Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Lord of the Rings: a synopsis

A friend of mine not familiar with the books or movies asked me for a synopsis, which I'm sharing today as the final installment of Peter Jackson's six-movie rendering of the saga appears in theaters.

The Lord of the Rings represents an archtype of the battle of good and evil, writ large, yet with small fry—diminutive, relatively helpless creatures called hobbits—as the central actors.

All of the powerful forces aligned against one another, many of whom are all but immortal—elves and walking, talking trees (ents) for example—in the end depend on these apparently insignificant players to provide the critical fulcrums on which all the events are leveraged. Even wizards have to rely on them to execute the most important tasks... and although there are a lot of other, perhaps technically more capable, players eager to assume that role, in the end most of them have some deep and vital flaw, always related to vanity and ego, that disqualifies them 

In some cases their vain ambitions end up serving positively in some other way... but never when it comes to the ring, which can't be touched by any but the purest, simplest soul. Anyone with aspirations to power is ruined by it—and even hobbits are not immune to its charms, because sin (the ring is, in its essence, the original sin)—corrupts everything it touches. The ring ultimately devours the soul of anyone who falls under its spell.

Hobbits live a decidedly pastoral life, emphasizing the role of farming as a primary civilizing factor in the world. It establishes a populist base for the action. The various nobilities that struggle in an epically Tolstoyan manner, each of whom seems themselves as "the" major player in the conflict (the dwarves, the elves, the ents, the goblins, etc: all have what they perceive as some major piece moving on the chessboard) are all actually revolving around the hobbits; but no one really sees this except Gandalf, who plays the role of the saint, the one who has insight: although even his insight is not infallible.

A fallen angel orchestrates the conflict: Saurumon, who waxes under the spell of the devil (Sauron.) At the time the story of the hobbit opens, the conflict is already an ancient one. The premise is that evil is vested in a materiality (the rings) and that the one who controls this materiality will gain power over everything. The rings are, in other words, talismans representing a great power, but it's a power of corruption; and that power is in abstract the immanent world, the world of things. This world of things is, by and large, a world of glittering treasures (whether gold, or kingdoms) all of which turn powerful engines of desire in the various characters.

It is a world of attachments: and the singular voyage of detachment that progresses throughout the trilogy (throughout the plot, everyone else is doggedly pursing their attachments) is Frodo's selfless quest to destroy the ring, which carries him through all the worldly fields of action pursued by a golem (Gollum), effectively his own personal demon—whom he has, surprisingly, a complex and touching sympathy for. This is a sophisticated mechanism, indeed, and Jackson did a masterful job of rendering this rather impossible character in the movie, not just as regards CGI, but also his schizoid, bipolar persona. Frodo is also accompanied by his good alter ego, Sam, who remains loyal; even when he is rejected by Frodo's frustrating acceptance of Gollum.

The hobbits represent the ordinary within this world, which is essentially not corrupt: and it is their apparent insignificance, the fact that they can be so easily overlooked and discounted, that becomes the weapon that defeats evil in the end. In this sense, it is a story of everyman against forces much larger than himself: again, a form of populism, but a populist movement against evil on a monstrous scale.

The appeal of it from the point of view of inner allegory is apparent: it's the smallest and most ordinary parts of ourselves that serve as the most important footsoldiers in our struggle against the lower parts of ourselves: an illustration of the saying, "the meek shall inherit the earth." Hobbits are nothing if not meek; yet their courage and fortitude is inspiring, along with their loyalty and willingness to risk themselves on behalf of a greater cause. Their quest is, in the end, ennobling not because they defeat evil—this always happens in such myths, and is hardly worth mentioning—but because they are true. It's their affirmation of goodness on the simplest of levels that triumphs in the end, regardless of the wizards, elves, and giant orc armies that mill around them in a gigantic, whirlwind war machine.


The Gospel of Mary, Part I

Angkor, Cambodia

Last night (December 6) Parabola Magazine hosted a salon at which we discussed the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, specifically, the question of ignorance and its relationship to sin, which is the subject of the upcoming issue of the magazine.

I haven't read this gospel in a number of years, so I opened it this morning. I found some striking remarks.

The gospel begins in the midst of a discussion; the pages that introduce it are missing.

"... will matter then be destroyed or not?"

 The Savior said, "all natures, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one another, and they will be resolved again into their own roots. For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its nature alone. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

— The Nag Hammadi library in English, Harper & Row, 1998, page 524

  In discussion about the inner teachings of the Gospels — that is, teachings Christ passed on which are meant to be taken as inward teachings, that relate not to the outer world, but to inward being — it's worth mentioning that whenever Christ says, he who has ears to hear, let him hear, he means, the teaching is an inner or esoteric teaching, that is, it cannot be taken literally or interpreted according to the rules of the ordinary world.

In order to understand this better, we have to reconfigure our understanding of what it means to listen, and to hear. To listen and to hear is not just a matter of listening and hearing with attention. One can have a very good outward attention and listen and hear quite well, and take in an enormous amount of data and have sophisticated intellectual exchanges, a strong memory of everything that's been said, and so on. This isn't listening and hearing as it is referred to in the Gospels; nor, as it happens on it to be the understanding of listening and hearing as it relates to inner work, be it Sufi, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, or otherwise.

 As it happens, the inward parts that listen and hear are much deeper within Being then our ordinary parts. When we encounter the words,  he who has ears to hear, let him hear, we encounter an admonition that the impression of the ideas be taken deeper into Being.

 Now, this may seem like a new idea... what precisely does that mean?

It means that one must have an organic sensitivity, a connection to sensation, and that the understandings must flow inward as a result of that connection and relationship, which creates a transparency. This transparency represents a kind of clarity. It's extremely difficult to explain this clarity in words, but generally speaking, in this clarity one will distinctly feel that one receives things more deeply. Personality is far more passive in this condition, and essence is active.

 We can't know precisely what the condition under which matter might be destroyed was; the questioner may have been asking about the durability of the material world, or the nature of experience after spiritual enlightenment. Nonetheless, Christ's message on the subject is fascinating.

Essentially, he discusses a condition I have mentioned in past posts.  All natures, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one another.  Everything contains everything else; all objects, events, circumstances, and conditions are so directly and deeply connected to one another that a grain of sand objectively contains the entire universe, if this were properly sensed and understood. The idea seems ridiculously inflated, but there is a sacred truth within it: the absolute and entire expression of God and Being find perfection within each instant and instance of manifestation.

Christ expands on this fundamental truth, which is certainly expressed in Buddhism, by pointing out that  they will be resolved again into their own roots. For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its nature alone.

 I'll ponder this point and attempt comment on it tomorrow, after allowing it to digest more deeply during the night.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Roots and parables, part IV: the parable of the weeds

Angkor, Cambodia
The Parable of the Weeds, Matthew 13:24-30

 Christ explains this parable to his disciples in Matthew 13:36-43, but it doesn't read correctly to me. It's too apocalyptic, and contains an element of bombast, fire and brimstone, that obscures the  delicate and beautiful nuances of the story.  It is an outward explanation of an inward parable.

I'm offering, therefore, my own interpretation of it below.

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 

But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 

He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 

But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Readers may wonder why I have put a link to the word tares in the above passage; it ought to be followed, so that one can understand tares represent a vetch, which is actually an edible crop which would, in biblical times, have been understood as a last resort for consumption in times of starvation.

The use of the word is absolutely intentional; the enemy comes and sows seed not just for some casual weed, but for an actual food in the wheat crop—only it is a bitter food, traditionally reserved for desperation, and for the abject poor.

The idea here is that the enemy (representing the oppositional inner part of ourselves manifested in ego) continuously sows seed for an inferior kind of food that competes with the sacred food of heaven.  This takes place while we are asleep. That is, while engaged in inner work, it is inevitable that this kind of food will continually be mixed with the sacred food needed for development of the soul. It happens in every moment when we are sleeping, that is, not making a conscious effort to align ourselves with higher forces.

We're not saints; all of us are going to have tares in our field. Here, readers may recall that Gurdjieff cited wheat as a food that is sacred all over the universe; certainly, in this passage, it plays an equivalent role, because it is likened to the word of God, that is, the good word that feeds us well from within.

In the second passage, we see that the both the servants and the householder— who are engaged together in the act of the cultivation of the good seed, the seed of inner Being — recognize the difference. This is a form of seeing. In fact, it exactly represents the action of seeing how one is within without interfering, which is so roundly emphasized in The Reality of Being. The servants see what is wrong; yet the master instructs them not to touch anything.

This is notable; it is precisely and exactly the same as the instruction that de Salzmann gives that we must see ourselves without trying to change anything. several things can be understood from this passage. First of all, even the lowest kinds of interactivity are a food, albeit a poor one. Secondly, in inner work, we learn to discriminate between them and understand that some of them come from lower levels. Third, we understand that we are to allow these things to exist side-by-side within us with the work of our truthfulness and our inner effort, because if we try to root them, it may well damage the roots we are growing in our proper crop.

Now, this may seem paradoxical; after all, shouldn't one get the weeds out so that the crop will grow healthy? Apparently not — under conditions of inner work, at the time of harvest, it becomes possible to distinguish clearly between the higher and the lower works, the parts of us that bear the fruit of personality and the parts of us that bear the fruit of heaven, and then to discriminate — to make a choice — and discard that which is worthless. But, take note, this can only be done at the time of maturity — else, the activity may be damaging.

 One last note. The person attending the field isn't a wise man, a priest, or any other kind of special authority. He or she is a householder. That is, he is Gurdjieff's obyvatel, an ordinary person who does nothing more than attempt to meet his responsibilities. This is the person in charge of attending the field which is likened to the kingdom of heaven: an ordinary human being.

These may seem to be subtle points. They do, however, show how extraordinarily sophisticated Christ's parables were, and how deeply entwined they are with the esoteric teachings that Gurdjieff passed on. It is part of a comprehensive and ancient works; and the understandings of it are always consistent, if they are understood properly. Take note that despite how well concealed these esoteric aspects of Christ's teaching are, they came down to us through over 2000 years and find expression in an exactly correct manner in Jeanne de Salzmann's understandings and notes.

It is worth thinking about, isn't it?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Roots and Parables: The Parable of the Sower, explained: part III

Angkor, Cambodia

The Parable of the Sower Explained... twice.
(Matthew 13:18-23)

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Here Christ advises us that in real in our work, it is possible to receive seed into the good ground.

 This is an inner place; not an outer one. There can be good ground in our Being; it is inherent, although it is well concealed by our upbringing and the way we form ourselves as people.

What is this good ground?

When He refers to hearing the word and understanding it, the hearing is an inner hearing. The word needs to be heard by our soul itself, not just the mechanical or automatic parts that are formed through habit. It is, in other words, a conscious and a living thing, an organic part of the organism and of Being itself. When we speak of the living Word of God, we speak exactly of this inherent quality of life, this organic state, which includes a sensation of one's atoms and an inherent comprehension of the sacred, of the presence of a higher level, of angels — even of God. This ought to be a naturally occurring state, yet we are bereft of it.

To receive this see, this word, into the good ground is to have the tree of the soul grow healthy, grow strong, and receive not only the influences that come from deep in the earth, the minerals, the darkness, and the water — each one of which is, mind you, an analogy for the way that impressions fall into us and the substances they form, which found expression in countless ancient myths, including the underworld of the Maya — but also the influences of the sun, of a much higher level. Both sets of influences are, exactly as in a plant, necessary for the growth of the tree. And it is only through the interaction of these forces within the nature of being itself that the fruit Christ speaks of can be brought forth.

Even this fruit is not an outward thing. It is an inner bearing of fruit, that is, sustenance, a sweet food that can be eaten and bears more seed. This is not to naysay the outer effects; yet our attention on to be turned always to the inward first, because if it is tended to properly, the outward takes care of itself.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Roots and Parables: The Parable of the Sower, explained: part II

Angkor, Cambodia

The Parable of the Sower Explained... twice.
(Matthew 13:18-23)

He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Having roots in one's being isn't enough; and this example of Christ's, of a man who receives the seed among thorns, is one in whom the seed is planted; it begins to grow. But it is overwhelmed; after all, the seeds of being are planted amidst the sharpness and strangulation of the many different influences of personality. We're filled with all kinds of material; most of it is misleading, although it comes with conviction, mediated and moderated by centers (all three of them) who are used to self-serving and contradictory work, the usurpation of material for themselves, and the dissipation of things that don't satisfy them.

This is why He refers to the deceitfulness of riches: the very phrase itself reminds us of Gurdjieff's contention that we lie to ourselves constantly. The lies are rich; every one of them seems convincing and beautiful, but, as I've pointed out before, each one of them represents an intention to go against the good, since one can't participate in lies unless one knows what the truth is in the first place. Lying is, after all, always and above all an intentional misrepresentation of truth.

There's an important and consistent misinterpretation and misunderstanding of Christ's words on a particular point here. When he uses the expression, he that heareth the word, the word that is being referred to is an inwardly spoken word. Now, in gospel Christianity, which is the overwhelmingly dominant form of Christianity being taught and shared in today's world, the word is always taken to mean the gospel in its outward form, that is, the good news of Christ's mission to mankind, and the word of God as found in the Bible. It is always seen as some kind of outward message, and all the interpretations regarding the matter consistently revolve around this idea.

 Yet there can't be any doubt that Christ is talking about an inward process here, and that the word of God is what we hear within ourselves, within our Being and our souls. This word is always being spoken and always present; because the divine truth is always flowing into us, even if we are in fact covered with concrete, resistant to it, and even willing to actively deny it.

It reminds me of something that Gurdjieff said:

When a possibility is there, within reach, and we do not actualize it, it continues to exist but for us it is lost forever. We must make use of it at once. And this is what it is to become a man, it is to respond, to make use of the possibilities that present themselves, but we live like irresponsible children.

This action of the inner word is, quite frankly, exactly that possibility of which he speaks; and we need to come to it immediately as a possibility, a willingness and an intention to not lie to ourselves, at the instant that this word arrives within our soul. As both Meister Eckhart and Swedenborg so eloquently remind us, again and again, this inwardly spoken word is arriving forever and in every instant within us; our life and our being themselves emanate from it and depend on it. Yet we choke it with thorns; our inner garden is filled with weeds, a subject treated in the next parable we'll take a look at. We ought to seize the opportunity to come into relationship; but we'd rather saturate ourselves with the nonsense of the outer world. We are unfruitful; instead of our being growing into a plant that gives fruit, that produces new material and a positive result both internally and externally, we become slaves to the external and are parasitized by it, so that the outer world feeds on us.

This is the normal condition of mankind.

This particular post took a bit longer than I expected it to to get through, so we will have to deal with the last passage in tomorrow's post.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Roots and Parables: The Parable of the Sower, explained: part I

Yucatan, Mexico 
The Parable of the Sower Explained.
(Matthew 13:18-23)

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside. 

But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 

He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

 The idea that Christ spoke so much about sowing seed in parables is no surprise when one considers the idea that the soul is a tree which grows roots in the body and then reaches towards heaven. We see how absolutely these parables are connected to this idea when we see Christ mentioned the man who hath not root in himself

Like many comments Christ makes, it's tempting to believe that the statement is allegorical. From an esoteric point of view, however, he means it quite literally. The man literally does not have the roots that grow down into being, and so he is not durable. It's like a plant which has been pulled up by the roots; some of the cells continue to photosynthesize, and it remains green for a while, but it has no durability, because there are no roots. One must develop the roots within the body and have the sensation of self — the sensation of one's individuality, as Gurdjieff called it— in order for any inner work to be durable.

In this parable, we can see four different stages of work. In the first one, nothing whatsoever takes place. The lack of understanding here is not a lack of intellectual understanding — it is a lack of inner understanding, that is, a certain kind of spiritual understanding of the soul. The word of the kingdom is the inner truth that arrives through what Gurdjieff called conscience. This is, perhaps, one of the only uncontaminated sources whereby a man can receive the seed of truth; without conscience, we see, the wicked one takes the inner truth. While this deserves extensive contemplation, I believe readers can see exactly what is gotten at here — and it is decidedly an inner process.

In the second stage of work, a man does not have roots — there is an intellectual understanding of the ideas (hence the joy) but it does not sink deep into being where the seed can plant itself fruitfully in the heart. Unplanted, it does not grow; it can't extend its roots to provide the nourishment that would sustain it.

 When Christ says when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, by-and-by he is offended, what He means is that when the arrival of this seed, this awakening of conscience, takes place within a human being, it causes troubling inner conflicts. Let us be clear: the tribulation and persecution He refers to is an inner process, whereby a human being struggles to reconcile what conscience and a higher principle indubitably tell him is true, and the corrupted nature of his own personal preferences, desires, and selfishness. The person who is offended is the one who dominates; that is, personality. Because there is no root, no real food for the seed of truth, personality becomes offended and crushes it. We can liken this to the process of rationalization in our ordinary being, which is a mirror of the greater process that takes place in the struggle between spiritual forces and temporal forces in our spiritual Being.

Inevitably, the Word— the seed of truth— creates these conflicts. Only with roots that create a durable connection to sensation, sustaining the action of conscience, can the truth grow in us. Perhaps this gives readers another clue as to why Jeanne de Salzmann placed so much emphasis on sensation. We can see here that it plays a much greater role than we suspect. It may seem like a mechanical force in some ways, if we connect to it; but it is a very conscious one, and it nurtures in ways that are not apparent to the ordinary mind.

 Tomorrow I'll discuss the other two stages of inner work as outlined in this parable.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Perhaps a little less significant? You decide.

Mayan temple at Hochob, Yucatan, Mexico. 
The Maya conceived of the underworld as an extraordinarily powerful force. 

The idea of the possibility of broadening man’s consciousness and increasing his capacities for knowledge stands in direct relation to the teaching on cosmoses. In his ordinary state a man is conscious of himself in one cosmos, and all the other cosmoses he looks at from the point of view of one cosmos. The broadening of his consciousness and the intensifying of his psychic functions lead him into the sphere of activity and life of two other cosmoses simultaneously, the one above and the one below, that is, one larger and one smaller. The broadening of consciousness does not proceed in one direction only, that is, in the direction of the higher cosmoses; in going above, at the same time it goes below. 

“This last idea will, perhaps, explain to you some expressions you may have met with in occult literature; for instance, the saying that ‘the way up is at the same time the way down.’ As a rule this expression is quite wrongly interpreted. 

“In reality this means that if, for instance, a man begins to feel the life of the planets, or if his consciousness passes to the level of the planetary world, he begins at the same time to feel the life of atoms, or his consciousness passes to their level. In this way the broadening of consciousness proceeds simultaneously in two directions, towards the greater and towards the lesser. 

—Gurdjieff, speaking to P.D. Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous

Another passage I hit on during my research on a different matter, which struck me as a second example of statements that appear to be forgotten or glossed over in the rush to develop a magical astral body, Shazam!

I've spoken many times about growing roots within our Being, and feeling oneself through the organic sense of Being.

The above passage gives some specifics about why this takes place, and how it is necessary. We can't understand where we are unless we sense the very atoms in our bodies, which becomes a certain kind of vibration and cellular sensation. This kind of activity is only awakened by the inward flow of being from the sacred sources that connect to the soul. The subtle passages of these energy or so extraordinary that limiting them to the top of the head (the seventh chakra, the traditional yoga location of higher energy, also referred to quite often by Jeanne de Salzmann) is a disservice. The suggestion can lead to profound misunderstandings, even though it has its place.

The point is that the inward flow comes from everywhere within. It isn't physically limited, and it is not subject to the laws that I try to describe. I would say that we are, for the most part, coated in the psychic equivalent of a thick layer of cement, from which every real influence bounces off. Our cement protects us effortlessly, and we love it.

The cement has to break in order for anything real to enter, and this is a psychically horrifying event which destroys everything we believe in and have assumed up to that point. It requires catastrophe; and catastrophe is not built into spiritual programs. On the contrary, almost all of the spiritual programs I've encountered consist of warm, fuzzy ways of making people feel good about themselves in life, or, at least, provide generic platitudes to calm us down.

Anyone who doubts that it is possible to sense the atoms in one's body needs to settle down and spend a lot more time working inwardly. It takes many years to understand this directly, and only then does one begin to see what a fool one is, no matter what one does add no matter where one is.

There is no substitute for finding oneself pinned between the sensation of God and the sensation of atoms, as a helpless individuality.

This is where the sensation of one's own nothingness begins. It cannot be a psychological idea or an intellectual concept; it cannot be a feeling of sorrow about how worthless or useless one is. It has to be an actual sensation in which a form of three centered consciousness and understanding arises: the sensation of atoms, and the sensation of God, as the lower and higher influences — and the seeing of the way in which consciousness lies between these two immense and mysterious forces, subject to laws from both directions, and, for the most part, uncomprehending.

This is not a bleak place, although my mother-in-law characterized it as such over Thanksgiving. (To be fair, what she said was bleak was the idea that man is a machine, which is perhaps slightly different than being nothing—which, I presume, she would find even more bleak.)

In any event, this is one of the richest pieces of psychological and spiritual territory one can occupy,  since it is indubitably real and based in a sensation of the body, which is the only real foundation any seed can grow in.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Of Definite Significance?

Mayan Figurine, Yucatan, Mexico

The fourth way differs from the old and the new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way. It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it. It appears and disappears governed by some particular laws of its own. 

“The fourth way is never without some work of a definite significance, is never without some undertaking around which and in connection with which it can alone exist. When this work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears, that is, it disappears from the given place, disappears in its given form, continuing perhaps in another place in another form. Schools of the fourth way exist for the needs of the work which is being carried out in connection with the proposed undertaking. They never exist by themselves as schools for the purpose of education and instruction.

—Gurdjieff, speaking to P.D. Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous

I came across this passage while doing research on a different matter during my most recent trip to China.

It's worth considering. We ought perhaps to ponder the inarguable fact that the Gurdjieff work, as it exists today, has established an institution. The teachings and understandings that he left behind him have, furthermore, spawned a wide variety of subsidiary, auxiliary, derivative, and referential teachings, none of which appear to conform to the above conditions in any recognizable way. 

This fact is, so far as I can see, egregiously overlooked.

 Let's break it down in detail. First of all, he says that it is never a permanent way. That is, it eschews form— he says that specifically, it has no definite forms —and is thus in a constant state of change and evolution. It does not attempt to cement itself into a particular routine or configuration.

Secondly, there can be specific aims for work, but the point is that they are specific. The work of definite significance has to be, furthermore, work along three lines: work for the individual, work for the community, and work on behalf of God, that is, the higher principles that guide mankind. So a school of the fourth way has to have an intelligible aim; and I doubt it is anything so generic as "helping one to achieve a higher level of consciousness." No, this is too global to be considered significant or specific; rather, there need to be inner aims, and outer aims, which are tangible; concrete objectives, with intelligible, identifiable, achievable limits.

The purposefulness of a real school is defined by this statement: never without some undertaking around which and in connection with which it can alone exist.

That is, the existence of the school is dependent on the aim — and not the other way around.

I don't have any answers for the readership on this question, but it ought to be carefully and deeply examined by the Gurdjieff community at large, since it seems so strikingly absent from contemporary, so-called Fourth way schools and Gurdjieff teachings.

 Perhaps some think it's too much to ask that people come to grips with the uncomfortable questions—but should we not challenge ourselves with them?

I think so.

 I note with wry amusement that I am, by myself, hardly a school or a teaching, of any kind. I am, for that matter, just barely an actual human being... by the skin of my teeth, so to speak.

However, I believe that for myself, the current specific aim of my own inner work, and the outer work I engage in with others and by means of these writings, is to help people understand several specific things about inner development, particularly, how to grow roots within one's Being, and how to come to the organic sense of Being — that is, how to undergo an inner change so that one can sense one's atoms, as well as God. 

So at least there is something specific afoot here, even if it is guilty of adopting the definite form of this blog.

 More on that in the next post.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shorn of the worldly

One of my readers mentioned the other day that Gurdjieff and Mme. de Salzmann were—in apparent contradiction to Meister Eckhart's (and every Buddhist's) principle of being shorn of all worldly influences—rather worldly indeed.

At least, that is how they looked from the outside — they ate good food, drove in good cars, lived in cozy apartments, and showed no great aversion to money or worldly possessions.

...It's worthwhile mentioning that Swedenborg didn't deprive himself of worldly things, either. This personal feature does not, in my eyes, put an individual at fault, or even at all determine the nature of their inner work.

I suppose many people prefer spiritual role models who wear robes and carry beggar bowls. It's the fashion—an outward fashion not unlike the effect that Hasidic Jews like to create by all wearing the same black and white clothing — which, weirdly, nonetheless manages to become an expression of personal style, despite the assertion that it is the exact opposite.

This kind of thing is inevitable. Any outward expression of being shorn of the worldly is actually a worldly manifestation; the worldly parts that one needs to be shorn of are all inward parts. It seems to me that anyone who puts on a great show of not having worldly things, not using money, living like a pauper, may actually, under the surface of it all, be putting on an unconscious display of how spiritual they are — a perverse form of reverse egoism.   In the end, in fact, it is in our nature to betray higher impulses — no matter how nobly they begin, we manage to corrupt everything we touch. Only a sincere and relentless doubt in ourselves can, I think, act as a tonic in this matter.

Essentially, the most spiritual person is invisibly spiritual — it's like sound editing. If a sound editor does a good job, they disappear, and you never know they were there.

Spirituality is something like this: real spirituality is completely invisible and consists of a sacred pact between God and one's inner Being. To the extent that we manifest any of this outwardly, already, it's an attachment to the outer; every expression of form which involves either excess or deprivation is just as much an expression of form as those expressions which conveyed mediocrity, that is, a middle-of-the-road experience. It doesn't matter whether one is to the right, left, or in the center of this question; the outward is the outward, and attempting to judge by it is already a mistake.

It's been said by many teachers that a human being who truly develops is so invisible no one will realize it by their outward appearance.

 So this question of being shorn of the worldly is a complicated one; it is an inner action, not an outer one, and one has to engage in it through a contact with Being, an intimate contact with one's inner life.

 This action is a kind of submission or surrender; and it bears little relationship to the outward world. In fact, suffering the actual nature of the outward world is necessary in order to engage in it; if one wants to practice nonattachment, one must first be surrounded by everything one wants to be attached to.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The mustard seed, part II

Yesterday, I questioned why Christ chose the mustard plant, of all plants, when he sought an analogy for the Kingdom of Heaven.

The plant has a small seed which is round (not all seeds, by any means, are round!) The round nature of the seed represents wholeness; and the seed is small because intentions, when we first begin inner work, are small and weak. They seem like nothing to us; and yet it is the intention, the purposefulness, of placing this seed in our inner garden that matters.

We plant a small, even tiny, intention.  The nature of intention is an inward tending; that is, by placing this intention in our inner garden, this intention towards God, and by tending it—that is, inwardly nourishing it—the Kingdom of Heaven can grow in us. Its growth isn't assured; the gardener must be diligent. Yet as long as diligence is applied, the plant (like all plants) knows how to grow itself. It must be cared for;, but the growth of it must at the same time be left to itself. This is in the nature of gardens and gardening; one must intentionally arrange and care for, but the actual growth of the plant must be up to the plant itself. It doesn't need coaching.

The mustard plant is, in full size and bloom, an exuberant plant. It spreads it branches prolifically, and produces a beautiful and expansive effect, appearing to reach into everything within view of appreciation. It is this reaching into everything that becomes so appropriate to the analogy, once it is understood; one simply need see the plant in full size and bloom to understand. It is greater than all the herbs; that is, many common herbs have savor, but none quite the sheer scope and size of the mustard plant. So of all the things that have the potential to flavor our lives, the inner Kingdom of Heaven is by far the greatest.

At the same time, the plant produces a sharp and bitter seed; and it produces these seeds in great abundance.

This is the paradox of the plant; it is bittersweet. The flowers are lovely; the seeds are sharp and biting, yet sharp and biting in a way that we find good to the senses. That is to say, it challenges and exhilarates at the same time.

In the same way, inner impressions that come to us brokered by the Kingdom of Heaven carry the same sharpness, the same challenge, and the same beauty. They are nearly infinite in nature, as abundant as the seeds of the mustard plant; and we savor them even in their sharpness.

The abundance of the plant doesn't just extend to its flowers or seeds; the overall, and overwhelming, quality of the plant to anyone familiar with it is its sheer fecundity.

The mustard plant begets a seemingly endless number of seeds and seedlings; again, the selection of the plant as an analogy is perfect. We most certainly are reminded here of Meister Eckhart's overarching premise of the enormous fecundity of the Lord:

God is in all things as being, as activity, as power. But He is fecund in the soul alone, for though every creature is a vestige of God, the soul is the natural image of God. This image must be adorned and perfected in this birth. No creature but the soul alone is receptive to this act, this birth. Indeed, such perfection as enters the soul, whether it be divine undivided light, grace, or bliss, must enter the soul through this birth, and in no other way.

—ME, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 2, page 39

and again:

God gives Himself in fecundity, for the noblest work of God is giving birth (as far as one can say that one work of God is nobler than another): for God takes the greatest delight in giving birth.
—Ibid, Sermon 71, page 363

In other words, when Christ chooses the mustard plant as the representation of the Kingdom of Heaven, he refers not just to the size or scale of the plant; all its properties are appropriate to His message.

Yet this perfect analogy, in the end, meets an entirely paradoxical breakdown: when He says the birds come to roost in it; well, of course this is not true, because in no way can birds roost in a mustard plant.

This point—the point at which the analogy departs from the known—introduces the mystery of a higher level. The birds of the sky Christ refers to here must be lighter than air—else they would find no support. They are, indubitably, birds of the soul.

The meaning of the parable is unmistakable, and has nothing to do with outer events or influences: tending this inner seed issues an invitation to higher forces to come and find a home in me.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The mustard seed, part I

Colonial farmhouse, High Falls, NY

When I was first getting sober over 33 years ago, I usually attended a raucous and irreverent AA meeting called the mustard seed on east 37th street in NYC.

There comes a time in inner work where one must realize that one is personally responsible for everything.

The inner teaching becomes subservient to the Lord; this is the point at which one acknowledges that all of the transactions one has sought to broker through various outer forms are null and void. Every spiritual transaction becomes one of essence; each and every action is related first to inner Being and its effect, and only then and afterwards has anything to do with the outward world.

In this way I grow closer to my spiritual core and my personal spiritual truth, which is actually a secret and can't be externalized or communicated to others. I own it in a way that relates to the inner roots that grow within me; and I tend this inner growth, this mustard plant, in order that higher influences (the birds of the sky) can come and roost in me—that is, give birth to a new and higher inner order.

The parable is apt, and the comparison quite exact, because the kingdom of heaven is within us. (Luke 17:21.) When Christ compares it to a mustard seed and plant, he's directly referring to the growth of the tree of the soul. The almost comic, outwardly directed interpretations cited in the Wikipedia entry on this parable show how very little academics can possibly understand about such matters; anyone who has sensed the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven within them will realize Christ's words are quite literal, if properly understood.

Note that the parable says the man takes a mustard seed and puts it in his own garden. His growth of inner Being is intentional; and it is in his own garden, that is, he becomes entirely responsible for tending that inner garden, which brings me back to the first point, that is, one is personally responsible for everything.

This is a most important point, because everyone, almost without exception (there are a few) wants someone else or some other thing to be responsible for their inner work. One wants one's teacher or guru to be responsible; or one wants one's church or temple, priest or minister, to be responsible. One even, at the end of things, wants God to be responsible, even though God's greatest and most fervent wish is that we become responsible for ourselves. If we become responsible for our garden, the mustard seed, and the plant that grows from it, only then do the birds of the air come to nest.

This responsibility is an inner responsibility. It is a grave and sobering action. As long as I am turned towards and slavishly devoted to outer actions and circumstances, to that extent exactly do I fail to water and tend this most precious plant within.

We might ask ourselves why Christ chose the analogy of a mustard plant, after all. It seems a strange and perhaps counterintuitive choice.

I'll discuss that in the next post.


Monday, December 8, 2014

The skin of the devil

Winter field, High Falls, NY

Recently, someone cited the sins and transgressions of Gurdjieff as examples that somehow invalidated him, or his teaching... I’m not sure which. Perhaps both.

It’s pointless to bring such matters up. The whole point of man’s existence is that we are full of contradictions, every one of us. Expecting anyone, even a teacher, to be different is unrealistic. Even the saints have sin; the difference is that they acknowledge it.

What has been on my mind lately is the nature of my own sin.

A man or woman should never seek a relationship with God if they don’t want to know their own sin, for He will surely show it; the truth of it will be known. In this kind of work there is little room for the vision of the sin of others; it is there, but of no concern to me. One of my sins is that I concern myself with the sins of others, instead of looking to myself; there can be no profit in this.

I’m filled with sin... Criminal egosim, as Gurdjieff might have called it. The situation is a dilemma, because it seems no life can be properly lived without a generous dollop of selfishness, a selfishness that all too often spills over into questionable territory. The point, I find, of the life examined is to see this; and to suffer it.

It raises questions. If I see the reflexive part of me that wants to draw blood for itself, to harm, I see the devil in me... And I think we all have a devil in us. It’s just that most of us keep him hidden from ourselves by wearing his skin so close we can no longer distinguish between the two of us. We become the devil; and we do so unquestioningly, perhaps even enthusiastically. As long as we are the devil, we need not see him.

The first and most noteworthy characteristic of my devil is that he thinks himself an angel; the devil begins in me right where I believe in my own good. Once I begin to doubt that, then there may be a glimpse of something real. 

I don’t do that often enough. It requires something personal that I generally don’t want to give; no one wants to be a devil and know it. 


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Talking positively

Colonial fireplace (early 1700's), High Falls, NY


Do you think there is some use for things like affirmations, positive self-talk, and focusing on positive things in the moment (especially if you can’t sense yourself at that moment) when you are in a highly negative state, if using it gets you into a positive one and you aren’t identified with it?

I ask this in light of the fact that some negative states, such as the emotion of depression, are highly damaging.


Here we come to the question, what can be of use in the moment, if one is very negative?

I suppose chanting positive things can have a certain palliative effect; and no harm done, if this is all that can be achieved. But there is a dilemma in the question.  On the one hand, there is the proposition here that one can’t sense one’s self—unlikely, since sensation is usually heightened in negative states, just in a rather horrid way—and on the other hand, you suggest that somehow one isn’t becoming identified with the way one is dealing with it—already, a considerable inner feat.

I don’t quite buy it.

Generally speaking, I think the kind of energy or action you propose here is weak. It’s largely mechanical; and in my own experience, although every effort to go against destructive negativity is good (and we must do the best we can, weak or not) there is a need to come into relationship with a higher energy if any real effort against negativity is to be possible.  Only then, with the help of that inner and sacred action, can a real effort arise.

We don’t know when that will come; but as we align ourselves with angelic energies, they support us more and more, even if we find ourselves bereft and doubt our ability.

Recently, after returning from China, I found myself completely drained; it was without a doubt some of the worst jet lag I have ever had, and it took nearly two weeks to feel better. I was depressed and disconnected from both the energy and my inner work; all I could do was note the intermittent reminders that come in the form of Grace, to show me that I wasn’t completely lost; and all the time the depressive factors that wanted me to believe I had come to the end of some kind of metaphysical rope were active.

I had to bootstrap myself, not by telling myself positive things, but mostly by ignoring the negative ones. This is a bad time of year for inner energy on this half of the planet, anyway; and one has to tough such things out. Indifference to the bad turns out, I think, to be more powerful than affirmation of the good; the key is not to buy into the downward spiral. If one holds where one is, help will come.

I think the point is that coming into relationship with a higher energy is what’s really needed when the negativity arises. Not just a verbal dialog.

Be there in relation to a ForceThen it doesn’t matter so much, what happens.
—Jeanne de Salzmann


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Beyond comprehension

I wrote the other day about the difference between inner and outer teachings.

It's really very difficult to write about teachings aimed at the transformation of essence. I try all the time; but it's impossible to ever convey the extraordinary taste of real essential Being, and influences that flow into us from a higher level.

I say, extraordinary, in the sense that such influences are extraneous to the order we live in and perceive; they are, from our perspective, positively supernatural, that is, they lie outside nature as we know it, and they lie outside the established order we inhabit and perceive.

The most incredible and preposterous hollywood movies, with the most impossible super-beings, aliens, or monsters, cannot possibly begin to convey the impression of extra-ordinary and super-natural phenomena, that is, phenomena that flow into us from a higher level. That's because such phenomena have an inner authority which the outer is absolutely and categorically unable to reproduce. It is one thing to concoct CGI (computer generated imagery) of angels and demons; another thing entirely to wake up and find an angel in the room. One is fantasy; the other is as real as it gets, and produces an emotional and physical effect beyond comprehension—which is, as it happens, exactly where such visitations locate themselves: beyond comprehension.

The word comprehend means to bring together, to grasp; and such things are ungraspable exactly because they come from a higher level. All inner work aimed at the transformation of essence is ultimately aimed at coming into contact with such forces, because they have the power to transform.

On that note, it's interesting to note the pharmaceutical industry and and medical psychologists slowing coming to the realization that hallucinogenic compounds such as LSD and psilocybin can, under the correct controlled circumstances, often have positive psychological impacts that last for months or even years. Alcoholics, for example, often stop drinking after even a single dose of LSD, and depressive patients treated with psilocybin often show great improvement for extended periods.

The sciences, of course, will always come up with mechanistic explanations for such things; but the reality is that such drugs open us up, at least temporarily, to higher influences that can actually transform. This is why their effects are so long lasting, long after the few hours or so during which the drug is actually present and acting in the body.

(Readers must be advised that I am in absolutely no way suggesting or advocating experimentation or freelance treatment with such drugs, which can be very dangerous if taken under inappropriate circumstances! Do not take these drugs. They are no substitute or "short cut" for proper inner work, which transforms much more deeply and permanently, through accessory substances produced naturally by one's own body, which Gurdjieff called "higher hydrogens." (These substances are not molecular analogs like LSD and other hallucinogens; they are very precisely tuned to human body chemistry and don't have the deleterious effects of their externally produced cousins.)

This side excursion into how the ungraspable transforms simply serves to remind us that we live within an order; and there are other, higher orders that remain unavailable without transformation of essence, inner transformation. So it's this work on essence, which brings one into a very different realm of energy and understanding, that I need to undertake. From this point of view, from the perspective of this order I am in, it seems magical; yet it is entirely real.

Just completely unknown.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Works within Being, part II

Back to yesterday's question; a bit more on it.

Inner work is inner; it doesn't show itself outside and it doesn't belong to the outer world. Insofar as we can see a work, to that extent it is outer; and although the path to the inner always has to begin there, it progresses.

An inner work is born, not made; and it is only born out of pain and effort and a constant seeing of one's own inadequacy.

Without the birth of a work within Being, that is, a hidden work of inner and intentional suffering which a man or woman must take entirely on their own shoulders without any of the external trappings, one is left with the external works. As Meister Eckhart might say, they are good; and yet a work within Being is infinitely better, insofar as is transforms.

In a sense, I have to decide whether I am interested in transforming the inner or the outer. That's far from clear; even if an inner work is born it finds itself in conflict with the outer, because the outer is a very insistent animal that demands constant feeding.

We are attracted to the outer; every object and device has attractive and, to us, even magical qualities, because it seems (unlike our own sense of our Being) quite definite. This is the dilemma; it is the inner that needs to begin to seem quite definite, and the path to that is a long road, because even though our entire existence actually emanates from our Being, our sense of it is rather vague and undefined. You can hold a gold coin in your hand; you can't hold Being there. So the gold coin looks better than Being. Gold is better than God to many men and women.

In the same way, religions are things to us: we become attached to the icons, the images, the words and song. Every practice is in immanent danger, one might say, of becoming a thing; whereas inner work, work within Being, can never have any of those qualities, simply because it begins and ends within the inflow of an energy that is not attached to such things. It is a hidden entity; and it feeds life itself, rather than the results of life.

I need, every day, to decide to live within life or to live within the results.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

The inner world

The outer world is all creature. That is, everything about it is part of creation, what is made, and what exists.

It occurs to me that the inner world is nothing like this. There is no way to reduce it to a mechanical entity; its essential nature is that it already stands outside nature, as life itself, within the context of experience.

So what takes place within, if I am awake to it and it is alive, is always a mystery, and it always begins with this wellspring of life itself, which is uncompromising and comprehensive. All experience flows from it; it is both the creator and the created at the same time, and there is no understanding it from any technical point of view.

Perhaps there's an irony in believing that the technology of spirituality — any technology of spirituality, be it Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or anything else — can grasp of the essential nature of being, because it lies beyond the forms. We live within it, and already, we are beyond the forms within this life itself as it arises — yet we insist on injecting form into it, as though it were deficient.

Do you know what I mean? Can you see how life itself is already here, sufficient, natural, and irrevocable, without any form? This is a strange thing; no one talks about it. Instead, we define and apply external creation and its concepts.

Even when life is disorganized and flat, it's a mystery. All the time, the most extraordinary things happen, inexplicable things, and we either try to explain them or just take them for granted. In fact, everything is quite extraordinary; and I mean this in the sense that it transcends my concepts of order. It belongs to an order higher than the one I am able to perceive.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Work within Being

A reader's question:

Would you say that new age practices such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming, self help in general with its affirmations, and self image exercises are pseudo-teachings, and that efforts in this direction will only increase Personality; and if it’s combined with inner work, will actually put the brakes on, or even halt it?


I think it’s a bit harsh to refer to self help and new age teachings as 'pseudo-teachings.' Rather than devaluing these many different practices, it might be better to rightly value them, which is, as it happens, to recognize them as worthwhile teachings generally belonging to the outer world, and thus to our outer personality, rather than our inner essence.

The outer world is powerful, and within the sphere and scope of its power of course it produces outer teachings, that is, teachings aimed at outward goals and accomplishments. Almost all of these are "invented," that is, produced by personality and its machinations, or constructed devices. All these practices and teachings emanate from human sources and have specific values related to those same sources and their enterprises.

We pretty much need such teachings; the operation of the outward world relies on them, and for many people, it’s the best they can find, or the best they can do. The fact that they do not come from higher sources (influences C, as Gurdjieff called them) doesn’t invalidate them; it simply assigns them a place and a scope. They may indeed produce outward results; but inner work is always meant to produce inner results, and this kind of result is very different than outer results and, one might say, is even opposed to them, since the inner and the outer are locked in a certain kind of struggle in mankind. There is a great difference between such outer works and a work within Being

Of course, in the end, real inner work, work for our essence, produces a quite good result in relationship to outer life, but it isn’t quite the kind of relationship one might expect, or even necessarily desire; in the end it shears a man or woman of outwardness. In Matthew 13:12, where Christ says, For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath, it is as much a comment on worldliness as anything else, even though the comment is usually taken to mean “to he who has much good stuff shall much more good stuff be given,” provoking images of unfairness.

What Christ actually meant here is that those who are worldly, outward, and devoted to the material will be given more and more of it, because the material breeds and begets the material; whereas a man or woman who goes in the other direction, away from the material—that is, has less of the world in them—they will have more and more of the world taken away from them.

That is, the person who has less of the world in them and truly devotes themselves to inner work will steadily be shorn of the worldly, whereas the person who devotes themselves to the world of personality will acquire more and more of it. Let us remember here that Meister Eckhart's ideal of the spiritual path is one in which we are shorn of all attachments to creatures—such is the nature of a work within Being:

...he who does not abandon creaturely externals can be neither conceived nor born in this divine birth. But divesting yourself of yourself and of everything external does truly give it to you. And in very truth I be­lieve, nay, I am sure, that the man who is established in this cannot in any way ever be separated from God.
—ME, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 1, page 36

Although my interpretation of Christ' words may seem novel, I think you'll agree it makes a great deal of sense, on consideration.

I’ll leave it to readers to contemplate this more deeply; but note that it directs us so: the inward path is one that dissolves our belief in the outer, until nothing but a belief in God is left. The aim of self-help works in general is a quite different aim, isn’t it? It leads us to empower and strengthen the self.

There are contradictions at hand here, because we do need a healthy self in order to do inner work; so the outer self needs to be well ordered and disciplined, occupied, as it were, with healthy, non-destructive concerns and non-destructive attitudes. Yet this isn’t enough; and to the extent it becomes an end in itself, it presents a danger. The principle way in which this comes about is through a failure to understand the difference between inner and outer work; to do so, one must have a distinct organic sensation of inner life which is quite different than the outer sense of one’s self which these “self-help programs” are directed at.

I speak here of the difference between what I’d called the sacred sense of self and the secular sense of self. They are not the same. (Even in the best phases of inner work there are times when the sacred sense of self becomes distant, because such tests are necessary, or it can’t grow. It has been known since ancient times that God sometimes withdraws so as to create conditions where a person must strive more towards Him; and this is a right action, on both sides.)

In the broadest sense of the term, self help programs which are healthy and don’t encourage delusions (such as the idea, for example, that one can cure Lyme disease with homeopathy-- something a close friend of mine tried several years ago, with very nearly disastrous results that were only headed off at the last moment after severe neuropathy set in, when an aggressive course of antibiotics had to be applied) are fine. One must, however, measure these ideas in regard to their hypnotic effects, which can blind us to the inward search in favor of the outward trappings. It is, after all, the bells and whistles of outward practices that attract us; and outward practices almost all present themselves, in one way or another, as though one could get something real without paying for it to the last penny.

If one buys into this, one is led away from God; this natural tendency prevails, because we want the easy way out. So it’s important to recognize outer works for what they are and see their limitations.

The aim of inner work is to sense one’s sin objectively, that is, to see it without judgment. Self-help works probably can’t help much with that. Sensing one’s sin objectively is a serious and sobering—and silent—inner activity which takes many years and leads one into completely unknown territory, in a very real sense.

There is no turning back from such a place; which is why it’s best not to embark on the journey unless one is willing to suffer the inner truth of what one is.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Tree of the Soul, Part III

Tree from the Garden of Earthly Delights, left panel

The question of the soul as a tree may appear to be about the tree, or sunlight, but the most interesting part of the relationship, for me, anyway, is that of the tree to earth.

The classic Biblical parable refers to seed and the various kinds of ground it falls in.  This relates to the quality of the earth that things grow in; and, by analogy, the quality of our Being-of our humility, the inner earth into which the divine seed of consciousness falls.

When Gurdjieff said that everything is material- and, by the way, that all pleasure is "shit"- he was ultimately referring to this need for a good inner soil, which is, to be exact, a humility. One can't really follow thoughts of his without understanding the wholeness they refer to—and Gurdjieff's comments contain many subtle and wide-ranging references to this wholeness which do not fare well when taken partially, or out of context.

The recognition of one's own nothingness, for one, turns equally on this point; and we can now begin to entertain the idea that a man or woman needs to lower themselves to a position where God becomes visible, rather than climb upwards. Although counterintuitive, it's a point I think Meister Eckhart would heartily agree on; and it explains much of what Gurdjieff said about a new kind of connection to the lower being absolutely necessary if the receiving of higher influences was to become possible. 

This "lowering" involves a submission to inner gravity: the ever-increasing sensation of one's inner earth. It inevitably involves an increasing organic contact with one's mortality; and that again is something that cannot be explained, but only experienced. Once one begins, in the midst of good health and without the least depression, to understand and even look forward to one's death: then one has been truly touched by this lowering.

For any of this to take place, one has first to be willing; and that will is directly born of this organic lowering of the soul. Insofar as I bend; thus far do I sense the earth beneath the feet of my soul, the place the roots can grow into.

This sensation of one's inner roots isn't one of comfort. It is, rather, a point of inner work from which there is no escape; a confrontation with one's nature in which the demand cannot be denied. There's a joy here; but it is not ever the one I expect. Eckhart's proposition of the eternal fecundity of divinity finds its home here within me as a living thing.  

That is a mystery not to discuss, but to live directly into.


Monday, December 1, 2014

The shells of seeds

I'll be flying to Shanghai again today. This has been a year of unusually high travel.

 I was reminded today again of how everyone dreams of everything. We want to believe we have power over things; we want to believe in magic. Homeopathy, shamanism, and so on. But dreams do not serve us; we live in a difficult, brutal world with all kinds of evil and involutionary forces. It takes a constant effort just to stay in one place, let alone go up. Struggling with the death of my father, my sister, has reminded me that this is no easy place to be.  Today one of my childhood friends entered treatment for an extremely serious disease; the treatment itself is not always survivable. The person I speak of undertook this task stoically, and with a courage that is frankly difficult to imagine. It is yet another terrifyingly sober moment of the kind that reminds one that this planet is a hard place, as well as a beautiful one.

We think there will be a golden day; but days are made of brass, and lead. Some of the greatest and most beautiful values are the shells of seeds on the ground; a fleeting color in the treetops, or the sun obscured behind a winter haze of clouds. It's the smallest things that count; and yet I dream of the large ones, even though my attention ought to be turned to each grain of sand, rather than the mountain.

 If there were no struggle, the sacred would have no value. There are times when it's necessary to strip everything superfluous away in order to see what's valuable. Gurdjieff's uncompromising willingness to do that remains a superb example. Where am I, really? I'm a tiny little creature. The forces that surround me are vast; and it's only in my imagination that I have any control over them.

Well then. This is just a brief note, and tomorrow, the third installment of the tree of the soul will publish.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Tree of the Soul, Part II

Tree from the Garden of Earthly Delights, left panel

The question of how material reality is related to the higher level of the spiritual begins, in some senses, with this idea of the soul as a tree.

In order to understand this we first need to understand that everything material is a reflection of the spiritual; and everything material functions by way of analogy, or what Swedenborg would have called correspondences. That is why all of nature replicates itself, from top to bottom, with material phenomena that mirror one another in both structure and purpose.

Let us recall that plants are the fundamental building blocks or organic life; all animal life depends on plant life to make its food for it. In the same exact way, all of material reality is in a certain sense a vegetative entity, that is, material reality serves as a receiving organism for the emanations of the divine, whereby it receives them and converts them into food for the spiritual level.

The old adage that man is "food for Angels" follows this idea in general, although it doesn't explain it with the precision it ought to. The leaves on the tree of the soul are infused with an active substance akin to the chlorophyll of plants; and it's only through this substance that the energy of the spiritual can be converted to the "inner sugars" so necessary for the maintenance of the spiritual world. The reason that spiritual rewards are so often described by the masters as "sweetness" is precisely because of this correspondence between the sugars created in photosynthesis and the sugars created by the action of Being. They are not different, except by level; and so in the same way that sugars created by plants are sweet, so are the sugars of the soul equally sweet. We call this the "sweetness of the Lord," without correctly understanding the correspondences involved. Yet when we experience this sweetness, it is a true sweetness exactly like that of the taste of sugar, yet received in the soul, not on the tongue—and magnified a thousandfold. Equally, it may be a perfume—or musk, as Rumi called it—equally sweet, and equally real, yet sublime and impossible to explain.

It's no coincidence, in other words, that Christ used parables referring to the growth of plants in explaining the development of the soul. They are more than just analogies; there is a science to it conforming to laws we are already familiar with, governed by the biology of our own level, but subservient to a much larger truth of which they are a single fractal.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Tree of the Soul, Part I

'Man' in the proper meaning of his name in Latin means in one sense one who bows and submits himself wholly to God, all that he is and all that is his, looking upward to God, and not his possessions which he knows to be behind him, below him, and beside him. This is perfect and genuine humility: the name comes from the earth (humus ) .  I shall say no more of this for now. 

—from Meister Eckhart, The complete mystical works, The Nobleman, p. 562

This is a comment that, it seems to me, is worth saying a good bit more about. 

The remark has wide-ranging implications relative to the fundamental nature of our being, both in the physical and the spiritual sense. What is of primary importance, however, is to understand how literally this idea of the earth and being is true.

This perfect humility that Meister Eckhart speaks of is born from a physical connection to the body, in the same way that receiving the body and blood of Christ in the body of man is a literal thing, not an abstract or theological understanding. In both cases, an energy from a higher level is received; and in both cases, it propagates through sensation within the body.

Our life itself is soil, or humus; everything that we encounter and experience falls into us like leaves and decays, is digested by the gut of our soul and our psychology; and this leaves a rich detritus of earth, soil formed by the decay of what was alive (our impressions.) This "soil" is a biome, exactly like the earth in which plants grow; yet it's a biome for the growth of the soul, which is like a tree: a stout organism that receives light for further growth. 

Impressions are deposited in the body in such a way that a finer soil is formed within the organism; and the roots of being quite literally grow down into this soil, seeking out those same finer substances which have been deposited through the receiving and decay of impressions. This proceeds exactly according to the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance; so when Gurdjieff asks us to learn ever more and more about these same laws, he is actually asking ourselves to participate ever more and more deeply in our sensation. 

The roots of sensation, which eventually form incredibly fine and intimate tendrils, reach down into and even below the cellular level to gather the fine substances of inner humus, inner earth, and concentrate them by bringing to the level of conscious awareness through organic channels. These substances feed the tree of our Being; they form a trunk, branches, and leaves which spread out to receive higher vibrations. 

This explains in some detail why Gurdjieff said it's impossible to receive the higher influences without forming a corresponding connection to the lower ones; it's in the nature of the tree of the soul and the way in which it gathers nutrients and grows. The tree cannot grow leaves with which to receive sunlight if it doesn't have roots. 

This whole action brings man or woman into closer and closer relationship with God. Humility is the association with and acknowledgment of earth; the accepting of the intimacy of one's inner soil. By seeing the source from which one draws nourishment and grows, one sees one's place; and this, of course, is exactly what Eckhart's comment alludes to. 


Friday, November 28, 2014

a cosmological sense of sorrow

The Eskimo Nebula- NGC 2392

 Some time ago, I mentioned the cosmological implications of sorrow; this morning a reader asked me if I could expand on that in some more detail, adding some interesting comments about star formation.

The photograph accompanying this post shows the death of a Sun-like star.

 Rather than embarking on a far ranging investigation of the cosmological implications of sorrow as they relate to the mortality of the universe and even God Himself, in so far as He materializes, I'd like to get personal on this question.

Sorrow creates me. At the heart and in the soul of every act of Being is an intense and immeasurable kernel of sorrow, which is generally covered up by innumerable manifestations that coat it, like the layers on a pearl. Sorrow is, however, a pearl in reverse; because whereas pearls are tiny, worthless bits of sand or shell covered with layer after layer of gleaming beauty, sorrow is a grain of infinite perfection coated with layer after layer of grit and mud (creatures: that is, the ordinary world and material being) that obscure its beauty.

The work of Being is to peel off those layers until one reaches the core of this perfection, which is inestimable.

 It's impossible to understand what religious action is unless one touches the core of this perfection of sorrow and encounters it personally within Being. This is, in many ways, one of the highest aims of inner work; and although there's a great deal of talk about detachment, freedom, and so on, to touch sorrow goes beyond any of these things and into the heart of the question of what God is.

Sorrow, at its esoteric heart, is not sorrow — it is something quite different which is impossible to write about. One needs, simply, to penetrate this question deeper and deeper within the marrow of one's bones until the veil is taken away and one knows for the first time exactly where the soul touches God.

This is an inner cosmology, not an outer one; and there is an analogy to the formation of suns and solar systems, because the formation of the inner sun, a light that provides the illumination of this question, involves the collapse of all of one's impressions and Being into the gravity of the soul, much like matter collapses to form a sun.

It is in this collapse that ignition takes place; and only then does the inflow, Swedenborg's description of the arrival of the higher energy, begin to take place in any reliable and consistent manner.

Until then, one "works." One cannot possibly understand how much in vain all of this "work" is until revealed in the light of true Grace, which puts the vanity of everything a human being owns and does themselves in an indelible perspective.  (Consider this idea in light of yesterday's post about organic shame.)

 I have spoken before about the idea that joy — which seems, for all of us, to be the real aim of spiritual liberation — is really just a by-product of the work that brings us to sorrow, and ought not to be elevated to a position it does not belong in. We can never have any joy whatsoever, real joy, unless we touch the heart of sorrow, because joy cannot be known until one has first paid for it through this action.

I speak not of temporal, outer, and ordinary things and the joys they bring here; these are material matters born of creatures.

 Don't get them confused.