Thursday, April 30, 2015

negativity as a force

Today I'll be presenting my paper on Intentional Suffering in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson and Meister Eckhart's Book of Divine Consolation at the annual All & Everything Conference in Hoorn, The Netherlands.

In contemplating the overall questions raised by this subject, especially in regard to my own inner emotive processes, it occurred to me this morning that the point of intentional suffering may well be, above all, to begin to see and understand my own negativity as a force.

I spend the greater part of my life identified with negativity. The identification with it—the belief that it is, in a nutshell, me: that it is who I am when and as I experience it—prevents me from seeing it as a thing apart from my Being. I inhabit the negativity, rather than my own Being: it is a question, in other words, of which inner center of gravity I fall under the influence of. One who orbits the force of one's negativity cannot orbit the force of one's Being: they are two different inner Gods.

This may seem obvious; and from an intellectual and psychological point of view the question may be easy to grasp and to process. Yet from an inner and organic point of view, I don't believe it is a simple thing at all. It's a shock, really, as one grows older to slowly separate from one's negativity and see it as an entity unto itself. I'm not really all that familiar with it, and I rarely experience how it acts as an attractant. I simply become attracted and fall into it; and that's that.

If I suffer as both Eckhart and Gurdjieff propose, I am required to confront inner truths about my own nature which cannot be organically encountered in any other way. The nature of my inner negativity can be experienced as a material; quite literally, a physical material, a substance, which aggregates and emits an inner force of attraction.

The inner nature of all thought, sensation, and emotion is material in this way; yet for the most part I treat them as abstractions, generally failing to understand the way that they collect and the cumulative effect of these substances on the planetary bodies of my own inner cosmos.

Both the concept and the practice (of sensing my own negativity) relate, thus, to understanding the laws of world creation and world maintenance from an inner point of view.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Addiction and centers

Bee-mimic fly, Sparkill, NY
 These flies are adapted to look almost exactly like bees.

Reader question: Is addiction run by instinctive center?

Response: Is addiction “run” by any Center at all? That is to say, how could we understand it relative to the work of centers?

This is a complex question. I would say that it isn't run by centers, but rather substances. In nearly every case, addiction is producing a chemical reward for the addict. The chemical reward can be external — in the form of nicotine, cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and so on — or it can be internal, that is, it can produce a set of endorphins or higher hydrogens from the actions of eating, gambling, obsession on a particular subject, and so on. It is, in other words, a misalignment and disruption of the chemical systems in the body.

Now, centers use these chemicals, but the chemicals themselves don't "run" anything. They are mechanical elements in what ought to be a conscious system—but isn't. The machine is broken; and once the chemistry runs amok, putting it right can be a Sisyphean task.

Once the centers are under these powerful chemical influences, they lose what little influence they have over behavior; and in this case, a powerful intention needs to develop to counteract the problem. That intention must be so powerful that it becomes a man's or a woman's inner God. This is why it is said that addicts generally have to hit bottom in order to recover; only by hitting bottom and seeing that they are at the bottom can they perceive the idea that their God must be a God of recovery. 

And indeed, as we see, AA — the most experienced and probably the best organization in dealing with addicts, so effective that almost all other addiction organizations have patterned themselves on it — understood this quite precisely and built it in to the foundational premise of their work. As Peggy Flinsch told me (she didn't need to, as I knew it anyway from personal experience) this kind of work is real work, not sitting around in parlors and meeting rooms with one's hands folded primly in one's lap while one philosophizes. It is quite literally working life, and it is a struggle against the most monstrous parts of oneself — a kind of work that most people (that is, everyone who isn't an addict) cannot and will never understand. That is because spiritual development is rarely, if ever, seen as a life-and-death struggle, even though that is exactly what it is.

So addiction isn't run by the centers. The centers get involved to feed it, but they aren't in charge of it. The best way of explaining it would be that they are enslaved by it. It is like a kind of infection by bacteria that produce a craving for the foods that help them grow, a problem that is all too familiar and even rather well-known in the biological world.

Most addiction turns on a simple and subtle fact: it is always built on a real need. For example, nicotine fills a specific shock in the air octave that always ought to be present, which enhances sensation. If our bodies were working normally, they would produce this substance all the time; they don't, so when they encounter tobacco, the body craves it — and does whatever it needs to to get it. 

In starving creatures, hungers are always exaggerated — and this is exactly how addiction works with us. By the time one realizes that one has been gripped by an excess, one is no longer in charge: the forces being fed by the situation are powerful and very difficult to interfere with. All of my own addiction issues were like this. There wasn't an alternative in me; so I couldn't say that one of my centers or parts, for example, my emotions, was involved in the addiction. 

All of my parts were involved in it. 

My intelligence, my emotions, my body, instinct, and sexuality all revolved around it, so every center was enslaved. In one way or another, it always works like this — it is an escalation of slavery beyond the ordinary slavery of life into a slavery of a material nature. Because it lives at the lowest note, so to speak, of the octave — the material note, the note re—it is both difficult to access and difficult to root out. Most of the remaining work the machine does is based around it, so in order to tear it out, one has to tear up everything at the roots

— which is exactly what addiction recovery is like.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fear and compassion

 Another picture of the blue-gray gnatcatcher

One of my correspondents— the person who was talking about not feeling very social — brought up the question of how much we fear interaction with others.

There is, I think, a surprising amount of fear behind all of our interactions with others. It's often buried under an enormous pile of other material, but if you dig deep enough, it's in there. By and large, people have two simple ways of dealing with this: overcompensation or undercompensation. Overcompensators are called extroverts; undercompensators are called introverts. 

These two modes produce contradictory inner reactions. In either case, there is an attempt to overcome the fear using an artificial personality construct — that, in brief, says much about our personality itself. It is a mechanism used to defend ourselves from one another. We don't see that it is a shield we hold up in front of ourselves, constantly, to avoid being honest with ourselves and others. 

I've been deeply involved with some individuals over the course of a lifetime where this aspect of their Being is absolutely overwhelming and dominates everything they do. The more so an individual is like this, the more we label them — bipolar, autistic, and so on. The afflictions and affectations are real; but the psychological and spiritual mechanisms underlying them aren't well understood. They all, I find, stem from this inherent terror we have of being seen for what we are.

This, of course, only applies to people where the organ of conscience is still alive; in some souls, it is either so deeply buried that it can't function, or it is extinguished and for all intents and purposes extinct. Individuals of this kind are a different order of being, not the subject of this essay. So here I'll just continue to speak about people who still have a conscience. 

The conscience knows what is true; that is its primary feature. That is to say, it is able to intuit — inwardly pay and inwardly teach — an individual what is right, measured by cosmic, rather than human, standards. Now, there are such standards, which Gurdjieff called objective standards — and those who would reason them away with constructed philosophies are lacking the organic sense of life that is needed in order to actually live.

In any event, knowing what is true, we see the collision between our selfishness and our ego and the outside world, and we are afraid of being seen. We forget that God can see everything; and we forget that angelic forces will inspect us and reveal every aspect of our life and our Being once we die. These things are known intellectually, but the organic sense of them that instills an appropriate respect for the sacred has atrophied in mankind. If we are ever contacted by such forces, it can certainly change us; yet that is what sleep is all about, that is, one is not awake to these influences. This is why, as Swedenborg explained, death comes as such a terrible shock to many individuals, who discover after they die that all of their intentions are inevitably revealed to everyone.

The question is how much we can, in this life, become honest, align ourselves with our right force, and develop intentions that are selfless, compassionate, and real. This kind of spiritual action in life requires a tremendous courage. It involves developing a kind of trust that overcomes the fear we have. This theme of trust is essential to all spiritual development, and yet, aside from platitudes such as "trust in the Lord," it does not get mentioned enough. 

We can't trust ourselves; we can't trust one another; and with good reason. We are duplicitous beings.

The most recent issue of Shambhala Sun magazine is devoted to the idea that mankind is essentially good. I am not sure at all that that's true. I am certain that heavenly forces and God are essentially good; yet I do not think that humanity, mankind, is of that level, or even in regular contact with it. My impression is that we are at a larval stage where we might or might not become good. 

Of course, the Dharma teachings the magazine reveals say that as well, in their own way; they argue that if one peeled away enough layers one might get to the essential good at the bottom of everything. Gurdjieff did not necessarily see it that way; in the same way that he said we need to develop a soul, I think he was saying that we need to develop the capacity to be good; that is, we aren't born with it.

This question is part of a longstanding philosophical argument that reaches back into the preclassical age; no one will settle it here. But it is worth pondering as one goes through life, because an essential turning towards compassion and goodness seems necessary, especially when we don't want to do it. As I said that my wife the other day when we were walking the famous dog Isabel, compassion that is easy to exercise is worthless. It is only the compassion that costs us something that is really worthwhile, because if we want to offer anything real to people, we need to pay for it. It's only then that we realize our action has a value — we have sacrificed our selfishness.

in any event, what matters isn't whether we are essentially good or not. 

What matters is whether or not we can manifest and emanate goodness. 

It ain't easy.


Monday, April 27, 2015

The Spiritual High-Fiber diet

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Piermont Marsh, New York, April 2015
The gnatcatcher is a small bird that feeds on tiny, seemingly insignificant insects.

Reader: I'm just not interested in socializing last few years. I don't see the point of it most of the time. All I get from that is people complaining, talking about their jobs and news, etc. Even "having fun," joking, chatting, isn't that attractive to me.


Different people are comfortable with different levels of socializing. Of course, a lot of socializing seems to be a complete waste of time, but what we don't see is that it feeds parts of ourselves that need to have trivial input. 

This is a fine point of inner work. If I deprive myself of trivial input, that is, input related to very ordinary things, I won't notice it "consciously", but in the long run, parts of myself that need ordinary "filling" with material won't get what they need. People who do inner work often think that they need to live on a steady diet of higher vibrations, intensity, "special" energies and so on, but this is actually the opposite of the truth. It would be like deciding that I was going to restrict my diet to nothing but high-powered vitamins.

I need a lot of “fiber” in my psychological diet to help all the material—the impressions I take in— move through the psychological and spiritual digestive system. Our consciousness and our psyche function in exactly the same way as our bowels: they take in material, digest it, extract what they need — generally speaking, the finer substances which corresponds to what people call "vitamins" in ordinary food — and the rest gets discarded. 

So if I deprive myself of the fiber of ordinary relationships, the bulk material which seems quite unimportant, I am actually depriving myself of absolutely necessary things. It will need to illness—sometimes, severe. (Think about Gurdjieff's remark that all pleasure is excrement—it relates to this understanding.)

In addition, I need a wide variety of impressions overall. I tend to go towards what I like — for example, my wife likes to chit chat with other women — and perhaps ignore many other areas of experience that I ought to be taking in, for example, arguing with people — which produces a certain kind of friction necessary for growth — and so on. (In my case, I argue a lot, so I am not deprived in this area.) 

In any event, I tend to edit my psychological inputs down to the ones I am comfortable with, whereas I ought to do the opposite. 

In a nutshell, a great deal of Gurdjieff’s teaching consisted of bringing people to a point where they were exposed to all those psychological impressions they had trained themselves over a lifetime to avoid. Friction is necessary.

In this way, if we "like what we do not like," what we are doing is having an intention to take in this bulk fiber of the psychological landscape in our life which we are required to consume in order to be exposed to a wide range of nutrients. So I don't want to limit myself to how I interact. In a sense, anything that I am trying to avoid doing because I don't like it relates to the idea of the evil inner God of self calming. This includes interaction of many different kinds. I need to see this better: what parts turn away?

Much of what seems trivial to me is absolutely necessary. I don't have much of a perspective on what I need in life; in fact, I need everything, and perhaps most especially I need the things I like the least

I have to keep coming back to this, because it is only in the friction between my preferences and reality that I begin to see how my ego tries to structure everything so that it is comfortable.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

mindfulness is insufficient

Returning to the theme of our emotional and intuitive understanding of art.

 We live in a world of consumption and materialism, where the needs of the soul are ill attended to. An endless swilling of things — consumer products — is substituted for a real connection with life and Being. Even when we get together with others, it is, seemingly, to consume. In training ourselves to be efficient swallowers, we forget to be everything else.

The idea that we need to contribute is a quite different one. If we contribute an emotional and intuitive understanding to one another, we feed each other something much better than crème brûlée, or sirloin steak. We feed each other compassion and loving kindness.

 We have the opportunity to feed one another with these foods at every moment, yet we always forget. Perhaps the idea of self remembering ought first to be a remembering of these two qualities, which every human being is gifted with a capacity of expressing. It's all too often that we pick up the  intellectual and emotional cudgels we equip ourselves with and use those in our dealings with others; intelligence and sensitivity fails when the senses are blunted by the act of swilling.

Mindfulness is insufficient when it is limited to remembering that I am. What I need to remember is this capacity for compassion, an intelligent compassion that is born of a real inner conscience. There has to be a wish to be, of course; yet that wish to be has to be aimed at something greater than myself. If the soul doesn't receive the right food, it is malnourished and it grows crippled and bent and doesn't attend to these questions.

We ought to have a love and the zest for life that goes beyond the material. It ought to begin in our right valuation for life itself; not a valuation of us, of who we are as individuals, but a valuation of the world and what it is, collectively.

 The corporate world, the manufacturing world, the external world of things and appearances, is incapable of addressing these issues on its own. It has grown up in a peculiar vacuum where it seems to think that it can exist on its own without any underpinnings; but the action is completely hollow, and it is increasingly recognized that a society without values, inner values, is not a society at all. It is a consumption machine, mindless and destructive.

I inhabit the corporate world and the manufacturing world, and I interact on a regular basis with younger people in China (at this writing, I am there yet again) who have grown up in a world that emphasizes production and consumption only. They are looking around at each other and realizing this isn't enough; they live in a society that stripped itself of the attachment to tradition and inner value that is so necessary for growth and life. So they are poised on the cusp of a moment of introspection that may lead to something new; a moment that the entire world actually needs to come to.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

I don't know

There is a great divide between youth and old age.

I can't span it, except by living; and it is always invisible from where I am. It is only looking back that I begin to understand how little I understand. And it becomes my responsibility, now — as it is for all of those my age, and my elders — to stitch these scraps of fabric back together into a wholeness which I can sense as my life.

This analogy of sewing, of textiles, and of the wholeness of cloth reminds me once again of tantra, which means loom in sanskrit; but the action, as much as it is one of weaving, is also one of swallowing, of digestion. So much is taken in: and it appears to be random, very nearly unrelated, until I allow the action of awareness to bring the various elements together.

I want to understand life as a whole; and that can only be done after one has lived enough.

 I suppose one of the paradoxes I discover is that I can only ever live enough now. Now is enough; as long as there is an organic sensation of it — and even then, more is necessary.

It's often said in Christianity that we are children of the Lord; and I had this distinct impression, when I was last in China — by the time readers encounter this post, I will already be back there again — that the children are everything. It is an extraordinary thing, the potential that a child represents — within each child's life, a whole life, lived now; and also, a life moving forward into the unknown. When I come into relationship with children – and, for that matter, everyone — I come into relationship with this potential, which is expressed in every moment by all of us. This perpetual residence on the cusp of what can be is where life arises; and we don't understand anything about it. As long as our feeling capacity is not awakened, we don't really sense this very well; once it is, we are left with a sense of astonishment.

This sense of being troubled (see the second quote from the Gospel of Thomas at the link) goes deep into the bones. It is, I think, another way of describing the act of coming into question. I've never liked that particular phrase, because it is so overused; perhaps one might better say doubting everything. "I don't know" seems more powerful to me than "I want to know," because it lacks the impetus of desire: it is passive, and allows what is to arrive without trying to go out and grasp it.

I am, by nature, grasping; I guess perhaps we all are. And I am now too old to be naïve about my motives and my actions. The creature in me will always be attached to creatures. It is that part of the soul that has the ability to receive something else that is truly interesting; and although I knew about this when I was young, and could think about it, I was unable to understand it. Many things had to be broken in me before that could happen; and that there are times when I think that everything must break.

This isn't a bad thing; and if I trust, I need not fear the process.

That's a lesson I need to learn over and over again.


Friday, April 24, 2015

The gatekeeper

April 14

One of my readers asked me today, when we struggle with the inner demons in us — in this case, addiction — who is the gatekeeper?

 That's an encapsulation of the question, but it raises an interesting point about who in me has authority.

The only real authority comes from the action of Being and life itself. If one is in touch with life through sensation and the inward flow, life has the authority — and the "I" that deals with it is not so important. One invests and inhabits — one doesn't spend and do.

In this way, one follows the inward and outward rivers with some ease, because they go naturally in the direction that is necessary. If I was truly present to myself, I would understand that this natural direction is possible; but when I live only in my mind, I don't even know that there is a natural direction. I think that the natural direction comes out of the mind, not from Being and from life.

There are astrological conditions, especially solar ones, that govern this and make it far more possible to invest in Being; yet I fear these particular points of work are little known and even less understood. Everything that one works for is, in the end, to come under such influences so that help arrives; yet we always think that help will come from external things such as philosophies, material goods, and so on — not from planetary emanations that are from a much higher level and can actually help our inner state on a more permanent level.

 In the meantime — we are on our own. As my mother always used to say, God helps those who help themselves.

 This idea of a gatekeeper, of one who has authority, reminds me of Gurdjieff's statement that the mind is a policeman. If it is active, it can at least try to remind me when things are going off the rails. The voice may be small, but even one voice is better than none at all.

As far as the question of the addictions goes, and how an inner authority goes against this, one has to first of all understand that addiction is a life or death matter. One can think of this theoretically; one has to know organically that one is engaged in a struggle between what wishes to be real and what wishes to destroy. This has to enter like a lightning bolt, a shock that transforms attitude and creates an absolute conviction that work, real work — not philosophizing and theorizing — is needed to save the day.

There is no artificial substitute for this kind of shock. Most addicts don't seem to get it; and so they go down. One has to first of all care about one's self enough; else, nothing else helps.

The gatekeeper, in other words, has to be a part of one's Being that cares. If I look through myself in a real inner inventory (there's some addiction-recovery language for you!) I see that so many parts of me don't actually care about anything. That gang isn't worth anything. If I let them run the show, forget it.


Thursday, April 23, 2015



That isn’t what I planned to say.

It never is. An emptiness
Is necessary, else my words are empty.

When I try to know the next thing,
It will not come. Life anticipates

Anticipation, and denies it.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A finer vibration

April 12.

A finer vibration is always available to feed me; but if I want it to feed me, I need to come in to a specific and intentional awareness of it.

This isn't so easy; because even when Presence finds me as I am, I am not so willing to be specific about my relationship with it. That requires an intention; and the intention has to be born organically, whereas I usually try to find it with my mind.

This morning, I am sitting at my computer rather quietly, concentrating my attention very gently in the roots of the sensation were finer energy arises and is present. It's very easy in moments like this to see how it is a food of Being; and to take it in this way, quite precisely, is a meal in the same way the food I will eat later this morning at breakfast is a meal.

The breathing is a part of this; and it's important for me to see how the breathing helps facilitate the development and digestion of this finer energy which arises in the vibration between the cells.

...It arises, in point of fact, from somewhere beyond that; yet it doesn't do me much good to think that over. My effort lies simply in this very gentle attending to relationship here. It's in exactly that place that I mention so often in my diaries, where there is an intimacy between the conscious effort, Being, and the organism. This intimacy is accompanied by a willingness to invest organically and directly in the generosity of this Presence, which flows directly from the heart of God into all life.

Although I am a very small thing, I am sustained by this Presence in a way that touches everything that exists, and I am able to sense how this particle of Being is a singular, infinitesimal manifestation of that wholeness. It reminds me of the impression I had several years ago that the entire universe is contained in every grain of sand; or, more recently, blue light falling through a simple and objectively worthless piece of plastic on the sink in my bathroom. It is in these fine details, in the most intimate and seemingly unimportant encounters, that God is present; somehow, I so often sense this more in the small things, instead of the grand gestures, the things that take place around me on great scales.

When I engage in this intimacy, I begin to understand that—in the same way the cells in my digestive system are designed to work in a very precise way on a very tiny scale, absorbing molecules with an intelligence and an insight that sorts things out far better than my coarse consciousness, at this level, could ever do— the awareness of human beings at this level is meant to examine details, to see the fineness of things, to sense and to feel and then, with some effort, to understand how the small things fit together and how every detail of life ought to be rightly appreciated.

This food of a finer energy helps me to do that every day. Of course, I'm not in enough relationship to do justice to all of this; but to be in relationship at all represents a hope, and that hope breathes the life of a further effort into me.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The rain falls

The Rain Falls

I come to this moment of return
Without a pale breath to feed me,
Without warning, without
The threads that got me here.

I am picking up a thousand instances
Where I dropped time on the floor, astonished
By what it said:
That it dared to speak to me.

That I dared to listen.

And altogether, I am helpless
In the art of living;
I thought I knew 
The way things ought to be

As though what in them were preserved
Unbroken, undistorted
Even though I touched them
And hurt them with my cares.

Where is my trust, my trust
Where are the ones who loved me,
Held me up?
Geese cry in the morning

As though they, too, are lost.
Yet their light
Has not yet begun to fail;
They know their Way.

I do not know mine.
This is the fate of those,
Who go into the unknown.

The rain falls.


Monday, April 20, 2015

A hierarchy of sensation

 During the walk with my wife — the first walk since I have returned from China with the famous dog Isabel, who is elderly but still very game! —I was pondering the question of sensation yesterday.

Gurdjieff mentions sensation some; and of course, I frequently speak about the organic sensation of Being, which is essential to Being itself. When Gurdjieff originally described this property of living within Being to Ouspensky, he described it an unusually scientific terms: he referred to the sensation of various higher hydrogens, the fact that a person needed to learn what each higher hydrogen was and the effects that it had. What he did not say, straight out and in plain language, is that all of this  revolves around and depends on sensation, that is, physically received impressions within the organism that do not consist of thoughts, but, rather, physical sensations of one kind or another.

Jeanne de Salzmann made a great deal more of sensation in what she taught in terms of presence, using the word quite precisely. This is important and significant; yet she never created a descriptive bridge between the essential action she urged us to understand, and the original, "chemistry-oriented" remarks that Gurdjieff made about the subject.

Now, having been immersed in the question of the organic sensation of being for many years, and having had the opportunity to collect what is, based on my proximate experience with others, an unprecedented amount of data on the subject, I realize — engaged in the type of reflection I mentioned in the last post — that one does not really find much, if anything, in the literature about these matters. In any spiritual literature, for that matter, although there are hints and peripheral understandings, specific understandings that relate to specific traditions, that treat the subject in one way or another.

By and large, there are a number of different levels of organic sensation, each one of which is stimulated by a specific and particular higher hydrogen, as Gurdjieff would have called them. I'll confess that I haven't been able to sort exactly which hydrogens are involved in various types of higher sensation (actually, not that interested in doing so), but the sensations themselves are consistent, replicable — in the sense that when they come, one always recognizes them as belonging in a particular class — and have varying degrees of action on the presence of Being.

Having understood this, it occurred to me to try and sort out the various different types of organic sensation that may arise in the context of spiritual work on Being. There are, inevitably, limitations on these types of analyses, because one has to use descriptive words for them, and the words always fail.

Various classes of organic sensation at levels outside the ordinary include the following:

1. A powerful sensation of "grounding" inner gravity. This provides the anchor for vertical awareness of self. It always involves downward movement, and is strongly associated with help from the sun, which is always available when solar flares take place. It can arise under other conditions, but various solar influences produce different versions of it.

There are a number of essays in The Reality of Being that discuss this.

2. The sensation that is atomic, that is, allows each atom in the body to assume an individual consciousness of vibration that can be sensed by the whole, as a global phenomenon, but also as an individually particulate experience.

 Descriptions of this are included in a number of Gurdjieff's talks with Ouspensky and others.

3. Sensations in individual chakras. These usually involve the arrival of a powerful and ecstatic energy in a specific location, commonly abdominal, but also occasionally thoracic. Energies of this kind release substances that produce involuntary and powerful relaxation, which illustrates for the adept the difference between voluntary relaxation, which is something Jeanne de Salzmann asked her pupils to engage in, and relaxation through Grace, which is of a much higher order.

 Descriptions of this are frequently found in books on yoga.

4. Ecstatic sensations in individual peripheral locations, frequently the fingers.

 Swedenborg described these and explained them as inspections of being by angelic forces.

5. Piercing sensations. Sharp, knifelike pains in specific places, often the spinal column (base, center, and top) which represent temporary piercings of the knots, or granthis,  that block the flow of higher energy.

 Descriptions of these are also found in books on yoga.

 6. A sensation that feels like worms: all over the body. This can be localized or general. This is accompanied by the arrival of a beneficent energy.— a sensation of lightheadedness. This can be quite unpleasant and often takes place in the initial surge of energy as it reaches Being.

 Exercises invoking this particular sensation are described in yoga and Tantric Buddhism.

7. A sensation of pins and needles. This is a lower order sensation that can be quite unpleasant, but is also global in nature, and arises whenever energy penetrates into the body to relieve microscopic, atomic level blockages in the nadis.

 Not described in most literatures.

 I have attempted to arrange these in a very rough kind of hierarchy, from the "highest" orders of "hydrogens" to the lowest. There are subclasses of these different kinds of energy, so one can experience greater or lesser versions of each; and some are related to one another.

The above descriptions are meant to describe day-to-day sensations that arrive and stay for extended periods of time, not religious ecstasies, which are of a different order and cannot be classified in the same way. In particular, the first two in the list ought to become permanent in Being to one degree or another. The remainder generally assume peripheral presences, and are intermittent in nature.

 There are also a range of spinal energies that involve circulation of energy, which fall into a different range of experiences and practices not dealt with in this essay. Many of the intermittent energies and sensations relate to the breaking up of inner blockages and improved circulation of energy in general.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gentle into me

Gentle into me

The stillness of the stars
Waits for me where I cannot deny it,
After the day is done, the agitation
Filling me—released;

Into a sky that waits each night
For the end of things, the wrapping
Of frayed threads,
The hesitations of uncertainty.

There is a pause.

If light can pierce
The heavens, lasting long
Past the entanglements of living

Into greater moments,
That speak of elements;
If it falls straight into secrets
That I call my own, well then,

It can go anywhere:
Into the tips of fingers.

Into the heart itself,
And all its promises.

Each star goes gentle
Into me; and I the better for it.
What use this struggle?

Life is given.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

What gives life life

April 10.

I come home to a cold spring; it was a cold spring in Shanghai, as well.

In my 60th year, I gather together the many threads of my life; and I see, gradually, what we are supposed to come to, even though we do so reluctantly and with dragging feet.

In youth, I raced to get somewhere; in middle-age, I thought I was somewhere — even though I was not sure where that was — and now, as I reach the maturity of that middle age, moving across the crest of the hills I have grown in myself, I see that I have been places, but I am not sure what those are either. Location is no longer a sure thing. The only place I am is within myself.

I try to gather old threads of my life together, to see the entirety of my Being and all that it has been from a high perspective, taking in the good and the bad, and trying to evaluate both the inward and the outward quality. More and more, as I grow older, the quality of the outward seems unimportant. It is only the quality of the inward, of the inner impression, that matters, because everything outward is determined by it. So much of the damage that I see in the past is damage I did to myself, damage that comes from my lack of understanding; and all the goodness that there is comes from the objective truth of the fact that we are and that life is.

The goodness is, in other words, an inherent quality, that I don't understand very well — although I do encounter it with my feeling parts.

Gurdjieff said we use the present to repair the past and prepare the future. The past is a complicated piece of fabric; yet I sense the wholeness of it in me, even though I am unable to grasp its full significance. What marks do any of us leave in the sand of this beach, anyway? If there is any permanence, it must lie in the life of the soul, because there is no other place for it.

Here is the unspoken coda to Gurdjieff's advice: I prepare for a future that is both unknown, and finite. The future that I prepare for is a future in which, on this planet, I do not exist anymore.

How do I prepare for that?  What does it mean?

 I consider my ways.

The weight, the inner gravity of Being, exists, I think, just to hold down the soul in a single place where it can drink itself into itself and know what it is. Life falls into me; I am filled with it, like water in a vessel. All of these impressions, everything that I am, resides in a wholeness that can be read, like a book. A record is left; and the angels will read that record when I die.

I forget that I contain myself; I forget what I am. Yet within me, organically, is that wholeness of memory.  Gathering it together, now, strikes me as what is vital, what gives life life.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Emotive meaning and the lack of right feeling connection

I recently came across an article about meaning in ancient art, and whether we can "recover" what the original artists meant.

 The article acts as though ancient people were substantially different than we are — which is not at all true. They were different technologically; and their intellectual understandings of the world were different. Yet emotively and physically, they were identical to us, and they felt the way we do; there is no difference between their neural impulses and our own, and if they heard the word "hippopotamus" it would sound exactly the same to their ears, whether they understood what we meant by it or not.

Meaning in art is not just embedded in the intellectual understanding, the set of associations, that it evokes. Art touches the feelings; and there is an emotive meaning to it that is sensed, subliminally, beneath the thick compost of intellectual material we bring to every viewing. I say compost because the emotional content of art, any kind of art, is actually much more important than the intellectual interpretations we bring to it. If we begin with that emotive understanding, only then can the intellectual interpretation of art make sense — because it begins based on the premise that we are attempting to understand deep, emotive, feeling-based concepts of Being and society, rather than just rote constructs that present rigid ideas about gods, goddesses, hunting, and so on.

In this sense, it is far more important to first intuit the meaning of a piece of art by using one's feeling function, and only then understand it intellectually.

What does the art say about who I am? What I think of myself? How I feel about the world?

I am cut off from a deeper understanding of many of my feeling functions; music and images can help me to reconnect with that. The rich, deep time-based structure of the collective unconscious of mankind, the complex heritage of everything all of us have ever been in terms of our emotive life, is accessible through these mediums — in a way that the intellect cannot make them so. We need intelligence to interpret; but intelligence doesn't feel. Feeling feels; and I speak here not of our average coarse emotional feelings, the obvious ones that arise from reaction and whose nuances are so often transmuted immediately into exaggerations, but the finer feelings which relate to a connection to one's inner Being, to one's soul.

 Our souls need food; and they are fed by a right relationship to feeling, else they do not grow. The lack that so many people feel in the modern world, where everything is based on the consumption of coarse material things, is a lack of the right feeding of feeling center. When Jeanne de Salzmann says, in her notes to herself (the book The Reality of Being is notes she wrote to herself, not to us), that we must "stay in front of our lack," the lack is above all other things a lack of right feeling connection. One ought to have a much better connection to one's feelings, so that one's hubris was dissolved in a more real attitude towards life; but ordinary intellectual activity doesn't do this, on the contrary, it is very nearly destructive in its lack of understanding. We don't value emotive meaning in the way that we ought to. Only emotive meaning can impart the appreciation of the sacred, which is so utterly lacking in the material culture of the modern world.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The unfixing

This essay is illustrated with a 
photograph of an Apsara from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

 One might assume, that somehow, under the force of Grace, things will be different and everything will be fixed.

 I certainly used to believe that, when I read about these matters as theories and philosophies. But I don't know anything, really; because when it comes, I see that it is exactly the opposite of what I thought I understood.

Grace unfixes me.

 It is something like this. Everything in me is set, in stone, like cement. I am fixed; I hold to my habits, what I am, my assumptions, all the nonsense that I have filled myself with for what are now nearly 60 years of life. There are some good things in there, to be sure; yet it's confused and jumbled, there is no order to it — and it has set in me, it has crystallized.

I don't really see this (and oh, how I need to suffer it!), because I like living in my orderly stone cathedral, which carries a representation of the world that is purely egoistic.

I need to live with that every day; and I do, so comfortably that I don't even notice I'm living with it. It's only when Grace enters, when something from another level inspires me like the breath of God itself, that I see how I am in a life and have Being.

 This tears me apart. I put it as follows in a poem on this trip:


 This is how I live:

Inside, I get torn apart,
into small pieces, each one showing 
no more than a letter or two, 
perhaps a syllable; 
and the pieces are thrown
into the errors of my soul, my breath.

They spiral, fluttering slowly
downward towards the bottom of my heart
like confetti, as though snowfall
were a benediction: all the words I use made sacred
by destroying them.

Down there, in darkness
where I can’t reach them,
small creatures find the scraps; 

Gather them with nimble fingers,
folding tiny resurrections 

In the shape of birds. 

This unfixing dismantles me as I am; yet even as that happens, the parts of me that are set remain set. It isn't that the old goes; but a new certainly enters. 

I need to remind myself to return to this intimacy in this sensation, which is always available, as often as possible so that I come back into relationship with that which is already given and already there — which I just forget, throwing my pearls in front of my own inner swine.

 To see this is to understand that it's as though God and his angels are always in the room with me (they are) and that I have been given the extraordinary and perverse ability to studiously ignore them at almost every moment. I treat my whole life that way; and the way to fix my life would be to come into relationship with this other world, which is within, in the same way that the kingdom of heaven is within. 

It is an unfixing of the external; it takes it apart without touching it, so that in deconstruction, it is transformed.


Monday, April 13, 2015

The rain falls

The rain falls

I come to this moment of return
Without a pale breath to feed me,
Without warning, without
The threads that got me here.

I am picking up a thousand instances
Where I dropped time on the floor, astonished
By what it said:
That it dared to speak to me.

That I dared to listen.

And altogether, I am helpless
In the art of living;
I thought I knew 
The way things ought to be

As though what in them were preserved
Unbroken, undistorted
Even though I touched them
And hurt them with my cares.

Where is my trust, my trust
Where are the ones who loved me,
Held me up?
Geese cry in the morning

As though they, too, are lost.
Yet their light
Has not yet begun to fail;
They know their Way.

I do not know mine.
This is the fate of those,
Who go into the unknown.
The rain falls.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sorrow, part III

This essay is illustrated with a 
photograph of an Apsara from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

A friend pointed out this morning that, while they felt the second essay in this series represented what sounded like an intelligible extension of the things that Gurdjieff said on the subject of sorrow, he had never experienced this emanation, and wished they had a practical example of what I'm talking about.

One of the reasons it is so important to come to a much more intimate sensation of one's being — and I use the word sensation to speak of a higher physical vibration, a cellular vibration, an atomic vibration — is that this intimate sense is the place where it becomes possible to receive these particles. 

That only takes place, in the end, after years of work of being in a more serious and sobering relationship with sensation. It is the root of Being; and although it is in the body, which serves as the receiving vessel, it is not of the body. We can only come to a real understanding of the way that the higher nature intersects with the lower one by opening the vessel to sensation in this way. Yet that's not something we "do;" and although this inner work bears a relationship to works that presume the Yogi can "do" something, it comes equipped with a paradox.

One only develops will in order to use will to surrender itself. One must, in the end, have will in order to give it up. As long as one does not have real will, one is the property of one's impulses; and that is slavery.

Of course, we remain slaves of the material world in this life. That's the way things are arranged; perhaps it's our resentment of it that alienates us from God. Yet it is possible to bring one's own inner intimacy far enough along a path that leads to a point of contact between the soul and God so that a taste of freedom arrives, so that higher vibrations arrive. This only takes place through intimacy, because what needs to be seen and surrendered is so close to one's own being that it is sexual in a higher way, that is, it relates to the reproductive powers of the soul, which are very different than the reproductive powers of the body. A close reading of Meister Eckhart's texts will teach, after long years, the way in which the fecundity and creativity of the Lord enters and answers Being; and although he did not speak of it outright as a sexual encounter, the inferences are clear enough.

One should be careful not to confuse this with various teachings about sex energy and the sex center, because we touch here on subjects whereof those are only crude analogies. Most of the things that are said about sex energy and its transformational ability hold some water, but one has to be very careful with this, because the coarse analogies available here are only a blurred mirror of the interaction between the soul and God.  One comes up against the mystery of the virgin birth here, which means something quite other than the outward or literal appearance of the matter.

I am constrained from saying more about that. One has to look deep within oneself and come into contact with these mysteries in order to begin to form a relationship to them.

I've mentioned a number of times over the last months that Grace is the only force that can truly bring change within Being. This Grace acts with an intimacy that needs to be invited without restraint, requiring a very perfect and detailed scrutiny of the inner state. One has to look; one has to see. Yet here again, looking and seeing do not mean what they appear to mean; and nothing is ever so crude and obvious is the way words make it seem.  

We love our own coarseness; be suspicious of it.

 One has to come to the place where one has the most to lose, and perhaps has already suffered the most loss, and be willing to take it directly into the heart; then, something new becomes possible.


Friday, April 10, 2015

The wrong in myself

This essay is illustrated with a 
photograph of an Apsara from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Only to the extent that I know the wrong in myself can I stand against any wrong in the world.

 In the imagination, I know what is wrong; and I know what ought to be done about it. But this is always a selfish view, and it is about what I think is wrong, and what I think ought be done. I don't see that I'm not always right about some things, even if my track record is a good one; and it is only through examining myself and the way that I am that I can begin to see any of this more clearly.

Just thinking about myself is not enough. I need to examine myself with all of my conscious faculties, that is to say, I need to examine myself through the sensation of my body, and the experience/sensation of my feeling. Only when these two parts begin to participate with my intelligence is there a real, tripartite intelligence active in me.

It's only then that I can begin to discriminate; and even then, there is much work to be done, because wrong hides itself quite well. That is one of its characteristic abilities, the ability to be sly.

In the end, if I see what is sly and wrong and myself, then I know what sly things and wrong things look like. I can only understand them personally, from within, intimately; when I try to understand them through outside people first, I am continually deceived and mistaken, and my judgment is bad. I have to develop an inner capacity for knowing the wrong in myself in order to be more sensitive to where it lies in anyone else.

The same thing goes for situations. If I can see myself in situations, and I understand what is wrong about my Being—and only then my action, my behavior, which both emanate from Being alone — then I begin to understand what is wrong about external situations.

The likelihood is that I can't fix anything. But at least I can see what things are. And if it stays one harmful action in me, that is for the good.

Even one harmful action stayed is better than none; and if that's the best I can achieve in a single day, at least it is something, no matter how small and pathetic it may seem to be.


Thursday, April 9, 2015


Pet market, Shanghai

I brought up the question of trust in my post on April 7; and this post follows directly on the heels of that one, since I am writing it the same morning here in Shanghai (April 4, for those of you who like to keep track of time.)

I'm sitting on the 59th floor of the Le Meridien hotel looking out over People's Square in Shanghai; it's a strikingly foggy day, with clouds blowing through the city at a steady pace. The view from my window alternates between complete whiteout and bleary glimpses of the park and streets below me. It reminds me of my inner landscape: blank spaces punctuated by an occasional perspective from a high level.

My teacher Betty Brown often used ask us what we trusted in ourselves. I think this question of trust is critical; yesterday, as I was examining my life — I was in the elevator area directly outside our Shanghai office — I saw that I really don't trust my life as it stands. I'm a suspicious creature; send me all the Grace and love in the world, and I will persist in my belief that something is wrong, that life isn't the way it should be, and that there may, at any moment, come some awful event that will really screw me up.

As if I weren't already there.

I suppose one can hardly blame me. Such things have happened. Yet every supposedly awful event led me onwards in life to something that I needed; a change that had to take place, a lesson I needed to learn. My paranoia when it comes to change doesn't match up with the facts; all of the changes I've encountered, even the most apparently catastrophic ones, have eventually been for the good. I feel sure death will also be like that. 

But I don't trust; yet if I take to heart the lessons of the Masters, as well as the influence of Grace itself, which has taught me equally—in fact, even better, much better, since Grace does not come from books — I ought to trust implicitly. I am like a little kid who has been told this over and over and still won't listen.

This is the contradiction between me and the authority of God. I really do think I have the authority. I think I know what should be done in my life; and yet when these significant and extraordinary things are done they are emphatically not things I would ever do to myself. 

If someone came up to me and said, "you really need to go marry someone who will abuse you for 16 years", or, "you really need your sister to die now," or, "now you need to be fired from your job," I would tell them they were insane. 

If I told myself such things, I would tell myself I was insane. 

Yet these are the things that did happen; and every one of them had enormous benefits in terms of deepening my understanding of life. There were benefits for others in these objectively difficult situations, as well; so it's clear that I don't know, in the context of life, exactly what good and bad things consist of, or what ought to be done. Really, I don't know a damn thing. I'm pretty good at navigating business situations; and I'm pretty good at predicting risk and mitigating it — but I don't know where stress and disaster can be usefully applied, which is an art and a science unto itself. (Read Antifragile, by Nicholas Taleb.)

I don't trust. 

I don't trust God, and I'm afraid He is going to play horrible tricks on me that will cause me to lose things, or even die. 

Well, of course, He is going to do those things; but they aren’t tricks, and they aren’t horrible – they are simply what is necessary for the development of my soul. I myself — and those around me — are categorically incapable of knowing what those things need to be; so one has to trust in God and allow life to happen as it happens, meeting it over and over again with a willingness to stand up and go on every time one is knocked over.

This lack of trust in me is interesting, because Betty brought it up so many times when I was younger, in my late 30s and early 40s. I don't think any of us knew what she was talking about then; by that time, she was into her 70s, and had a perspective one can't gain except through age. I recall Peggy Flinsch bringing up exactly the same subject to groups of generally consternated individuals (what is she talking about?... and of course they were right, no one actually trusts anyone... with good reason!) in later years.

Really, none of us get it.

What do I trust?

Well, it's evident, I can't really trust myself; and the point I made about finding a niche of inner presence that I can take refuge in in the midst of my own insanities, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and the emotional weather of life brings up the one place and the one circumstance that I can trust: a relationship to a higher energy that manifests within me and offers me sanctuary.

This isn't a way of hiding; it's not that kind of sanctuary. It is simply a place where the real Self, the one I don't really know very well, but which is alive and organic, preserves its integrity and remains intact as everything around it is a whirlwind. 

There are Gurdjieff movements that illustrate this, particularly movements based on the enneagram; and no matter how complex the activities in some of these movements are, it is always the one who stands firm and tall and still in one place that represents this opportunity to be present, to receive something real, and to come into relationship with the Lord in the midst of life, no matter how difficult life may be.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Decency, part IV—what is to give light must endure burning

This essay is illustrated with a
photograph of an Apsara from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

The title of this piece is a quote from Viktor Frankl.

We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us.

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of Man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.

Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning.

Frankl, after enduring the horrors of the concentration camp, came away from the experience with the impression that there are only two kinds of people in the world: decent people and non-decent people.

 What I find so extraordinary about this quote is the way that the man expresses enduring our sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — as a real achievement. 

 it's an inner achievement, not an outer one — and if we could achieve this one thing and an inward way, it would be greater than all the outward things we can ever do. One thing. It would be that great.

It astonishes me — perhaps it shouldn't — that insights of this nature came from such objectively evil outward circumstances; and yet, I think, this is the only way that good can ever be born — directly in the presence of evil, in its face, so to speak, rising up to look it in the eye and in goodness itself, in sheer defiance of what evil is. This is what the devil is for.

I was born in 1955, over a decade after these horrors finally ended. It was another nine years before my parents took me to a concentration camp, where I was able — in so far as it is ever possible — to look this evil in the eye and know it for what it was. I'll never forget standing there in the halls of Bergen-Belsen looking at the photographs of the dead and dying; the difference between what is decent and what is not was clear there, and I realized that this planet is nothing like what we imagine it to be, just as we are nothing will like what we imagine ourselves as. This — this horror — is actually what we have inside of us, and every human being is called at one way or another during the course of their life to stand up in the face of it and say no.

It may seem like a long way from being cruel and angry towards another person to the concentration camps, but I'm not sure that it is that far at all. The distance always lies within ourselves, and so it is always an intimate one — a step that is crossed without any physical, outward evidence. One does not have to go from New York to Paris to be evil. It all happens inside the parameters of being.

If I want to find love, I have to suffer what I am. 

And in order to do that, there has to be a fire in me.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Better than entertainment

After an unexpected series of events, I found myself staying in China for more than a week longer than I planned.

This happens from time to time; yet it's always difficult. One lives much of a business life of this nature surprisingly alone; apart from  family, friends, and colleagues, eating solo dinners at restaurants filled with other people socializing; walking streets by oneself, rather than with a companion one can chat about life with.

It gives a person a great deal of time for contemplation. One sees, eventually, that no matter where one goes, one is always and forever with one's self.

And yet one does not know quite who one is.

I see how I rely on the external—yet everything that takes place in life comes from within me. And I don't trust the conditions I am in; even though they are completely objective, and just to take place, no matter how I feel about them or react to them, I always suspect that the conditions aren't quite right, that something about them should be different, better, and so on, and that if only they were just how I want them to be I see, furthermore, that much of me is devoted to a hypothesis that consists, more or less, that a little later, everything will align itself to be just like I want it to be – if I do the right things now.

All of these things take place more or less automatically in parts of me that are, for all intents and purposes, mechanical. They consist of countless clockwork gears, all turning somewhat randomly, producing results that don't necessarily make much sense. I watch this go on with consternation; I am unpredictable.

All of this stands in marked contrast to my opportunity to be in relationship with a more sacred energy, which is clearly the point of my life. That energy is always present, but not in the same degree; there are times when it is very present, and times when its influence is less prominent.

Early this morning, I woke up and experienced a more unusual and powerful inflow of energy than usual. It suffused my entire body with a tangible sensation. It's interesting to note the quality of such energy is eventually experienced as distinctive; one can distinguish the level energy comes from by its nature. Some energies have deeper and more long-lasting effects than others; some are intended to transform physical states within the body, to effect changes at the cellular level which do not have a direct impact on feeling or intellect. This energy was one of those energies. Some of these physical energies have very fine and detailed work to do, and they can at times create quite unpleasant sensations, although this wasn't one of those times. 

One is required, as always, to submit; there is no way to manipulate such things, since the motivating forces that drive them come from levels I cannot understand.

One needs to learn, I find, to both distinguish and accept various energies as they flow inward, to embrace them. This helps in life; because eventually, a part forms that continuously reminds me that devotion to the Lord and to these sacred energies of Grace, an inner devotion, is really the center of gravity of life; and that I do have the capacity to live within my anxiety, fear, and Angst without allowing them to overwhelm me. 

These emotional conditions come and go like rain showers or thunderstorms, as long as I am willing to stand fast within Presence and await each one of them out. It may be that only a small part of myself finds shelter in the lee of these winds; but that is enough. As long as one stays in relationship, there is a refuge.

I've been more or less dreading this weekend, since it was the prospect of two days more or less alone in hotel rooms, and wandering around the city by myself. 

Now that it is here, I see that the conditions are tolerable; I will just have to find enough activities to occupy me.  Like everything else in life that comments, I just have to get on this bicycle now and ride it. I always have my inner work with me; and that is far better than entertainment.

So I have the opportunity, on this Easter weekend in Shanghai, to stay a little closer to myself; and I will try to take that.