Saturday, May 31, 2014

Our inherently static nature

 In the last post, I was discussing how the mechanical mind has no sensitivity, no feeling.

The mechanical mind isn't anything more than a set of gears that mesh and interact. Its working is intricate, but the results are absolutely as predictable as a computer — and it has about as much as intelligence as a computer, that is to say, none. All of the intelligence that can drive the mechanical mind comes from outside it, from a part of us called intellect, which is connected to the soul.

As such, the mechanical mind is capable of extremely complex operations, and, based on the data it takes in and learns from, will produce consistent and inevitable results from that data, according to the arrangements made in it. There isn't, however, any intelligence behind it: it produces absolutely nothing more than what its machine function dictates. One would think we would have understood this much better now that we have spent so many decades interacting with computers, but it isn't the case.

One of the interesting products of the mechanical mind is the construction of the future; in ancient times, the Zen masters referred to this as the working of the conceptual mind.

The future that the mechanical mind constructs is based strictly on the data it has already taken in, and complicated interactions that produce predictions of a future based on that data. It extrapolates. It has absolutely no flexibility, because it's incapable of understanding anything that lies outside its data set.  It functions, broadly speaking, on a bell curve model; taking in what it knows of the world, it averages it out and attempts to produce a construction that predicts the future.

Nicholas Taleb produced several interesting books on how deeply misguided this kind of model is (The Black Swan and Antifragile); yet we don't see how that applies to our inner world, not quite, anyway, although he attempts to touch on this.

The point is that our construction of the future using a conceptual mind, which is an absolutely habitual thing for all of us, is a fragile circumstance; that is to say, it is a grand construction with no flexibility that is subject to certain breakage the instant it encounters anything that lies outside its range of experience. Persons, businesses, and societies have all collapsed because of this tendency to crystallize the products of the mind into inflexible entities based on assumptions drawn from existing data. The actual intellect — the part that exists aside from the mechanical mind — is a much more flexible entity that is always designed to respond to the now, spontaneously, and with sensitivity, not according to a predetermined set of data.

We all construct futures that are impossible and can never happen; and in fact, we live our whole lives like this, every day, all day long. But we don't realize it; and we don't examine it carefully. It's only like a huge shock — in my own personal case, the death of my sister, or, in the case of the society, an event like 9/11 — that hammers home the point that our mind is a machine, that it produces crystallized, fragile, breakable futures — and that it is supremely unsuited for the actual requirements of life, that is, it has no sensitivity and is unable to construct intelligent responses to these things. This is why we are left aghast when disasters that lie outside our range of experience strike.

This is what intuition is all about — a connection with the feeling part of the mind, which has all of the intelligence, creativity, and flexibility so lacking in the machine we use to conduct most of our business.

Contact with the inner essence, the part of the being that receives the divine inflow of higher energy, can help the intellect and the soul develop so that sensitivity and feeling begin to intersect with the machine. In this case, the flexible entity that is capable of dealing with life is more present; and in this way, we acquire what is called freedom.

Freedom, in other words, is exactly what both Mme. de Salzmann and Meister Eckhart characterized it as: a form of detachment—not from objects, events, circumstances, and conditions, which have an objective reality that we must encounter—but from the inner construction which handles them, the mechanical mind, which we are so deeply invested in.

It is, in other words, not the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions which are the problem, it is our conceptual framework for them, which is static.

The problem becomes obvious to any analytic thinker if we note that objects, events, circumstances, and conditions are inevitably dynamic, whereas a fixed entity with a limited range of responses and gears has an inherently static nature.

It is this inherently static nature, which Gurdjieff referred to as crystallization, that becomes the issue.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Hearts in darkness

This talk of sin probably makes people feel uncomfortable. After all, who wants to be a sinner? No one wants to open the doors of the heart and stare at the darkness within.

But aspirants forget that this is exactly what we must look at if we open the heart. Opening the heart is not just about letting bliss flow into us and experiencing God's love; before any of that can happen, all the darkness we have taken into the heart and stored there must be purged. This darkness, this sin, is a hidden thing; it is well buried under the ego, and ego only allows us to pick up a corner of the blanket from time to time when it feels like it.

Every once in a while, I am enraged by some perceived slight, the blanket is lifted off and the darkness pours out in all its strengths. That is when I know that there is darkness; yet the darkness has power, and I love power — my ego loves power — so I go with it. 

Then come the justifications, rationalizations. There are always reasons for why the darkness is good.

Yet the darkness isn't good; and the parts of me that know what good and what light are know that. I have to look this darkness straight in the eye and confront it in order to be truthful about myself.

So all the things of the ordinary mind cover the truth about darkness and prevent me from being here, in the moment, seeing how I am. All of them are confused; and all of them need to go in order for me to have a full experience both of my own sin, and my own being.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

A decent hamburger

  May 14 – This morning, I found myself in the business lounge of the Meridian Hotel in Shanghai, having a conversation with my wife on my last morning in China.

In discussing the nature of thinking, being, and all of these fancy ideas we discuss, these lofty and complicated principles which we think we understand, she was talking about how downright irritating some people are, when they begin to think they are teachers.

 The Gurdjieff work has produced a swarm of individuals like this, many of whom project schoolmarmish personas that remind me of the British teachers I had in the English-model (not American) school system at the Internationale Schule E.V. in Hamburg, Germany in the 1960's. The education one got there was old-school in every sense of the word; but in reviewing that experience, I think I see where a lot of the stern, oppressive, and utterly useless attitudes originated. When Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that esoteric knowledge was passed on in schools, you see, all of the people who heard it involuntarily attached the idea to their Victorian upbringing, and the way schools operated in those days. This explains the results; even though the work and the teaching were conscious, the way it was taken in in this particular area was mechanical, and when that happens, you get what you get.

In any event, what I ultimately said to my wife regarding the unconsciously snotty attitudes many people adopt when they think they now have magical teachings to pass on to others is that if  one was asked to sum up the entire Gurdjieff teaching and everything it's about in two words, one would have to use these two words:

We're insensitive.

This insensitivity is a product of the mechanical mind, which I've examined in some detail in earlier posts, most particularly the group of posts under the title how thoughts form. Don't miss parts two and three if you decide to go back and review them.

The mechanical mind is an automated entity that can only do what it does, and nothing more. It has absolutely no sensitivity because it does not understand or contain feeling.

Feeling, mind you, is entirely distinct from emotion, and most human beings don't understand the distinction at all, so this complicates the matter.

The mechanical mind is like a meat grinder. If you watch it in operation in any detail, you will see that it grinds meat — our own inner meat, which damned well ought to worry us much more than it does — all day long. What one gets in one's life is raw hamburger. Everything we do is raw hamburger; no one even bothers to form it into patties and get it ready for the grill. Now, imagine if you served your guests raw hamburger meat when they came over for dinner — no patties, no cooking, no condiments, nothing, just the plate with a pile of raw hamburger meat on it.

"Here you go," you'd say, "let's have dinner."


This is pretty much what we do with who we are and how we behave, because we do so insensitively, that is, without feeling. Emotion comes in — but emotion is an undisciplined, rapid-fire, evolutionary response to the immediate moment, not a considered weighing of the emotional value of a situation processed through a better connection inside of us.

If you want to cook a decent hamburger for your guests, you've got to get past the meat grinder. This takes some foresight; it takes some intelligence, some awareness, and enough feeling and caring to want to make good patties, heat the grill properly, cook the meat well, and serve it with the appropriate side dishes. It takes, in other words, attention: that is to say,  living with some sensitivity requires much more of us than the meat grinder, which, it must be admitted, is a great piece of equipment, but only so far as it goes.

In any event, this process of the mechanical mind as being mindless — automatic — becomes more and more interesting as one watches it in operation. One begins to realize that one can just about ignore most of the products of this part of the mind, because most of them have little or nothing to do with the real world and what's actually happening around it. This part of the mind forms an abstraction, a conceptual model — that is to say, it presumes a future that does not exist and can never exist, but which it nonetheless doggedly clings to.

I realize we are changing gears here in terms of the analogy machine, but that will be necessary in order to get to the point in the next post.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Seeing my own sin

Tuesday, May 20.

This is what is on my mind this morning at 5:00 am as I climb the Palisades above the Hudson River.

What is religion for? And why do we have it?

Human beings, I think, confuse religion and God. Religion is not of God; it lies outside Him. It is, at best, a response to the truth and the existence of God; but it is not necessary unto God, who is whole in Himself and needs no additions.

People think that religion is God, in some peculiar way, and so they blame the excesses of religion on God, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Because religion is of man and not of God, it can't produce anything better than what man is capable of producing; both his best and his worst. But God is unstained by both these things. The things of this world cannot touch God and cannot stain him.

The whole point of religion is, in the end, about only one thing, and that for each individual man and woman: to help us come to a recognition of our own sin.

This is a deep and lifelong quest, because no one truly understands sin.  Sin can only be understood by an awakening of the feeling capacity in human beings, that is, conscience; and this is a real enough event to begin with. Conscience has, after all, its lower counterparts — all attached, in one way or another, to the rational mind — and these are consistently mistaken for conscience itself, when one doesn't know the difference.

True conscience flows into the body through the power of God in an awakened awareness, which once again has many variants. Without breaking this down into its countless components, we can say that the true purpose of life for a human being is to awaken to the nature of their own sin. Not to think about it or contemplate it; to awaken to it.

This can only be done through a lifetime of suffering, and, not only that, what Gurdjieff called conscious suffering, that is, a willingness to suffer. Few, if any, of us have the will or the capacity to sustain such an effort; and even if we did, all it would do is bring us to the edge, the beginning, of a recognition of our own sin. We don't see, for example, that a single personal act of cruelty is in most senses worse than stealing all the money in the world.

Human beings often tend to think that religion is for thousands of other things, such as deliverance from evil, the manipulation of material events and circumstances, bliss, enlightenment, peace, and so on. But these are ordinary ideas connected to the ordinary sense of myself. Only through the inward flow of Divine Presence can I begin to understand this subject with anything approaching an objective attitude.

I need to be cleansed of my sins; and it is categorically impossible for me to cleanse myself of my sin. Gurdjieff made this abundantly clear in his chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory; yet the lesson remains theoretical, even for those who assiduously study his ideas.

I find myself specifically lost in confusion; and everything that I have filled myself with, that life fills me with, is mistaken, and leads me to further sin. Only a complete emptying of this vessel so that it is clean and new and can receive a new kind of wine, a higher energy, will suffice; and yet I don't know how to do that.

I'd like to discover an emptiness ready to receive a better truth than the ones I manufacture; yet I am filled with the world, and can find no peace in it. 


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A simple science, part two

In the last post, I contemplated the difference between the physics of material reality and the metaphysics of Being.

 Being is an odd thing, because it clearly arises within the physics of material reality. In an absolute sense, we are all like the teapot in the picture for this post. We are vessels. The organic body contains consciousness, which by its nature creates the conceptual relationship we use to interact with each other and the world at large. Consciousness functions this way at every level; and although the conceptual relationship in the cellular or animal world functions differently than ours, the principle of a vessel within which that functional relationship develops is consistent across the broad spectrum of biological organisms.

 Keeping the conversation close to home, we are vessels that a sensory experience of the outer world flows into; and a peculiar and intricate alchemy arises at once, that is, the entire mechanism of molecular and chemical reaction is pressed into service to create relationships that interpret the outer world. So it's quite clear; there is an inner, or spiritual world, and there is an outer, or material one. We call the inner world a spiritual world as it is connected to a set of metaphysical principles, that is, emergent principles that transcend the simple physics of chemistry. That transcendence is defined by its conceptual or relational nature. It lies outside of physics; in point of fact, it can know that such a thing as physics exists, whereas, physics does not exist without it and cannot know itself, since it is nothing more than myriad points of unrelated data.

 So the physical world creates us; and we create the metaphysical world. One way of looking at it is that the physical world has created an interpretive mechanism whereby it can know itself; but this is just one layer of a very thick cake. The point is that the world of Being transcends the structural physics of the situation; and that's exactly why we call it metaphysics.

All of the inner sciences, all of the efforts to understand being, are arranged horizontally across the plane of existence as thoughts, sensory experiences, and emotions. Collectively, this is the meta in metaphysics; these experiences form a set of tools with which to investigate and interpret reality.

Although the inquiry has traditionally always centered around the idea of God, God is, from a peculiar point of view, unnecessary to the practical action, even though God is the center of gravity around which all of the questions turn. God is, so to speak, the sun that illuminates this solar system of being; yet we don't need to touch the sun in order to know that it shines. We can just leave it alone and accept its presence as a given in order to do our daily work.

In its practical aspects, divorced from the arcane texts and complicated systems, metaphysics is all about this daily work of Being. We take it for granted; and so we don't pay enough attention to it. Yet it's that detailed, compassionate, and loving attention to this action of Being that can better inform our relationships and attitudes within each moment. If the idea of self remembering ever had a locus, it's here, in the details — not in the grand scheme of the stars.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Without mediation

The more a thing is in common, the nobler and more valuable it is. I have life in common with those things that live, in which life is added to being. There are more of them that have being than have life. I have senses in common with the animals. I would rather lose my senses than my life. My being is dearest of all to me, it is the thing I have most in common, and is my most intimate thing. I would rather give up all things that are under God. Being flows without mediation from God, and life flows from being, and therefore I like it best and it is the dearest thing to all creatures. The more universal our life is, the better and nobler it is.

— Meister Eckhart, the complete mystical works, Sermon 74.

Take note of what the master says here. Being flows without mediation from God, and life flows from being.

 There is a temptation, of course, to take this as an allegory; but there is nothing allegorical in it. We are in the midst of this truth as surely as you read these words; and we are incontrovertibly, irrefutably, inescapably in the midst of it, so firmly cemented within the truth of this circumstance that it would be impossible to remove us from the matrix without shattering us like fragile crystals hit with a hammer.

 All of Being is like this, in that it flows — exactly like water — into the matrix of reality and is embedded there absolutely. Living things can sense Being; unliving things cannot, but this does not mean that they are exempt from its circumstance, or that they don't have it. Take note how the master indicates the difference between things with and without life; and how precisely he notes the commonality of sensation with animals. There is actually a very high teaching embedded in these few sentences.

The commonality of Being, which is created by relationship, is where the essence of its nobility lies. Interestingly, all of created reality has things in common with itself — for example,  all of the molecules in a crystal, for example, beryl, or a diamond, are in closely organized relationship — and we can see their nobility, which gives us things such as emeralds.

Yet the nobility of Being that is possible for things that live is even greater; for they are not static, they have greater possibilities, even though their lives are much shorter. Those possibilities include the appreciation of nobility, which is a greater thing than to have it. The emerald is noble; but it cannot know it unless there is a living being to form a relationship with it. In the same way, God is the most noble thing of all, because He transcends all things; and yet, that nobility would remain unknown without living things that had Being to sense it.

In an odd sense, this means we are the greater part of God, if we but knew it.

 So it is this aspect of relationship itself that confers the nobility; and although the idea of something that's noble is old-fashioned, it brings in the idea of an elevation, of levels, which is so essential to understanding the nature of inner work. We tend to forget, most of the time, that everything we think of and do in regard to inner work on this level is of this level; and we can only know another level from with in it, from the active action of that level within us, which has nothing to do with us thinking and doing as we are on this level.

Eckhart further says that this quality of being is the most intimate thing in him. And it is this intimacy, this fineness of attention and this fineness of sensation and this fineness of intelligence and feeling, that I speak of so often.

Without an intimacy, there is nothing; and the intimacy is always with a finer and a higher energy, which confers nobility from within, without regard to outer circumstances.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

A simple science

Last night I spoke with a young Chinese woman clearly troubled about confronting deeply negative circumstances in her life; and one of my best friends is struggling with disease and heartbreak.

In their own way, each of them brings their whole Being, everything they are, into this personal moment of struggle and suffering, wondering why things have to be this way, and whether there isn't a force, a material inner force, that can go against such things.

It prompted me to explain to my friend that people think metaphysics is about some cosmological pie-in-the-sky stuff; angels and cosmic evolution and so on.  People write extraordinarily complicated texts about metaphysics, filled with magical diagrams and raise of cosmic energy, hydrogens and galaxies, and so on. It's fair to say quantum physics is probably simpler to understand.

But that's not what it's like at all. Metaphysics is about here and now; it is about the power of Being, which emerges from the divine inward flow and is manifested through intellect and will. So we have an ability to manifest something materially, something extraordinary and positive, which affirms our Being; yet outward circumstances so often arrange themselves as destructive forces, and they seem more powerful than we are.

All of the great stories of heroism, from the epic of Gilgamesh to the stories from the concentration camps, celebrate humanity's efforts to manifest the positive forces of being against these destructive outward circumstances. It is easy to swallow them as stories on a grand scale; but it is much more difficult to digest them when they are served cold and dirty on the hard plate of one's personal life. That is when we really have to tighten our belts, pick up the fork, and eat what is true about our life and ourselves; and this is a dish we come to most reluctantly. It takes a greater kind of courage than the courage we read about in the heroic epics to confront our own lives; and although we can take inspiration from the great stories, it is every inward and outward breath of our own life that we have to deal with. This can be an anguishing labor. No one feels as grand as Hercules cleaning out the stables when one is dealing with the mental illness of a loved one or cancer.

This is where real metaphysics comes in. Physics is the study of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions; material things, things as they are. Metaphysics is the study of Being; of what we are as individuals, of how our consciousness encounters the material. So it's an incredibly practical discipline; and everything about it is about beginning to understand that the external forces and events we confront are not who we are; in a certain sense, they don't even exist. All they are is data; and data has no organized form or objective sense of what it is. It isn't intelligent.

In the same sense that atomistic materialism tells us there is nothing more than these little bits of stuff that make up bigger stuff, all that data can ever say is that it is there. But our Being, our awareness — that is what allows us to inwardly form a relationship to the outer, and it is in that place, within us, that the outer events acquire form, which we can have an attitude towards.

This means, oddly, that the realm of heroism doesn't lie in outward action; it is within us, where we form our attitude towards things, that the hero is born, not in the deeds that he or she does to save the world. Every human being who gets up in the morning and forms a positive attitude to overcome their obstacles and live in the face of the destructive forces around them is a hero. And they will always be a hero, whether they succeed or fail, because the hero is already there in the attitude, regardless of whether they live or die in the context of all the forces that would drag us down.  The hero starts here, and starts now, by saying, yes – I can Be. I can have a wish for the good.

We have a choice in our lives. We can practice this simple science of metaphysics in simple ways, by understanding how we form the outer world through our inner attitude; and we can begin in every moment by trying to make an effort for the good, rather than letting everything go down.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Installed in God

To be taken out of ourselves and installed in God is not hard, since God himself is bound to be working this in us: for it is God's work when man just follows and offers no resistance. He should be passive and let God work.

—Meister Eckhart, the complete mystical works, sermon 73.

 I mentioned this idea of getting out of the way and allowing God to work a few days ago. And this is exactly right; there is no need to "do" God's work for him. If I open myself effortlessly to an inner presence, it effortlessly arrives and the truth flows into the body without impediment. There is no need for me to interfere with this process; it is urgent. This means that it presses into me, it has drive, power.

Above all, this is the quality of the Lord, that there is power in His presence. This power is exercised in many ways, but it begins with the receiving of an energy that changes Being. 

Being is a universal property, a universal quality, which bears little more talking about. But I think I will quote a little bit more of Eckhart this morning, and then get back to it in a few days.

The more a thing is in common, the nobler and more valuable it is. I have life in common with those things that live, in which life is added to being. There are more of them that have being than have life. I have senses in common with the animals. I would rather lose my senses than my life. My being is dearest of all to me, it is the thing I have most in common, and is my most intimate thing. I would rather give up all things that are under God. Being flows without mediation from God, and life flows from being, and therefore I like it best and it is the dearest thing to all creatures. The more universal our life is, the better and nobler it is.

— Sermon 74.

 Think on this, and we will come back to it on May 26.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Examining the details

 Last night, as I was falling asleep, I was pondering my daily experience of seeing the ego in action in every detail.

It's really quite extraordinary how every single action in life arises from desire; and it is even more extraordinary to see how closely desire is tied to ego. Even with some separation from this issue, one sees that there is a constant impulse, and energy, a motive force that comes out of ego — which is, in the end, a mindless little creature which simply does everything reflexively and, as Gurdjieff said, mechanically — and causes all of the behavioral manifestations that emanate from me.

This sounds pretty clinical and technical, but there is nothing clinical and technical about seeing how this impulse functions at a ground floor level. It is an intimate and uncomfortable experience, and one has to see the actual mechanism itself in action in order to understand why Gurdjieff said it is mechanical. It needs to be seen in a exact operation in order to understand what he meant; taken of itself, and on the level we generally understand it (things made of material, with gears and electrical connections in them, and so forth) it barely does the subject justice.

In point of fact, the question of  our mechanical nature is directly tied to Will, as it was understood by Swedenborg and, as it happens, the ancient yoga schools. What I don't see is that real Will is quite different than this mechanical impulse of will that drives life. The umbilical cord of will as we experience and understand it, and as we mindlessly allow it to drive us through desire, is directly tied to ego; it is self-will. There is, I should note, a kind of Will that is distinctly formed by an inwardly flowing principle much larger than self-will; and the difference between this and my own will is unmistakable.

I'm quite interested in an intimate experience of self-will, because I'm interested in why so much of the motive force in life is connected to this automatic impulse, which can form many things — both good, indifferent, and bad — independent of my intelligence. Here, by intelligence I mean all the parts of my real Being, as opposed to the inherently selfish machine ego has constructed in me.

Things arise, and are then manifested outwardly without questioning them — whereas, when one is present at the arising of things, there is a sense of wonder at the fact that they arise at all; and then there is a question about whether they ought to arise in that way in the first place. There is, in other words, the question of intelligence and obedience; what does the intellect inwardly form in me, and what do I obey? This is where I begin to exercise discrimination.

 In questioning the arising of motive force, I ask myself whether the outer action it calls for is necessary; and in many cases, I see that the connection between the inner arising of motive force and the outward expression of action have a certain inevitability to them, that is, I am obliged by circumstances to act according to this motive force, even in some cases where I don't specifically agree with it. 

There are times when I choose to alter the response intentionally; but I'm not sure that this escapes the action of ego either, because it is so ubiquitous.

One needs, in the end, to adopt an intuitive approach to these things. The intuition, however, can't be a theoretical one; it has to be born in and stem directly from this act of seeing. One has to stay on one's toes; one never knows exactly where this will go, and one has to be ready to change direction in a heartbeat, according to the many and various uncertainties indicated through direct observation.

Again, it's a shame that this has to sound so technical; because in the end it is nothing more than an organic involvement with the actual process of one's life, as opposed to the abstraction one generally projects on the movie screen.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

The work isn't out there, some other time

There is a great danger in believing that special conditions help me work.

I begin to think that the work is out there, in that other special person, or with those special people, at that "other" special place and time. It's later. I will go there, and have a terrific time with those people, and then I'll really work.

This gives me an excuse to never see that I need to work here, and I need to work now.

Inner work is never out there and someone else; and it is never out there in another place or at another time. This is simply impossible, yet I always imagine it that way. There is only one place that the work ever is, and that is in me, and there is only one time that it ever exists, and that is now.

Every action of imagination that puts it in another place or another person damages my effort to know myself.

It is essential that I always attend to my own inner process first and not outsource the energy for my efforts to some other person or circumstance. This outward turning, in which some outward form or outward action by another individual will help me, is delusional. Only I can form the relationship within myself which can help my inner work. I don't really see this; a thousand rationalizations and arguments and convictions are out there to convince me otherwise. And every one of them turns me away from the essential task, the responsibility, which I have to be intimate with myself.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A secular understanding

I'm reading Thomas Cahill's "Mysteries of the Middle Ages," and in doing so, it strikes me how absolutely secular understandings of the religious impulse fail.

The secular and the religious are divided by two completely different levels of understanding, the natural and the spiritual. Just as the outer is always formed by the emanation of the inner, the natural is always formed by the emanation of the spiritual; yet secular thinking denies this, and would have it that the natural emanates from itself. In this way, life begat itself by accident, and all things are random. Even the arising of the natural laws we see, it is claimed, are random events which could have been different.

In this world of atomistic materialism and accidental relativism, no true higher order can be discerned. Everything is equal, and equally meaningless, in the end.

This kind of understanding satisfies some narrow-minded men who have filled themselves with facts. It is not of the soul, but the body; and as we all know, that which is of the body dies, whereas that which is of the soul is eternal. This is why the ancient traditions assigned the qualities of meaning and order an eternal nature; they rise above what we know, forming it in the essence of their higher nature. They then unfold into this universe as an expression of the higher principles themselves.

We see this all around us, and it seems staggering to imagine that there are persons of so little imagination they think this has not happened. Yet there they are; and they perversely believe in some strange magic whereby things exist of themselves, rather than as expressions of a higher nature. They claim to have the highest kind of critical mind; yet their critique always extends to others, and never themselves. If they had the kind of critical mind which Gurdjieff referred to in his aphorisms, they would at once see how impossible their positions are.

Secular thinking begins with the premise that there is nothing but itself; in this way, it is, essentially, selfish. It denies the other; it denies God. And it believes that God and spirituality can be defined through its own methods and substance, and no other way. It does not admit of anything but itself; and in this way, it begins by rejecting anything that does not resemble itself.

The many philosophical weaknesses of this position do not trouble secular thinkers and materialists; since they are fundamentally cut off from the spiritual of unable to instinctively sensitive — an action that ought to be natural in all human beings — they have no ability to understand who they are, where they come from, or where what they espouse is going to.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Within being alive

 There is a big difference between thinking I am alive and living.

The habit is to be in the part that thinks, and think about life. This part takes me, and I don't remember that life is in the actual living. To be living, to be alive, and to be within being alive, is very different than to think about being alive.

Generally speaking, I don't know the difference. Because I spend all my time in my mind, even the time in which I am vigorously exercising a gross physical connection to the body, I don't understand that this is just thinking about being alive. In order to understand the difference, to be within being alive, I would have to inhabit in an entirely different mind within myself, in an entirely different way. And this isn't really possible, as long as I stay in the ordinary mind.

It's more or less like living in one house, but thinking that I know exactly what it is like to live in the house across the street. In order to understand what my house looks like from across the street, I have to move there; but I don't. After forming a perfect mental picture of the house across the street, and what my house would look like from it, I am done. My ego makes sure that I don't bother to get up, go out the front door, and cross the street to even stand on the front lawn of the other house. I already know what that would look like; why bother?

There are many other ways of putting this — including a number of important religious ones — but let's leave that aspect off the table for today and just talk about living. Living involves aligning with the inward flow of energy, allowing the energy to come. This idea of allowing is essential, because the energy wants to come and needs to come. I simply stand in its way all the time, that's why I don't know much about it.

This question of changing the attitude so that thinking does not dominate is a huge one; yet I just think about it. Aligning with the inward flow of presence is a revolution; and that is living. Until I understand that organically, I just think I am alive.

There is a great power in living that has little to do with thinking that I am alive. Thinking I am alive is distinctly subordinate to that power. But only if the inward flow of presence asserts itself and becomes a reality.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Knowing something of God

Some days back, I posted something on the nature of God and our relationship to Him on the Parabola Facebook page.

The reactions were interesting. There were those who were "shoked" (sic) that Parabola would even mention God— a reaction that speaks volumes in itself — those who were offended by the idea that one could illustrate a post about God with a picture of the Buddha, finding it inappropriate, and so on. (I suppose our preconceptions of everything must inevitably dominate, but still. Really?) In any event, the remark I found most interesting was an individual who commented, presenting in what appeared to be a mild case of gently informed outrage, about how anyone could dare to claim they knew anything of God.

I claim to know something about God; and so should we all. The purpose of man is to know of God; as Christ himself taught us, we are meant to receive God in the body, and the whole point of Holy Communion is an allegorical illustration of this fact. We are meant, in point of fact, to receive God in the body and blood, through the agency of higher energies that flow into a person's being if they open themselves to the influences of God.

 Now, it's true that God is a loaded word; and one could write volumes about the misunderstandings and preconceptions that people pack their suitcases with when they come to it. But the fact that there is such a thing as God is true; and the fact that we can open ourselves to His Holy Presence is also true. It is the purpose for which man was intended; and so to deny that we know nothing and can know nothing about God is, in a sense, to deny God Himself.

 Those interested in the subtle and complicated — often even apparently contradictory — metaphysics of the question, which will reveal that we both can and cannot know everything about God, and that we at the same time know everything and absolutely nothing, and that God is both intimately knowable and forever unknowable, will spend a lifetime studying these questions. It's an intellectual discipline well worth the time it takes to engage in it; but nothing of the intellect as we ordinarily experience ultimately comes to this knowing of God. Hence my series of essays over the last few days.

We all ought to know something of God. If we know absolutely nothing of God, if we do not feel His presence touch our lives in one way or another – every day, which is what man's existence was intended for in the first place — we ought to feel a certain sense of inner shame, because we are not fulfilling our duties, our obligations, our sacred responsibilities towards our Father who is in Heaven. (Note I use the term Father here not in any masculine sense, but in a certain metaphysical way that honors both the male and the female, yet transcends them both. It would be nice if the great traditions had provided us with a word not loaded with sexual baggage in order to refer to God, but they didn't — and the political correctness of the modern era cannot be allowed to destroy the ancient traditions that allow the use of this word. Ergo, my apologies to those who would prefer a less traditional feminine assignation.)

In any event, yes, we should all know something of God, and we should not be embarrassed to talk about it. What else is there in life, if not God?

What is love?

What are compassion, mercy, grace, consideration, tolerance?

Are these all just fixtures on a supermarket shelf of human emotional reaction which we can pick and choose as we please, or do they flow into us from some higher level? I ask you, think on this. It is no small thing to recognize the fact that these are higher principles which can only flow into us from a higher level, and that don't belong to us. If they belonged to us, everyone would have them; and a quick look around you will show you how that works out. We can only gain such important qualities of human beings through effort; they don't drop off the vine like ripe grapes. And that effort has to be an openness to God, and open heartedness that informs our daily action. No one gains this through casual actions or the repetition of rituals. Only a conscious effort can open the heart to a higher principle. All of this bears a vitally important relationship to just what belongs to us, and what belongs to God; and as long as we hold ourselves Gods, in command and control of our own Being, we lack of understanding on this point. In the end, the philosophies of being that would make it so all fail; and failed spectacularly. One would think mankind might have learned this lesson by now, but the altar of selfishness is perpetually set with all the best temptations.

There is a fineness, a refinement to the idea of God, which rejects the vulgarity of those who would make God something of this world, of this earth. The presence of God in Being comes with the understanding of a different level of vibration that can inwardly form our attitudes in a way that does not belong to us; and if we but knew it, this is our birthright, which we have discarded.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Not knowing God

Abandoned Ching Dynasty residence on the Grand Canal, Wuxi, China

 I try to know God by moving the furniture around.

 This is a time-consuming activity; it takes an enormous amount of energy and there is a lot of furniture, which can be rearranged endlessly. There are also countless opinions on how furniture ought to be arranged, and a seemingly endless set of furniture manufacturers.

To complicate matters even further, I love shopping for furniture.

I forget that furniture has a purpose, and that that purpose is living. All of the furniture ought to be in service; but it takes over my life and becomes this huge pile of clutter, which actually distracts me. Everything inside me is like this; although it's impossible for me to see it, inside myself, I'm like those television shows of people who hoard an endless pile of consumer goods. I don't see that my thoughts, my attitudes, my opinions, and my reactions are just consumer goods which I pile up and covet. I have picked almost all of them off supermarket shelves designed and populated by other people.

 When we announce that the outer condition reflects the inner one, I wonder whether we realize that our consumer society is a dismayingly precise reflection of our inner state. Even those of us who hold consumerism in contempt don't see that we are participants, not disinterested and objective judges. I see this constantly in the outward opinions of my friends, who (for example) all consume energy greedily, but want to pretend they carry no blame and have no immediate responsibility for the process of its extraction, and are fit to determine just how that ought to take place.

It's no different with God.  This is a complex analogy, so I will try to boil it down to a simple point — God, like everything else that surrounds us, is seems as a consumer product, and we treat Him that way. This is a very dangerous thing, because we are completely in love with consumer products, and they are an exact reflection of our inner world, which wants to selfishly take and consume things. We even adopt inner positions which are, in our rationalized explanations to ourselves, wonderfully sacred, and holy, and completely detached from any consumer attitude, when in fact, the consumer attitude is at their root and foundation — simply because the rationalizations couldn't exist if the consumerism didn't trigger them.

It takes a lifetime, I am sure, of knowing how this furniture is cluttered in order to understand what is going on — and even then, one understands nothing until one sees that the whole pile of it, everything, is nothing more than absolute proof that I do not know God.

And then God comes.

Many years ago, I said this is a revolution. The house and all the furniture become meaningless and even, in the end, useless, because I do not have a real house or real furniture. My own Being is the house, and my availability — the emptiness of my own Being—is the only thing it ought to be furnished with.

 It is precisely in this not knowing of God, the sum total of it, that the knowing exists, because knowing and not knowing perfectly reflect one another and exist together in the coming of God.

I don't expect anyone to quite understand what I am saying there. Of course it sounds like nonsense. But in any event, that is how it strikes me this morning, and so I have spoken of it.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

To know God through the Body

In these three ways of knowing God- through the body, the heart, and the soul- I come to speak of the body last, even though it is the place where the inner path of knowing and unknowing begins.

God has a body like me, but it is a heavenly body and as different from me as my own body is from a stone- even more different, in point of fact, because a stone is in truth something quite like me, and God isn’t.

In any event, in addition to functioning as a mirror to receive the light of God, the body serves as a temple into which God and His angels may come. The temple is his, not mine; but it is filled with my own clutter and only if I get rid of all that trash will He come in.

If I do, He will rush right in, because it turns out God loves nothing more than His temple, which he honors in many ways. He will rush right in, I say, and He rushes right in whenever He pleases and comes and goes at any time, leaving his footprints in my heart and soul, which are paths He treads in His coming back to me.

This path between man and God is in fact well trodden, as it happens (although we don’t suspect it) because no one can keep God away from His Kingdom or out of His temple for very long; and that is that. He is not seen, but He is present; and this is why we act selfishly at our own peril.

In order for this temple to be available it need to be prepared and obedient; I must take myself within it and become its intimate keeper, staying close at all times and keeping it swept with a broom, because— and this is the glory of it! —services may begin at any time.

 Now, people often ask me what good this knowing of God will do, why I should want it, or what the point of it is. And I have spent many years trying to explain this; but the understanding in people is weak. No one seems to know that there is only one good worth having, and that is the good of a relationship with God. Once one knows this, there is no question of it; in the same way that once one knows the mother Mary, one does not believe in her, one knows her. The knowing of God is all good in itself; and one should want for nothing else. Yet how do I explain this? I can't. It reminds me of Zen Master Dogen, who once said it is like trying to give oars to mountaineers.

Perhaps the difficulty here is that everyone wants to measure things by the yardstick of this world, which is like finding oneself in the darkness and trying to use a brick instead of a flashlight. If people understood that we must throw the brick away immediately, instead of enjoying its weight in our hand, then maybe the idea of a flashlight would come to us. As long as one is in love with the brick, one stays quite satisfied, but remains in darkness.

In a certain sense, to know God in the body is to enter God's body, and to share it with Him. Then, by knowing nothing, one knows all things; and one knows the fundamental source of goodness, even though it does not exist within oneself and cannot become the motive force for one's own being or action — after all, in this life, the best I can do is always of creation, which is never enough.


Friday, May 16, 2014

To Know God Through the Heart

Sometimes I say that one should know God through the heart, and yet this is not enough. There is a lesson it it, though; because the heart is the path of surrender that leads to the soul, and it is the gatekeeper and guardian, the point at which I must leave what I am aside and move further than what I am and what I can be into what is, which is not of me as I know myself.

This question of knowing myself is difficult, first because I cannot really ever know myself—the very conceit itself is a secret form of arrogance—and second, because what I know of myself is only useful to the extent that it is cast aside. 

I can’t know myself in any fundamental sense because I have no Being except through God; and so my impressions of Being, such as they are, are illusory, something the Buddha attempted to teach. Anything I learn is a fallen thing, fallen in the sense of falling short of what must be known; and so each known thing becomes a principle to abandon, not incorporate, as though I were, by taking things in, ultimately, and counterintuitively, actually attempting to flush the body of my Being out until it empties. 

This flushing out takes place through the heart, and is symbolized by the water that flows from the eyes in sorrow, which is directly connected to the heart. 

So the heart is the path of sorrow, as the Christ taught us, and we must go straight through that path without looking to the left or to the right if we wish to meet the soul. The soul lies there, past the heart, and the heart is the gate and the threshold over which we must step, in which action we die to the world.

This is a hard thing; no one wants to die to this world, which is such a good thing and so obviously of God. I am sure of this, that I do not want to die to the world; it's been shown to me quite clearly. If it is not shown to me, then for certain I still believe in it, and I believe I can do it; but through grace it may be shown that this is in no way possible, and that in fact it defines exactly where I am: refusing.

 This is the problem; I love God so much here, as He is in allegory, that I cannot imagine or know how much more I will love God in the flesh. I am actually afraid that by dying I may lose something of God.

I will say it is not quite like this, but right now, as we are, it is as though God simply imagines us, like a lover living in some distant city who we long to be with, and we can only become real to God—and He to us—by putting aside all the things in this known city, all our affairs and goods, all our acquaintances and activities, and setting out to that distant city God lives in. Ah! This is a hard thing. Who would do it? But He will meet us there in that new city with open arms, and then and only then will we become real to Him, and He to us.

It’s through the heart that that gate out of this known city leads; and although the city has many gates that leave it—some with names that are filled with beauty, and others with terror—there is only one gate of the heart, which we must know and take, if we decide to leave.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

To know God with the Soul

It is not too bold to say that God can come into me.

This has nothing to do with what I am, but rather what God is; and God comes and goes as He pleases. Indeed, my great fault is that I dwell forever, in this life, within what I think will please me; and because of this I know little or nothing of what would please God. Oddly, I don’t understand that of all the things that might please me, God would please me best; for He knows above all what my pleasure ought to be, so much more so that even God’s pain for me turns out to be my pleasure, strange though that may sound.

So when God comes, according to His own pleasure and at His own leisure, it is a surprise to me; at times I don’t even recognize it, even though He, in His grace, makes it obvious.

There is a matter of stepping aside. I need to be quite exactly situated, to one side, as it were, and still; and God comes in then, because I have left Him space. Then the Kingdom of Heaven is within; and there is no other place, for even hell is contained by it, hell being the foundation upon which the Kingdom rests. This too may seem peculiar; but hell is in one sense the price paid, a further mystery it is also difficult to comprehend and penetrate. It may be helpful to understand that God is not all things, but is above all things; and Heaven and hell are things within the body of God, not separated realms. In truth there are no separated realms except we make them, for in God nothing is separated and nothing made; all begins and ends in God without any making. Making, too, is of our world, not of God; He lies above making, too, even though we call Him Maker.

In this truth of non-separation, God comes into me because there is no final difference between myself and God. Meister Eckhart did his best to explain this (and almost got excommunicated for it!); but it is confusing to all of us- and to me, except to the extent that God is in me; and then I know this, because there is no separation in Truth. It is one thing. So within the Kingdom of the Lord Christ, the Lord Buddha, the Kingdom of Mohammed and Krishna, Yahweh and Moses, there is one King and one Savior, not many; and He comes for all humanity alike in Mercy, at all times and in all places.

I can know this; and sometimes I do. Yet it seems so rare to know this except with the mind, which for all its merits and powers is a feeble tool; and we must know with the whole soul, for it alone is the only tool God truly gives through which to know Him. 

We can celebrate God through our works and prayers, but only through the soul can we know Him.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The tiniest thing

I'm not sure any of us appreciate just how much detail one needs to go into in ordinary life in order to understand the extent of our sinfulness.

Gurdjieff expected men and women to become conscious; yet there seems to be no point in consciousness, to me, unless one employs it in an examination of sinfulness. This, then, is why we should be conscious; to see how awful we are. I will remind readers that he said, in the third series, that it used to be, in ancient times, a practice to spend three days remembering all the bad things about a person after they died; this is an indication, a direction, of the point of conscious living.

Being is worthless unless it is turned towards the good; and it can never be turned towards the good unless it first recognizes the bad, because only the bad points us towards the good. We can never know the good unless we see the bad first; otherwise, the bad looks just fine to us.

If I examine the tiniest actions in my own life, the smallest thing about the way I am, what I think from moment to moment, and how my actions are constructed, I begin to see that everything stems from a locus of selfishness. This extends to small thoughts and words and deeds; to the most casual arising of the automatic mind. It is a low thing, only interested in itself and without any conscience. It is, in point of fact, no better than an animal, and in fact, perhaps worse, because an animal has no intellect that it might use to act differently; it is born in absolute innocence, and all of its actions are in accordance with natural law. We fall under a different set of natural laws, which require us to act selflessly; yet we don't.

In any event, it's this intimate and very detailed examination of my exact nature from moment to moment throughout the day that is interesting to me, because to the extent that I am aware, and conscious, in every inner step that I take, I become aware of my own selfishness and the way that I conspire to arrange things to serve myself. Now, I suppose, if I am perfectly okay with my ego and could care less about others, that's fine; yet I experience a distinct and global discomfort with that attitude. It's interesting to see how thoroughly it dominates so many human beings out there; so few of us are troubled by our nature or our action. The entire state of the world today as we see it is an exact result of this inner condition, yet it goes unmentioned in the media, and perhaps even unexamined by modern psychology — which has strangely turned in upon itself to celebrate such things, in some weird ways — and, unfortunately, does quite well when paraded as a lifestyle of arrogance that dismisses compassion for others. Most contemporary TV series rely almost exclusively on this trait to drive their story lines. Not only are we selfish; we're fascinated by it, we love it.

Only this detailed examination of myself tells me anything about how I actually am, and in order to conduct that examination, I have to be lovingly suspicious of every inner move I make. This doesn't necessarily mean that I end up being paranoid and unhappy; in fact, in my own experience, that definitely isn't the case. It does, however, require me to constantly and in every moment come up against myself and see these petty and insufficient actions that try to turn the world towards me, instead of turning my own inner being towards the world, where I might be a better service to others.

Gurdjieff furthermore said that actions of this kind, the selfish ones, were entirely mechanical — although perhaps not in exactly those words, that is what he meant, because the selfish nature is always mechanical, automatic, and in the absence of anything conscious, that is the first thing that always comes to the front of being.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Giving the house away

The presence of God is everywhere; and it isn’t inaccessible to us.

People often tell me that not everyone has a sense of the presence of God; that not everyone can. 

But we can move beyond the thinking of it and the theories about it. One must, perforce, move into that intimate place within oneself where a divine spark of the Lord's presence resides. This action is an obligation; and if I don't sense the need for it, I fail to fulfill my duty.

God, you see, wants everything to be very personal with Him, as though He were our best friend and our lover. He wants to move in; not read ads we post to Him about apartments for rent, with descriptions of how lovely each one might be— if we were renting.

God does not want to rent from us; he wants to buy and own. And he is willing to pay with his love and his mercy, if only we are willing to sell.

The difficulty is that no one wants to put the house on the market. Everyone thinks that the house should be their own house, and that it is rather small; there isn't that much room for God in it. Just room for a lot of things. In point of fact, there are so many things to be collected that one couldn't possibly talk about having God move in just now; maybe later, after one is dead, but not just now.

But if I want to have God move in, the whole house must go on the market, and at once. It must, furthermore, be put on the market for free; that is to say, I must be willing to completely give the house away to this joy and this mercy, to this grace.

Because if I am willing to just put the whole thing on the auction block and say, "Here, it is up for sale and you may come and move in, let's be done with it;" then, God comes swiftly with all of His riches. He is willing to pay me for it so generously I cannot imagine it, but only if I stop demanding payment.

And let's be clear about this; God doesn't move in in some abstract or theoretical way. He moves right in, the whole of Him; and there is little room for anything else, because He fills all of the spaces effortlessly and without thinking for a moment about it. He brings all of his angels, as well; and so in fact all at once the entire household is filled with a heavenly kingdom, nothing like the kingdom I thought I would live in when I owned the house by myself.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Without flinching

There seem to be countless paths into Being, and I suppose one can only ever speak of one's own.

For myself, the older I get, the more I see how absolutely ego and my own self-will penetrates every single action. The more aware one becomes of this, the more one is led into a confrontation with the ancient traditional ideas about sin. Now, unless one is a formalist — unless one practices a specific religion and subscribes to its beliefs — most ideas about sin may seem old-fashioned; and, to be honest, even within religion, it appears as though sin is outdated, since people go to churches, mosques, and temples every day of the week and then blithely exit the doors to sin with abandon. Sin, in this context, meaning self interest, and the failure to have respect, compassion, regard, and love for others.

I'm considered to be a somewhat decent person, although there's no doubt I have hit many low points in my life. Enough so that I often feel like I am weighted, tied to rope behind a trawler, and being bounced off a rocky bottom. Yet when I truly search myself, I see how completely and utterly my self interest and my ego penetrate every single crevice of my Being. 

It's a horrifying situation, really; there's no escape from this reality. Awareness of it becomes more painful with age; and if there ever was a form of suffering which one has to tolerate in order to grow, this must be it. Only a ruthless self-examination of this self interest can reveal how I really am; and there are no easy remedies, despite the tens of thousands of self-help books, the disciplines, the philosophies, my own prayers, and so on. In the end, esotericism and religion become a penetration ever deeper into Being which is highly personal, intimate, and leads one to confront elements of oneself that are so repugnant one prefers to look away. 

What baffles me even more, as I ponder these inner questions of the darkness that lies at the root of ordinary Being, is the unarguable and inescapable presence of Love, which comes and stays in complete forgiveness, regardless of this truth I see over and over again. In point of fact, it is only with this Love that comes that I see the truth of who I am; it is the light that shines in the darkness. Although this Love is unconditional, I am unable to understand or comprehend it, so its unconditional nature does nothing more than focus my gaze even more acutely on my sin; and it brings anguish. There is, to be sure, a perfect sweetness hidden in such anguish; I think on this often, but still don't understand it.

I begin to sense, in time, that this is the whole point; God's love is unconditional, and my sin, my selfishness, helps me to see the difference between what I imagine love to be and what real Love is. It is in measuring the distance between those two things that I encounter what is referred to in many works as the abyss; I stand at the edge of this chasm between me and real Love and know that there is no way, in myself as I am, that I can muster worthiness relative to the love of God.

One wants to sort this out; yet the greatest part of this mystery is that there is no sorting out. One has to stand before oneself—in the Presence of this unending and forgiving Love that stands forever as the absolute creative force of Being—and see exactly who one is. 

This, I suppose, may be hell; to look oneself straight in the eye without flinching. But without that willingness, and that unflinching gaze, no glimpse of heaven could ever be possible.

—Lee van Laer, Shanghai, China.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A quiet place

A man may go out into the fields and say his prayers and know God, or he may go to church and know God: but if he is more aware of God because he is in a quiet place, as is usual, that comes from his imperfection and not from God: for God is equally in all things and all places, and is equally ready to give Himself as far as in Him lies: and he knows God rightly who knows God equally [in all things].

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 69, p. 353

It's odd to me to see how dogged the belief is that solitude is the place to find God.There is something weirdly attractive in the image of hermits in caves; and we love, it sometimes seems, nothing better than to sit with our eyes closed in the lotus position, totally inward — and, incidentally, shutting out the whole world at the same time.

I've said many times that this misses the whole point of spiritual search; because search is all about discovering relationship, and relationship is, as Meister Eckhart states, equally in all things and in all places. That is to say, certainly, the hermit in a cave can find God; but so can the elderly woman on the subway train, and the man in the office. A few weeks ago, I was in Shanghai at Hongqiao  airport, and jotted the poem at the end of this piece down while I was waiting for my fellow travelers to arrive. I think it captures some of my observations on the subject.

I think that all of us fail to fully understand the nature of awareness, and its position as a bridge between inwardness and outwardness. In the same sense that we, as a culture and as individuals, abrogate our responsibility to inwardness through a failure to develop and cultivate the organic sense of Being, we equally fail in our responsibility to the outward; because without this connection to the inward, the connection to the outward is not properly managed either. The catastrophe of human relationships, both individual and cultural, which we see playing out around us day and night in our personal lives and in the media, emerges from this failure to see God in all things.

If I see God in all things, a new kind of duty and responsibility immediately devolves upon me. If all of this is God — that is, everything — how do I respond to God? If I have ever had a real taste of God, am I not in awe? Do I not feel the impulse to bend my knee and bow my head at every moment? Am I not humbled by the majesty and the miracle of what takes place before me, in every moment?

 If I am not, then perhaps I do not know God. Not at all. Because I ought to be responding instinctively with this sense of duty and responsibility, this devotion and this immediate action of prayer within me, instinctively, and at all times. My entire organic response to being alive in the first place ought to be worshipful and dutiful; yet am I like that? Every time that I discover myself in a moment of Being where I understand this better, my entire awareness of what I am doing, who I am, and what is around me changes. All of my behavior, my thoughts, and my presence itself become a question mark; and instead of manifesting itself as self-consciousness (which is a product of selfish thinking about myself and who I am, what Gurdjieff called inner considering) it manifests as consciousness of Self, which by default already acknowledges a higher authority.

 This idea that God is everywhere is actually an extraordinarily powerful one. It has the potential,  under the right set of circumstances, to connect me to a much higher level of emotional understanding.

This, if God wills it, brings me to a real inner understanding of why I must pray, without fail and unceasingly—and how that Great Love dwells everywhere, in this landscape I inhabit.

You get the picture

I am at the airport
6 am, shanghai
And the green light on top of every cab says, God.
The morning air says God.
No fanfare, just a statement
Of fact
Which seems so puzzling I am bereft.

This is a conversation of the body,
Where the manufactured words don’t fit
And even meaning drops itself
Onto the granite of the terminal floor
Where it chirps,

Fire hydrants, exit signs,

You get the picture. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Who are we?

I don't think we're ever quite sure of who we are.

We go from one moment to the next distracted by other things; and we don't seem to be solid enough inside to resist outer forces. Maybe this is one of the meanings of the idea of temptation. To be sure, one of the meanings of the word is to be probed or tested; this is why we have the word temperature. So in a sense, temptation is to take the measure of something; and the outer world always takes the measure of us as it meets us.

Now, I usually think I am measuring the outer world; but that's because I think I have mastery. In reality, the outer world measures me; my stature, my height, is determined by my own inner relationship. If I have the strength to resist the influence of lower forces from the outer world, of the wish to do wrong things, especially the wish to harm other people for my own self interest, then I measure up well. But if I put myself before others and I'm harmful to them, then my measurement is poor. I am a small man, in that case.

So I need to know who I am first, before the outer world comes to measure me. To the extent that I'm aware of myself, perhaps I can resist, and be who I wish to be, not what the world wishes to make me.

Gurdjieff brought us the powerful prayer, "I am — I wish to be." But perhaps this isn't quite clear; just what do I wish to be? Without any intention to be something concrete, I might as well not be at all.

My thought is that I wish to be human; not in the lower sense of my pettiness, my greed, and my evildoings, which we are all guilty of, but in the sense of the best values I can muster. That begins with an honorable and just treatment of others. Not what I can get for myself, first, which I see is an impulse that runs powerfully through all of life, no matter how noble I think I am or I think I wish to be.

These are the things that I ponder this morning as I wait to board the plane from my trip to China. It's true, no doubt, that the great philosophers and masters have pondered these things for centuries, and I could read books about them; but here, in an airport, I am left to just try and think them out for myself.

I do that within the organic presence of this vessel, this body, which I inhabit; and it is a friend in this enterprise. It wants to know who I am, too; so maybe together we can bring something to it.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Being Worthy

 For a man to have a peaceful life is good, but for a man to have a life of pain in patience is better; but that a man should have peace in a life of pain is best. 

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 69, p. 353

It is in my own unworthiness that I discover God's true mercy and grace.

It is irrevocably true that God loves and is merciful, because these are God's most essential qualities. Although God transcends all of the qualities we can know or ascribe to Him, in the way that we can know Him — which is only through the limitations of our own universe and the material — we know Him like this, that all of the mercy and love we could ever imagine is but a tiny thing compared to the actual, objectively infinite amount of mercy and love that the Lord embodies. After all, the entire universe was created from love and is nothing more than an emanation of love — and if it can create the entire universe, imagine how much greater than the universe itself it must be.

 I wish to think on these things, because my understanding is lacking. Somewhere in myself, I spend a lot of my time believing I am worthy; and even when I am sinful, I see that I think I'm worthy of being cleansed of my sin and forgiven. But this isn't really true; this morning, sitting here at my computer and contemplating my life, I saw that I don't deserve to be cleansed of my sin; and in fact, I need my sin, because it is what reminds me of how small and humble I ought to be, a thing which I in fact am not.  The sin is actually a gift, and by asking to have it taken away, I already don't understand that the sin has been sent to help me, and that I am supposed to suffer it as a reminder of the difference between me and the Lord.

I constantly ascribe a goodness to myself which I don't actually have; sometimes, enough grace is sent for me to see that. The paths by which that grace comes are mysterious; yet when it arrives, there can be no doubt of my sin, and the devastation that arises from an awareness of my nothingness. Take note: even in being aware that I am nothing, my ego wants to hold that up and make it important. Curious, isn't it? Only the cleansing force of grace, which does not cleanse but rather reveals, can uncover these tricks and lay bare what I actually am.

When I see that, I know not only nothingness, but worthlessness, and then I know that God loves me even though I am objectively worthless. This is even stranger still; there are mysteries here as thick as a briar patch, and each one of them has thorns that cling to me which I can't escape from. There is a point at which struggling is pointless; I have to surrender to the suffering and the honesty that is required in seeing my unworthiness.

 In a nutshell, I don't deserve to be cleansed of my sin, even though that is what I want; and I don't quite understand that I need my sin and the suffering in it.

I mentioned to a few people over the last week that the punishment for those of us who do horrible things is that we are forgiven; we are unconditionally forgiven, and at the moment of death, when that forgiveness enters us, we can feel no greater anguish, because all of those parts we have refused to participate in, including our conscience, are awakened, and we see ourselves for what we are.

Swedenborg seems to think that there are evil souls that will find no pain in this; but I find that impossible to believe. Even if he is right, right-thinking beings, creatures who wish to be redeemed, to recover from this excess of sin we all find ourselves in, cannot help but feel destroyed by forgiveness, because once again, it reveals how incapable and tiny we are when we measure our being against the force of God's love and mercy.