Saturday, July 27, 2013

Self-remembering as tantric practice

Today, I thought it would be interesting to discuss self remembering from a slightly different point of view.

The idea of the word tantra has acquired a great deal of baggage over the centuries, but the original Sanskrit word means loom. And the idea of Tantric practice, at its root, is to weave one's life into a whole piece of cloth.

Because we are not aware of ourselves, our life is taken in and contained in fragments. Using the analogy of the inner solar system, generally speaking, a man lives his life as an unformed "dust cloud" — his impressions end up circulating within him as countless tiny particles that don't really have much of a relationship with each other. It's only if they acquire a sense of gravity, if they begin to coalesce, that they can form something solid that has a real existence.

In the same way, our inner threads don't acquire any real relationship to one another until they are woven. They need to be arranged relative to one another, and then other threads need to be put through them to bind them together. Either way, we end up with a work that requires the intentional assembling of the inner Being; not with elements that are extraneous to it in any sense, but made up of the impressions that are already there, and the new ones that come in. Gurdjieff did, in fact, describe the process much this way, although with different words.

So the need is to bring all of the elements of life together — the whole life, all the things that have taken place, everything that has happened — in a new way, one that does not just involve the intellectual memory of them, but a new kind of feeling. 

We need to experience, see, and understand our entire life from an inner point of view such that we feel it.

This bringing together of life into a whole is required in order to understand what intentional suffering means. It's impossible to understand intentional suffering in any way without making an effort to create this whole. To be sure, part of it is to see where we are now — perhaps the greater part. But in a certain sense, to see where we are now also needs to be to see the whole of ourselves, including what we have already been. It is as though one is working towards a moment where one sees the whole of oneself at one instant. This is a moment at which real remorse of conscience can take place. Before one becomes more whole, one can only have an idea of such things, not an actual experience. This is a very gradual process that takes decades — at best — in order to accomplish.

This is why it's so important to pay attention, to attend, and to be intentional about the way that one is. Each one of these actions has something to do with becoming a whole; and in the end, the process is a mysterious one that emerges unexpectedly from the countless elements that are brought together, behind the oblivious and relatively clueless force of the personality.

Bringing the self together is a step into a different piece of territory than what we usually see in life. To do so is to acknowledge our lack. To bring the whole self together ends up being an action of nakedness in the face of God, in which we see that we cannot hide anything. The whole idea of inner lying, you see, involves believing that something can be hidden from God, and this is in fact impossible. If we want to speak about being ruthless with ourselves, it does not mean being stern or cruel. It means being honest; and this means admitting exactly how we are.

Having been through Alcoholics Anonymous and 31+ years of recovery, I have some ground-floor practical experience from outside this kind of work. Spiritual seekers think they are important; alcoholics know they are not. 

Not everyone appreciates how essential this is; as I've pointed out before in writings, the struggle against alcoholism is a struggle for life and death, and produces a form of inner honesty that simply isn't available otherwise. When Peggy Flinsch originally found out that I came out of the rooms (that is, for those of you who don't know the term, AA) she looked at me in deadly earnest— we were alone in the room, it was right after a group meeting had ended — and she whispered, with the kind of intensity only she could muster, "a lot more people around this place could use that kind of understanding." 

What she was getting at is that AA is real work, the kind of work you can only undertake of a desperation that fully understands the inner lying must end. Most people think that alcoholism is a misfortune; but those of us who have had to confront something like this are actually the lucky ones.

It's quite certain that the instant anyone feels they are better than others or superior to them, they have already not understood this question in the least. Bringing one's own life together begins with the recognitions embodied in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous — begins with them organically, on the ground floor of the practice. One must see that one is helpless. And one must make vows to correct one's wrong actions, all of which begin with being willing to ruthlessly see one's actions and where one is.

We specialize in thinking that we can work by seeing the lack in others; when really, this is utterly useless. Every instant we spend time doing it is not just a waste of time, it is actively damaging to those around us. It is our own lack that we need to see. 

Each of us must attend to weaving his own inner cloth.

May your soul be filled with light.


  1. Certainly a person who has been through the throes of alcoholism and are now sober, and then meet the work, are already in one sense, prepared. Direct gnosis of suffering belongs to them. There are other ways to be prepared, but entering into the authentic work requires a long and arduous preparation.

  2. easy to forgot to say thanks for the blog, 'thanks' :)
    not totally convinced your portrayal of tantra quite does justice to a v. distinct tradition.....all that kundalini etc :)Even mme mentions aspects of this in RoB (using sex energy etc). This was not mentioned much in Paris in the 80's beyond sensing an energy coming down and up into the plexus (i think!).... rajneesh does talk about Gurdjieff and his comments

    someone you don't mention...but why would you


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