Friday, January 1, 2016

A Returning to Feeling

This morning, my wife asked me about the difference between returning to sensation and returning to the sorrow. (i.e., feeling.)

In order to explain this better, one needs first to understand that each of the minds within Being needs to become active. Active Being-mentation, as Gurdjieff called it, must take place as a three centered activity: and this means that all three centers—thinking, moving, and emotional center—must be active, or conscious, and aware. 

Each one of these centers is a distinct, unique, and individual mind; and their awarenesses are complementary, but not at all like one another. This is very easily forgotten and commonly  misunderstood, even among people who have studied these ideas for years.

We spend almost all our time within the thinking or intellectual center. It does not need to be prompted to show up in life, because it runs most of the affairs we encounter. For many years, after the mind becomes aware of the possibility of inner work, it is still the only part that knows much about working or has any awareness of it. 

During these many years, if one is studying under a competent teacher, one’s focus of inner work is to cultivate an active sensation. Put in more direct and simpler terms, one seeks to awaken the mind of sensation. Hence all the emphasis on this question in the Gurdjieff work. 

Once the mind of sensation is awake, sensation of Being — a physical sensation that consists of a magnetism and a vibration on the cellular level, or even below it — becomes a permanent thing. Unless this kind of sensation becomes active and permanent, sensation is not awake and the mind of the physical body is not awake. So saying that sensation needs to become permanent is just a different way of saying that sensation, the mind that experiences and "thinks" through sensation, must become a living thing, an active mind that shows up at all times as a support to the intellectual function of the thinking center. Until this takes place, until sensation is in fact a living thing, one can only work with one center and occasionally get a little help with glimpses of the minds that run the other two.

Generally speaking, efforts to cultivate active sensation focus around meditation; one attempts to quiet the mind and, within that Great Silence, go much more deeply into the body. A good deal more could be said about this, but I am trying to outline the structural nature of things here, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Once both the intellect and sensation have a living quality in which the minds of these separate parts engage in active mentation, one discovers that sensation is not enough. One will have worked for many years to cultivate sensation, and once one has an active sensation, it can often seem like a kind of extraordinary magic — at least for a little while. But there is no way for the adept to rest at this point, because sensation is not enough; it merely lays the foundation for a new and equally extraordinary effort of the same kind to awaken the emotional mind.

Gathering the forces of intellect and sensation together creates a new kind of magnetism in Being. A lot can still go wrong here; because although there is now power and intelligence, one has not acquired the spiritual basis for ethical action. Hence it's easy to mistake power and intelligence as ends in themselves. Yet only by penetrating into the deepest parts of one's emotional life and suffering them can one awaken what Gurdjieff called conscience; and conscience is the only basis for true ethical action. Generally speaking, we almost never see actions based on real conscience in the ordinary world. The only way to truly know this is to know it organically, in the marrow of one's bones— and that is a rare thing indeed.

 This “third-center work,” as we might call it, consists now of coming back again and again to the emotional state and suffering it. It is perhaps the most painful kind of work, because it doesn't yield the deep silence, the beauty, and the inarguable rewards of a connection with sensation, which carries by itself no overt requirement to suffer. Suffering lies in the domain of the emotions, which must carry the weight of the whole Being as it stands—including the intellect and the body—and see, absorb, and digest the nature of Being itself.

In order to do this, one must come back again and again to an emotional sense of self in the exact same way that one worked to come back again and again to a sensation. This work must be undertaken in conjunction with both thought and sensation. that is, two-centered Being acts as a foundation for three-centered Being; but not without long preparation.

The awakening of the emotional mind intensifies (very gradually) the magnetism of Being itself, and its ability to attract and store the energies that are required to do what Gurdjieff called coating the higher Being-bodies. In order to make this possible, the adept must go towards the suffering and, ultimately, towards the sorrow, which consists of finer particles from a higher level. This action is deeply intertwined, by the way, with Christian practice and the Passion of the Christ, if it’s properly understood.

In any event, as has been explained at great length in earlier essays, all of this lies along a trajectory of the acquiring of finer material substances that are (for us, at our level) ultimately solar in origin. 

While sensation makes this quite clear once it becomes active, it is impossible at the beginning to understand just how deep this practice leads. Once again, many years of work are required; and one has to above all be determined and willing to suffer one's self again and again in innumerable ways.

It's possible to work on both lines at the same time, but direct work on the emotions is impossible. One can only work with the emotional mind when it arrives; trying to force it to be there is — as it is with all other kinds of inner work — a grave error. 

All we can do is issue a call and ask for help from a higher level in this type of work.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

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