Thursday, February 28, 2013

The bird master, part two

 Eventually, the land was filled with birdhouses. A number of different traditions, each one of them  internally consistent, made specific kinds of birdhouses which were passed from generation to generation.

Because birds rarely, if ever, came to live in the houses, eventually the people  began to make up stories. They concluded that birds needed special things inside the houses to attract them; and a whole culture wealth around furnishing the houses with all kinds of different things that birds would like. A whole set of series developed around this, with arguments and counter arguments, leading to more and more elaborate furnishings for every type of bird house. Some of them eventually ended up stuffed half full with artificial eggs, decorative objects, and other supposed attractants.

One day, a new bird master, traveling from a distant land, came to the city where the bird houses were built. Familiar with all the habits and practices of birding, he encountered the local birdhouse practice with curiosity. He sensed that there was something strange about the understanding of these people; but he didn't want to offend them.

After pondering the situation, he finally approached a young man who was building a birdhouse in a very fine shop that specialized in such items, in one of the quieter neighborhoods of the city. The young man was in the process of filling the birdhouse with a set of exquisitely detailed artificial eggs.

"Why are you doing that?" he asked the young man?

"Why, we've always done it this way," said the young man. "Every birdhouse needs to be properly equipped with the things that go in it."

 The birdmaster was completely baffled. "You mean, you don't use your birdhouses for birds? You just fill them up with things?"

 The young man laughed out loud. "Of course they're for birds. But why would a bird ever want to move into a house that didn't have the proper things in it?"

 The bird master paused for a moment.

"I don't think you understand birds very well," he replied. "It doesn't work that way at all.  Or, perhaps I should say, it does work that way, but you still have it all wrong." The tone of voice in which he replied was quiet, accommodating, yet grave. For some reason, it stopped the young man short. He realized this man knew something he didn't.

" If that's the case, then what does a birdhouse need to have in it to attract birds?"

 "Ah," replied the bird master. "That's just the thing. In order for a birdhouse to attract birds, it has to be empty."

  Now it was the young man's turn to feel bafflement. "What do you mean?"

"A birdhouse is designed to receive the bird," said the bird master. "Anything you put in it will prevent the bird from wanting to come in. The bird doesn't want your things; it has its own ways. You can only  create a space for it: an empty, quiet space. Then you have to wait very quietly and exercise great patience. Birds will never come in the midst of noise and agitation."

" Anyway," he continued, "what you're doing might work, but it's never the best way."

"What is the best way, then?"

"Birds actually prefer to nest in trees. Your people seem to have cut all the trees in the area down." And he handed the young man an acorn.

"But that will take many years," complained the young man, eyeing the seed in dismay. "Possibly a lifetime."

"Yes," said the birdmaster, smiling gently. "But look on the bright side. You're still young."

And he went on his way.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The birdmaster

 Last night, a reader asked me what I meant by the heading in this blog: "There is no I, there is only Truth. The way to the Truth is through the heart."

 The question was asked in relationship to Gurdjieff's doctrine of acquiring real "I"... which is a complex subject. And because the statement I make (it's not my statement, it was given to me as a mystery to penetrate) cannot have any real answers from this side of Being, one must live it, not define it.

Nonetheless, some things can be said.  Gurdjieff's search for real "I," put in the terms he put it in, finds its closest parallel in the idea of Purusha, the higher self which pervades the universe. This Vedic concept is certainly the way the idea is understood today — in so far as anyone understands it — within the context of those I work with.

 So it has nothing to do with the self we usually experience; and to discuss it as though I could actually acquire it is an extremely problematic idea.

Once upon a time, a wandering birdmaster came to a land with no trees, where no one had ever seen a bird.  All the trees had been cut down in ancient times, leaving only memories of the way the skies were once filled with birds.

The population had many books about birds, and some people drew fanciful, but completely inaccurate, pictures of birds. Whole sciences and academic disciplines had arisen surrounding the question of birds, but everything was conjecture.

The birdmaster did his best to describe birds to the people who lived in that land, but no one quite got the idea. Finally, he said to them, "The only way you can understand what a bird is is to get your own bird."

"That sounds wonderful," said the people. "How do we do that?"  Already, they had misunderstood him — they thought that they could have a real bird of their own, not realizing that a bird is only a bird through the inherent nature of its freedom from restraint.

"You have to build a birdhouse," said the birdmaster. "The bird has to have a place to live, or it won't come or stay."

 The birdmaster began to teach the people how to build birdhouses, but it turned out that the enterprise was complex and time-consuming; the possibilities for types of birdhouses were nearly endless. He died before he could ever teach the people all they needed to know.

 An endless series of birdhouse schools arose; they split from one another. Arguments ensued about how to build a birdhouse, because no one knew how big it should be, or how small; how large the entrance should be,  how high it should be hung, or what kind of perch ought to be on it.  No one knew where they should put it to attract birds. A huge number of birdhouse candidates appeared, mounted on houses, trees, in the woods, the fields, and even near the ocean. Some people tore down other people's birdhouses in order to make room for their own. Others made a great deal of money charging for their birdhouse "expertise."

 But few birds came. It turned out that no matter how well one made birdhouses, this did not mean birds would come; and even if they did come, there was no guarantee they would stay in the birdhouses. Besides, despite all of the energy put into attracting birds, still, only one or two of those building birdhouses had actually ever seen birds or enticed them to roost; and since, unfortunately, there were many different kinds of birds, what one individual did to attract a bird did not necessarily work for others, who were of necessity forced to build their own birdhouses of different materials, and put them up in different places.

 The biggest problem, it turned out, was that birds don't stay in one place for very long. The very few that came departed quickly; people caught glimpses, and reported them to others.

  Not long after he died, the words and instructions of the birdmaster began to be misinterpreted; and people began to believe more and more things which had nothing to do with the actual life of birds, which are free creatures. The basic problem was that no one had any idea of what a bird actually was. And no one even knew this.

Nonetheless, they did know some few things. Those who studied birds seriously soon began to recognize the fact that real birds can come and go as they please; and so they began to build cages to keep the birds in, if they ever caught one. The art of cage building became a refined one, a question of purely practical matters; and no one saw the contradiction in it.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The illusion of choice

 In my ordinary state, I think that I choose things. I see this go on all day long; in an effective division of Self from self, the two inner states assume independent existences, joined by what sees, and one begins to acquire an awareness of how "I" think, act, and feel, and how automatic these things are — how definitely unconnected from the living quality of Self that lives, but does not invest itself in life.

There is investment, and then there is investment. To be invested means to be clothed within; and the Self is not clothed within life, it is clothed within Being. Being then encounters life.  Unlike self, Being is capable of inhabiting life. Self – the small, the ordinary self — can do no more than identify with it. So when there's a part that is not identified with what is taking place, already, this is quite different. This is on the order of Being, not just existing.

 So the self thinks that it can choose things; but in fact, no choices are made. Everything just happens; objects, events, circumstances, and conditions assume their inexorable march forward through time, and extract the inevitable results from self as it moves forward. This can't be avoided; when Krishna tried to explain to Arjuna that he had to go to battle, it was a metaphor for everything in life, not just killing your relatives. (And, in a sense, his relatives were his own inner "I's," which inevitably fall to one another right and left as the inner parts of our ordinary self combat one another.)

 One can't escape this fate. There is no choice in it. The choice lies within the living inhabitation of a Self that arises within essence, that grows from a seed that is divine, not connected to the ordinary events of life in the same way. That Self, undefinable, existing without words, is nonetheless an alternative — an inexorable truth, one that stands and exists independent of the machine that produces everything called the self within ordinary society, psychology, religion, and the world. This Self is in itself a choice, and it is the only choice that a man can actually make: the choice of consciousness.

If consciousness arises in me — and this is, indeed, possible, despite the apparent impossibility — it must still inhabit exactly the same conditions that unconsciousness inhabits. Do I really think anything can change? It's a ridiculous proposition. Conditions are conditions; they cannot be escaped, only included. So the effort is not one of freedom in the sense of getting rid of conditions; it is freedom within conditions. The choice is made to inhabit the conditions — not manipulate them, not second-guess them, and not even take rational or logical steps to lay out a game plan about how conditions ought to be handled. It's true, there are parts that do all of that; and they must be allowed to act. But there is also a part that stands aside. And it just standing aside — in making that choice to see – there is a subtle influence on all the other parts.

 A living quality can arise. Work for it; see it. It's quite different, really. It's nothing like all those things I feel in meditation or all the largely imaginary ideas I have about compassion and love and so on.

It's active.

So the choice is never an external choice. It has nothing to do with choosing to go to a particular movie, or choosing to switch jobs. The movies will be made and seen and the jobs will exist and be attended to regardless of my inner position. Things will continue to happen, inexorably, because the flow of time moves them forward objectively, without regard for the opinions, wishes, or imaginary forces that I believe I exert on them.

The choice is always an inner choice.  I think it's important that I understand the distinction between these two kinds of choice, because one is illusory, and the other one is real. Martin Luther observed: since we must sin, sin boldly; and within the realm of outer choice, this holds true in all instances.

 The inner life is quite different. There is an opportunity, within the inner life, to choose not to sin. That is where our choice must be exercised.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Conscious submission

 Last night and this morning, I pondered questions about this exact point of my inner work, regarding the submission to a higher authority.

In the old days, and in religious practices, this was sometimes discussed as obedience. I often refer to it using the word Islam, the term that Sufis and other Muslims use. Regardless of how one expresses it, one remembers that even Christ had to submit to the Will of God, as illustrated in his plea in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 It's necessary for me to submit to a higher authority, a higher influence; and yet I don't know how. All of the rituals, dogmas, exercises, and practices may be good; each instruction that I receive from an outer source regarding these things may be helpful. Yet in the end, I am quite certain, due to the nature of my own inner contact and the tasks which have been given to me—not by those around me, but already by a distinctly higher authority—that I don't know how to submit to this higher authority.

I'll admit it — even this did not come to me through myself. The insight was given; without that, I could not have seen the task. Perhaps I saw it intellectually; but this is not real seeing. When a real inner task is given it comes organically.

Practicing submission to any form of higher authority on the ordinary level is just practice. It does not teach me how to come, on my knees, to the moment of surrender of my own will. I just don't know how to do that. And every single subscription I make to ideas about how that could be done is another deflection to the idea that I can do something. It sidesteps the objective fact of my own helplessness.

 Religion offers me a vehicle for mechanical submission; and every external form of submission, taken into myself and applied, is mechanical. It is part of a world of objects, of gears and levers, a machine that attempts to pry me out of one place and lift me into a different one. The presumption is that there is some kind of inner technology that can do this.

But there isn't.

The inner technologies are part of what has to be abandoned. And I don't even know how to do that. There is a moment within where I ought to put down all of the tools and look up at the sky and wonder; not knowing. In moments like this, a prayer for help arises spontaneously, acknowledging the impossibility of what I wish for. I can't wish myself into heaven. I would like to; but of course I'm not prepared to be there. In point of fact, I'm still alive; and so much work remains to be done on this level, if I am ever going to be prepared to become a candidate to be further prepared for heaven. So I have to get up every morning and face myself, within the narrow constraints of the conditions and requirements I meet — all the while asking myself this: how can my action of submission become, not mechanical, but conscious?

 The submission has to become a living thing that penetrates all of my being. Yet in every part, a hardness, a kernel of resistance, arises, and it doesn't want to submit. There has to be an intentional letting go; and that requires all of the precision, the intimacy, the organic relationship that I keep investigating.

Somehow, all of this quite concise awareness of the inner Self is connected to the possibility of the eventual arising of a conscious submission.

If I cannot feel this force, this higher influence—if it is not tangible, if there is no sensitivity—then I cannot even begin to know what needs to be submitted to. And perhaps it is just the awareness of a higher influence itself that is what is missing; because within the arrival of that awareness, there's no question about what needs to be done. It is in the lack of awareness — the lack of consciousness — of a higher influence that my arrogance, my egoism, my belief in myself asserts itself. When confronted with the objective fact of a higher influence, the self (small "s") must inevitably give way to the truth of the higher.

This higher influence that can touch me, if I prepare, and attempt to be open, is an inescapable repudiation of what I think I am. Only if my eyes are opened in this way can I admit to myself that I don't know how to submit.

And the ground floor of any attempt at submission is to admit that I don't know how.

May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Becoming human

 Yesterday, I spoke about becoming human as an action of the greater Good. I will say a bit more about this now.

 Now, this is a complex subject, because so many questions about life and why we are alive turn on it. I can only speak briefly, and about a single aspect.

The whole purpose of humanity is to express the greater Good, the will of the Divine. Ibn Arabi explains, in The Bezels of Wisdom, that man was appointed vicegerent on behalf of God; that is, it is not a pope or a priest or some other figure of authority who is an earthly representative of God, but man himself — each man or woman themselves.  We are born and put here on earth in order to receive a higher influence from the Divine and express it on behalf of God.

This is a profoundly personal and intimate action on behalf of every human being; and to the extent that a human being inhabits themselves, so it is God that inhabits them, and it is a certainty that to the extent one inhabits oneself, and is inhabited by God, one expresses God's Will and does His Will.

 So mankind is invited, through the exercise and presence of humanity, to act on God's behalf. This is a sacred and enormously rewarding task, which ought to feed every man and woman's soul with the very finest kind of food, the very highest hydrogens that Gurdjieff spoke about. There is an inexpressible bliss and joy — as well as an anguish — in the action of performing these tasks on behalf of God, but we know very little of it, because we are disconnected from a right understanding. Our idea of what it means to be a human being is quite different than what the truth of the matter is.

It's worth careful, sober, and profound reflection on what it means to be a representative of God, because in receiving this extraordinarily honorable position of trust, each human being takes on a responsibility that must be carried through life, and if it is not discharged with honor and dignity befitting the gravity of the task, an accounting will be made. Jesus Christ was well aware of this and repeatedly tried to impress it on human beings; so many of his parables explain it. We forever act not on our own behalf; we act on God's behalf. Yet when we are asleep, asleep in ourselves — this means, when we act selfishly and for the gratification of our own ego — we violate this sacred trust.

The central action and purpose of Gurdjieff's "pondering of the sense and aim of one's existence" must be focused on examining this question in particular. And that pondering must be an organic one, not just an action of the intellect. That is to say, we must have an emotional, a feeling, sensation of this trust and the way that it has been given to us. To the extent that we sense this actively, we are alive — and to the extent that we do not, we are, for all intents and purposes, dead. To be raised from the dead is to be lifted, in an inner sense, out of the passivity relative to our responsibility to God into an active relationship with it.

 The action of Grace as exchanged between human beings is the action of the Lord, and represents our doing of His Will on his Behalf. For God so Loves the world — as Christ said — that He would have his Love known in every action between men and women, so that we become a living and dynamic representation of this Love within life.

Of course, one can see how this is working out. We live in a terrible place where most of this higher and utterly objective Truth has been forgotten; and we ourselves forget it frequently. We live in sin to the extent in which we do not honor one another with this active force of Love. Sin doesn't have anything to do with any other question. To act selflessly and with honor, dignity, and Love towards one's fellow man is an action aligned with the Will of God; any other action is sinful.

Of course, it is useless to turn to another and point out how they fail. I need to turn inward and confront my own failure; because only in the acknowledgement that I am helpless in regard to this matter will I open enough to receive the help, the abundant spiritual health, that can and will be sent if I submit to the higher.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Greater Good

  I would like to talk about my impressions this morning.

Our inner effort is aimed at having an intention, and having an attention.

But why do I wish to have an attention? And why do I wish to have an intention?

These are not actions unto themselves.

There is a greater Good — a reason that I have this wish. And that wish itself is for the greater Good. That greater Good is greater than myself, the small world I inhabit which is formed by my ego. It is actually a greater Good that flows inward into me from above, a spark from the Divine impulse that forms the universe. That spark, that higher energy from above the top of the head — which in fact can come from anywhere, not just there — is what is received to express the attention and the intention of a higher level.

Attention is the exercise of Wisdom. That is, attention is wisdom made manifest, a higher intelligence that can be born within our life and within ourselves, such that we are no longer intelligent unto ourselves, but intelligent in so far as we are intelligent unto God.

Intention is the exercise of Love. Ultimately, everything must intend towards this greater Good of Love or it is useless. That which intends in any other direction is a downward spiral that leads to the destruction of the good; and never doubt that such forces exist. You can see them all around you. But it is up to each of us, as individuals, to go against that actively, by opening ourselves to the higher influences that can guide us in the direction of Love. This is forever unselfish; and to the extent that I receive this higher influence of Love, so I am less under the influence of ego.

So the whole point of these "exercises" towards having an attention and having an intention are nothing other than an effort to open to receive a higher influence, which seeks to align itself with this greater Good.

In fact, there are no exercises. Forever, there is only a single action, and it is always an action of turning — either I turn towards the Lord, or I turn away from the Lord. This action is forever expressed in life and in the material circumstances that create the universe. Perhaps this is enormously difficult to understand, because I am not so open and very little of me is available to receive this kind of teaching. But in fact the teaching is always an inner one, not an outer one, and can never quite be received through books, films, church services, or other people. To be sure, it can be stimulated by them; but ultimately, the only teaching is the inner teaching, and the only inner teaching is received to the extent that I am open. And that openness is an openness of submission and an openness of the heart.

In attachment to the immediate, to the flesh, and to the circumstances around me, I perpetually forget about this effort to open to the greater Good and instead I easily become identified with ideas, organizations, exercises, literature, unpleasant things that happen to me, and so on. I do not suspect or sense the incredible abundance that is available if I am open. Yet if I begin to understand what this question of turning towards the Lord means, that could be entirely corrected.

 As Ibn Arabi points out, there are many secrets to be understood in this action, because ultimately, I cannot even turn. Only the Lord can turn me towards Him; there is not another. Every impression that casts this in a different light is a mistaken one. In the end, I only exist, I only have Being, to the extent that I have Being in the Lord. And this greater Good is actually the only thing to be worked for; any other understanding becomes attached to mistaken directions.

 Above all, this effort is an effort to become human. An effort to become human, and to inhabit a human condition in which exchange takes place.

 I'll speak about that in a later post.

May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The gestural nature of Being

 When we read texts, the temptation to take them literally is very powerful.

Yet this impulse of literalization denies an essential fact of Being: all Being is ultimately gestural. That is, Being consists of an indication, a direction, a movement of subtle form that is constantly changing.

 In this way, words are also gestural. A phrase indicates a potential path; it is like the movement of one's hand, gently turning itself over, opening, for example, to a different kind of influence. Or holding fingers together to indicate a certain precision of intimacy and attention. In this way, phrases may allude to things not said, words not spoken; and those unspoken qualities may in fact consist of the essence of the communication... not the words which were conveyed on the surface.

Nuance, gesture, inflection: within this apparent somethingness, we so often point to otherness.

 Each arising of expression is gestural; words are gestural, dance is gestural, images are gestural. Each one is not static, but exists within our encounter with it — and each one provides an indication. Oddly, in other words, no thing is the thing itself, but rather an indication of its relationship to other things: or, perhaps even more specifically, a gentle indication of the place from which things arise, a different realm.

In this way, as we move through life, literalism — the assigning of things unto themselves — becomes a form of meaninglessness, a way of stripping context from objects and treating them as independent entities. Lacking the gesture — the indication of the otherness, the movement in the direction of relationship — the object is dead. It doesn't matter whether the object is a word, or the movement of feet in the air across a dance floor, or pigment carefully applied to a canvas. If we assign it unto itself, if we give it a static validity, it loses its innate ability to create relationship. Actually, all of the meaning in any object rests within its relationship; not in the inherent nature of what it is. For example, a gemstone is just a piece of rock to a squirrel, and, according to the squirrel's priorities, utterly useless and uninteresting. It is only in its relationship to man and his ideas that it discovers a quite different value.

To take the analogy further, in the dark, a cabochon and a river pebble of equal size are the same to the hand that holds them. Only a relationship with light reveals a difference.

 Perhaps this failure to understand the gestural nature of Being is what causes me to overlook my relationship with others. I am asleep — unaware — and I don't realize that each action that I take is not just an action unto itself, but a gesture, an indicator, a direction. In fact, when I think about this right now, I see how ubiquitously true that is; and I see how unaware I am of that, most of the time.

I am forever, like Lena Dunham's Hannah, missing cues and hence fumbling my life and my relationships. She makes it funny; but she also brings us, in an immediately human way, the deep pathos that each of us confronts within this action of life.

 This gestural character of Being is fascinating, because it relates strongly to poetry, the most gestural of the written arts, and the one most closely associated with revealing an inner state. Apparently, we have an instinctive sense of this idea of Being as gesture, even though 99% of our relationship to it is subliminal. Certainly, authors have investigated this question; yet the awareness of the gestural nature of both Being and reality itself remains, within the actual range of immediate experience, theoretical.

The idea of a new kind of attention in the body is related to this question of Being and gesture. Gurdjieff's interest in movements, and in posture, related specifically to this larger question of Being and its action as an indicator, not a state. Being itself is constantly in movement — so if there is a reality of Being within the range of my experience, it is a gestural reality, one composed of an endless series of allusions and relationships, a fluid substance. Perhaps this is why Jeanne de Salzmann constantly refers to it as a kind of freedom.

The mudras of Hinduism and Buddhism appear to be a dictionary of meaning,  with each one assigned a specific identity, but perhaps their greatest value lies in their power of suggestion — not their power of definition. And, indeed, in yoga, they are used in conjunction with breathing exercises in pranayama as gestural entities, fluid movements intended to help participate in the flow of inner energy.

 Literalism has no room for this kind of understanding. It wants the insects pinned down on a sheet of cardboard so that they can be carefully inspected, not living and in movement from leaf to flower.

 The question of what kind of minds produce, and are attached, to literalism is an open question. I think all of us have parts that function in this way. The question is whether we see our relationship with them, or whether they run the show.

May your soul be filled with light.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


It's interesting to see what is understood and what isn't. There's a point at which either an understanding, an objective understanding, is attained, or it isn't.

One of the benchmarks of a failure to understand is either a conviction that one has understood, or a reckless disregard of the fact that there is such as thing as understanding, and that things ought to in fact be understood.

Understanding measured from a horizontal level isn't understanding; it's correlative, not informative. that is to say, it can correlate but it cannot form anything inwardly; it can only react to what is already present in an associative manner. The majority of thinking and responding that goes on in men and women consists of just this kind of action. Gurdjieff actually explained it in some detail in his various discourses on forms of mentation. Associative thought, in other words, consists of more than just the obvious; it consists of very nearly every thought.

This kind of thinking results in accretions, or layers, of association that build up and attract like things to themselves. It forms a kind of geological crust in us; a false personality, as one might call it, and yet the false personality isn't just a personality, it is a dense and complicated web of associations, reactions, opinions and assumptions bolstered by a wide variety of rationalizations, each one of which presumes a "truth" that it is in fact entirely unable to represent. Everything—especially the justifications—is part of this egoistic network.

Even more insidiously, the network assimilates everything one has ever heard or experienced about inner work and folds it into itself like the Borg of Star Trek. It produces an artificial entity called "inner work" which one becomes entirely and absolutely identified with, utterly convinced that it's the real thing...when it is anything but.

An understanding that has the potential to form something new inwardly takes on a different and remarkable aspect as it arrives. It is alive; and it doesn't take its cues from the expected. It arrives and exists quite independent of this construction that is so invested in ordinary life. It isn't subject to the emotional levers that drive the horizontal influences in life forward through time; and it recognizes quite clearly just what is worth investing one's energy in, and what isn't.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about it is that one can invest a lifetime in inner work and yet still not acquire this kind of understanding. Every possible type of thought that can present itself will parade across the stage posing as understanding of one kind or another; yet the organic sensation of understanding that transcends a horizontal perspective can remain elusive.

And this element of transcendence is essential; because the action of understanding isn't born of this level, nor does it pay homage to it. The things of this world, of this level, are unimportant to it, except insofar as they represent a turning towards God. By this I mean all the things; and one must already understand, in order to understand this.

May your soul be filled with light.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hansel and Gretel

 Yesterday, I was reading a book about al Ghazali and the connections between his Islamic philosophy and Plotinus.

 It suddenly occurred to me, while I was reading it, that the author — clearly a very respectable academic — thought that the source of al Ghazali's revelations and writings about the nature of Being and Light were other philosophic traditions. In pondering this, I realized that the vast majority of people who study individuals who have brought revelational material on inner work think they perhaps somehow got their ideas from books.

The idea is intriguing, because the lines that academia attempts to trace between inner philosophies and esoteric schools are all traced on the pages of books. When it finds similarities, it reports that so and so got their idea from another so and so that went before them; and so on.

It's actually nothing like this. The nature of inner revelation is that it is consistent; thus, Plotinus, to the extent that he had an inner revelation, an inflow of divine influences, had a perception about the nature of light; and others who followed him, al Ghazali, for example, had the same insights because they had the same experiences. Not because they had heard what those who went before them said.

This may seem to be a fine point of distinction, but it's an essential one. The reason that Ibn  'Arabi and Swedenborg sound alike is not because Swedenborg read 'Arabi's writing, or was necessarily aware of his tradition. That could have happened, to be sure; yet scholars would probably agree it's unlikely. 'Arabi's writings have never, so far as I know, been extensively translated into Western languages; and although his ideas may have been spoken about and reached Swedenborg, Swedenborg by his own account was not influenced by writings, but rather by revelation.

Revelation is an essential influence within man's inner world. There are, of course, revelations that turn out to be invented or delusional; these are not, in the end, too hard to recognize, and I won't name names. But the striking quality of real inner revelation is that those who have a correct understanding of such an experience all emerge from it saying essentially the same things, because the universal truths that underlie this experience are not mutable.

One can know, in the same way that one can look at a renaissance artist's use of pigment materials  and know whether or not a particular painting was his (the forgeries deviate from the original artist's pigment recipes) one can read a revelational text and know, by and large,  whether or not it is true — if one has enough of a connection to real inner work to know that.

 People who study things with the mind, or think that understanding comes out of books, will never understand this. Studying things with the intellect and following things in books is a good thing, mind you; I do it myself. But the point — as Ibn 'Arabi said time and time again, when writing — is that real understanding does not come out of the intellect. It can be recorded there; and some transmission of this kind can take place, but only to one who is properly prepared.

Gurdjieff  discussed this matter with Ouspensky at some length, in regard to both writing and symbolic art.  The difficulty is that those who evaluate esoteric materials as though everything came from the same level, or could be understood from the point of view of relativism, simply don't have enough understanding to evaluate things properly. And this is a real problem.

In the mixing up of various works and traditions that has taken place due to the expansion of information exchange in the late 20th and early 21st century, an enormous amount of dilution has taken place. The critical faculties of man are, on the whole, steadily deteriorating, and the ability in human beings to properly discriminate, based on the influences of levels and their action within mankind, between nonsense and actual inner work is steadily deteriorating along with those faculties.

 Without a right ability of discrimination, one cannot know what is true and what is invented. A man or woman can go a very long way off a path into the woods due to a failure of discrimination, and end up in a place that looks very magical, but is actually just a witch's hut.

 Gurdjieff famously included the following admonition in his aphorisms:

 "If you  have not by nature a critical mind your staying here is useless."

 May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


 This morning, I was inadvertently involved in a discussion online about the Pope and his many transgressions regarding the protection of clergy in matters of child abuse.

These are very serious outward issues, and one should in no way take away from the outward effort that is required to address them. At the same time, with all of these outward issues —  which also include environmental destruction, gun control, war, and so on — I see how easy it is to become identified with them. That is, they become the impulse. We are warned over and over again by every spiritual master of this danger, yet we don't really seem to believe in it. There is a part of me that compels me to see these outward battles as ascendant over the inner effort.

Swedenborg brought this up many times, and Ibn Arabi continually warns us— as Christ did — not to put our treasures up in this world.

There are times when I think that to be involved with the world or to believe in the world has something to do with materialism, and a wish for worldly goods. Certainly, Ibn Arabi presents the question in this context many times in the Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom. Yet the wish for worldly goods may also be attached to an urge for political or social action.

This is a real question. Do I understand non-attachment, non-identification, in regard to these questions? I'm not sure at all that I do; but I do see how powerful the emotional impulse is to don my armor and ride off, lance firmly tilted towards the outward problem.

There is a lack of vision and restraint within me when this happens. I'm perpetually in reaction; and this has a specific sensation and inner attitude that can be seen. It stands in opposition to the inner energy that grounds me. The tension between the two is necessary; and I need to see both. How am I? That's always the question.

 In response to these issues, I am moved to quote something I received from one of my principle mentors, a woman of truly extraordinary experience and sensitivity, after writing my essay on the Sandy Hook massacre.

"Darling," she said, " I understand your impulse, but somehow this essay doesn't help.
What does help is a reminder I got today of the task Mme. de S.  gave us for the rest of our life:

 Mr. Gurdjieff has given your life a meaning. Here is your task. Now, in your everyday life, in what you do for a living, try to manifest what you have received from the work so that it can be felt by others. It doesn't matter what you do in your life, whether you are a teacher or a taxi driver or a doctor or anything, but do what you do with such quality that your inner work will be sensed by the people you deal with. Do not talk about it to them, but only be it. Do you understand?"

 Ask yourself, she continued, is this essay a manifestation of inner work or reaction that will only provoke counter reactions, etc., etc. ... forever? Same old story. "Righteous indignation."

 The advice brings forth a point that I will be writing about in the number of future essays, and it is what the point of the work is about.

This is the exact point of the work, Mme. understood it quite precisely. The whole aim of inner work is to serve as a conduit so that this force, this energy, can be manifested. Man's responsibility, the responsibility of his lower self, is to come into contact with a higher power and assist it in its efforts to manifest on this level. That has to be done in a certain way, and it cannot involve the horizontal action that we discuss when we discuss the papacy, gun control, and so on. Or, rather, one might say that horizontal action must be involved... but it must be involved as a servant.

 I'll explore this at greater length in some future essays, but they are scattered throughout the warp and weft, and some will not be published for some time.  (Readers  who have a specific interest in this question will just have to be patient and allow things to unfold.)

The question, however, is absolutely essential and needs to be examined very carefully by everyone in regard to the way that we work in life.

May your soul be filled with light.

The Good and the True

 In Swedenborg's world, the search for the good and the true is essential.

 When we speak of alignment, and we speak of the need to open, perhaps we think that these terms are vague and that it isn't quite definite what they mean. But Swedenborg does not hesitate to make it clear:

 "Lastly, let me disclose a particular secret about the Angels of the three heavens that people have not been aware of until now because they have not understood levels. It is this, that within every angel — and within every one of us here — there is a central or highest level, or a central and highest something, where the Lord's divine life flows in first and most intimately. It is from the center that the Lord arranges the other, relatively internal aspects within us that follow in sequence according to the levels of the overall design. This central or highest level can be called the Lord's gateway to the Angels or to us, his essential dwelling within us." ( Heaven and Hell, 39, page 107)

 Now, the understanding of the search for the good and the true has always been central to the Platonic philosophical sciences. And the Gurdjieff work is also a search for the good and the true. We can examine this from the point of view of attention and intention, the two essential qualities man needs to develop according to Gurdjieff's ideas and principles.

 Intention is an action; a movement in a direction, an intention towards a state. If we wish to have an intention, the intention must be towards something positive, something of value, not something that dissipates. The intention, in other words, must be aimed at a higher principle, not a lower one. Put in other terms, we can say that the intention to pray in a church or temple or mosque is a higher intention then the wish to watch a violent movie.

 What do we have an intention for? We have it towards our inner work. But what is our inner work; it is an effort to reach towards the good. Intention, in the end, can only serve one right purpose in man, and that is to do good. No other intention is worthy; and if we wish to develop intention, the intention must be towards the good.

Attention, equally, must be in the service of a higher principle, and that principle is truth. We do not wish to attend to that which is false; the best Gurdjieffian example one can reach for, and it is immediately at hand, is false personality. If we devote our attention to this part of ourselves, our attention is dissipated and wasted. Our attention must be aimed towards this central or higher level in us, this point where the Lord's divine life flows into us. So if we intend—without obfuscating it with Ouspensky's ( or anyone else's) technical terminology—we intend towards the good, towards the Lord, and if we attend, we attend towards the Lord and towards truth.

These two qualities are also unambiguously the aim of Ibn Arabi's Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom (which everyone on the path should definitely read at least once in their life.) Both the truth and the good emanate from the Love of the Creator for his creation; what else do you think we are receiving if we receive a higher energy? One can use these technical terms such as higher energy, but what it is is Love. Why we beat around the bush about this baffles me at times.

 In any event, it is important to understand that when we speak of intention and attention, we speak of intention towards the good and attention towards the true. The action of conscience in man (Ibn Arabi also discusses this essential question in the aforementioned book) must be awakened so that we intend and attend in this manner.

Again, what else is it for?

Let us remember that this is not something technical or philosophical. This is an action that takes place within us in every moment. It is not connected to time, but to state; and it can't ever happened later. It must happen now, because now is always when our state is determined.

May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Breathing and prayer

 The attention to breathing and its nature can't be separated from prayer.

 As I attempt to understand an attention to breathing, I focus the attention at the base of the spine. All of the action of breathing in actually takes place here, regardless of what the lungs and the diaphragm do. And it is necessary for there to be an openness at the base of the spine, just like there is an openness at the top of the head.

These two kinds of openness are different, but they're also the same. Each one requires an intimate, gentle, and lightly focused attention in order to come into relationship with it. Then, the top of the head and the bottom of the spine will take whatever action they need to in terms of receiving a higher energy. But they are slightly different actions; the transmission of energy is different according to the direction it passes through.

 So the breathing can become a whole action that is concentrated at the base of the spine, which is open. This only requires attention; to that extent, it isn't an exercise. But the spine must become open because the root, the foundation, of Being must be just as open as what it reaches towards. A new understanding of this can make the idea of man as a bridge between two levels more immediate; it's not an idea, it's an organic condition.

Concurrent with the openness of the spine, and the concentration of energy in this location — which reciprocates with energy in other parts, including the top of the spine — prayer arises. Prayer is spontaneous and immediate, not constructed or thought of. Prayer does not request that things be changed; it acknowledges. And it is never initiated; it is received. The sacred forces that call for prayer simply and spontaneously become active, and provide the prayers that are necessary — not prayers that are taught, or prayers that are thought of as effective. What comes are the prayers that have actual action in relationship to who I am, where I am, what I am doing.

One cannot give these prayers. This is because this kind of prayer is intimate and a matter between a human being and God. It must be allowed to have its spontaneous quality, without any preconceived conditions. If its individual secrets are revealed, they will make no sense to other people. Each individual receives the prayer they need in exactly the form they need it in, if the attention opens to the inner conditions. There's no use in initiating a chant, because the chant that is formed in relationship to conditions initiates itself. Any other form of vocalization comes from the ego, no matter how sincere it appears to be.

I could also say localization, because true prayer is a localized force of the sacred, instinctively expressing its relationship to the higher. Of course I wouldn't be able to know what this should consist of; I am not connected to this force enough to understand what is needed. Only the force itself knows what is needed; and only submission to it will bring out the qualities that are needed to create a prayer that fully functions within the context of attention to breathing.

May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Time and state

 Today I thought I would bring up a striking example of the correspondence between Swedenborg's cosmology and Gurdjieff's conception of the nature of God and the universe.

One of the interesting remarks that Swedenborg makes in Heaven and Hell is that time does not exist for angels:

"The reason angels do not know what time is (even though everything for them moves along in sequence just the way it does in our world, so much so that there is no difference) is that in heaven there are no years or days, but only changes of state. Where there are years and days there are times, and where there are changes of state, there are states." (p.172.)

 The last sentence is truly a remark worthy of Dogen's Shobogenzo, right down to its poetic nature, so we can see that the connection effortlessly extends into the world of Zen.

Swedenborg saw fit to offer extended commentary on the subject of time and state, which can be reviewed here.

 Gurdjieff's conception of time is identical:

"Time in itself does not exist; there is only the totality of the results issuing from all the cosmic phenomena present in a given place. Time in itself, no being can understand by reason, or perceive by any outer or inner being-function. It cannot even be sensed by any gradation of the instinct present in every more or less independent cosmic concentration. It is possible to evaluate time only by comparing different cosmic phenomena occurring in the same place and under the same conditions in which time is being considered and observed." (Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, P. 117.-  A more extensive quote can be found at this link.)

 This rather technical analysis actually has a direct bearing on our question of inner work, because in any given moment, what we seek to change is our state — and this, after all, is all that actually exists. Our state, within this present moment, is either turned towards service to the higher, or it isn't. There is no middle ground. Either we are making an effort to turn our inner attention towards the Lord, or we are facing away.

To face away is what Gurdjieff called to be asleep; we cannot receive the inflow of Divine Love and Wisdom, as Swedenborg would put it, unless we face in the direction of the Lord. Swedenborg is unequivocal in explaining the difference between those who face the Lord and those who don't; the state of Heaven is a state of Love of the Lord and compassion towards each other, and the state of Hell is a state of selfishness.

To consider inwardly, as Gurdjieff put it, is precisely what Swedenborg calls Hell; and to consider outwardly is precisely what Swedenborg calls Heaven. These are not casual or coincidental comparisons; they are essential to understanding inner work, and both men knew this.

May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The unconstructed way

 In the last post, I spoke about the unconstructed way.

 Everything about the way I approach my life in my ordinary state is constructed. It consists of an edifice that was built within me over the course of a lifetime, which is actually quite rigid.

It has the appearance of flexibility, intelligence, and consistency because there are parts within me which reflect different aspects of it; and when any one of them is in charge, it manages to prosecute the egoistic manifestation of that structure in what appears to be an understandable way.

All of this can be compared to a big pile of frozen magma, a basalt flow. It's no longer hot; it has stopped moving, and formed a landscape with impressive features that has little ability to move or change in response to what is actually happening. But organic life demands a different response; Being ought to have a great deal of flexibility, because it will continually encounter conditions that are new and unexpected. I don't have too much real Being... instead, I have this frozen magma which can be used to batter or resist the external conditions, but actually has little ability to come into relationship with them.

The unconstructed way begins with flexibility. It attempts to deftly sidestep the geology of my ego, by discovering a quality that reaches down to a place where the bedrock comes into contact with something warm and living, that allows it to begin to flow again. This is perhaps a peculiar metaphor; although there are inner experiences that may in fact reflect something along these lines, when I speak of the rootedness of breathing, it is not quite there. The warm and living quality is not necessarily an actual heat of some kind, but an attention and a sensation that have a flexible and responsive quality. So let's think of it as a warmth; but a warmth that is created by emanations of Love and Wisdom, not friction.

I chose the picture for this post, a pile of rock being excavated near my house (at great pain, and for over a week now) because it represents the opposite of those qualities: a pile of cold, crystalline material which can only become responsive by breaking it into little pieces.

This isn't a helpful way to approach life. If I try to break what I am into little pieces (which is usually what life itself ultimately ends up doing to my rigid inner structure) it's terrifyingly painful, and it turns out that the little pieces aren't much better at responding to life conditions than the big frozen hunk of basalt was.

If I break down life using psychology, then instead of a big frozen Self, I probably end up with many little frozen Selves. None of them has undergone the kind of transformation that is needed to become flexible, so although these smaller constituents of the frozen Self have more diversity, none of them have a significantly greater degree of responsiveness to the flexibility required by ordinary life.

 In point of fact, by the time I am an adult, I probably have dozens of little frozen Selves, each one of which has a specific shape and size that allows it to be deployed in a particular situation to what appears to be good effect, yet often produces bad results.  If you spend much time studying yourself or others in life, you'll see this type of action almost constantly; everything is like this, really.

I keep unpacking and using these selves, which are a lot like the rock collection I have (I own piles of fossils and crystals.) Each one looks great, and they all have stories. But they are static entities. Life is a different thing; and it requires a different set of responses, which can only come with an unconstructed way, one which is soft and intelligent. One which has the capacity to take a new thing in and change quickly.

Rocks can't do this.

 The unconstructed way is related to the beginning of an intelligence that begins with a relationship to the breathing; and the relationship to the breathing begins at the root of the spine. So there is a foundation, a place that must be sensed intimately; and the intelligence that needs to be brought into my life to establish flexibility requires this relationship.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The action of breathing in life

 It's perfectly all right to develop a specific relationship within my meditation or sitting practice. In fact, it's necessary at first.

But the action of understanding these questions of breathing, as I've explored them in the last three posts, are not meant to just remain resident within a meditation practice. The sensation of breathing and the action of Being at the root of the spine are necessary within action in ordinary life. Where we began this discussion, with the fact that everything is constantly in movement, there was a question present, which is how I come into relationship with this movement. Awareness of Being begins with a rootedness of presence that can help bring me into relationship with movement in life.

 This is referred to in the Gurdjieff work as having a center of gravity, and Jeanne de Salzmann has devoted a number of highly intelligent and sensitive essays to this question in The Reality of Being. The point I want to make here today is that the center of gravity exists within ordinary life.

I can't work if my work doesn't take place in the day-to-day. Any ordinary moment is the moment where all of the issues I have discussed regarding and attention to the breathing need to be explored. Not the moment of stillness at home, in the morning or the evening, when I am meditating. Those are just practice; that is, I am practicing, trying something so that I can gain a dexterity in relationship to the question.

That dexterity must then be brought into life and applied. If I make efforts within the action of attention under special conditions — whatever those might be — and then don't have a real action under ordinary circumstances, what good are they? I am not developing skills with attention to bring into life, only to let them remain in the cave. They are only functional when they begin to act in my every day intelligence.

Of course, you will say to yourself, they don't. And this is the exact problem. What I call intelligence is intellect; what I call consciousness is an automatic reaction to my life. But if the breath is rooted, is Being discovers a foundation that connects it, with a fine thread, to the base of my life, it can become more and more permanent, of presence to which one can always return.

If I understand and cultivate this practice, I will discover that it anchors me into life in a completely different way. Manifestation cannot take place in the ordinary or automatic way anymore if this happens. That doesn't mean that there is a certain "special," precious, or preconceived understanding of the way manifestation takes place. In fact, it's the exact opposite — manifestation comes, as de Salzmann says, free. This means it is unattached and doesn't emanate from my ordinary self. Its quality becomes quite unexpected; and my own quality becomes my own quality, instead of being the quality of all of my associations and the nonsense that I generally pack in my bags and bring into life.

So the action of breathing in life is a way to gain dexterity in life; and the dexterity is a dexterity allows me not to manipulate, but to respond appropriately — to correspond, to co-respond, to what takes place around me in an active and unconstructed way. This question of response is why we use the word responsibility.

 In the next post, I'll talk about the unconstructed way.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The full intelligence of breathing

 When the attention moves to the rooted condition at the base of the spine, and the breathing is in alignment with this root condition, it undergoes a fundamental change.

First of all, I sense, within my physical attention, that breathing actually takes place in this area. The gross action of the chest and even the diaphragm are the muscular movements that make intelligible sense of the action of breathing; but what the air does as it enters all depends on the intelligent sensation that is created in this small area at the base of the spine. It is possible, in a certain sense, to say that all of the action of breathing actually takes place here; this is the point where the substances that the breath takes in begin their action, although they then instantaneously come into relationship with many other parts, by a process of emanation.

The air has many other important actions and substantial effects on the body, especially feeding the active or organic sensation; but it doesn't have this action unless the rooted nature of breathing is established, understood, present, and active. So there already has to be a certain kind of attention at the base of the spine in order to root Being and relationship.

At this point, I discover that breathing is actually a very small action, unless I am exerting myself physically. If the breathing is properly rooted, it takes much finer substances into the body, and there is no need for anywhere near as much air as I breathe if I am not taking in these substances.

The breathing becomes much quieter. I actually move my sensation and awareness to this point, and participate in the very quiet, regulated, and actually quite tiny action of breathing in and out.

This becomes such a minimal enterprise that I may be surprised. Who could have known so little breath  was necessary to sustain the organism? Yet in this still place of gentle, quiet breathing, where only exactly as much as is needed as taken in, I sense that what is taken in is much finer, that it feeds my entire being in my sensation in a different way. There is absolutely no need for me to do anything whatsoever; I don't need to do breathing exercises or breathe in a certain way. The breathing is fully intelligent; it knows everything about what is necessary, unlike me.  At times, it will expel itself or even stop.

It understands what is necessary; I allow it, by moving aside within.

This full intelligence of breathing must be allowed to do its own work, and I only observe. It's not a destination; it's an activity that keeps itself in movement, feeds energy into the body of a different nature, and allows an expansion of awareness into the sensation that brings the parts into a different relationship.

This relationship itself is dynamic; and although I will have many experiences, if I begin to believe in a specific action within chakras, centers, the spine, and so on and so forth, each one becomes a grasping and a limitation of my inner energy and its full range and potential of movement.

So this is why I don't engage in manipulative exercises; I come into relationship with the energy and I allow it to move in whatever direction it knows how to move. It is certain that many associations will arise, and I will say to myself, "ah, the heart chakra is active," or, "I am receiving energy through the top of the head." All of these things will be true; but the words don't help, instead, they automatically become part of a structure I want to impose on my inner state. So although these associations definitely arise, and perhaps I even speak of them to people, when I am working within, I let go.

The point of the study of the full intelligence of breathing is to let go of my own intelligence so that the intelligence of the breathing is active. The minute that I direct it or label it, I have tried to take over, and I think I am in charge of this or that. But this or that needs to be in charge; and this or that represents the unknown, a quality of awareness that emanates from another level.

This exact quality of awareness is, in fact, the inflow from the divine. If it is allowed to do its work, many things become possible that are totally impossible while I am trying to do its work for it.

May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, February 10, 2013



A poem of mine currently published on the Parabola facebook page.

A position of prayer

An interlude.

 There is much snow on the ground this morning.

 A great deal of life looks like a burden.  Perhaps even a terrible one. This is how the ordinary self understands many things; it is limited to the material circumstances that surround it. And the ordinary self is insensitive to the actual nature of material circumstances; it is unable to see.

To see is to understand material circumstances quite differently. To see is not just to observe, but to participate with the assistance of a higher energy which brings a new level of understanding. Within this understanding, to see is to know that everything that exists is an absolute and immediate expression of the Lord, and that the essential action of life is one of acceptance and participation.

My inner attitude is wrong. It forms around material circumstances and many nuggets of corruption that creep in over a lifetime; they form a thick, hard crust over the essential kernel of life and Divinity that rests at the core of Being.

 I speak about acceptance, but if I look closely, I see that this attitude is what I accept.

I think, from within my attitude, that this is what acceptance consists of; and that if I adjust my attitude to a good attitude, then I am accepting. But this isn't how it is at all. My attitude — even if it's a good one — is exactly where the problem lies. My attitude is what needs to be completely surrendered.

Jeanne de Salzmann advises me to change my attitude. But that change is a change that requires not just an adjustment of the polarity within my existing attitude; it is the abandonment of the attitude that I own so that room can be made for a new attitude, in which a position of prayer is assumed.

The position of prayer assumes itself; it informs on its own. I don't pray; I am prayed. Making room for the entry of a sacred force naturally bows the body, the entire Being, in an inclination towards a different level of acceptance.

Inwardly, I turn East, towards the Lord; which is the direction in which the angels always face.

 Then suddenly I see how everything is a blessing. I see how every single thing has been quite exactly given by the abundance of Love which is the force that drives the universe; and the abundance of Wisdom that guides it. This is not, any longer, about seeing myself and how I am. It isn't about me at all, except in terms of my relationship, and my lack. All of the ancient practices of prayer had a kernel of understanding of this kind at their core; and it is always in the direction of this kernel, this small place which is quite exactly held within the attention of Being, that my search can be conducted. It is a sacred place that every human being is given, and has responsibility for. Woe to those of us who fail to attend to it. There is an accounting.

Perhaps I shouldn't fear that; even the accounting is one of Love, not the punishment we inflict upon one another and ourselves. But I ought to be wise and understand that I may find an unending anguish, in the end—not because the Lord wishes me to be anguished, but because I have not attended to my responsibilities — and I find such anguish...  or, should I say, it finds me? — an accounting for every moment that I don't attend to these questions.

 The entire Being must be pointed in a new direction. It can't keep going the same old way. It's lost; it doesn't know the first thing about where to go. I can only discover direction if I am willing to give my life over and to ask for help. This involves a constant struggle against the ego which thinks it knows — and, oh, my, this force is ubiquitous. It drives everything — even perceptions of inner work. And there is no humility in us; we just think about it or talk about it.

Real humility is born in the organism from the Lord's gifts to us, from Grace, and the ego cannot coexist with Grace.

 May your soul be filled with life.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

An anchoring condition

 In order to sit firmly within my life — speaking metaphorically, that is — I have to understand this question of a center of gravity, of breathing, and of a force within the lower part of the body. This understanding has to be sensed organically, not thought about in a framework or within a structure. An organic understanding of this question is dynamic; an intellectual one is static. I must understand the difference.

Nonetheless, perhaps it helps to speak about an exact investigation of some of the physical sensation, which is not quite on the order of technique, but provides a departure point for investigation through the sensing of the body.

It's often said that energy comes in through the top of the head, or — conversely — through the breath, and flows downward into the body, towards the abdomen. Various yogic descriptions suggest that this energy comes through the spine, but in fact it can also move through the entire torso, or be localized in several different groups of sensory experiences. The energy itself is in fact diverse and ubiquitous; that is, it has the capacity to enter, inform (form inwardly) and concentrate in a flexible and intelligent way, but only if I don't interfere with it.

Most yogic exercises involve directing inner energy; yet Jeanne de Salzmann actually (and correctly) informs us that we are to observe and follow; the energy knows what it needs to do. So my role is as a participant and observer, not an actor. Take note that this is generally different than the conception of this action offered by Hatha Yoga; and perhaps indicates one of the chief distinctions between Gurdjieff's method and the methods of the Siddhas.

The breath is definitely connected to the collection and concentration of energy, and most particularly it helps to collect the energy supporting the arising of organic sensation, that is, living sensation that enters and participates on its own, not sensation that is invoked by a work of attention. These are two different things, and the question of organic sensation — which I have often referred to as the organic sense of Being in this space — needs to be investigated and understood as distinct from ordinary sensation exercises, which are many, and represent a different order of effort.

The concentration of energy may revolve around the area in the solar plexus, or abdomen, but the breath must be rooted in order for it to function properly. This rooting takes place at the base of the spine, in a small area that is smaller than a clenched fist, probably not much larger than a golf ball, at the very base of the spine.

If you put your thumb and three of your other four fingers together (leaving out the pinky finger) gently, so that there is a precise relationship formed between the thumb and the other three fingers, you will sense how the thumb creates a unity with the three fingers that gently holds the structural forefingers together; and perhaps the sensation can be used to conceptualize both the size and the sensation of the area at the base of the spine which ought to be attended to. Take careful note, I say attended to — one must not force attention into this area, one must bring it gently and then sense.

  Sense the hand.  The sensation informs by itself: there is a symbolism here. The pinky is left out. It represents the fact that there is always something missing; so we are always searching. That quality is inherent in the question I am discussing. Notice that the small part that is left out has a life and an intelligence of its own, which also exists and needs to be respected.

 So there is this place within me that must be rooted, and the root has a certain definite kind of tension in it. This doesn't quite mean that it's tense, in the ordinary sense; it means that there is a physical presence that has a capacity to attract, magnetically, and hold energy at a point. If there is nothing but relaxation, there is no attraction; and if there is too much tension, any force at all, then it blocks the action. So there is an intelligent balance that takes place when the breath is rooted at the base of the spine. This intelligent action is intentional — that is, one senses it intentionally, one doesn't make it happen. We don't use the word voluntary, because I am not offering myself to it; it already offers itself in general, and not to me, but rather, to the organic condition itself. So it is an offering; but it isn't my offering, and is isn't offered to me. I'm not volunteering anything. I intend towards it — and this means to inwardly tend. That is, to take care of, in an inward manner.

The force within the abdomen, which has many capacities and can in fact — as has been reported by others — render me "invulnerable," is a different question. Here, I'm discussing only the question of the rooting of the breath at the base of the spine, which is a fundamental action related to all of the other organic actions related to breathing.

In the next post, I'll discuss the nature of attention in regard to breathing itself within this point of work.

May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The exact condition

 Today I'm beginning a series of five posts about something I've been studying for some time now.

What is the exact condition within and without?

Things are always in motion. I say this, and realize that it's an intellectual idea which I repeat and then presume I understand; I don't see that it remains in the intellectual mind as a theory.

 In point of actual fact, I participate in this constant movement within life — and I participate all the time. But the parts of me that sense it aren't generally present to it. If there is a real attention in me, it follows the movement; and it doesn't expect to hold on to a particular manifestation. The manifestation of attention, of consciousness — the manifestation of the inflow of the divine, energy from a higher level — must forever remain flexible and adopt to what is, now, not the preconceived understanding of how it "ought" to be. If there is no intimacy with the action, if nothing is present within it, the energy expresses itself, but it doesn't have the companion that ought to be there accompanying it.

I find it's possible to do many specific things that relate to having an attention in the body, and each one of them automatically helps me to be more present to the constant movement, both within and without, that defines what I call consciousness and what I call life. One is inner; the other one is outer. What is called the "Self" occupies the conjunction of these two forces. One could say it stands between them; but even that is inadequate. Perhaps one just says that it stands; and in that, one recognizes that it is vertical, that is, remains upright, touching both the inner and the outer world, yet not expecting to become identified with either one — which is so easy.

When one first contacts— or is contacted by— the inner world, and the flowers that can bloom within open their petals, this seems like everything. It's so extraordinary. Perhaps I begin to think that this is what everything is about; and yet, while all of this inner life and its quite extraordinary sensitivity and quality is now real, unless it is brought into relationship with the outer life, it becomes an infatuation — a new and perhaps even more intense way of becoming identified.

I suppose it's a good thing, if one has to be identified, to be identified with the spiritual, rather than the material, yet there is a reason that the spiritual and material are meant to be in contact with one another. Inhabiting life is not just an option; it's a necessity, and only by exploring this question over and over again can I begin to get any inkling at all of why that might be so.

In the meantime, it's very difficult for me to avoid signing on to dogmas. Both sides attract; and each one encourages the parts of me that don't want things to be flexible or change to sign onto an agenda of one kind or another. These are all interferences from my ego; and they need to be kept clearly in sight, because either one may commit me to a course of action — whether inner or outer — that does not allow the flexibility of attention and consciousness to exercise itself in the type of sensitivity that is needed for what Gurdjieff called outer considering.

Perhaps even more difficult, there are many energies on larger scales and at higher levels than myself that affect my attitude and my condition. Tension, for example, between planets or the earth and the sun can create negativity in me that is so strong I'm completely unaware of it; the amount of force present in this kind of tension is completely self-justifying, and I go with it without any question. Only by developing a certain kind of countervailing force within, which is generally located within the abdomen — although this is probably too generalized description — can an anchor be created that prevents this force from taking me.

The next post will discuss this in a little more detail.

May your soul be filled with light.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bosch and Bergen-Belsen

Ah,  A difficult subject. And yet it begins so innocently.

Over the last two weeks, I've put a lot of energy into my interpretations of the Garden of earthly delights; this is a strand of my life that has followed me since I was quite young, weaving into all the other strands of impressions and experience that make what I call my own Self.

 There are certain higher states in which one can not only intellectually remember, but also see and feel the threads that form one's life, when one distinctly senses the connection between one moment long ago and this one now. These states are ordinal — part of an order — but they are not ordinary.

Yet as one grows older, perhaps this sense deepens in a person, so that they see the loom their life is woven on.

 I've mentioned many times before that tantra means loom in Sanskrit. Tantric practice, a familiar idea, is an intellectual concept for us, yet putting together the fabric of our life so that it becomes a whole fabric is not just an intellectual process. Weaving, in its ancient form, is a hands-on experience. The craftsman has to know his or her type of yarn; whether wool, silk, or cotton. He or she must know the strength of the yarn, what color it should be dyed, and have the intelligence and foresight to lay it on the warp beam — the support that lays out the foundation — in the right order, so that when the weft threads are passed through it, it creates a suitable piece of fabric.

And he or she must know what they are weaving the fabric for.

 This is where the difficulty comes in, because we are all asked to be master weavers — weavers of a whole life of our own — but we are not told in advance what the fabric is needed for. We weave into an unknown future, hoping that our cloth will be the right one.

What we weave are the strands of our actual experience. All of them are connected in one way or another; one may pragmatically or perhaps even cynically propose that everything happens by accident, but this is absolute nonsense. Nothing whatsoever happens by accident; every life is wholly composed of exactly what it should be.

This can be frightening if a life is composed of many bad things, suffering, terror, and disruption. And to be sure, there are many lives formed exactly that way; especially during certain eras. There are those who want to say there can be no God if life is this random and cruel; yet there is no need to waste time with such people, who lack a good understanding. They must be left alone to sort things out themselves, and one should be passionate and kind towards them, without being patronizing. Their conviction itself is part of a condition given to them because they need to understand something. It's best to leave it alone. Each of us has so much inner work of our own to do that we have no real time for proselytizing to others.

Life is formed exactly the way it is for a reason that is internally consistent for each life. The inflow of the Divine expresses itself within each human being specifically, and all of the events connected with that inflow makes sense if they are understood in the context of one another. When Gurdjieff said that we should use the present to repair the past and prepare the future, he was speaking of this Tantric act of creating a whole fabric in our lives. The threads are connected; all of them belong to the warp and the weft that I inhabit now. Only in deepening my practice, becoming more internally consistent in my tactile experience of myself, do I begin to see how the threads actually go together.

I've had many experiences over the last few weeks of seeing how the experience I had when I was nine years old at the Prado in Madrid, standing in front of Bosch's painting, was a seminal moment that had a profound effect on me — just like the experience I had when I visited the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in the same year.

Here's are a few threads: the actions that formed these two apparently quite different events in different centuries also ultimately formed an important part of this Self which I have slowly acquired responsibility for over the course of my lifetime (I'm not done yet.)

But the events aren't really different; look my juxtaposition of images at the right hand panel of the painting, and pictures from the concentration camp, if you have the stomach for it. Be warned, it is horrifying.

These things actually tell us similar things about our condition. The painting looks like some strange kind of fantasy; but it isn't.

 I think it's vitally important to understand that these messages are not just about our outer condition. They are a mirror of our inner conditions; in fact, they are a mirror of my inner condition.

And this is the question I carry in front of me; why I keep coming back to ask myself who I am and what I am doing.

 It may seem too grim to try and understand oneself from this perspective; but it is not about becoming attached to or repulsed by the horror, and one shouldn't end up dwelling on that.

It is about keeping the question of my death in front of me.

It is above all about understanding that I am not whole; and that there can be, there is, a Divine impulse that can help that, if I'm open to it.

 If I don't see where I am in myself, how the fabric in me is not whole, I can't undertake Mr. Gurdjieff's instruction to repair it. And if I don't have a feeling, a much deeper emotional, involvement, in undertaking that work, I won't care — and nothing will be done.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Parabola Article

Announcing my article about Chantal Heinegg's icons, A Consonance of Feeling,  in the Spring 2013 issue of Parabola Magazine.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Our Inner State

It's striking to me, how little of contemporary culture's artistic effort goes into presenting or investigating  man's inner questions and his inner condition.

There is, to be sure, a small cadre of individuals investigating such questions; but the vast majority of our cultural exchange is an outward one, about outward things. Even supposedly spiritual movements such as the evangelical and fundamentalist movements within religions have turned themselves outwardly in every way, ignoring the deep inner questions that need to be addressed in any real spiritual quest. Instead,  we are treated to faux religion. Spiritual figureheads and institutions fling themselves into exclusively outward quests that, paradoxically, create even more confusion, instead of casting light on where we are in ourselves, and what actually needs to be done.

The arts have a chance of illuminating man's condition, but only if they address inward questions, and only if they do so in ways that reach the deepest parts of our psyche. Arts such as television miniseries that address an endless treadmill of sensual and horrific outer events can't go anywhere; all they do is tell us that life is difficult and confusing. You can have 10 million different varieties of this, but they are always the same.  Have you noticed recently that Hollywood is now making exactly the same movie over and over and over, with exactly the same music, the same scenes of stuff blowing up, and the same actors running around with fake guns in their hands? Popular culture and the arts have devolved to the level of the assembly line, and an endless series of parts are being stamped out by a mindless machine. The workers in these media mills get page huge sums of money, and stagger home at the end of each day feeling they've done something significant; but what?

You'll notice that there are absolutely no popular cultural vehicles that truly investigate the spiritual condition of man—on television or in the movies. "It won't sell," modern marketing says — yet I think that human beings are actually desperate for something with actual meaning in it. That is, a meaning tied to something deep within us.

 This desertification of the arts was not always the case. Before man's obsession with technology and the ability to manipulate the material world conquered him, there was an ongoing inquiry about the inner state, framed in the questions of the great religions. Less and less of this preoccupies us; we'd rather poke at our iPhones.

Yet everything about the outer world that shocks and frightens us comes from inside us; the outer world that we create emanates from exactly what we are inside, and is in fact a mirror of it. We look in the mirror, and we don't like what we see; but we have disassociated ourselves from the fact that we are the actor, and outer life is only the mirror. It's someone else's outer life we believe we see; it belongs to politicians, or bosses, or spouses; to shooters, players, crooners, and agitators. There is an illusion taking place here, but the outward world is not what is illusory. It is our belief that it is an outward world that is the illusion. In fact, it's a direct reflection of our inner state.

 It's strange that the whole world acts as though the outer world just popped into being magically and drives itself, as though it were not the inward state of man that creates it. So little attention is paid not just to mental health, but to spiritual health — real health, as opposed to indoctrination, programming, and outright evil that poses in the name of spiritual health. We have institutions that provide "health care," but when was the last time you saw any of them do anything but treat physical symptoms? The real things that trouble people, their emotional turmoil, the questions they have about why things are the way they are, don't get treated. You can't take pills to fix these things; all the pills do is bury the problem under a deeper pile. There is a deep-seated malaise at the heart of our cultural, social, and personal institutions, and it all begins with the personal ones — because every cultural and social institution emanates from the personal inner states of those who populate it.

 It is probably too much to ask, that an art emerge which asks real questions of us, about who we are, and reaches into the ancient cultural heritages we have been given to help investigate those questions. Mankind spent ten thousand years or more developing tools to help him understand his world, his inner world, and develop a relationship to it; but if we do not reach into the traditional, and discover the esoteric, or inner, values that each one of the great traditions brings to us, we throw our birth right and our heritage away.

Things are deteriorating. Anyone can see that.

Now is the time for every good man and woman to stand up within themselves and make an effort to Be in a way that is, as Mr. Gurdjieff might have said, "becoming to three-brained beings."

Only after we do that can we bring this effort to the outer world and speak of real things, which is what it needs.

May your soul be filled with light.