Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sorrow, part II

Sarcophagus from Cyprus
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 Regret is not enough.

When I feel regret, it's a selfish thing. I feel bad for myself and what I did. Perversely, and in a peculiar paradox, I feel bad about feeling bad. It's all about me, no matter how I measure it.

Sorrow is a completely different thing than regret. It's impersonal. It has an objective nature that transcends my personal trials and actions; real sorrow, the sorrow that forms the particles of God, is divorced from creation.

This may sound odd, but sorrow exists before creation. It is uncreated; it has an objective existence that underlies the manifestation of everything that takes place. It is, in other words, an emanation of God, and although we define it in created terms and encounter an experience it from within creation, it is of God Himself.

 That which is of God Himself can't be created, because God is uncreated: and this leads me to an insight into the question that was asked of me at a presentation on the enneagram last week.

 The question was how we can encounter the transcendent.  Given that it is transcendent, that it has no  apparent connection whatsoever with any reality we can experience or understand, how can we possibly know we have had a contact with it?  The matter seems impossible.

Yet there are clues; and there are objective experiences.

This matter of organically understanding and receiving the particles of the sorrow of God— a phenomenon which only Gurdjieff, so far as I know, ever accurately reported on or described — is exactly just such an encounter. That is to say, even though the transcendent is essentially, before all other things, un-manifest and uncreated, nonetheless, these emanations arise directly from it and penetrate all of manifest creation. So in receiving these particles, one comes the closest that anything in creation can come to encountering the transcendent, the  un-manifest, the uncreated.

 This is an intimate contact, and the human organism is exquisitely designed and tuned to contain this possibility; which may be, in the end, one of the greatest and most profound possibilities available to mankind from a spiritual point of view. There is little difference, in the end, between the receiving of sorrow of God and Bliss; only the taste of it can explain this paradox, yet it is absolutely true. And it is the taste of it that one wishes for, once one has it in the mouth of one's soul.

One must taste sorrow in the mouth of the soul and swallow it whole. The mouth of the soul is the whole body and all of Being itself; one ought to mark this well, because it represents a truth that can be understood with all the senses and all the faculties of consciousness. That kind of understanding can never be taken away from a man or a woman, once it is earned.

Gurdjieff, of course, indicated that these particles can help "coat" the inner parts of a human being— what he means is that they are deposited,  at a sub-atomic level, more or less, that is, at the material point in the body where the quantum state collapses— in such a way as to form objective conscience.

 This makes some sense, because my conscience is entirely subjective. This is where regret comes in; it is formed from my own conscience, which is material, created, and entirely of this level. Receiving material from a different level makes it possible for a completely different and impersonal kind of conscience to arise; and that conscience, inspired — breathed in — through God Himself makes it possible for the expression of divine, or heavenly, conscience to be manifest.

This passing of conscience from un-manifested and uncreated Godhood into manifest, created Being ought, in my view, to be one of the chief responsibilities of Beings; yet the matter is so obscure it is barely understood, isn't it?


Monday, March 30, 2015

Like the puffer fish

 Baby puffer fish, pet market, Shanghai

 There is a saying that goes back at least as far as classical  Greek literature — perhaps earlier — that the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. To me, puffer fish are much like hedgehogs — they know one big thing.

I'm headed back to the United States today, after another two weeks in China.

This routine has become so much an ordinary part of my life, that after 30 years, it seems normal. Yet day before yesterday, walking around the streets of Shanghai, I came back to myself at one point and said, what am I doing here?.

The question seemed locational, in some senses, that is, what am I doing here on the other side of the planet, in an Asian city, wandering around far away from my friends and family? — but it was, on the other hand, existential, because the instant that I had the thought, it occurred to me that the question is universal.

I am, after all, still on this planet, no matter where I go — and it is that question, what am I doing here on this planet?, that occupies me.

 I've spent a lifetime of stuffing myself full of theories, facts, and ideas. All of these are outer things, and yet they take up residence in me as solidified substances. They are nodules of precipitated matter that don't dissolve any more in the liquid of life, but affect the way it flows. Like the conditions of my outer life, which I have grown so accustomed to that I accept without noticing them, these "inner nodules" which precipitate from the inward flow of outward action are so routine to me that I don't bother noticing them, let alone questioning them. I accept them as the conditions and the facts, even when actual outside conditions and facts contradict them. I know I'm not alone in this, because I see other human beings doing this all day long, every day.

 When I was in my mid-40s, I encountered a force that transcended all the other (and not inconsiderable) "supernatural" forces I had been in contact with over the course of my then short (and still short) life. This force of Being, this finer vibration, creates a perception of life that is quite different than the nodules that  precipitate in me. It has, in fact, absolutely nothing to do with those nodules and exists apart from them, arising in a realm that is unknown to my own life, except that I contact it.

There is no explanation for that mystery; yet it irrevocably affirms that something is going on on this planet which lies beyond my understanding — and, by extension, that thing which goes on, this action of Being, lies outside the known and created realms. Being in relationship with that and coming into contact with that is what concerns me now, every day. It doesn't fix a damned thing in my ordinary life — but it does give me the opportunity to live in a different and new way, every day.

Every day, I have to deal with the nodules—Gurdjieff probably would have called them crystallizations — that precipitate in me from my interaction with the outer world. They are persistent and abrasive. Yet there is always the opportunity for me to invest in the sensation, the organic sensation, of Being, and that seems to me, without any doubt, to be what really matters.

 Everything that I actually (not theoretically) know about those forces I call love, beauty, goodness, and so on, is contained within the action of Being. None of those forces are actually present in material things, except to the extent that conscious relationship is active within the material. So it's Being itself that imparts character to what is otherwise meaningless — and this property is, without any doubt, a divine one.

I am not divine, but if I make spiritual efforts, I am invited to participate in that which is divine.

If this is the only useful thing I have learned in my life — and there are times when I am certain it is —

it is one big thing, like the puffer fish.

The danger, of course, is that like the puffer fish, I am all too prone to develop an overinflated sense of myself through understandings that touch on this; it is a known hazard. One has to be on one's guard. Yet there is one piece of luck here: even though the ego is forever dedicated to the proposition that one ought to puff one's self up, the energy of a finer vibration is forever dedicated to deflating that selfsame action.

Being has, in other words, a way of teaching me my own nothingness; and I recognize it most, perhaps, by this property, which has an inherent rightness to it.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

infusion with sorrow

From the beginning of one's existence the striving to pay as quickly as possible for one's arising and individuality, in order afterward to be free to lighten as much as possible the sorrow of our Common Father.
—The fourth obligolnian striving, from Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, by G. I. Gurdjieff

With all of the emphasis on thousands of different aspects of Gurdjieff's teachings, the techniques, the hydrogens, the exhortations from Madame de Salzmann, and so on, one sometimes forgets the whole point of this work.

 If one understands what is said in this striving, the rest is, in a sense, given. The whole point of consciousness — however one chooses to understand the word — the point of sensation, of attention, of the so-called "freedom" that human beings seek, is to lighten the sorrow of God.

This is not a theoretical proposition to be noodled over intellectually. It is a fundamental engagement of the feeling center with an entirely different level. If this doesn't take place, all other achievements and work end up being pointless.

Unfortunately, from what I've seen, few people seem to directly understand this proposition. Many become attracted to the countless other possibilities that one encounters on the way to this understanding; and they bluster around,  at the center of a beehive surrounded by drones and workers, swaggering as though the interesting place they had reached was the destination one is "supposed" to arrive at.

This is a kind of Attention Deficit Disorder: one ends up in one place after another, and each time thinks, aha! that this place is where one was supposed to go.

There is only one way to take in material sorrow deeply into the body; it does not have thousands of variations. And there is only one way to suffer it — consciously — in such a way as to make it a permanent part of one's existence, which is what is necessary if one wants to help carry any weight in this matter.

Even worse, people misguide others. One of my friends — an extraordinarily intelligent man — pointed out to me recently that this work, this "thing" which Gurdjieff left in our anxious little laps, is largely dependent on will — as opposed to works like those of Meister Eckhart and others, which are emphatically works of the heart.

This "Gurdjieff" work, as well, was originally meant to be a work of the heart, but people are always more interested in power than they are in love — betraying love in favor of power is by any measure a thoroughly worn-out cliché among human beings. Hence the path of will, with the many ways of exercising it, becomes strongly attractive to people. Inevitably, abuses arise; magnetism causes people to cluster around supposed authorities, and everyone forgets their own inner work, instead listening to someone else who tells them how it ought to be done.

No one but God knows how it ought to be done.

A flawed work of one's own is always greater than a perfect work that one borrows from someone else. The whole point of inner work is to take personal responsibility, not lean on the crutches that others provide.

 Perhaps the most important point in all of this is the adage, above all, do no harm; and yet much harm is often done.

Helping others is no good if you hurt three people to help one; so one has to always work from love and compassion — and this is only possible when one is deeply infused with sorrow.  Be cautious with those who are not loving and compassionate in the way that they teach work, if they teach it.

 One thing is quite certain. If love and compassion are lacking, nothing else matters. If a man could teach you to move the entire galaxy on its axis without love and compassion, the power would be worthless. The same goes for a man or woman who teaches one how to sense oneself without love or compassion. It's merely a matter of scale.

Infusion with sorrow is the act of taking in the particles of His Endlessness, which, as our good friend Beelzebub tells us, actualize is the possibility of the divine being-impulse of Objective Conscience.

 Acting from this capacity, it is not possible to do harm.

Yet ersatz versions of it are by far the norm.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

An essential goodness that flows in

Old City Wall Taoist Temple 
Shanghai, China

 Shanghai, March 29.  I woke up, as usual, very early today, trying — as I do every morning — to reassemble a whole picture of life, as though the night before had shattered everything into fragments that need to be gathered together again in silence before anything else can begin.

This morning, at breakfast, I started jotting down thoughts about the difference between inner and outer knowing. It's necessary to know everything from an outward point of view; yet from an inward point of view, it's equally necessary to know nothing.

Understanding the difference between understanding and not understanding lies between these two points of knowing.

That little bit of pondering didn't, however, turn out to be the center of gravity for my breakfast this morning; instead, it lay in the realm of goodness.

It strikes me that goodness continually flows into my life, and into my Being. Goodness consists of an objective quality which is both loving and sorrowful; it is unselfish, and above all, it is generous. I don't think I can know goodness without knowing this generosity of both spirit and substance, which is willing to offer. In the end, when I am touched by these forces — objective forces that lie on a level much higher than the nonsense mankind is generally up to — I'm reminded of what it really means to be religious, what it really means to be Christian — although it is the same thing, within the truth of goodness, to be Buddhist, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Hindu, or what have you. The truth of goodness, of generosity and unselfishness, is religion — it doesn't matter what name I paste on it.

This goodness doesn't flow into life from material things or created things. Goodness comes before those things, and merely — according to circumstance — expresses itself through them. I've become more and more sensible to the understanding, as I grow older, that even the worst sorts of things emanate from a goodness I cannot understand. This often arises in me through contradictory impulses; some bad thing happens, and I understand, paradoxically, that it was a good thing. The process doesn't make sense at all to me; and yet, I sense that I am in some way lightly brushing up against Meister Eckhart's understanding of God's Will, which is always generous and loving, even when it appears to be cruel and heartless.

I'm not going to make sense of this; and I suppose that I have to trust in God and go forward, knowing that I will forever be no more than a small, very confused creature in this regard.

It's my feeling impulse that gives me a taste of real life; and I wish that that impulse were inwardly formed more thoroughly in me, so that the impulse was a true one, formed around the sweet kernel of goodness that lies at the heart of Being.

I see that for the most part, this sweet kernel of goodness is, in me, floating in a sour sauce.

I suppose that's what makes a dish taste interesting; so perhaps I could be grateful for it. I'm not sure at all, however, that I am; I'd like to be better than I am, but I don't know how.

 In any event, this goodness that flows in, the sensation of an energy that consists of love, becomes a constant reminder of the effort I need to make to come to my life more honestly.


Tiger's paws

It strikes me how eager I am to believe that I can put something material, that is, coarse and physical, into me from outside somewhere, and believe that some kind of real change can come from it.

Of course there is some truth to this, in regard to the physical functioning of the body alone; and there is some truth to it in terms of the alchemy of drugs, which I (unfortunately) experimented with a great deal when I was very young. Yet none of these things have anything to do with the real transformation of the soul, which is effected by much finer materials that have nothing to do with tigers paw's or powdered horns of various kinds.

 Of course the material can transform into other material: physics and chemistry teaches us this in its simplest ways, whether through the obvious forces of catalysts that make one molecular substance out of another, or the fusion in suns that actually creates atoms. Yet there is a much subtler transformation that takes place, where the material is transformed into the spiritual; and, once again, as I ponder it this morning, I see that that point of transformation always exists within the Presence of Being, and results from the higher and most sacred Energy that flows inward into Being.

If I'm not constantly coming back to the relationship with this Energy, it cannot do its work, which is slow and precise, and takes many years. It deposits the spiritual world within Being very slowly, in very fine-grained layers,  like a stream quietly running through the valley of my life. It carries me through life; and over the course of days, weeks, months, and years, many creatures come to drink at this stream. Some leave their footprints in this fine layer of sand and clay that is being deposited; and yet always, year after year, that Energy deposits something that slowly lifts me up, so slowly that it is impossible to see how one's perspective changes from day to day; it's just too incremental.

Yet over the course of a lifetime, eventually one realizes that one is at a slightly higher vantage point than one was, say, several years ago; and one realizes that the stream bed is ever so gradually being raised, through this inner relationship.

 In the meantime, coming back this morning (and, I hope, many times today) to the Presence of this Energy, this finer and higher Energy which is available, I am left in a state of eternal mystery and internal questioning, because there is no way to exactly describe or understand the presence of the Lord. One can be inwardly formed by this; and one can know, despite one's abject failings, what real Love is through this force. It is a practical encounter with a great Truth that I am forever unable to inhabit and live out, unworthy Being that I am: and yet it is possible for me to look into the loving eyes of this force and know my own nothingness, which is in itself a way of Love, since this negation of myself, this gentle no that perpetually reminds me of who and what I actually am, is in fact its own blessing, even though my cruder parts can't understand that.

Through Grace and time (which is not just the destroyer, but as well the real healer) — an understanding that does not belong to the crudest and lowest parts of myself gradually begins to form. Yet that understanding isn't of the intellect.

It is a feeling.


Friday, March 27, 2015

feeling and valuation

 I measure with my intellect, but I value with feeling.

My valuation of my life increases in direct proportion to my understanding through the intelligence of feeling. Feeling has its own intelligence which is quite distinct from the intellect, which organizes, files, and compares. Feeling experiences; it is not a note-taker, it is a living quality of encountering life. There is a note taker who exists here side-by-side with the one who feels, but they are different people, different brains, different minds. If I see them both in action at the same time I suddenly understand that there are parts of myself that understand life immediately, as it happens here, not as a result of checking back in the notebooks, which I am prone to do a lot.

It reminds me of the way people want to experience where they are through their cell phones. It's most odd; all around me, in the midst of magnificent cityscapes, beautiful national parks, nature, wherever — it doesn't matter. One keeps seeing crowds of people, especially young ones, all hunched over their cell phones and devoting 100% of their attention to a little glass screen which is at best a few inches square. This is what the note-taker does. It excessively believes in the intellect and the material that the intellect is fascinated by. It is, furthermore, easily hypnotized by its own activity.

I suppose we avoid feeling because it can be dangerous. Feeling, after all, may reveal first and foremost that I have an exaggerated sense of myself; that I am motivated mostly by hubris. I'm scared of finding out real things about myself, I see that constantly; and so of course I try to arrange things to avoid that.

In my own case, I happen to be fortunate in that my feeling center is not so passive anymore; it has its own ideas about such things, and is constantly confronting me with how I am, whether I want it to or not. Healthy operation of both the physical and the feeling centers takes place when they awaken a bit and spend more time trying to remind me of what I am. Without the action of these two minds—in addition to the one that wants to look at 10 in.² of glass and the Internet information that displays on it—I'm not going to know very much about my life or who I am.

I come back to something I've written about many times before, which is that information is that which is inwardly formed — not lists of facts. If I acquire real information, it means that life is flowing into me and forming something inwardly. That formation ought to be a tangible, organic one, which I can actually feel and sense in my body; not just a set of thoughts that I bring to everything.

All day long, I see the inner note taker reading narratives to me, it's like this, it's like that, and realize how useless that "information" actually is.

While this is going on, I sense other parts of myself taking life in so that something is formed in me, something active and living, which feels life as it encounters it.

That's what I truly value, is this feeling connection, which I am still, after all these years, clumsy about managing. At their best, my feeling intuition and my feeling intelligence are very good indeed at helping me and showing me how to come into relationship with the world; but I'm not attentive and I don't listen to them as much as I ought, not by a long shot.

I suppose I have improved some over the years, but it's not enough to go an inch when you need to go a mile.


Negative emotions

Common Merganser in the rain
Sparkill, NY

Question: I was observing negative emotions and it came to me that I'm not sure what the word "negative" really means here… also, could the craving of addiction be called a negative emotion? …Do you find it easy to see your enjoyment of negative emotions? 

Response:  This got me thinking about my own negativity. I realized I make a lot of assumptions about it. I often speak about negative emotions as though I understood them.  Yet I am not so sure about that now.

Ouspensky implies there is no negative emotional center:

For instance, although he undoubtedly gave the fundamental basis for the study of the role and the significance of negative emotions, as well as methods of struggling against them, referring to non-identification, non-considering, and not expressing negative emotions, he did not complete these theories or did not explain that negative emotions were entirely unnecessary and that no normal center for them existed.

 —In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, page 56

Yet Gurdjieff himself said there was a negative part of emotional center:

G. said that centers were divided into positive and negative parts, but he did not point out that this division was not identical for all the different centers.
—ibid, page 56

But in consequence of the wrong work of centers it often happens that the sex center unites with the negative part of the emotional center or with the negative part of the instinctive center. 
—ibid, page 258

Anyway, let’s try and simplify it. A negative emotion is, in my experience, a selfish or destructive emotion. If the emotion serves myself only, it is negative in the sense that it is rejecting of others and the world. In this way even things that I experience as quite positive for myself could well be negative emotions; and this is worth thinking out a bit. One sees, for example, throughout one’s life countless examples of people having emotions which they subjectively experience as positive but which are, without any doubt, supremely negative. In this way we see that our personal reaction to an emotion probably has little or nothing to do with whether or not it’s negative. Here’s a typical and common case: most people enjoy watching movies in which the “bad guys” get killed. They deserve it, we think; and a great deal of moviemaking with violence relies on the premise that we’ll enjoy the violence as long as it appears justifiable. To a great extent, we do: the reflexology of the situation gives us little time to consider how tragic and horrible the killing of other beings is, and we forget it. So we are coaxed by the habit of our own nature into liking bad actions.

This is a gross, that is, coarse example; yet there are others too numerous to mention inside each one of us. Intellectual examination alone is never going to sort it all out; so we’re left with the fact—the absolute fact— that another part of ourselves needs to become more sensitive and more active if we’re to begin to understand which emotions are negative and which ones aren’t.

In this sense, your question is astute, because it leads me to see that I don’t actually know precisely what negativity is at all. I just think I do.

So just what is negativity? It is, I would propose, exactly what I said earlier: a selfishness of impulse—that is, a subjective impulse. 

In the end, we can verify this somewhat easily—because every impulse that serves the ego, that serves me, does not serve God, that is, the higher, the good—and this is a rejection of God, that is, a negating of relationship and a negating of the good, all in favor of myself. Perhaps seeing this is a clue as to why Gurdjieff so often emphasized objective consciousness and objective conscience. These are unselfish impulses, since their center of gravity is not my own well-being. 

We might recall that the only time Beelzebub mentions an occasion for concern for his own well-being, he calls it “criminal”: 

…I wish to confess to you in all sincerity that although my essence, with the consent of the parts of my presence subject to it alone, had decided to participate in the scientific experiment about to take place within Gornahoor Harharkh's new invention, and although I had entered its chief demonstrating part without the least compulsion from outside, yet this same essence of mine had allowed to creep into my being and to develop there, side by side with the strange sensations I have described to you, a criminally egoistic anxiety for the safety of my personal existence. 

However, my boy, so that you may not be too distressed by this confession, it is not superfluous to add that this was the first time this ever happened to me, and also the last, throughout my entire being-existence. 

Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, G. I. Gurdjieff, p. 156-57

When we say that negative emotions are an impulse, it means quite literally that they drive us towards something. It is a matter of the horse; so it is, indeed, a matter of feeling, or emotion, which is always what imparts an impulse. 

I think the negativity and negative emotion doesn't come from whether I like the experience of the emotion or not, but what the intention behind it is. The aphorism like what it does not like already implies that I don't understand what I like and don't like, or what is good for me, in the first place.

So if I don't study my intentions, I am unaware of my actual intention, I can't know whether I am negative or not. 

And if my intentions intend harm—if they are selfish—

well, that's negative.

 That includes, of course, negative or destructive intentions towards myself.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Heart practice and intentional suffering

 On this trip, I've been reading Paths to the Heart, Sufism and the Christian East, edited by James Cutsinger. It's a sound piece of work, which recapitulates a number of academic and inspirational sources on the meaning of heart practice.

 Yet it doesn't matter how much I read about heart practice; because nothing touches the sacred soul like the experience of the sacred soul itself. This is a mystery that no writing can penetrate, a blessing that no Bible can describe, and a responsibility that no outer laws can enforce.

I say this because there are no words, and there is no substitute for the direct opening of the heart to God. I can't find God in words, even though I write them and I read them. I can only find God in the receiving of a sacred energy that transforms; and that energy is only open to me in so far as I submit. It doesn't matter what religion I am, or what my opinions — and they are many — are; it only matters that I come into relationship with this energy, which is a truth that surpasses all understanding.

I know that it's possible to speak of this energy with words like bliss, and joy, and peace; and, equally, sorrow, submission, and nothingness. Yet all of that falls short of the responsibility to the Lord; and that is what I remind myself of this morning, as I ponder this question.

Within me is a finer vibration that arrives from somewhere else; I don't even need to understand where it comes from — and indeed, I cannot, I'm not capable of it. I only know that this presence is the presence of the Lord, and that it is, in the end, the only thing that matters in terms of relationship in this life and in this moment.

I'm in a hotel room now, looking out over the cityscape of Shanghai as the light dawns in the morning; and later today, I will go out to be in relationship with hotel staff, taxi drivers, office staff, suppliers, and so on. It's my responsibility to meet this life while carrying within me the resistance to everything, which somehow strangely rejects what life is, despite its untold blessings and its worthy requirements. I have to live with that contradiction even as the energy within me makes it possible to come into a positive and loving relationship with life; and I will be required once again, as I am every day, to see the contradiction between my own tiny being and its selfishness, and the need to offer myself unconditionally to all of these strangers, even those who still remain strangers after I have known them intimately (not, mind you, in the biblical sense) for many years.

It brings me once again back to this day and this inwardly flowing energy, which reminds me that I don't understand anything, and that I am, in fact, born of a realm and forces that are beyond my comprehension.

I hope that I can meet my Being today with enough of this responsibility, this obligation, that is born within me from Being itself, rather than the rules and regulations I imagine governing me, all of which were put into me by outside manifestations: religions, authorities, education, and so on. I want to remember to be responsible straight from the heart, without any reservations, and without any mediator:

I want to be responsible because I can feel within the organic depths of my being how this is a right thing, not because others told me it's important to be responsible.

In this way, I go forward into this very ordinary life to suffer it. I wish I knew more about what is required of me by this Presence which meets me in the center of my life, in my heart: but I don't. This is the place where I have to use my faith and my trust in what is irrevocably true to guide me through the lies, manipulations, and confusion of my ego, which will be with me all day long today, as they are every day.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Knowing life, intimately

I was in a discussion yesterday were one of my best friends asked me how we can know the unknown.

He was speaking of knowing in terms of an encounter the transcendental; an encounter with that which lies beyond us, the eternity that Meister Eckhart calls us to, the place beyond our own Being which is referred to words like stillness. If it is unknowable, he asked me, how can we know if we have encountered it?

This is a serious question. The moment we encounter something, don't we know it? And if so, hasn't it at once entered the realm of the known?

The unknown is, in itself, eternally manifest — and it is eternally still, but it's stillness is not a stillness of the word stillness. Already, it's stillness is unknown, and even though it manifests, it represents the unmanifested.

 In this way, stillness arrives, but it is nothing more than a messenger: a representative. There is a stillness that lies beyond stillness, and it is perpetually manifest. When stillness comes, when the unknown arrives, it is always nothing more than a representative of the unknown; and thus, the unknown always manages to hide itself behind the veil of what I know. I can see its shadow; and that's all.

I can know, in my encounter with the stillness — which exists alongside and in conjunction with everything that is ordinary and active in life — the shadow of this unknown; and as I know it, through my sensation and my feeling (for the mind cannot know this unknown in the way that sensation and feeling can know it) I know that my rational Being can never explain this stillness or the way that it is the force of life itself.

In this way, I can know life, which is the shadow and the representation of the unknown, but not the unknown itself. And the more intimately I know life, the more certain I am that it springs from the unknown source, from God. This is a living truth, one that penetrates the whole body and all of life without leaving a single iota untouched. And this is the beginning of Being, the location where I am, and know nothing more.

I think it's possible to play a lot of word games with the contradiction of the known and the unknown, but there are no word games in the sensing of the truth of life and the feeling of the truth of life, each of which moves into realms of the mind and the unknown which can't be analyzed or picked apart. There is no greater force or greater love than an encounter with this truth, which penetrates all of Being and at once of itself conveys the mystery of the unknown, which I stand forever in front of.

 Real Grace always calls me to the unknown, directly, and without any form to explain itself. It simply is; and it needs no mediation through what can be explained.

To me, there is never anything indifferent or impersonal about this encounter. It is different and personal; yet what it is different than is me, and the personal that it has is not mine.

 Nothing can better convey my own helplessness and the way that I do not know. That's how I meet the unknown; it is always and exclusively not in what I know and can discriminate about, but the place where my discrimination itself fails.

In these places and these times, I stand on a threshold I cannot cross over; and this is the place where I know I have encountered the unknown.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Beyond everything that I know

It occurs to me this morning that if I really take this question of inner work seriously, this question of God and what His intentions for me are, I really do have to go beyond everything that I know.

Of course, Jeanne de Salzmann wrote about this in her notes; yet do I really believe it? Meister Eckhart brings me to the same questions; and no matter where in myself I turn, I'm forced to ask questions and see things that transcend any understanding I currently have.

In a sense, I saw this morning, I have to go beyond Gurdjieff and everything about him, even the word itself. I have to forget about this teaching, that teaching, the Buddha, Christ, and so on — and allow all of these things to die off, to become a formless search within me.

I have to let go of my assumptions, opinions, and attitudes. First I see, it is true, the impossibility of that. I have to stand in front of that and look at it. The convictions I have are all false ones, somehow; there is a nothingness that has to be confronted, and yet in that nothingness is everything of substance, everything from which Being emanates. So it isn't nothing; yet it certainly negates and destroys everything I know.

This is a place of great discomfort. I see that I don't know anything about life and about what I am doing; I see that my wants and needs are temporal, and relate only to aspects of being that will become corrupted and die. There is an element of Being that is not affected by this; yet I don't focus on that, I forget, even as it is forever present and active in me, to come into relationship with it.

It is as though I were a drunkard who had sobriety living in me, right next to me, advising me as I sat at the bar doing one shot after another. And indeed, that's not such a bad analogy. I lived through that once, and there is a truth in what I say there; yet the same thing happens to my soul and my spirit  in relationship to God, and the denier in me doesn't want to confront that.

So do I really believe in this idea of abandoning everything? I can read about it, I can think about it, but in the end, don't I always try to come back to images and forms? And don't I, at the same time, know beyond any doubt and forever, not just through faith but through the experience of truth itself, that the images and forms are all just substitutes for what is real?

Well, I see how I don't know the answers to those questions.

I will get up again this morning and go to work and accept the conditions, even though most of what is in me resists everything that happens in my life in one way or another. Really, it's distressing to see, over and over again, how much of me is formed in a negative way. I live through that every day, rejecting everything; and yet the conditions are exactly right, and they are all good ones.

Why are these parts in me like that? I wonder.

When I encounter goodness and Grace, it works slowly and gently and lovingly to take me past myself. It needs to do that; because there is no good here for what is necessary.


Monday, March 23, 2015


Reader question:

I'm currently reading "The Reality of Being" and I was wondering what Madame de Salzmann was implying in chapter 4:

Real “I” comes from essence. Its development depends on the wish of essence—a wish to be and then a wish to become able to be. Essence is formed from impressions that are assimilated in early childhood, usually up to the age of five or six when a fissure appears between essence and personality.

Is it that we are born without essence, since it "is formed..."? And what, in that case, & in your opinion, is the difference between essence and personality? –for I see none, both being formed by assimilating outside impressions after birth. 

Or it could be that I don't very well understand what "to be formed" means in this instance?


Well, I think that what she says here in the book is misleading.  It may be because it was taken out of context and she failed to explain it thoroughly.  Or maybe she just had it wrong.

 I am reminded of a good friend of mine who knew her very well indeed, and has protested to me on  more than one occasion that the book sounds nothing like what she sounded like when she spoke in person. I have seen several spots in this book with statements that are either inaccurate or untrue; and that will have to be typical of anyone, since everyone's work and insight is always developing, and never complete. There is a great danger in taking what people say verbatim as being correct; and in assuming that teachers are unerring.

Let's examine this question a little more detail. Take, for example, the following statement:

Essence in man is what is his own. Personality in man is what is 'not his own.' 'Not his own' means what has come from outside, what he has learned, or reflects, all traces of exterior impressions left in the memory and in the sensations, all words and movements that have been learned, all feelings created by imitation—all this is 'not his own,' all this is personality.
— In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, pub. Paul H. Crompton Ltd, 2004, p 168

 Right away, in this statement, we see that essence begins from insidenot  from outside — and that, in fact, we are born with it, as this quotation amply demonstrates:

Essence is purely emotional.  It consists of what is received from heredity before the formation of personality, and later, only those sensations and feelings among which a man lives.  What comes after merely depends on the transition.
— Views From the Real World,  Paris, August 22

 Of course it develops, because it comes into contact with the outside world, which helps it grow. It is like a seed; where the personality is a graft onto that plant which grows from the seed. The distinction is quite apt and this is an accurate description of it.

Furthermore, let us consider the following:

Astrology deals with only one part of man, with his type, his essence—it does not deal with personality, with acquired qualities. If you understand this you understand what is of value in astrology.
—ibid (ISOTM), p 373.

 Type and astrology are characteristics governed by a human being's birth, not by things he acquires — and the quote clearly delineates the difference.

 Here's another little tidbit.

Essence is the truth in man; personality is the false. But in proportion as personality grows, essence manifests itself more and more rarely and more and more feebly and it very often happens that essence stops in its growth at a very early age and grows no further. It happens very often that the essence of a grown-up man, even that of a veryintellectual and, in the accepted meaning of the word, highly 'educated' man, stops on the level of a child of five or six. 

—ibid (ISOTM), p 169.

It's quite likely that when de Salzmann made the comment you cite, what was in the back of her mind was the above quote.

Many other things could be said about essence; but I think the innermost kernel of it is that essence is what we are; we are born with it, but we forget it as we grow up. It becomes, as Gurdjieff told his pupils in Views From the Real World, covered in a thick crust. Readers who are truly interested in the subject should look through Views, since it has a great deal of information on the subject.

 There is a close connection — a very, very close one — between Meister Eckhart's concept of the soul, and Swedenborg's divine inflow. Pondering this inwardly may bear important fruit.

Our experience of essence — of our innermost being — should become alive, and we should experience both of the soul and the divine inflow through it. I say should, because really there is no other way for this to happen, except through essence. It is, after all, of the emotional center — and the center works at the fastest speed, the highest rate of vibration, and thus comes closest to touching heaven. It alone of all centers has the capacity to form a thread, a connection, to the level above us. That thread transmits energy in the form of sensation, of course, but sensation is the beginning of feeling — a complex subject we do not have time to examine today.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Self-importance and character

Hairy Woodpecker, near Sparkill, New York

 It's interesting to me to see how insecure most of us actually are about our own nature.

 The reasons for this, on the face of it, seem obvious: we don't know our own nature; and so, when we begin to see who and what we are (an action that forever takes place in the psyche, even unconsciously, whether we want it to or not) we are confronted with a stranger.

It makes us nervous; we pack in rebar, pour large layers of cement over it, develop habitual responses, take refuge in reliable subterfuges that conceal who we are from others...

and move on.

It's as though there weren't time to be anyone real: there's too damn much to do.

 I'll be real later, when I have time to think about it.

Well then. First of all, we are observing ourselves whether we want to or not; the question is whether we do it consciously (with some attention and mindfulness) or unconsciously (neurotically and under the perpetual threat of seeing, and hating, what we are.) One of my friends recently posted to Facebook, "I have low self-esteem, and I hate myself for it." Well, that's pretty much par for the course, isn't it?

Unless we see ourselves with some awareness, we are perpetually confronted with imposter syndrome; and we make ourselves constantly nervous. This is the source of an enormous amount of personal tension.

Paradoxically, in the midst of this insecurity, we construct a persona around the ego that thinks it's very, very important. I often have occasion to observe people with this issue; mostly type A (overachiever) personalities, incredibly accomplished, yet deeply insecure, conflicted, and delusional.

In a way, it's intriguing to realize that human beings, nearly to the last one, don't have any sense at all of themselves, and this massive construct of self-importance they have glued themselves to — a spiritual and psychological burden that is not only entirely unnecessary, and need never be carried, but is so transparent as to be easily seen through: the bigger it is, the more it is so.

Paradox number two: when one realizes one's own nothingness — a lesson that, in my own case, seems to be the whole point of my entire life, in one way or another — this absurd burden is slowly lifted.

One suddenly has permission to be everything that one is, good and bad, and inhabit it. It doesn't make a damned bit of difference, because the sum total of my value, relatively speaking, is nothing. I only have value in relationship to the higher forces that express themselves in me; and those aren't my forces either. Freedom means coming into service of those forces; so in a certain sense, surrender and bondage leads to freedom.

I'm not quite sure how to explain this and further, because I understand it seems a bit ridiculous to say so.

In any event, it's this question of our self-importance, and our inner character, that interests me. There is so much psychology, so much defense, and so little humanity built into the way most people meet one another, it puzzles me. When I interact with people, I am almost never interacting with the person; I am interacting with their defenses, which is what everyone seems to hold up in front of the world first.

It's like an iron shield...

people don't deal with one another from the feeling, the sensation of their humanity...

they deal with one another in a series of elaborate lies and defenses.

What is the point of all this?

Doesn't anyone realize we are all going to die?

It occurs to me that we might owe one another something a bit more sincere than this charade we all participate in.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sorrow and sensation

Sarcophagus from Cyprus
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Gurdjieff never said he was working towards enlightenment.

In point of fact, he uses the word a grand total of once in Beelzebub’s Tales, when he says that Saint Buddha intended to enlighten the reason of human beings:

Well, my boy, during my detailed study of that religious teaching, I also discovered that when this Sacred Individual had become coated with the presence of a three-brained being of that planet, and had seriously pondered how to fulfill the task laid upon him from Above, he decided to accomplish it by the enlightenment of their Reason. 

(page 219)

I bring this up strictly because the aim of Gurdjieff’s teachings is not enlightenment; it is to learn how to share the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness; that is, the sorrow of God.

Let me emphatically say, therefore, that anyone who knows where this work will take one is lying if they say they want to go there; furthermore, anyone who undertakes this work thinking they will get something that they will like is in the wrong work. 

This work will not give you what you like; it will give you what you need, and that is a very different thing. Purgatory is exactly what one needs; and no one sets out to a place of suffering thinking to themselves, wouldn't it be nice to go somewhere where I could suffer more?

Folks treat this like it is a theoretical question; but it is anything but. Inner work, properly undertaken, leads to this question of suffering, which is a material question and not an emotional one. Feeling comes into it, yes; but the foundation of suffering is material, and it is not connected to external material things. 

Ah, it is so complicated to explain this.

The finer energies that Gurdjieff describes to Ouspensky only produce bliss and specialized higher states of consciousness as a byproduct; otherwise, generally speaking, the finer they are, the more sorrow they bring. Gurdjieff did not describe the sorrow of His Endlessness as a burden casually; it is a weight to be carried, and the more that one's heart opens, the more weight one is expected to lift.

Because of all this, the consequences of this work deviate considerably from enlightenment works which presume freedom from suffering, bliss, joy, and so on and so forth. It is not a work to turn us into radiant beings that will spread happiness all around us as we scatter rose petals at the feet of our white gowns. 

A much more inward and mysterious process occurs; and one has to be willing to trust this, without thinking of angels and devils and the like. They may appear; they may not. What is certain is that sorrow will come; and it must be suffered intentionally.

Stop for a minute and return to sensation. Then try to feel, really deeply feel, for a moment, through the precise nature of vibration in the body, what the feeling that lies beneath this finer energy is.

Perhaps one can be touched for just a moment by an exercise of this nature.


Friday, March 20, 2015

A call to Grace

March 7.

A walk along the Hudson.

A friend calls me to invite me for dinner.

I suddenly realize that I don't deserve any of the Grace that is sent.

And, for me, this is one of the facts of Grace: the more one encounters Grace, and the deeper it falls into Being, the more gently and lovingly it teaches me that I don't deserve Grace at all. It is a wonderful thing, Grace; this love is unconditional. And it keeps coming, more and more, deeper and deeper; and I am less and less—ever less—deserving, because the more I see of God's Grace, the more absolutely certain I am, with every ounce of feeling that my Being can have, with every dram of conscience which can be awakened in this unworthy breast, that I deserve absolutely nothing — none of it.

The anguish that this produces is nearly unbearable; yet the gifts that are sent are so generous it is impossible to say no; and even if I wanted to say no, I couldn't. It is not up to me. It is not up to me to receive; it is my part, on the other hand, to a knowledge and to suffer what I am, knowing that this lesson is quite necessary.

Why does a phone call from a friend trigger such understandings?

I can't say, except that I am sure all of these things that come are blessings. There is a moment when the soul opens to God in which one sees that 100% of one's life is a blessing; that the worst thing that ever happened to me is a blessing; that the least significant leaf lying on the snow, already long spent, is a blessing. Understanding this with all of the parts — feeling, sensation, intelligence — is also anguishing and unbearable, because the instant that a really centered awareness encounters how things are, one overwhelmingly understands one's own nothingness.

That nothingness stands looking directly into the active manifestation of the Lord; and no one really dares to look at the Lord directly.

 As usual, although I can explain the cosmos — more or less — I can't explain any of this, because what really happens in one's relationship with God, in the living experience of the soul and its efforts to be whole, is of a different order.

It exceeds creation.

How it does that and why it does that are mysteries indeed; and the only thing I'm certain of is the way in which it calls me to suffer the truth of what is, in the midst of life.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sensation, presence, suffering, part II

I suppose there is a danger in presuming any progression in spiritual work; yet there is a path, and one cannot presume movement on the path without presuming progression. Aimless wandering will not do; and trying to dissolve oneself in an endless sea of bliss becomes, in the end, aimless wandering — doesn't it?

Sensation, presence, and suffering represent the manifestation of three-brained being according to the principle of awakened materiality (sensation) awakened intelligence (presence) and awakened feeling (suffering.)

Now, the first two elements in this triumvirate seem to have objective natures: sensation and non-sensation, presence and non-presence; but the third one seem subjective, because suffering and non-suffering seems so intensely subjective to us. "I" may not seem to have much of a personal stake in whether I sense or not — and "I" may not seem to have much of a personal stake in whether I am present or not; but when it comes to suffering, well, "I" certainly don't want to do that.

 In order to understand this question better, I need to understand suffering as a material fact — part of the fabric of the universe — and because I have always understood it from my subjective parts, that isn't really available. While the material (sensation) is acknowledged by science, and intelligence (presence) is employed by it, science has little or no place for feeling (suffering), once again, because it seems to embody a subjective nature. The fact that it has an objective nature tied to the root of the universe itself has never occurred to scientists, even though the receiving of a higher energy will, if it is done properly, absolutely verify this.

One might say that science has completely overlooked the significance of emotion and feeling in the manifestation of being. Intelligence and matter are, on the other hand, quite well understood. When Gurdjieff said that human beings are "third force blind," this is, in the broadest possible terms, what he was getting at. We don't see that suffering is an objective material force, that it arises at once in the creation of the universe. It has been here since the beginning; and no matter how "objective" the sciences become or see themselves as, human beings instinctively know this — because they encounter the hard physical reality of it on this level over and over again, even if they remain functionally unable to open to its meaning on a different one.

Once one understands sensation, one can fairly say that one understands there is no point in living without it — that, in fact, without the organic sense of being, one is not actually living, since one has no rooted conscious sensation of it. And once one understands presence, one can say that one understands there is actually no point in living without this either, since it is transformational in terms of its relationship to sensation and brings us to a moment where feeling can enter.

At that point, one realizes there is no point in living without suffering. This is the point at which one attains the marrow of the practice.

The phrase Thy will be done applies to all of the work on this path: I don't do it.

I come to it to participate.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Suffering, Joy, and Love

Not long ago, a good friend of mine — a woman who understands something about these things – mentioned to me that she felt that in the experience of a material — an inner — sorrow, there was also joy.

At the time, I wasn't willing to concede that it is joy we speak of here. The most I would say is, "I would not say that there is no benefit."

This statement was deliberated and concise at the time; yet I couldn't put my finger on why I said that, although I was sure that from within the context of my own experience, it was exactly the right thing to say.

I have been pondering this for nearly a week now, and I think I understand where my reservations lie, and what the nature of the relationship between sorrow, suffering, and joy — as we call it — is.

First of all, I turn the page back to something I wrote in 2003 in my original work on Chakras and the Enneagram. The point of this was that the entire universe, and everything in it, is made entirely of Love. This Love is a divine Love, the most absolute and divine Love of the most holy Sun Absolute, that is, God; and, of course, even though I had never heard of Emanuel Swedenborg at the time I wrote the essay, he wholeheartedly concurs in this evaluation, which is not conjecture, but what Gurdjieff would have called an objective truth.

But that is not all of the story.

 I've had a great deal of time, not just over the past week, but the last 14 years, to ponder this question from many different points of view, and in my estimation, it goes something like this.

It's true that the universe — all of material creation, what Meister Eckhart calls creatures — encompassing not just living beings, but all concepts and inanimate objects as well — is constructed entirely of a vibration call Love, which exists rooted down at the level where the quantum state collapses and reality manifests, and governs all of its actions. That vibration and its collapse into material reality is inherently loving, a quality which can only be appreciated by receiving its vibration deep in Being and understanding how absolutely unconditional and inhuman — indeed, uncreated and in its origins unmanifested— it is.

I say inhuman because it is transcendental and incomprehensible to us except as an understanding received by our feeling center, which alone is the part that can receive its nature. (I should mention in passing that the majority of Meister Eckhart sermons are about precisely this feeling—perception.)

 Yet this root of Love begins even deeper still, beyond its own unmanifested and uncreated nature, in a place that exists beyond time (Eckhart's eternity) in the heart of God's own soul.

If we were to describe this place in terms of physics, we would call this location a place — in so far as it can be a place, which is of course impossible —as the pre-big bang state; before time, and before creation, where creation and time are anticipated, along with absolutely all of their consequences, essentially infinite in nature.  Physics calls that place a singularity: and it is a place with, so to speak, zero entropy, that is, a state of perfect order. Such a place is impossible for us to imagine from the point of view of science, because everything in the created universe is driven by entropy, that is, the tendency for things to wind down to the lowest energy state, where, roughly speaking, the least order exists.

This comprehensive anticipation of creation and time, this singularity, is the undivided, comprehensive mind of God as described by Ibn al 'Arabi in the Sufi saints, and it consists of an inestimable sorrow.

That sorrow precedes everything else that follows; it is, in fact, the heart of creation and the heart of the universe.

Gurdjieff had his own story for this situation, and he did not specifically elaborate on the deep roots I am describing; yet the sorrow is linked to the relentless action of what he called the merciless heropass, or Time. The sorrow arises from the fact that it is impossible to create the universe — which must of necessity exist — without time, which causes all things to ultimately pass and be destroyed.

It is an arising of Love that folds its own destruction into itself; and the sorrow arises because it is impossible to preserve anything, even though every single iteration and manifestation of created reality contains within itself the unsurpassable perfection of Love, with all of its consequent characteristics and qualities.

Moving on to the point of all of this, what is blended into the experience of suffering — the sorrow of creation, which is part of the material fabric of the universe — is not joy.

It is Love.

That is to say, it consists of an even higher rate of vibration and principle than joy, or bliss, or any other word that can be used to describe it. Love is the highest principle; and when we experience what we think of, especially at decayed rates of vibration, as joy, what we are really experiencing are various "echoes" of Love, which is not quite the same thing at all.

If we were to distill all the joy that were ever emanated and experienced by beings all over the universe, we would discover Love. It is this sublime force that we sense along with sorrow; and indeed, suffering on behalf of this Love is the greatest spiritual reward of all.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sensation, presence, suffering

As I have explained in the last few posts, there is an overall purpose to inner work.

That purpose, in its largest sense, consists of suffering; and in fact the aim of all inner work according to this particular system is suffering.  There is a hierarchy that relates to this.

One develops sensation in order to create a foundation for presence.

Presence can't manifest unless it finds itself in an active, grounded field of awareness through sensation. At this point, several different levels of sensation develop in order to support presence. The first one is organic; the second one is molecular; the third one is atomic. That is to say, one moves from sensation within organs (chakras)—which although various schools say is refined, is actually a rather gross form of sensation—to sensation within the molecular sense of the body, to sensation of one's atoms.

Each of these stages is something that takes a number of years to develop, because the deposition of the material substances of impressions that make it possible takes a rather long period of time. During that period, which can easily last a decade or more, successive layers of material are deposited which eventually support these successive levels of inner work.

Eventually, the organic sense of being leads to an inner sense of gravity: and that inner sense of gravity is generally supported by solar influences, which wax and wane. One needs to learn how to move within the rhythms of that energy in order to develop a good relationship with this gravity.

The gravity attracts presence. Presence waxes and wanes with it; and yet in itself it is not an end.

The whole point of developing both sensation and presence is so that they can support suffering; and that takes yet another long period of time, during which the material of impressions is deposited to support the work of inner suffering. Only after the foundation of both these two qualities of sensation and presence is firmly established can this inward suffering really begin to take place.

Inward suffering is a quite different thing than suffering which is attached to outward life and the material circumstances of life. It brings a relatively inexpressible anguish which ought to become almost constantly present. Because it is detached from ordinary emotions and life, it doesn't create the same depression that suffering in the lower emotional center or physical center will produce. It is a suffering that holds itself apart from ordinary life, but radically deepens one's experience of it. Once again, reaching this stage is a very long process—and yet that only represents the beginning of an inner point of such work.

When one speaks of intentional suffering, one has to understand it from the point of view of this inward suffering, which cannot become available without a thorough support from sensation and presence. Even then, it must trickle into being in small doses over a long period of time, because the experience of it in large quantities is overwhelming and impossible to sustain over anything but a brief period. As such, one is required to suffer intentionally for many years; and what makes this intentional is that—as must be instinctively understood—one must go towards the suffering. This is why one needs to learn to work with one's instincts. Instinct on the ordinary level runs away from suffering — instinct on the spiritual level is attracted to it.

 It's quite possible that an individual may be shown some of this at an early stage of inner effort, to give them a taste of what needs to be worked towards; and as one's work progresses, further indications in this direction are given, as long as one is prepared to recognize them.

A perspective which asserts that presence and the freedom, or bliss, which often accompanies it, are aims unto themselves, does not—in my own experience, at least—take into account the further stages of effort which are necessary in order to continue inward in this manner.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Arising from outer events

In the ongoing posts about suffering, and various exchanges with readers on the subject, it becomes more and more evident that this question is generally understood from the point of view of outward events.

That is, no matter what we do, we default to an understanding of suffering and sorrow—intentional or otherwise—as arising from outer events.

This is an inverted and incorrect understanding. Everything we experience — experience itself — arises inwardly as a result of what flows inward from the outer events. That is to say, the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions are all indeed outward, and exist; but sorrow and suffering — which are responses to the outward world — arise inwardly, and are entirely the property of our inward nature. They do not belong to what is outside of us; they belong to ourselves, and thus, we become responsible for them. It is the response of consciousness to what it encounters.

This may seem like some kind of metaphysical or psychological point, but with a proper development of inward sensation, the distinction becomes quite real and is not a technical one subject to analysis using rays of creation, octaves, hydrogens, and so on. In some senses all these theories and diagrams are absolutely useless when compared to the physical sensation and the understanding it arouses. The technical work is just a ladder to climb to the roof; once I get there, I'm not thinking about ladders at all—I see the whole city.

 I come back to this point over and over again, and have had a number of different readers ask me to explain the difference. The difference lies within sensation of Being itself, however; not in the words that describe it or the analogies I can think up—no matter how good I am at analogies.

Yet in addition to all these irrefutable impressions of the outward world— the diseases, the war, the terrorists, and so on —there is a much finer substance we can receive. One must liken it to food one eats; and in order to understand how it is encountered, enters, and affects Being, one needs to compare exactly to taking a sweet piece of fruit — try papaya, for example — putting it in the mouth when one is quite hungry, savoring it carefully, and understanding the entire experience of how material it is to bite it, chew it, swallow it, feel it go into the stomach, and then understand the sensation of being folded spreads throughout the body. This is a coarse and quite material example of receiving a substance.

Records of his teaching demonstrate that Gurdjieff specifically wanted his pupils to experience this act with great attention, which may seem a bit odd; but there were reasons.

Imagine this sensation refined to a much more exquisite sensibility, and imagine it being received physically through metaphysical means — that is, imagine an emanation, like sunlight, that enters the body and penetrates it as food.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but in reality, this is the physical touch of God as mediated through the angelic realms; and it takes many forms. (For example, Rumi described the sensations of smell which it can arouse as musk—an intense perfume of the soul.)

What is important is that it is a physical material that is received from higher levels, which penetrates and permeates the body. The higher sensation we work towards arises from the receiving of similar material (although sensation itself begins within the receiving of the material at a lower rate of vibration than the one that relates to intentional suffering.)

Again, these are technical points, and can't be understood with the mind; one has to keep coming back to an encounter with one's inner sense of intimacy, and a submission to God's will, in order to open to this substance.

In the Old Testament, it was called manna; and of course, it has also been referred to as prana, and the Holy Spirit, although these expressions limit it to a single substance or action, whereas it has, in its entirety, many different aspects, all of which relate to the receiving of varying rates of higher vibrations.

The work I have undertaken in explaining its relationship to intentional suffering relates to the highest (for us) available level of vibration, which was the one that Gurdjieff spent so much time writing about in Beelzebub.  I've undertaken this because it seems to me that there is so much confusion on the subject, and such a powerful tendency to mix it with the questions of this level, which exist entirely within their own octave, and exert a force that must, in the end, actually be overcome and abandoned in the effort to open one's heart.

 That action of abandonment, in what may sound like a paradox, actually turns out to precisely and compassionately serve the events on this level, which cannot actually be served in any other way, no matter how we struggle and flail around in our outward efforts to affect the outcome of events. Only the influx of a higher influence can really affect anything on this level.

It doesn't mean that we abandon outward efforts; but inwardly, we need to understand where they lie in relationship to our work.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Unmanifested sorrow

Reader question:

What of the suffering which we undergo when we willingly bear one another's "unpleasant manifestations"?  It's more than a decision not to express negative emotions, one of the first things we're taught in the Work. It's a lot deeper, because we see and suffer from the behavior of another, without any wish to retaliate, without getting angry, without being able to change it, knowing that we're powerless. That this is how we are, how we all are. The sort of thing which happens, for instance, if a friend or family member is caught up in drugs or alcohol abuse. Real suffering, wouldn't you say? And yet, where to place it? Inner or outer? I'd say it's inner suffering, but caused by something outside ourselves. The sort of suffering which God must have, when He sees us. Sharing in His sufferings, perhaps?


I think this is an interesting question; and I think we’ve all had it at one time or another. I’ve been on both sides of the drug and alcohol abuse fence; and I’ve dealt with multiple cases of friends, very close family members, and longtime business associates with bipolar disorder; anyone who has had to deal with that can attest to its disastrously debilitating effects. 

These diseases produce very real suffering; up to and including complete and utter anguish and emotional devastation. There is nothing worse, perhaps, than watching helpless as a child destroys themselves and everything around them, an experience I have watched several parents go through by now.

In my own eyes we need, however, to learn to clearly distinguish between these objectively outward forms of suffering and inward suffering of a higher nature. They are related; but they are not the same thing. One might liken it to a hawk, and its image in the mirror; one is a perfectly faithful, but ultimately illusory, representation of the living, breathing creature; yet both present identically to the eye, and both may through their image inspire nearly identical feelings.

This is a trick of sorts; and it shows how little we ought to rely on powerful, yet superficial, appearances to unveil the inner, or true, nature of things. 

In my experience, the type of suffering you speak of here is very real suffering; yet it is suffering that prepares

I draw the distinction because there is, equally, a suffering that repairs; and these two sufferings are not of the same order, although one precedes the other. The suffering which prepares is external suffering; and it develops according to its own octave, moving through progressive stages of Materiality, Desire, Force, Being, Purification, and Wisdom… each one of which represents a deepening of understanding in which the suffering becomes more and more one’s own inner property. 

They are all steps, in other words, towards assuming responsibility. 

Yet until one passes the final interval from si to do—that is, the last note in the octave—one has not yet become available to the suffering that repairs, which is a form of Grace. We suffer externally throughout the progression of life, always deepening our experience of suffering; and in that final passage from si to do, if we intentionally suffer the consequences of the entire octave until now, we encounter a moment of forgiveness which is truly unconditional.

Well, one could go on at length about the technical aspects of this. But it is, I think, the feeling nature of the question that ultimately informs us… and interests us.

That moment of forgiveness, a moment of true feeling, opens us—if we have truly broken apart, in our innermost nature—to a higher energy. And that energy transmits a level of sorrow which is no longer experiential in terms of the outer world or its manifestations. 

It is an emanation.

So I would say, most emphatically, that this bearing up under the unpleasant manifestations of others, is just a starter kit. It prepares the soil for what I would call unmanifested sorrow, which is part of the material fabric of the cosmos… a force which surpasses all known sorrow, and leads us directly into a communion with the sorrow of what is unknown.

I know I speak a bit cryptically here; yet I doubt there is any other way to say it.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Hope of Good results, Part II: One must try

So in inner work, we make our efforts in the hope for good results.

Is ambition out of place here? Ambition, after all, could well be construed as a wish to do; and one of the standard adages of the Gurdjieff method is that man cannot "do."

The meaning of this statement is complex, not simple; and has layers and levels built into it. Yet one must admit that man and woman, in the Gurdjieff system, are advised to try and do a very great deal indeed—at least for creatures who are from the outset advised that they can’t do anything.

The egregious contradiction here has rarely, if ever, been examined by those undertaking this work, at least in my experience, and the statement must thus be relegated, in the most immediate practical sense, to the dung heap, not matter how metaphysically correct it may be.  One is, after all, advised to do movements; to do exercises; to do sittings; to see; to observe; to do this, that and the other thing ad infinitum… all without doing anything, and without working for results.

One might excuse the potential for confusion here, all of which arises from a lack of clear thinking (or, for that matter, thinking of any kind whatsoever) on the matter. 

Let's face it: the sheer weight of facts contradicts the dogma. Whether man can do or not, one cannot just sit on one’s ass reading books and watching movies.

One must try.

In trying, there are possibilities that lie beyond glib words and misleading, if not openly false, statements about the situation. One can try without attachment; and I believe that this is what people actually mean when they say one must work without expecting results. 

It's the attachment that creates an impediment, not the prospective result; yet in labeling the situation as we do, it is the potential result that is ultimately tarred and feathered, not our attitude towards the activity that attempts to achieve it. 

To try without attachment creates an objective atmosphere; this is effort without presumption, working (more or less) without opinions. This form of agency need not, in my estimation, eschew ambition; for of course we have a wish… wish itself is in a certain sense a form of ambition. 

Even if one’s wish is construed in the propositionally narrow terms of “consciousness alone,” that in itself is a goal. 

The whole of ambition covers a range of agency which needs, in this sense, to be divorced from itself. Natural or material ambition, subjective ambition, needs to be divorced from spiritual or objective ambition. In distinguishing between the two, the determining factor needs to be whether or not the ambition is selfish.

Ambition is at heart a trinitarian manifestation. One must have ambition for one’s self; but this must in the end serve ambition for others, and that in the end must serve ambition on behalf of God. There is, in other words, a hierarchy of ambition; and as it evolves, ambition must become more and more selfless—as the fifth obligolnian striving points out. While considering this, it's worthwhile seeing that the strivings themselves represent a hierarchy of ambition, which begins in a (relatively) selfish place, but ends with a striving that is selfless. They reflect, in other words, the point I am trying to make here.

Perhaps we are better off, after all, if we turn to Eckhart’s proposition that God alone is the goal; for God represents a quality (and, were he but material) a quantity that transcend all words—and perhaps even consciousness itself. Every concept, after all, is a created thing—anything manifest or that can be named (cf. Ibn al ‘Arabi) falls into this category—and thus represents a barrier between us and “God alone,” which lies above and beyond all creatures, and time itself.

Insofar as there is a “universal” goal in inner work, then, it is God; and of course an unattached effort is the only effort that will suffice—anything attached to creation and its universe of concepts must be abandoned.