Some esoteric science, for those who like such things.
Glory, Grace and Mercy are the three forces that bring the embodiment of God into the material universe; yet in order to understand these three forces, and how this holy Trinity acts in the context of the law of three, it's necessary to understand how these Great Forces function as described by their positions on Gurdjieff’s enneagram.
The first Great Force is Glory.
Glory represents the intellect of God, and comes in the position of the Absolute, or, in the Gurdjieff system, the note “do’.
The intellect of God is absolute: it embodies all things, is comprehensive, transcendent, and beyond all knowing and all reason.
Nonetheless, we use the word intellect for this particular aspect of God, because we must use words, and above all, this particular note or position represents the mind of God—the intelligence of God.
Glory is the mind of God. Keep in mind, as we discuss this, that the mind of God is threefold and has of itself an emotional, a physical, and an intellectual aspect, because this will become quite important as we go on.
The second Great Force is God's Grace.
On the enneagram, this occupies position of the first conscious shock, or conscious labor, in Gurdjieff’s system. Like intellect (that is, Glory) Grace also has three aspects: physical, emotional, and intellectual. It occupies the physical or natural (right hand) side of the enneagram, and because of this, Grace starts out as a physical property, and is related to the action of moving center in human beings on this level.
The third Great Force of Mercy occupies the shock on the left, or spiritual, side of the enneagram, the position of intentional suffering.
Mercy, like its other two counterparts, has an emotional, intellectual, and physical side — in this case, its primary aspect is emotional, that is, it begins with emotion, and then incorporates intellect and the physical.
These three forces, taken together, form an ennead, or group of nine, forces that drive energy around the enneagram. They find themselves in rotation with one another, because each force successively occupies the positions of the other two forces as the triangle in the diagram turns in a circle clockwise.
In turn, they manifest according to the original quality of the position: that is, when the mind of God rotates into the position of conscious labor, it manifests its physical or energetic nature. As it rotates into the position of intentional suffering it manifests its emotional aspect.
The intellect of God, entering the octave at the note do, must then rotate to the position of the first conscious shock, hence embodying a physical manifestation, and then afterwards, in the next rotation, occupy the location of intentional suffering.
In this way the intellect of God fully comprises all three aspects of its Being in the lawful rotation through the hierarchy of force.
The same takes place with Grace, that is, the physical nature of God. Grace must become first emotional, and then intellectual, after beginning its embodiment as conscious labor.
The same is equally true of Mercy, which in its clockwise rotation takes the place of intellect and then conscious labor as it moves through its complete rotation.
In this way, all three aspects of God — the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as they are referred to in Christianity – rotate through all three positions, so that each one of them plays a different role according to its position in the rotation. That is to say, intellect will also play a physical role and an emotional role; and it must play those roles in the lawful, progressive iteration of its nature through the manifestation of the energy.
This is a practical use, since it explains how three centered work has to proceed in man – that is, lawfully, according to the circulation of force and the requirement that each force in the Holy Trinity embodies itself within all three forces.
In this way three merges into three, reinforcing the structure in every way, in every note, and throughout the circulation.
“...when God finds you ready, He has to act, to overflow into you, just as when the air is clear and pure the sun has to burst forth and cannot refrain. It would surely be a grave defect in God if He performed no great works in you and did not pour great goodness into you whenever He found you thus empty and bare.”
These currents are very real things that live within me, not conceptual, theoretical, or philosophical conditions. They manifest in the energy that moves through me — and they are present in each and every movement of life. They are here now as I write this.
The currents come from two different directions, although directionality is difficult to assign in this case. I am tempted to say that they come from "above" and “below", but this isn't actually the case, because each one flows "from" a different source of intentions.
There's a mechanical or automatic flow of intention, which is not mindful. It is uninformed. It has a passive nature that paradoxically expresses itself as a form of aggression. It's aggressive towards everything, like a defensive animal. But these materialistic analogies aren't that helpful, because it is above all a tendency. This tendency, this influence, flows through me like a powerful current of electricity that recruits many different parts to its purposes. It especially recruits destructive impulses like anger, resentment, jealousy, and so on, to help it achieve things by force. It's perpetually active in bringing these various negative elements into being within me. I'm able to observe this if I watch how I operate inside.
I’m familiar with this particular inflow, this current, because it comes from what I usually call “myself” and my personality. It has parts I may not really be that familiar with… it’s quite surprising how destructive some of my parts can be, after all… but all in all I know this current, insofar as I can see it.
There is a second intention, a second current, that flows from a different place in me. It’s a place I’m not so familiar with; and that current provides a kind of food that changes me, especially from an emotional point of view. It’s true that it provides a different, much deeper, connection with sensation of the body, something the other current not only cannot do, but actively suppresses. Yet above all it brings a different inner emotional attitude.
What I would call it is a call to inward prayer.
These two currents exist alongside each other. It’s tempting to characterize them as oppositional; yet they simply intersect here, in a conjunction occupied by my awareness.
What strikes me here is in the nature of the two forces. The one force has negative, earthly characteristics: once one peels off all the layers of self-justification, it is bound up in petty hatreds and a perpetual kind of paranoid inner conflict.
The other is divine; that is, it is of the Lord, of a higher nature. By higher nature I mean better intention; it bears within itself, of itself, an intention towards goodness that can’t be resident in the other current.
This highlights what both Meister Eckhart and Swedenborg said of goodness: that all goodness is of God. The interesting thing about dwelling between these two currents is that I am able to see this; to see, not with the eyes, but to see with the sense of the soul. addendum—
Links to some previous pieces on the movements, which may be of current interest to some.
For the last five or so years, as readers may know, I've been the poetry Editor at Parabola magazine, while also fulfilling various other duties as a Senior Editor.
Over these five years, I've read thousands of poems. Most — as is inevitable in any publishing enterprise — end up rejected. I always feel bad about rejecting poets, no matter what the objective literary merits of their work are, because poetry is a highly personal effort and everyone treasures their own poetry.
One of the things I have learned is that almost no one knows how to write poetry.
Even the people who do know how to write poetry write good poetry only because they know they don't know how to write poetry; and so they have a question in their poetry, a nothingness between the words and the lines that suspends any and all absolute confidence in definitions.
This nothingness invites a form of insight that cannot be spoken in words: and every good poem has that in it somewhere. The best ones have it everywhere. It's quite fascinating, really. What is that stuff? No one can tell. It is invisible, but it emanates a materiality that cannot be denied.
The poetry that lacks this quality comes from a place of confidence, even certainty, that fares better when abandoned by the wordy class.
The poetry of the lost soul that knows itself lost has more great strength than the poetry of the soul that thinks itself found.
Just so, poetry that teaches is weaker than poetry that seeks a teacher.
Poetry nested between two grains of soil often carries more light than the poetry of stars.
There are so many things I could say about our poets who don't get published. Many of them are wonderful; and even if their wonder is only their own and ought not be shared with others, it's touching and tender, and speaks to an inner need to nurture oneself.
If that's the only purpose such unpublished poetry ever serves, this is good enough for one person; we value ourselves much less than we should, and if we can help ourselves find more value in what we are through the poems we write, well then, good. In this sense, not publishing a poet may be doing them a favor; each poem that isn't published serves as a more private and intimately sacred record of one's own personal struggle and vision.
The again, so many poems get published worldwide, in so many journals, that in my eyes shouldn't be, literary curmudgeon that I am. Poetry invites excess, and finds it too easily. Excess emotion; excess adjectives; excess attitude, a circus of abundance that gives more than is needed, confident that the voice is worth hearing.
It's like people singing loud in the subway, drunk, with headphones on, having the best time of their lives ever, not realizing that there is a whole car filled with people who—while they are amused by (and, yes, love!) the singer—also secretly wish that he or she would just quiet down and sit there with their hands folded in their lap.
As Milosz said in Ars Poetica, ... And yet the world is different from what it seems to be and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings. People therefore preserve silent integrity, thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors. The purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person, for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors, and invisible guests come in and out at will. What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry, as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly, under unbearable duress and only with the hope That good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument. —Excerpt from Czeslaw Milosz, New and Collected Poems (1931-2001) Harper-Collins 2001
Another thing I've learned is that everyone thinks their poetry is original.
There are certain forms, approaches, ways of voicing feeling, physical presence, and intellect that turn up over and over again. This happens even with poets from people that grew up in widely divergent cultures; and from it, I learned that we are all very much the same, even though we often tend to celebrate our differences. Because poetry is such an emotional enterprise to begin with, emotion always stands out; and we are emotionally similar, despite the wide range of beliefs and attitudes we are raised within, and that we take as our own. Across the range from outstanding to ordinary, poetry becomes a great democratizer when it is measured this way. The whole human race comes together in it; and a consensus of some form develops. One can, perhaps, begin to understand how poetry bound cultures together once upon a time, when we better recognized our sameness through it. Only a survey on the scale of thousands of poems, from across the spectrum of authors — beginners to establish talent — can put this question into the perspective it deserves; only an Editor is lucky enough to get a taste of that, and then just a taste, because the enterprise spans millennia, and we live but a few brief years. So let this serve as my apology to all the poets I reject — and even the few I accept. Thank you for helping me to see, not just your poems, but poetry. It is a vast thing that we do not know. I have been tasked with this responsibility; to select for Parabola the few among the many who speak without words and write without a plan, into a great unknown that all of us wish to gaze just a little deeper.
This is not the poetry of everyman, or the poetry of every magazine; mea culpa, for all those who find themselves on the other end of my rejection letters. Keep writing, keep hoping, and keep searching for your own wonder.
In discussing the holy Trinity in terms of idea, manifestation, and relationship —Glory, Grace, and Mercy — the other day, I described these three qualities of the holy Trinity as virtues.
To me this is an interesting idea. How often do we think of our three centers—intellectual, physical, and emotional, as virtues—things that have goodness in them?
They do, in fact, have goodness in them; each of the three centers contains a goodness which is divinely inspired, even though those three different parts are, in action, usually separated from one another and have thus lost the virtue they have when united.
Each one is nonetheless a goodness unto itself, a blessing through which we live.
When we experience our thinking, our sensation, or our feeling as a virtue, we get much closer to the truth of how we are what we are; that is, that we arise from the heart of God Himself and that we are expressions of His law. If we experience ourselves from the perspective of the three virtues, we find a positivity in our life that is otherwise unavailable. If intellect, the physical, and the feeling parts are experienced as goodness, we begin with a value — an inner virtue.
If we see and experience them as nothing more than things, without this quality, they are dead; we haven’t properly acknowledged their sacred and divine origins. Consequently, we don't honor them – attend to them, pay attention — in the way that we ought to.
There's this opportunity, you see, to honor my thinking; to honor my sensation; to honor my feeling.
Yet how often do we hear each other speak of the inner qualities in ourselves in disparaging terms, as though they were problems, presenting dilemmas of one kind or another? All too often, I wager.
This question of virtues came back to me in a stronger way last night, when I realized that people generally focus on the opposition within themselves. That is to say, we’re more interested in our inner enemies than we are our inner friends. We look at what blocks us, what frustrates us, what stands in our way and prevents us from being what we want to be, both inwardly and outwardly speaking; but how much time do we devote to thinking about what supports us?
A focus on what blocks us, a focus on the opposition, is unhealthy. If we’re always worried about the things that are difficult, the things that are supposedly bad, how much energy do we waste that could have been devoted to honoring and obeying the things which are good and which support us?
I think that when we make an investment with our inward energy — by investment, I mean we make an actual intimate effort to wear it like clothes, to dwell within it — we can consciously attempt to dwell within the positive, find a habitat within that higher principal and that higher energy which support us.
This is quite different, I understand, than just trying to see how I am. Yet when I hear people talk about seeing how they are, they are almost always talking about seeing how they are somehow either blocked, frustrated, or asleep— bad.
I almost never hear people talk about how they see themselves inside and see that they have a virtue, a goodness, in them.
If we never see this, how do we honor the virtue and goodness that has been given to us?
I realize this is a dilemma. We are all, in many ways, fallen creatures, that's quite true. Yet there is also a goodness and a virtue in us which we seek to reconnect with, to recover. That's the whole point of inner work. And if we don't try to see this goodness and believe in it, to invest ourselves in the virtue of what we are able to do and the virtue of the efforts we can make, we spend our whole time obsessing about how crappy we are.
We need to make a decision about whether we intend to live in a world of virtues or a world of enemies.
If I want to live in a world of enemies and opposition, that's where I'll be, because I become my own wish as I work.
I was at an event recently where an individual who I didn't know spoke in such a way as to imitate a truly impressive range of long-standing, worn-out tropes that have gained currency in certain circles of inner work and continue to be repeated.
Although the audience was a decidedly mixed one, one knew right away where all the material had been lifted from: a litany of high-minded, lofty sounding clichés. Almost all of it in imitation of teachers now dead, who while they were were alive passed on a vital work in their own right, but who are now being copied as though all the followers were papers being spit from a Xerox machine.
Now, there's no doubt the heartfelt statement in question accomplished its aim: it pushed all the right buttons; it said all the right things. In the circles it emerged from, such form is at once endorsed with an entry visa. In its own way, that's a good thing, to be sure.
But it was, despite its absolute sincerity, also very distressing, because it was expression crafted from ready-made templates, rather than any anguish of personal experience.
My evil-commanding ego was consequently seized by the perverse and irrepressible urge to take the individual who was speaking that way and shake them until they stopped.
Alas. Instead, I went up afterwards and introduced myself nicely. It required me to put my objections aside for a moment and just be real with that person, which is more important in the end, isn't it?
In any event. I have a proposal.
Modest, it is. Consider, you might.
Let us try not to speak in the same way, about the same things, using the same words and sometimes even the exact same sentence structures, as though inner work were about producing a flock of parrots. No matter what our practice, it makes us sound cult-like and even, forgive me for saying it, stupid. This impression arises the moment one exercises any critical thinking whatsoever in the presence of such template-speechifying. Shtick, as vaudeville comedians call it.
Now, I don't want to be mistaken for implying that we should callously impugn the efforts of others. After all, one can presume the motives, at least, are always sincere. People all want to fit in; everyone wants to sound like they are speaking the same language, to be accepted. here, I believe, it's our habit that is the enemy, not our intention.
In the end, if we proceed in this way, we serve each other oatmeal that has no brown sugar, cinnamon, or raisins in it, let alone other interesting things. Even worse, those with a different voice — perhaps even an actual voice of their own — run the risk of being ostracized. The party line becomes a powerful thing that succumbs to confirmation bias, excluding anything that doesn't look like it to itself.
The old legend that vampires can't see themselves in a mirror simply refers to the fact that if you are imitating — that is, so to speak, sucking your vital blood from other people's work, allegorically speaking — you are actually unable to see yourself. If you take the work of others and imitate it, you never have your own work.
This tendency to adopt tropes and repeat them so that one can fit in and appear to be progressing is, in my not-so-humble opinion, absolutely terrible. The whole point of inner work is to produce unique individuals — idiots — not individuals who copy one another in an endless circle of repetitions.
Yes, we are supposed to be idiots.
It's absolutely vital that folk find their own language, their own truth, and express things in their own way — not the way their "teachers" express them, or the way the peers around them are expressing them, but in their own, unique, individual way, so that their language has that inward authority which comes from a truth of individual being, not a processed pablum of the collective.
It's a wonderful, important, and even necessary thing to be a community; and it's absolutely vital that we find agreement with one another—
but not through imitation.
I would deeply urge everyone to think about this carefully and use an intelligent intention and attention to find one's own language and way of saying things. We fall asleep in imitation; better to wake up and make an effort that puts us in a less protected place, where we are not just copying one another in mutual self-congratulation.
Preview: a series of essays on the perfecting of the higher being bodies will be published at the end of the month. Readers are encouraged to think about what all of this means in the meantime.
This morning (May 3) it's raining. The miraculous impressions of spring, the greenness of the leaves, the lavender of redbuds in bloom, fills me with an absolute sense of the sacred that the rain only reinforces.
Fortunate we are to be here;
Practice we should.
I have been called away to China once again — unexpectedly, as is often the case. I find myself gathering the threads of my life together and warping them once again so that they conform to a period of travel of solitude. People who wonder where I find the time to do the things I do cannot imagine how much time is spent alone in contemplation during travels on business. It is not an activity for those who fare poorly in the absence of others.
Yesterday, one of my readers who has had considerable exposure to various legitimate figures in the Gurdjieff work — some of them important or revered ones — and is struggling through a series of unusual inward experiences mentioned to me that they weren't sure some of the people that they met in the work, even "higher up" people, were "serious" about their work.
Well, of course, we all want to be skeptics and critics, and we all have our doubts about each other, don't we? You — for example — as you read this, you are probably skeptical and critical; or at least you should be.
The tricky part of skepticism and criticism is to be anti-egoistic about it. That is to say, one needs to be deeply suspicious of one's own skepticism and criticism. It always has an ego-component; the question is, how much? One needs to keep a close eye on the little devil that engages in this activity in order to puff himself up. He is always at work, he's an active little fellow. One has to admire him at times.
Everyone is serious about their work; and everyone is serious about "the" work. Generally speaking, there is a very good level of seriousness— that is, weight, importance, gravity (that's what the word means) in Gurdjieff people.
The danger is that the wrong kind of weight and gravity can drag one right down under the surface —and then one drowns.
It is just as easy to drown in the Gurdjieff work as in a pond if one isn't careful. One has to remember to maintain an intelligent lightness of Being as a counterpoint to its very gravid weight.
To this end, my comment to the person who was discussing the matter with me was:
Everyone in the work takes it seriously. Don't learn how to take it seriously – learn how to take it organically.
Here, the enneagram, which is closely related to the diagrams linked to in yesterday's post, shows how the inner earth wants to become the inner sun. This represents, in a general sense, our inward wish.
Our aspiration, like planetary aspirations as described by Gurdjieff, is to allow our inner planet — the earth, which ought to be properly stabilized by the gravitational force of an inner moon, but isn't — to become a sun. One can take the comment as allegorical on a planetary scale, if one wants to; but from an inner point of view, this wish for evolution into a solar entity is a real one.
There are very complex and intricate connections between our actual sun and our energetic relationship to it, and the effort that we make to allow an inward solar entity to be born in us, that is, a connection to the divine. Most of the higher energies human beings in any spiritual discipline are interested in are related to these questions, which contain great mysteries that cannot be properly described or grappled with in texts.
Back to the question of food for the moon, readers should understand that everything in the outer world — which is represented by all of the notes on the periphery of the circle — feeds Being; and what it ought to be feeding is the moon, that is, the inward entity that is formed from the holy Trinity of the absolute, conscious labor, and intentional suffering.
This Holy Trinity allows us to feed ourselves directly into our essence, which has the potential for a connection with the divine; and this inner essence—the soul, or, in another context, "moon"—is what stabilizes the orbital range of everything in the diagram. That is, without this higher influence, which connects the sun (the absolute) to the Holy Trinity and its material emanations into Being (the law of three, or the triangle), we cannot form moon in ourselves — a task which Mr. Gurdjieff gave us— and if we do not form the moon — which is sensation — in ourselves, we cannot form a center of gravity to stabilize the orbit of all the outward forces of life so that they proceed in an orderly hierarchy and wholesome relationship within ourselves.
Readers may find it worthwhile to remember, here, how common it is to see Mother Mary, the Divine Virgin, standing on a lunar crescent. These images are all part of a tradition that was born in the Middle Ages when the Blessed Virgin began to directly intercede in the affairs of mankind. (See Bennett's Witness, page 221, Hardcover) also, see the final chapter for this additional material on Bennett's personal encounters with the Marion tradition:
During my stay in the monastery, I received several illuminating experiences in the latihan. Once I heard a voice within me saying: "Surrender to the Will of God is the foundation of all religion." Then I became aware of the Presence of Jesus, and saw that He is the manifestation of the Love of God. The thought entered my mind: "Then Christianity is the one true religion." At the same moment, I found myself intoning the opening chapter of the Qu'ran: "El hamd ul Illah Rabb-el-alemeen er Rahman er Rahim: Glory to God the Lord of the Worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful." Then the same voice said: "It is my Will that my Church and Islam should be united." I said in astonishment: "Who can accomplish such a task?" and the reply came: "Mary."
The association with Mary, the intercessor for Christ, with the lunar crescent, which represents not only the female element of receptivity but the level below us, which we must essentially connect with in order to develop, underscores the deep esoteric ties between Gurdjieff's teaching, the Marion tradition in Christianity, and the relationship between the inner gravity of sensation, the moon, and planetary forces.
The enneagram, remember, is two-dimensional. This work actually takes place in four dimensions, including the third dimension of a sphere, and the fourth dimension of time.
The point of this is to explain to readers that being food for the moon has a meaning quite different than the one that seems threatening to us: that is, that the moon takes us and eats us and dissipates what we are.
We need to be food for the moon or we can't grow. It is not an enemy; and it isn't stealing our life and our consciousness from us. By feeding it, we help ourselves and we assume our right place in the ray of creation.
I realize this is a wide-ranging set of complex ideas, but just about everything one needs to know about this question is in these notes and the diagram, if one thinks about it carefully for some time and correlates it properly to the gravitational experience of sensation in Being.
...the noblest and best thing would be this, if a man were come to such equality, with such calm and certainty that he could find God and enjoy Him in any way and in all things, without having to wait for anything or chase after anything. —Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works
After jotting down a series of essays that outline my impressions and understanding of this idea of becoming one's own teacher, I've slept on the matter and contemplated it a bit more.
This idea of Meister Eckhart's, that God can be found in any way and in all things, is a whole and complete teaching — as he indicates at the beginning of the passage.
Yet the teaching is not a teaching of the intellect; it is comprehensive, that is, it grasps all things within a single moment of attention.
The inhabitation of one's life, in such a way that one becomes a receiver of it, without the constant interference of the evil-commanding ego, the self that grasps — this is what he speaks of. And it is the ego, I think, that excessively complicates everything we do.
At the recent annual All and Everything conference, I was engaged by individuals of considerable experience and practice who were nonetheless quite interested in getting into technical arguments.
This type of focus takes me away from the foundational practice of Being, which is what inner work is for in the first place. I'll offer my opinion on the matter: one ought to make an effort first to be, and then see if one needs to argue; not first to argue about whether one can be or not.
The instant I become identified with such technical arguments, I forget my inner work. The work is not in the technicalities, it's in the details; and these are two different things.
The details are my impressions; these are the exact, precise, and objective contents of Being and life. Gurdjieff made this clear when he explained to Ouspensky that if the flow of impressions ended, life ceased. In this sense, impressions and life cannot be separated.
When I inhabit my life within the direct and organic experience of my inward and outward impressions, and the way that they meet and blend, I live within the Kingdom of Heaven, to the extent that I exercise an attention and a conscious awareness of this.
Such life provides a constant food of great quality, so that every small event is extraordinary and valuable. It may turn out that the external configuration of events is in fact humdrum, mundane, and boring; but the inflow of those events into Being is a constant and relentlessly miraculous practice, an intersection of awareness with life. You know that word people use, enlightenment? It consists of inhabiting this intersection consciously.
It is in inhabiting this place that the teaching-of-life-into-Being (I would call it Daseinslehren in German, that is, roughly translated, existence-teaching) takes place. This is a reciprocal teaching, since existence is both the teaching and what is taught; it is both the teacher and the student at the same time. In other words, it is existence itself that comprehensively both perceives, grasps, and engages in relationship with God, who is, as Being, resident in these details of impression — not technicalities whereby they are assembled or analyzed.
As our life flows into us, so it teaches.
God, after all, exists within the impressions of life before there are any technicalities to consider. And so our awareness needs to get there first, before the considering, to abide within all things equally, as Meister Eckhart urges us to understand.
Of course this is an organic practice of Being, grounded in sensation and in relationship with the higher energies that one consequently receives. If one doesn't understand precisely what this means, one needs to work through practice to make one's connection to sensation more organic; more permanent.
It strikes me, after many years of inner work, that most folk will flop around like fish out of water in every direction imaginable rather than just come around to this fundamental understanding of sensation.
If this question was the only thing that folk worked on, things would change quite quickly in them and they would discover how nothing is actually understood in the absence of this. But human beings are powerfully distracted by technicalities and arguments, and thus walk right by the simple faculty that could change the nature of Being on the ground floor.
A note to readers:
Beginning today, the Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff blog will adopt a reliable publication schedule of every third day.
It occurs to me that readers might be interested in the question about how objects — that is, apparently inanimate material things — might be teachers for us. After all, they are all "dead;" and if they are rendered into religious imagery, in some religions, they are considered profane. We all know that Islam forbids representations of Allah; Christian iconoclasts destroyed the better part of the fabulous production of Northern Renaissance art by tearing all the churches apart during wars. Objects, it seems, present a danger to the religious mind — at least some of them. To others, objects are just flat, dead things that only have meaning in relationship to their utility or value. The materialistic world certainly sees objects that way.
Yet objects, just as much as living things, represent actual and absolute manifestations of the Perfection. That is to say, every object is a Name of God, just as every living being or force is a name of God. The subtleties of this doctrine can't be appreciated without reading Ibn al Arabi in some detail; yet he captured a truth here which cannot be denied once it is experienced.
In this way, every object embodies God and is not just a reflection of the Perfection (the whole Perfection is a reflection of God) but an absolute manifestation of the Perfection, as it is.
In this way, even the tiniest and most ordinary of objects contain and embody properties that cannot be seen except through the spiritual eye, which perceives in a completely different way than our natural eyes do. The spiritual eye perceives through subtle faculties which have sensations and understandings that are not available unless the Perfection is manifest. When the Perfection is manifest, one understands that a discarded bottle cap is an irrevocable manifestation of the divine, within the constraints and limitations that the material world places upon it — constraints and limitations which God, through His Mercy, voluntarily consents to (suffers) in order to offer us manifestations of His Perfection.
The Perfection is in this way the teacher — but one can only come to the Perfection through the inward transformation of Being, and the opening of the soul to a higher influence. That is when one understands how objects are, in their own way, both alive and manifest for our edification.
When we perceive objects as things unto themselves, rather than emanations of the Divine Will, we disrespect them an extraordinary and remarkable ways. All of us are guilty of this; it's a casual activity for human beings. Yet there are vestiges of a right attitude preserved in reverence, sacrament, ritual, and order in religious services and in monastic practices. All of these practices call us to a better attention to the divine properties of the material.
Naturalistic philosophies, as Swedenborg pointed out, offer us at best half an understanding of the nature of the cosmos; it's important to include them, but if we don't understand the relationship to the spiritual, a great loss ensues.
In spiritual work, as in temporal life, teachers always take on the role of some kind of authority.
This is a natural thing, because I always hope for some outward authority for guidance, don't I? ...Well, of course that's a bit complex; some significant percentage of me which is firmly rooted in what Ibn al Arabi called "the evil commanding ego" wants to be the authority; and the other percentage, which in many cases may be the more significant one, is terrified of being the authority and wants to be a slave.
The division between these two contradictory impulses in human beings is why Gurdjieff said that everyone wants to be either a slave or a master; and so it goes. But this is true inwardly as well as outwardly; and when he made the remark, what he primarily meant was our inward state. One only becomes a slave outwardly, in the gross sense of the situation, if one is already a slave inwardly.
This is a tricky thing to understand. Don't jump to conclusions about it. I could write a great deal more about it, but the constraints of this form forbid it.
If we are outwardly directed, immersed in the natural and sensual world, we love being slaves; our desires drive us. If we are inwardly directed, then we have an interest in being a master of ourselves and the world; and yet this confers a tremendous power which the ego just absolutely loves to get hold of. Destruction usually ensues; take a look around you. The whole world runs on this downward trending principal.
I digress here. The important point is that when I speak about developing an inner authority, it is authority not in the sense of direction and dictatorship — control and perhaps even tyranny — it means having an essence- emanation that emerges in an unfettered (free) form from the inward flow of both spiritual and natural impressions, in the center of gravity where they mix together.
That authority — which means, original nature of Being — only forms from the confluence of the spiritual and the natural which come together in the cyclical circulation of forces depicted on the enneagram. Now, this may be heady spiritual stuff, but one need not study diagrams in order to understand it. One needs to become intimately sensitive to the inward flow of one's being in order to discover how an inner authority arises.
An inward authority is never abusive, critical, or destructive. It may resist that which is wrong or egoistic; and such action is right action. Yet it finds ways to do this without harming, in so far as it is able. None of us are good at this; and everyone harms from time to time, but the aim is to develop in such a way that this inward authority becomes more intelligent, more sensitive, more compassionate, and uses that intelligence, sensitivity, and compassion to attempt to honor and obey the conditions of life in every way as they arise. Honor and obedience are critical factors in this kind of inward authority, which involves the sacrifice of one's own egoistic authority in exchange for a much greater authority that is, as I say, anti-egoistic.
Anti-egoistic authority is not my own authority. It arises at a higher level; and I become a receiver for it, to the extent of my capacity. Once again, this anti-egoistic authority is in fact the most powerful and important teacher, since it knows everything I need at any given moment within my inward development and outer conditions. If I trust it, many extraordinary things become possible — things that are not at all extraordinary or even visible outwardly, but that change my inward attitude when I am in relationship.
So this is a tricky matter, and begins to sound like some kind of sophistry.
I become my own teacher by not being a teacher.
But this is exactly how it is. I become my own teacher merely by actively inhabiting my life; and it is this question of presence, of a sense of nothingness, of the taking in of impressions through the organic sensation of Being, whereby I no longer matter and the teacher becomes, simply put, everything in life.
In this way, even the smallest things in life become my teacher; Meister Eckhart pointed this out in his last words, something I mentioned quite often, as he truly wrapped up all of the teaching in a single concept there.
Life itself is the teacher; not some part of it, and not a single individual. All the individuals in one's life play roles as being teacher; but then again, all of the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions play those roles as well. We single out individuals who have helped us and call them teachers; but all of them are merely, if they act responsibly, shepherds who guide us towards this penultimate understanding that life is the teacher.
One's life is specifically crafted, sent, and designed by God in order to help us understand our Being. Every adversity and other circumstance is part of that teaching. The air we breathe is part of the teaching; the children we raise, the pets we feed, the jobs we love or hate.
It's easy to rapturously conceptualize this and mentally picture it; and it's even easy to talk about it and bandy it about as though it were magically true. But it is much more difficult and unique to experience it through sensation, feeling, and intelligence at the same time, throughout life, in every moment. Once one begins to inhabit one's life in this way, one will definitely have moments where a real understanding of this question comes in; and then, one sees how the teacher is life, which flows into us.
Readers will recall that I have said the first great truth is that we are vessels into which the world flows. The question in front of us is why we are such vessels — and the reason for this is that the vessel is made to contain the teaching as it flows in. There are two great influences in life, the natural one, which is the ordinary experience of life in the material world which flows into us — but the second great influence is spiritual, which flows from the opposite direction and comes from God. If we open ourselves to the teaching from both sides — each one of which comes from God, but from opposite directions— we may find ourselves in the confluence of a rich conjunction of experience in which a more profound sense of understanding arises.
So I become my own teacher by inhabiting my life, which is a simple thing, and doesn't involve all the secret spiritual exercises, magical formulas, and snottily lofty attitudes that everyone projects in life almost by default.
I can become much simpler; and I can offer myself to life.
In this way, I am my own teacher by not teaching; I am my own teacher by allowing my life to teach me inwardly. A close reading of Meister Eckhart's last words (which are quite intentionally abbreviated on the webpage in the above link—readers may want to acquire the book and read the whole piece) will reveal that he exactly understood this question.
I would remind readers once again of what I consider to be a fundamental principle:
one cannot inhabit one's life in an organically responsible manner without developing the organic sensation of Being.
My advice would be to forget about teachers who pretend that they know something without first correctly understanding this.
Responsibility plays a key role in becoming my own teacher, since to become responsible is to inhabit life with appropriate responses that are correctly informed by right ordering of the feeling center, grounded in both organic compassion and organic humility.
When I say that I need to become my own teacher, I do not mean that I need to become a teacher in the way that it's ordinarily understood. Nor do I mean, when I say that I must become my own authority, authority in the way that it is usually understood. These two points are where my wife's apprehension about the matter came in; and I had to explain to her quite precisely what I meant before she understood the difference between her apprehension and my meaning.
Let's take the first point first. How do I become my own teacher?
I become my own teacher by not being a teacher.
To become one's own teacher is to see first that one knows nothing; this is the first teaching from an inward perspective. It takes a long time to truly understand this with the feelings and the body. It's much easier to understand it with the mind, and if it is only understood this way then one forms powerful buffers (barriers of denial) that tell oneself one has understood it, when in fact, no understanding at all is present.
This nothingness needs to be understood in a three-centered Way, so that both the feelings and the organic sensation of being participate and one feels, with all of one's parts — which means, roughly speaking, every cell in the body — that one is nothing. This is the manifestation of organic shame, which was one of Gurdjieff's expressions for humility.
When one truly has a three centered experience of nothingness, one knows with all of one's parts that one is nothing. This, of course, only takes place in relationship to a higher energy that becomes more available when the three centers participate; so it doesn't belong to the centers or myself at all. Yet this is exactly the force that we need to open to in order to understand in a comprehensive and cellular manner that we are nothing. This is the moment of transformation in which an actual inward teaching can begin.
At this point, one must see that one learns everything from life. The teaching for the growth of one's inward being comes from life itself and all of the impressions that flow in from it. Now, those familiar with Gurdjieff's teaching (and you don't have to be in order to follow me here) will know that there is a complicated diagram of the chemical factory with many different technical explanations of hydrogens and so on. These are practical diagrams with very real truths in them, but they don't mean a thing if one does not approach practical and sensational — as in, of sensation — experience of what impressions do when we take them in more deeply.
So in order to become my own teacher, I first learn to organically inhabit my life. I can only do this through my connection to sensation, that is, the connection between my mind and my body; and this can only happen if sensation becomes what Mme. de Salzmann called voluntary; that is, it arises on its own as a living thing and comes to meet me, permanently, in all things and at every time.
Yes, that is a tall order, but this is merely a foundational work. Let us suppose one comes to it; one thinks that transformational magic has taken place and that one has "arrived" somewhere. Yet one has, in fact, only taken the first step on a journey where everything in life is inverted and one begins to have a completely different understanding of it.
At every step in this process, the temptation to succumb to delusion is present; so one must tread carefully and with skepticism. Yet something has, indeed, taken place that is real; and one comes, through sensation, to the initial understanding that life is the teacher.
Spring is in full flow. Outside my window, the redbuds are blooming; flocks of geese are flying up the Sparkill, through the gap from the Hudson, towards the inland of New Jersey.
I am returned from journeys, Holland, India, China, and filled with an enormous set of impressions not only of the world and its condition, but of my inward journey and the many contradictions I inhabit as I ingest and digest my life.
I was just at the annual All and Everything conference, which took place in Salem, Massachusetts. There were, of course, many different threads of work and idea at this conference; I was one of the presenters, and did my best to represent an inward work as I understand it. That's all any of us can do.
Much could be said about that experience, but perhaps I will leave it for later. What I wanted to come to this morning was a subject my wife and I discussed on our drive back from Salem, which took much longer than we expected due to Passover traffic.
The subject of teachers came up; and I reminded my wife that the aim of inner work is always, in the end, to become one's own teacher. She was understandably apprehensive about this idea; after all, so many people understand it egoistically— often in quite subtle ways, without seeing that they do so — or with a sense of arrogance that allows them to fail to practice outward considering in a right way. (For those of you who do not know what outward considering is, it consists of putting yourself in the shoes of the other person. That's the short and simple explanation.) Like egoistic and anti-egoistic suffering, which are two entirely different things and need to be clearly separated from one another in understanding and experience, one's personal inward teaching ought to assume an anti-egoistic form; yet perhaps this isn't well understood.
So how do I become my own teacher, and what does that mean? I'm going to try to explore that in the next series of essays.
No matter where we go or what we do in life, we always begin with ourselves; and this is the original sin, the temptation to egoism as it arises at the beginning. Yet it is equally only ourselves that we have; and on any inward path, the self needs to form a new and sacred relationship with God that changes the center of gravity so that the ego does not just draw the world into it and try to own it, which is how we usually function.
Anyone who practices self-observation will eventually see that the ego is like a giant magnet that wants to own everything; it's complex and greedy and swallows life and self faster than self and life can muster defenses against it. An inward teacher needs to be formed that has some kind of authority to preserve a piece of territory that does not belong to ego; and this is a terribly difficult thing. All the great esoteric teachings attempt to help one do this.
Yet no matter how many outward resources are thrown against this problem in the form of works and teachers, only the inward transformation of Being can begin to change this, and that always becomes, ultimately, the responsibility of the individual who is working. In order to do this, one has to work one's way through a nearly endless series of delusions—much like the distractions of the Bardo in the Tibetan book of the dead— in order to reach a place where some form of anti-egoistic authority can form. In Islam, this is submission; in Christianity, surrender to Christ; in Buddhism, nothingness — but not in the way we understand nothingness, but rather, nothingness of self, which is directly analogous to Gurdjieff's admonition that we see and experience our own nothingness.
In the next installment, I'll speak more about this idea of forming an anti-egoistic inward authority.