Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On self-importance, part I: the sense of death

Detail of The Lamentation

The sole means now of saving the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant in their presence a new organ, an organ like kundabuffer, but this time having such properties that every one of these unfortunates, during the process of his existence, should constantly sense and be aware of the inevitability of his own death, as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes, or attention, rest. 

Only such a sensation and such an awareness could destroy the egoism now so completely crystallized in them that it has swallowed up the whole of their essence, and at the same time uproot that tendency to hate others which flows from it—the tendency that engenders those mutual relationships which are the chief cause of all their abnormalities, unbecoming to three-brained beings and maleficent for them and for the whole of the Universe. 

G. I. Gurdjieff, All and Everything, pgs. 1084-85

One of the things that strikes me more and more as I grow older, surrounded by dear friends and individuals determined, in one way or another, to advance a spiritual search, is how absolutely the belief that we are important is cemented in us.

The Romans made a concrete harder than anything we make today; yet I'm not sure that the buildings they made from it are, relatively speaking, as durable as the impression that we are important. 

I see it in everyone; there is a conviction that life leads somewhere other than death, and that triumph — what Gurdjieff called the Golden day — lies ahead somewhere on the spiritual path.

I think the reason that our good friend Beelzebub finished up his extravagant soliloquy to his grandson Hassein with the fine words I opened this essay with is that a person who constantly senses and is aware of the inevitability of death is fundamentally unable to prosecute this sense of self-importance very far.

As I have explained in other essays, the organic sense of Being imparts within its very nature and understanding that we die; it is, fully, life — yet it is also, indubitably, death, contained with in it, in an inseparable union. I don't expect readers to precisely understand this, unless they also precisely — that is, experientially — understand the organic sense of Being, and, in fact, have understood it for many years, since it takes at least a decade for this sense to produce the increasingly uncomfortable results that are necessary in order for us to see just how incredibly unimportant we are.

This life is temporary; in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the constant proximity of death and the lack of any miracle cures or drastic methods of resuscitation brought people, I think, to a much closer sense of this — a sense that has been deteriorating ever since.  People's sense of their own importance leads them to do terrible things; these young men who murdered the cartoonists and grocery store customers in Paris are an excellent example. These men— objectively violent and tragic to the rest of us — thought they were terribly important, and that what they were doing was terribly important. Perhaps that is the essence of terrorism — not the outward action, but the narcissistic tyranny of self that confers Godlike agency on us. It's one thing to grab an automatic rifle and kill people this way; yet I think that all of us,  Due to the action of this self-importance, indulge in thousands of tiny acts of murder of compassion and love within ourselves all week long.

 It's this inner dilemma from which all the outer actions spring; everything outward is an expression of an inward action. All these inward actions begin with the belief that I am important; and only the certain action that I ought to focus remarkably on the present moment, because I will die, seems to be a dose of medicine that could counteract it.


Monday, January 26, 2015

The missing mind, part IV

 Rape of the Sabines, Pablo Picasso
 Boston Museum of Fine Arts

 In failing to distinguish between the inner and the outer, and understanding that mindfulness (in so far as it works within one) addresses the inner, and the outer—

but not the intersection between the inner and the outer—

which is the terrifying location of consciousness itself, the location we forever avoid because of the difficulty of standing between these two powerful forces —

—we conceptualize.

 I would say, generally speaking, that this tendency towards the superficial—which is relentless in this age of endless media and the growth industry of willful ignorance—has infiltrated the spiritual subsystems of cultures in the same way that it has contaminated everything else.

Now, this is a very important point, because the spiritual essence of a culture is the BIOS, the basic input output system, on which everything the culture represents is based. It lies embedded deep within the machinery of not only the culture itself, but the souls of the individuals that inhabit it; and when our attention spans grow short, our memories of tradition are abridged, and our commitment to the long, deep, essential pondering that is necessary for spiritual growth is abandoned, our culture decays, and everything along with it.

We live in an age where this form of degradation is not only accepted, it is celebrated.

I chose this particular Picasso painting — which, I must confess, I was not (when I took the photograph) sure how I would use to illustrate my posts — because it represents the rape of that which is most sacred and valuable, the inmost and most feminine, generative quality of mankind, symbolized as a woman and a child, by ideals which are battling one another. The men — the intellect and the emotion, if you will — trample and destroy that which gives birth to the good.

In the case of the painting, it's a depiction of a myth; and the representation of what appear to be outward events. Yet this is an image of what first takes place inside us, long before the actual swords are drawn and the actual women are raped; and although, given his sensual and overtly erotic nature, Picasso may not have considered the esoteric implications of the painting, as with so many works of art, it is nearly impossible to separate the deeply embedded Jungian subtext from what emerges on the surface of consciousness.

Here, the values, in the form of the woman with the red and bloody dress, are forgotten — and it is only the infant, something new and precious which is born, that reaches up desperately to try and bridge the gap between the value that gives birth to everything, and the forces of destruction that are willing to ignore it in their own quest for power.

This allegory draws lines between many different forces and influences in mankind; yet the point that I am working towards here is that God is an idea to people, a concept.

Mindfulness and God, for as long as they are ideas and theories, are consumer goods, to be put on the shelves of our intellectual, social, and spiritual supermarkets, so that we can egoistically pick and choose between them. Some of them are merchandised beautifully in expensive packaging; some of them attempt to appeal to us by dressing down and projecting humility; and yet everything is a pose, a theoretical construct making a sales pitch.

There is a great need to stop being theoretical, within ourselves, about the idea of God, and begin to live from within ourselves, into the truth and presence of Being which is divinely created, and constitutes the spark from which each action arises.

This is impossible for as long as we just think about God.

As figures as diverse and influential as Jesus and Gurdjieff both put it, it is our task to become God; it is a task of great daring and gravity, one that requires enormous suffering, and the pondering of everything that there is, with a willingness to rejected in favor of a Being greater than the ideas we stuff ourselves with.

One must come to be idea that the mind we have inherited, be it an Eastern mind or a Western mind — the mind we wish to become mindful through — is not even a real mind in the first place.

Only then, when we realize that the mind that needs to become mindful is missing, can we set out on an inner search to discover what a real mind would be.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The missing mind, part III—self remembering vs. mindfulness

Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Self remembering and mindfulness may seem to share the same turf. In fact, it's tempting to conflate them, if we want to validate self-remembering. Of the two, it's the decidedly lesser-known, even inferior, practice—and conflation implies validation.

Yet they are quite different, I think: and in order to understand this one must understand that self-remembering is founded on a quite different principle than mindfulness.

Buddhists may beg to differ, by encompassing all mindful practices under one super-mindful umbrella—awareness of the mind, awareness of the body, awareness of the intellect...

awareness of the awareness—

But this is not enough. Because we speak of an awareness that is unknown; and these awarenesses, these mindfulness practices, do not come from the same ground of understanding that the unknown comes from. Indeed, mindfulness is a knowing; and more than knowing must exist in a human being if they want to understand God personally, instead of the idea of God.

The Presence of God is entirely and perfectly useful to a person in their inner Being; whereas the idea of God is a very limited value, and often leads to destructive results.

Meister Eckhart grapples with these questions in sermon one:

Now observe the use and the fruit of this secret Word and this darkness… For all the truth learned by all the masters by their own intellect and understanding, or ever to be learned till Doomsday, they never had the slightest inkling of this knowledge and this ground. 

Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and under­standing without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well. 

  This passage is, I think, of considerable interest. It touches on that which surpasses intellect and understanding; an inner quality that lives within a secret place and within a darkness. The territory he describes, in other words, lies beyond mindfulness in the conventional sense: it is not an outward quality. And, in addition, it is not even an inward quality, because it surpasses qualities. It surpasses all things; It surpasses that which is created and moves into an uncreated territory that consists of Being alone.

 Self remembering is the remembering of this Being alone. Before one comes to that understanding, which takes at least one entire lifetime — no more than that being guaranteed to any of us, as far as we know – a great deal of effort is needed, and one encounters — and ultimately discards — a succession of different ideas about what self remembering means, each one technical and each one formulated. Yet, in what is perhaps the supreme irony, the practice of self remembering as it is understood by Gurdjieff and de Salzmann begins from its very first step with the ground in which Being is so firmly rooted: sensation.

 The reason that the masters Meister Eckhart refers to  never had the slightest inkling of this knowledge and this ground is because they did not understand the roots of sensation, from which Being naturally arises as easily as a plant grows.

 Last night, one of my best friends, a man with enormous physical presence and a genius at the receiving of energy in the body, asked me how we work to come to Presence, to come to Being. My wife shared in the urgency of his question.

 It is so difficult to explain this to people. Everyone thinks we can work to come to Presence and to Being. And, in truth, there is so much preparation necessary, all of which turns out to have been useless in the end if Presence and Being arrive. They are already here, within us; that is the difficult part, because we are so close to what is already real that we cannot see it. It is ourselves we have to discard:

This is what Christ meant when he said, "Whoever will not deny himself and will not leave his father and mother, and is not estranged from all these, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37), as though he were to say, 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. 

ME,  ibid, P. 36

 I need to digress for a moment here and note that Meister Eckhart follows this passage with a final comment in sermon one that indicates how this uncovers and discovers the good within us:

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. I say he can in no way lapse into mortal sin. He would rather suffer the most shameful death, as the saints have done before him, than commit the least of mortal sins. I say such people cannot willingly commit or consent to even a venial sin in themselves or in others if they can stop it. So strongly are they lured and drawn and accustomed to that, that they can never turn to any other way; to this way are directed all their senses, all their powers.

ME,  ibid, P. 36-37

The good, in other words, is rooted in us, just as corruption is rooted in material reality; and that good is rooted in us directly to the divine influence of the Lord, which flows into us to establish presence and being through our sensation of the Lord.

The difficulty with the idea of mindfulness, like the idea of self remembering, is that both are ideas — and the entire exchange on them is a theoretical one. We manage to make everything in our lives theoretical in one way or another.  As of today, a Google search on the word mindfulness produces over 25 million hits. This shows you how much theorizing is going on. If one sensed one's self and one's Being 25 million times, very different results would take place.

 One must move past the ideas, and even (perhaps especially) the idea that one can work, that one can do anything, into the direct understanding that one has Being... said understanding inherently derived from sensation. If one does not develop the roots of this active sensation, everything else remains theoretical. This is what distinguishes self remembering — which begins with this sensation — from modern mindfulness, which doesn't discuss sensation in this way.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

The missing minds, part II: the engagement with sin

So. In the last post, we were talking about the practice of mindfulness, and what is missing from it. (Aside from actual mindfulness, that is.)

The idea of mindfulness flees the outer in favor of the inner; yet the outer is, within the context of life, indelible. The defilements (see the article) which the high-minded territory of mindfulness would have us abandon—i.e., banish—are just as indelible, as many people eventually realize. It leaves a nasty little stain on the white sheets; and no amount of scrubbing seems to take it out.

The difference between Christianity and Buddhism (there are many, but I'll present this as though it were a stand-alone for the sake of drama) is that Christians presume the sheet is forever stained. There is, in other words, an understanding that we can't get rid of the defilements. There is, in what might be considered stark contrast to Buddhist doctrine, no potential cessation of suffering.

We suffer.

Anyone who doubts Gurdjieff's position on this as emphatically Christian needs to revisit his chapter in All and Everything, The Holy Planet Purgatory—and consider how firmly planted in us these defilements are. Buddhism—which does not, in its general outlines, admit the Christian idea of sin per se—presumes an enlightement which rises above and forever purifies these aberrant elements—a very high standard indeed; too high, perhaps, for westerners, and perhaps even for everyone, if we are to believe our old friend Beelzebub, who, after all, knows more than just a bit about the subject.

I think the point is that doctrines and practices which purport to purify are, in the real world, somewhat destined to disappoint (I say somewhat, because there are always those satisfied, if chiefly by means of very low initial expectations); and this is because of the confusion between the corrupted nature of the outer world (per my other old friend, Bosch), the degenerated manifestation of divine force within the material, as opposed to the forever divine influence of the inner world... which exists, so to speak, before the defilement.

This is a subtle point experienced within, and not properly expounded in any doctrines.

Man can, indeed, come into contact with this inexpressible place of unity; yet we are, as Gurdjieff explains, in one way or another forever barred from perfect unity; and if this is certainly so in the (already, but not perfectly) transcendent realm of the (arguably, but not conclusively) disincorporated, spiritualized higher being-bodies of Beelzebub's Purgatory...

...well then, my dear friends, it must be ever more so the case in the fleshy bags of meat and bones we currently inhabit.

The best we can do, in other words, is inhabit what we are; and this is very different than the idea of of escaping our inner defilements by, as it were, inhibiting what we are, which is a quite different thing.

If Gurdjieff were to explain it, he might describe mindfulness not as rising above the defilements, but engaging with them; that is, we must come directly to grips with what we are, which may not lead to less pain and suffering, but, in fact, more of it: which some (very) few Buddhists are in fact willing to come to grips with.

This engagement with sin, which is, in essence, what Gurdjieff—and, for that matter, the entire history of Christian tradition—proposes has a radical nature in that it presumes flaw. That is, flaw is inherent: a vision that as it exists, manifested apart from God, consciousness is insufficient. And indeed, Meister Eckhart presumes and brings home this insufficiency: our own minds are not enough. He does not, in fact, so much propose a purposed mindfulness (and this purposeful nature of mindfulness is inherent in the very idea of the practice) so much as an intentional mindlessness; a mindlessness in which we fully abandon our own mind in order to let the mind of God enter us.

This is a Big Idea; and we cannot wrestle it today. We become entangled here in the contradiction between a mindfulness of our own, and a mindfulness filled by God's presence; of the two, it seems self evident which would be superior... at least from the Christian point of view.

Our purpose here, however, is not to disparage Buddhism, which has brought important insights to mankind. The purpose is to examine this idea of consumerized mindfulness, and where its defects lie.

To that end, I am reminded, a reader asked not so long ago what the relationship between self-remembering and mindfulness was.

In the next essay, I will take that up.


Friday, January 23, 2015

The missing minds, part I—in which we don't mind

A reader recently sent me a link to an article questioning the efficacy of mindfulness.

The most amusing and appropriate, if irreverent, title (McMindfulness) casts light on the fact that anything and everything we encounter in today's world becomes, in one way or another, a product for consumption; yet the article also raises some real questions about just what mindfulness consists of, and what it does.

Yes, my little droogs, mindfulness ought to do something, oughtn't it?

Yet OMG, it doesn't; and this is the overall thrust of the article: despite mindfulness practice, which is ballyhooed as a panacea for what ails the soul, people who meditate and are mindful (or, at the very least, think they are mindful) still feel bad about themselves. They still have issues... and for God's (or, if you may agnostically prefer, goodness') sake...

...why bother engaging in any spiritual practice if it doesn't ultimately get rid of the issues?

One of the difficulties the authors—and all those who struggle with this contradictory question—tend to overlook is that inwardness (mindfulness, meditation, and so on) and outwardness represent two different aspects of consciousness, which cannot be effectively conflated without, from the beginning, misunderstanding the nature of consciousness itself, and all the attendant properties that arise as a result of its fundamental nature.

There are, first of all, not one but three minds in human beings; an emotional, an intellectual, and a physical mind. If one begins to speak of mindfulness, one must first and foremost consider which of these minds is mindful; for to leap forward into the presumption of a unity of mind, the conjunction and harmonious integration of these three very different minds, is to presume a great deal indeed. The very idea itself is notably missing from Buddhist (and other) teachings; the mainstream religious practices we encounter speak very generally of a single mind for man, and (if they acknowledge a God) a mind of God, which is ineffably higher. If God isn't invoked, at the very least a transcendent "higher" mind is; no religion really works if it doesn't present a higher ground of some sort or another. Who would, after all, want to make the necessary sacrifices (there are always sacrifices) just to stay where they are?

...not I, said the pig.

But I digress. The missing minds are forgotten; an (absent) inner unity is from the outset presumed, and layered onto that profoundly inaccurate template, in the offending article, are the ideas that (a) mindfulness can somehow emerge from this picture and (b) it isn't enough.

In order to understand ourselves better, I think, we need first to see how our intelligences—each one of which is, on its own, a formidable and perhaps nearly unstoppable force—manifest in us; hence Gurdjieff's self-observation. Then we need to see quite clearly how these three intelligences form, in a general sense, a conjunction of experience which is outer; that experience interfaces with the outward aspects of being and forms a "thing" (actually, a continuum of experience that is much more wave than particle) called personality. This "thing", this quantum wave of missing (read, unappreciated) minds isn't so accessible to mindfulness, as it's an outward thing, and steely hard. You can hammer it all you like; it does not dent easily, if at all.

Inside us, in a hidden place, is our essence: a kernel of Being which can be very mindful indeed, since it forms within the heart of Being itself, and not in the mechanical tools of the three outward minds, which are specifically designed to deal with the world and what is in it. Essence is designed to deal with ourselves and what is in us; it is in a very different space than that of the world.

As I explained in my essays on the cryptography of Being, these parts are in some senses encrypted from one another; and one ought not, therefore, expect actions in one to fix the other. They are complementary; and therein lies the rub, as I shall discuss in the next essay.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Encryption and entropy-why works hide secrets, part II

Hieronymus Bosch
Detail, background, right hand side

Now that we have yesterday's ideas under our belts, let's get back to the discussion of The Adoration of the Magi.

This particular painting ecrypts an enormous amount of inner teaching, presented in an apparently simple and well-known format; yet anyone who knows Bosch will know that almost nothing in his paintings means just one thing, and many things don't mean at all what one might think they do at first glance. In particular, his esoteric paintings (we could call them wisdom paintings) always have a tiny owl lurking in them somewhere; and this painting is no exception. It's Bosch's way of letting you know there is an active teaching encoded in the work.

 I have just completed an analysis of the background of this work, which constitutes a second painting all its own, in terms of its content. Readers are invited to read the entire analysis, which is too long for this space, but has been added to my Hieronymus Bosch site.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Encryption and entropy-why works hide secrets, part I

Hieronymus Bosch
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Detail, background, right hand side

Why did Christ speak in parables?

And why do esoteric works conceal information?

The answer may surprise you, as it has to do with physics. In exploring this, we'll eventually come to an explanation of the seemingly innocent background of the above painting, which encrypts a great deal of hidden information.

The ordering of information—which is, in its essence, what the creation of all meaning consists of—is essentially anti-entropic. That is, it goes against the absolute and inevitable tendency of all things to devolve towards their lowest possible energy state. In doing so, meaning decays: the structural relationships which impart higher orders, such as crystalline structures (DNA, for example), planetary bodies, etc. either dissipate into cold, inert clouds of gas and lumps of non-interacting matter, or are compressed into impossibly dense balls (black holes.) Meaning, as we understand it, arises when interactions take place; and that can't happen in the lowest energy states.

When we impart meaning—when any higher order is discovered and encoded, as, for example, when a cell reproduces and creates new copies of itself—entropy decreases. In the ordinary state of things, unless more energy is put into a system, eventually it winds down and stops moving, which is why perpetual motion machines can't work.

The same can be said for ideas, which are in their essence a similar ordering of information. Ideas are subject to the same laws of entropy that everything else is; they arise, they live, they circulate, in defiance of natural laws that degrade them and tear them down into constituent elements over time. Unless ideas are constantly invigorated (challenged) they die; it's in the nature of things to need a struggle in order to renew themselves.

There is, however, another way to preserve ideas, and that is to encrypt them. That is, one hides them within other structures.

This action layers a second level of information above the first, original, meaning; that it, it protects and encapsulates the meaning in the original ideas by increasing the amount of information in the system; this is Gurdjieff's "burying the bone deeper," or, as some would have it, burying even the dog itself. The idea here is that an esoteric idea, encapsulated in a second layer of apparently quite ordinary—deceptively ordinary—meaning, is more protected from decay. Ideas, you see, are more susceptible to destruction of their meaning if they are unprotected. Wrapping them in a layer of protection insulates the core, the inner meaning, from the action of entropy. If an idea isn't so protected, when the corrosive forces of the outer world encounter it and begin to act on it, they corrupt it almost at once; whereas if the idea wears a cloak, so to speak, well, it is much less exposed to the elements.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The inner and outer forces of Being

King Menkaura and Wife

Last night (Dec. 30), my wife and I were driving back from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when we got on to a discussion about intention and aim.

"...aren't they the same thing?" she asked.

And they aren't.

In order to understand why, one needs first to know that we have different words because they mean different things. 

Second, one must look at the words closely.

Aim is dreived from the Latin aestimare, a root that also gives us estimate. It originally means to evaluate, or something close to that; but, more commonly in today's language, it means to set a mark before one's self which one wishes to hit. It is, in other words, an outward activity

Intention, on the other hand, mean to tend towards inwardly. To tend can mean either to care for or to go in the direction of. In either case, we have a word which indicates an inner action.

One of the difficulties with modern language—and a lack of both aim and intention—is that people get lazy. We live in a world where the internet has created a kind of mob rule of language by fiat; more bad writing, with ignorant spelling, punctuation, phrasing, and meaning has been published in the last fourteen years than in the entire history of mankind up to the end of the last century. We are presiding, in other words, over a massive deterioration in the understanding of what the written and spoken word ought to consist of, in which standards are destroyed and individuals begin to subscribe to the idea that any word can be spelled any old way and that any meaning one subjectively enjoys can be assigned to it, willy-nilly. 

No wonder we don't understand what words mean any more.

In any event, we ought, in inner work (where a more precise language is required), to attend quite carefully to what words mean; and in this case it's quite important.

Intention, you see, is part of my inward effort, and must be understood inwardly, not outwardly. What I intend is what I care for inwardly. 

Attention, let us remember, is also not the same as intention. I need to have an attention toward my intention; that is, I ought to tend consciously inward. 

In addition to this inward effort there can (and should) be an outer aim; and it is when these two forces, intention and aim, the inner and outer forces of Being, work together that a certain kind of force is developed.  Both types of force can, of course, work apart from one another; and usually they do. But there is a synergy when the two of them work together; and the third force of attention helps them to cooperate.

One might, from this, presume that intention is usually more aware than aim; but this mixes things up. Both aim and intention can be relatively unconscious unless the force of attention is applied. Here, as everywhere, the law of three forces applies.


Monday, January 19, 2015

A Living Mystery

Bas relief from Nimrud—Palace of Ashurnasirpal II
Metropolitan Museum, New York
Circa 883-859 B.C.

In late December, my wife and I went to the Metropolitan Museum show Assyria to Iberia at the dawn of the classical age.

 This fine exhibition gives us a snapshot of the extraordinarily rich tapestry of cultures around the Mediterranean in the early pre-Christian era—that is, the thousand years before Christ. As Diarmaid MacCulloch points out in his fine book, Christianity — the first 3000 years, it isn't really possible to take the measurement of Christianity without understanding the thousand years that went before it, since so much of what Christianity consists of was born within the cultural matrix it emerged from. What is perhaps most astonishing about it is that it emerged from such an extraordinary variety of different cultures, all of which intersected with one another in unexpected ways.

If there's anything the Metropolitan exhibit emphasizes, it is the cross-cultural influences that  invasively and pervasively swept across the region from country to country and century to century. Looking at the iconography, it is more and more difficult to see Mediterranean civilization in the early classical era as many different cultures; one begins to comprehend them as a single culture with many different branches. The world was as cosmopolitan then as it is today— and to presume anything less than extraordinary sophistication, in both the arts and the sciences, would be (ultimately) to misunderstand where all of our religious impulses come from.

The arts, the level of aesthetic, and the sciences— yes, technologies —required to create the fine objects in this show, which represent a tiny fraction of what these civilizations produced at their peak, show us peoples as deft and able as ourselves; and not only their fingers, but also their minds, were equally adept. Let's not forget that the Babylonians produced the first comprehensive — and exceedingly accurate — catalog of the heavens and of astronomical events, a catalog freely borrowed from and adopted for the purposes of Egyptian and, later, Greek culture. The Archimedes screw, a device for lifting water, also has its origins in the technological genius of the Babylonian empire, not the latter-day Greek whose name it bears. Even the Antikythera mechanism almost certainly has its origins in Babylon, since — when the device was originally made ( possibly as early as 205 BC) — it already represented a very mature, tried, and tested technology that has to date from hundreds, if not thousands, of years earlier; and it incorporated astronomical knowledge which was, undeniably, originally gleaned by the Babylonians.

The classical religious philosophies of the Greeks must equally owe their origin to Assyrian and Babylonian philosophers, who, as the sophistication of these various earlier empires attest, were not just great builders — but also great thinkers. We sell ancient religions short when we think of them as nothing more than pagan idol worship. One could just as easily accuse today's rank and file Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians of being idol worshipers, if one chooses to — we have certainly created enough artifacts to advance the argument, even in this era.

 The great religions of the Middle East, Judaism and Christianity, both arose from these extraordinary and very ancient roots; and the religious schools that ultimately birthed Western religion as we know it today were all rooted in this Mediterranean culture, which, we might well argue, was even more deeply influenced by the Assyrians and Babylonians than by the Egyptians, who seem to capture our imagination in more powerful ways — undoubtedly because of the larger monuments they left behind, and their bizarre, elaborated rituals of mummification.

I think, though, that something changed with the advent of Christ and the Christian era. The influence, however one wants to characterize it — positive or negative — has been, undeniably, enormous; and it seems as though there is something different in the very atmosphere of the planet itself since the birth of Christ.

This is not a question that lends itself to rational analysis; it is something one feels in the gut, and by that I mean not the anatomical gut, but the spiritual one. The astral presence of the planet itself changed when Christ was born; and this is a question, a mystery, which does not lend itself to the statistics of archaeology, the cataloging of broken objects and forgotten lives.

It is a living mystery that we carry within us today.

 I think that these early classical cultures of the Mediterranean carried that same question and that same mystery within them in their own age; with or without Christ, we are called to understand ourselves.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The scales of Being

Sunset in Tallman State Park, New York

 I have engaged, over the last few years in this space, in wide-ranging conversations about the nature of good, of sin, and of evil. 

This morning, while contemplating, it occurred to me that there is a great danger in the language of philosophy becoming a philosophy of destruction.

 This takes place when language is used to construct relativistic cosmologies, where everything is mutable, and nothing has a fixed value.  One may accidentally—or, worse, deliberately—strip everything of meaning in this way; challenge the cathedral stone by stone, until nothing is left but a pile of rubble. There are times when I think that the modern world is engaged in exactly this practice: some even propose a world without cathedrals, even without worship. The danger — and it is ever present, and growing — is that in the end, man will worship nothing but himself.

When we begin to assign meaning — the original Sanskrit root comes from a word meaning mind — already, we must begin by assigning value — without values, there can be no meaning. That is to say, meaning begins with finding out what things are worth.

Worthiness, value, cannot be determined by magnitude alone. The most extraordinary events can be reduced to nothingness using the value of magnitude in conjunction with mind — one example being Stalin's observation that a million deaths is nothing more than a statistic. 

Value, then, must consist of something more than magnitude — the sheer quantity of what is present. It must consist of the quality of what is present; and the quality of what is present is determined not by its inherent nature, but by perception within the mind.

Once we admit that there is such a thing as quality, it cannot be discarded. Even philosophies of absolute abandonment — everything from Buddhism to Meister Eckhart's esoteric Christian theology — invest their understanding within the quality of abandonment, which has an absolute, albeit transcendental, value. Even the complete dissolution of value, in other words, is of value — which becomes a dilemma that renders value inescapable.

 If value is inescapable, we must struggle with it. That is, it is the responsibility of perception to discover value, to discriminate, to perceive and assign. This is a difficult task; and every man or woman who undertakes it seriously comes to moments when it seems hopeless. Value does not yield itself easily in a world of infinite variety. How ought one discriminate? Sometimes, one simply doesn't know.

Society and civilization have designed external yardsticks used to measure such things; more often than not, we call them moralities. They can serve as guidelines; yet they themselves are not infallible. In the end, each human being is called within the context of the responsibility of their own life to engage in an effort that challenges moralities, even as it affirms them.  We can't just take value as it is handed to us on platters, whether they be lead or silver; we have to weigh it on the scales of our own Being as we live.

It is in this evaluation, this weighing and measuring, that I encounter the unknown within myself. Like all human beings, I have my likes and dislikes, my preferences, my inclinations, and I also know what religion, society, ethics, morality, and so on have told me. The first is an inner state; the second, an outer one. They form a conjunction within me at this singular and immediate point of awareness; and I don't know for the life of me know in my bones which is true, unless I come into relationship with an inner energy that can inwardly form a center of gravity on the question.

Each human being will come to their own experience within this question. My own experience is that the inward flow of energy provides a truth that weighs these questions accurately. It weighs using a metric beyond my own understanding, and without words to describe its parameters; yet the metric, the measurement, is real indeed. It is, furthermore, not just a statistic, like a million deaths — it is a living thing. 

And this is what interests me in life, that encounter.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

misunderstandings, part II: the bathtub

 I encountered a person several nights ago who is able, intelligent, and deeply involved in an inner work.

 They explained to me that everything in their life from an early age, when they first encountered it, was "hijacked" by this inner work, and they formed everything in their outer life around it.

Now, I suppose this isn't uncommon. And, in a certain way, it's not only typical of the way individuals approach their inner work as regards to faith, form, and commitment, it's admirable.

Yet it certainly isn't what Gurdjieff called the fourth way; and, I'm not sure at all that anyone understands what the fourth way is, at least, those who generally profess to be in it and engaged in it.

The fourth way is a way in life.

One must, in other words, have a life and then work in it; not find a work and then live in it.

The moment that one turns the fourth way into finding a work and then living in it, one has turned it upside down and backwards, and made it one of the other three ways. And this is exactly what nearly everyone does.

My teacher, towards the end of her life, mentioned on more than one occasion that she had seen far too many people, including some very close to her, make this mistake. She was always adamant about living and then working, not working and then living. She had, in other words, a clear commitment to actually working within the fourth way, that is, forming a clear relationship to life, including all of what life is without any Gurdjieff trappings, that is, an ordinary life, like the laborers in the vineyard.

Then—she instructed me and others with her—one brings the work into that life.

 The misunderstanding here arises in the confusion between inward work and outward work. The fourth way is an inward work. It takes place inwardly, while everything outwardly remains exactly the same. One shouldn't, even, change anything outwardly, one ought to engage in everything exactly as it is and seek understanding from within. Instead, nearly every spiritual work begins with telling people they should change everything outside, including the language they use, the close they wear, the people they associate with, the things they read, the food they eat, the songs they sing, the music they listen to, etc.

I would like readers to think this over very carefully for a few minutes and see if this isn't exactly true, and exactly what outward forms do. Anyone who thinks that the Gurdjieff work, in its present form, is any different is delusional. Outward forms encourage people to imitate one another, all in the service of a created thing. And this action of service to a created thing takes us, at once, away from the inward task of coming into contact with the great force of the uncreated, the force of Being; which, as Meister Eckhart always reminds us, lies above, outside, and beyond creation — in other words, anywhere but within creation itself.

 It isn't the baby or the bath water that is at issue here; babies are always alive, valuable, wonderful, and bathwater is always needed to get rid of the dirt.

It is the bathtub that one needs to worry about.

 Spiritual works, nearly to the last one of them, always advise people to become less and less worldly. And this is always seen as something that has to be broadcast through attitude, clothing, etc. That is — it's always taken outwardly, and no one is attracted to an individual who doesn't display the outward tokens of unworldliness, a detachment. Yet in the fourth way, one is advised to be completely worldly, in an outward sense — 100% worldly. It is within Being that one becomes unworldly — and, as I mentioned in the last post, this is a profoundly uncomfortable and even horrifying process that cannot fail to break a human being down into much smaller pieces.

It is from that detritus that something new can grow. But it doesn't grow outwardly; and the more outward anything is, the more absolutely suspicious one ought to be of it, especially when that outward is one's own outwardness.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Misunderstandings, part I

 Now observe the use and the fruit of this secret Word and this darkness. The Son of the heavenly Father is not born alone in this darkness, which is his own: you too can be born a child of the same heavenly Father and of none other, and to you too He will give power.

Now observe how great the use is! For all the truth learned by all the masters by their own intellect and understanding, or ever to be learned till Doomsday, they never had the slightest inkling of this knowledge and this ground. Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and understanding without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well. This is what Christ meant when he said, "Whoever will not deny himself and will not leave his father and mother, and is not estranged from all these, is not worthy of me."

—ME, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 1, page 36

 I thought I'd comment on several misunderstandings I encounter again and again in those who undertake spiritual work.

To the last man or woman, almost everyone I meet who undertakes spiritual work is sincere and hopeful. Yet there are several powerful temptations that few escape; and the first of them is one that, I think, afflicts many of the best and the brightest.

 Inner work is not an intellectual pursuit.

Now, this may sound like a contradiction, coming from one who spends as much time as they do using the intellect to define inner work; yet, to explain —intellect is an essential part of it.

The mistake occurs when one thinks that it is the entire center of gravity.

Smart people use their intelligence like a scalpel or a sword; in any sense, they cut things part with it, and are very nearly unable to get out of that part of themselves into any other part. Those who have a good part, a good intellect, cling to it very powerfully indeed.  Some of the smartest people I know are brilliant in the prosecution of inner work; but they are prosecutors. The difficulty with expertise in prosecution is that one always ends up in litigation, with defendants and victims.

...Sound familiar? Read my friend Patty's book, Taming Your Inner Tyrant.

The root of inner work is ultimately in the body, in the sensation; and this kind of work will not necessarily appeal to the intellect, not at all, and, because it is incredibly demanding, it may even become unpleasant at times.

The organic sense of Being is obliged to engage in the destruction of much of what the intellect and the emotions think makes sense in order to manifest itself more wholly; and presiding over the destruction, the breaking down, of these two faculties is a very, very difficult task. Intellect and emotion will resist this with every kind of negativity imaginable; those who have never engaged in this process won't know what I am talking about, but those who have will know that there will be absolutely terrible trials. The inner events do not make sense to the intellect, not in the least — and that is where the arguments with God begin.

One can't intellectualize such events, because they involve collisions that are not subject to analysis and breakdown. The things that have to break down are the analysis and the breakdown; one has to engage fully with one's sensation and one's feeling, and understand them from a completely different point of view. A human being that wants to come to a new inner sense of themselves must first come to an inner sense of themselves in all the old ways, and none of those ways will be enjoyable.

In any event, having said this.

The intellect hijacks almost everything that takes place, and it is a haughty facility, given to dismiss others, dismiss what it sees as inferior, etc. If one is very lucky, in inner work, one may reach a moment where this faculty is actually shut down for a while; and then one sees how little it has to do with the actual action of Being. That is to say, intellect, as it is defined by Meister Eckhart, is a much higher property than the mechanical intelligence we use to engage in ordinary life. Yet it's the mechanical intelligence we used to engage in ordinary life that we use to encounter and evaluate spiritual work; ah, what a mistake. Only when true intellect arrives do we see the difference; and it always comes with a profound dose of humility.

One might say, that in inner work, smart people need to become stupid; and, yes, stupid people need to become smart. One must always compensate for one's excellence and nature by developing the opposite of one's excellence and, in a sense, the opposite of one's nature; one can't have balance unless one cultivates the opposite sides of one's Being, the one that are weak.

When one works in this way, there is strength in one's weakness.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Observations on prayer, part V

 I suppose that what interests people most about this subject is how one ought to "go about it."

And indeed, I believe that the previous four installments have offered some ideas about that. 

Yet we all want specific formulas; and we want exact instructions. We would like so much for prayer, and our understanding of it, to be outward. This is a natural and urgent tendency, and I don’t think we should fault ourselves for it; yet we have to come to a new relationship within ourselves in order to approach prayer, and that relationship has to be one of responsibility.

I need to develop the most intimate kind of contact with myself, which will create an exquisite and unbearable kind of discomfort. That intimacy will, at the same time, be the sweetest taste I have ever discovered. This is because that intimacy consists of the contact between my outward self and my inward relationship with God, which are two very contradictory tendencies I have in me. I have to explore this in the deepest and most natural way — as a human being, willing to touch, to sense, to explore — in order to begin to develop a relationship with myself which may activate this impulse towards prayer I speak of.

 The Hesychasts, those Desert fathers who gave up so much and spent so much time in inward contemplation, realized to the last man... and woman... that one must abandon the most complicated forms of prayer and discover the simplest prayers. The prayer Lord have mercy, which contains a single action, is the most effective, although Lord have mercy — Christ have mercy is the version of this prayer I usually use. 

This, according to the science of the octave, is the prayer of intentional suffering, the second prayer, the prayer of the New Testament. 

The Old Testament prayer is the prayer of Moses: I am — I wish to be, which is at the heart of Gurdjieff’s original practice. 

According to the laws of development, the two prayers ought to be undertaken in an order — the Mosaic prayer, in the effort to establish Being, and the Christian prayer as the response to Being, which is undertaken only after one has developed the capacity for responsibility.

Explaining this system doesn't truly help, because it is only useful from the outside of the practice, and serves no purpose when one is within the effort of inmost prayer. Inmost prayer is guided by higher principles, not by systems;  and it is only the intimate contact with Being, that organic foundation that leads us inwards towards truth, that can uncover the nature of inmost prayer and lead us into it.

It sounds glib, but I would say that in the practice of prayer, one must go with the heart first. Where the heart goes, I think, the mind will follow; and I think we all know that the mind cannot lead the heart where it has no wish to go.

Both these parts ground themselves in sensation. I need to begin within the organic sense of being, and go from there.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Observations on prayer, part IV: the inmost prayer

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. 
—Matthew 6:6

 I think we are accustomed to the idea of prayer being a public event. It’s offered at meals; it is preached at us out of pulpits and delivered to us through flat-screen televangelists.

Yet it is categorically impossible for prayer to be public, if it should be real within us.

When Christ said pray to thy father which is in secret, He specifically indicated this intimate, private, sacred, and ultimately secret form of prayer. He wasn’t just speaking of a general action; He was speaking of an inner action. 

Enter into thy closet, He says.

This is the dark and quiet place where one keeps one’s clothes, all of the outward aspects of one’s being which one wears as one parades across the stage of life. In the closet, the clothes are hung up: ordered, and on hangers, but I am naked. I am not wearing my outward aspects, but abandoning them in the darkness of my own being.

For the soul is so firmly attached to the powers that she has to flow with them wherever they flow, because in every task they perform the soul must be present and attentive, or they could not work at all. If she is dissipated by attending to outward acts, this is bound to weaken her inward work. For at this birth God needs and must have a vacant free and unencumbered soul, containing nothing but Himself alone, and which looks to nothing and nobody but Him.

—ME, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 2, pages 42-43

 Shut thy door, he says.

 This is the action of shutting out outward influences. It’s common for those who teach meditation to speak about turning thought, and the need to accept it; Christ indicates that here. The door of Being needs to be shut to outward influences in order to come into a new relationship with the Lord:

And so in this way you must cast aside all your deeds and silence your faculties, if you really wish to experience this birth in you. If you would find the newborn king, you must outstrip and abandon all else that you might find. 

—ME, ibid, Sermon 2, page 43

 Pray to thy father which is in secret, he says.

Ah,  This is so different than what we expect in outward life, where we pray with and in front of others, and show how we pray.

It is a kind of devotion that becomes so personal it becomes a surrender of ourselves. So much so that a taste of this makes outward prayer seem like a sin; and only one who tastes this food can know what that means.

How complete, you may ask, must this devotion be? Again, we turn to Meister Eckhart:

But if a man knows himself to be well trained in true inwardness, then let him boldly drop all outward disciplines, even those he is bound to and from which neither pope nor bishop can release him. From the vows a man has made to God none can release him, but they can be turned into something else: for every vow is a contract with God. But if a man has taken solemn vows of such things as prayer, fasting, or pilgrimage, if he then enters some order, he is released from them, for in the order he is vowed to goodness as a whole, and to God Himself. And so I say the same here: Whatever a man's vows to manifold things, by entering into true inwardness he is released from them. As long as this inwardness lasts, be it a week, a month, or a year, none of this time is lost by the monk or nun, for God, who has captured and imprisoned them, must answer for it. On returning to himself, a man should perform his vows for the time present; but as for what you may think you have neglected in the preceding time, you need not bother to make it up, for God Himself will make it up for the period during which He caused you to be idle. You should not wish to make it up by any act of creatures, for the least act of God outweighs all the works of creatures. 

—ME, ibid, Sermon 3, pages 52-53.

We shut the door to outward things so completely and thoroughly that no matter what our vows — even if they be holy ones — we are released from them, because the vows we take to life, to outward this, to creatures (all creation) are not subject to the laws of prayer and inwardness. In order to enter a perfect union with us in prayer, God allows us to give up every vow we have made, even those to God himself, in order to bond with him. No outward actions can compensate for what is needed in the inmost prayer.

 I say that this inmost prayer makes outward prayer seem like a sin, because my outwardness, as it is, contains none of God — and this is what Meister Eckhart is getting at. 

 The kingdom of heaven is like vessels made to hold water. For a vessel meant to contain water, all of the rain in the world means nothing; it is only that water which reaches the vessel and fills it that has meaning, because the purpose of the vessel is not to sit in the rain; it is to hold water.

 Thy father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly, He says.

 It is known by now that this is inaccurately rendered, and that the word openly was added sometime in the middle ages. Although it is often suspected of being the egregious error of a monk who could not understand what possible good being rewarded in secret would be, I believe the person who added it may have meant, by the word openly, freely — that is, that one becomes open to receive the rewards of Being through the Lord, freely, that is, without restraint.

The action of the inmost prayer is to be opened without restraint, to accept an energy that has no boundaries and that does not submit to definitions.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Observations on prayer, part III: Prayer as vibration… the nature of inner transformation, and the organic instruction of prayer

Prayer plays a role in the development of the inner octave; that is, it is a raising of the rate of vibration from within. 

Everything that exists is, of course, at its heart, vibration; and yet our inner tones are impure. In the cyclical development of Being according to the enneagram, after we reach the moment of “real I,” of Being, denoted at note sol or the number 5, we then proceed onwards to 7, la, which represents purification. 

Invoking the enneagram may not be necessary. What one needs above all to understand is simple enough: a human being needs to acquire Being, and then purify it. To acquire Being means, among other things, to take responsibility: and what the word responsible means is, one enters into a covenant with the Lord whereby one becomes responsive, that is, acknowledges His Presence, and agrees that response is needed. 

One must attend; one must have an attention, and one must acquire an intention to have an intention.

This is to become responsible; and then one must acknowledge one’s insufficiency, which is where prayer comes in.

Impurities of Being, understood from the technical point of view of vibration, are lower vibrations that disrupt and degrade higher ones; and the action of prayer can be seen hereby as a tuning, an attenuation of impurity through the judicious application of refined and corrective vibration. 

Typically, of course, we see prayer as a sound we make, consisting of words; and yet prayer is so much more. Prayer is expressed in many ways, both inner and outer, each one conforming to a righting of vibration, a correction. When one actively prays, one organically senses the rightness; and this organic sense of Being is what guides the action and type of prayer. Asanas and mudras are a form of prayer; but ones that need to arise naturally in order to be effective. That is to say, no outwardly imposed program of asanas or mudras serves; the positions must be assumed from within, according to an inner authority and its covert instruction. The mind need not interfere here, since the organic instruction of prayer teaches what is needed by itself— and then, only gives what is truly necessary.

So prayer is a whole thing; it doesn’t just consist of words, or a position of the body, or an emotional attitude: it takes place within Being, according to availability. As I discover prayer — that is, as my inner conditions become more available to the flow of the Lord — in those moments, prayer manifests appropriately. Prayer is, in other words, a spontaneous and intermittent action, not a planned and programmed event. It’s permissible and even desirable to have plans and programs; but one should learn to sense one’s inner relationship to a plan or a program, which is a form, as opposed to the living action of prayer, which isn’t. Prayer is a response; and it is a response to Presence. Real prayer takes place when one develops an alignment to the higher energy; and one can always know the absolute presence of real prayer through the humility it brings. 

If it begins with humility; it may lead to remorse.  

If it develops remorse, it may lead to anguish.  

And if it leads to anguish — then, maybe I will see something true.

This is the trajectory of prayer, in so far as there is one.  It is a seeing, but not a seeing with the eyes.  


Monday, January 12, 2015

Observations on prayer, part II: the discovery of prayer

Prayer must be discovered within Being.

What this means is that we contain prayer within ourselves quite naturally; and yet it is covered up in us, concealed. True prayer arises from the natural contact of the soul with God; this takes place where God flows into the soul, and from this sacred place, prayer wells up as an inevitable consequence; perhaps, even, not so much a consequence, which implies cause and effect, but as a necessity, which stands before causes and effects.

When the Lord enters, prayer is effortlessly revealed; and without Him, there are only words. 

Words alone can’t make prayer; it is a whole action in Being, and this is why it’s so terribly difficult to pretend that the prayers we say to one another, for example, before mealtimes have anything to do with actual prayer, living prayer. Action in Being constitutes a contact with, and expression of, the living energy of the Holy Spirit, which ought to be the aim of every inner practice. There are different words for this, of course… prana comes to mind… and in the Gurdjieff work, it is often just referred to as "an energy,” although this sells it far short of its actual nature, which is the living flow of God into Being. 

The Holy Spirit is called Holy because it is inherently sacred, that is, a direct Presence of God; and it is called Spirit because it is the active and personal arrival of the Lord within Being, as in the action of breath itself. Spirit is in fact breath; and when it arrives, we quite literally breathe in, breathe with, the Holy Spirit, because this is how it arrives and feeds us—through spiritual breath, that is, a finer kind of breathing that must not be taken literally and within the context of the mechanics of our lungs, but rather through the entire living presence of our flesh itself, which is to the last cell imbued with the Presence of the Lord through this breathing in of His Spirit.

This is personal, that is, it asks that we assume the role of an actor—a persona— and that role is to take on the Presence of God, who then acts within and through us. 

This is a subtle point and I do not expect readers to so easily grasp it; yet one ought to mark it well. 

I say that it is discovered because the organic experience of prayer within us is forcefully covered by personality; it is a hidden entity. One might also say it is encrypted, since its presence is perpetual, yet masked; and the whole point of inner work is, in its essence, the eventual unmasking of this aspect of Being, because prayer ultimately brings one back into, and then preserves, relationship with God.

Stating this as a sequential process is a bit misleading, because there is no actual sequence to the arrival and maintenance of the Presence. One wishes to maintain it, yes; and one fervently hopes through prayer that it may be maintained: in fact, one even senses that prayer is helpful in such maintenance. Yet Presence always operates under its own law and rules, and perhaps one might say we pray simply to acknowledge my insufficiency, to admit my place to myself.

I admit place to myself because, of course, God already knows my place; I am the one who needs to be reminded, and god has given me the tonic and remedy of prayer for this purpose. 

God does not need my prayers; God is in need of nothing, for He is whole and sufficient unto Himself. I need my prayers; and I need them first to organically remind myself that I am not God.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Observations on prayer, part I

Several readers have asked me recently for some commentary on prayer.

I’ve participated in, and read about, many forms of prayer, but in the end I think this is an intensely personal subject. So I will just offer the readership my own direct observations and experience, no more than an infinitesimal drop in the oceans of comment people have written over the years on this subject.

I don’t like to pray in public, except as part of a formal group and in a formal context, such as church, whereby the community… whichever community it may be… agrees to engage in the formal ritual. 

Outside that form, which is well established, prayer ought to be an intensely private matter, not taught to others; prayer is so personal as to be sexual in nature, and one cannot engage in it outwardly without perpetually risking an excursion into a certain kind of pornography. To me, it is repellent; and yet society strangely demands it of us. Prayer, as I said earlier, cannot be taught; it must instead be discovered, which is an entirely different matter.   

On the form of prayer

Gurdjieff pointed out that the prayers in today’s church are actually very ancient forms; and this is true. If there is one thing traditions do effectively, it is preserve information; that is what they are for, and the very rigidity they impose on the outer world (that lamentable rigidity of form!) is exactly what enables them to preserve important… even vital… information that might otherwise be lost. Their strong resistance to change is the internal “immune system” that prevents infection of the preserved knowledge by outside ideas. The contradiction is evident. We fault traditions for rigidity; yet we ought to thank them for it. Rigidity is needed; one just need know what it is for, and where to use it. You would not, for example, want to cross a flaccid bridge over a deep chasm; yet we are all over a deep chasm, and most of us is flaccid.

This rigidity can, of course, work against, as well as for, a living tradition; because change and movement are necessary if any tradition is to remain alive in the times it lives in. Yet so often people attempt to change tradition through outward form; and it is the inner tradition, the way that tradition speaks to one’s inward parts, that really matters. 

Prayer and hymnal—for this, too, is an integral part of prayer, all prayer being in its essence vibration—have been handed down since ancient times. There is little doubt that some of the ideas, forms, and tonalities we encounter today in modern churches and temples repeat the echoes—sometimes not just faint, but even powerful echoes—of prayers that go back to the temples of ancient Mesopotamia, India, and Egypt—and even earlier. When we pray in churches and temples are are participating in rituals so ancient we can imagine them in their original forms from perhaps even as much as 10,000 or more years ago. We reach back into time, and the collective unconscious of humanity, as we reach into prayer. Yet in prayer we don't just reach into time and the collective unconscious of humanity; we dare to stare into that chasm beneath us, and into the endless heavens above, hoping to become aware of where we are.

The prayers of churches and temples preserve very ancient understandings, from times when man’s conception of the world was far more inward and less driven by our modern obsession with technology.   In those days, mankind understood that we don't know where we are; today,  in our unbridled arrogance, we think we can know. 

Higher truths were embodied in these ancient, more humble prayers; and we still encounter these prayers, essentially unchanged, in the liturgy of the modern Catholic church. So this is a good place to turn for some basic understandings. 

Prayer, however, always needs to be understood, in the end, through inner revelation. Outward teachings about prayer are, forever, window dressing; prayer in a human being does not exist until it arises from within, through the secret wellsprings of the soul. Prayer must, in a word, transcend its outward form and move from the impersonal (the outer form) into the personal. 

The outward form of prayer serves as an introduction to the inward form; and some elements of it can be quite useful. Yet if the motivational force is outward, the effect is outward; and prayer ought to be pursued for its inner effect, not its outer. In order for this to take place, a new and different kind of sensitivity must first arise.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

The soul is whole, part III

Some masters would hold that the soul is only in the heart. That is not so, and some great masters have erred in this. The soul is whole and undivided, at once in the foot, in the eyes and in every member.
—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, P. 341

A reader asks: 

I was wondering; what is the connection between this, and when one says that we need to sense every atom of our body? Also, what is the connection between soul, Real I, and essence?

So now we come to my reader’s questions.

The connection between this and the sensing of every atom is one’s body lies deep within one’s cells, which are capable of a very different kind of inner sensation than what we ordinarily think of—and experience— as touch, hot, cold, etc.

Cells are able, from their level, to sense the whole of their parts in the same way that Gurdjieff taught his pupils to sense all of their parts: in a conscious manner, whereby they sense with the cellular emotions, cellular intellect, and cellular physiology. This of course sounds odd, and yet it is exactly lawful according to the manner in which each level reflects exactly the same laws, activities, and capacities, as configured to that level. 

So cells can be conscious and have a whole, conscious sense of Being—just as people can. This is, for them, three centered Being, or, conscious Being. 

The experience of this is quite a surprise, and nothing can reasonable prepare a person for it, since the experience itself, while lawful and consistent, is very nearly unknown to sciences and generally obscure even to the majority of esotericists and religious practitioners.

Let us make it a bit more clear. Our cells, can, within the context of their world, acquire real I. "Real I" is a property that belongs to each level, not just this one.

The development of the soul, and its contact with God, bring the cellular world into alignment with this principle: and of course that’s necessary, since conscious Being extends above us and below us. When God touches our soul; He touches our soul at every level: the higher level where it lies right next to Him; and the lower level beneath us. There is no way for God to touch us in any other manner, since God touches everything, or nothing: it’s not as though He engages in half-measures.

When one says “I” sense every atom in my body, already, this is incorrect: because “I” doesn’t have this ability. By the time such a moment arises already one sees there is a way of Being quite different than the ordinary at hand; and this isn’t the way “I” am. 

It encompasses.

The terms soul, Real I, and essence are all rough approximations for entities and inner experiences that are in fact nearly impossible to express in words; what we get when we use them is very rough approximations, which sketch an outline, no more. Keeping that in mind, one might say the following:

The soul is that intimate part closest to God; it is animated by and exists at the command of the Divine Being of God. 

Real I is the lower part that can sense this level above, and the level beneath—the middle way.

Essence is the Being of our cellular nature. 

Hence the soul is elevated, lofty; Real I inhabits the earth, our flesh and blood; and essence is grounded deep in the granular soil of our being. 

Each one participates, when active, in a comprehensive field of Being.



Friday, January 9, 2015

The soul is whole, part II

Red Bellied Woodpecker, Sparkill, NY

Some masters would hold that the soul is only in the heart. That is not so, and some great masters have erred in this. The soul is whole and undivided, at once in the foot, in the eyes and in every member.
—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, P. 341

A reader asks: 

I was wondering; what is the connection between this, and when one says that we need to sense every atom of our body? Also, what is the connection between soul, Real I, and essence?

Today we take up Eckhart's second comment:

That is not so, and some great masters have erred in this. 

Eckhart speaks here from experience; and what his experience consists of is the sensation of the soul.

The soul is not an ephemeral or transient entity; it isn’t a feeling, or a thought, or a mere sensation, like burping. It is a living consciousness that expresses itself within the body.

I know some readers may be quite interested in exactly what I mean by this, in the same way that they are interested in what I say about the divine inflow; and so I’ll try to expound on this as accurately as I can.

While the sensation of the soul does indeed consist (as Jeanne de Salzmann advises us) of a sensory impression of a finer energy, it is an impression that carries a wholeness of Being in it. 

This wholeness of Being consists not only of a sensory impression I receive in and of itself, within my body; it is an impression that is infinitely greater than me, and which carries an inwardly formed presence about the nature of divinity, and contact with it, that is so fine as to be beyond expression—except by that tactile moment in which the actual touch of God comes. 

In this instant there is an entire expression of Being which is not my Being; it describes the distinction between what is mine and what is of God. 

There is a fineness to this impression that cannot be countenanced; one cannot put a face on the divine, and the touch itself makes this clear.

So as one receives this impression, one understands at once how the soul is in every part: the foot, the eyes, and every member, as Eckhart says. Each of these members is an actual (not metaphorical) expression of one or another characteristic of heaven, and of God—what Swedenborg called correspondences—and each one is thus fully able to receive impressions of God, and heaven, according to the nature of their correspondence. This means that God speaks differently through each part, and almost never with words—this is not His true language, which is a language of proximity, not verbs and nouns and adjectives. It is as different as saying the words I love you and the actual touch of one’s lover. The one lies as dull and still on the beach as dried seaweed; the other moves from within like a wave with sunlight on it. 

Hence one receives impressions through all of the parts; the soul being in all of the parts, all parts of the body, and of Being, may be touched by God. 

As these contacts arise, by turn, they will test a soul, because God and His angels want nothing more than to see quite precisely what the nature of the soul may be; first, to evaluate it, and second, to educate it. The action requires physical—neurological—contact.

This education is not an occasion for bliss, since God touches us mostly to correct our defects, which are many. (Of course, the reason God does not touch people very often at all is that one can’t be touched without one’s consent, since God will never coerce—and most of us live in perpetual abject terror that God will suddenly come and find us as we are, not understanding how absolutely loving He is.)

Well then. Very few masters, as it happens, understand this aspect of God, which is why they err in establishing His location within the body. They talk well and wisely; but talk isn't enough; and they come to the question first of all limited by tradition, and second by their own thinking; whereas the Lord educates not according to our own thinking, but His own.

Eckhart clearly understood these questions from an entirely practical and experiential point of view, because there is no other way to understand them.