• April 4, 2019

    I get the impression that service to the Absolute…what Gurdjieff called world maintenance…is not supposed to be the same thing as service to humanity. I’m uncomfortable with this. I think dedicated service to humanity is the best we can expect from ourselves and is really service to the Absolute.

    Let’s begin by asking ‘who do I serve?’ This is not a theoretical question. I cannot serve beyond my understanding. Do I understand what it means to serve humanity? Do I understand what it means to serve the Absolute?

    Do I ‘love’ humanity but have very little patience for human beings? Do I really have any connection to humanity unless I know my own humanity…what I share with all others of my species?

    These questions point to the absolute importance of first undertaking work on self. I do not know my humanity. I do not know myself. I have all sorts of ideas about humanity and the ideal of serving it, perhaps by working with the poor or the sick. I would like to think I can alleviate their suffering. I would like to think I can change the world.

    But I fail to see that I am unreliable, that my motives almost always serve my ego. I fail to see that I must begin at the beginning, by knowing myself impartially, which changes me and my relationships with everything and everyone.

    I think it is possible to commit to serving people in our life…not ‘humanity’ but rather actual human beings…and use that commitment as a means for observing self. Take on work for others in order to work on self. Perhaps you think that this is too self-focussed but how can you expect to change the lives of those around you if you do not work to change your own? In this way, service to others supports your work on self.

    As for service to the Absolute, this is not for everyone. It is not an aim I can adopt for myself. Do I have a sense of His Existence? Do I feel His Presence calling me to Himself? I think it is not for us to know the meaning and value of our service to the Absolute but, as the Sufis say, He knows best.

    As always, the use of traditional pronouns in English does not confer a gender on the Absolute Who is beyond all such distinctions and differences.

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  • December 3, 2017

    You have heard me say that sensing has immense importance in this work. Obviously sensing is the means by which we know and interact with our world. Our physical bodies are exquisitely sensitive displays of information about our environment. Sensing also tells us about our own physical state. Sensations are data. Can you accept this data or do you reject it?

    Sensing puts us in touch with the present and anchors the attention, which counterbalances the tendency of the thinking apparatus to steal attention and suppress perception and inhabit the past or the future.

    You have (hopefully) also heard me say that sensing enables us to monitor and transform the energies of the body, a process that enables us to waken higher faculties. Sensations are food. Are you able to digest this food?

    Sensing is a real experience…at its most basic, the movement of electrical and chemical processes through the nervous system. Sensing is the physiological capacity of organisms to provide data for perception. Being 21st century humans, we allow the thinking machine to structure this experience and even replace it. We like to think that we are sensing when really we are thinking about sensing. When I ask you to place attention on sensation, how many of you think about a part of the body you have decided to sense and then try to sense it through the medium of your thinking?

    Can you make use of thought to place attention and then withdraw thinking, allowing attention to penetrate sensation directly? Attention can then read many sensations at once and its unmediated interaction with sensation leads to most interesting energetic effects.

    Sensations are not emotions but thinking often associates sensations with past events which have emotional content. A sensory reaction then becomes an emotion. Can you take every sensation simply as data, impartially?

    The questions I am posing point to the use of sensations as the basis for our work on self. Without them at the center, we are just another philosophical school indulging in useless mental gymnastics.

    The bonus for impartial sensing is that you may discover that you have many more sensations than you thought. Have you considered this? You should be able to find more than a dozen different senses, not just the standard five. There is a sense organ, or sensor, dedicated to each sense. There is vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch, the five traditionally recognized ones. Our external sensory capacities also include temperature, movement or kinesthetic sense, pain, balance and vibration.

    Perhaps there are still more…the sensation of floating or weightlessness, claustrophobia or suffocation. Pulse and breathing. There are also internal sensations such as hunger, thirst and organic fear. Some people say we can sense abnormal salt and carbon dioxide concentrations in the blood. Some of us are able to sense electrical and magnetic fields. And what about the sensations that do not seem to depend upon a specific organ such as time, familiarity, perhaps even the sense of initiating an action?

    Can you get out of your head and into your sensations? My guess is that you will find that some of these sensations are operating in you just beyond your noticing but nonetheless having a significant impact on your experience of the world and self. It’s not that you need to name them. But if you allow them into your consciousness, integrate them into your experience, you may be able to be more voluntary, even harmonious.

    Perhaps certain places or circumstances give rise to the sensations of suffocating. Can you bring this impartially to awareness so you can deal with it?

    The early stages of zikr are about integrating sensations and bringing them into alignment with each other, especially pulse and breath together with hearing, the vibrations of sound in the body and making subtle rhythmic movements. Attention fully engages with sensing and the effect is cleansing…inharmonious sensations are pacified and made compatible with prayer and invocation. This is one of the meanings of remembering self.

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  • November 13, 2016

    I propose that tonight we inquire into the nature of impartiality, that quality that is regarded as so important in our work on self. Let us suppose that two of you are having an argument and I am asked to be impartial. What does this mean?

    I think it means not taking sides, not caring if one person is right or the other.

    By saying impartiality is not caring, I believe you have confused it with indifference, which is I think what many people do. Indifference has its place, it is a very powerful state as we have discussed, but it is not impartiality.

    Not taking sides is a useful insight. What happens when we take sides? We become a part of the drama. The side we choose derives energy from our support; even if we keep our bias to ourselves, the side we choose is strengthened in our own minds. The side we oppose may be energized by our opposition if we make our position known. Having taken sides, we are now invested in the conflict. We are no longer able to discern the facts because our brains and nervous systems begin to filter our perceptions. Do we believe what we see or do we see what we believe? Is it not usually the latter?

    This suggests that if you are impartial, you see both sides equally.

    I’m not sure about ‘equally’ so let’s leave that aside. If I am impartial, I see both sides as they are, their pain, their sorrow, their joy. It is really caring about all the aspects of the conflict and everyone involved. To be impartial means not in parts, not partially, but rather seeing the whole situation.

    As a group, we have performed the invocation of the Watcher. The Watcher is impartial. He or she is all perception and no conception. This state is enormously powerful for the one who invokes it.

    What impact does it have on the watched, do you think?

    I guess you would feel very exposed, if you were aware of it.

    Yes. In an argument, you are identified. You have a side. You want everyone to take sides because that way your identity is confirmed.

    What happens if there is a truly impartial witness to the event? Do you catch a glimpse of your own identification? Does the significance of your argument diminish?

    One of the ways our work can make a difference in this world is to be an impartial witness. This is not a matter of indifference but of utmost care not to become identified and therefore partial. In this state, there is great feeling, real empathy for all.

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  • July 4, 2016

    I find that I do not feel very much compassion for the less fortunate, the victims of terrorism and so on. Perhaps I have no heart?

    If you find compassion in your life, it will be in your immediate surroundings, among the beings you meet, not events on the news. Compassion is shared feeling, not just shock or pity.

    Before you can have a heart, you must expose your heartlessness. Before you can have compassion, you must see your hatred and intolerance. To have success on this path, we must go ‘by way of the negative’, not asserting what we want but rather exploring what is. To find compassion, explore its opposite because that is something you can know with certainty, as you are.

    The ancient masters said: “The undesirable must be relinquished before the desirable can be attained.” We would all like to set out on a wonderful journey to remake ourselves in the image of our ideal. The journey must begin where we are.

    I cannot make compassion. It arises naturally in a heart which is not preoccupied with me, my wants, my thoughts, my reactions and, especially, my ideals. There is nothing less compassionate than an idealist.

    What do you mean?

    Idealists want the world to conform to their ideas. By its nature, idealism has the arrogance of prejudice and judgment. It looks to the future rather than the present. It makes the perfect the enemy of the good.

    What does it mean to relinquish?

    To relinquish is to voluntarily cease to keep or claim…to give up. This is the key. The problem is that we involuntarily hold on to the things we most want to change. With one hand we reject them, but with the other we hold them fast. This struggle occurs in the nervous system, electrically and chemically, the result of conditioning. It’s an addiction of sorts. Who would we be without this struggle?

    Relinquish the undesirable, it is said. Begin by observing yourself, not afterwards or analytically but in real time. Learn to adopt an impartial attitude—it is more important to see what arises in you than to influence it, judge it or defend it.

    You will begin to see the habitual linkages of sensation and thought that hold you together as you are. You will begin to uncover the self-images and personal narratives that get you through the day. They have been there all along, running in the background, influencing nearly every thought and action, nearly every posture and gesture. When you have seen one such pattern long enough, when you have exhausted all your emotional reactions to it, when all that’s left is a subtle distaste for what you see, you will be ready to relinquish. It is a death of self, one of many on the way. In my understanding, this work is never finished.

    Does something desirable arise after an undesirable thing has been relinquished? Surprisingly, it does.

    Related Post:

    Objectivity – July 29, 2015

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  • June 26, 2016

    I think that one of the greatest challenges we face in our lives is isolation. What does this work say about isolation?

    First, can you explore the sensations of isolation? Can you inquire into the state objectively?

    It would be easy to think that isolation means not having contact with other people and that the solution is to have contact with others. But if you explore the state objectively, you may find that isolation is not about the need for others. It’s about you.

    When I experience isolation, I am focused on myself. I am thinking about myself. I am not sensing my environment. I am not able to access feeling. My isolation is self-created, it’s identification with an aspect of self, a psychological state characterized by self-absorption.

    To feel isolated is to be disconnected. Disconnected from what? Perhaps attention? Can you shift attention?

    Consider this. Isolation is personal. To exit isolation, exit the personal.

    Impartial attention exists in all places and times. It instantly connects all that it touches. It is the matrix of unity.

    Partial attention, attention appropriated by the head brain, funneled through the narrow portal of the personality, focused on self, reinforces separateness. Do not take attention into the person…step out into the greater field of attention.

    It is the impersonal, the formless, the abstract, the metaphysical, that removes isolation. See what happens when you enter presence. Is it possible to be a uniquely existing exactness without having boundaries? That is what presence is, that’s what it is to be unidentified. No boundaries.

    The abstract is the glue that permeates and holds everything in relationship. It is the universal origin of all apparent individuations.

    Related Post:

    The Abstract – Mar 14, 2016

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  • June 8, 2016

    Sometimes I get very emotional in my reactions to other people. What is my responsibility for the impact my reactions have on others?

    First, you are only truly responsible for what you do voluntarily. You may be held accountable for your reactions but it would be a stretch to say you are responsible. Your reactions are just that, reactions. They are produced automatically so why pretend otherwise? You could try to repress your expressions, which could possibly prevent communicating the emotional effect to others, but there are many unhelpful consequences of repression, as we have discussed before.

    As a member of the work group, you are responsible for attempting to observe your reactions impartially. To observe impartially, you must not repress. Why is that? Repression is hiding your reactions, is it not? Repression is almost always the result of judgment and judgment does not allow impartial observation…it is the antithesis of it. Further, repression is a learned mechanical behavior which becomes just as involuntary as the reaction that is being repressed.

    As a member of the work group, you are also responsible for not blaming your reactions on others. Blaming others is not impartial and it also biases observation.

    After much impartial observation of self, you may come to know your reactions sufficiently well, and you may have developed such an indifference to them, that it may be possible not to express reactions AND not suppress them. Perhaps we can call this voluntary suppression. The impulse to react is held as energy, not expressed, neither defended nor rejected. Only then can it be said that you are responsible for the impact of your reactions on others.

    The likelihood is that joining a real work group will make you more reactive at first because the emphasis is no longer on being polite.

    There is no room for political correctness in a work group. The essence of political correctness is the idea that people have the right not to be offended by others. In a work group, you give others the right to offend you and you in turn have the right to offend. The right to offend is given because the opportunity to observe our mechanical selves in action has great value. It does not mean you set about to offend others for sport or pleasure. But it does mean that being offended is welcomed as a work opportunity, otherwise the work group is dead.

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