so important for us to acquire Being. Until this finer, more refined force appears in each of the minds that contribute to our manifestation, they can't communicate effectively. There is a Being of the body, a Being of the emotions, and a Being of the intellect. Each one has its own distinct sensation. "Three centered" Being, as Gurdjieff called it, does not exist unless each of the centers  inhabits and exists within its own being first. This question is, in general, poorly understood. Students and adepts alike do not understand that these forces do not emerge from nowhere and pop into existence wholly formed. This is because of a lack of correct observation, and a lack of critical evaluation of the inner state.

 If I want to see, I must properly understand what I am trying to see. Seeing, in other words, involves more than just the passive act of taking in. It connects to understanding. This question could be examined in far more detail, but we can't get to it in this essay.

Back to the original premise, emotion is designed to grasp the world, because it has a much deeper capacity than the other two functions for a comprehensive understanding of exactly what I face. In its higher iterations and expressions, it conveys not only the intelligence to instantly grasp the current situation, it also contains the intuition required for a response. The intellect, in service to this situation, is able to critically evaluate the situation and temper the response so that it becomes more appropriate. We are speaking here, mind you, of a situation where the emotion is grasping the world — not reacting to it reflexively. That is to say, a situation where the mind of emotion has acquired Being, and is already expressing some of the higher qualities it can connect to which are collectively referred to as feeling in the current understanding and language of the Gurdjieff work.

 I apologize for opening up some very broad subjects here. They clearly deserve a great deal more examination, but we will have to leave it at that for today. More will be said on the subject in the next two posts.

May your soul be filled with light.