Wednesday, October 30, 2013

There is no death

Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
Photograph by the author

 The title quote, taken from Mme. de Salzmann's famous letter following the death of Mme. Ouspensky, seems uniquely appropriate to me on Halloween.

The holiday has become a frivolous one, occasion for great merriment and innumerable jokes about death. In truth, we fear death. Yet it is the greatest mystery: a crossing of the line, a journey from this life back into our Being within the nature of the divine.

 Every human being conceives of their own death as unique; and yet the opposite is true. Death is one of the few things every human being has entirely in common with all other people. Our births and our deaths are common to us; the impressions we take in during the course of a lifetime are the things that are unique.

The strange thing is that we think we own our impressions, whereas, as I explained in recent posts on the solar influence, we are merely agents of Being that take them in on behalf of the Lord. Everything we are, everything we can be, we ultimately surrender to the Lord. And we make this surrender not only in death; we make it in life as well, if we are fulfilling our responsibility.

As most readers know, my sister died two years ago. The anniversary of her death was on October 21. So this time of year contains, for me, questions that transcend the trivialities of popular culture, no matter how much fun they may be. October is a month of the deepest contemplation. I look back on what my responsibilities were to my sister, who was four years younger than me, and whom I had an objective responsibility to properly care for.

I find myself wanting. In fact, in the face of mortality, I think I am wanting in regard to all my responsibilities.

We cling to what we have; and yet, in the face of death, who would not try to discover a new generosity in the soul? We can't take any of these things we collect—this money we pile up— into the grave with us. We ought to open our hearts, our doors, and share with those around us as best we can. Not foolishly; we do, after all, have to exercise measurable prudence and intelligence in regard to our lives. But if we do not act from a spirit of generosity towards others, both emotional and material generosity, why bother living? Think of how hard it is to cling to everything — we think of Dickens' Scrooge as a Christmas character, but actually he is a Halloween character, a horror story in life who cannot see what a cramped, awful creature he is become—until he faces his own death and sees what death itself means.

The last paragraph of Mme.'s letter says:

In moments like this, in front of death, and being free from the known, we can enter the unknown, the complete stillness in which there is no deterioration. Perhaps such moments are the only time in which we can find out what life is and what love is. And without that love, we will never find the truth.

 This question of generosity in the face of our mortality is a critical one. We must discover a new way to be generous. I am relatively poor at that; or, let us say, desperately uneven. Only when I see my service to the higher, and the temporary nature of my Being on this planet, and deepen my practice, am I properly called to participate in the humility and generosity that ought to naturally emanate from Being.

None of these contemplations, dear reader, are meant to take away from the fun of Halloween, which is, as much as anything, a pagan and even bacchanalian festival of the harvest — which is another moment of death, although it is the death of crops, rather than people. 

But it's worth taking a moment, in the midst of the celebrations, to remember the sobering and sacred tasks we have been given in this life, and to honor and value those around us with love. This is, after all, the time set aside to remember all the saints — and, hopefully, to take examples from them.

Quite often, when I run into people and they ask me how I am, I tell them, 

"I'm not dead yet. I'm still working on it."

May your soul be filled with light.

Note to readers: a new post at The Microbial Octave.

The evolution of the earth

Obelisk, Spanish Stairs, Rome
Photograph by the author
Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that the earth- along with other planets—was attempting to evolve to become a sun.

At first glance, of course, the idea sounds ridiculous. Yet scientists had to do a good deal of studying before eliminating the possibility that there was actually a nuclear reaction taking place in the core of the earth. While this literalist interpretation of the teaching has been, so far as we can tell,  legitimately dismissed by now, there is an allegorical meaning related to the nature of the sun as a source of emanation of the divine.

Of course the Earth is attempting to become a sun. A sun, as I have explained before, is an aperture through which divine emanations flow into the material world; and it is the responsibility of every organic and inorganic consciousness arising within the known universe to attempt to become a receiver of the divine inflow.

This means that everything, at every level, ought to attempt within the course of its own being and on the level it is on to become a receiver and distributor of divine influences. When dervish teachers report that they whirl in order to "bring the light down," this is what they are speaking of; and microbes and minerals are just as responsible for making this effort within the context of their own Being as human beings and animals are. Planets are not excused from this responsibility; and at each level, the responsibility to "become like a sun" is a requirement of existence.

All of existence is capable of receiving divine influence from the level of heaven. All of material existence is, in fact, reflection, or correspondence, of heaven; and although they are obscure and failed to the Western mind, there are many references to this in Buddhist teachings, which understood this at a level of sophistication that has generally escaped Westerners. The flower ornament Sutra is a teaching about this; and in its exuberance, it encapsulates (in a very large, extremely wordy capsule) the essential principle of all material existence becoming like a sun.  The teaching, in fact, that insists that all sentient beings must attain enlightenment is exactly this teaching.

 So, you see, Gurdjieff's remarks are not only entirely consistent with mystics such as Swedenborg, who taught a doctrine of correspondences between earth and heaven; they are also deeply reflected in Buddhism. Christianity, also, reflects the same idea in the receiving of Christ, which is a divine influence, within the human heart.

Because we generally turn our faces upwards, we don't understand that the same forces exert themselves on lower levels, and that cells, bacteria, microbes, and even crystalline structures such as quartz, ruby (corundum), emerald (beryl), and so on conform to this same principle. But if we are transformed in an inner sense, and we truly receive divine emanations and come under the inflow of heaven, we will see how our cells also become participants in this process; and the structural relationship between ourselves and our bodies can perhaps help us intuit the relationship between our bodies and the earth, where we play the role of the cell and the earth plays the role of the body.

All of material arising participates in the striving in one way or another, because in its innermost heart it is the absolute wish of all material reality to return to the divine source, that is, to return to heaven. This is why the enneagram so decisively reflects the path of the Yogi, which is the path of all matter in its efforts to return to heaven.

May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Solar Influences, Part 3

School of Pinturicchio
15th century, Vatican Museum
Mystical Madonna of S. Caterina
Photograph by the author

 I've explained before that the sun is an aperture that stands between the material world and heaven, through which divine influences flow into the natural universe. All suns serve this function; so the universe is something like a "sieve,"punctured with trillions of "holes" that are connected to a higher level.

The action is furthermore reciprocal; black holes, which appear to "disappear" from our universe, actually represent locations at which the material results of this level return to the higher one from which they originally emanated. That's why they are located at the center of galaxies. They represent the Being of the galaxies.

So there is a definite kind of circulation taking place, which has not been properly understood by modern astronomy or physics.

The reasons for this are complex and difficult to discern; I could perhaps explain them in more detail, but I don't have the space to devote to that now;  suffice it to say that the teachings surrounding the enneagram were originally designed to scientifically describe this process. One simply need understand the principle in its broad strokes in order to see how it functions. The important thing to remember is that we are here to come under divine influences.

Because we are psychologically oriented, we don't understand that this is an organic relationship — that is, not just some inner organs, but the entire body itself, is a single organ designed to come into relationship. We tend perceive our bodies as being made of multiple organs, and distinguish between their functions, but the important thing to do is to sense the entire body as a whole and single organ.

Three centered Being is the sensation of Being as a single organ.

 The foundational sensation of Being begins with sensation of the body as a whole and single thing. When Christ says, in Matthew 6:22,  The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be filled with light, it is not really referring to any ordinary kind of eye, including the third eye; what it means is that a complete sensation of the body as a whole organ allows the light of the Lord to enter.

That is, when the light is present, the body becomes an eye: and this is precisely what Ibn Arabi meant when, in the beginning of his magnum opus The Bezels of Wisdom, he said that man is to God as the pupil is to the eye.

 In the same way that the sun is an aperture that opens into heaven, from which streams the divine influence and emanations that help all lower creatures, man's entire Being, if it is whole, becomes an aperture for perception that allows impressions — the totality of all that takes place — to flow back towards the divine source. So in the same way that black holes "swallow" matter and return it to the heavenly sources from which it came, human beings swallow impressions and return them to God.  We are, in other words, analogous to black holes: we are tiny event horizons into which the world "disappears" as impressions enter us, apparently leaving the known universe as it manifests externally; but actually creating another universe of a completely different order in an inward way, which is inward formation, or what we call information.

When we open inwardly and allow the world to flow into us in a right way, all the material that is emanated from the sun for the creation of the reality we experience, which is processed by the forces of material reality, encounters us as a set of impressions and flows back inward towards the divine, returning the results of creation to God.

 The mysterious symbol of the worm oroborous was originally meant to symbolize this circulation. The thing to remember here is that the entire experience of Being is meant to play a specific role in the circulation of divine energy through the material world. The symbol of the enneagram, with its iterations through the various divine influences, is also meant to delineate this process, albeit in more detail.

 Stripping away the many different alternatives which complicate the question, this is man's essential purpose. The inward flow of impressions is supposed to return to the Divine, if our Being is aligned properly.

If a man has no real Being, this process cannot take place.

May your soul be filled with light.

Note to readers: a new post at The Microbial Octave.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Solar influences, part 2

 Human beings can't really understand the question of dependence and service until we come under solar influences. We can understand it intellectually, that is; but we cannot understand it physically or emotionally, which are the chief deficiencies we experience in our lack during day to day life. All the great teachings teach about the necessaries of service and dependency, but these only enter through the intellectual part, and are treated, at best, superficially by the emotions, unless very great suffering creates an opening for them to enter more deeply.

On the other hand, once we come under solar influences, we clearly learn that we are entirely dependent for our spiritual development upon much higher forces, and that none of this is really done by us. We are basically incapable of making a move without assistance from a higher level; yet we labor under the constant delusion that we can do things.

Nothing drills this point home more thoroughly than a long period of time, when under solar influences, in which the sun is very quiet and does not emit any flares whatsoever. In periods of this kind, we are, so to speak, in the desert, because there are few or no emanations to support the deeper kinds of inner work that are necessary. This isn't a matter of just having the sun shine or not shine; it is a matter of the higher material that we need for development being available. Gurdjieff called this process solioonensius; and I suppose an unknown and impenetrable word makes as much sense as any, since the process is so mysterious.

When deprived of solar influences, and within conditions that require them, one sees nothing so clearly as one's own inability to become open to the higher forces that are needed for one's spiritual well-being. It is like having the food taken out of your mouth or the air from your lungs; because only divine food and divine air can feed the inner parts that need to grow towards God.

Both Ibn Arabi and Swedenborg explained that a steady diet of these foods would be bad for us; we need to  be kept in a condition of hunger in order to desire the gifts of God. If they were given freely and at all times, we wouldn't care less about them, because we only value that which we can develop a wish for or desire for, not those things we already have. It is, in some ways, our desire for God that makes God real for us; in the absence of desire for God, why would one want God at all?

And we see, in this way, that Desire is one of the divine forces or principles that helps run the universe.

 We are entirely dependent upon these forces. To discover this in a practical sense, rather than by reading complex technical manuals about it, is a humbling experience, because we discovered that there is only one way that we can truly open, and that's through submission and surrender.

In a serendipitous development, these posts coincide with a period of high activity; conditions for inner work are quite favorable right now. One more post on the subject tomorrow.

May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Solar influences

Funerary Stele of the priest Pashertasher
Thebes, Ptolemaic period
Vatican Museum
Photograph by the author

While going through some paperwork I had stashed away in my office, I came across a copy of C. Daly King's "The Oragean version," a supposedly "unpublished" and unauthorized version of Gurdjieff's teachings.

 I'm not sure why am keeping it. It's a long, poorly written, and overly involved re-examination of all the ideas in the Gurdjieff work, with an enormous amount of emphasis on technical details. Why people insist on making spiritual paths a complex compound of arcane pseudoscientific ideas and practices escapes me. It seems to be a confusion of the inner and the outer paths; and Swedenborg, a consummate scientist in his own right, clearly saw the difference between the two. Mixing them up doesn't really serve anyone. It does, however, produce an impressive pile of mumbo-jumbo for people who are interested in such things.

The intuition (the word, by the way, originally meant spiritual insight in Middle English) of God is an inner intuition. It doesn't need to be mediated by gigantic piles of technical data; it is a tangible influence, the inward flow of energy that is received. These energies are cosmological in nature; they certainly relate to the action of planets, and the way that we come under the influence of them, but neither magical formulas or technical data will truly explain this. Only the inner receiving of an energy brings any kind of real understanding, and it is neither magical nor technical. It simply is.

Human beings are generally under these influences of planets in an unconscious way. That is to say, people do things under energetic influence from the moon, or other planets, without being aware of the fact that they have an effect on them. They think they are doing this, that, or the other thing under their own volition, whereas actually they are doing them because of what Gurdjieff called "tension" between planets.

The effort to open the inner eye is an effort to come under a higher influence, that is, a different kind of cosmological influence. There are generally two levels of this influence that man can stand between, one is the lunar influence — the smaller satellite which circles our own planet, which mediates the influences of the level below us — and the other is the solar influence, the higher influence around which we orbit.

 Developing a sensitivity will always, initially, mean coming under a lunar influence, and this is what Gurdjieff meant when he said that we have to "make Moon" in ourselves. We need to become connected to ourselves in a new way through sensation so that the inner energy opens us to lunar influences, and we develop a connection between the moon and our own Being.

 This is only, however, half the question, because once this connection is developed, it is necessary to open to solar influences, which are of a much higher and entirely different order. When the body comes under solar influences, one has then, so to speak, completed a "circuit," through which energy flows downward, into Being, and from there it involves downward further to support lunar influences and activity. So when we stand between two worlds, we don't just stand between the inner and the outer world; we occupy a position between the sun and the moon.

An active relationship to the solar influences produces a specific set of experiences which are strongly reinforced during solar flares, the activity which takes place when energy is released for the spiritual development of beings surrounding any given sun. Solar flares can be sensed instantaneously, at the moment that they take place, if sensitivity is developed. This is the receiving of what Gurdjieff called "emanations," that is, energies which are sensed and felt instantaneously upon their arising, as opposed to radiation – which is the energy that reaches the Earth several days after a solar flare.

It's important to understand that this entire relationship shows us how dependent we are on the energies around us. More on that in the next post.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Note to readers: a new post at the microbial octave.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Beware of the known

Fragment of a sarcophagus; priest of Sekhmet
Vatican Museum, Rome
People always think they know.

The verbal formula of “I don’t know anything” in inner work is just a convention. It’s become a verbal tactic designed to convey the appearance of conformity. Of course people think they know; we all do. Everyone should get off their pedestals for a moment and admit this. There’s no shame in it; but lying about it doesn't help a bit.

To not know is to be troubled in a way that the mind alone can’t convey. It is a kind of depression- not clinical depression, but angelic depression-that emanates from the seeds of the soul and penetrates Being. 

We should never assume that we can engineer situations in the work or in life as though they were lab experiments with expected results. The work is a form of research, to be sure, inner research. But research is not just about the expected results; the ones others tell us about, the ones we read about and hear about. The results we are "supposed" to have. 

Life is a lab experiment with an endless series of unexpected results, and the whole point is that the results are unexpected. If one goes into the lab expecting that one knows what the results will be, it doesn't work. 

Let me give you a practical example. My grandfather, a prominent nuclear physicist, was Nobel prize winner Harold Urey’s lab partner. They were working on a series of experiments and got some peculiar, very unexpected results. My grandfather shrugged them off as an anomaly and moved on; Urey dug further into the question, and discovered deuterium. The rest is history. 

My grandfather went on to make many major contributions to the nascent field of quantum physics, but he never won the Nobel prize, because he glossed over the unexpected in favor of what he thought ought to happen. It bothered him for the rest of his life. He thought he knew what the answers would be, but he didn’t.

I was at a work event some months ago with an individual who thought this way. They did an exercise; it was pretty interesting, but then at the “end” (as though there were such a thing) it became apparent this individual had arrived with a specific agenda. Far from working in any way within the moment, there was a set of predictable “correct” responses this person was looking for- all of them conforming to a preconceived idea of what was “important” about the exercise, and above all how the work ought to be. Not what was... what should have been.

This idea of how inner work ought to be is an insidious one. Inner work is about forming a relationship with God, working with a connection to a higher energy. Everything starts there; and it is all an experiment with potential results even more dramatic and unexpected than Urey’s heavy water. 

We are here, after all, to learn how to breathe in and out on behalf of God; and who actually knows how to do that? 

We can know this much: it's done in the moment, and without instructions or plans.

May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Doing the hard thing

Storage jar, Ostia Antica
Photograph by the author
We should not play to our strengths.

To do so is to ignore our weak parts, which is where all our troubles begin in the first place. Our strong parts don’t need to be made stronger; our weak parts need to become stronger. Yet habit in life encourages us to exercise our strong parts constantly, because it feels good and gives us a steady impression of success, which is ego’s favorite food.

Inner work is not about doing the easy or the obvious thing; it is about doing the hard thing. What is appealing, familiar, or even logical  is already dangerous. We ought to be going off the path at once into the thickets; only there can we find anything new. What lies there in us is overgrown, and invisible without going to any effort. The moment we do not under any circumstances want to confront ought to be the one we go straight towards. We’ll fear it; and that is a good thing, because if we refuse to put ourselves in situations we fear and then go against the fear, well, that is real cowardice. Inner cowardice; and think about how often we are like this, if you will. 

If one is not deeply troubled by one’s nature, one’s attitudes, one’s manifestations, as they take place, one isn't working. One is merely feeling good. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people describe how some amazing thing happened in them, something that made them feel new and wonderful, and how they were “really working” then. 

Those moments are NOT the moments where one is working; one is really working when one is having an absolutely horrible time of it all, and sitting there right in the middle of it, seeing how one is. Of course, this doesn’t conform in the least to today’s “standardized feel-good model” of inner work; but it has the merit of looking the question straight in the eye, instead of pretending that inner work is merely about basking in some minor fragment of the Presence of God. 

We have to say the difficult things and confront the struggle, not arrange events and exchanges around inner and outer ease. 

Go have a real argument and be there for it; then see how you are afterwards, you and the other one. 

This is a real test of equilibrium.

May your soul be filled with light.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Adolescence of the Magi

Photograph by the author

We live, as Robert Bly pointed out, in The Sibling Society; yet we fail to see that a great deal of attitude in inner work is either childish or adolescent.

Bosch did an excellent job of outlining this in the tantric circle of his painting of the Adoration of the Magi in the Metropolitan Museum in new york; the first two kings we encounter express attitudes of exactly this kind. And this is where the problem begins: we think we’re kings. It isn’t until our inner Being is stripped of these fine royal trappings and brought to its knees (again, see the interpretation of the painting) that we begin to understand anything real.

Adolesence in inner work is marked by an attachment to individuals rather than the ideas themselves. It is, of course, a double edged sword, marked by either a blind acceptance or a blind rejection of outer authority- as is typical of adolescents. The correct position in regard to authority, an adult position- measured objectively and without overt attachment- is a rarity. What we get instead is cults of personality, which I have encountered over and over again in the Gurdjieff work. Almost every single one of them has, so far as I can see, been relatively crippling in one way or another to the work of the individuals who signed on to them; yet they persist. There’s a peculiar human wish to recapitulate the myth of the hero by finding a heroic Teacher; we all have this subliminal, and profoundly misleading, urge. Each time we follow it we betray the search for our own inner master, the deputy steward or steward of Ouspensky’s rather old-fashioned, but accurate, summary in In Search of the Miraculous. 

If you want to see the real teachers around you, look for the people you don’t like.

Adolescence is equally marked by the desire to pretend to be grown up while leaning on or taking from others. To grow up is to take risks; to leave the safety of the known, to see that no one else has the inner answers I need for myself. 

Another feature of this inner adolescence is a certain kind of self- involved narcissim. It manifests as retreating into one’s self and hiding from the world; for example, taking on heroic meditation efforts, going on retreats in which one actually does retreat, instead of working in life (which is what the Gurdjieff work is actually all about), etc.

Speaking as one who knows a bit more than the average person about religious bliss, bliss is no answer. If you think you can hide inside yourself in a heavenly haven of nothingness and call it work, you’re welcome to do so, but be forewarned this in no way answers the much deeper calling we are expected to strive for in inner work. Bliss is only for those who want to get off the train at that stop. It is, I’ll admit, a lovely place. But it is not, as it were, Grand Central Station. Children and teenagers seek bliss; adults seek challenges. 

 To stand between is to suffer. This isn’t a work where we seek happiness. We seek consciousness; and while consciousness contains bliss, this is far from all it contains.

May your soul be filled with light. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Martyrion of St Philip, Hierapolis
Photo by the author

Unexpectedly, yesterday, I found myself on an unplanned visit to Hierapolis, the site of St. Philip’s martyrdom and original interment; near the famous travertine springs of Pamukkale, themselves a sight to behold.

High on a hilltop, looking out over a valley, this has been a site of pilgrimage for thousands of years. Now it is becoming a tourist destination all over again. The views here are, in a word, magnificent. Come if you can.

Philip is best known in esoteric circles for the Nag Hammadi Gospel ascribed to him, a collection of seemingly impenetrable, koan-like aphorisms. Their very strangeness argues for authenticity; the idea that anyone would deliberately invent such material and put it in the very mouth of Christ is, to me, unlikely. 

This place was a destination for Philip, as well; the hot springs were baths of purification, but the immediate area also held a Plutonium, an official entry to the underworld which exhaled pools of deadly carbon monoxide gas. I was privileged to be touring the site with one of the caretakers; and the senior archaeologist on the site was kind enough to allow us into the excavation area for a closer look at this ancient sacred place, which literally, and invisibly, held the power of life and death within its stone walls. Yet here in this place where death itself resides, water- that most quintessential symbol of life- flows outward from a thermal spring.

Creative priesthoods turned this unique and alarming geological phenomenon into a source of augury and revenue; so visitors to the area were able to fine-tune the pitch of their religious impulses between the white springs of heaven and a black hole leading to hell.

The area itself seems to stand between two worlds, physically and spiritually; and perhaps this outward, distinctly pagan aspect is what drew Philip to preach an inner transformation here. He was, according to the stories, successful— a little too successful. He was consequently crucified upside down; and the Roman Catholic church was, in the end, unable to resist the act of confiscating his remains for re-interment in Rome.

We want to change where we are inside; yet we want to hold on to what we have, too. When the Presence comes- in a touch within the hand at the airport, for example- it is more real than any such impulses, and immeasurably more refined. It simply is; there are no inclinations or desires within God. Those belong to us; and we perpetually mistake ourselves for Him. 

As He says, “My Ways are not your ways.”

I stand, like the ancient priests did, on the edge of death; and the evidences of heaven’s purity of purpose and intention flow abundantly. 

Here I am; and if that is all I know today, perhaps it’s enough.

May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Asleep in the work

Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Photograph by the author

We sometimes hear the phrase “falling asleep in the work.” 

We probably don’t hear this phrase enough; and it’s even more likely we don’t know what it means, because it's too close to home for us to see it.

To fall asleep in the work begins with only doing what feels good, what is familiar. Organizations and foundations, groups and so on, encourage this kind of behavior from the outset. They prefer to operate in accordance with fixed patterns; and because people prefer, actually, to behave like sheep, most instantly fall in line and develop a set of powerful habits. We thrive on complacency and the desire to create an environment where things are smooth and predictable. We prefer to agree with everyone (or try to); to say what others say, in the same way that they say it. All of this is, of course, a function of socializing and the undeniable work of mirror neurons, which are so important to many aspects of our psychology. Yet they undermine our efforts at awareness. 

Accepting the status quo and expecting things to remain the same from week to week and month to month is a trap. 

Lying to others in order to keep the peace is a trap. 

Inner work demands a ruthless kind of honesty, yet even very early on Ouspensky (who can hardly be cited as a paradigm of the kind of “work within feeling” we aim for in inner effort nowadays) himself saw how impossible honesty actually was. Instead of grasping this with our feelings and struggling with it, it’s almost as though everyone has retired from the question because it is just too explosive to deal with. 

We thus pour our souls into a false predictability which causes us to presume progress where none is made; we like things, and perhaps this is in itself the problem. If one finds that one is never doing anything new in inner work- or the outer surroundings which support it-well, this is already sleep, already habit.

If work does not make one nervous and uncertain, there isn't much going on. To work is to be troubled. If I am not deeply troubled by my inner and outer manifestations, and seeing that my reactions are negative far more often than I even know or care to admit, then I'm asleep.

To question everything begins at home.

May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Memento mori, Crypt at Santa Maria Del Popolo, Rome
Photograph by the author

Today is the second anniversary of my sister Sarah's death.

Like most of my posts, this one is prepared a few days in advance, but a subtle and pervasive depression has been with me during this whole trip to Italy. So the state is entirely appropriate to the subject—even though in a certain and very real sense death is an occasion for rejoicing.

Such practical facts don't, unfortunately, really serve to heal the emotions much. They have their own ways, many of them inevitably connected to the underworld.

On that note. Following the death of his wife, Pier Francesco Orsini underwent an inner transformation which led to unusual and even remarkable forms of questioning. He created the Parco dei Mostri, an astonishing garden which readers will be hearing a good deal more about in coming weeks, since I'm planning to write an extensive piece on the esoteric symbolism of the sculpture.

It's safe to say, in my case—and, I think, his— that a death close to one's own soul causes an earthquake, a shattering of inner foundations, whose full effect cannot be understood in weeks or months or even years. The closer one comes to death—and the closer death comes to one's self—the more one questions. Having been in a car accident that should have been fatal in 1995, I have now been on both ends of the question; and that makes it no easier. The shattering of foundations is absolutely, irrevocably necessary for any real inner work: yet no one suffers it gladly.

There are territories of the soul that carry no doubt in them; the knowledge of the divine flows unbrokered into the soul itself. But this does not answer all the questions; and since our faces are turned, in their essence, away from the higher and away from divine energy—an intentional condition bestowed upon us as a blessing, no matter how vigorously we may reject this idea—we are doomed, in this life, to suffer the contemplation of our mortality; the mortality of those around us; and, perhaps, if we are concise enough in our awareness, the nature of our sin in regard to this life as it stands.

I'm not prone to depression; quite the opposite, in fact. I tend to be unusually optimistic and motivated. So when the taste of this sorrow, this essential lack and this essential misunderstanding of life, of God—well, let us be honest, of everything—goes deep into the bones, it suggests that there is a lost mooring down in there somewhere.

In such cases one has to grasp for the rope; perhaps in darkness, but nonetheless. I wonder; do any of us realize we are perpetually grasping for a rope in darkness, always and forever thinking that it is light inside and out, and that there is a safe place to tie it? Is it only the most terrible shocks that can help us to realize that it is night within this life, and we are asleep in it?

This evening we sat in the train station of Ostia Antica—an ancient port city— where more appropriate  to seek lost moorings than in a place whose ships are gone?—and I watched the sun set against a row of poplars in the distance. The golden light and their changing leaves played golden bronze and yellow against the late blue sky. Everything looked preternaturally crisp, in the way that only the inner eye can paint things, and I realized that Presence was with me, alongside the depression.

It was a curious moment, because it was apparent, for that instant, that the depression was not of any ordinary kind: not the kind that saps the strength or steals the soul, but one that announces.

And this Presence that announces is exactly that depression which Swedenborg reports the angels feel when they turn their faces away from God.

We are still of heaven; yet don't know it. And the more we know it, the deeper heaven sinks into the soul; and so greater the inner anguish, as one sees the lack that so preoccupies the place that God wants to be within us.

So I will mourn a little bit today; but, I hope, not too much.

May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A community of souls

A few days back we went beneath the body of several churches in Trastavere, down into the crypts, which contain the foundations and remains of earlier churches, some dating back to the fourth century.

Surrounded by crumbling walls and fragments of what were once extraordinary frescoes, one is indelibly impressed by the fragility, the ephemeral nature, of human life, and the inexorable passage of time.

We ended the day at Santa Maria in Trastavere, in time to watch a black priest celebrate a Catholic mass under a 12th century mosaic of the coronation of the Virgin- just as twilight arrived.

It was a moment of appreciating the continuity of the human search for Being; the sacrament of the body and blood, administered across an acreage of time and race by the unbroken laying on of hands from the first apostles, into this time and this place. We are all connected, through the medium of deep Christianity, the most profound—and at the same time, ordinary—in the absolute sense of the obyvatel— esoteric practice which Gurdjieff sought to reawaken in the west.

We are a community of souls together; whether steeped in blood and sin or bound by love and compassion, bound we are by the limits of our flesh. 

We struggle to understand this; and the poetry- the unspoken word that breathes- lies in the effort. Every church, every fresco and mosaic, and every viewer who encounters them, form a whole of experience that moves through time in a single spirit.

Gurdjieff surely understood this; and he advised we his pupils to see ourselves as occupying a place in this heritage, this religious tantra—loom— composed of human threads. Respect for this is due; in the traditions, we aren't just individuals. We are part of the body and blood of our Heavenly Father, but also—and equally important—part of the body and blood of humankind— father, mother, sister, brother—whose very existence is a correspondent reflection of the nature and character of God.

We can embody this; but only if we deepen who we are, what we are, in such a way that our souls touch God- and one another- in a new way.

May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Baptistry of San Giovanni (Chapel of Santa Rufina)

Following day before yesterday's mention, I thought I'd share a few photographs of this small but very sacred space with readers.

Standing behind the altar (which is possible) is the best place to get a full view of Christ in this beautiful 5th century mosaic.

Christ appears surrounded by the rippling, energetic forces of heavenly energies.

And is flanked by angelic hosts.

The almost comically ruddy cheeks are, by the way, a common feature in these early mosaics. Despite their apparent crudity, they are surprisingly effective from a distance.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hidden in small places

So the things of God are hidden in small places, far from the public eye; and the more things compete with one another for attention, so much the less they are of God. For it is given of God to be present in the small things and the hidden places; this much pleases Him in ways that the public thoroughfares and the loud noises cannot.

When one goes among the crypts and the mosaics, the chapels and the smaller churches here in Rome, one begins to get the sense that the presence of Christ- and the Lord Himself- lies in wait here for sensitives, souls who are prepared (through much prayer and suffering) to receive; and these hidden things are waiting to be given as hidden things.

There is, after all, a place in man and a place in woman that is a secret place of itself, one like the secret places of the earth, but put up higher in the soul where heaven can touch it in the right moments. And this place must never be shown to another; not man, not woman, not priest, not child and not even husband or wife. It is a place that one cannot ever speak of, and which even outward prayer—worthy though it may be— should not touch, for this place is as sacred as the most sacred places in all the churches and temples of the world. It is the place that must never be shown, never be spoken of; never be touched, and never be revealed.

One should not even touch it one's self. It is where silence begins.

It's into this place that God may come from time to time, as it so pleases Him, but only according to His Time and His Grace; not to mine, and not to the time and grace of the world, or the church, or the sangha or the ashram or foundation. This is the place vouchsafed by the soul to the Lord; and it must be held inviolable.

We don't understand this any more; it has been forgotten, and outwardness is touted, even by those who profess great inwardness. Inwardness itself has become a form of outwardness; and only a good hard look at one's life can make this clear enough. One must become willing enough to admit this, and feel an organic sense of shame. One must know that one isn't worthy enough to walk up and receive the Sacrament after it's blessed; know it in one's bones and suffer that.

Living in a world that makes a merit of forgetting shame is difficult; but here we are.

How should I pray?


For what should I pray?


I don't just think these things; they begin to live in my bones.

May your soul be filled with Light.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Your own best effort

I'm in Italy right now; I began this post from the Campo de Fiore in Rome. It got erased; I've had to reconstruct it.

My wife and I have spent the last two days traipsing through innumerable small churches throughout the city, seeking out the intimate moments Christian artists have created over the last two millenia. Traveling as much as I do in Asia I am perhaps over-Buddha'd; it comes as something of a relief to be immersed in Christian imagery for a change.

The intimate moment is the one that counts; and perhaps nothing could possibly be so intimate as the touch of God's hand. Bernini certainly managed to capture the essence of such moments; one knows not how.

Standing in front of the seventh-century mosaics in the Baptistry of San Giovanni (Chapel of Santa Rufina), I was touched this morning by the immediate proximity of Christ; it's in these moments when one comes into contact with the true Presence of the Miraculous that one sees, for a moment, how utterly fractured one's life is and how one, by Grace alone, can come to a greater sense of Being.

This is all that matters; to be reduced, to be taken, to receive.

I had similar moments yesterday while looking at Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa; at the railing in front of the chapel, one can read what she wrote of her experience when God's angel touched her.

That such things are true, I can personally attest; and I feel a kinship with her. We are part of the same work—given through God's Grace alone and never for ourselves—an order of being put in service. These moments reach into the heart of sorrow; but it is the sweetest sorrow that any soul can wish for, a sorrow that thanks the Lord, rather than feeling poorly for its owner.

I've often asked myself why I continue to write this blog, after six years (nearly seven, now.) It's a lot of work; and I weary from time to time.

Throughout, through all the material I've presented... whether intimate, personal, scholarly, or speculative... there has only ever been one hope from this enterprise, this personal diary of inner work, and that is that you who encounter it may be inspired in your own work.

Not be inspired to do what I do or believe what I say; but to be inspired to reach inside yourself and hear the faint but immeasurably blissful and true call from God, that spark of the inner light that on rare occasions touches the soul and sets it aflame with a passion for Inner Truth. To open to the Divine inflow, the influence, the inward flow.

This, after all, is all one works for: to help others deepen their own work, which only and forever belongs to them, and to God.

So here's to your own best effort, readers, whoever you are and whoever you may be! These things of God's are True things, not metaphor or myth, but living Truths that can and will be born in man and woman. Never doubt it.

And on this matter, more in the next post.

May your soul be filled with Light.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Divine Love and Wisdom

Divine Love and Wisdom is the title of one of Swedenborg's seminal works; but it is also the quality of Gurdjieff's higher emotional and higher intellectual center.

These higher centers are, as he himself said, under higher influences, which means they are under higher energies which flow inward into man from what are divine sources. As such they are essentially indistinguishable from Swedenborg's inflow, the inward receiving of Divine influences.

Many contemporaries thought Swedenborg was a madman subject to hallucinations; but if he was, he was Gurdjieff's kind of madman; after all, these aspects of their teaching are nearly identical, allowing for language. Swedenborg, moreover, was a materialist scientist who, like Gurdjieff, insisted that the mediation of the Divine on this level was fundamentally and absolutely material.

Hydrogens Sol 12 and Mi 12 are the two hydrogens which, respectively, mediate these forces; but Gurdjieff and de Salzmann said very little about their action. This was because the essential foundational force of material preparation had to be engaged before any action of these substances could even be considered. This is one of the reasons his work (and de Salzmann's)  focused so much of the movements, and establishment of a physical connection to the body. An unprepared vessel cannot hold or contain any higher energies related to Divine Love and Wisdom. Once again, unsurprisingly, Swedenborg taught essentially the same principles.

The essential purpose of man is to receive these energies and become an expression of Divine Love and Wisdom on this level; yet we're unable. It's the organic recognition of this fact— seeing our lack, as de Salzmann called it—that determines our ability to qualify as prepared for any further steps in this direction. We are, after all, consumed with hubris—Gurdjieff very tactfully called it the belief that man can do—which overcomes any possible idea of submission to higher principles that do not, in any way, shape, or form, belong to us.

Divine Love and Wisdom can begin to act in man or woman, but only insofar as they submit, in an inner sense, to the dissolution of the qualities that belong to ego. No bootstrapping is possible here; ego, of course, believes that it can dissolve itself, and it commands the ordinary Being to believe this in what has to be one of the most fascinating defensive mechanisms anyone could ever think up.

It's in action 24 hours a day, seven days a week in every human being, yet manages to remain, for the greatest part, completely invisible.

May your soul be filled with light.

Note to readers: a new post at The Microbial Octave.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The roots of practice

Sarcophagus, Museum of Antiquities, Cairo
Photograph by the author

It's easy for people to mistake the roots of practice because they don't understand the  molecular nature of transformation.

 All practice that leads up to molecular transformation is just practice — that is, it's preparatory work. Unfortunately, the attraction of physical work leading up to this, ranging from the Gurdjieff movements to Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Hatha Yoga, becomes an end in itself, because most of the forms have an aesthetic beauty and create interesting physical sensations that are ultimately enjoyed for their pleasure (and the "wow" factor) rather than the foundational nature of their manifestation.

This leads people to engage in emotional attractions to such work, instead of understanding it objectively. I can't tell you how long I've spent listening to people enthuse about how they "love" the Gurdjieff movements or Hatha yoga, as though these things were an end in themselves.

These practices are utterly pointless unless one understands what they are aimed at creating in the body. Once the body understands this, and once a new level of sensation in connection is formed, these works take their proper place in a range of inner work so that one understands one has to take them objectively, and can't be attracted to them as some form of lifestyle. They have, in fact, only just so much use in the end, because the end is not the practice, the end is the inner transformation. Ultimately, in a certain way, the whole point of them is to reach a point of inner work where they are no longer necessary. Every exercise is like this — but everyone forgets it.

This mistaken path of believing in the aesthetic rather than the experience, the beauty rather than the fact, is a dangerous one, because the aesthetic and the beauty definitely need to be included — they just can't be assigned priority, which is the mistake we constantly make due to the allure of their appearances.

I remember a rather dry friend of mine — I genuinely liked him, but he seemed to be (and probably was) excessively intellectual in many ways — who had, objectively, many more years of experience in the work than I did back when I knew him, nearly 20 years ago. He tried to make this point to me and I didn't like it much. It's only now, remembering it, but I see how clearly he knew what he was talking about, at least in this instance. At the time, it seemed perverse; now, it seems nothing more than sensible. Sensible, as in, rooted in sensation and understanding, not in clinical analysis.

We should be quite cautious about falling in love with our attractions. It is just as dangerous as falling in love with our suspicions.

Perhaps this is what Gurdjieff was trying to remind us of what he said "I love he who loves work."

 May your soul be filled with light.

Note to readers: a new post at The Microbial Octave.

Friday, October 11, 2013

the molecular nature of work

Deity on a sarcophagus, under the influence of the solar disk
 Museum of Antiquities, Cairo
photograph by the author

 Some readers will be familiar with my new blog, the microbial octave. Those who aren't might want to  check it out. There may not seem to be a lot of relationship between the world of microbiology, evolution, and inner work, but actually, the relationship is quite close and well worth examining in more detail.

 Gurdjieff always explained that everything about inner work was ultimately chemical, material, physical, and that is because the expression of the Divine, in our universe and on this level, expresses itself in atomic and molecular form. These are the fundamental building blocks of the Divine manifestation of reality.

 It's intriguing to note that Gurdjieff seems to specifically indicate that Divinity manifests in a particulate form, considering the wave/particle dilemma was well known to the physics of his time (and, i am sure, to him.) This is a subject for deeper investigation; the point is that the manifestation of Divine Energy ultimately takes place as the result of molecular interactions on this level. There is no other way for it to happen.

Microbes, that is, all invisible lifeforms, actively inhabit this level of the world and help form the basis upon which all other life in the world, and, consequently, all manifestation of Divine Energy becomes possible. The web of energies that feeds the material existence of consciousness is deeply embedded in this lowest level of the manifestation of life — it forms the texture, or grounding element, which life arises and dwells in.

My blog about microbiology attempts to explain this from a scientific and biological point of view, so that readers will have a better understanding of exactly how the fabric of the world is put together, and how the greater part of it is completely unseen. 

It also relates directly to our understanding of inner work, because the molecular component of our work is identically constructed, and the correspondences here are both powerful and compelling. Many things can be learned by studying the systems in parallel.

The spiritual is, at its root, microbiotic, and ultimately molecular. When de Salzmann says that the cells are permeated with Si 12, she means this quite literally. The sensation is global and unmistakable, if this event takes place in the body. It underscores the fact that our transformation begins with cellular, molecular, transformation, and this is a transformation that begins on the microbiotic level. The connection between the higher and the lower needs to be formed as a complete web, or field of influences, that is built on the unseen level of microbiology, and reaches all the way into the macroscopic levels of the sun and beyond into heaven itself. 

All of this is connected in a single continuum that we are meant to participate in by embodying. But we cannot embody it without the molecular change in the body itself that is necessary in order to form the threads that connect us.

To carry the microbiological analogy a little bit further, think of the roots that fungi form (mycorrhizae.) These are an exact analogy to what I'm speaking about. They form mutualistic relationships with plants, making it possible for the roots to take up substances from the soil which they need for their nutrition. If a man or woman does not form these "roots" of sensation (which can at times be literally felt as inner roots), these organic connections to the cellular work of the body and its connection and relationship to ordinary reality, then he or she can't take in the food he needs for other kinds of spiritual work. This is why work in the practice of sensation and awareness of the body is so vital to the foundations of all other inner work. And, as you can see, its precise analogies, definitions, and correspondences all arise directly from the kingdom of microbiology which we consider to be beneath ourselves and relatively uninteresting.

 Any awareness of cellular being, which I have referred to for many years as the organic sense of being, brings one immediately to a range of new questions about the nature of life and the levels below us, which must be examined and experienced in a new inner way in order to create an opening to any higher levels.

May your soul be filled with light.

Note to readers: a new post at The Microbial Octave.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Halfway up a Cliff in the Dark

Oct. 8, part 2.

Another consequence of the sitting I had this morning, in which I pondered the nature of my lack, & the objective fact that it doesn't actually belong to me. The thought came to me at 5:30 a.m., halfway up the hill (climbing the Palisades, as I do every morning)  in the dark—an appropriate place, perhaps. 

Over the years, I've worked with many exercises given by other experts—some of them apparently very experienced— in which they invite those working with them to use their imaginal powers to sense various chakras and energies, and the connections between them.

Persons who can actually transmit experience of this kind—especially at depth— are, in my experience, extremely rare. And the difficulty with almost all of these exercises is that they begin with ideas, not with a sense of the inner self. 

Not with sensation.

Real understanding about the chakras and how they work is beginning to understand that you don't need to know how the chakras work. This construct is a conceptual and ideological information. It comes from the head.  

What is needed, instead, is to stop thinking about these things and develop a much more immediate awareness of the thread that connects one to heaven.

This thread is either not present, or barely functional, in man. Yet it has the ability to become an extremely strong connection, one that eclipses other experiences of life and places itself in the forefront of Being. This is when the uselessness of the imaginal and conceptual forces begin to become apparent. And it is a much stronger connection to this influence, or thread, that we must develop.  

This only becomes possible by willing to be specific with the attention to the energy, and that's very difficult, because everything in life is designed to draw one away from this kind of attention. The seed of understanding connected to this thread needs to become the most precious thing in life, a nectar which is constantly remembered and sought for.

What is necessary is to come into relationship with the energy itself. Not the idea of the energy. Not the thought of where the energy needs to go or what it ought to do. All that is already known to the energy itself, and the most that I can bring to that is interference.

One final note about things in me, which took some time to digest and emerged several hours later, during my long drive to work.

There is not enough appreciation. That is, I do not value things enough.

This can't be seen in any other way but on the long scale of time, as it manifests within Being. So much of developing real Being is centered around seeing how one doesn't have real Being... and the understanding that I don't value enough can't emerge without a distinct taste for the length of one's life. Not in the sense of how long one has lived, but taking the measurement within one's Self from the inner point of view.

When gathering together all the impressions of life to make them whole— I've spoken of this action before—there are times where one sees, for a moment, how one doesn't value.

And this is an absolutely enormous question, because its roots go down to the core of being and lack.

May your soul be filled with light.

Note to readers: new post on The Microbial Octave.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The four ways and the higher hydrogens

Sarcophagus, Museum of Antiquities, Cairo
Photograph by the author

  Each of the three ways, reflected in traditional yoga, was meant to develop a connection with one of the three higher hydrogens.

Si 12

 This higher hydrogen, related to the octave of the physical body and commonly associated with sex energy and orgasm, was the aim of Hatha Yoga, the yoga of the body which has enjoyed a considerable renaissance of the Western world as a form of exercise.  Gurdjieff refers to this as the way of the Fakir. Various schools have approach the use of this energy through either abstention from sex (more common) or engaging in it, which was the focus of some unusual and titillating Tantric practices, as well as many misunderstandings of same. Early, as well as latter-day, Christian practices of abstinence developed from various branches of the school. An accidental combination of misunderstandings of abstinence practice with the pleasures associated with orgasm has led to puritanical attitudes toward sex in numerous Western and Middle Eastern societies.

Sol 12

This higher hydrogen arising from the emotional octave was the focus of Bhakti Yoga practices,  Gurdjieff's way of the monk, which— logically enough — found later reflection in Christian practices such as hesychasm, and the prayer of the heart. Because this is an emotional or feeling-based practice, it's commonly misunderstood to be associated with rapture and love which produces feelings of well-being. Some inklings of its real purpose — that is, to connect with the deepest sorrow in the universe, and the endless source of unutterable anguish that informs (inwardly forms) reality, have been preserved in certain secret and monastic Christian traditions. And, of course, Gurdjieff—having immersed himself in it— understood this practice to be absolutely central. Because of the overall tendency for spiritual traditions to be understood (especially in modern times) as ways of helping oneself feel better, the powerful core of this essential practice has been largely forgotten.

Mi 12

 Arising from the development of the intellectual octave of impressions, this hydrogen was always the focus of Djana Yoga, the way of the Yogi. Gurdjieff explained that this was the most powerful of the three ways, since it was possible to acquire a level of understanding that would reveal how to achieve completion of the other two ways using this method. Zen and other forms of intensive, practice-based Buddhism derive from this practice. Because this path ultimately involves the annihilation of the mind as we know it, opening it to a much higher form of intelligence, it developed a wide range of theoretical practices which mistakenly discuss dissolution or abandonment of Being and mind as we know it.

The best traditional expression and overall understanding of this practice is preserved in Ibn Arabi's Sufic writings, which are relatively unknown because they were written in Arabic and never adequately translated into either Eastern or Western languages. Gurdjieff's lifelong fascination with dervishes and Sufi practices stems from the fact that this tradition, better than any other, preserved the highest forms of divine knowledge and even incorporated elements of the fourth way. This is because the real Sufi schools predate Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity. They represent the remains of an ancient tradition that reaches back into the earliest civilizations of the middle east, probably representing the remains of the roots of the first and earliest yoga schools.

Gurdjieff's Fourth Way—actually, both the name and the school were not his, but reflect an ancient and relatively hidden understanding which he brought to the West — combined both techniques and understandings from all three ways in order to create a balanced development in human beings involving the action of all three higher hydrogens.

 As was explained in the previous post, each of these hydrogens offers the opportunity to reconnect with a specific divine energy. Actually, each one is associated with one of the three levels of heaven explained by Swedenborg in Heaven and Hell. These are angelic levels, to which a human being can develop "threads" of attachment through which higher influences flow. Only the presence and action of these three higher hydrogens make such exchange possible.

By studying this carefully from both a practical and theoretical sense, the adept can begin to develop an understanding that higher influences fall into a range of classes, broadly divided by these three types. They represent an ascending series of levels. So when we speak of "higher energies," we are not speaking of just one energy, but a group and a range of energies which have different actions and effects on the human body. An unbalanced receiving of the energies creates unbalanced impressions of heaven.

And the weaker parts, which are less able to receive, are always prone to misinterpreting these impressions.

May your soul be filled with light.

Note to readers: new posts are available at The Microbial Octave.