Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author
Law Within Practice
All of this is heady stuff; and I am not at all sure this in any way helps us to know how to live our lives. There can be, with understanding of these matters, a certain helpful way of intentionally conceptualizing one’s place within a given moment, because the matters discussed above are not abstractions; they are very real conditions which we are currently inhabiting. Nonetheless, even if we believe they are true, we don’t sense them directly or think about them. In order to do so, we must come into touch with a certain organic vibration; but only after many years of practice does that really become possible. At that time, as my dear friend M. once put it, one feels the work in one’s body.
I like her way of putting it.
Yet perhaps the most important thing for me to understand within daily practice is lawful action; and while it’s easy enough to grasp, in an overall all sense, lawful action from the external point of view—if I am hit with a bat, my bones break, etc.—it is the inner nature of lawful action which matters by far the most to my inner work.
The human body is a receiving organism, designed for the ingestion and transubstantiation of both coarse and subtle energies and substances from different levels. My inner Self forms its psychological and spiritual life according to a complex process of inner transubstantiation: the ingestion and digestion of food, air, and impressions.
Without a lot of mumbo-jumbo, it is up to me to try and come to a practical, sensate experience of this reality not as a theoretical activity, but an active and living process in which I participate.
I say, “without a lot of mumbo-jumbo,” because the landscape of yoga adepts is populated with any number of colorful distractions and extravagant complications. Few people who engage in inner practice can resist being attracted to embroidery, the more of it and the more colorful the better.
In this way people fail to engage in the deeply subtractive and humbling process of shearing their inner sheep (cutting all the dirty wool from Being) and instead adopt forms with more and more buzzwords, attitudes, clothing, and other accoutrements. Innocently, and without ever intending damage, we aggressively externalize inner practice without ever seeing it. It is a cunning thing that looks exactly like real inner work, but isn’t—because it has found very sneaky ways to avoid the necessary suffering. We don’t suffer enough—we don’t want to suffer enough—and even though this is the most important lawful action we can undertake, we don’t ever understand it from an inner point of view. Our conception of suffering is very nearly entirely outward.
The mind turns outward very easily. We need help from other parts in order to avoid it.
In order to experience lawful action in the most practical physical and chemical (“not with mathematik”) sense possible, I need to develop a personal sense of organic inner intimacy that, in its own sensory right, and within its range of possibility, mirrors the intimacy reflected by the interaction of law within creation. That is, I need to begin to develop an inner sensation that takes into account the lovingness and intimacy that gives rise to my Being.
Gurdjieff alludes to this, for example, in the following passage:
“…one must change the way of working. Instead of accumulating during one hour, one must try to keep constantly the organic sensation of the body. Sense one's body again, continually without interrupting one's ordinary occupations—to keep a little energy, to take the habit… Our aim is to have constantly a sensation of oneself, of one's individuality. This sensation cannot be expressed intellectually, because it is organic. It is something which makes you independent, when you are with other people.” —Wartime Transcripts, Meeting #1
Yet it’s in Jeanne de Salzmann’s work, which picked up and carried on where Gurdjieff left off, that this idea begins to find its fullest expression; and she ties the action of law, both inner and outer, earthly and cosmological, together into a single inner practice dependent (at least at ground level) on this inner sensation of Being, which is (unsurprisingly, given its nature) intimately linked to the development of an inner gravity.
This inner gravity is closely linked to the development of one’s own inner solar system, and it can attract powerful forces to help any inner work. The lawful action at the root of it is the power of attraction of Love, or “magnetic center,” as Gurdjieff called it.
There are inexpensive and superficial forms of charisma which create an outward, interpersonal magnetism; more often than not it manifests in destructive ways. Most of us have encountered this kind of thing, and it is often mistaken for real magnetic center, which is exclusively an inner phenomenon.
A person with real magnetic center in them will often be entirely without outer charisma and there may be no sign whatsoever that their inner work is drawing this kind of force into them. Usually, in fact, the more powerful such force becomes, and the more one suffers inwardly, the more secret it must become. This is because the lawful action of inner suffering is strictly between a person, an individual, and God. Exchanges made in this realm are made public only at the expense of one’s soul.
The true adept knows this and does not reveal their own work, even though they must be generous with the results of it. Lawful action requires that what is earned must at once be given away; generosity is on the first order of law in this regard.
My personal inner relationship with myself has everything to do with these possibilities. If my sensation is not an active and living presence—if I have to invoke it and “force” it to participate in the effort of Being—there is a natural resistance. The organic sensation of Being must be respected enough and given enough latitude of its own that it arrives of itself to support the effort.
This is a different understanding than the yoga of “doing things,” which prevails in today’s understanding of inner yogic effort. It ought to be noted that despite his essential admonition, man cannot do, Gurdjieff did little to help dispel these misconceptions; far too much of the written material surrounding his work (including some of his own) invokes will in ways that aggressively invite misinterpretation. Readers need to turn to de Salzmann’s notes in The Reality of Being for the beginnings of a correction to these many attractive misconceptions.
Lawful action within Being, then, consists of an organic “I am—I wish to be” that comes not just from the words and the mind, but also from body and feeling. The organic sensation of being is the I am of the body; and there is an equally (well, in point of fact, more) powerful I am—once again, wordless— that arises in feeling, if the proper connections are made.
I think I wish to stress here that understanding the laws of world creation and world maintenance is an inner action, not an outer one; it’s the lawful actions creating and maintaining my inner world that govern me (read Ibn al Arabi’s Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom.) So my view of law as pertaining to outward actions needs to be turned upside down and inside out.
The fundamental nature of reality is such that all action is, in its essence, lawful, so in a certain sense, when we use the word “lawful” to describe “action” it is completely redundant. There can be no action that is not lawful, by simple virtue of the fact that all action ultimately derives from lawful sources, and, indeed, from Love itself, which is the Alpha and Omega of all actions small and large.
Perhaps, when we refer to actions as lawful, it is just a way of reminding ourselves that we live under law, always and everywhere. In a similar vein. devout Muslims, whenever they refer to a future event, invoke the phrase Insh’Allah: if God wills it. Things take place solely in accordance with the Will of Allah alone;
that is, law.
We forget this at our peril.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.