Work on self without God is merely self development and a waste of precious time.
May 21, 2023
September 11, 2022
Work on self is utterly dependent on observation of self, not just the big events of anger and fear but also the small flutterings of sensation that lie beneath my actions, words, thoughts and gestures. Ambitious people on the spiritual path overlook this fact. They are so busy trying to do the ‘work’ that they do not know they are not reliable enough to have a connection to it.
I must become reliable. What does this mean? I must see exactly what is going on in me and be able to shift it, even the most minute reactions, in real time. Failing this, I must be able to account for all my uneasiness…the residual disturbances of sensation…after the fact of making them, and correct them. Cleaning up the mess in aisle 6 as it were.
This knowing of self in not analytical. It is perceiving in real time. The why of it is an indulgence, a backward look. What is wanted is the ability to dance among my own phenomena, using them or dismissing them as they arise.
Attention, attention attention. I have no other genuine tool for transforming me.
January 23, 2022
Let me give you an example. Through the day, as I face events in my daily life, I remember things I have done and said in the past that are related to the present. I cringe at the memory of them. Secretly, I have interpreted my reaction as one of guilt for having done the wrong thing. But as I have observed my reaction carefully, objectively, I observe that guilt is a mischaracterization of my reaction and that is why forgiveness of self by myself or by others has had no effect.
Following the sensations of my reactions objectively, I observe that the sensations are really an expression of my dislike of making mistakes or imperfect gestures. In fact, my reactions are reactions of ego. As my attention penetrates my reactions without the false interpretation of guilt, I become more free of them and I observe that I am less affected by people and events that challenge my competence. I laugh at my foibles more easily and feel less pressure to perform perfectly. This change arises from observation, not effort or analysis.
January 1, 2022
This is a great question for today…the first day of a new year. Perhaps you are entertaining a New Year’s resolution to make greater efforts of some kind. Resolutions have some chance of success in the material world but I have never had much success with them in matters of the spirit.
Humans love to have certainty. If I do this, then this will happen. It’s linear. It assumes causality. I want a path that has a beginning and an end. And this works for improving my job performance or building a business. These accomplishments are incremental. But when it comes to understanding and matters of the heart, there is no time-bound series of steps.
Humans live in a multi-dimensional sea of uncertainty. There are far too many possibilities for a path. Possibilities come from all directions. The best resolution is to resolve not to assume that you know what is right or best. Can I allow life to come at me without habitual explanations and explanations? Can I take things to heart rather than to my head? Can I embrace uncertainty?
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.
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.