Lee van Laer
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Readers should understand that I am not trying to cast aspersions on such practices; I am simply pointing out their relative to larger religious questions, in order (hopefully) to correct some potential misunderstandings about them.
Energy moves in two directions around the enneagram. There is a flow from right to left (clockwise) which is a descending and then ascending movement. There is also a flow from left to right (counter – clockwise), a descending and then ascending movement.
The reasons for this are metaphysically complex and beyond the scope of this essay, but the essential take away for our purposes today is that there is an energy that rises up from the lower octaves — the microcosmos below us — and there is an energy that extends downward from the macrocosmos above us.
Each of these energies is equally vital to our inward work, and each of them produces unusual and very interesting effects on our Being. Either one of them can act independently; and when it does, remarkable experiences generally ensue. An individual can become attached to either set of these experiences, the upward or downward flow, and believe that that constitutes an end in itself, rather than understanding we are bridges that stand in the middle.
Our bodies are temporary. They are meant to die, and in certain senses, efforts to keep them alive longer than they need to be or ought to be are deeply misguided. Death is not a bad thing, but a good one, and ought to be welcomed by every being that legitimately engages in an inward effort to reach God. We will not, after all, truly reached God until we die; so if we actually want to do that (instead of just talking boldly about it) we had better incorporate this idea of death as a positive thing more deeply into our work from the very beginning.
This energy coming up from below, qi, is essential for our connection to the earth and has extraordinary properties that can help feed the organic sensation of Being. It is, indeed, directly connected to breath (as was elaborately explained in Gurdjieff's conversations with Ouspensky) and has, as I explained earlier, a connection to the formation of the astral body.
This is, however, as anyone who understands at least the theory of such matters knows, one of the lower — in fact the lowest — of the three higher being bodies. The ultimate aim is to begin to receive energy that can feed the growth of the causal and then the mental body.
Of course it's easy to point out that we are getting ahead of ourselves here; yet one does have to point that out, because an excessive focus on the development of the astral body without an understanding of the context in which that occurs can mislead people into excessive amounts of emphasis and focus on fragmentary practice. This kind of fragmentary practice can all too easily become egoistic — it's about me, my energy, my health, and so on. It isn't, in other words, about the surrender that is so essential to inward practice.
How do I know the difference between the various energies?
The Divine Inflow issues an irrevocable call to worship.
The call to worship is organic, intimate, spontaneous, and ubiquitous.
That is to say:
- it's deeply grounded in sensation and the energy of the organism;
- it's extremely personal and private in nature;
- it's voluntary, that is, take place on its own without the interference or manipulation of the mind;
- it's found always and everywhere within Being.
I will always recall my own teacher's attitude towards Tai Chi, Qigong, and so on. She well understood the difference between these energies and what we attempt to open to in the Gurdjieff work. It's quite true that there is no harm in these energies, and no harm in practicing them; but if one is genuinely committed to Gurdjieff's system, it's imperative one properly understand their context.
This is not the work we are engaged in; mixing it up or confusing it can easily distract us from understanding the full scope of the practice.
I realize this has taken us a bit far afield from time, but since the last two essays led us here, so be it.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.