Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Personhood of the Divine, part II

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, central panel
 the Prado, Madrid

 In this installment, we discuss the central panel of the painting, which expresses the essential personhood of divinity in all of its aspects.

I use the word "all," even though it's obvious a single painting cannot come anywhere near close to expressing all of the aspects of anything. It does, however, present the viewer with an overwhelming group of impressions, which has baffled human beings for generations, because so much of what is taking place appears to be extraordinary, inexplicable, mysterious — even though all the activities are engaged in by human beings and various, to one extent or another, recognizable creatures or combinations thereof.

The central panel of the painting is an expression of what Ibn Arabi would have called "thoughts in the Mind of God," that is, iterations of the Divine Consciousness as it arises and expresses itself in the form of personhood. In his writings, Arabi explained that the thoughts of the Divine, or Transcendent, are infinite, so much so that they extend beyond anything we are able to think of — and, in fact, include not only everything we could ever think of, but also everything we cannot think of — up to and including things that cannot be thought of at all. Divine Consciousness is absolutely and irrevocably comprehensive, and all of the arising of the material is an immediate, limited, cosmologically local expression of a tiny group of those thoughts.

An infinitesimally tiny group.

 Here in this painting, what is being expressed is that all of those arisings are personal — that is, each one represents an aspect of the personhood, the essential personal consciousness, Being, and thought process of the Divine. This has implications which will be explored in a little while; but what we need to focus on here is the tangible, personal, sensual, aware, and engaged interaction of all the figures in the painting — not the individual actions, but the collectively fecund and extraordinary expression of Being that takes place in this Divine space, which is, for all intents and purposes, a Garden of Eden.

The absolute absence of any devices, tools, or insignias of man in this section of the painting are meant to set it apart from all of Bosch's other paintings, because they represent a Divine space. One might say that this particular panel is the Mind of God with all its iterations, everything that it can express within the material, overseen and organized by the engines of Divine Awareness (the five towers in the background) which drive the machine of the universe. There are no human machines in this central panel of the painting because the emphasis is on the machinery of the Divine.

Readers may recognize consonance between this extraordinary flowering of Being in an extraordinarily beautiful landscape and Gurdjieff's descriptions of the Holy Planet Purgatory. What is important, I believe, is to recognize that the connection between personhood and the Divine Consciousness is illustrated in all of its profusion here; and on a cosmological level (as opposed to a personal one, which is what I treated in exhaustive detail in my book on the subject) this describes the nature of God as Being, arising and manifested within the personal.

Many individuals engaged in both scientific and spiritual quests these days seem to think there is some impersonal level on which one can experience life and the universe. What is "objective" is often, in one peculiar way or another, interpreted as being impersonal; and indeed, this odd belief in the impersonal rules the world of Western science and much of academia, as well as numerous flavors and nuances of philosophy and transcendentalist practice.

That is to say, the idea is afoot in both the spiritual and the secular sections of society that the personal must somehow be "removed" from things in order to understand them more properly; whereas in fact, this understanding is precisely and exactly inverted, and the real case is that one can never understand anything whatsoever except personally, because the nature of Being, and of the arising of manifestation and creation, are fully dependent on personhood.

This is the phenomenon lies at the root of all arising, a point Swedenborg tried to make which has been increasingly obscured in modern times.

 More on this in the next post.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Personhood of the Divine, part I

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch,
 the Prado, Madrid

I return once again today to an examination of painting by Hieronymus Bosch, because there are subtleties and cosmological levels to his painting that are not at all evident, and that I did not cover in earlier commentaries.

The central panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights is perhaps one of the most essential pieces of work ever done on the absolute personhood of the Divine. In order to understand this concept properly, one has to integrate many of the vital things that Emanuel Swedenborg said on the subject with Gurdjieff's teachings on individuality and idiocy; the themes and subjects are intimately linked and in fact inseparable, although they may not appear to be so at first glance.

Hieronymus Bosch managed to integrate an entire teaching in the Garden of Earthly Delights; he did so visually, which actually gives us access to an intuitive, instantly accessible whole, if one understands the impression it makes.

In order to explain this, we will need to begin, however, with the left hand side of the painting, where the divine influence — the inflow, which is the proper word for it — enters the material world.

The fountain of Divine Influence, which appears to be reaching the earth, and can be interpreted on an individual level as the Divine Inflow entering every single human being — after all, the painting has its personal and intimate level — is actually, at its cosmological level, the point of contact between the comprehensive, transcendental, and incomprehensible totality of Divine Consciousness and Intelligence and the material world. This painting, you see, operates not just on an individual level, but on a cosmological level as well, thus exactly reflecting Gurdjieff's teaching that man is an exact microcosmic reflection of the macrocosmos. One could say that in describing the inner life of man, this painting also describes the inner life of the cosmos — for they are intimately connected with one another, and the totality of process within each individual is, in its microcosmic nature, identical to the totality of process within the cosmos itself.

So this divine fountain represents the embodiment of the Divine Consciousness into the material. This has a comprehensible set of consequences, because even though the iterations of the divine are nearly infinite, their various manifested aspects are comprehensible — unlike the Divine itself. 

 In this painting, everything we see after the fountain touches the material are the total consequences of materiality, taken at the cosmological level. That is to say, all of the decay of the Divine Influence into what appeared to be "corrupted" influences — all of the sensuality, the intimacy, the glorious manifestation of creation (the central panel), and the apparent horrors and destruction of the right-hand panel, are all inevitable consequences of the contact of the divine with its creation, the material world. This particular aspect of the painting is also mirrored by Meister Eckhart in the sense of his teaching that all of creation has to be transcended in order to have contact with God — creation is, itself, not enough, even though it is everything to us.

When Bosch painted this painting, one of the things he wanted to convey to us is the essential personhood of God, that is, God is a person in exactly the same sense of a human being as a person. Swedenborg said this in many different ways in his writings; and we have the central panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights expressing the personhood of God in its totality, divided into its myriad and uncountable individual manifestations. 

All of creation is a thought in the mind of God; and the thought is personal, that is, it embodies individual fractions of consciousness and Being, all of which taken together are reflections — you could call them facets of a diamond — of the Divine Consciousness, which is a single and individual consciousness. 

It may sound paradoxical, but the idea of something individual — undivided — has two aspects: the totality is individual and undivided, but its fractal nature causes it to be composed of individual and undivided parts—that is to say, individuality is not individual. 

I'm sorry to have to put it that way. I understand it's confusing, but one needs to understand it in the same way that although every facet of a diamond is its own complete facet with its own rays of light being reflected and its own spectrum (thus, individual) the diamond itself is composed of all these facets.

 One cannot understand consciousness, transcendental or otherwise, without understanding its personal nature — that is, the expression of Being that takes place as a unique and, Gurdjieff would say, "idiotic" manner. 

Idiotic does not, in any sense, mean stupid or limited; it means particular and individual, that is, expressed within the limits (location and circumstances) of its arising. 

There is actually a great deal said about this in Gurdjieff's magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, but one has to digest the book as a whole and then absorb all the material between the lines in order to understand this.

 More on this subject in the next post, publishing on May 30.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The inner popsicle

May 26, Sparkill

Having just finished a book by a deeply thoughtful friend, which is — to my surprise — more deeply about himself than anything else, even though he is capable of much greater and more comprehensive thoughts — and perusing the latest issue of Shambhala Sun magazine, I'm struck by a certain sameness.

 What I mean by this is the tendency of everyone engaged in spiritual work, whatever the flavor of the inner popsicle, to keep coming back to the same thing, the same theme, the same ideas, over and over again, to the point of obsession... it is all, weirdly, about me, me, me, even though it inverts itself and points itself outward as though it were actually about everything else.

I say the inner popsicle, because one often more or less seizes on one's own inner work and then sucks on it as though it were some kind of treat, and one were going to derive some kind of nourishment from it, if only one could figure out how to suck off the ice-cold-but-sugary coating and get to that deliciously creamy inside.

Inner work is supposed to be about everything — it ought to touch on a comprehensive understanding, an understanding that can enlighten and illuminate any object, event, circumstance, or condition, and that brings insight to all of these things, not just one insight, but many insights, where all things are linked together in an experiential relationship that continually expands both in content and in meaning.

It should not just be about itself... about me and how I am. If it doesn't come into relationship with the world around it, it is worthless, no matter how amazing it may seem. The whole point is to come into relationship.

One cannot do this alone, as Gurdjieff so pointedly illustrated with his deeply disturbing and profoundly cautionary parable about the self- tamers in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

We Americans live in the age of the self — and we seem to have produced spiritual works that collapse on the self, all the time ironically professing an aim of transcendence and annihilation of that very same self. It reminds me of one friend's comment about life: everything in inevitably becomes its own opposite. In becoming consistent and self inflected, spiritual works — which ought to be glorified, messy, colorful, and extraordinary — become bland, dull, unimaginative, and egoistic. Every individual who falls into this pit thinks of themselves as being exactly the opposite of all those things, and this is precisely what Gurdjieff was talking about when he said that people have buffers. Buffers, for those of you unfamiliar with the term (if you are reading this, that's rather unlikely, I admit) our inner obstacles that prevent one from seeing the truth about how one is.

 Spirituality cannot become a consumer product. A human being's inner life can have nothing to do with marketing, salesmanship, feel-good philosophies, and the external trappings that get thrown  at us a mile a minute. The inner landscape is so rich and unusual, so dark and mysterious, that it can't actually be fathomed — and trying to use the external to fathom it is a hopeless proposition, even though we seem to live in a society that is fanatically dedicated to just that action.

Well, those are my thoughts on this for this evening, brief as they are.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Notes from the conference presentation, part one

Town Square, Hoorn

The following excerpt is from my presentation at the All and Everything Conference, in Hoorn, the Netherlands, April 30. The paper was on the subject of suffering in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson and Meister Eckhart's Book of Divine Consolation.

It constitutes the introductory talk to the paper that I submitted, and is published with the kind permission of the conference organizers. Those interested in reading the entire paper can obtain it as part of the conference transcript.


Every man or woman views suffering through the lens of their own agency; and perhaps this is where we go wrong, already, up front. We simply don’t believe we are nothing; and to the ego, the idea that others ought to be considered before we gratify our own lusts and urges is—to put it bluntly—absurd. We can trust the devil in us—and what we can trust most is that he always wants our own satisfaction to come first.

 This question of intentional suffering explores the intersection between outer, material suffering—which is what mankind generally understands by the word—and inner suffering, which is of a different quality and requires a different response. We can’t come to the understanding of intentional suffering until we clearly distinguish between our inner and our outer lives, and develop an organic and tactile experience of the inner life. 

Our difficulty lies in the fact that so much of our attention is directed outwardly, lacking the connection to sensation and feeling which is so necessary in life if we are to know our inner experience in the first place. We think a lot; we don't sense, and we don’t feel. When we do sense and feel, they’re almost entirely reactive; the minds that govern these parts of ourselves are untrained and unconscious.

Intentional suffering involves going towards that which we don’t like. We don’t like people to be cruel or unkind to us; yet in our sleepy confusion, we respond in kind. This is what ego and self-defense are all about. The proposal that we become aware enough of ourselves to say no to this habit is a thread that runs through all the great religions, in one way or another; yet it forms the warp and weft of them largely as a creature of the thinking mind. We’re adepts at rationalization; yet the world around us proves over and over again, on both a microcosmic and macroscopic scale, that the thinking mind is fundamentally deficient. One might argue, in light of recent human events (by recent, I mean the last 5 to 10,000 years or so) that it’s not a mind, and it doesn’t think. We routinely engage, as a species, in entirely irrational acts that are demonstrably selfish and destructive. That is nutshell into which you can stuff most of Beelzebub’s advice, if you’re in the mood for stuffing things.

Beelzebub is, among many other things, a chronicle of disasters. The products of disasters are varied and unpredictable; all are extraordinary, but not all are bad. For example, the Austrian psychologist Victor Frankl survived Auschwitz and wrote an astonishing book called Man’s search for Meaning. One essential point of the book (among many) is that meaning emerges through suffering. It is much like emergence in the biological world: a series of actions, in this case destructive ones, produce a whole much greater than the sum of their parts. It brings to mind the essential difference between those in Hell and in Purgatory in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The punishments are the same in both places; yet in Purgatory, those who suffer agree that their punishment is just. Unlike those in hell, they understand that suffering has a purpose. 

The bad, in other words, is the servant of the good, for without it we would not know what good is.

In suffering, we endure; and we ought, furthermore, to intend to endure in an inner sense. Put differently, we develop the inner will to endure; so in intentional suffering, what is proposed is a path of intentional will.

This is the point of our lives: endurance is what we are built for, and we endure in order to become decent. It’s said that Lord Pentland told folk the Gurdjieff work was meant to produce a decent human being; but no decent being emerges from our larval stage without suffering and overcoming it.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

I can try

May 14. Lianyungang, China.

No matter how difficult my relationship with others becomes, I see that somehow I come back, every day, to a new effort to start everything all over again.

When I was at the All and Everything conference, this subject of relationship came up over and over again. Perhaps it's because my presentation was specifically about intentional suffering, and the point that it must be engaged in in relationship with other people — not as a solitary activity. Much more could be said about that; and I will be publishing excerpts of the discussion that followed my presentation of the paper over the next few weeks in this space. (This is done with the permission of the organizers.) 

Let this essay, then, serve as a sort of introduction to those excerpts.

The question of relationship expanded for me as we engaged in these discussions. We live in a cosmos of relationships; and if one studies the cosmology presented in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, one eventually sees that the restructuring of what was once a "mechanical" — automatically functioning — universe, the "original" universe, turned it into a universe of relationships. This is one of the critical points introduced in the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory. That chapter, by the way, contains many interesting technical details, and it is easy to sink into the quicksand, since so many of them are subject to a great range of interpretation — because of our natures, inevitably, subjective. But the overarching cosmology, the cosmology of relationship, is unambiguous, and it involves an exchange of materials or substances.

Whether we know it or not, we are engaging in that exchange of materials and substances not only from a physiochemical point of view, and an electromagnetic point of view (the two, after all, are not separate things in physical sciences, but inextricably linked) but also from an ethereal point of view, that is, from the perspective of emanations, which — although they may be, in the strictest sense, also electromagnetic phenomenon — actually move into quantum space where such terms are far less useful. Emanation, for example, which takes place instantaneously across space, unlike radiation, which must travel through it through time, is clearly linked to quantum entanglement, which displays principles based on the idea of emanation, that is, linkage across distances of space that is not affected by time, but takes place instantaneously.

In any event, I didn't mean to get into this complicated discussion of physics. The point is that we are constantly engaged in relationship. We must attend to our inner relationships; but we cannot ignore the outer, in fact, it is absolutely essential to the creation and maintenance of our own inner universe. 

And I think it is this willingness to forget the bad things that have taken place in the past, this willingness to start every day as though it were possible to somehow reconstruct a goodness, is what keeps me going. I have had this confidence in that action in me since I was a small child; in fact, I can't remember any time in which I didn't have it. My mother reminds me that when I was a very small child, and she said something couldn't be done, or would be very difficult, I would always reply: we can try.

I suppose that this belief in an essential goodness and an ability to start over and find a way to it is na├»ve. At least some might say it is; and they are probably right, because we are all, it is apparent, creatures who have lost their way. 

Nonetheless, I cannot live in the hopelessness that presents itself and wages war against my inner effort; it is my duty and responsibility to stand up over and over again in the face of the bad things that happen and the hopelessness that wants me to believe in it, and say no. It may well be that people are always going to behave badly and be cruel, and it may well be that I will always have some part of me that wants to respond in kind; but I have to do better—

because I do not want to die feeling that have failed to try.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Love and service

Geertruy Haeck kneeling in adoration before St. Agnes
Northern Netherlands, circa 1465
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Before I continue, I would like to call the reader's attention to this delightful little painting, which has an exquisite compositional structure and a freshness and simplicity unusual in Northern Renaissance painting. 

It is a gem.

In this question of service, the only way to understand starts with God's Love, which is what I said yesterday. And on this one question turns everything that man is and can become. One of the reasons I quite often refer readers to Emanuel Swedenborg is that he is one of the few individuals in the last centuries on this planet who spoke extensively, frankly, and with great accurately about this question. Many find his writings difficult or obscure; but those who understand what he is saying will know that what he says about God's Love as the center of all Being and all creation is irrevocably true, it is the post around which the whole wheel of creation turns. When people seek God, they actually seek Love — and it is mankind's strange and tragic alienation from this property of Heavenly, or Divine, Love that causes him to crave, and become crazed, because his lack of understanding has driven him into those dark places where the light of Love does not so easily reach.

It is inevitable that I will stray off the path, because no matter how often God may touch me I always forget. I fall asleep again and again. It is a sign of the extraordinary and immaculate nature of God's Love that it always comes back, over and over, to turn me back towards it, because it lies at the heart of why creation exists.  

I tried to explain this in 2003 when I wrote Chakras and the Enneagram; and although that book is perforce outdated by the last 12 years of my experience, everything I said about the fact that all of creation is in its essence an act of Love is still true, and always will be. 

Even my own inner challenges — including my desperation and despair, which are inner conditions  all must endure from time to time — are an action of Love, whether I understand it or not. 

And God's Mercy always comes back, in the end, at the most unlikely times and in the most unlikely places, to take us from ourselves back into the heart of that Love, so that we can be reminded of God's presence and take hope.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reverence and Shame

Print factory, Changshu, China
Interestingly, I began this post, pasted over it, thought it lost, rewrote it, and then recovered the original.

I thought it might be interesting for readers to see both versions, so here they are.

 Version one first.

When I speak of reverence and shame, I generally tend to think of them outwardly. I have a reverence for this person or that idea; for this piece of artwork or that institution. I have inward shame in regard to this or that outward deed I did.

These are real; but there is a different kind of reverence and shame, and those are the inner experiences, that relate to a lifetime of self-observation and the cumulative impressions of how my inward attitude is formed, and the way it conducts itself.

There is a reverence that is born from a genuine understanding that there is something higher than us. Like all alcoholics who enter AA, I took a major step on that path when I began my journey to sobriety 33 years ago. It is a founding principle in the program; and it is a shocking thing to come to it young — I was 26 — since, generally speaking, we spend entire lifetimes, for the most part, believing that we are the highest thing there is. That is true even if we claim we believe in God; for everyone reserves a small part of themselves—we all have a little box in which we keep the thought that we are greater than God locked up in, ever nursing it, and never showing it to anyone. No matter how deeply spiritual I am, I still keep that hidden succubus of mine on life support.

Once one understands, however, that there really are higher energies, angelic forces, and that the Lord is real, not an imaginary factor, one begins to develop a reverence for them: not a reverence that one has of oneself, but a reverence that is born of contact and an irrevocable acknowledgment. This is real religious experience, and this is what everyone who speaks of and seeks religious experience actually wants: something that goes beyond belief and into knowing, something that brings Grace directly into me so that I can no longer deny it. Just like my alcoholic self, after all, I am perpetually in denial about all of these things — but the reverence brought by real Grace allows me, for once, to know organically, within the sensation of my own body, that God is real.

This is where shame comes in, because that confrontation between truth, and what I am – which is, basically, an elaborate and colorful lie, in so far as my personality goes — brings me to a sense of real remorse. 

I wrote the following to my dear friend and mentor Patty de Llosa earlier this week —

There is something subtle I don't understand about the emotional capacity we have for sorrow, which seems so vital to truth and our inner work.
Sometimes I think if this capacity in us really connected with the parts it ought to educate, things inside would truly undergo a meaningful transformation.
At this age I see more and more how essentially selfish I am, and I see more and more how I don't trust the Lord, now matter how good I am at mastering the words; which is a source of great distress. 
Somewhere in all of this there is the potential for remorse of conscience to arise.


and now, version two:

When I approach the ideas of reverence and shame, I generally have a reverence for outer things — institutions, ideas, artwork, or special people — perhaps, even, a spiritual work. And when I have shame, again, it's generally shame for outward things I did.

Gurdjieff spoke of organic shame, which is a shame of inward nature. I think both reverence and shame need to become much more inward for me to understand what is real. Generally speaking, I may have reverence for outward things ad infinitum, but inwardly, most of my reverence is reserved for myself. I think every human being has a little box in them, a secret lockbox buried deep inside themselves, in which they protect and keep the idea that they are the most important thing in the world — more important, even, than God. This lockbox is the lockbox that contains our selfishness — and we protected at all costs. If you peel back the layers in all the great teachings, you will see that this lies at the core of them. Meister Eckhart, Ibn Arabi, Swedenborg, Gurdjieff— they all wanted us to see this.

So the reverence that I have is superficial. Only if I encounter real Grace, which teaches reverence by exposing me directly, organically, to the influence of the Lord, am I willing — no matter how great the humiliations visited upon me by the outward, I don't learn directly from them — to submit. And this submission, this genuine reverence born of a knowing, and understanding — not my beliefs, which are a pastiche of things I have heard from others — is what I need. If I understand that, then there is a real reverence.

A real reverence brings real shame. The shame, comes from knowing my own selfishness, inwardly, which is an organic shame. 

So reverence and shame, for me, become an inward process. I come back to these questions of what that inward experience is, again and again, as my wife moves forward, trying to understand more about my relationship to the Lord, and what is required of me. (This, of course, is the one great question which Orage said every human being must confront.)

I've mentioned this before, but at this point I am called to remember once again what Lord Nelson said at the Battle of Trafalgar as he lay dying.

I have done my duty.

I think that this is the greatest aspiration we can have in relationship to the Lord; to do our duty. Hence Gurdjieff’s Being-parktdolgduty; the word means, literally, duty—duty—duty.

In a certain sense, for a three-brained being, it encompasses the whole world of our Being.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The True Service

Virgin Annunciate, attributed to Lorenzo di Niccolo, 1392-1412
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

We live in a world where people somehow consider truth to be a relative thing, when it is anything but.

Those who think the truth is relative have never encountered the real truth; yet everyone thinks they know something true, one way or the other, because they are so arbitrary about their understanding of this matter.

The things that are actually true are always true through God and in God, and never in any other way. Unless one has a contact with God's Presence – and this only comes from an actual inward flow of the divine Presence, which I call the inflow (The "higher influence" of which Jeanne de Salzmann often spoke) – one knows basically nothing about this, and that is the common condition of humanity.

Of the unique sorrow belonging to God himself that pervades the universe , it emanates in great part from this. At least, that is, in relationship to humanity.

In any event, I wish to speak this morning of something that is absolutely and inarguably true, which all beings and persons ought to know, and should try to know truthfully within their Being.

Men and women, to a fault, believe first that they should serve themselves. Everyone is like this; I am no different. Any step towards real Being consists of recognizing this first. This is already a kind of seeing that we usually don't attain. 

But this is not real service; and if I think that service begins outwardly, in any way, attached to this world or creation, I am mistaken. There is only one actual service that must come first and always, and that is inward service to God.

This service begins inside me. It doesn't begin with my deeds towards others or my deeds for myself; it must precede all these things. It is an organic sensation, an experience that begins within the body and blood, which is the selfsame body and blood of Christ and in all ways belongs to God and begins in God. 

This is a true thing which one can experience if one opens. Otherwise, everything is theory, and one will argue about everything endlessly, and circles, as is once again quite normal for human beings, so much so that we take great comfort in our iniquities.

Service to God involves putting God's Love first within one's self, and seeing how inadequate one is towards everything. I repeat, everything. This experience is very closely connected to Mr. Gurdjieff's adage that we must realize our own nothingness. The mistake that folks make here, as I see it, is that they think that this means we must somehow realize ourselves in relationship to ourselves, whereas what we really must do is recognize ourselves in relationship to God

This can only be done through the receiving of the Presence through the inflow (Jeanne de Salzmann's "higher energy"—and why she insisted on such euphemisms, I cannot understand) because unless one recognizes God as a reality within Being, one cannot see one's nothingness— all that one sees is a selfish vision, not one that has formed a proper contact with the soul in relationship to God.

So what is the true service? 

The true service is always a service of love of God first. If I don't love God first, through God's love for me, there is no love, and everything that comes after it is a fallacy, a sham, an imagination. 

If human beings loved God first,  all other love that came afterwards would be valid; but our love is invalid – that is, infirm, ill, unable — because it does not begin here, at the root of love, which is generous and all-merciful and forever forgiving of everything.

 I can assure you, as surely as you read this now, that if you know this love, everything will change in you forever. 

How I know this, I cannot tell you — but I can assure you as surely as I live and breathe that this is truth, and nothing else is truth unless one understands this first. 


Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Coal at a factory, Changshu, China

May 17, Shanghai.

The title of this post is drawn from the famous horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's body of work — a terrifying tale about a man who brings the dead back to life. 

It works great — 

the only problem is that all of them are irrevocably, horrifically insane. 

The story was the inspiration for a camp black-humor movie version, which is hysterically funny—if you enjoy the truly grotesque.

The idea for the post, however, came from this Disney video, which shows how Disney recycled animation sequences over the years. One of my best friends, JM, who I call my older brother — the one I never had — pointed out to me that this video is a terrific metaphor for our lives. And he's right.

Gurdjieff’s points about the way we rely on habit, and our tendency to do the same things over and over again not only in the small, but also the large, trajectories that we follow, is reflected here. We dance in this ballroom we inhabit — the costumes change, the characters look different, but the movements are always the same. This repetition can be helpful in many ways — a routine supports inner effort, if it is adopted in order to put a demand on a person — but I also allow it to lull me into a false sense of complacency, one where I assume things will keep going the way they always have.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, on this trip to China (today, I finally go home) a young woman on the staff here at the hotel died, shocking me, and everyone else touched by her death, out of our usual routine. Nothing rivets the attention so much at breakfast as the news that this day is not like any other day — that the dance has been permanently interrupted, shut down.

You know, I am sure that all of us would conduct our affairs and our attitudes towards others differently if we understood this is how it works. We really don't. We just don't. We talk about it, we write about it, we sagely nod our heads at one another about the gravity of life and death, but we just don't understand it until it hammers us again and again and we begin to see that the charades we engage in — I am speaking of each of us, individually, not the grand theater of society, which is an even greater sham — are hollow actions that fail to reach the level of sobriety that ought to attend to a life this brief, and needs this real.

When I speak of needs, I speak of the emotional need to bring myself to a situation and offer myself in a genuine way to others. In a way, this is exactly what Meister Eckhart, Gurdjieff and Swedenborg were asking us to do — to form a genuine intention, one that comes from a real part of ourselves, from the soul, towards others. 

An unselfish and loving intention.

It may seem like a reach to extrapolate from recycled animations to the idea of unselfish and loving intention, but I don't see it that way. It is this very recycling, this reliance on what I already know, that prevents me from offering what is needed as I meet each moment in this great unknown I face. 

If I just reach in to the baggage I am already carrying — well, maybe I packed clothes for today, but maybe not. Perhaps therein lies the exact lesson Gurdjieff sought to teach us with his legendary unpredictability.

There is a nakedness of truth that meets us in life. We are equally naked in front of it, when the grave circumstances meet us — and it behooves us to meet them with an appropriate degree of reverence and shame.

More on that in the next essay.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A brief history of inner work, part III: the experiment becomes fossilized

The fourth way differs from the old and the new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it. It appears and disappears governed by some particular laws of its own. 

“The fourth way is never without some work of a definite significance, is never without some undertaking around which and in connection with which it can alone exist. When this work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears, that is, it disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form. Schools of the fourth way exist for the needs of the work which is being carried out in connection with the proposed undertaking. They never exist by themselves as schools for the purpose of education and instruction.

—In Search of the Miraculous, P.D. Ouspensky, page 99 matter what the fundamental aim of the work is, the schools continue to exist only while this work is going on. When the work is done the schools close... Those who have learned from them what was possible to learn and have reached the possibility of continuing on the way independently begin in one form or another their own personal work. 

But it happens sometimes that when the school closes a number of people are left who were round about the work, who saw the outward aspect of it, and saw the whole of the work in this outward aspect.

Having no doubts whatever of themselves or in the correctness of their conclusions and understanding they decide to continue the work. To continue this work they form new schools, teach people what they have themselves learned, and give them the same promises that they themselves received. All this naturally can only be outward imitation. But when we look back on history it is almost impossible for us to distinguish where the real ends and where the imitation begins.

—Ibid, page 313

Perhaps I come here to the crux of the question my friend asked of me; because the many different organizations spawned by followers of Gurdjieff worldwide have, for the most part, continued to conduct their affairs in more or less exactly the same way for the last 50 or 60 years.  They exist, by and large, in sheer defiance of the above quotes. 

This is not to say the organizations and lines are no good, or don't serve any useful purposes — on the contrary. 

But as to whether they serve the purposes intended by Gurdjieff? Or those of the Fourth Way?

The matter is subject to question from many angles. They should perhaps, for that matter, not serve any prior purposes. 

More or less by default, new purposes must arise...

mustn't they?

A kind of fossilization may have set in; and it consists (among other things) of perpetually reminding each other that "Gurdjieff said this, Mme. said that, Mr. Bennett or Mrs. so-and-so said this other thing" and so on. To be entirely fair, this is characteristic of other works as well; folks hang on the words of the masters like a monkey swings on its bars. 

But in other works, that is expected: in this one, it is supposed to be antithetical.

One allows a voice to the disturbing question: are we all just imitators?

Instead of boldly daring to seize the banner of our own inner work as it stands, and go forward remorselessly to live the work and carry it on into the future that it needs to grow and breathe in, there is a tendency to lean on stale books that date from the Victorian era, and to rely on established formulas.

Never, somehow, to reinvent everything anew and to dare to be different, to make a new effort of our own. 

Perhaps all of this is predicated on Mme.'s remark that one should never change anything unless one knows why one is changing it; advice that it's quite clear Gurdjieff never employed, since he changed things constantly and never seemed to get quite the result he wanted. If he had, he would have found a place that worked and settled in it; and he didn't.

 This idea of never changing anything is clearly an absurdity; and yet it has glued itself so firmly into the matrix that there are times when one feels one is living in cement,  not a work that lives and breathes in a new way in every moment. We need to bring today's work to today, not yesterday's; and this involves taking some chances, even if they turn out to be wrong. 

 A refusal to believe that we can, both collectively and as individuals, meet the needs of a real inner work today, is tantamount to casting off our responsibility to the tradition. It leaves us aping former teachers and grasping at straws to find a living way to bring this work to new generations. 

These are radically new times, with radically new things happening; the planet is at a crossroads poised somewhere on the knife edge between life and death; media has changed communication until it is unrecognizable compared to the time when the work emerged in society; young people have a new and different set of expectations on what kind of work they will encounter, how they will serve it, and how it may serve them. One might fairly say that more than a few venerable elders in this work have found themselves, so to speak, with their pants down around their ankles and no idea of how to pull them up. 

It is a position we are all in perpetual danger of inheriting.


If I intended to say anything at all on the subject, in the end, I would say that we should all be bold enough to change things and make our own mistakes, or we will never learn anything new.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

the eternal pause

May 15. Shanghai.

In memorium.

This morning I came up hard against all of the questions regarding death and permanence that follow us through the course of our lives.

I got to breakfast and was greeted by one of my personal friends on the hotel staff, a lovely young woman named Seni who is, to a fault, gracious, in the sense that she is filled with an inner Grace she carries effortlessly—and which, at her age, she probably doesn't know she has. There is a purity in Grace of this kind that comes from the best of all that we are; and some chosen few are appointed to embody it for the rest of us, as reminding factors.

Seni was close friends with another lovely young woman on the hotel staff, Kate, who had a lively, outgoing attitude and was filled with enthusiasm for living and all the good things in it. I say, was, because this morning Seni told me that last night Kate fell from a window and was discovered dead on the street below.

 There is a suspicion it may not have been accidental.

We take life and its little problems for granted; after the death of my sister, I have reminded those around me ad nauseum about the fact that we all assume we will be here tomorrow- a profoundly mistaken assumption, yet everyone prefers to believe it no matter how hard the evidence to the contrary. 

It's events like this that snap the picture back into the sharpest kind of focus.

I didn't know Kate well; I had only met her several times. This has happened to me once before, where I met a charming young woman only to discover she'd been killed only a few days later. Yet when one has only one or two impressions of an individual, one hasn't had a chance to muddle them with extra detail or consign them to my routine inner ignorance towards that which is too familiar and I think I already know; consequently, individuals of this kind make a much more lasting (and in the end much more terrifying) impression.

Life, as is said, is for the living; but what does that deceptive platitude mean?

For me, this: we ought to live in honor of all those who have gone before us, and we ought to live in service of all those who come after. 

Occupying middle earth, in this eternal pause between the two, we suffer.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

A brief history of inner work, part II: the experiment undergoes some corrections

The experiments failed.

Gurdjieff, in his autobiographical writings, confessed more than once that he had failed not only his students, but even himself; and indeed, although many offspring peeled off from his entourage and founded various interesting, valuable, and different "flavors" of Gurdjieff-work lineages, Gurdjieff was, by his own admission, unable to produce any durable results in his pupils. Theoretical results, yes; practical ones, not so much. And yet durable results were essential for real inner work. (Let us not forget in passing that his magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales, is also a history of one cosmologically spectacular failure after another, many of them on the part of "highly developed" angelic beings.)



lacking, damn it.

He could not put his finger on it; but there was an essential element that was not connecting, and even his best pupils seemed, over and over again, to miss the mark. Distressingly so, as he told them, one after another.

Towards the end of his life, one pupil finally did form something quite durable in herself, and that was Jeanne de Salzmann. She did, I think, what Zen pupils are supposed to do: she went further. There were interesting consequences resulting from this; but let us first note that something quite extraordinary developed in her.

It was extraordinary because it didn't go away so easily.

She remembered.

Gurdjieff recognized this; and the two of them sat down, metaphysically speaking, to decide just what to make of this result.

The fact is that de Salzmann correctly identified the fundamental problem Gurdjieff had struggled with during his life. She did this when he was, so to speak, old and gray; and she was henceforth tasked with taking "the method" (the one that doesn't exist, LOL) forward and applying the results of her understanding—in which rested the now-real hopes of correcting Gurdjieff's deficiencies (for yes, they were deficiencies:  acknowledged by the master himself, and in need of remedy.)

My premise is this: the deficiency in Gurdjieff's methods, which were laid in thick pastes over successive layers of students without every making a cake that decisively held together, ultimately sprang from the fact that that nothing durable can form unless an organic connection to sensation develops.

Now, Gurdjieff may have realized this earlier in his life; one can't be sure. The subject surfaces, however, decisively and in that language only as his wartime meetings during the 1940's progressed, and records of them show, I think, an increasing awareness of this specific problem. De Salzmann, in both her work with people and her notes (in The Reality of Being) brought her pupils back again and again and again to this fundamental question of sensation.

In the course of things, she also fell under the influence of William Segal (although he was probably more under her influence than the other way around), a Zen aficionado, and was thereby exposed to and became enamored of Zen techniques, which deeply influenced the future course of the Gurdjieff work (a finding John Rothenburg emphatically agreed with when I ran it by him some ten years ago.) This combination of Zen meditation techniques with exercises in sensation, some of them specifically and unabashedly yogic in nature, still predominate in circles that arose from her lines of work.

Like everything else that is attempted, it is not good enough; but it is as close as one can get for now.

The point of all this is that without the organic sense of Being— a firm and permanent connection to the cellular, and even atomic nature, of one's Being—no inner work one undertakes can become durable. This is because without that connection, impressions are forever unable to flow deep enough into Being to produce any permanent results. The reason, of course, that sensation of this kind is associated, in esoteric Gurdjieffian circles, with the development of the astral body is that the astral body is, of course, a permanent result, at least relative to the earthly or material body.

As I have explained several times over the course of the last two months, the only reason one needs to form an astral body is to suffer more, and longer, than is possible in the physical body; though it is reasonably certain this will strike the uninitiated as a perverse and masochistic aim.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

A brief history of inner work, part I: experimental subjects are irradiated

Several months ago, one of of my dearest and closest associates...who has "much more than just an inkling" of the questions I expound on in this space... asked me how the Gurdjieff work, as he put it,  "ended up where it is."

This question tempted me to ponder the idea that I might dare to have an opinion on this matter.

One ought, I said to myself, to be very, very careful in pondering such possibilities, and even more very ultra-careful in saying anything specific about such things, for fear of treading soundly on the toes of power-possessing Beings spread across the wide (but also small) world of Gurdjieff studies. And even, for that matter, close personal friends and associates in formally established Gurdjieff circles, to whom I owe not only the deepest respect, but even, in many cases,  a certain kind of fealty.

This reminds me of an expository statement my daughter made about academics yesterday. She explained that the process of becoming a respected academic involves having everyone argue with everyone else and disagree ever more and more intensely; and the higher one rises in the ranks, the more controversial and disliked one becomes. In the end, once one becomes an acknowledged leader in one's field, one reaches the level of near-universal dislike, and unrelenting criticism.

It is, in other words, exactly like politics... well, hell, it is politics.

And the Gurdjieff work—as Betty Brown told me many times indeed— is politics, as well.

So, intuiting that this subject may expose me to the radiation of politics, which inevitably kills anything it touches, I must first state unequivocally that I don't know much about this subject my dearly beloved one so indelicately asked me about.

If, however, I did think I knew anything—what I thought I knew might sound something like what follows.

Gurdjieff left an unfinished, perhaps even failed, work.

This must be said respectfully, because any serious task human beings undertake is always, to some extent, failed and unfinished, life being what it is. It is in the nature of things to be humble enough to admit our failures and admit that work is never good enough and never done; indeed, in the Zen tradition, it is always said that every pupil must go farther than his or her master. So incompleteness and failure is, as perverse as this may sound, an objective badge of honor; and the admission of it is a worthy thing.

Throughout the course of his life, Gurdjieff continually reinvented his work. His methods were revised; he tried first one thing and then another, always searching for the right combination. Theory, music, writing; breathing exercises, meetings, crazed road trips.

Disruption extraordinaire.

No methods lay too far outside his reach.

But let's call a spade a spade. If the man had truly known how to help people transform their inner life—if he actually had a method that "worked"—such constant experimentation would not have been necessary. Let us recall his remark in Wartime Transcripts

Questioner: ... I wanted to ask you if there was, for developing attention, only the method of "I am" or if there are other special methods?

Gurdjieff: One thing I can tell you. Methods do not exist. (meeting 15.)

We can, then, intuit that whatever he brought to the west—whatever esoteric schools it came from— was and remains a work in progress.

He had no final answers: and as he himself rather cynically admitted, he conducted some of his schools as experiments using guinea pigs, a matter he wrote openly about in Herald of Coming Good, a book which proved so embarrassing (read, revealing) that it is said he and his pupils later tried (unsuccessfully) to remove it from publication.

Comfortable or not, there was more truth to it than anything else; but the idea of inner work as experimental process makes people profoundly uncomfortable.

What if the experiments go wrong?

I will examine this unsettling question in the next post.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

By Grace, in Grace, through Grace

I've been going through a period of very intense, inner questioning in which even the most basic premises are suspect; it reminds me, in its radical nature, of the moment Betty Brown told me, quite late in her life, "...the things you love the most are the first things that have got to go."

She said it, of course, about herself and her own inner work; yet, at the time, for my benefit. 

She was right, of course; and lately I have been seeing that everything is what I love the most.

This radical premise relates to one of my favorite quotes from Meister Eckhart:

...some people want to see God with their own eyes as they see a cow, and they want to love God as they love a cow. You love a cow for her milk and her cheese and your own profit. That is what all those men do who love God for outward wealth or inward consolation - and they do not truly love God, they love their own profit.

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 117

During this period of troubling and dissolutive inner questioning, in which all of the premises upon which I base my own existence and happiness (such as it is) come under the most intense kind of fire, I see myself in this finely polished medieval mirror. 

I love not just one thing, but my whole life, for my own profit; this is indubitably true. I can't consider this without seeing it, but I take it so much for granted that the understanding of it isn't really operative. I take even my own ideas of spiritual edification for my own profit; yes, even Grace itself I want for my own profit.

The best thing of Grace is that it teaches; and above all, when it comes, it teaches exactly this—that in and of myself I am profitless. 

Only by Grace, in Grace, and through Grace do I come to Be (for as I am, I am not) and it is only through this force of Grace—the highest inner force that acts on this level, since it is ultimately bestowed by the Lord Himself—that I am. 

The point comes home to roost through Grace, and the idea of I AM (which is what one might call the "great idea" of the Gurdjieff work, although it is only the Old Testament half of the great idea, whose counterpart is the New Testament's most all-powerful Lord Have Mercy) is only enlightened (revealed and instructed) through the lens of Grace itself. 

I can't understand this I AM without Grace; and then it is revealed that I AM...


In the dissolving light of Grace, what I think I am is stripped away; even the faintest taste of the Grace calls me towards an inevitable death, not of the body (that is, the easy death which we are all granted) but of this self, which needs to die into the soul- a place it cannot go, as long as it carries what I love and what I believe in.

Ah, how mistaken I am, revealed in this light! Here, if it can be found anywhere in this life, lies that final, fatal flaw that dooms every man and woman to purgatory. 

Only when the last iota of this personal wish for my own profit, and the things of myself, is gone might I truly be washed in the blood of the lamb; and that is no easy thing at all. The suffering required seems unfathomable.

How I wish I could be taken by such unbearable sweetness; and at the same time how little I trust it. 


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Kundabuffer and illusion, part II: Sensing appreciation and feeling appreciation

Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Master of the statues of Koudewater, 
s'Hertogenbosch, circa 1480
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Appreciation comes from a Latin root meaning to estimate the quality of a thing; that is, to value it. 

As readers know, I am sometimes wont to introduce new terms in an effort to expound my own small corner of the dharma; and here are two terms that serve that purpose.

We generally use our minds to evaluate, forgetting that our sensation and emotion are in fact essential evaluative tools, ones that function very differently than intellect. Intellectual action can only lead to intellectual appreciation; but because value and meaning arise in all three realms (sensory, intellectual and emotive) the appreciative organs of only one function are by default unable to form a full picture of reality. We form, instead a partial—hence illusory—one. The word illusion is entirely apt here since it means, in its essence, misleading; and of course partial understanding is misleading, since it presumes in its partiality that it knows everything through itself.

Illusion is partial; one-centered Being attempts to know everything through itself. It doesn't come into relationship, which is absolutely necessary in order to gain a full picture of reality. Yet because every act of perception seems—I must stress that word, seems—complete in and unto itself, there arises with it a conviction of completion: a conviction that is, furthermore, all but absolute.  

One does not, in other words, have any choice but to participate in illusion (the misleading of perception) since it is a whole thing unto itself which isn't properly understood outside its own context, even if one posesses the intellectual knowledge—or has had, at times, the sensation and feeling experience—to know better.

Into this breach steps attentive consciousness, that is, a faculty that has enough critical capacity to evaluate this action and question it. I learn, in an inner work, to question through seeing my failure to enter relationship.

Yet this working, as it's called, simply serves as a way of reminding myself that my Being is partial; in remembering Self, this is all I can remember (re-assemble): that I am partial.

It takes the inflow, the action of the higher energy, to reunite. That is the moment when illusion drops away; my own misleading is replaced by a leading from a higher level which does not mislead, for it knows the way.

Those touched by such an understanding know, like a hedgehog, one big thing; for myself, I cannot know the way. The higher knows the way; and in this above all I must learn, eventually, to trust, whether or not I am bereft of Grace, which condition is so often necessary in order to turn me back toward God.

I would like to stress again to myself that absolutely no amount of intellectual knowledge, of book learning, or rationalization, can produce this knowing and this turning. The inflow alone produces it; then, this intellectaul appreciation is augmented by sensing appreciation and feeling appreciation, and my posturing- which is all I have in the midst of my own misleading- drops away naturally. There is no need or purpose for it, in real knowing; I see that my inner mask is a useless appendage, part of what prevents the vessel from receiving.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Kundabuffer and illusion, part I

Saint Barbara
Master of the statues of Koudewater, 
s'Hertogenbosch, Circa 1480
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
May 3

I just got back (to China) from attending the 2015 annual All & Everything humanities conference. This was my first time round; I'm pleased to report that the conference is a serious enterprise with a diverse and sincere community of Gurdjieffians and FourthWay students from many different lines who come together to study the material. This is ambitious at least, given the diversity of approaches and understandings the community supports; nonetheless, there is, in the greater measure, room at this conference for disagreement—even profound—without a loss of respect for the other. I was grateful for the opportunity to present and share, and will be updating folks more specifically on the exact nature of my contribution in a few future posts.

A number of interesting questions came up. One that struck close to the heart of my presentation was a point made by a gentleman from Great Britain, who pointed out that the organ kundabuffer fosters illusions in mankind.

This was interesting to me, because I overlooked it in my discussion of the chief qualities of the results of the crystallization of the properties of the organ kundabuffer (which is quite the mouthful, isn't it?)

In examining this illusion- which by default presumes that there is a possibility of perception without illusion, that is, objective perception- I reminded myself first that the sanskrit root —kunda means vessel. We are, in other words, vessels, and the action of a kunda buffer is that which buffers, or blocks, the vessel.

The blockage to be examined here is threefold. First, we are blocked from the inward flow (inflow) of a higher energy; second, (and consequently) we are blocked from objective perceptions of the outer world; and third, we are blocked from any sensation-appreciation or feeling-appreciation that arises due to a proper blending of these inner and outer impressions.

The vessel, such as it is, is designed to receive such impressions; and when I do not—when my vessel is "buffered"—I can't receive the right kind of inner food needed for right perception. 

This question of appreciation (estimation of value, in the Latin root) is paramount, since I am unable to properly value that which I do not properly ingest. It is more or less like attempting to describe the flavor of an orange without every having eaten one—which is, I might add, a perennial difficulty in spiritual literature, much of which is exactly like that.

Relativists and naturalists (in the sense, that is, of reductive scientists who believe the natural world is all there is) are easy prey for the mistaken idea that there is no"right," or objective, perception. They don't receive the sacred inward flow, and thus remain infantile in terms of their ability for inner understanding, no matter how perfect their outer understanding may be. Anyone who has tasted the inflow, on the other hand, knows at once what objectivity is, both in consciousness and perception, and in the cosmos in general, inherent. 

Our failure to see and sense this objectivity is where the root of this illusion lies.

The illusion begins where the divine inflow is blocked: that is, the vessel fails to function as a recptacle, which is what it is originally designed to do. Illusion is in direct proportion to blockage: the more I am buffered, the less I can sense the lack. When Jeanne de Salzmann discusses seeing my lack, she is indicating this. I lack a connection to the higher (which is what she would have called it): I do not receive the divine inflow. 

In the end, every real spiritual practice and exercise in the world was originally designed to receive the divine inflow so as to dispel the world of illusions which automatically arises when the inflow is blocked.