Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The uniqueness of Being

During a recent drive into Manhattan, my daughter and I were pondering Being from the point of view of Heidegger, and the question of the strong and weak anthropomorphic principles.

Simply put, we agreed that the question of Being can't possibly be limited to man and his impact on the inquiry into Being.

Being is an independent force which arises with or without the (supposedly) unique ability of self-awareness displayed by human beings. Each creature which arises has a fully formed representation of Being which displays self-awareness appropriate to the existence of that creature.

This means that a worm, for example, has a fully formed expressiveness of being that includes a self-awareness appropriate to that creature and level. The worm's experience of its own world and its own being is as complete and exhaustive in terms of the range of impressions it takes in as our own is; and it has a full range of worm-like thoughts that, although quite alien to our own, constructs a world-view which is, relatively, just as complex and sophisticated as our own. Worm-world is just as complicated and exotic as the world that humans create; we're just unable to see into that world.

This hypothesis, if we allow it, extends itself across the animal and microbial kingdoms, and reaches down into the molecular levels. Let's take an example: DNA, which has its own indisputable form of agency, displays intricate abilities currently well beyond those of any living human chemist, and every strand performs countless millions of complex operations per second. DNA has, in its own right, an awareness—a Being—on the molecular level which we can't comprehend or intimate: yet it's there.

Each creature, therefore, represents an arising of Being, and Being itself need not be defined by our own being or level of consciousness in order to qualify as Being. Dinosaurs, to explore another example, did not suffer any deficit of awareness within the context of their own existence; they knew quite well that they were alive, and processed their own form of consciousness as well as we process our own.

The anthropomorphic sense of consciousness can't, as such, be cited as the sole validator of Being or consciousness; and it furthermore can't be cited as "special." It is simply unique unto itself; and since each creature's consciousness must by default be described as unique unto itself, no specialness can be conferred by it. We can demonstrate this further by supposing a human consciousness in a universe where no other creatures existed—impossible but for the purposes of this thought experiment, of course. In this instance, without other consciousnesses to measure it in relationship to, it could not acquire any "special" characteristics other than its uniqueness unto itself.

Each form of Being thus brings its uniqueness unto itself, which is its defining quality; and all other properties which arise in regard to relationship are consequential to that uniqueness, not to any subsequent artificial hierarchies which are superimposed by comparative relationships.

It's quite interesting to me to attempt to understand awareness from this point of view, since we are surrounded by creatures whose awareness is entirely uncontaminated by the very rich fantasy lives human beings so aggressively insist are real: real estate deals, stock markets, politics.

What would it be like to be alive and free of all those assumptions and artificial structures?

One wonders.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Entropy, form, and consciousness part III

Gurdjieff pointed out that impressions are the finest kind of food. If you look at part II of this essay and realize how many impressions you take in during the course of a lifetime, perhaps you'll see why he said this: if you tried, for example, to breathe that many cubic millimeters of air, or eat that many grams of food, it would prove quite impossible. Impressions thus form the "granular basis" of reality for mankind; it is, if you will, the pixie dust out of which both personality and essence, the self and the Self, arise.

There is in fact a magical quality to this, because it seems impossible to think of anything organized arising from this process — and yet it does.

Human beings are thus responsible for the manufacture of form within Being, that is, each human life creates a whole form within itself, an inward aspect that slowly grows over the course of a lifetime. This process is complicated and can be arrested at any time; not all parts of a human being develop, and the ones that do, do not develop evenly. This means that Being can become very lopsided. As it develops these insufficiencies, it tends to tip over; sometimes it just falls down and can't get up again. A balanced consciousness, what Gurdjieff called a harmonious consciousness, needs to constantly measure itself and attempt to understand where its center of gravity lies. Like a potter centering a piece of clay, if this isn't attended to with intention, the structure will eventually collapse under its own weight.

In this way, the action of consciousness becomes a ballet in which thought, emotion, and sensation interact with one another to overcome both the inertia and the inherent tendency towards entropy which exist in the context of incoming impressions, which are constantly changing and interrupting the equilibrium of the organism. A strong center of gravity can prevent the interruption of this equilibrium; but that strong center of gravity is only formed through a conscious effort against entropic circumstance.

This all sounds very complicated and scientific, but the simplest way to put it in terms of inner work is that negativity is entropic circumstance. All forms of negativity attempt to break things down, to disrupt them, to lead them to lower states, often through spectacular outbursts of energy. Anyone who has lost his or her temper will begin to understand that this is an event something like a supernova, where a highly ordered system (a star) explodes and dissipates its energy all over hell and gone, bringing it to a much lower state where much less can be achieved and much less work can be done.

If we wish to improve in an inner sense (forgetting, for a moment, about an outer one) we must resist these tendencies. All of the processes we undergo in the course of a lifetime of experience are, in a subtle way, mirrored by all of the universal processes we see: the creation of ordered structures, the emergence of beauty, the explosion of vast fields of energies, clouds that obscure the light, supernovas: every one of them is analogous to the experiences we go through in the course of a conscious experience of life. So when we look up at the stars, especially when we look at the images that have been brought to us by modern space telescopes, we see systems that, in their overall physical structures in action, mirror things that are going on in our conscious processes, even though the analogies may not be immediately obvious.

In this way, ancient societies that projected various characters and images on stars were simply expressing a truth that they didn't have any other way of reaching for: the stars are like us. What appear to be primitive animism, superstition, and wishful thinking turn out to be something a lot closer to the way things actually are than we might suspect.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Entropy, form, and consciousness part II

 In the course of a lifetime, trillions upon trillions of impressions of the outer world are ingested by the body.

The body, of course, also ingests impressions of its own inner world, that is, the chemical manifestations and interactions created by its structural nature, but these take place below the local level of our ordinary consciousness. So for the purposes of this essay, we'll discuss consciousness mostly in terms of the gross macrobiotic experiences we have which we call thoughts, physical movements, and emotions.

But before we do that, some details.

 Since rough estimates suggest the total number of impressions in the form of neurons firing is on the order of 20 million billion  calculations per second, We might come up with a rough number of neuron impressions during a single 70 year lifetime of 44,150,400,000,000,000,000,000,000 neurons firing, or, impressions individually registered by the nervous system. (Admittedly, it is a drop in the proverbial bucket relative to the probable number of stars in the known universe, but it's a starting point in terms of appreciating the expressive complexity of the human organism. Recall once again, if you will, that this is just the neurons; other cells transmit chemical impressions within themselves and to one another, too.)

I present  this number simply to illustrate how incredibly vast number of impressions a single individual registers to the nervous system in the course of a lifetime. These impressions are ordered into emergent systems whereby the chaotic complexity is organized into macro-impressions we refer to as sensory impressions, thoughts, feelings, and sensations. These are further organized by conscious action into a larger hierarchy of contexts which relate them to one another, in an overlay of yet another layer of complexity... and another, and another, and so on.

Consciousness is, therefore, an overarching generalization arrived at by imposing form on all of these impressions. The form is emergent, and we call that emergent form a life, with emergent properties such as thought, feeling, and the action derived from agency.

From the moment of birth, a human being is engaged in the creation of form.  If it weren't for this engagement, the impressions would be completely chaotic and random. Indeed, in individuals with severe psychological processing deficits, behavior becomes in fact random, and the ability to respond to the world deteriorates or is not even present. So the process of life is a process of the development and imposing of form. That is, consciousness is in and of itself an ascendant effort that contradicts the force of entropy and organizes a set of impressions that would otherwise decay into meaningless relationships. The greater the effort at organized consciousness — an action which is generally valued by human societies, in that intelligent people are often (not always) seen as being more valuable than others (take Einstein for example) — the greater the action that contradicts entropy in this microcosmic scale.

Ah, you might say. But look at what happens — in the end, we die. Entropy wins, doesn't it?

 That might be true in the most literal sense, but as I pointed out earlier, we can't measure the transcendent on either end of this equation, so there are things taking place that lie beyond our understanding. This is lawful and will never change; Ibn al 'Arabi explains very explicitly that laws of the universe prevent man and all other entities arising from God's nature from ultimately piercing the veil that conceals God from the universe.  But we have an example of a little closer at hand in biological systems, which encode everything that they "know" on a molecular level in the crystalline structure known as DNA. This extends much further than the DNA itself; culture passes macro structures deriving from this on from one set of organisms to another, and we know that culture is not just manifest in human societies, but also some animal societies, where children learn from their parents. So there is an inherent tendency to overcome entropy built in, not only to the crystalline structure and molecular behavior of biological life, but also within the emergent nature of its conscious manifestation.

The struggle against entropy is, in other words, inherent, that is to say, a naturally arising phenomenon which actively instigates its own survival and implements the use of agency, a property which cannot possibly be predicted by any set of entropical laws, in order to achieve its goals.

This idea of agency is, in fact, closely related to Ibn Arabi's citation of man as a Vicegerent of God. this means that man is God's personal representative; and the action against entropy, the manifestation of consciousness and its ordering of entropic systems into counter-entropic structures, is one fundamental evidence for man's task as such a personal representative.

I'm sure some readers feel a bit overwhelmed by these questions, which actually deserve much more detailed treatment in order to understand them properly, but all of them are connected together into a single system. Studying these ideas can help one to appreciate the nature of the structure one inhabits.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

entropy, form, and consciousness part I

 Ever since my friend Richard Hodges sent me a brief essay on entropy a few days ago, I've been pondering this question and its relationship to both cosmological questions and our inner work.

The universe is a formed place. All of our study of physics and astronomy, chemistry, geology, in fact all of the sciences, are a study of form. In order to examine the question thoroughly, we have to begin with exactly what caused form to arise in the first place.

Presuming that the universe began with the Big Bang, it began from a state where there was, essentially, no entropy — a single point of exponentially high temperature in which everything was in a state of perfect order. The emergence of the universe represents a descent into the condition of entropy.

Put in English, instead of science-ese, the idea of entropy roughly states that form decays into formlessness. The appearance of the universe represents a transition from perfect form, which was transcendent and timeless, into a state where form gradually decays due to the action of time. We can't speak of time outside the context of the universe because it can only be conceived of and measured in relationship to the process of decay.

As I've pointed out before, the universe is a cyclical structure in which energy is returned to the transcendent through the agency of black holes. Physicists have spent a great deal of time attempting to prove that black holes have entropy, because of the dogged insistence in believing that the laws of this universe apply even to objects that no longer exist in this universe. 

They have done a pretty good job of it; if you gnaw at any bone for long enough, you can wear it down, but in the end, it is still a bone, and bones are dead. Let's not forget about how stupid people want things to be smart, and smart people want things to be stupid.

What is obviously transcendent (the pre-Big Bang state) and cannot be measured by the laws of this universe is equally transcendent and immeasurable afterwards (descent into a black hole.) And, to be absolutely fair, some scientists question whether or not the laws of this universe can hold in different places such as other universes or non- accessible dimensional states. 

But let us suspend our cynical amusement. Despite the inability of science to resolve this issue (short of entering other dimensions, black holes, etc.) there are interesting questions here regarding the nature of consciousness and form.

 Although the manifestation of the material carries within it the inevitable result of deterioration through time, the lessons of the cyclical nature of the universe as illustrated demonstrate that there is a lawful possibility of evolution back towards the source, that is, a movement directed in return to the transcendent. The emergent nature of consciousness is a conclusive demonstration of that potential; if entropy were as inexorable and unconquerable as the physicists would have us believe, consciousness would be, in essence, impossible. 

There is a recapitulation process of the formation of the universe in the process of consciousness. No one can know, for themselves or anyone else, what comes before birth; this lies in the area of the transcendent. Birth is the organic equivalent of the Big Bang. In an equally compelling manner, death—like a black hole—swallows everything at the end of conscious life, returning to the transcendent. So a single human life recapitulates in a very exact manner the process of universe formation and destruction; and all of the impressions that fall into the vessel of the body during our lifetime constitute the matter, or material, that forms this microcosmic universe.

These impressions form a wide variety of galactic structures containing a nearly infinite variety of  solar systems, which are in fact the trillions of different individual impressions that the nervous system takes in over the course of its lifetime. If you imagine all of the impressions that all of the cells take in over the course of one life — every interaction between every atom and molecule, all of which constitute the universe of a single instance of human consciousness — one can see that the number must, in some senses, correspond to the insanely vast number of galaxies, stars, and planets we can see above us in the night sky, and with our most powerful telescopes.

I've explained before that we are all engaged in an attempt to form an inner solar system, but the question is actually a bit more complicated than that. In reality, we are forming an inner universe; and that universe acquires form through the acquisition and implementation of consciousness.

We will discuss that more tomorrow.


Friday, December 27, 2013

The Universal Enneagram

Announcing the publication of my new book, The Universal Enneagram.

A compilation of diverse material previously published at this blog and on the enneagram resource page, with some new additions, the book can be purchased in pdf format by following the below link.

Readers on the mac platform should wait until later in January 2014, when the book becomes available in the iTunes bookstore.

The Universal Enneagram

A force from within

Madonna and Child, by Garofalo
Vatican Museum, Rome
Photograph by the author

One ought always to be in relationship with an inner force.

Yet perhaps this doesn't mean anything in the present moment. If there is no openness to an inner force, if it is not known within sensation, how can one come to such a thing, except in theory and in the mind?

This is where things always begin, in the intellectual mind. Yet they ought to begin in the sensation of the body. And even if the sensation of the body is the beginning, it isn't enough. Only when feeling participates does anything whole begin to appear.

 So how do we approach wholeness of Being? 

The rules that have been established are useless, because they are rules that begin and end in the mind. While we're responsible for bringing form into Being, form is what happens after Being is established, not beforehand. It's this inversion of priority that destroys the possibility of Being.

It would be better, perhaps, to have Being with no form than form with no Being; yet we always have form with no Being, because this is the ordinary arrangement — what conforms to the laws of this level. And there is still a dilemma, because to have Being with no form is also not enough. The two manifestations require one another, and are reciprocal. It's the sacred duty of human beings to help their conscious manifestations inhabit the territory between these two forces.

Since we are inverted, and since the inner force is what's weak, this is what we need to concentrate on sensing. In a certain way, the organic sense of being, the connection to the body, is what we lack — and although we lack everything, everything can be broken down into parts of everything, one significant part of which is the connection to the body. This is a fundamental place to begin, because it lies near the root of where work effort ought to be focused. You cannot build a building if the cornerstones are not laid; so we need to begin here in the body.

In a sense, the birth of Christ represents the manifestation of the material, the embodiment of the sacred and transcendental property of The Reality within the material universe. Every moment in which anything exists represents the birth of the sacred within the material; and this is an organic birth, that is, a birth that begins with the ability to sense. When a baby is born, it emerges from the womb within sensation, fully engaged in the tactile encounter with its own Being and the material world. Perhaps all of the miracles of infancy and childhood are embodied in this encounter; and it is this encounter that we forget as we grow older.

Lillian Firestone gave us the fine book The Forgotten Language of Children, in which she tries to refer us back to these questions. The language of children is a whole language, not defined by words alone; because it reaches into territory encompassing feeling and sensation, it reminds us of parts we forget as we enter adulthood.

The inner force that is required for life is always present at birth. It is always present now; but the connection to it has been lost. It's only in this present moment, without any theories, that one can refer back to the inner force and try to discover what it might mean for it to be alive in us again, as it was when we were young.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The contemplation of Being

 Window from the Sultan Ahmet, Istanbul
photograph by the author

The real effort of life lies within the deepest contemplation of Being.

 As I have explained many times, this is impossible without the participation of a higher energy. The lower parts are perpetually preoccupied and identified with nonsense of one kind or another, and nothing can be put in perspective without the assistance of a higher level. 

That assistance comes in the form of an energy that enters the body.

Frequently, Jeanne de Salzmann referred to this as an energy from the top of the head, and that is indeed very important—perhaps all but paramount. But as I have also mentioned, this energy can enter the body from anywhere, because it is ubiquitous and moves according to its own laws, not the ones we impose on it by interpreting it through form.

Our sensitivity towards life in our ordinary state, the state of this level, is completely blunted. We have an enormous amount of knowledge which we think is understanding, but absolutely none of it understands. Only through relationship with a higher energy can one understand. Only the manifestation of the energy makes understanding possible. Until one reaches this point in one's work, one is theorizing.

I'm fascinated by The Reality of Being, because it is one of the few roadmaps in existence from an individual who understood this question in detail and attempted, in her own way, to bring us to it. This was a heroic effort, and continues to be one: before he died, Gurdjieff charged Mme. de Salzmann with the task of living 100 years, and doing everything possible and impossible to bring the work to people.

 The book, and, really, all her efforts, fall into that range of doing the impossible, because the form in which the teaching is given always attempts to do the impossible.  Those charged with such tasks undergo great suffering, because the task is undertaken with the understanding that it can't be done.

I don't think it's possible for most readers of this book to imagine the personal sacrifice that was necessary in order to take these notes and create this record of effort. It was an effort of an order that we will not see on the planet again any time soon.

Yet the book isn't the point — not, in the end, the answer. 

It's a book. 

We are charged ourselves with the task of conducting the inner search in order to align ourselves with this energy, and that will take many different forms, as many forms as there are human beings to pursue it. The way that the energy manifests for one person will be different than the way that it manifests for another; this is lawful, because the expression of God, as Ibn al 'Arabi explained it, is infinitely arising and never the same twice. The reason that the description of the path is, for all intents and purposes, impossible is because the path is a path into the unknown. All of those who arrive there can only give indicators; each of us must do our own work to discover what the inner way is for ourselves.

This is a living work that cannot be found in any book. The abandonment of all presumptions and prior knowledge includes the presumptions and prior knowledge that Mme. brought to us; she exhorts us not to go beyond what we know, but to also go beyond what she knows, and what everyone knows. This is an act of courage so terrifying that to come to the threshold of it brings an understanding one cannot encounter in any other way. 

If one comes to this threshold, one will see immediately that one is not able.

Those fortunate enough to come to this moment may be blessed with enough Grace to grow from it. 

Perhaps it is only the greatest and most intolerable anguish of seeing our insufficiency that can take us further into that unknown.


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

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The newness of the year

There's a definite and important form to this moment: although the form is slowly being overwhelmed by commercial, cultural, and sentimental forces, the form is originally sacred and heavenly.

Although the form is entirely outward, in terms of our experience of the associations, the characters, the story, the form is meant to represent an inner event; and those of us committed to the exploration of our own spirituality should never forget this. The birth of Christ, after all, symbolizes the birth of a new Being within all of us.

The heavenly is perpetually made manifest within the present moment, because nothing can exist except as a manifestation of the Divine. Yet the conscious representation of the Divine can only take place through an effort of Being; and this is the task which Christ called us to. 

We are meant to become open to the influence of God; the Holy Spirit is supposed to descend into our bodies,  manifesting as an angelic energy, so that our Being comes into alignment with God.

So in every moment, from within our inability, our iniquity, we are meant to intuit our lack and reach into the darkness of our own soul towards the touch, the intimate touch, of a higher principle. At this moment I'm moved to recall one of my favorite fragments of poetry, which Lord Pentland supposedly had posted in his kitchen, perhaps on the refrigerator:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. 
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

This doesn't hit any high points in terms of literary quality, but it hits the highest point in terms of its understanding.

 We mark the beginning of the new year on January 1; but for some reason, for me, the new year always begins at Christmas, with the reminder of the birth of a higher principle on this level.

We stand, each one of us, before the unknown on this Christmas morning; and when fortunate and blessed with grace, our hearts open to the mystery of the unknown which each one of us faces in this moment. In the midst of the uncertainty, the trouble, and the love of this life, perhaps we can pause and admit that we have not surrendered ourselves sufficiently unto the Lord.

We don't know how.

And it is that cry for help itself, which every man and woman who works on their inner being issues, that may — just may — call down a force that will help us in the midst of our helplessness.

May the grace and mercy and love of the Lord be with all of you on this Christmas Day.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Silent night

The other day, a friend of mine and reader of this space published a note by Jeanne de Salzmann on silence. It led me to ponder this question anew.

 I'll confess that it always appalls me when people prattle on about silence verbally, which seems to be one of the more grotesque contradictions about the need to exchange on inner work, contrasted against the impossibility of grasping anything with the mind and the parts that conduct this exchange. Nonetheless, as Dogen said, we must expound the Dharma... and so it falls upon us to discuss silence, no matter how painful it may be.

The hymn "Silent Night, Holy Night" begins with the premise of Silence. Somehow, the invocation of Silence at the beginning of this hymn is what confers all its power on it; we sense the Presence of not earthly, but heavenly forces... forces that are unknown in their expression.

Indeed, this is what the whole story of the Nativity is about; the arrival of an unknown force that has the power of transformation.

 That unknown force is the power of the Holy Spirit; the higher energy that Jeanne de Salzmann so often referred to, the same inflow that Swedenborg cited as the influence of Heaven.

 It is this influence of Heaven that we attempt to become open to, and we do not do that with the ordinary mind or any of the ordinary parts. We call the parts ordinary and the mind ordinary because they are part of an order, and they belong to a lower order, that is, this level. To be ordinary is not to be mundane or useless, it is simply to be a part of a hierarchy with a specific place. It is an objective condition. The condition itself may give rise to subjectivity, but let's not confuse the results of the condition with the condition itself.

All of the ordinary parts on this level seek to become open to the order of a higher level. This influence, this inward flow, is Silence.   I distinguish this from ordinary silence with an uppercase letter, since they are nothing like one another.

This cannot be known without encountering Silence; yet to put it in such words somewhat beggars the question. Temptation will, in some senses, forever consist of the wish to explain these things; and to the extent that we contaminate the question of Silence with our ordinary parts, we mix levels, which is in essence forbidden.

To come into contact with the Silence is to submit. The Silence is forever present within the Holy Spirit, and the inward flow of the Holy Spirit will vary in intensity and strength, although, once it is alive, it is forever available and always there to be called on in an instant if one wishes to come into relationship. While it's true that we don't always have the energy to discover that connection, it will never let us forget its own Presence, because God does not abandon His own. Although we are here to be submitted to the trials of this life—which will be demanding and always (lawfully) one step beyond the limit of our abilities—the presence of Mercy and Grace are forever with us if we are faithful. The Silence transmits such properties to us so that we can contain them within ourselves and help express their qualities.

This is the sacred duty of every human being.

To be faithful means not to adhere to any dogmas, but to be loyal to the inward flow of the Holy Spirit and its Silence. The Psalms refer to this in many different ways, in regard to the comfort that the Lord sends us. So hear; and understand.

To the extent that we confuse Silence with something we know about, an action we think we can undertake, or a choice we can make, we do not understand. Understanding only comes from within the inward flow of the Holy Spirit. If this flow is truly powerful, strange and marvelous things take place within Being; but we cannot always live like that. It isn't according to the laws of this level.

We are certainly here to come into relationship with the power of the Silence; this realigns everything when it enters our Being, and a new feeling relationship with our life arises.


Monday, December 23, 2013

The technology of Being

Altar, Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
Photograph by the author

 The word technology derives from the Greek roots tekhne, craft, and the root logia, from the word logos, or, word.  So, oddly, the word technology actually means, in a certain sense, the craft of speaking: and it originally comes, in its most immediate sense, from the Greek tekhnologia, that is, systematic treatment.

 The idea that Being is not a reflexive, automatic, and mechanical action which instantly expresses itself in full is an ancient one; the Hindus, Greeks, and other cultures debated the question of the technology of Being at great length, which gave rise to all of the schools of philosophy. Interested readers should definitely avail themselves of a copy of Thomas McEvilley's The Shape of Ancient Thought and spend several years reading it a few pages at a time. It is an excellent accompaniment to breakfast.

The Greeks and Romans, along with their Hindu counterparts, ultimately became mired in the resinous extrusions of their various trees of thought and philosophy. Many of the thoughts and opinions they developed fossilized and come down to us preserved in amber—magnificent and debatable, but apparently somewhat useless and maybe even powerless in relationship to the onslaught of what we call modern technology, which is really about nothing more than the systematic treatment of materials, not being.

Modern technology is, as such, a degenerate form of philosophy which reduces it to sophisticated masturbation with the elements and their various combinations. There's no God; there's just stuff for us to play with in various ways

It's fundamentally impossible for such an activity to affect man's Being; because all of the action of modern technology is outer, whereas all of ancient technology,  in terms of its original understanding, was inner. Outer technology without the guidance of inner Being becomes a disaster, as we are seeing.

 This is vaguely understood by modern New Age, Luddite, and (perhaps above all) fundamentalist movements, who begin to believe anew that it's more interesting to study the inner sense of Being and leave the outer senses and materials to more natural ways of expression than what our modern materials technology can achieve.

This has in some cases spawned a reactionary and even violent rejection of the modern which serves no one. More practically, we need to see that we're stuck with where we are in terms of the sciences, and must make our peace with them as intelligently as we can. No one can put the cats back in the bag, and turning the clock back so that these forces are somehow done away with is not a practical idea; it is, in fact, a delusional form of magical thinking just as misguided as the idea that that material technologies can lead us forward into Being.

The only way we will be able to make our peace with such forces is by revitalizing a technology of Being, which is what Jeanne de Salzmann attempted to do in her notes and teachings, as reflected in The Reality of Being.

This technology of Being is an inner science, based on an understanding which is crafted through an intimate contact with the self. Intimate contact with the self is a path to the higher Self, and is in fact the exact same path that Christ called us to. It is a path that leads away from the possible towards the impossible; and man's spirit itself is crafted such that it always attempts to take this path, whether inwardly or outwardly. Materials technology is, in fact, the outward expression of this urge to reach towards the impossible; what we have forgotten is the inward expression of that same path, which is what ought to balance our understanding of outer technology and turn it to positive, creative, and constructive ends.

The reason that the word technology was originally derived from a set of words that meant "the craft of words" was that it was understood that a precise language might lead to better understanding of these matters. That precise language was always, like any understanding, meant to turn effort towards positive, creative, and constructive ends. Not to create sophistry and an endless series of arguments, but call us to a deeper and more intimate contact with what we are as creatures.

 We cannot act in positive, creative, and constructive ways by proposing and propagating a destructive conflict between the technology of materials and the technology of Being. Both are true things; both exist. We must find a way to bring them together intelligently in a manner that reflects the best qualities and possibilities of mankind, not the worst ones.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

The creative force of doubt

Gurdjieff spent much of his life driving those who wanted to slavishly follow him away; yet today, we have a "Gurdjieff work" which, at times, dangerously resembles a cult... and looks like one to outsiders. It has in some ways lost its inner ability of self-criticism—a property Gurdjieff not only treasured but made central to his teaching—and its ability to doubt itself.

Observing this tendency, which, let us remind ourselves, inevitably arises in every organized form of practice, leads us to some interesting hypotheses.

Doubt is a powerful organ. I call it an organ because various capacities of thought form organs within the body of thought. We call any such collection of thoughts a "body" of thought, seemingly in the abstract; but this idea is extremely value in a material sense.

Thought is an organism, a Being of its own within us, and its parts approximates all the organs of a biological body: it has organs that act by eating, that breath, that circulate; it has a heart that pumps and a liver that cleanses, organs that accumulate and distribute, and organs that excrete. All of the processes a human body undertakes also take place in thinking; yet they are not evident, because thinking is a body that is constructed a bit differently than the material body that interacts with matter. Nonetheless, the principles remain the same in every instance, because the structure conforms to certain laws (iterated in the enneagram) which apply to everything living, whether it is material, emotional, or intellectual. Let us note here that emotional Being also forms its own body, adhering to the same principles.

People don't conceptualize of thought in this way because they don't actually think; instead, they allow an automated process of associations to rule them. If they truly thought long and deeply and observed the process of thought within themselves a much better understanding of this would arrive.

Diseases arise within the bodies of both thought and emotion because they aren't fed and cared for properly and aren't healthy. These appear as aberrations (sometimes horrific) in emotional or thinking Being and we attempt to treat them, but we know very little of the kind of medicine that's needed. Gurdjieff comes across as a spiritual teacher, but he himself would have told you he was actually a kind of physician for these parts, attempting to develop a therapeutic correction for the body of the mind and the body of the emotions.

Doubt is the most important organ in the body of thought to revitalize, because it addresses all of the incapacities that develop as the result of ego. If it is active in a right way, it becomes an ever-present force that is not destructive—in the way both our inner and outer institutions understand it—but creative.

Doubt is seen as a threat by all established orders, inner and outer; it questions everything. In the inner kingdom, where the evil-commanding ego now rules, this kind of activity is suppressed, often even violently. We see the same kind of repression in outer systems of society and government—yet we rarely suspect, as Swedenborg would have reminded us, that every outer arising is the precise reflection of an inner condition.

So our congresses and governments... the very ones we vilify and hate... our heartless corporations, our predatory banking systems... all of them are an exact reflection of how we all are inside.

What an exquisite irony that we collectively rush towards judgment, liberals and conservatives alike, not suspecting that what we truly hate is... ourselves.

We actively repress doubt in ourselves; yet doubt is the creative force in us, the organ that can lead us to something new. Doubt is the unappreciated liberator. It creates new possibilities; it enriches every experience, if rightly applied, by lovingly allowing alternatives. It is the best salt for every dish; and it seasons by defying our expectations.

In order for this to happen, doubt cannot be constrained; it is a dog that must be let off the leash and allowed to sniff into every corner of our lives. Put in more direct and, for this essay, consistent terms, doubt secretes hormones that must be allowed to circulate through the entire body of thought. It is what exercises the "muscles" of the inner system of thought and imparts the tone they need to properly respond to outer conditions.

The form that we adopt over the course of our lives needs to be thoroughly exposed to this substance. We begin to question everything; and we aren't done until we even question the very act of questioning itself. And we don't speak of ordinary doubt here; we speak of an objective doubt, a doubt which is loved and loving, a doubt that operates creatively outside the constraints of our assumptions.

Not this, we say inwardly; and it leads us onwards, not into the known territory of our practices, our dogmas, our assumptions, but into the unknown; which is where the inner journey, rightly taken, always and forever leads us.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Self-love and inwardness

Gudjieff made the following remarks in Views from the Real World:

Self-love is a sign of a high opinion of oneself.  If a man has this self-love it proves what he is.
            As we have said earlier, self-love is a representative of the devil; it is our chief enemy, the main brake to our aspirations and our achievements.  Self-love is the principal weapon of the representative of hell.
            But self-love is an attribute of the soul.  By self-love one can discern the spirit.  Self-love indicates and proves that a given man is a particle of heaven.  Self-love is I—I is God.  Therefore it is desirable to have self-love.

            Self-love is hell, and self-love is heaven.  These two, bearing the same name, are outwardly alike, but totally different and opposite to one another in essence.  
—Prieure, Feb. 13, 1923.

The comments seem confusing, because they contradict, but appear to be about the same subject. 

The difference lies in the center of gravity.

Self love, seen as the representative of the devil, is none other than Swedenborg's selfishness, the quality that leads the soul into hell. It is a quality attached to outward things and to intentions which are strictly self-serving intentions. The whole point of self-observation (which may in some ways ultimately begin to seem oddly pointless if taken as an activity in and of itself) is to see these types of intentions in action in life. They are common and are, in fact, what the vast majority of our personality is made up of. They are childish and self-centered, interested only in their own welfare, and usually at the expense of the welfare of others.

Welfare always ought to be the welfare of relationship and community. When it becomes the welfare of the self in isolation, no matter how exalted its by-products (for example, great science or art) it falls short of right intention, which must always be intention towards others and community. Hence Gurdjieff's admonition: consider outwardly always, inwardly never

This remark shares an identity with Swedenborg's interpretation of intention: outer considering is right intention, inner considering is wrong intention. They are both considering; but one is of hell, the other heaven.

Why, we might ask, is self-love a force for good when it is inward?

Self-love, when it is cultivated as an inner quality, becomes a right valuation of the self in relationship to God. Now, this next may sound surprising; but very few people actually ever have this understanding of right self-valuation. The common condition of mankind is a pejorative one; we fault ourselves constantly and are secretly consumed with a kind of self-hatred. This is often so deeply buried by the power of the ego that it is invisible; yet it secretly torments us. 

The perverse result, in many cases, is a greater and greater investment in ego, the very force that is damaging us in the first place. We never seem to see that if we gave this up for even a moment the pain would stop. 

This cultivation of the inner Self in relationship to God is the very intimacy which I so often refer to in my writings. We must learn to love and value yourself from the beginning, inside our Being and at the heart of our Being, in order to come into relationship with God. Coming into this relationship begins with receiving a higher energy; this energy helps to form us inwardly through the direct and loving influence of God, who will lead us into seeing our essential value. 

This is a reconfiguration and right valuation of essence, which is what Gurdjieff so often said needs to grow. What he did not say—this was left largely to Jeanne de Salzmann, who said it very many times indeed—is that we cannot feed essence on our own. 

This only comes through opening to a higher energy, because it is God who can feed essence and help it grow—not us. 

If we open to the inward flow essence grows quite naturally by itself, without any "help" from us, thank you very much.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Making things bad, again

In observing day-to-day behavior around me, I'm astonished at how doggedly people insist on making simple things complicated, and how pervasive negative imagination is.

Gurdjieff had expertise in simplifying things; there was a clarity in his analysis, as evidenced in Views from the Real World.  Let's take a classic example:

M. called  me a fool.  Why should I be offended?  Such things do not hurt me, so I don’t take offense—not because I have no self-love; maybe I have more self-love than anyone here.  Maybe it is this very self-love that does not let me be offended.

            I think, I reason in a way exactly the reverse of the usual way.  He called me a fool.  Must he necessarily be wise?  He himself may be a fool or a lunatic.  One cannot demand wisdom from a child.  I cannot expect wisdom from him.  His reasoning was foolish.  Either someone has said something to him about me, or he has formed his own foolish opinion that I am a fool—so much the worse for him.  I know that I am not a fool, so it does not offend me.  If a fool has called me a fool, I am not affected inside.

            But if in a given instance I was a fool and am called a fool, I am not hurt, because my task is not to be a fool; I assume this to be everyone’s aim.  So he reminds me, helps me to realize that I am a fool and acted foolishly.  I shall think about it and perhaps not act foolishly next time.
            So, in either case I am not hurt.

—Prieure, Feb. 13, 1923.

There is no imagination here: only a careful, intelligent understanding. And it is exactly this careful (that is, filled with care) understanding that brings us to a view of life that is not dominated by negative imagination.

I don't think we see in the least how much of our time is spent making up things that will never happen—can never happen—and convincing ourselves, in an inner process, that they are going to affect us badly. I see this little machine at work in myself all day long; I do my best to ignore it, because I discovered long ago that it is just a small animal in the darkness that is making noises like a big one. 

The more assiduously I ignore it, the better off I am. This doesn't mean it doesn't win out sometimes; and it can have its uses at times, because a little worry is sometimes necessary. It isn't the action of the part that does this so much that is an issue; it's the place I assign it. And this is a matter of discovering a right inner order, a relationship of the parts that acknowledges their relative importance and roles.

Even more insidious is the process of deliberately engaging with this part and applying it to everything that comes along. This can easily become a habit; and then one's thinking and emotional life are dominated by a certain habitual and reflexive negativity which injects fear into most transactions with the outer world. There is a certain kind of awful stimulation and satisfaction that comes of this habit. The reason is simple:it involves the use of sex energy for wrong purposes. So of course it is—quite literally—perversely satisfying. 

I explain it this way because sex energy, which is supposed to be inherently creative, can also be destructive. One needs to see that sexuality can be turned to the wrong end in an inner, esoteric, sense and give birth to these negative creatures that slowly take over the inner landscape. If I really begin to engage in deeper self-observation, generally speaking, I'll discover that the inner landscape is in fact populated with many creatures of this kind—much like Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthy Delights. Each one "delights" in a particular kind of destructive, negative thinking, and each one has attractive clothing consisting of a carefully constructed argument explaining its validity. 

In cases like this, the fear that is created is self-justifying: I believe it to be valid fear, fear based on truth, whereas in fact it's entirely imaginary. The inability to distinguish between the negative real and the negative imaginary is a common inner problem. 

Gurdjieff's above comments in Views try to address exactly that issue.

Do yourself a big favor. 

Watch this habit of making things bad in your inner and outer life, and don't do it. Just seeing it is the first step against coming under its influence.


Thursday, December 19, 2013


Were she still alive, today would be my sister's 54th birthday. 

To anticipate is to act in advance; to be prepared. In these days, we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ; and Christians have done so for something around 2,000 years or so. Yet at the time Mary was pregnant, no one could truly anticipate the birth of Christ; it was impossible for anyone to conceive of who He would be or what He would bring to the world. 

Although prophecy had foretold His coming would be great—and angels announced it—it was impossible, a priori, to know what Christ would represent. So the moments before His birth were moments, so to speak, when Mary, Joseph, shepherds and Magi held their collective breath. It was a moment of living forward into the unknown; a moment of great promise, surely (they had been told it was momentous) but the unknown, nonetheless. So no one knew what the birth of Christ consciousness would mean. It had never been seen before on earth, any more than Buddha consciousness had; and even in cultures accustomed to belief in Gods and higher powers, all the understandings were theoretical.

Each one of us lives within the same anticipation. We're not unlike Joseph and Mary, not unlike the shepherds. We are very close to a higher influence; but until it is born, no one knows what that will be like.

Cultivating a prepared state in anticipation involves an inner stillness. The inner stillness is necessary in order to receive something. This inner stillness may exist within all of the agitation and regular outwardness of ordinary life, without ever being touched by it. It is kept apart; it isn't mixed. That is to say, one might have a series of reactions, arguments, even the standard negativity that drives all of what we do, and yet have this stillness within that is a place of refuge that can be returned to.

The inner stillness is the place that receives the inflow. If we remain steadfast and are faithful in our intimacy, if we remain willing, the inflow will always be present — whether it is strong or not, there is always a presence of Grace within that can call us back to the service we have pledged within ourselves. It is the pledge of this service within the context of our Being that calls the higher unto us; and we are not forgotten, hence, if we are not forgotten, we cannot forget ourselves.

It's often said that anticipation is 9/10 of pleasure; and this is of course true. Even in the act of spiritual inwardness, what we anticipate — which is a great deal of what we can ordinarily savor in terms of our intimacy, our introspection, and our commitment to God — is a pale shadow of what awaits us.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Higher Energy

Working with the yoga class I mentioned yesterday, I repeatedly brought up the idea of a higher energy.

While all of these earnest young people were assiduously learning the asanas, chatting about chakras and opening the heart, none of them really seemed to yet have a serious impression of the idea that a truly higher energy can inwardly form a new body within them.

They were stilled by the idea.

Make no mistake about it. This energy is the energy of Love; and it is a real energy, a substantial energy, a material energy that enters the body from a higher level. It isn't the idea of love or the thought of love; it isn't the emotional experience of love as we know it.

Love, in its highest form, is an emanation — the outflow of the divine influence into this universe. As it flows outward from the divine, it becomes the influence that creates this universe and creates us; and we are equipped to sense that, if we only knew it.

The stillness within Being that can receive the Divine emanation of Love exists independent, in a certain sense, from our ordinary self, because it belongs to a higher Self that is not on this level. There are times, within ordinary manifestation, that it becomes possible to experience both of these levels at the same time, and this is what it means to stand between two levels. Then we see that we are inexorably driven to manifest according to our own ordinary being, and cannot escape the consequences of our ego; but at the same time, a different part of us is subject to the Divine influence of Love, which is objective, and untouchable relative to our ordinary being.

The contrast between these two contradictory impulses, natures, and forces is what can help to give rise to the experience of remorse of conscience. Remorse of conscience is a moment where Being — that indescribable conscious property of active sense of Self — sees the contradiction and understands its own inability, along with a direct and immediate experience of the influence of Divine Love.

 The contradiction arises because of the absolutely and irrevocably objective nature of Love, which is uncompromising, unconditional, and universal — related, in direct manner, to the properties of being, grace and mercy — and the absolutely and irrevocably subjective nature of our ordinary self, which is only interested in its own welfare.

The divine emanation of Love can be sensed within the heart of Being. We are created in order to open our natures to this inflow of truth. It is, in fact, possible to open oneself so that one dwells within this nature. Coming to this possibility cannot be done quickly; it takes many years of inner effort and suffering.

 When we speak about forming the astral body — one of the chief initial aims of Gurdjieff's esoteric practice, as well as all forms of yoga — we speak about forming a body that can come into relationship with the divine emanation of Love in a completely different way than we understand the word and the action within ordinary life.  The action of what we call love within ordinary life is a pale reflection of Divine Love.

Perhaps one way to explain the differences to explain the difference between being in love and not being in love in ordinary life. The difference is vast; it's like night and day. To not be in love is to be alone, to feel like one is not whole, to have a subtle feeling of abandonment and desperation because an essential part of oneself is not being fed.

 It is exactly the same in the difference between our ordinary love and Divine Love; because our ordinary love, in comparison with Divine Love, is a state of aloneness, of not being whole, of the same abandonment and desperation, because an essential part of us is not fed. If we have our own love, but not the Love of God, we don't know what Love is.  So, in essence, all of the anxiety, fear, and terror which expresses itself in mankind has its roots in this failure to come into material relationship with Divine Love.

 The message in 1 Corinthians 13 is very nearly always compared to our expression of our ordinary love, love on and from this level; but the original meaning was Divine Love. This ought to be clear enough; because the description is exactly the description of God's love, which is supremely unconditional, unlike our own.  Yet we read it at weddings as though a man and a woman were capable of this kind of love — which is definitely not true.

Love in the hands of man so often becomes a tool for cruelty; yet in God's hands, it is never used in error.

 Above all, remember that you have the potential to open yourself to this influence of a higher Love, to have that energy enter your body and inwardly form you in a new way.

It's particularly important to remember that light can flow into us in this manner at this time of year, as we approach the moment where we celebrate the birth of Christ, who wrought permanent changes on the astral plane of the entire planet in order to open this possibility to all human beings.


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