Sunday, December 3, 2017

Toothpicks and chewing gum

My final belief is suffering. And I begin to believe that I do not suffer. 

—From Voices, by Antonio Porchia, trans. W. S. Merwin; From The Essential Merwin

Sept. 20.

Yesterday I had to speak to an older Jewish man I had never had contact with before on some business matters. He was of a type that has largely died out in our modern age, which is intent on destroying most of what is good in people. He and I hit it off instantaneously; we knew after a few minutes that we understood one another, and the exchanges we had after that were wonderful. There may be no wiser persons in our world than men like this. 

The older is the teacher.

One of the first things he said to me in his gruff, dark, evenly measured voice was, “man was meant to work. It’s what we’re here for.” It was the voice of a true good householder; this man understood something real about life. He’s a guy who is still using typewriters and fax machines—imagine that! 

And he understood, really understood, that we must work if we wish to have even ordinary Being—let alone “Mr. Being,” that mysterious Godot who everyone in the Gurdjieff work waits for so vigorously, and with such conviction. 

Aha! Conviction.

Behind everything in life lies the absolute conviction that how I am, what I am, what I can do and so on belongs to me. It doesn’t matter what I say or do outwardly; inwardly, I believe only in myself. 

Even if I see that I can’t “do” anything, that all my so-called “work efforts” are plagued by—and in fact consist of—weakness and inattention, I refuse to let go of my beliefs.

These beliefs are very nearly criminal, because all of them go against what is sacred. 

Folks around me are constantly asking what could change how they work; what I am “capable of,” how I can come to an attention that’s more durable, a Being that does not manifest at whim. 

A Being not constructed of toothpicks and chewing gum. 

Why, I hear over and over, is my work not durable? 

Why can’t I remain connected inside? 

Why is it that I can only work in groups, work with others, work in special conditions? 

Why does everything leave me when I walk out the door after the retreat or the meditation is over? 

I know I ought to work constantly, and yet it is impossible. Categorically. 

How many times do I need to see this before I understand it? Perhaps I am just a very bad student, because the lesson is delivered every day, minute by minute, and yet I refuse to learn it.

There is a clear and simple answer to what is necessary. It’s probably too simple for most to accept; and the path to it involves a great deal of suffering. Yet the path is direct and unambiguous and not so complicated.

In order for Being to become more durable, a binding Force must enter in order to create a voluntary and active relationship between sensation and intellect.

 I say here, sensation, because this isn’t the same thing as “the body”; and I say the intellect, because this isn’t the same thing as “the mind.” In this sense we can throw away all the talk about mindfulness—which, as we conceive of it, isn’t really mindful at all, mind you— and the mind-body connection, which isn’t really a true connection between the mind and body. Those who have studied the Gurdjieff method for many years will already understand that, but never mind; it does need to be said here, because there is so much prattle about it. If you ever wondered why people can practice yoga or prayer or what have you for twenty or thirty years and still whimsically engage in egoistic nastiness and petty behavior, it’s because they aren’t cultivating sensation and intellect—they are cultivating this so-called mind/body awareness, which all too easily poses as something real. After all our fine talk and silent snoozing in the churches, temples, ashrams, zendos and yoga studios is over, there’s little room left for real compassion.

Even within the Gurdjieff work, sensation and intellect are constantly mistaken for what manifests from the lower parts; yet real sensation and true intellect can only manifest through the arrival of a higher energy that first activates them separately, and then binds them together. 

One must first cultivate one’s ordinary Being to become passive, and this is only achieved through the means of suffering. Only then, when the defenses and blockages (granthis) are weakened, can the inflow begin. 

This inflow of a higher energy is the only thing that can begin to effect a true relationship between intellect and sensation, which each acquire a vibration of intelligence (intelligence is not the same as intellect) that allows them to act voluntarily. To explain, intellect is what receives and (perhaps even more importantly) what has the capacity to receive; intelligence is what gives, what flows in and informs. Intelligence has a very different level of vibration than mind. (If it interests you, ponder the relationship between intelligence and obedience for a decade or so—through experience—in order to better understand this question.)

Prana, the life force, is another word for this energy, but Gurdjieff eschewed it. One should not bother with thinking about chakras, nadis and so on when approaching this question. The forms are accurate enough such as they are, yet in terms of practice they are completely unnecessary and in fact put names on that which cannot be named, with the exception of the single name which is truly permitted. 

That name is Love.

Love is what flows into Being and binds sensation and intellect.

 In fact it inwardly forms all things which are possible, and without the flow of this Divine Love into Being as an actively received Force, all inner work will remain stalled. 

So here is how one must work in order to work. The cultivation of a vessel capable of dropping its egoistic defenses and receiving Love must become the single aim of anyone who wishes to work. There is no other way to work; one can forget about all the exercises, doctrines, philosophies, movements, meditations and positions. Without this inflow, this Force of Love, everything else is ultimately useless.

By the way. Love absolutely does not flow into Being to fix everything or make life easy. That is not its aim or purpose. 

Now, there are those who would bask in a blissful love-pit; and for them, good enough, perhaps. Yet Love—real Love, Divine Love—engenders the suffering of Christ into Being within us, and that is what we must bear in this life. If you ever truly experience real Love, you will be given this immeasurable privilege of suffering its utmost anguish; and this is how you will know it is real.

 That action is by every measure complex, rich, deep and inexplicable; only in the living of it can comprehension dawn, and that comprehension itself is ineffable, inscrutable, mysterious and eternal. The complete understanding of it is in fact absolutely forbidden to mankind. 

Yet we are called by this Force to participate.

So Love, which is absolutely necessary to even Begin understanding the action of true Being, is only just a starting point. And yet it is a burden to bear as well as a joy to be experienced; the joy consists of picking up this sacred burden and carrying it. If this sounds contradictory, well, that’s all right.

Compassion has to seep into the bones of practice. Only Love can bring that; only 
Love can connect the mind and the body. Making it a practice to become passive and receive this Force without expectation, in humility, is the most essential thing to bring to inner effort. 

Gradually this practice must leave the cushions on the floor and be brought directly into life, because the energy cannot possibly do its work unless it manifests in life. Taken in under “special conditions” alone, it’s powerless. It requires the friction of real demand in life in order to solidify, to consolidate, through its magnetism, enough real material in the vessel so that our inner parts come into a regular and reliable relationship.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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