• January 31, 2020

    The most important tool for work on self is attention. Without access to attention, there is no work.

    Perhaps you think you can develop your attention, that you can have more attention if you make efforts. There are qualities that can be developed over time with effort but, in my experience, attention is not one of them.

    The secret to accessing more attention is to observe and understand inattention. This is yet another example of the via negativa. The problem is that the ‘me’ that would practice attention is itself the source of inattention…the source of distraction. Attention itself is not a property of the ordinary world and it is not something that can be manipulated by the elements of this world for more than a few moments. Instead, can I observe my tendency to be distracted?

    Attention is a natural function of the universe by which it establishes connections with itself. Attention is the very life of the universe, the means for knowing itself in its particulars. This will not make sense to you until it is part of your experience.

    One thing I can do to enhance my access to attention is to clean up the vestiges of past attention. I leave behind me a trail of connections which are held by attention…things promised but not completed, unnecessary worries, possessiveness about things like a car, a wallet, a future meeting and so on. Can I lift attention from these small fixations when it is not needed there? Is this something I ‘do’ or is this simply allowing attention to call itself back from the places where it has been left and is no longer needed or where it is not needed now?

    Let’s call this ‘retrieval’. Can I retrieve misplaced attention? Can I invoke attention and then allow it to call to itself the scattered bits of itself that are not needed where they are? Obviously, this does not include removing attention where it is properly placed on people, things and tasks you are committed to.

    Invocation of attention is a potent tool. Attention can attend to itself. In fact, only attention can attend to itself; everything else is too slow.

    The secret? Learn how to summon attention and learn how to submit to it. Presence is your reward.

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  • 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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  • March 14, 2019

    In ordinary life, we seem to experience two realities. One of them is physical reality. Another is the reality of our emotional-mental space. The second reality is the one that gets almost all my attention.

    Do I notice the quality of sunlight, the presence of trees, the continuity of the building on the corner which is there every day? Yes, but mostly in passing. In my ‘inner’ world, I am continually thinking and reacting, experiencing my likes and dislikes, my wants, my fears and expectations. These occupations appear to be as permanent as the physical world ‘out there’, or that is how I treat them, but they are not. They are of my own making.

    It seems to me that the aim of work on self is to find that the inner world, the one where I expend most of my time and attention, can be changed in a fundamental way. The key is to find my habitual emotional reactions�not just the big, fat ones full of ‘sturm und drang’ but also, and more importantly, the smaller habits…of avoidance, giving up, feeling sorry for myself, impatience, pointless irritation, petty anxiety and so on. Each of these is a tool with a handle. Seeing them arise and turning them along a different path shifts my world fundamentally.

    In a state of no-work-on-self, I take the world as a given and I fight against it to get the outcome I want, often unsuccessfully. In a state of work-on-self, I observe and change my reactions, using them to shift my world at the point of contact, to find greater fluidity and new possibilities. The world becomes more workable. This is a great benefit of impartial observation of self.

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  • November 17, 2018

    What is the role of sacrifice in this work?

    At some point in your work on self, you may discover the mysterious power of sacrifice. To me, sacrifice belongs to the old ways, the ancient traditions which once shaped our understanding of our place in the world. Now, it is largely forgotten if not rejected…having been superseded by a more user-friendly sense of personal evolution with a minimum of pain.

    I do not wish to make a logical assessment of sacrifice…what it means or how it works….just some observations.

    That for which I make sacrifice is made more valuable; its power is enhanced by the value of what has been sacrificed to it. The message of Jesus has survived 2000 years because of his voluntary sacrifice. Without Easter, who would remember Christmas?

    Genuine sacrifice seems to require that it be voluntary but I am not certain this is so.

    Sacrifice for my own benefit is not sacrifice but a kind of bargaining or exchange. To sacrifice I must lose something of value to me without compensation. Yet, there is also a sacrifice of substitutes, where I may give up a personal attachment in order to come closer to my Friend.

    When an impasse is reached and there appears to be no way out, sacrifice may be called for, to break the stalemate. A sacrifice releases energy and opens up fixed positions. In this case, the sacrifice may need to be known but there are other times when it must be hidden so as not to attract the notice and approval of others.

    Sacrifice that engenders resentment or self-importance is not real sacrifice and would better not be made.

    Every kind of work can lose its virtue when mixed with human fears and ambitions…burnt offerings to propitiate the gods, for example. There are no rules to follow here. You must discern the murmurings of your heart to find a gesture which is sacred, one which lifts the spirit.

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  • May 24, 2018

    One of the mysteries of zikr is that it seems to take place in another country which is not known to me in my ordinary state.

    In my everyday life, I know where I am.  I have a physical and psychological orientation, a map of my personal territory, which is as fixed as a street address. My movements take place around a few locations. I am placed within my tasks, my obligations. My life is a construction of things learned, past events, failures and successes, relationships won and lost. A thousand associations and habits keep me in my place.

    There are things that I do and things I do not or cannot do. The culture says I can be or do whatever I want if I follow my dream. This is foolish. Clearly I have limits in my life and whether they are self-imposed or imposed by others, many of these limits are real and true. A street address says not only where you are but also where you are not. I learn that there are places that are not for me.

    Work on self begins to peel away the layers of this onion, separating true from false. Impartial observation begins to whittle away at the reactions, judgments and justifications which maintain my location. Inwardly, I gain degrees of freedom from self. The world becomes larger. I find that there is an ‘I’ that is not constructed, not limited by a local fixed address and this ‘I’ explains the best of my doings.

    Work on self is not self-improvement but rather deconstruction, from the outside in. That is one direction for change. It is slow but certain.

    Zikr is in another direction. Its location is not in my ordinary world and I can’t get there when I am myself.

    Can I simply step outside of myself? This may seem illogical. For it to be true, I must magically be that ‘I’ which is not part of the construction, temporarily leaving it behind. How is this possible?

    The present is a crack in the cosmic egg. Without past and future, now being all the time there is, my presence is called to be, replacing my identities. ‘I’ enter. Can I can enter the present so fully that I no longer have a fixed address? This is what zikr is. This transition is made possible by several factors. First, it is most helpful to have a special space that is removed from my ordinary life, a chamber oriented by repeated use to have access to another country. These spaces are in part made by our efforts but it is also true that they are first found to exist because they are aligned to factors outside of the ordinary world.

    Second, it is most useful to have the collected attention of a number of participants. This creates an attractive consort for the forces that can assist the zikr and attract them.

    Third, I must be willing to surrender myself and cease to be the center, the active agent.

    Finally, I must ask for the transition. This is invocation which is, along with attention, a great and inexplicable mystery.

    These factors attract help of another kind. I am drawn into contact with another reality.

    Last night, entering the zikr chamber, sitting together, watching the breath, a subtle presence entered.

    It is sometimes possible to re-cognize the nature of a guest, to know it as one knows something of oneself. I cannot re-cognize a stranger, only someone known to me.

    The one who has entered is the Friend. Who is the Friend? The Friend is that one who is more me than I am. A friend is remembered. This Friend is remembered. His signature is always there in me even though I constantly forget.

    Can I open myself to my Friend without reservation, allowing Him to search every corner of myself, to see every bit of deceit and arrogance? This exposure is a whole sensing of who I am without Him. It is a great relief to admit this search, to allow my secrets to be seen. It brings us closer.

    Zikr is in the heart tonight. It aches with pleasure.

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  • January 9, 2018

    The aim of work on self is dis-identification. The means is impartial observation of self in my life. It is clear from doing this work that identification is sleep, loss of will, slavery to habits, a loss of my capacities.

    It therefore follows that to become less identified is to achieve greater fulfillment and satisfaction, does it not? It does not. Being unidentified, unidentified and therefore being, is true, when it is true, in the moment it arises. And then I fall into identification again. But not as before. Because now identification is not innocent, not easily justified, not satisfying but deeply disappointing.

    Falling into a habitual identity is contracting, painful, shameful. The reliable motivations of sleep slowly wither leaving…questions, doubt, disenchantment, inaction. When spontaneously present, these issues have no substance, they are swept away by responsiveness to the possibilities of the present. But when I fall, I do not have a comfortable, self-indulgent, self-important self to catch me.

    Once I have left the matrix often enough, I cannot go back. I cannot stay where I am; the pain is too great. I can only go forward. May a way forward be shown to me.

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