Thursday, October 2, 2014

Not my thing

When Gurdjieff said "man cannot do," the phrase seems to have been widely interpreted as related to the idea of will. That is, a "human being" does not have real will; but if a person undergoes inner development, they will acquire real will. This is functionally related to the ideas of agency and power, ultimately conscripting ideas from hatha yoga and other spiritual disciplines that presume one can force the gates of heaven by one's own developed powers.

I've recently run into a number of people engaged in inner work at various stages of their lives who believe exactly this; and I'm pretty sure most students of inner work—esotericism—secretly presume this is possible. It is, after all, our fondest wish—to be the gods of, if not the whole world, at least our own lives.

It occurs to me over the past two days first, how absolutely and profoundly mistaken this idea is, and second, how equally absolute the secret inner belief in this is.

The inward flow, and the arising sensation itself, can do. These are not my properties—and if I think they are, it's certain I haven't ever actually experienced this energy; in this case, anything I have experienced is imaginary and egoistic. Ego can mask itself in an extraordinary number of ways to mimic real higher energy; it is a shapeshifter or chameleon in this regard, and one must be forever on one's guard in relationship to this question.

Again, I'm called to a question from a reader who recounted a range of experiences and asked, "is this and that or such and such what you mean by an organic sense of Being?"

If you need to ask, I told them, you haven't had such a sense; because if you do have it, you won't need to ask what it is; you'll know. Conjecture, in other words, is dispelled by real action; and real inner action that can do is an absolute that diminishes. I ask readers to ponder that phrase if they don't know already and quite instinctively-prayerfully what it means.

There is no part, no capacity, in humanity that can do. There is a capacity for receiving that which can do; and yet even that capacity is emphatically not under our own agency. A kind of passivity entirely unfamiliar to the ordinary parts of being (those horizontal parts under this order and hierarchy) is necessary; and any touch whatsoever, even the slightest part, that attempts to physically, psychologically or emotionally impose those conditions of receptivity begins at once with a contamination by ego that blocks the action of the higher energy.

The energy is under its own volition; it is voluntary, that is, it arrives under its own agency, not mine. This mistaken "understanding" that my agency can invoke the energy is sheer foolishness; and if the energy arrives at once I know this. I can meet it; but this is as much as I can do, and when it meets me, then something is done, but it is not my thing. It is not a thing, anyway; but I think strictly in terms of things (this is all the mind is capable of) so I turn it into a thing, and then already I am wrong.

The meeting point is the place described in the Lord's prayer: Thy will be done. We call it the Lord's prayer because the Lord has will and agency, and the Lord can do. This is worth thinking about, because we generally think we are the Lord, even as we actively profess to ourselves and to others that we don't think this.

This is in itself a lie; and seeing how I secretly believe I am the Lord isn't really even possible unless the Lord arrives within me, because by myself I am quite blind, really.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Unspeakable Nature of Presence

Osprey, Sparkill, NY 

Today is my birthday (I'm 59.)

Apophasis is a term sometimes used to describe language employed in an effort to resolve the dilemma of transcendence — the impossibility of saying what is, in essence, unsayable.

I was recently given a copy of what appears to be a fine piece of academic work on the subject, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, by Michael A. Sells. Having recently finished Meister Eckhart's The Complete Mystical Works (Walshe) in its entirety, the subject is much on my mind – although, it must be confessed, this is not exactly where the question of transcendence ought to be examined (with the intellect, that is.) 

Yet we are perpetually confronted with the dilemma of the transcendent, because we are invariably forced to communicate with it using words.

While contemplating this particular subject, comfortably parked in the business lounge of Le Meridien Hotel in Shanghai, it occurred to me that there is territory much closer to hand than we might think that helps us examine this question from a more practical, as opposed to hypothetical, theoretical, or intellectual point of view.

This particular perspective arises from the difference between thinking, which is an activity of the intellectual mind, and the two sibling activities of being, sensation — which is emphatically of the body — and emotion, which is also experienced as physical sensation, but has a heightened nature referred to, in spiritual work, as feeling.

Human beings are accustomed to interpret their life through intellect, of which words are a direct function — and yet these two other faculties for perception, sensation and feeling, are sidelined, as though they did not represent a full two thirds of the activity of being. Neither one of these faculties, as it happens, is verbal in any way, shape, or form: and each one of them conveys intelligible, meaningful, and in fact vital and even (so to speak) earth-shattering facts about the state and nature of being, as well as the environment one is in. 

So perhaps the faculty for directly experiencing the unsayable does not actually lie in any abstract philosophical territory whatsoever; instead, it accompanies us so routinely that it is completely overlooked.

One might ask whether it is in any way, shape, or form possible that the Masters who spoke of the transcendent — a piece of territory reserved, to all appearances, for some divine state of being completely inaccessible to mankind, as is maintained in The Cloud of Unknowing — could have possibly had any recourse to this particular perspective in their discussion of such lofty ideas. Perhaps that matters; perhaps it doesn't. I think the point is that we need to have recourse to it here, because to leave the question of the unspeakable and the unsayable on the table as a perpetually irresolvable dilemma cedes the territory to an argument that no progress in understanding this matter can ever actually be made.

In understanding the question of these two nonverbal forms of communication, each of which maintains a comprehensive validity within its own right, we need to understand the intersection between the inner and the outer natures of man, a subject that has been treated by a wide range of mystical thinkers. My own background, of course, has concentrated on a small group of masters to examine this question, specifically, Ibn Arabi, Dogen, Meister Eckhart, Swedenborg, Gurdjieff, and Jeanne de Salzmann; but many other names could be mentioned.

This question of the inner and the outer is a distinctive one that has to be appreciated quite precisely in order to understand the difference between the outer, which is emphatically and forever immanent, and the inner, which is transcendent. This transcendent nature is exclusively an inner experience, which can never be effectively externalized, objectified or expressed in words; everything that emerges into the outer world from the inner is a translation of sorts, and a poor one at that.

The inner life is transcendent in that all of it emerges from a place that both Swedenborg and Eckhart would have been entirely familiar with: and that is the emergent property of life and consciousness itself. This emergent property of Being, which is in and of itself inviolable, impossible to break down, and from which all experience of consciousness and nature arises, is at the root and the core of human life and understanding. Many different masters have pointed out that this inward experience comes from the inward flow of life itself, which is not at all the result of physical process (as modern science would have it) but a metaphysical property. Swedenborg, an accomplished scientist who achieved groundbreaking insights in the physical science and on the material nature of anatomy,  laid this understanding as a cornerstone of his mysticism. He attributed that inward flow of life not to nature, but to God, as does Eckhart; and in both cases, this transcendent and unknowable level begins with the inward flow of Being as an experience of life, which has a primacy that cannot be trumped by any other phenomena.

This inward flow of life begins within the neural anatomy and neurological experience of the organism; it is, in other words, fundamentally organic, and arises from territory which, while it can be described mechanistically and in terms of physics and chemistry (molecular structure such as DNA, neurons, organs, etc.) is fundamentally impossible to break down into parts without losing the understanding that emerges from it. DNA, to put it in other terms, cannot understand itself on its own level. In this view, all of the material becomes a reflection of the inner, since the inner is what gives rise to all perception and interpretation of it. There is an absolutism to this position that effectively resists denial, whether or not one wants to invoke deism or theology to explain it.

So when we begin to examine the unsaid, the mystical language of unsaying, the mystery of silence, or whatever we want to call it, it always begins with sensation — a sensation of self that arises organically, and that exists before we apply the word sensation or the word self. In this way, we see that there is nothing mystical or inaccessible about the nature of what is unsaid— it is where everything always begins. That is the mystery we participate in. There are no exceptions to this rule; and only the intellectual mind, with its extraordinary ability to seize everything that it encounters and interpret it, pulls the curtain across this fairly straightforward situation. It is that selfsame curtain that masters such as Dogen and Jeanne de Salzmann ask us to pull aside; and, as Gurdjieff himself noted to Ouspensky, the territory behind the curtain is actually right next to us and not that difficult to get to, if one only knew how. This isn't far off what the Zen masters have always said about the nature of enlightenment.

We are, in short, not close enough to the organic sense of our own Being; and this organic sense of being, two-thirds of which is mediated by parts of ourselves that are distinctly nonverbal, represents the intersection with the transcendent that mysticism has always attempted to access. The irony of it is that it is always right in front of our eyes, so to speak, or, more properly put, behind them; because it is within this body and its already inherent nonverbal abilities that the access to the transcendent begins.

This admits of an unspeakable presence in mankind — a presence that is always there, but perpetually forgotten. The Self that needs to be remembered, in Gurdjieff's self-remembering, is this unspeakable presence, this organic nature of Being from which the actual fact of Being emerges, before Being begins to interpret itself. If one wants to engage in a bit of sophistry, of course, one can argue that this, too, is an interpretation; yet the simple fact of the sense of touch, or the presence of an emotion which is understood before one tells oneself, "Oh, I am sad,", belie that particular argument. One knows what one knows before the words know it; and that is the secret behind the nature of sensation and feeling. It's a simple secret, really; yet the intellect masks it so effectively that it is perpetually forgotten.

When Gurdjieff spoke of three-centered being, it was a call to return to an understanding of the very primary nature not just of the mind, but of sensation and feeling as well – thereby restoring a balance in which the majority of our life experience comes from unspeakable and unspoken faculties and territories.

This primary root of experience always begins within the inner nature and experience of man; and all of the outward designations, including language, speaking, writing, and all of its consequent results in the form of analysis and understanding, remain forever outward. A human being who wants to sense themselves wholly must understand the difference between these inward experiences and outward designations. There are two lives here, not one; and the critical faculty of consciousness, that which is able to perceive, without judging what is perceived, is the only mediating force that can have both an unspeakable and speakable presence that bridges the gap between these two parts of man's nature.

I'm irritated on principle by people who enjoy speaking about "the silence," that inward experience which is in fact unspeakable. There are parts of me that think it ought to simply be respected and left alone to do its own work; picking at it with the dental tools of the outward mind may appear to be removing plaque but, more often, is just puncturing the gums of the experience and causing an entirely unnecessary internal bleeding. There is a moment, as I have pointed out quite often in this space, where a sacred intimacy must be preserved; what is inward ought to be permitted to remain inward, within the depths of a man's or a woman's own soul, and not be put on public display in any way.

When we do display it — and I speak of myself as much as any other — we are, perhaps, guilty of the sins of both vanity and narcissism; an infatuation with how wonderful we are, rather than a respect for how wonderful God is. 

This needs to be as carefully examined as any other question in regard to the inner and outer condition, and especially in regard to the question of Presence of Being.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Alignment and will

In regard to development of being, Gurdjieff sometimes spoke of "wrong crystallization," which, it seems, turns spiritual effort into some kind of mineralization.

He had this habit of science-ifying spiritual terms; and although the practice stemmed from what he claimed was a more scientific and exact definition of spiritual processes, in the end, it sometimes seems anything but. Inventing new terms, but avoiding specifics, he often left it to his followers to figure out just what he meant; and while the exercise may be of merit, the resultant confusion usually doesn't seem to be anywhere near as precise one might wish.

Eckhart may help us cast some light on this question. Both Gurdjieff and Eckhart proposed, as the result of the development of Being, an ultimate reunion with the divine; and each of them proposed will as a point of leverage.

Here the two seem to deviate; for Gurdjieff appears to indicate a man ought to develop his own will, whereas Eckhart asks he surrender it.

The indications are, I think, superficially misleading. In the first case, Gurdjieff directs us to intentionally turn our attention inward, in an action he calls conscious egoism. This unconventional expression of inner awareness is meant to turn the soul towards God.

Eckhart, on the other hand, presents his presumably more pedestrian audiences (his various congregations) with the more familiar and conventional advice to go away from their own will. Both directions, in other words, are the same, although they are presented from different perspectives. The one is a going towards what we ought to become; the other, a departure from what we are, reminiscent of Dogen's leavers of home—a classic Zen expression of those on the path.

Gurdjieff's idea of crystallization relates to the inward formation of "real" will. What he means by this—as does Eckhart—is, I think, a will in alignment with the divine; this is after all what crystallization consists of: an alignment of molecules, an order. The analogy may be more apt that first meets the eye, since crystals can transmit light; and it is this same relationship with light that Eckhart proposes.

In any event, the question is one of our own will; and it’s investment in our own will that prevents us from entering heaven. Gurdjieff populated his Holy Planet Purgatory with those whose wills had crystallized to a very high level, but were nonetheless unable to expunge the final and most critical impure material that prevents final union. This material, we have to presume, relates to the final dregs of one’s own will; it is that last hardened nodule of self-will, of ego, which even the most spiritual among us just can’t seem to let go of. And it is this selfsame obstacle, in the end, which Eckhart proposes as the reason we are not completely open to God.

Perhaps the most critical question here evolves around the nature of the inner and the outer will. We equate the two; as we do the inner and outer natures in man, treating the two as though there were no real, let alone practical, separation between the two. Let us propose this: a human being has an inner and an outer will, in the same way that he can engage in conscious and unconscious egoism; and one has, in the end, little to do with the other in terms of its essential nature.

Outer will forms in conjunction with personality and ego; and if ego is the vehicle that carries personality into action in the outer world, will is the force that pulls it. These three forces influence man’s outer actions; and to the extent they define the sole parameters of a man’s action and being, the emptiness of a man’s nature is measured.

Only when the three forces of the inner world inwardly form the premises for outer action does a man lose Gurdjieff’s quotation marks. In this inner or spiritual world, essence, conscious egoism and inner will form a mirror-image triumvirate of Being, all of which are in relationship to the soul—a higher force with an intimate contact with the divine. And it is this selfsame inner will that must surrender itself completely to higher forces.

How inner will forms itself in relationship to outer will is a vital question. A man whose inward self is aligned, crystallized, with the divine speaks, acts and exists within an entirely different range of being than the man whose entire world and will is outward. 

Because of the failure to distinguish clearly between the inward and outward wills, a man or woman is confused about what part of themselves ought to be given up. The outer will is already turned away from God; and because it is of the material world it cannot be offered as a sacrifice, or surrendered to God, in the first place. It is only the inner will that truly has this capacity.

This question no doubt bears further examination.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Turning Hammers into Screwdrivers, Part II

Bonsai Tree, Garden of the Humble Administrator, Suzhou, China

 If I don't know the difference between my inner and my outer life, and I haven't formed a clear sensory picture of the distinction between them, I don't know the difference between a hammer and a screwdriver. The hammer projects its force outwards and goes in an arc or a straight line; the screw contains its force inwardly, and turns around itself, using its force to make its own way forward. These analogies are rough, but I think one can sense the difference.

I say that I need a sensory distinction between my inner and outer life because the only way that I can begin to form a clear picture of the fact that they are different is through my sensation. Without it, my inner life is not a life; it is a jumble of thoughts and psychology, a blender of emotions and reactions to them. Only the alignment of all of these different elements around a tangible for some sensation can really lead me to it a direct understanding of what my inner and my outer life are.

This idea of not knowing myself is intimate, as I often say, and sacred; and it always leads to sorrow. In my experience, that sorrow is wordless, as is the experience of not knowing; together, they bring me to the edge of that emotional force which comes from the feeling center and is referred to by Meister Eckhart as humility. It's quite interesting to see this intersecting with my very ordinary reactions to people as formed by personality, which have all kinds of nasty and brutish opinions, and always have the intention of putting the above other people.

The interesting thing about the screwdriver is that it doesn't want to pound on other people and force them into my own piece of wood; it turns me back towards myself, and I circle around this question of my own being from within. Invariably, it puts me on the level of ore beneath other people; because I see how helpless and unknowing I actually am.

These two parts seem to be contradictions, but they are actually symbiotic entities with complementary abilities. I need to be both entities within the conscious range of my experience; in my personality, I need to make an enormous effort to know everything I possibly can; and in my essence, I need to open to the absolute presence of an unknown where nothing whatsoever is determined or clear.

These two parts can create a friction that my Being is enlivened by. Day by day, and turn by turn, I can see both of these parts at work, and accept them. I don't have to become a monk and cloister myself within my inner life, and act like I am sacred and wonderful and perfect — as if that were ever possible, LOL! — but I also don't have to reject what I am outwardly due to some flawed and theoretical philosophical understanding of what my personality is, and how useful it can be in my life.

 It is necessary, in the course of life and one's conscious effort, to touch both the world and God. This is meant to be an uncomfortable position; because it is only through discomfort that we learn anything new, and if there is one thing that God has a wish for us in regard to, having given us the gift of incarnation, it is that we learn new things. Why else be alive?

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this this morning.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Turning Hammers into Screwdrivers, Part I

Bonsai Tree, Garden of the Humble Administrator, Suzhou, China

 Some years ago, at a wake, John Rothenberg mentioned to me that as one grows older, one's spiritual work becomes more and more inner.

This remark occurs to me because I saw something quite interesting about the question of not knowing anything this morning while I was waiting for the elevator to take me back to my hotel room from the business lounge in Shanghai.

I don't know anything. I see that. I'm quite well-educated, and people consider me smart— yet I really see that I don't know anything at all. Yet, paradoxically, I know a great deal about the outside world, on a wide variety of subjects. So how can this be?

The idea relates to the division between the inner and the outer, which is a subject I brought up a number of times in recent essays. To not know anything must become an inner not knowing; not an outer one. This is a subtle point; because to the extent that we discuss it outwardly, already, it loses force and the meaning. To not know anything must become a very private and intimate action, a living and organic action, that takes place within myself, and is in fact an action of the soul — connected to the essence — and not the personality.

One of the reasons I think I confuse this situation, and find it paradoxical, is because the personality is a tool that is designed to know things. That is its fundamental premise; and to demand of it that it not know anything is like asking a hammer to be a screwdriver. The hammer is a hammer; it can't ever be anything else, and it is uniquely unsuited to driving screws, except in a manner that is frankly impossible if one wants to use the screws in the way that they were intended.

Personality not only knows things; it must know things. Asking it to be different is asking it to not be personality; and this is just silly. In the same way, asking personality to profess an unknowing of one kind or another is equally silly, because it can't unknow itself and undo its own nature — even though I think I often ask it to do this.

 Unknowing is on the order of nature for essence. Essence, after all, touches the soul and is its intimate partner; and thus has a much deeper connection to God, to the sacred, to that divine spark of intelligence which must forever remain unknown to us, since it gives birth to us, and not lead to it. So it is within that I need to not know anything; and this is what the inner demand consists of. This is what questioning consists of. This is what the mystery of life and of being consists of.

When I come, up close and personal, to this understanding within myself that I don't know, then something new happens. I'm offered an opportunity; and that opportunity comes before and has not so much to do with the outer world. It is the question of my inner opportunity in my relationship to myself from within; that relationship which ought to form all of my outer relationships by coming first.

Well, of course, it doesn't come first very often; and this is exactly the point.

More on this tomorrow.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Complete Mystical Works

Bonsai Tree, Garden of the Humble Administrator, Suzhou, China

I've finally finished reading Meister Eckhart's The Complete Mystical Works.

This fine book, although expensive, is an important addition to any esoteric or Christian library. Eckhart's thinking is more than just thinking; he writes from a personal and direct experience with the divine, and an inwardly formed understanding which is rare in any age.

Eckhart's sermons convey a candid transparency that allows him to speak with great feeling. And speak from the heart he does; this book is a book of heart-practice, expanding on what ought to be deeply Christian principles in a way that inexorably links them to Buddhism, esoteric Islam, and, as I have pointed out many times over the past year, Swedenborg and Gurdjieff.

Like Ibn 'Arabî, Eckhart understood his theology from an orthodox, yet often refreshingly unique, point of view; and although he was brought up on charges of heresy, it's hard to fault his theology in modern terms. Both of these masters underscore how thoroughly esoteric, or inner, practice forms the core of any approach towards the divine; Eckhart's works validate not only inner practice, but the fundamental principles of Christianity itself, revealing it as a religion based on the highest possible inner principles.

Certain overarching themes became apparent to me during the course of my reading, which took over a year to complete. I'll try to touch on some of them in a summary fashion, even though all of them have been treated in essays during the course of my study.


  Meister Eckhart proposes above all a fecund divinity, one which is ever birthing itself into the material world in an act that is, at its root, loving. Although he makes no reference to the doctrine of the names of God, which figured so prominently in contemporary (that is, to him) esoteric and mystical Sufism, there is an essential agreement which remains, in certain senses, unspoken. Yet this fecundity, this perpetual birth of the divine into the world and into mankind itself, permeates Eckhart's whole teaching; and his call to inner practice is a call on behalf of this birth of the divine, which he cites as a highly personal action each Christian is called on to participate in as directly as possible.


 Eckhart's views on detachment are complex; although they seem straightforward, they spring from a direct understanding of the difference between inner and outer practice. The demands they put on the seeker — to remain outwardly engaged in every manner, yet to remain completely detached in an inward sense — presumes a practical inviolability of the territory of the soul that we, as individuals, have little experience with. This is the difficulty with detachment in general; it often seems a lofty philosophical goal that is approachable in theory, but difficult to experience in fact. Only an unusual separation of inner and outer action can make a real understanding of the subject possible.

 Eckhart uses the German word Gleichgültigkeit to describe the attitude of detachment. Some have translated this word as indifference, which may impart a familiar taste across a range of thought on the subject; yet the word, as I have pointed out before, literally means a state of equal validity. This idea is interesting to me, because Meister Eckhart does not suggest, with this word, an attitude of indifference at all — the word itself admits of a practice in which active engagement is implied, along with an attitude of complete acceptance. This is a state in which all things taking place are experienced as equally valid and true. It provides an intelligible parallel to Dharma practice: the comprehensive experience of truth, not one's own egoistic partiality towards it.

This idea of complete engagement along with complete detachment implies a separation between the inner and the outer work within man, the work of the personality and essence, or of the man and the soul; but it also implies a union of these two works through the conscious action of man's choice, and this brings us back to most of the ideas that Jeanne de Salzmann attempted to awaken as practical realities in her work.

One could go on about this subject at considerable length; but I think that the message here is an ultimately empowering one that allows us to fully live our lives in the manner that is required of us outwardly, while at the same time engaging in wholehearted, deeply sacred, and intimate inner action that calls us to the root of the divine within our own Being. We don't, he suggests, need to mix the two up with one another — and in fact, that is exactly what we should not do, because it constitutes a form of inner adultery.


 Here, of course, is another core consideration in Eckhart's teaching (at least, that portion of it which has come down to us — so much is apparently lost.) It arrives in the form of his famous work,  The Book of Divine Consolation, which once again — as in so much of Meister Eckhart's ouevre — proposes a set of extraordinary inner responses, in this case, to apparently unbearable outer conditions.

The calling he brings us to in regard to our own suffering is of the highest nature; and yet, carefully examined from the perspective of Divine Will, which categorically imposes truth as the fundamental condition of all the manifestations of material reality, his arguments seem difficult to refute. All that takes place is, after all, true; and since we must suffer it, he proposes, we must suffer it willingly, since it is invariably purposeful and intended for our own edification. Not only must we suffer it willingly; and here we come to the most difficult part of his proposition. We must suffer it as though we wanted it to be that way, which is a fundamentally stoic principle.

There are deep links between Meister Eckhart's teachings in this area and Gurdjieff's concept of intentional suffering.  I will be publishing a monograph on the subject at a later time.

Meister Eckhart asks us to consider embracing our own suffering with detachment. Anyone who has truly suffered in an outward sense will know how difficult, and even impossible, this sounds; and perhaps it is the challenge to our assumptions about suffering that matters here. It raises questions about our own ego and the nature of its demand that things be a certain way—a way in which, to the point, they can categorically never be.  This dilemma can't be escaped as we examine our inner emotional conditions. His discourses thus point us towards a new inward form of suffering that is quite different than the material conditions of this world or the anguish they produce in us.


One could summarize any number of Eckhart's viewpoints and concepts and still leave things out, because he covers so many subjects; yet any treatment would be lacking if it did not mention love, which stands as the centerpiece of all God's actions. Meister Eckhart places love in a central role, as does Swedenborg; and love becomes the agency through which the universe is made manifest, as well as the vehicle through which all understanding arrives and is evaluated. Even our suffering, it turns out, is sent to us through love, and only through our inherent lack of understanding, our own unlovingness, do we fail to appreciate this.

Eckhart does not give us a world where inner practice leads to endless rounds of bliss, but he admits to the possibility of a rapture that lies beyond the boundaries of our understanding. That rapture is an unspokenness and an emptiness that is filled with nothing but love of an un-brokered, unmediated, and transcendental kind. Because it lies in territory that cannot be defined using our words or our expectations, we are left with a mystery; so love is the central mystery of life, a mystery we are called on to seek inwardly with every step we take through it.


Friday, September 26, 2014

The role of I's

Question from a reader:

What roles does the teaching about different "I"s play? Nicholl says it's about noticing that you're not one, so that you can separate yourself from the falseness. Are OCD and addiction under the control of one "I," or—if they are features—are they "spread" over, perhaps, the same group of different "I"s that need to be isolated and separated from? I assume separation (and, I guess, here the sense of being comes in) from them is so that we can create individuality.


Let's examine this a little bit.

First of all, I'm not sure how we can separate ourselves from what is "false" here. Each part of me is something true; so to call something which is actually a part of me false is already itself false. Saying things are false, that is, not being part of my nature, sounds incorrect to me. 

Generally speaking, what one might say instead is that there are many parts in me, all of which are limited. They are fragments. I am partial.

So I am trying to see my fragments. I'm identified with them; that is, each fragmentary truth  or "I" that comes along takes me in. So I'm this way, in one moment, and then in the next I am that way. This is true. There isn't any consistency to me. That's also true.

I could, in this sense, say that I am not trying to separate myself from the falseness; I am trying to align myself with the truth. For example, when I am an addict, that's true, not false; I need to see that. So when I admit my addiction, I join the truth. So I personally think that Nicholl—who I generally have great respect for— had that part a bit wrong, or, at least, didn't express it so well as he could have. 

I want to see my fragmentation of being and reunify myself. There has to be a wholeness of sensation in me in order to do that. That's what can bring me together — this organic sensation of myself. You could call this seeing a kind of separation... but it is equally a kind of union, and calling it separation sounds too much to me like a form of rejection.


Trying to bring in questions like the struggle against compulsion or addiction are broader questions in one sense, and narrower ones in another. They are broader in the sense that there are these physical tendencies that overwhelm everything else; and they are narrower in the sense that they do not necessarily relate to my fragmented being.

Let's look at it this way; there is a lake. It has dozens of rivers that flow into it; and yet everything is, in the end, the water. 

Now, I live on one river, then later on another one; I move around, but (weirdly)  I don't necessarily see how they are all connected together by the same big lake.  I certainly ought to; it's on the order of the patently obvious—but I don't.

Meantime, everyone on each river is polluting the lake. There's a lot of pollution taking place. This is what addiction is like. It pollutes the lake. It becomes a question of survival; but it doesn't answer the question of how all the communities around the lake need to see how they are connected.

If they see how the pollution affects all the communities, eventually, maybe all of them wake up together and see there is something going wrong. Then something real can happen; and all of a sudden, there is a new kind of awareness. This is why fighting addiction can become such a powerful help for inner work.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bippity, Bopitty Boo

The soul has a secret entrance to the divine nature, when all things become nothing for it.
—p. 573

There is a light in the soul where time and place have never entered. Whatever has ever touched time and place never came into this light. In this light a man should stand.
p. 576

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 573

Sometimes, in this space, I just think out loud. That is, after all, what personal diaries are for. So if I stray a bit too far from the beautiful implications of the above quotes, please forgive me.

I think that our search for Being can become overcomplicated; and whether one buries oneself in rituals, details, or magic formulas, one becomes lost.

Our cultural obsession with analysis of detail is of time and place; and if the soul does not step outside this, it never stands in the light. I fear I always want some kind of magic, as if God and the world were not good enough just as they are.

This raises a question in me. I was thinking about it a few weeks ago in New York (at this writing, I'm in Shanghai) and it occurred to me that what we were brought up on as children may have influenced us all too much.

When I was young, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, some of the most exciting and popular things for children were Disney movies. Cinderella; Mary Poppins. Fantasia.  And then there were the books — of course, I read the ones for boys: The Hardy Boys. Tom Swift. You get the picture. It was the dawn of the media age; no one saw where it was going to go, and everyone embraced it like a lover.

One of the characteristic things about this was that everything was supposed to be magical. Children were extraordinary and powerful (a dollop of nonsense that is still being served in huge piles.) Everyone was secretly special; it was a world of princes and princesses, and no matter how evil things got, there was always a deus ex machina that came from outside the real world, outside the system, to fix everything. Hence the American obsession with superheroes, which continues unabated to this day. (I can still recall holding the first issue of Spiderman in my little hands. Who knew he was going be reincarnated — and endlessly regurgitated — as a movie star?)

With all of this on the table, I remember the single childhood book that had the greatest influence on me. It was called "the Little engine that could," and it featured the idea that one had to make efforts and try in order to overcome obstacles in life. The book just fascinated me. I can't explain why.

Although the lessons this book brought appear to be outer ones, somehow they ended up inside me. For whatever reason — I suppose these things are generally inexplicable — my whole inner life ended up forming around this idea that I had the innate potential to be positive, to believe that I could make an effort, and to try to do so. There was nothing magical about it. The idea of the book centers around the premise that one can form an intention and stick to it.

This is pretty far away from magical kingdoms and problems that that get fixed by superhuman beings. It's pretty basic and stupid, actually; it supposes that one can roll up one's damned sleeves and get down to business, and, furthermore, that one ought to. It's not a particularly complicated idea. As I encounter myself in the middle of life, beset by complications and confusion, and I see others in the same position, I see many of us floundering. At this age, especially — I will be turning 59 shortly, and many of my friends are in their early 60s and staring down the barrel of the retirement gun — the evidence of magical thinking and the belief that some extraordinary event will "save" us from the consequences of our lives and ourselves are all too prevalent.

 I think this business of magical thinking, of a world where we are special and special things can happen, is actually a destructive force in many cases. I see it active in myself; and yet this kind of imagination is useless, isn't it? No one is going to wave a magic wand over us and say bippity, bopitty, boo and fix everything.

Nothing drove that lesson home more firmly than my father's death earlier this year; we grow old; we grow infirm; and we die. The fact alone ought to instill a kind of sobriety; and it is in contemplation of this, which ought to be acceptable to myself and indeed all of us, that I examine my life today. (Speaking of sobriety, most readers will know that I have spent 33 year battle against alcoholism; and anyone who thinks that battles like this are won, and that one can walk off the battlefield, doesn't understand the disease or its nature. Outward life itself may oft become a comprehensive form of addiction and drunkenness; and one had best see this early on.)

I don't have any answers. But I am fairly certain that all the magic formulas, the fairies, the masked men and women in tights and capes which we were raised on  and have conferred a Hollywood immortality on, represent a clear and present danger, because in some peculiar way, they are inside me—in all of us— in a deeply misleading way.

 I keep preferring this question of The Little Engine That Could—effort, and a positive attitude. Of course, it isn't going to save me either; but it has a practical value that the magical formulas and mystical beings don't.

The one thing that I am sure is that this question of our contact with the divine is not just a question; it is a truth.

That truth ought to flow into me and inwardly form a right attitude; but everything else that I encounter ought to be encountered practically, without recourse to magic tricks.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Organic Shame, part II

 Let us propose that there is a fundamental difference between shame and organic shame.

'Shame' without the qualifier is an ordinary, outward thing; it is generally attached to ego, and often manifests as embarrassment. This kind of thing can be a motivator, but it is not an inward teacher. More likely, it reinforces the way I already am.

Organic shame, however, is an inward thing; and I cannot understand it without understanding the organic sense of being. When something is organic, it is inner; and, furthermore, it is not just inner, it is in or in a way that is all lies, not just psychological. That is to say, it penetrates the bones; as the Zen masters would say, when one has organic shame, one has got the marrow of the practice. It is a living quality of vibration. Part of the aim of my work is to come to this.

This kind of understanding can be quite a shock if one hasn't seen it before; and it penetrates to the core of being itself with the question about what I am and why I manifest as I do. We are all fallen creatures; this is the theme Gurdjieff brings us in Beelzebub, and the overarching premise of Christianity, Islam, and other major traditional religions.

Yet despite all my education, I only sense this from an outward point of view.

The impulse to ponder this question came to me while watching television this morning at my hotel room in Shanghai. I don't intend to pontificate about the media at great length here, but it seems important to mention that everything in our media is outward; our culture is a celebration of the outward, and inward introspection — which might lead to objective morality —  has been very nearly exterminated in modern culture. There is a kind of force-feeding of outwardness that goes on in our media. One can note, without much difficulty, that blatant shamelessness of every kind, on the part of politicians, terrorists, celebrities, and the newscasters themselves is on perpetual display. "Let's all be shameless," our media seems to say; and there are few voices that go against it. In a supreme irony, even the religious fundamentalists are shameless.

 Well then. We need to understand organic shame from an inner point of view; it can be understood as the penetration of Being by the divine, such that the innermost part of the soul is touched by the lowermost part of heaven and of God, by the angelic forces that might lift our inner Being up.

Paradoxically, this uplifting begins with the downward movement of humility: and organic shame is, once again, deeply linked to this principle, which is so essential in much of Meister Eckhart's teaching.

 The word humility, oddly enough, is barely found in Gurdjieff's writing.  There is only one instance of it in Beelzebub, and it is in reference to false manifestations of humility. Gurdjieff, it might appear, did not put much stock in being humble. Yet when we come to the principle of organic shame, and understand what he meant by it, we do see that he well understood the principle, albeit from a different and perhaps more unique point of view than other masters.

So how can I come to an understanding of organic shame within myself?

There's a moment of seeing where there is a real shock. Not a psychological shock; a physical one. My perception and my Being penetrate to the heart of the matter, and for an instant I see the real world. This is, of course, a relatively seldom event; but in these instances of penetration, perhaps I see for a moment how another person is shameless; and way that I know that this moment of seeing is real is when I see that that is exactly what I myself am. In such a moment I see the mechanical, judgmental action of ego; but at the same time, I see the truth about myself, my inner nature, and an anguish arises.

I admit this anguish; I suffer it intentionally.

This is the moment at which compassion, the shared understanding of our shared condition and struggle, becomes a living thing as well. I can't experience humility unless I see that this shamelessness is not just how that other man or woman is; it is me, myself, being reflected towards me in a mirror which I generally ignore.

It's only in this shared experience, this experience within community, that I can gain this understanding; and this is almost certainly why Saint Buddha said that intentional suffering had to be practiced in a community, in the company of other beings.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Organic shame, part I

Gurdjieff mentions the term "organic shame" only four times in the course of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

 In the first citation, he mentions this quality as the main lever of objective morality in man. But what, exactly, is objective morality?

I examine this question from the basis of my own experience, both inner and outer, and some pondering about the nature of morality as it exists in the world today.

 The principal difference between the morality Gurdjieff speaks of and today's morality is that today's morality is based on an external code.  It's impossible, I think, to understand morality outwardly; it always and forever must first begin within a human being, and it needs to be sensed from within a properly educated inner structure. One of the general points of the book is that we don't have such an inner structure; and lacking in education of this kind, it becomes our own responsibility to acquire it. We aren't going to find it outside ourselves; he makes it clear enough that all the problems with morality as it now stands arise first in the external manifestations of mankind.

In this way, organic shame is deeply tied to the idea of an inner morality, a morality that begins from within, from the inner part of being which I would call (see earlier posts) conscious egoism. This is the part of a human being that faces towards God; it is the holy affirming, and anything that it faces towards is more inward and more sacred. When Gurdjieff indicates that education needs to be founded on this objective inner morality, he points us towards Meister Eckhart's divine good in the soul; that is, to the principle that there is an innermost part capable of sensing the divine good, an objective morality that enters mankind from a higher level.

This idea of an energy that flows inward from a higher level, something that Jeanne de Salzmann made a central point of her work, is deeply and intimately tied to this idea of the inflow of a divine good that contains, within itself, an objective morality which is wordless and, owing to its emanation from a higher level, inviolable of itself when it arrives. It is objective because it is not tied to the outer world.

We might note that this idea of penetration by a higher morality is, from a physical and experiential point of view, an intimate and furthermore directly sexual one;  Meister Eckhart's fecundity of the divine is firmly linked to this understanding,  and it drives much of the understanding and imagery in Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Allowing one's inner being to be contaminated by penetration of the outside world is a violation of the right order of inner sexuality, whereby the divine is propagated; hence, at least in part, Eckhardt's views on detachment.

 This may seem like a digression, but it is not; because organic shame is deeply linked to this idea of sensation of inner Being, which cannot be divorced from an inflow of the divine. Organic shame begins with the sensation of Being; and the sensation of being is a way of seeing, although it is not seeing with the outer eyes, or the intellect. It is seeing from within, seeing one's self as one is; and in the end, when an energy that makes this possible manifests, it is impossible to understand oneself from any point of view other than that of organic shame.

 I will take this up again in the next post.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Not my conditions

Flowering Bush, Anhui province
 September 13 — Shanghai

This morning I woke up at 3:30 AM, and spent a bit of time reading email. I had occasion to watch the promotional videos for project baseline, an international diving project which one of my friends is working on; and I was treated to some extraordinary images from 600 feet down, areas where the light just barely reaches, that included corals, huge fish, and a geology that evokes the vast age of the planet.

These impressions are now balanced, at 5:30 AM, by the dawning light in Shanghai, where I look out over a city completely shrouded in fog.

This morning, as I meditated and prayed, I contemplated the fact that it is seemingly impossible for me to empty myself in a way that admits of a space into which the sacred can enter. There is just too much of me in me; and me is greedy for the sacred in a way that is just unseemly, that's all there is to it.

There are times when emptiness comes; and then, the inner conditions are quite different, but they are not my conditions. and I come again and again to how the outward part of myself always wants everything arranged according to its own conditions.

 There is nothing theoretical about the struggle when it is encountered organically. It is very much a part of what is here and now; and it's a part of recognizing that all the conditions around me are not my conditions. If I were able to achieve an equanimity, a Gleichgültigkeit, within my inner being— something that can come, but that is not something I can do — perhaps this would be clearer, but in the midst of my subjectivity, everything I think of in regard to objectivity is theoretical except the struggle itself. I cannot think my way there from here.

 My teacher Betty, towards the end of her life, asked me whether we were not in fact too arrogant in our efforts to develop our Being; and I think she was onto something there. We reach too far; and, I think, we are convinced we ought to be reaching, instead of understanding that we need to wait to be reached.

Even in the midst of my struggle and misunderstanding, a vibration arises within that can lead me closer to an organic relationship with the understanding I wish to have, but don't. And that vibration is a real call to the inner Being, which flows into me in a way that life, in its outward and material aspects, simply can't.

It's a reminder of the presence of God; and even a tiny reminder of that nature is a cause for enormous gratitude and a renewed effort to work and struggle against myself.

Well, I ought to count myself fortunate that these reminders come so often; yet in a perverse way, I feel a sense of anguish they are so necessary. Each one is a reminder of how helpless I am; and I think that this anguish and this humility which they bring may be the only force that could save me from myself... if anything in me is worth saving.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

goodness flows in

I want goodness to be mine; and I want to be good. This is a thing I want to own; yet it’s impossible. I need to see that all that is good, everything, flows into me and is not, cannot be my own property.

The goodness I think I have all lies in territory I have seized by force; and I am the rebel in it. Always, the territory falls. I can’t occupy this land with soldiers; the people are entirely foreign to me. They have qualities I don’t understand: generosity, compassion. I’m not really like that; and yet only the most deeply searching inventory can tell me about this.

I see this when I open; then, real goodness flows in, even though I generally resist it. It blends with me; and only lives and breathes to the extent I step aside and grant it freedom. But oh, how jealously I guard my stolen kingdom; and how surely I want to be the hero, to own this land of goodness.

I have known real goodness in me; and I know the difference. There is a spark left that reminds me of my inadequacy; why don’t I listen more? I want it as a thing; and yet I would need to un-become myself to own goodness; that is, goodness must own me, a point that is lost on me as I am.

If goodness becomes me, there is none of me left; and then, by not being me, I may become goodness. I can only have what I wish for by not having myself; do I understand that?

Perhaps this is because, as Meister Eckhart and Swedenborg say, goodness is entirely of the Lord, and not in any part of itself a part of me. I want to be myself; and as long as this is the case, goodness is constricted, because I remain an occupying army, rather than the one who surrenders to the force of love.

I know how utterly sweet that surrender is: and yet I cannot do it. This is the mystery that faces me in each day.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

An Inner Wish for Freedom, part II

So, take note, all sensible men! Since the joy we might have from the physical form of Christ hinders us in receiving the Holy Ghost, how much more of a hindrance to gaining God is our inordinate delight in evanescent comforts! That is why detachment is best, for it purifies the soul, purges the conscience, kindles the heart, awakens the spirit, quickens the desire, makes us know God and, cutting off creatures, unites us with God.

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 574

There can be an inner wish for freedom.

Actually, the inflow births a divine spark that at all times knows this; and yet the Lord holds back his blessing, even though one stands on the edge of it at all times. I think this is because God knows we are so fickle we would quickly grow weary of Him if he were always present; and a man or woman wants the most what he or she does not at all times have. 

Thus the Lord holds back; and creates, if we are blessed, a constant striving in us towards him, which begins always in this inner place.

Because the Lord holds back so often, I am equally so often forced to see my sin and be reminded of it. I see this again and again; and there is shame in my transgressions, because I do see how weak I am, and how I can’t make a good effort; how I fall short. Eventually, as I live, I begin to see how all the things I do, which I so much think are of me and are mine, are actually just illustrations of my ego and its many failures. In seeing this, I am detached in the sense that I cannot even think of myself as bad: to be bad would be a greater thing than I am, because it would at least be an active form of Being. 

Really, what I see is that I am not; and this is interesting, because what I am not is so amply illustrated in all those actions where I think, somehow, that I am.

Well, I suppose this is damned confusing; yes it is, isn't it? 

It reminds me of Flannery O’Conner’s characters, who are wrapped in the grip of an endless series of egoistic thoughts and imaginations where they cast themselves in roles they can in fact never play, assigning themselves agencies that correlate in no way whatsoever with the real world. I think Lena Dunham’s pornographically public illustrations of her own nature may be so compelling for precisely the same reasons. In Dunham’s case the honesty becomes painful; when ego is brought out of the closet and stripped of its finery to flop around on the bedroom floor like a fish out of water, it is a sorry sight indeed. 

What is lacking is shame; and perhaps this is what Gurdjieff was referring to when he spoke of an organic sense of shame. It’s a quality nearly absent in today’s world; we’ve replaced it in large part with our unbridled arrogance, and maybe that’s what Dunham shoves right into our faces. Here is our inordinate delight in evanescent comforts—our insistence on indulging and celebrating our material, rather than our spiritual, nature.

Where, in this outer world, is a striving towards God? If it takes place anywhere, it is in compassion and relationship, both inner and outer. These are qualities that, if I attend to them, can never fail me; but first, I have to care. I have to have a conscience.

When I forget myself, this is usually the first thing that goes. Ego has great strength, but little conscience.


Friday, September 19, 2014

An Inner Wish for Freedom, part I

It promotes a properly ordered conscience to refuse attention to casual happenings, and for a man when he is by himself to give up his will wholly to God and then to accept all things equally from God: grace or whatever it may be, inward or outward.

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works,  pp.  290-91 (sermon 55)

I have a wish for freedom, but I always tend to interpret and understand this from an external perspective.

Whenever an inner energy comes that supports my Being, I see that freedom only arises from an inner state; and that the external perceptions are not helpful. So it’s this question on inwardness and detachment from what is outer that ought to preoccupy me; that is, it needs to be there first, within me, before the outer affects me. Yet I see how persistently the outer takes priority. 

Despite years of very real and deep daily experience, I still don’t fully appreciate this fundamental truth. I continue to believe in the outer disproportionately to what is needed. 

I think this comes from fear; it comes from a lack of trust. Fundamentally, I don’t trust the inner, even though it ought to have earned my trust long ago. In an exquisite irony, my life has been arranged for many years so that this lesson is reflected back at me in the actions of others. 

Perhaps this is exactly what I deserve; I suspect it’s so.

In another way I suffer continually because of this: I am inadequate. My wish for freedom has two natures: one is material, and natural, and comes from my ordinary being, and actually quite weak, although fear gives it great momentum.

The other one is spiritual, and enormously powerful. Yet it doesn’t belong to me; and because I’m so weak it’s only through a superior strength—the strength of the Lord—that that side finds expression. I search from my side for this contact, but I can’t make it happen. It only comes as the Lord wills it. So freedom isn’t mine; and the things I think of as freedom are not free.

I have had freedom, quite a lot of it, actually. I know exactly what it feels like. But this isn’t what I have earned or even deserve; blessings like this are never one’s right, and in fact my own experience tells me no one, of themselves and by their own action, is worthy of it. There may be some man or woman with a clean conscience who is free of sin, but somehow I doubt it. It is in the nature of us and where we are—where I am— that freedom is not ever deserved. It begins and ends as a mercy and a blessing and the only real response I can have is to make an inner effort.

So perhaps the underlying problem with my wish to be free begins here: it is my own wish: it’s of the ego.

And that, unfortunately, is no place to begin.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Essence and egoism, part III

 Now some people use up all the powers of the soul in the outer man. These are people who turn all their senses and their reason toward perishable goods, knowing nothing of the inner man. You should know that the outer man can be active while the inner man is completely free of this activity and unmoved.

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical WorksP 571  

Following the train of thought that began this group of essays, I suppose readers will ask themselves why ego would ever have two parts, as I've described it. It doesn't sound doctrinaire; and of course we can't find places in the Gurdjieff literature where essence and personality are linked to ego and conscious ego in the same way I describe them. 

To me, it seems quite obvious that Gurdjieff's conscious egoism absolutely has to be a mirror image of my mechanical egoism; and of course it makes perfect sense that one faces inward, and the other outward. It's not that complicated to see this. 

Yet the idea that egoism and conscious egoism are nothing more than a bipolar construction is incorrect. Egoism, like all other forces, is subject to the law of three: that is, there are three aspects to egoism in the way that it arises in human beings. 

Conscious egoism is Holy-affirming, that is, it affirms God, or, what is sacred and holy. The reason essence needs to grow is that this part of us needs to gain stature during our lifetimes. Eckhart, if he were here now to comment on this, would certainly explain that this causes us to think more of God and less of ourselves – an activity he lauded.

 Mechanical or ordinary egoism is Holy-denying, that is, it denies God in favor of itself. The more powerful it becomes, the less we think of God and the more we think of ourselves. This is Swedenborg's path to our own personal hell.

The third, or reconciling, force, of egoism is Being, or consciousness. This is the part that sees in us; it is the mind that lives in the moment and in fact flows from a divine influence to bind the two opposing forces together. It is why a man or woman has two natures; and why a human being has to consciously inhabit the territory between them. 

So egoism is not in the least a single thing; it is a complex entity that within it contains all the forces that create a triangle or triad, and that drive the power of the law of seven, which represents the complete manifestation of a human being.  

Just thought I'd get that clear.

In this particular iteration (for once, I'm not going to draw the diagram — readers should sketch it for themselves) egoism occupies the place of the first shock in the enneagram, conscious egoism the second shock, and Being actually occurs at the note Do as the reconciling force. There is a particular reason for this arrangement; and I will hint that one can understand it better if one sees the diagram from the point of view of the right hand side as the natural or outward side, and the left said side as the spiritual or inward side. (Much more about this could be explained here, but I am just not in the mood for it tonight. My apologies, really.)

 This idea of egoism as an entity with an enormous dimension, a longitude and a latitude, that has the potential to span our inner and outer world, takes it off the shelf we've placed it on, where it is all bad and essentially just something to be expunged, and, if possible, obliterated, is an encouraging one. It helps to explain why Gurdjieff actually gave egoism a place of primacy in his term conscious egoism. We need egoism; all of the force that drives our being, both natural and spiritual, comes from it, as was explained in the earlier essays. In a certain sense egoism represents the horse within being, the emotional force, the feeling. (Be careful here, because there are subtle complexities to the suggestion; in this case, the roles egoism plays can change. Don't assume, in other words, that this represents a static assignation.)

There is another aspect of this I ought to at least mention. When I say, I wish to be, that can be taken from three different points of view:

Firstly, I wish to be outwardly.  In this way the force of my ordinary ego serves my outward being; and if I can't be outwardly, well then. I have no force; everything becomes useless.

Secondly, I wish to be inwardly. In this way the force of my conscious ego can learn to serve my inward being; and it is a very different activity than outward being, completely different.

Thirdly, I wish to be through my own being and within my own mindfulness and consciousness. This conscious wish bridges the gap between the first and second wishes to be — we might simplify it in some ways by just saying that it means I wish to be here now.  

Most everyone is familiar with these three different ideas in one way or another, but perhaps expanding in this manner helps to put them in a relationship with one another in a more specific and coherent manner.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Essence and Egoism, part II

  One should first know, and it is in fact obvious, that man has two kinds of nature: body and spirit. Accordingly it says in one book, 'Whoever knows himself knows all creatures, for all creatures are either body or spirit.' Thus too the scriptures say of man that there is in us an outer man and another, inner man. 

To the outer man belongs all that is attached to the soul but embraced by and mixed with the flesh, and co-operating with and in each bodily member such as the eye, the ear, the tongue, the hand, and so on. And scripture calls all that the old man, the earthly man, the outward man, the hostile man, the servile man. 

The other man who is within us is the inner man, whom scriptures call a new man, a heavenly man, a young man, a friend, and a nobleman. And it is he whom our Lord means when he says, "A nobleman went away to a distant country, and gained a kingdom for himself, and returned." 

Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 557

My writing tends to follow my ponderings, and after yesterday's post, I got to thinking about this question of essence a bit more.

The whole point of contact with essence, of the inward facing ego, the one that faces towards God — and which pertains to conscious egoism — is to see who and what one is. The motive force that points from within towards God looks within, that is, it actually is able to see within, so to speak, from the surface of the skin inwards.

This is the part that can examine the inner being.

The whole point of examining the inner being is to understand exactly who one is outwardly, with all the boils and blisters; and one can't understand how damaged and delusional personality is without inhabiting it fully while, at the same time, the inward part looks inward. This is how one begins to see one's contradictions; and if one tries to get rid of one's contradictions by any means before this process begins to take place, the process becomes hopeless, because instead of seeing one's contradictions, one buries them — that is to say, one erects buffers, obstacles, so great that they become nearly impossible to see. This kind of thing often happens, unfortunately, the exactly the same time that a person thinks they are "developing" spiritually.

This is the danger in seeking some place of blissful tranquility. In order for essence to undergo a process of purification, it has to see the most painful parts of what I am — which is, of course, the point of the essay I so highly prize on this subject, not for happiness. Of course, this idea of conscious egoism is hardly part of the Buddhist lexicon; they probably call it mindfulness, but the way mindfulness is discussed in Buddhism, it doesn't, to me, at least, convey the precision that the expressions conscious egoism and essence do to describe the situation, just as the (Buddhist) expression attachment is not, for me, as precise as the word identification. The one implies that the self glues onto objects; the second one implies that the self loses itself in them, which I think is much more to the point.

In any event, this question of the development of essence, the connection to something that is real and alive in oneself in a completely new and different way, is — well, you will have to forgive me — essential. I seek to become connected in a new way to my life — to inhabit it, every single part of it — and to become human in a way that is at once quite simple and at the same time goes much deeper into what it means to be human than to just do things and get stuff.

Shockingly, I can't go deeper without doing things and getting stuff; I can't go deeper without fully participating in everything that's going on.

This is the meaning, to me, of work and life; and this is why I become increasingly suspicious of cloistered environments, retreats, long periods of meditation and silence, and so on as I grow older. I find that my work is most alive and my questioning is most profound and disturbing — and yes, I want to be disturbed by my questions, otherwise, how real are they, really? — when I am in the middle of life, in the most ordinary of circumstances. There is an incredible amount to see here. Going on retreats and special weekends and sitting in well-behaved little groups of people who have well-rehearsed modes of expression and exchange just doesn't do it. It's too tame. I find my work is most alive when some other person is absolutely horrible to me, or I to them, and then I have to deal with it.

Whether I respond with compassion, intelligence, and tolerance, or blow my top, that is where the rubber hits the pavement — that is where I find out how I really am in all of my reactions, or — conversely, if I'm blessed with some presence — I suddenly recognize how helpless we all are.

And if I am really seeing anything, when someone else is truly horrible to me, the first thing I see is myself. That is, I am exactly this way. But I usually don't admit it.

Inner work is supposed to be conducted in the midst of the most terribly confusing situations, where events are unpredictable and messy. It wonders me at times that we want to make it beautiful by conducting it in serene environments, surrounded by beautiful objects, where things are controlled and polite. I often wonder whether this isn't just a way of putting us more soundly asleep while we dream that we are working.

 So essence, this inward vision, this conscious awareness of self through sensation, has the potential to look inward from the surface of life that contacts Being, and see how the inner parts are arranged relative to all the outside influences.

This is really the question all along, anyway, isn't it?

The more that this vision penetrates, the more remorse of conscience begins to arise.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Essence and Conscious Ego, part I

Question from a reader.

I've been reading Nicoll commentaries vol. 1. 

He talks about how essence continues to grow at expense of personality. I was wondering: is what is meant by personality, exactly, "ego" as it's called in a lot of other places?


This idea is easily misunderstood in an outward way; that is, what usually hears it and interprets it is personality. 

Personality and essence are not so much opposing forces (which it kind of sounds like here)  as entirely different creatures. Each one is a creature; that is, in addition to Eckhart's quite precise meaning of the word (creations of God) they are organisms, much like living animals. They are joined in the body, and are symbiotic. That is, actually, on this level they definitely need each other because they ought to be mutually supporting each other's growth, and personality is the outward being through which essence manifests its inwardness towards an outward world. 

The difference between them is that essence is spiritual; it begins in and is of God, and touches Him at its most intimate point; whereas personality cannot do this, because it belongs to the natural world. 

Essence has a completely different nature than personality, and personality (which thinks very highly of itself and would never believe what I'm about to say) can't conceive of or understand it. 

They are as different as eyes and ears; you can't teach an ear to see yellow and you can't teach an eye to hear b flat minor. Being-your consciousness- can do both at the same time. So essence is the organ that touches God; personality is the organ that touches the world; and Being stands between the two. 

But they don't quite know one another's worlds. When essence is strong, personality seems mystifying; and when personality is strong essence is entirely theoretical. One has to have been wholly in both, with a thread to the other, in order to understand this. Dwelling in essence is like coming home. You won't meet too many people who have actual experience of essence; but it's an unmistakable manifestation. It is the difference between being alive and being dead, in the way that Christ used the terms. 

The reason essence needs to grow is that it's badly atrophied; personality dominates because we are so outward. The idea of going strongly inward to combat that, however, is mistaken, because there ought to be a balance; and personality being as strong as it is, if you try to fight it or force it, it will win. That's because of its allegiance to ego. Ego is more or less the muscle or power of personality; it is what imparts force, and the more it believes in itself the greater a force it can produce. 

To say essence grows "at the expense" of personality is first to presume essence grows at all; and it usually doesn't. The organic sense of Being is closely tied to essence; it is the force or motive power for essence and is thus the polar opposite of ego. 

Another way of putting this would be to say there is an outward ego connected to personality, which is a mechanical muscular reflex of force against the outer world; and there is an inward ego connected to the active sensation of Being; which is why Gurdjieff said that the organic sensation of Being creates your individuality. 

The outward ego is natural and dies with the body. The inward ego helps create what lasts after death. One is turned outward, facing away from God; the other turns inward towards Him. This is part of what conscious egoism means- it is inward egoism, as I have just described. Perhaps this helps clear that up a bit. The term is heard in the Gurdjieff Work, but a precise understanding can be hard to come by, especially when it is simply latched on to by personality without any real experience of active essence. Many speak of these things without an exact understanding... often no understanding at all. They are just repeating things they have heard. It takes years of being in relationship with one's active essence in order to begin to understand the question correctly. 

When essence grows-a more accurate expression might be to say it awakens- it is only at the "expense" of personality to the extent that personality acquires a balancing factor. It's still there... You still need it. It can help you by becoming a major tool in understanding your own nothingness; and so rather than attempting to overcome or banish ego, it's a good idea to engage it and turn it to useful purposes. 


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Good, Bad, and Suffering

In the same way I say of virtue that she has an inner work: a will and tendency toward all good, and a flight from and a repugnance to all that is bad, evil, and incompatible with God and goodness. And the worse an act is, and the less godly, the stronger the repugnance; and the greater the work and the more godlike, the easier, more welcome, and pleasanter it is to her. And her sole complaint and sorrow - if she could feel sorrow - is that this suffering for God is too little, and all outward, temporal works are too little for her to be able to find full expression, realization, and shape in them. By practice she becomes strong, and by giving she becomes rich. She does not wish to have suffered and to have got over pain and suffering: she is willing and eager to suffer always without ceasing for God and well-doing.

Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 540

I have recently been appointed senior editor at Parabola.

Readers familiar with my writing may already know that the Parabola mission is a central and essential element in my interests and work; for those that don't, I encourage you to check out, and subscribe to, the magazine. It serves as a vital extension of what we all search for; and the wide range of material it provides for seekers broadens questions I examine here in this blog on a daily basis.

In preparation for the upcoming issue on goodness, I have spent a deal of time contemplating the question. Now, it may seem odd to link this question of suffering with the question of goodness... and yet Eckhart does so without hesitation. He furthermore intimates that it is necessary to suffer for the good.

If I question God about the terror in the world, or blame Him for its suffering, or even—as a result of all the suffering I see—even deny that there is a God (however I may understand that term) I mistake myself. After all, there is goodness in the world—there is no denying it—and that goodness begins with an inner correspondence to what is good, not to the perceived goodness or badness in the outside world. In a very real sense, nothing in the outer world can be good or bad but for the inner correspondence to it: so good and bad begin in me, and in fact, yes, I know the difference... or at least I try to. What Eckhart describes above takes place not in some abstract heavenly hall of philosophy; it takes place in me, insofar as I struggle for the good and attempt to understand the good. It is, in a nutshell, my own soul that forms the good of the outer world; and the bad, too.

This is what responsibility consists of; to make an effort to know the good and suffer for it, because in knowing the good, I must come to know the bad as well. Gurdjieff put it thus:

Every deed of a man is good in the objective sense if it is done according to his conscience, and every deed is bad if from it he later experiences remorse.
Beelzebub’s tales to His Grandson, p. 315

So I cannot know what is good and what is bad without suffering; it is impossible, for the good is defined by the bad. In this way, I welcome suffering; it defines my wish for the good, which I cannot have without it. Thus, without engaging in a masochistic desire to torment myself with suffering—which is already an outward thing anyway, and ultimately useless—I become willing to suffer inwardly, in my essence.

This essence-suffering, if you will, is akin to Gurdjieff's intentional suffering—because it is suffering with an aim, suffering that helps me to develop conscience. The purpose of conscience is to sense and know the good; else why have it? Here I see how Gurdjieff's work in fact revolves not just around some ephemeral "consciousness," which might otherwise become some kind of clinical exercise in a higher intelligence, but around goodness itself, and my organic sensation of it.

When I begin to touch on these questions in myself, then my work becomes less theoretical.