Sunday, March 31, 2013

Monks and caves

 Is it more useful for me and others to try and be more loving, or to see that I am not loving?

The Love of Christ sets an impossibly high standard — a standard that I can't reach. Yet He called us all to it, in the loving confidence that we are able.

If I labor under the delusion that I am loving, I will never try to change. And I find, indeed, that I, like everyone else, labor under the delusion that my actions and attitudes are loving, and that what I believe in is the good.

Yet this morning, sitting in contemplation, it occurred to me that the essential action of Christianity is not an effort to be loving. Instead, it is the effort to see that I am not loving. It's only in understanding the immense difference between what I call "love" and the divine force of Love that emanates from the Lord that anything real can begin to grow in me; and it grows not because of what I do to help it, but from an emotional seed that is sown when I see how insufficient I am.

So it is this seeing of my essential lack of love that might provide a premise for change; not seeing it theoretically, in a philosophical sense which I hold in front of me as a principal or an idea, but seeing it physically, organically, within the moment.

This means that I have to inhabit my lack of love, live within it, and consciously confront it.

 If there is an action of mindfulness, it begins with inhabiting what is true — not inhabiting what I wish were true. So over and over again, throughout life, the action of love is the action of seeing that I am not loving, and having the courage to come back and confront this over and over again. There's a saying that Jeanne de Sazlmann frequently put in front of her students: "I must stay in front of my lack." This can be construed to mean many things, but the action of coming back over and over again to see how I am — in this way, that I do not act out of Love — is, to me, the most critical one; it relates to the question of how feeling needs to influence the inner experience.

The image of Christ on the cross is the ultimate image of sacrifice to Love, of offering to a greater Love. It actually means to die to what I am as a human being. That is, absolutely everything that I am made of must be surrendered in order to inhabit any greater conception of Love. The image of Christ on the cross is a symbolic one to us, today, yet it actually represents an inner and organic action of surrender in which the ego undergoes a metaphysical transformation which amounts to death.

The action of remorse of conscience is part of the inner feeling-experience which leads to this metaphysical transformation. It is only the repeated conscious confrontation with my lack of loving action that can lead to this transformation; and it is only mindfulness, conscious action, putting myself in front of what I actually am, that can lead to the intentional suffering that transforms.

Christ's image represents intentional suffering. It represents it in so many ways that only a deeply invested practice of contemplation of the cross, taking this into one's Being, can begin to illuminate the question.

To contemplate the cross does not, moreover, meaning to sit there thinking about the image. Contemplation of the cross is a constant and discriminating examination of the intersection within my own being of higher and lower forces.

This examination has the potential to take place in every moment. but it must take place in this moment; not in some abstracted metasphere. It's only in the intersection with life itself, in this moment, that Christianity can be practiced. It was not meant, in the end, for monks or caves; it was meant for these real moments between us, as human beings.

And every parable Christ taught was just such a moment.

 In the end, the Loving action of Christianity cannot be contained, even in a tomb.  Even the assumption of death as a certainty dissolves; the rock is rolled away, and Love re-enters real life, contact with what is true, and the call to relationship between human beings.

May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The quality of attention and intention

 Swedenborg frequently talks about intention and discrimination. And in fact, he means, quite exactly, intention and attention. But he uses a different word for attention; he says, discrimination.

Why does he do that?

To attend means to apply one's mind to. The mind is not idle. It is active. It is pointed in a particular direct, it has a quality.

 In action, the mind cannot possibly be indiscriminate. The act of perception itself is an act of discrimination, because to see is to observe the parts of things. If there is only one thing (and there never is, there are always an infinity of things) then the mind has no work to do, because there is just one thing, one sees it, and that's that. But this is not how it is, and we can see this even in ordinary life. Constantly and forever, awake or asleep, the mind and the attention are at work, and the work is one of discrimination.

If we do not discriminate with attention, nothing can take place. Already, attention discriminates between right action and wrong action; between working and not working. So attention and discrimination are unavoidably connected, and basically exist as parts of the same action. This is because consciousness has parts, as well: attention is the moving part of consciousness, and discrimination is the intelligent part. There is, of course, an emotional part as well, and we call that feeling.

Attention is not a solo act.

 So we have attention, discrimination, and feeling — taken together, if they are all present, this is what constitutes consciousness. Swedenborg, because he was a scientist (and one of extraordinary skill, especially in neurology) was particularly interested in the discriminating part of consciousness, which works (or at least it ought to) precisely in conjunction with attention. But my point here is that he understood the idea about intention and attention in much the same way as Gurdjieff, and consistently presented these two qualities as the necessary elements in man for Being. The teachings are the same, if one understands them properly. This is not just the case with attention and intention, but also with almost all of the other material he presents.

Attention is needed as a tool; there is much talk about being nonjudgmental, indiscriminate, or indifferent if one is in a so-called "higher" state, but all of these words are understood from the ordinary mind, and the conception of them is in fact quite wrong because of this.  I'm sure many will want to argue about this; I have had such arguments. These concepts just exists as labels that people stick on what they think spirituality is, based on limited experience. In point of fact, they are nearly useless in understanding the question.

In fact, a spiritualized state (this is what Swedenborg would have called it) is exquisitely discriminating, and it discriminates between the false and the true, the evil and the good. That is the whole point of a higher level of Being, that it has the capacity to understand these things clearly, instead of getting them consistently confused, as we do on our level. The action of discrimination is, in other words, essential. There is no use in having an attention if there is no discrimination to accompany it. Intelligence — real intelligence, not intellect — is not indifferent.

It is insightful.

If this sounds philosophical, why don't you try this. When you are browsing the web and looking at the list of news stories, take a look at what you are drawn to. Take a look at all of the headlines that are presented. How many of them are nothing more than pornographic exposés of the misdeeds, misery, and suffering of other people?

What purpose does this serve? And why are we drawn to it? We have no real power of discrimination; we keep selecting impressions that are bad ones to take into ourselves. This is done not only automatically, but, frequently, deliberately.

A real intelligence, a real attention, a real discrimination, and a real feeling would not do this kind of thing, because it soils the inner being. Yet all of us are, to one extent or another, subject to this action, because such influences in society are—due to an indiscriminate media—very powerful right now. If I want to resist this, I have to bring a part of myself to the action that is more conscious, and say no.  I have to be aware of the action of these things on my inner life, and discriminate by refusing them.

That's not always possible; yet this idea of attention and discrimination and feeling all go together, and must become a living thing if I want to purify my intention and turn it towards a higher service.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Joy of the Lord is everlasting

The crucifixion of Christ can hardly be seen, from a visual point of view, as a joyful event.

Yet indubitably, the event of Christ's passion is meant to be joyful. Symbolically, it depicts the fact that there is a higher principle we surrender to; and that higher principle does lead to a Joy that is everlasting. But the only way to that Joy is through suffering; and above all, it is a path that leads through suffering what I am.

Because I am programmed by thousands of mechanical and habitual ideas about this level and how things ought to be—because, biologically, I'm a pleasure seeking organism, and the physical machine that drives life on this level is built that way — I want bliss. I want joy. I want an easy life in which God gives me what I want — not what I need. So I attempt to arrogate to myself the good things that come from higher levels. I want enlightenment; I want wisdom. I want this, that, and the other thing, and in some place or another inside myself, I think, maybe, that I deserve those things. I don't see my ego and how it functions, and I generally don't see my own negativity. Above all, I don't see how helpless I am in the face of forces larger than myself.

This life is a place of confusion in which, if we are trying to become available to higher influences, we attempt to sort such things out. Even Christ himself was confused; yet he understood, in the end, that he had to submit to God, and the forces of this level. This is actually an incredibly high level of understanding. Ordinary men and women generally don't reach it. If I'm fortunate, and I work hard enough, pray hard enough, to submit, I may begin to see how far short I fall of any intelligible understanding of this nature. But I'm a long, long way from it, and the only path I know that leads toward it is prayer.

I increasingly see, as I grow older, that life arranges itself to deliver a lesson. The lesson is systematic, and it keeps trying to teach me that I'm not in charge. It consists of balanced measures of joy and suffering. Grace, to remind me of how blessed life is; suffering, to teach me humility. I repeatedly see through this generous path that there are parts of me that absolutely refuse to surrender, categorically insist on clinging to every selfish impulse they can dream up. I don't find myself in any way capable of becoming free of these forces. And I am increasingly confronted by that kernel of Being, influenced by the subjective effects of blending with external factors, that comprises what Gurdjieff called "sins of the body of the soul."

 All this stands in stark contrast to the material world and the general consistency of life, which is a glue one has to slog through, spiritually speaking. As one does so, one sees how incredibly arrogant and absolutely shameless we all are. Confronted with the vision of Christ on the cross, which conclusively demonstrates just how much suffering and humility is necessary, I am dismissive. It's an old picture; it's an old story. The newness of life which ought to come in every moment, reminding me of my place, is a theory, not a practice.

 All of these probably seem like odd thoughts to follow on the statement that the Joy of the Lord is everlasting. Yet the statement itself is absolutely true. The fact that I don't properly correspond to this Joy or understand it in any sense does not take away the truth of the Joy itself. There are times when a taste of this is given, in order to remind me of my place. The experience is, to be sure, miraculous; and every day, such reminders come. But in the end, each one of them leaves me seeing where I am, and how far short I fall.

I'm reminded once again of the prayer:

Lord, I call to Thee from the depths of my iniquity. 
I have not delivered myself sufficiently unto Thee. 
I know not how.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why do we work?

 I recall, it was common for Dr. Welch to open meetings with the question, "Why don't we work?" Or, conversely, "Why do we work?"

 What is the point of inner work, anyway? We say we seek the Self; but this cannot be a selfish work.

Why bother to have an attention? Why bother to seek what Gurdjieff called "real I?"

The work is really designed to express what is in the heart. This is the point of all esoteric work; we have a spark of divine presence within us, and it is in the heart. It is at the center of our Being. This center of Being, if it develops fully and opens, is at the center of our body, the exact center, inside the spine. There is a flower here that can open and bridge the divide between the higher and the lower, between the levels.

But the whole point of life is to express the qualities of Divinity; to express Truth, and to express Wisdom, not our own truth and our own wisdom, but that Truth and Wisdom which is unmediated and flows eternally from its origins within Divine Love. Each human being is supposed to take on their responsibility to open themselves and express one small portion of this eternal Truth and Wisdom; but we forget. If we want to remember ourselves, the only reason we should do so is to express this quality which flows from God into life. Why else should we remember ourselves? It cannot be selfish. It is done for the Lord.

The ordinary self, which receives such short shrift in our evaluation of life — after all, we see it as inferior, something to be discarded or abandoned in the search for the higher — is actually essential to this process. For how else can the Divine be expressed if the ordinary self does not exist as a servant for it? This is the whole point of understanding life and understanding service. Life exists so that we can express these qualities of Love. That's what the ordinary self is for. We can judge the quality of our work by how often this expression of love takes place, and how organic it is in us.

Do you perhaps see how mechanical and unintelligent our relationship to Love is? Think about this carefully and sense it. Love is not a thought or an ordinary emotion; it is an organic sensation that involves all three centers, when the body, the mind, and the feelings open to the inflow of a Divine presence. When this takes place, the first quality that is expressed within the ordinary self is humility; automatically arising from it, naturally, as though it were the next note in the octave (and it is) is compassion. If conscious labor is present, then, it acquires the power of expression in right action towards others. And perhaps, if humility, compassion, and right action combine, a kernel of Being is born.

So the ordinary self is an absolutely essential part of us, the part that is meant to do the outer portion of the inner work that God has given us. This is a work of Love, not the disastrous interactions we have constructed between one another as individuals and in societies. All of the hope of mankind lies within this action... yet it doesn't take place.

We cannot afford to begin to think of our inner work as anything other than this kind of work; a work of the heart, and a work that is both immediately and ultimately aimed at Love within relationship during ordinary life.

If you have an interest in the stop exercise, forget about stopping this or that in the middle of walking around, or what have you. Stop within life, in each moment, and try to see yourself and ask yourself if the action that you are taking conforms to your responsibility to express Love actively as a servant of the higher.

 That is why we work.

May your soul be filled with light.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


 Why is the amount of knowledge available to man limited?

 Gurdjieff explains that knowledge is material, and that there is only so much of it available anywhere. From a practical point of view, we can understand this quite simply by saying that no man can know everything; and since not every man is of equal intelligence, some men may know a good deal less than others.

But there are larger philosophical implications in this matter. The nature of material reality, which consists of the manifest, rather than the divine, has by default and automatically entered a condition of limitation upon its arising. Drawing on Ibn Arabi's extensive discussions on the transcendent and immanent natures of God, which appear to create a duality, we see that the immanent must always be limited. The transcendent stands by its nature alone distinctly apart from limitation, its only limitation being that it cannot be described. (cf. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge.)

So the absolute and transcendent nature of God is without limitation; everything else, all of the material expression of that transcendence, is limited.

One of the limitations of material expression is localization. In the universe, everything cannot be everywhere; everything is in one place, the universe, but it is distributed locally according to law. Although the names of God are all drawn together into one (ultimately unknowable) name at their root, they manifest distinctly, that is, objects, events, circumstances, and conditions manifest separately and, to conscious perception, sequentially. This creates an inevitable set of limitations regarding their relationship.

 In the same way that modern physicists and astronomers suggest the universe is apparently infinite, Ibn Arabi assigns the quality of infinity to the arising of the names of God, even though there is a hierarchy presided over by what is traditionally numbered at 99 "supreme" qualities or names. In the  Sufi philosophical tradition, not all of these names are known or even nameable; but many of them are. The point is that Gurdjieff's conceptualization of knowledge arises from what must have been contemplation of the same questions.

Knowledge, then, is both limited and localized; and no one human being can have anything more than a small fraction of it. The idiosyncratic, or unique, expression of a particular collection of knowings within an individual being is what gave birth to Gurdjieff's science of idiotism. The science of idiotism, is, in other words, an adjunct expression of the limitation of knowledge. Each arising manifestation of the names of God becomes an idiotic, or unique, expression of a certain set of knowingness, of knowledge.

Each arising manifestation of reality, is, in other words, in a condition of knowingness, that is, it expresses the known within the limitations of its own conditions and abilities.  It furthermore "sees" this expression of knowing according to its ability and its level. (Self-consciousness has a unique responsibility in this regard which is beyond the scope of this essay, but readers probably sense the implications behind the words.)

Readers may argue that Gurdjieff was somehow referring to a more esoteric form of knowing when he suggested that there was more of it available in times of cataclysm, when ordinary men did not take the share allotted to them. There is truth to this; and the esoteric implication is related to inflow, that is, the flowing of higher levels of divine knowledge into man, through the forces of Divine Love and Wisdom, which are also allocated according to the limitations of the material level. As I pointed out in the last post, the question of horizontal and vertical levels of knowledge are not unrelated, and must be integrated in order to stand between the two forces.

 The limitation of Divine Knowledge is not related to a functional limitation of the amount of it that actually exists (it, too, is inherently infinite within the transcendent), but, rather, to the extent that a human being is prepared to receive it. Both Gurdjieff and Swedenborg explain this concept in some detail; and those more interested in the questions of how Divine Wisdom affects mankind would be well advised to refer to Swedenborg's texts, which examined the question in far greater detail than Gurdjieff did when he spoke to Ouspensky.  Swedenborg's entire doctrine of correspondences (see Heaven and Hell) examines this question.

It is, by the way, impossible to believe that Gurdjieff, who confidently proclaimed he had studied a vast number of religions, would have overlooked Swedenborg.  His esoteric works were well known by Gurdjieff's time, and the striking correlations between the two can hardly be overstated.

May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The depths of sin

In what is perhaps a subtle and personal prelude to Parabola's upcoming issue on Heaven and Hell, a recurring dream I had the other night has prompted me to question exactly what the nature and depth of sin is.

The basic content of the dream is simple enough: I have murdered someone, long ago, and cleverly covered it up. I've had this dream a number of times over the course of my life. (The last time was probably some 20 years ago or so.) The salient feature of this dream is that I realize I have committed a mortal sin that I cannot cleanse myself of; I'm not that concerned about the authorities discovering me, but I'm very concerned about the stain that it has left on my soul, which is indelible. The other night, when I awoke at 2 a.m., it took a definite effort of will to remind myself that this was a dream, not the truth of my life.

For me, the dream actively represented the idea—or even the reality— that the roots of sin reach all the way down into my dreams. Sin is thus never superficial; it is inherent, and implies not only conscious but even subconscious violation of the Divine order. One might say that it is built into the very fabric of my reality as I experience it; and this is, indeed, the exact premise that Gurdjieff presents us with in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson— specifically, the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory. Our transgressions are indelible; there is no obvious remedy for them, and, cognizant, the anguish that they produce will haunt us no matter how beautiful our surroundings are.

No wonder we choose sleep.

The implication is that the source of my contamination — my violence against heaven — lies too deep for me to come to grips with it. Given the relationship between the outer/overtly conscious self of personality and the inner/covertly (and innately) conscious Self of essence, the outer or overtly conscious is unable, by its very nature, to address this issue. This relates closely to Gurdjieff's concept of the inner affecting the outer, and the idea that the outer can never actually change the inner; and it follows closely on Swedenborg's contention that man has an inner and an outer part, and that only the inner part is divinely informed.

Either way, the dream implies that the part that violates Heavenly law is inaccessible to the ordinary mind. So the only recourse is a turning towards a higher deus ex machina, which becomes an axiom under these conditions: we must invoke a higher power, call on deity, since no other force contains the potential for resolution. If my dreams themselves oppose God, and godly things, where else do I turn for help?

  There are, I think we can all agree, elements of inner darkness which have haunted mankind throughout its history. Jungian explanations elucidate but do not suffice; and more than fear alone engenders these incubi and succubi.

Where are they from? And why do we encounter them?

Gurdjieff did not speak so much of the unconscious or subconscious except to say that conscience could be found there; of the darkness, he said little. He populated his Heaven with angels, but he largely failed to create a Hell or populate it with demons. While his cosmology shares much in common with that of Swedenborg, Ibn Arabi, and Dante, his Hell, if there is one, is definitely situated more in the inner life of man than anywhere else... which, come to think of it, does put it in close proximity to Swedenborg's Hell, and Bosch's, which is altogether, in many ways, not only a man's own creation, but where he wants to be.

And perhaps this gives us some insight into Gurdjieff's emphasis on wish: passive, a man may wish for anything he likes, but all he will get— begotten of his own desire— is an inner and outer hell. Active, in right possession of his senses (read: not hypnotized and ruled by desires), the first and most important wish a man or woman can have is to not be in hell; and since hell is of our own making, we must develop a responsibility for ourselves and a capacity to see where we are. 

There are greater metaphysical issues to be examined here. Are we under covert assault by destructive inner forces we do not understand and cannot parse using the conventional tools of science and psychology? The evidence suggests we are; take a look at the massacre at Sandy Hook. This did not spring from any identifiable territory; such incidents leave even the best and most expert of us baffled. We must look for the roots of these and other, less (thank Allah!) malignant maladies in a deeper, far more spiritual malaise than anything the surface of the question can reveal.

Is there a flaw at the heart of creation? Gurdjieff's discontinuity of octaves, requiring a set of peculiar shocks to overcome it?

...And why this material sorrow, which I can sense in the very marrow of my bones?

These odd questions, not raised or expounded on by any other recent spiritual master, leave me far more in the mood for asking questions than offering answers. My dreams may be closer to the root of the matter than my conscious mind; and if my dreams themselves contain the stuff of Hell, what refuge is there?

I find myself called to reach much deeper into myself than anything the outer world can offer, in pursuit of illumination regarding these questions.

May your soul be filled with light.

Note to regular readers: the follow-up post to knowledge and civilization, entitled "knowingness," will post midnight Eastern Central Time on March 27th. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Knowledge and civilization

Aj Sak Teles, Late Classic Mayan Lord
746 AD

Last night, my friend David pointed out an interesting passage in in search of the miraculous, in which  Gurdjieff tells Ouspensky a number of interesting things about the nature of knowledge.

 Gurdjieff, of course, drew a clear distinction between knowledge and understanding, but this particular passage makes it clear that he, like Ibn Arabi, thought knowledge to be an inestimably valuable substance: an essential factor in the culture of man.

The very nearly anti-intellectual stance which one frequently encounters in the Gurdjieff work stands in stark contrast to the appreciation for the intellect which is actually needed in order to conduct any serious spiritual work. Ibn Arabi— who may well have been one of the most intelligent men who ever lived — considered the pursuit of knowledge as one of the absolutely most essential tasks given to man by God, and, of course, Gurdjieff himself said, "Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West and then seek." (aphorism #19, Views From the Real World, p. 282.) And not to forget the third obligolnian striving.  Perhaps even more to the point, Gurdjieff populated the heavens of Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson with an impressive collection of scientifically minded angels engaged in technological research.

Perhaps the most salient section of the passage in the above link is the section where Gurdjieff says,  There are periods in the life of humanity, which generally coincide with the beginning of the fall of cultures and civilizations, when the masses irretrievably lose their reason and begin to destroy everything that has been created by centuries and millenniums of culture. Such periods of mass madness, often coinciding with geological cataclysms, climactic change, and similar phenomena of a planetary character, release a very great quantity of the matter of knowledge.

This is what interested David, and, of course, it ought to be of great interest to the rest of us, because it certainly does seem as though we are now in such a moment. It suggests that this is a moment where a very great deal of knowledge becomes available to those who want it; and it furthermore suggests that those who can acquire it ought to be taking steps to preserve it so that it is not destroyed.

Although we did not discuss this last night — I wanted to ponder this question for a while — I think that the Internet and the rise of electronic technology has caused us to believe that knowledge is somehow better preserved and more available, just because it has been distributed so widely and such a vast quantity of it has been slapped up on the web. It's very nearly forgotten that all of this depends on the trappings of modern technology: electricity, and the ability to retrieve digitally stored information. The collapse of a society with those technologies, even in part, would instantly render the vast majority of this knowledge unavailable. And in such a case, the principal repositories of such knowledge would once again be the traditional ones: men's minds, and books.

I'm not espousing a Luddite attitude here; I'm just pointing out that we take a great deal for granted in this age, as though societies never collapsed, and such things couldn't go wrong.

There are actually two kinds of intelligence being discussed in this passage. One of them is horizontal knowledge, which is materially limited within the level that it arises on. The other is vertical understanding, that is, a type of intelligence that moves from one level to another. Vertical forces of  understanding inwardly form the material substance and intelligence of the levels below them. The lower levels can never fully understand levels above them; yet they depend on one another.

It's important to understand the distinction between the vertical and horizontal influences here. I chose the above photograph of Aj Sak Teles because it so clearly emphasizes his power on the horizontal level. This is the type of knowledge that generally occupies us; and it's our preoccupation with that that distracts us from the vertical forces of understanding that wish to inwardly form us and a different way: Swedenborg's inflow of divine influences. We definitely need both.

 In standing between two sets of forces — locating ourselves at the point of intersection between the horizontal and vertical — we seek to remain exquisitely aware of both. And especially at this time in the evolution of this planet, perhaps we need to carefully consider how to appreciate, value, and preserve the enormous amount of knowledge that mankind has acquired.

What I truly wanted to ponder regarding this question of last night, however, was exactly why knowledge is limited. And I am leaving that until the next post.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A conjunction of languages

I have three languages in me. Each one belongs to a different mind. One language is the language of words; and my tendency is to try and analyze life and everything that happens to me through this language.

The other two languages don't consist of words, so although they speak to me constantly, I forget to understand them as languages, and I'm often unable to integrate them.

These other two languages are the language of emotions, of feelings, and sensation, which is the language of the body. All three languages are active in me.

The place where these three languages meet is in Being. If I locate myself at the sensate, that is to say conscious, point of Being where these three languages meet, a different sense of Self arises. So when I say I am seeking to become more conscious of myself, seeking a sense of the whole of myself, what I'm saying is that I'm searching for this point of the conjunction of languages.

It's sometimes said that one needs to connect with sensation in order to develop a sense of Being; yet the experience of my three inner languages is in its entirety a form of sensation. Sensation, in other words-conscious sensation- isn't just a function of the body alone. The experience of impressions of the mind, the body, and the feelings are all forms of sensation in the sense of sensory impressions, of impressions that are received. Thus we can say that I have a sensation of the mind; or a sensation of the body; or a sensation of the emotions. It's all three of these sensations together that create Being. And they need to be experienced in conjunction with one another- not in opposition to one another- in order to come to a greater sense of my whole. I say each one is a language, because each one speaks to me. In order to understand what it means to listen I need to understand this question of centers and langauges, and understand that listening is an inner action whose center of gravity isn't hearing, not, at least, taken in its literal sense.

 To listen has another level of meaning.

One of my chief difficulties- and I see this problem over and over again not just in myself, but in everyone else who engages in inner work- is the tendency to over-analyze what my inner work consists of. We just over-think things, that's all there is to it.  When Madame de Salzmann urged us, of our work, "Do not talk about it to them, but only be it," she could just as easily have been admonishing us about how to conduct our inner work within ourselves, as to how to conduct it with others. There is far too much of both inner and outer talking about work, and working. 

As John Rothenberg remarked to me a year before he died, there is a point where an esoteric work eventually becomes much more inner. At this point one talks less, and instead engages. Even, perhaps especially, my inner talking must be brought to heel. One learns to talk when it is meaningful; and to talk a little less, when one does talk. One ought to keep a precise eye on one's self when speaking.

 But above all, in regard to this question of talking, one has to stop analyzing everything. An inner work begins to metamorphose into new territory when one steps over that threshold. We aren't going to figure it out; and sensing one's lack may begin somewhere in the neighborhood of that realization.

May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, March 22, 2013


 Another one of my early morning musings. I woke up this morning at 3 AM and have pondered many things.

Recent speculation has suggested that the implication of quantum theory is that the multiverse is real. But one does not have to go out into the cosmos to discover a bubble universe.  Each human being is a bubble universe.

An inner work is primarily understood to be a work in life; a work that one carries within oneself throughout all the various circumstances in life. Yet the tendency is to wrap oneself up in such work like a sheet of saran wrap, to immerse oneself and surround oneself with it so that it absorbs one, and almost all of the time, one's compass needle points towards the organization, the special events, the meetings, the retreat weekends, and so on.

No one questions this. Are we not zealots? Look closely.

 The outer nature and aspects of an inner work can absorb a man or a woman like a sponge. Even the most esoteric organization has this difficulty in front of it; and even the ones that reject the very idea of churches become churches, with people who sit in solemn attendance, listening to scriptures being read. The delusion is always the same one, from work to work: that we know more than the other, that we have a secret  advantage over others...  and that we aren't like them.

Everything of this is of the ego; yet our noble cause erases that understanding, doesn't it?

Everything is God's thing. There is no thing of man; and yet we cling to the things of man with the very same fanaticism we deny we manifest. If we were truly to go out in life with our inner work as the core of our life, the center of gravity of our understanding would change; we would see that there is no salvation in the cloisters. We can hide there, but we can't run: the space is too short and narrow, no matter how filled it is with beautiful mosaics and paintings.

When the outer work becomes the object of our affection, the inner work suffers.

 This is so difficult to see. The inner work can only be inspired from within; the special conditions which supposedly foster it help some, but they become a center of gravity that attracts belief, and belief is the death of objectivity. There must be an inner objectivity, an objectivity born of a new kind of understanding, which is not just intellectual. It must be organic, and it cannot afford to live within special conditions; these may ultimately stifle it, because its requirement is that it live out in life within a wide range of sweet flowers that provide the nourishment it must acquire if it would grow.

And it is this sweetness, this absolute sweetness of relationship within life, which is the absolute special condition. Life is a special condition; look at how short it is. Is this not special? Yet we want an even smaller box to live in, as though the shortness of life was not already enough to remind us of where we are and what we are doing.

 I think about this sweetness often, because the entirety of life is what must be offered, not the parts that are artificially constructed to appear sacred. It is all sacred. This is what seeing is for. If it does not see this, it is not seeing; it is nothing more than documentation for the filing cabinet.

 So I go out and I try to offer myself to my life with generosity. I try to remember that I must bring forth the sweetness that the Lord has put in me, rather than the bitterness I put in myself. I try to remember that every man and woman is somehow worthy of my respect, compassion, and support, and I try to remember that I can only remember that through the sweetness that the Lord has put in me. It's not, after all, me that is sweet; no, I'm a sour thing, myself.

But the Lord has given me responsibility for this sweetness which He owns; and if I do not attend to that, what am I worth?

 May your soul be filled with light.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The nature of inevitability

 The nature of Truth and of God–of the Dharma—are inevitable; that is, they cannot be avoided. Such nature is absolute, objective, not subjective, although it gives birth to the subjective.

This may sound like a lot to swallow; and perhaps one thinks it means nothing whatsoever to ordinary life. But in fact, it means everything, because the action of Truth is both perfect and relentless; it expresses itself absolutely in all instances and instants, regardless of the subjective opinion and nature of man. A misalignment with this situation is natural to man; it shouldn't be that way, but it is.

Man's natural alignment ought to be perfect in regard to Truth; and this is a matter of consciousness, not personal opinion. Man is aligned to Truth in direct proportion to his conscious Being. That which is conscious moves towards Truth; that which is not conscious falls away from it.

 We call distance from Truth "lying," yet this word is somehow unhelpful, because there is only proximity to Truth. Any manifestation can either be closer to Truth or further away from it, and will always move either away from it or towards it. There is no fixed place; as Jesus Christ said, “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head." (Matthew 8:20.)

 There is no way to avoid movement in one direction or another. Although men sense this, everyone thinks that movement of this kind takes place in, and is measured by, the outside world. That is, the outer world is considered to be unavoidable and inevitable, a place where the absolutes arise, are explored, and where things are resolved. In its most religious form, this is interpreted by suggesting that actions determine one's place in heaven or hell; in its least religious, or atheist, form, it is interpreted by suggesting that actions alone are absolute, without any higher meaning or consequent motive force behind them. Either way, the interpretation is an outer one, which consigns all meaning and value to external relationships.

 Yet this has nothing to do with the actual action of consciousness within man's soul, what is really taking place in life. All of the action and measurement is actually taking place within the inner world, and the outer world is merely a mirror for it. Almost all of Buddhist doctrine, especially Zen, is meant to expound this particular truth. There are also versions of it in the other major traditions, but perhaps more diluted and even more difficult to identify. Because these understandings are invariably encountered and interpreted by man's outer being parts, they are misunderstood. No one sees that the real inevitability is in the inevitability of the inner self and its relationship to the essence, and, ultimately, to God.  This inner relationship, which we believe to be subjective, is actually the only objective part in man; and the outer relationship, to which we assign objectivity, due to the measurable material action of things, is in fact entirely subjective, since it deals with reflections of reality, not reality itself.

 We therefore have our understanding of objectivity and subjectivity inverted, as well as inverting our understanding of the nature of Self, and what is evitable or inevitable. What is inevitable is only ever what is formed inwardly; it determines everything— and this is exactly why it cannot be avoided.

This is why a poor man with a positive inner state can be unusually happy, and a rich man with a negative one miserably depressed. The inevitability of their respective inner states is what has determined all of the understanding of outer conditions. The poor man is unavoidably happy because of his better inner state; the rich man is unavoidably depressed because of his worse one. In each case, what cannot be avoided—how he isarises directly from his nature and how it has formed itself inwardly.

Either one of them could possibly avoid any number of external circumstances; and indeed, almost all of these external circumstances are subject to the law of accident in one way or another, because their material nature is a lower one, subject to more laws, quite different than the nature of the soul, which already has the potential for more freedom.

Yet whether avoided or encountered, external circumstances ultimately make no difference. In human beings, everything is already inevitably determined according to inner conditions, before any external conditions are encountered.

May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, March 18, 2013


 From time to time, as readers know, I return to the masthead for this blog in order to expound the Dharma regarding this question a different way. I return to this question again and again, because it has, for me, at least, extraordinary dimensions, and represents not just a statement, but an inner work that takes a lifetime to approach.

There is no I; there is only Truth. The way to the Truth is through the heart.

Ibn Arabi might be taken as one of the principal sources for the statement; then again, when this particular piece of work was given to me, I had never heard of him. We could simply assign its origins to understandings that arise directly from Islam; yet Islam is definitively an Abrahamic, hence, perhaps paradoxically, essentially Judaeochristian—religion; and yet as we shall see it also has roots that extend directly into the territory of yoga.  Perhaps expounding these connections will help readers understand more fully what the direction this space takes consists of.

The Islamic theological concept of tawhîd, the acknowledgement of divine unity, is a haqq, or Truth, upon which all other truths are based. The statement that there is no I, there is only Truth is a reconfiguration of tawhîd which recommends itself for its brevity. In encompassing the essential question of Self and Truth folded into a single entity, it contrasts the two and reflects Truth as the higher of the two principles; Self, in other words, being an expression of Truth, that is, Self as an emanation of a higher principle which is, in fact, transcendent and beyond the purview of man's comprehension. This particular iteration of the question of "I" takes it well past any formalized concepts into the metaphysical territory of both Meister Eckhart (annihilation in the absolute Will of God) and Buddhism (dissolution of the ego into the Void.)

In the eyes of both Al 'Arabi and islamic philosophy, the idea that only Truth (haqq) exists is a fundamental premise. Although all other existences can be acknowledged, they are to the last existences by proxy.

Islamic philosophers understand the search for Truth as "basic to the quest for wisdom and the happiness of the soul;" and indeed this is true, because only through Truth—reunion with the essential nature of the Divine—can man fulfill his duty to God.

In Koranic terms, the heart is understood as the locus of awareness. The heart occupies a location in the center of the spine in Yoga, bridging the divide between the three lower chakras and the three upper chakras; it stands, in other words, in exactly the place Jeanne de Salzmann and Gurdjieff placed man's consciousness, "between two worlds." While this can and must be represented as the inner world and the outer world, it also represents the two worlds of the upper and lower stories in man's being (which are equivalent, by correspondences, to the three levels of Heaven and Hell which mirror one another in Swedenborg's cosmology.)

So the heart is the yogic seats of man's consciousness, the entity that is supposed to bridge the two levels. The way to the Truth is through the heart because there is no other path for the lower levels of existence to pass through to a higher level without consciousness; and hence the way to the Truth is through the heart because the heart represents awareness.

The awareness that needs to be awakened in man is the awareness of Self; but not the nearly endless dysfunctional versions of self invented by ego. This awareness is an awareness of God, or what is called deiformity.

Opening the heart can have a range of various esoteric meanings; among others it means opening to consciousness; but this is a consciousness entirely different than any we generally conceive of. All religious ecstasies consist of various degrees of opening the heart; and there is more than one kind of opening of the heart, just as the heart is not a single thing, but an entity of dimensions that extend well past any conventional limits of space and time, or other territory delimited by the conceptual mind. To open the heart is a passage through consciousness; and this passage is unique to each individual. The passage through consciousness is the Way which is narrow. A rich man can't pass through it because nothing of a man's ordinary self can pass through the heart.

Gurdjieff's path was preparation for this kind of inner work; his whole school is meant to prepare a man or woman for this passage by bringing them to the necessary point of awareness. His school stripped the activity of the nearly innumerable subjective trappings it acquired as the result of the action of the many religious traditions over thousands of years, and reduced it to its most essential actions and understandings.

And what we have in the blog masthead is this essential purpose of man, reconfigured in the most concise manner possible.

By now perhaps readers have intuited that I didn't think this statement up myself; and of course they are right.

May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Alicia fox's new blog. Alicia, a friend of mine, is a poet and artist.


 Swedenborg makes much of the fact that there is a clear distinction and division between the inner and the outer; and the inner, as he points out, is directly influenced by an inflow of the divine.

Gurdjieff, in discussing man's essence, touches on the same question; and essence, in his eyes, also touches what he called the higher parts of man—those parts which can receive the divine influence.

 Yet for the most part, one has no clear sensation of this distinction and division. Especially in the sense of seeing it and being directly present to it within ordinary life, in day-to-day activities, where a clear understanding of the division between the sacred and the profane ought to be most active and best understood.

Every moment of life carries a perception of this intersection; and every aspect of what we call the ordinary has both the sacred and profane aspects active in it. So just as I have a clear division between higher and lower forces intersecting and manifesting in me, so does everything else. An expression of the higher within life honors higher forces present in everything; but if that expression doesn't take place, the experience of life—including its sensation, one's thoughts, and once emotional responses—becomes horizontal at once, that is, it is flattened, and there is no experience of the sacred.

In this way, perhaps I begin to see that the vertical and the horizontal aren't conceptual premises. They are actual sensations. This means that when inflow takes place, and the higher is sensed, an entirely different alignment is present in all things. When it does not, such sensations are quite impossible. So life can be experienced on two different levels, as two different orders; or it is only experienced on one. this depends on the degree of sensitivity and receptivity to inflow, or, as I have often referred to it, the organic sense of Being.

 I call this the organic sense of being because the organism—the receiving vessel—senses, or becomes perceptually aware of, this state of Being, which itself is the direct expression of a higher level of energy. This action is intimately related to what Gurdjieff called "real I;" and it is indeed entirely different to everything conventionally understood as expressing the idea of "I", of the self. This is because every ordinary idea of the Self is impossible; all of them arise because of the horizontal experience of life. We say the experience is extraordinary because it is extra–ordinary, that is, it lies outside the realm of the ordinary on a vertical scale, in which forces that exist in a clear and distinct separation from this level begin to express themselves. This is Ibn 'Arabi's realm of the imaginal; and it can be called imaginal, because it gradually begins to form a stronger and more durable image, or reflection, or the higher forces that are received.

 Life eventually becomes a detailed study of this question, and the way in which the two influences congregate around awareness. This congregation is inevitably disorganized at first, but it must identify its polarities and discover a center of gravity as it develops. This is the place from which more interesting questions can be asked, and investigations can be undertaken.

 In inner work, each step through life eventually begins to align itself magnetically with this activity, so that all of the impressions begin to take on a different kind of order, in which they rightly organize themselves, just like iron filings, so that the higher points towards the higher, and the lower towards lower. It's useful to understand that all impressions have this quality, being like iron, in that they can align themselves so that the sense of verticality begins to apply to them, and they fall into place in order, rather than knocking about inside us in a confused way, which produces all of the bad results we usually see in life and in society.  This alignment of impressions can't take place unless inflow is stronger, and one begins to submit to the sacred forces that make such alignment possible.

 This needs to become a conscious process, not an abstract thought.

May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, March 15, 2013

In the direction of feeling

 A few notes to myself about impressions I have been pondering over the last week or so, while realigning my inner life following my return to the US.

There is only one real work.

 It moves in the direction of feeling; a deepening of sensitivity to life, a movement towards an inner quality of humility and caring. This work cannot intend harm; it is never attached to the ego, but progressively frees itself from it and exists as an independent entity devoted to God.

There is no harshness in this work. It does not criticize; it does not find fault. It looks inward towards itself, attempting to sense itself more wholly, and seeks only to support others in their own efforts; never to impose, never to instruct, never to rule over.

This work of a feeling quality is not always tangible. Many who receive an energy, who are touched by Grace, mistakenly mix it with the egoistic results of their own lives and think that what grows in them is in the right direction; this is a great danger. One knows a right relationship to Grace by its results; and if feeling is active, one knows at once when results are shameful. One must just look this right in the eye and be honest about it; because one of our habitual characteristics is to take what is Graceful and make it shameful. Sometimes it is quite easy to see this in others; other times, seeing is equally confused, attached to the results of my ego and not devoted to a higher quality of energy. Above all, I must see what is shameful in myself, and be quite clear about it. There is a great deal of this, and I avoid looking at it, even though it arises constantly and needs to be seen over and over.

One thinks that one works; but one never works. What works, works within one, and always comes from another level that does not belong to he or she who thinks they work. One can only gain instruction through Grace; one can only be inwardly formed through Grace. A devotion to or belief in one's own efforts is delusional, a powerful vortex around which one may circulate for a lifetime. The effort of sensing one's mortality is needed to go against this, because only that sense can correct this delusion.

One ought to be cautious not to mix one's feelings or attitudes with those who want power over others, or the world. This is a disease that seizes all of mankind from time to time, and every one of us is infected. Only a constant turning towards the inner qualities formed by a connection to God and to Grace can protect us from such a thing. And we do need protection from a higher level, because we are unable to protect ourselves. What we are is inherently open to these bad influences; and only protection from this higher level can insulate us from its effects.

One speaks a great deal about working in this way or that way, but it is impossible to work unless one is already under the influence of a higher energy. If one doesn't work inwardly, with intimacy and sensitivity, to constantly see one's inner state and submit to this influence of a higher energy, nothing else can take place. Without the energy, existence is existence in a desert.

The inward flow of energy changes the feeling attitude within. Without a change in the feeling attitude within, one cannot receive one's life. And if one does not receive one's life, nothing grows within the inner self which needs to be nurtured and to gain strength in its relationship with the higher.

There can be bad results; and many of the bad results relate to working. Identification takes place everywhere, and it constantly misinforms qualities that ought to be connected to something higher. Many things can go wrong; and they always go wrong exactly where one begins to believe in oneself, and not in the essential truth and goodness of a higher energy.

May your soul be filled with light.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Discernment and intent

 Why does Gurdjieff place such emphasis on conscious labor and intentional suffering?

 The two ideas are not expressed in these terms and almost any other work; and yet, we find their roots quite distinctly expressed in Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell.

 Swedenborg illustrates the fact that power — power great enough to create heaven, the world, and everything in it — is inherent in Divine Truth. He says, "all angels are called "powers" because of divine truth, and our powers to the extent that they are recipients or vessels of it." (p.161.) He goes on to say, "we can illustrate the fact that this kind of power is inherent in divine truth... by the power of what is true and good in us... everything we do, we do out of our discernment and intent."

By discernment, Swedenborg means our ability to discriminate. The action of conscious labor is an action of effort to see, of effort to clearly see and discriminate, our life. Out of discernment, reports Swedenborg, we determine what is true. So conscious labor is discernment; a search for truth, an effort to see and to discriminate. We can equate this to an action of intelligence, an intellectual action related to wisdom.

 By intent, Swedenborg means our intention. " out of our intent," he says, "we act by means of what is good." Intentional suffering, in other words, is a search for the intention of the good. The wish is to allow the good to take place (not to just consciously experience the bad.) This is related to an emotional action of compassion, or love.

These two principles are directly tied to emanations from the absolute in Swedenborg's universe; and, indeed, we see that they form the base of the triangle in the enneagram. So the foundation of the search for the absolute lies in the qualities that emanate from it, which give power or motive force in the form of shocks to the inner search. They form the baseline of the triangle in the law of three; and each one reaches towards the absolute in exactly equal measure, but from two different sides, one, in the first triad (142) from wisdom, and the other, and the second triad (857) from love. Swedenborg wrote the book Divine Love and Wisdom because he understood the foundational nature of these two properties of God.

Gurdjieff's system is actually founded on exactly the same principles, but he named them differently. Swedenborg's conclusion about these two forces is as follows: "in fact, all the elements of our volition are related to what is good, and all the elements of our discernment are related to what is true. On this basis, then, we set our whole body in motion and the thousand things their rush to do our bidding of their own accord. We can see from this that our whole body is formed for obedience to what is good and true and therefore from what is good and true." (ibid, p.161)

 The essential point here is that all of Gurdjieff's magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, is an elaborate parable about man's effort to align himself with the requirements of obedience; Beelzebub himself is attempting to do this throughout the process of the book, and succeeds at the end. Ultimately, this obedience is obedience to the good; and what Gurdjieff cites as "objectivity" is what is true.

 As with Swedenborg — who emphatically says that man's whole body is formed from what is good and true — that is, Divine Love and Wisdom — Gurdjieff believes that a man's effort must be formed through the conscious shocks: conscious, because they begin with emanations from God, Swedenborg's inflow; and shocks, because they have the power to inject the necessary energy into man's inner development.

The entire motive source for man's inner search, in other words, it is a search for the true and the good; this fundamentally Socratic vision of Gurdjieff's teaching places it firmly in a traditional — even very traditional — religious and philosophical context. The conscious forces that assist a man in the search for this truth and goodness, described in terms of discernment and intent, or, conscious labor and intentional suffering, emanate from the absolute and are intimately connected with it. There is a unity of concept and intelligence between Swedenborg and Gurdjieff here. And that explains why Gurdjieff man wanted human beings to understand what conscious labor and intentional suffering were, and engage in them. They are, fundamentally, the forces of wisdom and compassion.

And if the higher forces of wisdom and compassion don't act in a man, his inner octave can't develop.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

divine truth and power

 Readers who follow this space are accustomed to the idea that I spend every morning, after I meditate, pondering questions about the nature of things.

 I have come back this morning to the question last month about the statement, "There is no I. There is only Truth."

 People argue about such things. A great deal of the Gurdjieff work is aimed at discovering, remembering, or acquiring real "I"— such as people understand this. Yet the understanding of the idea, despite all of focus on it, is very poor. In fact, there is little or no understanding among human beings about this question. And, unfortunately, although Gurdjieff was an extraordinary teacher and brought us up to the edge of many essential questions, he may have confused things here. He was not, after all — despite the assertions of the dogmatists — infallible, and the man struggled with his own demons like the rest of us — a fact he freely admits, for those who choose to read his own writings closely.

Ibn Arabi, who offers us some of the most sophisticated, intelligent, and divinely informed philosophical insights of any age, explains quite succinctly that in the end, no matter how one parses the divisions of material reality and its myriad (i.e., infinite) manifestations out, there is nothing but God. The idea of "I" as we conceive of it, experience it, and seek it, is ultimately illusory.  Henri Corbin, the preeminent French philosopher who more than any other single man introduced the modern West to the ideas of Arabi, met Gurdjieff. It's said that he told him, "You don't exist,"

To which Gurdjieff said, "it's a pity."

 Gurdjieff's opinions — which are in fact opinions, and not perfect, sacred truths — on the matter notwithstanding, the Buddhists maintain a similar position. And once again, we need to turn to Swedenborg for a further dose of illumination.

"In Heaven, it is Divine Truth that possesses all power, and apart from that there is no power whatever...  People cannot believe that this kind of power is inherent in Divine Truth if the only concept of truth they have has to do with thought or speech, which have no power in them except to the extent that other people concede it by being obedient. There is an intrinsic power within Divine Truth, though, power of such nature that by means of it heaven, the world, and everything in them was created." (Heaven and Hell, p. 161).

 And now for my opinions. While, for all intents and practical purposes, something that we call "I" does exist, it exists as a consequence of this level. "I" as Gurdjieff described it also exists in general according to level, because any particular name of God, to which Swedenborg attributed the appellation "personhood," is definitely a function of levels like all other manifestations that emanate from God.

Personhood on one level is quite different from personhood on another level; This is what iterating man number three, four, five and so on is all about. The concept is also identical, not just by metaphor but in structural fact, to Gurdjieff's doctrine of idiots; each individual manifestation or name of God is an idiot, that is, a unique and remarkable thing unto itself that reflects one of the many facets of God, according to level.

Gurdjieff's idea of idiotism and 'Arabi's names of God are furthermore intimate, and ultimately share the same identity. Properly understood, they also precisely reflect the Swedenborgian concept of personhood. (each Being in the universe is a person.) Each unique iteration of reality describes the fractal Tree of Being from which the emanations of God sprout material branches and leaves.

What I'm trying to get at here is that the concept of "I," as Gurdjieff understood it, contains a validity according to level — yet, as both he and Jeanne de Salzmann firmly maintained, it is impossible for a lower level to fully understand a higher level.  Swedenborg understood this, too, quite exactly, and explained it. The Angels in Heaven, if they are sent to a level of heaven above their own, perceive it to be completely unpopulated. (See Heaven and Hell, section 35.)  They are simply unable to see Angels at a higher level than their own, and return — would you believe it? — disappointed.

So every presumption we have regarding this concept of real "I" must of necessity be a false one. And, of course, ultimately, all of what the universe calls personhood, the names of God, or — Gurdjieff's case — real "I,"emanates from the Truth which creates all of material reality.

 Truth is, in its essence, divided into two reciprocal qualities which are not actually separated, Love, and Wisdom. These are, not coincidently, the two highest principles applicable to the hierarchy of the names of God.

So here is the most essential fact which must be understood: our experience of ourselves, and of "I,"  is either partially or completely annihilated within the radiant light of Truth, to the extent we encounter it within.

 This is exactly why Meister Eckhart said what he said; and it is why the Buddha referred to the culmination of inner work as enlightenment. One can mistake this idea for as long as one has not encountered Truth; but following such an encounter, the question of pursuing "real "I," which can interest a man only according to type and within the context of his own level, is subordinated to the question of understanding that one is a servant, and has no Being of one's own.

 This is a point which Ibn Arabi and other masters examined in great detail, because it is the essential question a man or woman must face in their inner work — not the question of who this or that "I" is.

 I remember what Henri Tracol said to me once many years ago when I asked him about this question of seeking real I.

 He more or less rolled his eyes at me.

"Ai, yai, yai..." he replied.

 And that about sums it up.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Specific Practice

 I rarely, if ever, write down the specific meditation practices I'm engaged in, because they change constantly, even if there are consistent threads that run through them over the years.

Inner practice changes constantly because every moment, one has reached a new moment in relationship with the higher and sacred forces one seeks to be in contact with. Thus, no single practice or approach, no single exercise, can actually be repeated; every moment is a new moment in which the contact with the higher must be re-established on a new basis which is, in a certain sense, entirely independent of all the efforts which have gone before it. I say in a certain sense, because of course there is a relationship, but freedom requires a dropping of that relationship even as it is included in awareness.

 This requirement of constant newness and creativity is one of the reasons that exercises from schools often end up being ineffective. Each one of them attempts to codify and embody an active and moving principle; and so each one puts a piece of concrete in the middle of a situation that ought to be fluid. They become attachments, exactly the kinds of things they are meant to circumvent. Anyone who wonders why Gurdjieff kept changing his practice and teaching ought to consider this.

Nonetheless, there are certainly some overall principles that can be applied in this creative structure, much like the tools that an artist keeps at hand when preparing to paint a painting.

One such set of tools, in my experience, is derived from life. It is useful, on occasion, to conduct a meditation in which one begins by thinking back to the earliest moments of one’s life which one can remember. One might even remember a photograph of oneself as a baby and try to think oneself back to that point, to see if there is any organic sense of what that was like. In any event, one then uses imagination to take oneself forward through life, briefly touching on every living memory that one can muster up which is specific enough to put one in a time and place throughout the course of one’s life, in sequential order.

The idea here is to see the entire thread of one’s life from beginning to end, so far, up to the present moment. One may try to create a whole sense of the fact that one has come through this life with these many different moments, places, and periods, so that the inner memory of the life experience and the impressions that have been taken in can be sensed, in outline, as a whole.

In particular, one may during the course of this effort remember one’s teachers and the sacred forces which have made it possible to live in the first place, and brought this life up to the point that it is in, so that one appreciates quite fully the sacred nature of the blessing of life itself, its wholeness, and how it has been bestowed upon one so that one has an opportunity to come closer to a much higher energy, a force.

 It’s tempting here to describe exactly what it is like to have this light open and come into one, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that such a thing is definitely possible and will provide a major support to the ongoing effort, which is always one of purging oneself of all of the wrong and negative parts that one has acquired during the course of a lifetime. It’s essential, at some point in any mature work, to see this particular question much more specifically and understand the need for purgatory in an inner sense. Only by forming a whole picture of one’s life, appreciating it, and then seeing what has attached to oneself that is inappropriate to God can one begin to have an open understanding of the need for this.

The ancient Christian prayer, “Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, hear our prayer” is a prayer that was originally designed to invoke the help from a higher level which is necessary to purge these parts, which we are entirely unable to free ourselves from on our own.

May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Obligatory actions

 Gurdjieff explained that man has numerous sacred obligations which he ought to sense instinctively. Perhaps the most famous of these are the five oblogolnian strivings; but in addition to these, he also instructed his pupils to engage in many other absolutely necessary activities.

Among others, in reference to what he called inner considering, he said,

The chief means of happiness in this life is the ability to consider externally always, inwardly never.
(Views From The Real World, E. P. Dutton, 1973, p.282: Aphorism #9)

 The overarching point of inner considering is that it consists of self-love, that is, a conceit that is directed inwardly, towards oneself and how important one is.

Outer considering, on the other hand, is what one might call compassionate consideration of others — and it represents a form of love that values others first, not oneself.

The question of inner and outer considering and the way Gurdjieff presented it become important in the context of ordinary life because it takes a man away from what he referred to as identification, that is, forgetting his own inner Being and allowing it to be absorbed into external circumstances — roughly equivalent to what the Buddhists call attachment, but in fact a more sophisticated understanding of the phenomenon.

While the technical explanations of inner considering and outer considering are important, and the place that Gurdjieff gave them in the superficial, or external, evaluation of his work is without a doubt essential, the esoteric meaning of the terms, the situation, the action, and its consequences may not be so evident.

Every action that Gurdjieff gave his pupils has an ordinary action in the real world, attached to his techniques and the intellectual understandings of his work; but each action that he recommended, each obligation or striving, also has an esoteric meaning and effect on the inner work of the individual who undertakes it. That is to say, Gurdjieff's practice works on multiple levels in a man or a woman, and there are many subtle effects related to the formation of a soul and its eventual fate that are not clearly explained.

Nor need they be;  because if one, like the obyvatel or the good wife, merely attends assiduously to their responsibilities, already, much can take place that is good. Right action is always right action; it does not matter in what name it is undertaken; and wrong action, undertaken for any reason under any name, always produces bad results. Socrates drank the hemlock because he unerringly knew the right from the wrong, and obeyed it without regard to the consequences for his mortal body. He was well aware of the fact that the hemlock could have no effect whatsoever on his soul; whereas his actions could.

 As the Buddhists have pointed out, bad results may not be evident in this life. This is rarely considered in human affairs; yet bad results will inevitably obtain, even if they happen later.

The later we will speak about today relates to Gurdjieff's practice of inner and outer considering, which have a special esoteric action of essential value in the formation of the soul. In order to understand what this action is, we must turn to the great European master of the dharma, Swedenborg.

Swedenborg explains that the fate of the soul is determined by the direction in which it faces: those who face the Lord in love for the Lord face the light, and those who face themselves in self-love face towards darkness.  This is true, he reports to us, of the whole heavenly host, both angelic and demonic. "We ourselves, in spirit, are also turning in the same fashion — away from the Lord if we are caught up in self-love and love of the world, and toward him if we are in a love for him and for our neighbor." (Heaven and Hell, p. 153.)

 It is no coincidence that Gurdjieff's instruction to his pupils on considering follows Swedenborg's formula. Outer considering is designed, within ordinary life, to strengthen the parts of man that fosters love for the Lord and love for one's neighbor; and this is done precisely because this part will be judged and valued at the time of death.

It forms the inner compass, that part of essence, that determines the direction a man or woman can go in after he or she dies.

So outer considering is not just a nice thing to do; it is a matter of life and death.

 Every one of Gurdjieff's instructions for action in outer life serves a similar esoteric purpose; and his entire book Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson  overflows with instructions regarding the behaviors required to turn a man back towards his sacred duties.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, March 8, 2013

On suffering

I'm on my way back from Shanghai.

Some thoughts from today on suffering, as shared with a reader who asked a question about it during an exchange this morning.


I don't talk so often about the question of suffering and what it actually means, because it is impossible to understand this question properly unless one acquires a certain kind of experience. I could proceed to explain with many paragraphs, in some detail, what I am trying to talk about, and one could read it and take it in with the intellect, but it would probably seem like another theory, whereas it's not a theoretical prospect in the least.

I'll give it a try, nonetheless.

The only way to acquire the understanding that real suffering is actually a form of joy, even though it arises as sorrow, seems contradictory, confusing, and even just a set of rhetorical ideas. But it isn't, because suffering contains and transmits the nature of our relationship to God; and it is one of the essential esoteric meanings of Christ crucified.

You will have to trust me — if you are willing to do so — when I say that to experience the sorrow of His Endlessness, directly, is the deepest and most extraordinary kind of joy that one can ever feel, but it arrives as sorrow. It's a strange thing, but it contains its opposite embedded within the context of worship, which is perhaps the only right impulse or force in man, and could straighten him out in short order if only he engaged in it actively.

If one has a certain kind of energy in one's being, then such worship becomes possible, but real worship is only possible if God allows it, activates it, in your organism. Up until that happens, there can be an enormous amount of worship, but it is all mechanical and attached to the outer self, no matter how earnest it is. This kind of worship ought to be objectively good, because it attempts to serve, but because of its origin in and attachments to the outer, it can't actually do so, and frequently turns into a destructive force because it is under the influences of the outer, which have no actual power over the inner, but can create very bad results within the outer.

All of that doesn't really explain the experience, still, which involves the transformation of opposites. Maybe we could look at it from the point of view of Christ; joy appears as water, in its ordinary state, but if it is transformed into wine, it is a strong thing of another level that goes into one as sorrow, deep into one's Being.... this feeling is quite unmistakable... and this has a much richer effect on the energy of one's life than the joy did, because it is of a higher nature.

Its higher nature puts it in opposition to joy, because joy is in many senses of the lower nature. What we experience as joy and happiness on this level, induced by the outer and its conditions, are often just rather sophisticated forms of selfishness, when viewed from a higher level. It doesn't mean they are all bad; if experienced through right action and/or grace, they too are good and necessary.

On this level.

Frankly there's a lot of confusion on this point, which self observation actually ought to help clear up, if engaged in seriously enough.

But sorrow, real sorrow, which is a sense of the presence of the Lord and our inadequacy in relationship to him, is an absolutely right organic response to the question of God, and if and when it is given, it produces a higher level of feeling experience which I can only use the word sorrow to describe, even though it's fundamentally inadequate. (The question of remorse of conscience can't be separated from it, by the way.)

This sorrow is actually a form of joy, but it is a higher emotion, so we don't actually have words for it. It's just that if you sense it, you will know that real joy does not have anything to do with what we usually think of as joy.

May your soul be filled with light.

Active work

I'm on the train from Hangzhou to Shanghai, after a day trip to a factory, and have had the opportunity to study a few specific questions regarding impressions today.

It may be that one thinks conscious labor and intentional suffering are different things, or actions separated both by character and movement through time, but this isn't the case.

Conscious labor and intentional suffering are actually simultaneous actions. They take place together and in exactly the same moment. Any sequential understanding is ultimately mistaken.

This may be difficult to grasp, and the detailed explanation for it involves technical questions that would take some time to explain. Perhaps one can get the gist of it, however, if one understands that action within the enneagram, the octave, is simultaneous at all points; that is, although the diagram describes what appears to be a progressive function, the functions at every note all take place at once. One of the meanings of the circle is to bind all the action together not only as a single system, but also as a single moment in time. All of the interactions of the notes and their consequent iterated properties take place at once. An ocatve is thus an instant; all of it takes place now. Ibn Arabi (you knew I'd bring him up, didn't you?) explains this at depth in his work, which is far too complex to go into here. I'm simply saying that there are both scientific and metaphysical proofs of the proposition.

This matter can hence be understood technically; or perhaps you might want to understand it practically, using your organic sensation, which is a higher level of proof, and can produce a much deeper level of comprehension. The idea can indeed be comprehended with the mind alone, taken as a philosophical proposition- and it certainly is one, since its implications touch on the nature of the Reality itself, and its manner of expression.

Yet the organic sensation of this work iterates not only the idea, but the living nature of its properties and the manner in which the dharma is perpetually expressed, forever arising and flowing back into itself. This is why Gurdjieff found the two actions, which support one another, so vital- if you want to "know ever more and more about the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance," these two active properties of conscious work, taken together, become a complete instruction unto themselves.

The two actions are a direct function of the conscious experience of impressions, which must take place together as the attention meets the world through all three being-functions (intellect, sensation, and feeling.)

Taking in impressions involves a certain definite effort; feeling this action, a second one. But they are not apart; one begets the other, and the organism creates a self-reinforcing feedback loop that participates, such that feeling is the driving force.

In this case one understands the concept of the horse, the driver, and the carriage quite differently, since one is now the horse, the driver, and the carriage, all of whom represent a vehicle whose destination is now, this instant of life, in which the necessary intelligence, force, and feeling are present enough to suffer the work of living-

That is, to live in such a way that feeling does the work it was supposed to, but generally cannot.

This idea of suffering the work of living through feeling ought to be more actively contemplated.

May your soul be filled with light.

Why all this scrutiny?

There is a paradox at the heart of the idea of self observation.

The self that we have, the self we inhabit, is formed of our personality. Gurdjieff himself calls it "false personality," and advises us that all that we consist of in this state is lies, nothing but lies. I've heard senior members of the work triumphantly proclaim this like pontiffs, as though it were not only dogma, but in fact a delightful situation.

 In fact, many traditions agree that the self as we generally experience is a temporary entity, one that is not connected to the deeper levels of what mankind is, or what a real Self is. So, if there is little of value and worth, little that is permanent, in the self that we know, the self that we inhabit — and if that self, in its temporary nature and its attachment to the material,  is not at the center of our inquiry into spiritual work — why, then, should we study it so assiduously?

If the object of study is a Chimera — which is exactly what both Gurdjieff and the traditions maintain it is — of what use is it to study it?  (We could call it the chimeric self— an artificial, monstrous self, pasted together of many different selves.) We are collecting information on a nonentity, an illusory condition which we attach ourselves to. And indubitably, in a science, one wishes to study the real — not the unreal. So the idea of self observation seems like a waste of time. Something like watching television, a fantasy world in which everything that takes place is invented and has no effect.

 It turns out, in the end, that what we are studying is not the self. It is, rather, our attachment to it — and we study this with the aim of discovering something that is real. That is, we are studying the action that takes place in which we become identified with the false self, and not at all the events that happen to it or the idiotic things it undertakes — which are legion.

 The chimeric self is hyperactive and enormously colorful; it attracts us like moths to a candle. It's where all the action seems to be. But these distractions which lead us into ongoing psychological evaluation of the chimeric self run themselves in circles; and yet everyone does this anyway. Extended conversations take place in which observation and analysis of the chimeric self is presumed to have some potential to yield results; And almost all the results are aimed at changing the chimeric self.

But we are engaged, actually, in a contrarian enterprise. In self observation, what ought to interest us is what is not the self. Anything that is not self may be real; yet anything we happen to find that we say to ourselves is our self is a part of the chimera. So what we observe, we ultimately learn to observe with suspicion; and by a process of elimination, as we assemble a picture of our life, with every snapshot we take, we say, "well, that's not it. And that's not it. And that's not it."

The ultimate aim of this enterprise is to develop enough discrimination to clearly understand the difference between the inner — the real — self, and the outer self, which is merely a tool used by the inner self to function in the ordinary world. One has Being and is real; the other one has as much real life and animation in it as a hammer. Hammers, as we know, are incredibly forceful entities; extraordinarily useful, they can gently tap a nail into the right place, or smash a plate glass window. But if they are just flung around without any intelligence behind them, they are dangerous; and this pretty much describes exactly how or personality functions.

Mankind spends little or no time thinking about this question of the inner or the outer, because for the most part human beings are essentially unaware of this difference. They think that all of being is a kind of mushy substance that fits together without any clear lines of demarcation; and that there is one thing there, not a separated condition.

Self observation is essential in establishing a clarity between inner and outer natures, one of which constitutes Being, the other one of which constitutes its toolkit. And only once this particular matter has been entirely clarified can one begin to consider the idea of what Gurdjieff called self remembering, which is a conscious labor undertaken to refocus one's inner energies towards the growth of the real self, or Being.

 May your soul be filled with light.