Solitude and Community

I’m beginning to suspect that the quality of a life is defined by how you deal with the gap between what you want and what life gives.   What did I want when I dropped all my work and went off on a retreat last week, agreeing to work in the kitchen all week no less?   I knew the working in the kitchen part would be a challenge, and believe me it was.  I think I went hoping for an insight or two that would help me open more to life, to be more creative.   Yet what I saw took me by surprise.   I realize has to be this way because moments of real insight–of really seeing into life–descend on a person like grace.   You can’t predict such moments because they aren’t on the same level as thought.   They come unexpectedly–and often, maybe especially, when we feel bereft inside.  Blessed are the poor in views and opinions.  They may glimspe a larger world.

One such a moment came to me when I found myself into a bee’s nest of reactions about the food and the cooking and the sense that I was perceived to be falling down in the junior managerial role I was expected to play.   The food was very lovely, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  Too much of it seemed precious, chosen from the pages of magazines, overly complicated, expensive.  The approach to the cooking itself seemed based on a chain-of-command model–and I was just not the first mate the captain expected.   I realized that I wanted to do way more with way less–to not not have all these complicated desserts (after lunch and dinner!)–to just work together and explore.  In a nutshell, my feelings were hurt and I reacted.

Then something happened.  Night after night, I lay sleepless, wondering why I was there.  I meant at a work period in the Catskills.  But Iwas also wondering what my life was for, what my real purpose or role might be.  Did I even have a role?   There came that electrically charged space between doubt and faith,  when it seemed that it was all a mistake, coming here, investing any kind of hope or meaning in life–and then the existential angst of the situation actually opened into a kind of vibrancy and freedom.  I was free from the burden of expectations.

Like someone else who commented here while I was gone, I too feel restive and uncomfortable when people talk too much and too reverently about what THEY say.  As extraordinary as our teachers may be, there comes a moment when we have to find our own next step.

The secret of motorcycle maintenance according to Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—and of living a life that has value—has to do with drawing our attention to the quality of what confronts us here and now. No matter what we are thinking about or doing, according to Pirsig, we can cultivate a double awareness—attentive to our thoughts and the work we are doing, yet sensitive to the quality of what is happening, to what is unknown.  The “dark night” moments I experienced last week were charged with a sense of the unknown.  It was like seeing a glow on the distant horizon.  There is more to know and more to be in this life, than are to be found in our fanciest thoughts and philosophy.

Sometimes life delivers great shocks that give us a taste of what it means to be open to quality, or a new quality.  Sometimes we just volunteer for the kitchen team.  Now I’m going to seem to contradict myself.  I had the incomparable gift of seeing that my perceptions and projections are not reality but I also came away with questions about the form, at least for me.  I have a question about solitude and community.  There is such an emphasis on the need to work together in the Gurdjieff Work, yet I need to know myself in solitude as well.   It seems a bit like breathing in and breathing out, like giving and receiving, like the tides.   At any rate, I feel that certain solitary pursuits like writing and walking lead towards that same unknown.

60 thoughts on “Solitude and Community

  1. Tracy,

    As usual, I am humbled by your skill with words and writing, Maybe even feeling a bit more than inadequate in this area, which will only help me to get better I hope. Still, I love reading what you have to say, and all your insights of course. I look forward to reading them each week, each one is like a cool cup of water offered to a thirsty desert traveler, a gift of graciousness.

    Thank You,

    1. Thank you, Ron. I really appreciate your contributions also. That feeling of being inadequate as a writer, I know it well! You are an excellent writer!

  2. “It [community and solitude] seems a bit like breathing in and breathing out, like giving and receiving, like the tides. At any rate, I feel that certain solitary pursuits like writing and walking lead towards that same unknown.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Community grounds us – without it, we risk slipping into magical thinking. Community is where the rubber (of who and how we want to be in the world) meets the road (of obstacles and challenges and those who push our buttons and make us temporarily forget who and how we want to be in the world). And solitude is where we build our muscle – where we connect to Source – so that we can live in community.

    Both are important. Too much community can pull us off-path. Solitude is where we most often discern our path and make course corrections. And the path leads back through community, until the next period of solitude…

  3. Community is where the rubber meets the road, and solitude is where we connect to Source. Thanks!

  4. Tracy, a wonderful post. It was meaningful to me because I too have the same questions and experiences. I too was at a Gurdjieff weekend that ended today and I found that the shocks, a foot that I injured can be the cause of understanding. And they certainly jar me out of my ruts. The questions that come are in fact openings into, or can be, an opening into another world. A question is a gift and usually for me come unexpectedly.

  5. Hi Tracy

    There is such an emphasis on the need to work together in the Gurdjieff Work, yet I need to know myself in solitude as well. It seems a bit like breathing in and breathing out, like giving and receiving, like the tides. At any rate, I feel that certain solitary pursuits like writing and walking lead towards that same unknown.

    Simone Weil describes a human being as like a plant. For it to grow as it should, its roots have to be nourished. A community such as a Gurdjieff group is arranged in a way that allows the roots to feed and open to higher influences and grace. These higher influences enter through Man’s higher parts just like the plant receives the light of the sun through its leaves. The roots and the leaves are complimentary connecting above and below. Taken together they can further the growth of the soul. Jacob Needleman writes in “Lost Christianity.”

    “What we need to learn is that merely to look at things as they are with bare attention can be a religious act.

    The principal power of the soul, which defines its real nature, is a gathered attention that is directed simultaneously toward the spirit and the body. This is attention of the heart, and this is the principal mediating, harmonizing power of the soul. The mediating attention of the heart is spontaneously activated in the state of profound self-questioning. God can only speak to the soul, Father Sylvan writes, and only when the soul exists. But the soul of man only exists for a moment, as long as it takes for the question to appear and disappear.”

    And of course Simone Weil writes: “When a contradiction is impossible to resolve except by a lie, then we know that it is really a door.”

    I wasn’t there but it seems to me that you were invited to experience a contradiction leading to a different quality of a question temporarily opening a door.

    Plato calls society itself the Beast. It is what it is and does not have a conscious future. Only individuals are capable of a conscious future and they do breath as you suggest. Their witnessing allows them receive from above and give to below not in words but in “substance.”

    I just received a newsletter from the American Weil Society. Information on next years colloquy is included:

    “I am also pleased to announce next year’s colloquy. It will be held at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, on March 22-25, 2012. This is a month earlier than we normally hold our meetings. Because of schedules at Notre Dame, there is no other option on the date. The theme of the colloquy will be “Simone Weil and the Forces of Grace and Gravity in Contemporary Social Life.” Papers are invited on this theme, but as usual all worthy proposals will be considered.”


    She uses “gravity” as the forces that keep humanity in Plato’s Cave and as Gurdjieff describes the World in chapter One of In Search of the miraculous. Grace is the light that allows a person to “know thyself” and to grow in conscious perspective.

    This question seems to be all around me including on your blog. It will be worthwhile for me to sincerely contemplate not only the question but why we loath it and the quality of attention required to profit from it preferring instead the validations of imagination.

    1. Hi Nick and friends,

      Nick is right. I did feel cornered at times in the kitchen last week. There seemed to be no nowhere to land, no solid ground inside myself. There was a powerful wish to find the right word or action that would create an opening would allow something new to arise. At moments, I tasted the ashes of my own insufficiency. There just didn’t seem to be anything in me to draw on, a few repetitive thoughts, a kind of aching, childlike sensitivity. But the moment I acknowledged this inner poverty, a new kind of energy and attention appeared. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

      There was the feeling that I had to leap because the building was on fire. I had to bring myself to the moment because there was nowhere else to go. (I considered leaving but I didn’t bring my own car.) At moments, I gave myself to life, dissolved myself into the situation with abandon. This is very different than just being quiet and observing. It means letting go, accepting that you and everyone else is reacting.

      AND, I saw and sensed that there was something about this particular team that had grown rigid, tightly identified with lovely objectives, unleavened by questions. It was good to experience but I also need open space and time. I need solitude as well as community.

  6. When man emerges from the gravity of the Cave into the grace of Reality, does man then have the moral responsibility to go back into the Cave and share his insight — in other words, can entirely private insights have any value at all, or are they just more stumbling blocks for the ego?

  7. Hi Lewis

    As I see it, objective morality (conscience?) Plato describes as soul knowledge. It would make sense that having experienced objective morality and the human condition as it is, it would be natural to go back into the cave for the sake of aiding the human condition through their presence. Soul knowledge I believe is higher truth. Private insights can either reflect soul knowledge or our acquired tendency to secularize it. From Plato’s Cave Analogy:

    [Socrates] Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.
    [Glaucon] What do you mean?
    [Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.
    [Glaucon] But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?
    [Socrates] You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.

    It does seem to make sense to me that higher levels of consciousness include the natural intent to help lesser levels of consciousness in their conscious evolution. For cave life it is oftenthe opposite. It could appear as an imposition on our self importance. When I read the following excerpt, it became obvious how deep we collectively are in Plato’s Cave. Such understanding is impossible for the Beast. As I see it, the great value for the world as a whole of these special people that objectively keep a conscious connection with the above alive in the World, is that the substance of their influence lessens the horrors natural for societal cycles like war.

    “The combination of these two facts – the longing in the depth of the heart for absolute good, and the power, though only latent, of directing attention and love to a reality beyond the world and of receiving good from it – constitutes a link which attaches every man without exception to that other reality. Whoever recognizes that reality recognizes that link. Because of it, he holds every human being without any exception as something sacred to which he is bound to show respect. This is the only possible motive for universal respect towards all human beings.” Simone Weil “Draft for A Statement of Human Obligations” SIMONE WEIL, AN ANTHOLOGY ed. Sian Miles
    I believe this question of the connection between solitude and the community is often taken superficially since the value of society for us now is overestimated and the benefits of solitude and developing our ability for both detachment and conscious attention necessary for the developing inner man is underestimated

  8. Do we go back into the cave to tell? Yes, I think we must, like a Bodhisattva in the desert who discovers an oasis. Who, instead of jumping head first into the water, goes back and leads his fellow travelers into the oasis.

    There is an assumption here of course that all will be thirsty, and then the question of how much they will all drink. Some will sip slowly, some will drink deeply, and some will be immersed and may even dissolve like sugar, into the water, as Rumi once wrote.

    Dissolver of sugar, dissolve me,
    if this is the time.
    Do it gently with a touch of a hand, or a look.
    Every morning I wait at dawn. That’s when
    it has happened before. Or do it suddenly
    like an execution. How else
    can I get ready for death?

    You breathe without a body, like a spark.
    You grieve, and I begin to feel lighter.
    You keep me away with your arm,
    but the keeping away is pulling me in.


    I love the last line.

    Or perhaps like this one.

  9. Nick/Ron,
    Thanks – your responses have guided me towards a clearer understanding of the analogy. I must however admit to still having a nagging concern — not to the passion of the true adept to lead us out of the Cave into the light, but rather for his or her followers and the evolving cascade thereof, who have often historically fanned that passion into ambition, by which sin the angels fell.
    By the way Nick, could you recommend a good introduction to Simone Weil?

  10. Ah, ambition, it can be tricky. And from now into 2012, we will see a lot of ambition at work in the political arena, and it’s not unknown in spiritual and religious communities.

    Then again there is the simple ambition to serve others with humility and I think with a bit of wonder too.

    My head is spinning today with worksheets and fancy formulas to calculate the Total Cost of Ownership on computer systems. Believe, if anything is meant to keep you in a humble spirit it is a TCO analysis.

    I’m trying to come up with a metaphor for it all, but I’m at a complete loss. ;-)

  11. Carry on, Ron. Most of us have to labor at tedious and worrisome things sometimes to pay our way. Think of it as the cost of owning a life.

  12. Hi Lewis

    First let me warn you about Simone. She is not for anyone wishing to be validated. She is one of those rare people that live their philosophy rather than write books or attract the gullible.

    Susan Sontag said in a book review:

    “The principal value of the collection is simply that anything from Simone Weil’s pen is worth reading. It is perhaps not the book to start one’s acquaintance with this writer—Waiting for God, I think, is the best for that. The originality of her psychological insight, the passion and subtlety of her theological imagination , the fecundity of her exegetical talents are unevenly displayed here. Yet the person of Simone Weil is here as surely as in any of her other books—the person who is excruciatingly identical with her ideas, the person who is rightly regarded as one of the most uncompromising and troubling witnesses to the modern travail of the spirit.”

    When I discovered Simone I was instantly impressed with her intellectual and emotional purity. It embarrassed me since I knew I did not have it.

    The only book she wrote was “The Need for Roots” which was her suggestions for rebuilding France after Hitler’s devastation. She wrote it while near death from TB.

    There is no Simone Weil school or followers since who can live their philosophy as she did? She is an inspiration for people to develop the courage to acquire the quality of attention and detachment to experience the world as it is without the sugar coating or need for validation.

    Her brilliant mind and emotional depth attracts people with genuine spiritual leanings as well as people of science because her devotion for truth includes both.

    The two classics for those risking her awakening influence are “Waiting for God” and “Gravity and Grace.” They are both compilations of her essays, letters, and her notebooks. If you sense something worthwhile in them, there are more I could suggest.

    The purity of her writings affect people because she didn’t write from her head but from the depth of her being and this purity has an affect.

    Watch the trailer to the documentary that just came out. There is a French woman speaking in the middle that says a person cannot avoid being touched by her writings and begin to examine themselves. It is true because I experienced it.

    Michel de Salzmann said of Gurdjieff:

    “He was a danger. A real threat. A threat for one’s self-calming, a threat for the little regard one had of oneself, a threat for the comfortable repertoire where we generally live. But at the moment when this threat appeared, like a ditch to cross, a threshold to step over, one was helped to cross it by his presence itself.”

    Simone is like this. She is a threat to your self calming. If you are looking to bask in wonderfulness, avoid Simone.

    As Tracy wrote: Passion for truth can turn into ambition.” This is true but Simone doesn’t inspire this. Instead she leads to what Ouspensky refers to:

    “It is only when we realize that life is taking us nowhere that it begins to have meaning.” P.D. Ouspensky

    Conditioned ambition in life is one thing while the inner need for truth is something that transcends ambition.

    “Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. This is the truth about authentic good and evil. With fictional good and evil it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm.” Simone Weil From “Morality and Literature,”an essay published in Cahiers du Sud, January 1944

    When I read this I knew intellectually it was true for me and I really didn’t emotionally comprehend good and evil. What good is cursing her out? If she is right she’s right. So I’m forced to ask myself why I do not emotionally comprehend good and evil. Try admitting this in polite New Age company and see how far you’ll get before the sugary interpretations take over.

    There is no way to rationalize Simone. She would appear a massive contradiction to many. Yet understanding her struggles in the context of Plato’s Cave reveals the consciousness that reconciles them. It explains how she could be both admired by Leon Trotsky and an intellectual influence on Pope Paul V1 with out there being any contradiction. There is nothing to follow. Those needing truth more than psychological validation can profit from her inspiration to be open to experiencing the real.

  13. Hi Ron,
    Loved the Rumi quote, esp.,
    “Dissolver of sugar, dissolve me,
    if this is the time…”
    But I have a question. I believe that the concept of free-will is VERY important. If God, or whatever/whoever the truth radiates from preprogrammed our software, so to speak, to respond this way or that, then I believe we would be little more than automatons – our actions having NO meaning or value. I also believe that individuality follows from free-will. One might be led to believe that by dissolving into the greater whole, individuality is lost. Must this be ENTIRELY so?

  14. Lewis,

    What a great question. I wish I had a great answer? It’s like asking if we have a destiny isn’t? Ah Destino, I love it! I can tell you this much, that there are people in my life that I certainly feel like I was destined to meet and destined to be in a relationship with in this life. It’s all a mystery you know.

    But, I don’t think that saying yes to a destiny is something that is predetermined, and I don’t believe in that type of predetermination, at least not the kind the Presbyterians used to believe in, some may still.

    I do believe in relationships though, and I do believe that the Divine is calling all of us into relationship with one another, with all of creation. But, how this all works is a great mystery, and one that I can accept for now without knowing exactly how it works.

    It’s all a bit like meditating I think, and knowing or believing that everything you need will be provided to you in that moment. It’s being radically open to the moment and radically trusting in the moment too. A Christian would look at this as resting in the Divine, resting in God; a Buddhist in Śūnyatā – Nirvana. I think that at some level they are the same experience perhaps, an experience that is pointing to the moon to put it in Buddhist terms. In both or either case we learn to let go of all images and to simply rest in what is there, out of which all things in heaven and on earth arise. That is the dissolving into water that Rumi speaks of in his poem, dissolving into the Divine. But, that does not mean we lose our truest self, I think we meet our truest self there.

    I think it begins with compassion, it does for me. And I know that as we grow in love and compassion, we are constantly changing; we are being transformed moment by moment.

    I’m saying that, for either a Buddhist, or a Christian, or anyone on this path, that this is a continuous process of change and growth, of Sanctification and Theosis, in Christian terms.

    But, I’m saying, that one day we may wake up, and no longer recognize the person we once were, because that person has been utterly transformed. So, in that sense we are not losing our identity, but claiming a heritage or an inheritance. I think it can be seen as a process of learning to see the divine within reality with a single eye.

    Matthew 6:21-22 (21st Century King James Version)

    “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”

    I hope this helps Lewis, it’s certainly been my experience within my own life. Let me leave with these words from 1 Corinthians 13.

    “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

    I have always love the last line.

    “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”


  15. So nice when you come across another soul on a meditative walk. Both feeling no need or desire to break the collective silence and neither feeling guilty about the lack of extending a salutation toward a fellow inhabitant.

    Ron Shorts

  16. Hi Lewis, you wrote:

    But I have a question. I believe that the concept of free-will is VERY important. If God, or whatever/whoever the truth radiates from preprogrammed our software, so to speak, to respond this way or that, then I believe we would be little more than automatons – our actions having NO meaning or value. I also believe that individuality follows from free-will. One might be led to believe that by dissolving into the greater whole, individuality is lost. Must this be ENTIRELY so?

    I’d like to share an inspired excerpt with you. From this perspective, in Plato’s Cave we are automatons or creatures of “necessity.” however Man i unique because he has the conscious potential for something beyond our comprehension as automatons.

    “The sea is not less beautiful to our eye because we know that sometimes ships sink in it. On the contrary, it is more beautiful still. If the sea modified the movement of its waves to spare a boat, it would be a being possessing discernment and choice, and not this fluid that is perfectly obedient to all external pressures. It is this perfect obedience that is its beauty.” “All the horrors that are produced in this world are like the folds imprinted on the waves by gravity. This is why they contain beauty. Sometimes a poem, like the Iliad, renders this beauty.” “Man can never escape obedience to God. A creature cannot not obey. The only choice offered to man as an intelligent and free creature, is to desire obedience or not to desire it. If he does not desire it, he perpetually obeys nevertheless, as a thing subject to mechanical necessity. If he does desire obedience, he remains subject to mechanical necessity, but a new necessity is added on, a necessity constituted by the laws that are proper to supernatural things. Certain actions become impossible for him, while others happen through him, sometimes despite him.”

    Excerpt from: Thoughts without order concerning the love of God, in an essay entitled L’amour de Dieu et le malheur (The Love of God and affliction). Simone Weil

  17. Hi Everyone,
    In thinking about all of these statements:
    Tracy – “I gave myself to life, dissolved myself into the situation with abandon”,
    Nick – “Man is unique because he has the conscious POTENTIAL for something beyond our comprehension as automatons”,
    Ron – “I don’t think that saying yes to a destiny is something that is predetermined”, and finally
    Simone Weil – “The only choice offered to man as an intellegent and FREE creature, is to desire obedience or not to desire it”., I am beginning to imagine something like a series of cascading three-dimensional “forks in the road” – potential destinies offered to man’s free-will. (Please foregive the remnants of a stick-in-the-mud need to over analyze things in a mathematical fashion, from a previous life)
    Have a great Fourth!

  18. One of the most profoundly eloquent descriptions of a Gurdjieff work period I have ever read.

    If it is true that Gurdjieff “wished to create around myself conditions in which a man would be continually reminded of the sense and aim of his existence by an unavoidable friction between his conscience and the manifestations of his nature” in 1913, then it looks like those type of conditions are still being created for those brave enough to face themselves as they are. You apparently have the guts to do so and then on top of that, to actually write a highly-intelligent description of what took place, warts and all.

  19. I’ve been reading this discussion with curiosity and interest. I know little about Gurdjieff and Simone Weil except their names, so thank you all for the glimmers. What a rich unfolding has sparked from what Tracy shares in her essay. Maybe from that “electrically charged space between doubt and faith” we all must know so well in the privacy of our own dark nights.

    I too struggle with the tension between community and solitude. Ideally, there’s a healthy interplay and balance, as you say Tracy, “It seems a bit like breathing in and breathing out, like giving and receiving, like the tides.” But for me there isn’t always such a flowing harmony between the two, much as I wish for that.

    We do live in a culture that over-values one and under-values the other, as one of you pointed out. It’s a very extroverted society. Wasn’t it Carl Jung who coined the terms extrovert and introvert? As I understand his meaning, we all have a trait that leans toward one or the other, not in any absolute way, but mostly. For an extroverted psyche, energy comes from being in company and actively relating with other people. In contrast, for an introverted psyche, energy comes and is refreshed, recharged, through being alone. Too much community is exhausting for an introvert, and too much solitude is no water of life for an extrovert. So we have these variations. And navigating the ebb and flow of our own energy and state of mind takes a lot of self-awareness.

    As Tracy said, and others here too, and Jung also, a new awareness or level of understanding can blossom through the tensions that feel so uncomfortable (even at times excruciating). I know it’s true. But we also need compassion for ourselves, don’t we? Real kindness. Then an introvert might have to turn from too much community and step out on her own, as on a long and solitary walk, perhaps with a notebook and pen. The pressure cooker of spiritual community isn’t always the best thing, not at all times. Oh it is so tricky isn’t it, to discern where the healthy balance will be for ourselves, in our own path of awakening, when it does or doesn’t fit with what’s expected? Or doesn’t fit with what the authorities say one ought to do?

  20. Barbara,

    Your colorful commentary describes so completely, the moment I speak of above when two souls cross paths. It can be tense can’t it, the battle between community and solitude? But, it is really only a sensation felt by the empathetic compassionate. A proving moment of truth and provided proof that one is on a right and balanced caring path-tending to the self but caring so much for others that passing without a glance causes pain.

  21. What a rich exchange! Thank you friends! I’m going around saying “Happy Interdependence Day” which drives some of my friends batty. But I mean it. Happy Interdependence Day!

  22. On going back into the Cave to tell others what you have found (assuming you HAVE found something), Lewis wrote on June 27, “does man have a moral responsibility to go back into the Cave to share his insight. Can private insights have any value without sharing?” On June 27, Nick said in essence that it would make sense to go back into the Cave and tell others in the Cave.

    Are those two views a little too nicey-nicey? Is relaying an understanding you have reached so easy?? I really don’t know, but consider this.

    In Meetings With Remarkable Men, in the Skridlov chapter, Skridlov on page 240 says to Father Giovanni, “Father Giovanni! I cannot understand how you can calmly stay here instead of returning to Europe, at least to your own country Italy, to give the people there if only a thousandth part of this all-penetrating faith which you are now inspiring in me.”

    “Eh, my dear professor, replied Father Giovanni, “it is evident that you do not understand man’s psyche as well as you understand archeology.”

    “Faith cannot be given to man. Faith arises in a man and increases in its action in him not as a result of automatic learning, that is, not as the result of automatic learning, that is, not from any automatic ascertainment of height, breadth, thickness, form and weight, or from the perception of anything by sight, hearing, touch, smell or taste, but from understanding.”

    “Understanding is the essence obtained from information intentionally learned and from all kind of experiences personally experienced.”

    “For example, if my own beloved brother were to come to me here at this moment and urgently entreat me to give him merely a tenth part of his understanding, and if I myself wished to to do so, yet I could not, in spite of my most ardent desire, give him even the thousandth part of this understanding, as he had neither the knowledge nor the experience which I have quite accidentally acquired and lived through in my life.”

    “No, Professor, it is a hundred times easier, as it is said in the Gospels, ‘for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,’ than for anyone to give to another the understanding formed about anything whatsoever.”


    I sometimes say to people, “you don’t understand.” and they say, “what don’t I understand? But they really mean, “what don’t I know?’

    The world interprets knowledge as understanding. But they are very,very wrong.

  23. I like to think of understanding as standing under, holding an experience or letting it rain down on you.

  24. Hi Donald, you wrote:

    On going back into the Cave to tell others what you have found (assuming you HAVE found something), Lewis wrote on June 27, “does man have a moral responsibility to go back into the Cave to share his insight. Can private insights have any value without sharing?” On June 27, Nick said in essence that it would make sense to go back into the Cave and tell others in the Cave.

    Are those two views a little too nicey-nicey? Is relaying an understanding you have reached so easy?? I really don’t know, but consider this.

    In all fairness to Plato’s cave analogy, it includes this concept of relative understanding you refer to.

    Plato is describing the ascent and decent of the soul into the levels of being represented by existence inside the cave and outside the cave:

    [Socrates] This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

    It does seem that experiencing beyond cave restrictions leading to understanding is a gradual process and real understanding of our conscious relationship to the “good” is the last to come.

    Going back into the cave and revealing the truth of it is the hardest to do as you suggest because we lack this understanding and how to communicate it. Communicating the truth of it without getting one killed is not so easy as Socrates suggests.

    [Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the cave, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

    “Understanding” then must include how to communicate it which as Father Giovanni points out cannot be done. But some people are able to inspire others to become able to aspire beyond cave life because of the understanding they possess.

    IMO this question of the relationship between society and solitude first requires deciding if society can exist for the sake of creating objective individuality that would reflect “understanding” or must individuality be sacrificed to further society or Cave life? Can a person governed by Cave Life offer a quality of understanding beneficial for a person seeking inner freedom from its restrictions even though they make a fortune selling books?

    Sometimes this “understanding” you refer to is revealed in a conscious quality of written material. It is hard to believe until one experiences it. I’ve experienced it both with Gurdjieff and simone Weil because they wrote from “understanding.”

    I know what Dr Jacques Cabaud experienced because I’ve experienced this “authenticity” he writes of:

    How did you first come across Simone Weil?

    In 1950, I was in Paris on a scholarship to work on a thesis, the title of which was “Pascal the Mystic”. That’s when I fell upon a newspaper review of Simone Weil’s second posthumous book: “Waiting on God”. The quotations in this article were so striking, and of such exceptional literary quality, and the authenticity of the mystical experience so obvious, I fell under the spell immediately. “Pascal can wait”, I thought,” this is genuine, this is great furthermore, this is new, untouched territory. Forget secondary literature. I’ll be the first! I’ll write her biography.” This was seven years after her death.. Somebody had to interview the witnesses of her life, very few of whom had died, as she had, during the war years. Luckily, her parents had carefully stored her manuscript writings which were plentiful.

    I don’t know how “understanding can flows through words but I do know it can.

  25. Just to throw my own two cents in…..I feel I owe an apology – apparently I misled some people. It was never my intention to indicate, having apprehended the grace of Truth that it would be easy to go back into the gravity of the Cave to help in some fashion – indeed if it was easy, then I think the act would be of less value. The act of faith – the free-will choice for the responsibility to try to help at least one person, even in the face of potential persecution gives the act value. I’m sorry for any misunderstandings…
    As far as Father Giovanni goes, off the top of my head (for I’ve never read the particular passage until now), I think I agree with him when he says “Faith cannot be GIVEN to man…..”, but I cannot agree that faith arises by understanding alone. Allow me to assume what happened to you when you woke up this morning – at some point you assumed, by some level of unconscious faith that you developed long before any upper-levels of analytical understanding, that gravity would be maintained and as you swung your body over the side of the bed and your feet would hold fast to the ground – it ALWAYS has before, for you, for you parents, grandparents, ect… As far as we UNDERSTAND, gravity has NEVER failed – and yet I do not know of any cosmic equasion available to all that PROMISES that gravity will never fail – thats not how, contrary to popular opinion, the scientific method works. There are faiths that arise through long periods of intense study, and then there are the numberless faiths that we MUST take, in order to function at all. Perhaps this points to some “hierarchy of faiths”, or a historical evolution in our concept of faith, and also, as I think I might have theorized in a later blog, a “bifurcated reality”, where we are forced to live with both feet in parallel realities of extroversion and introversion, conciousness and unconciousness, OR higher and lower faiths, honoring them all as best we can, thiving in the gap of enraptured dialogue between.
    Or maybe not – after all, it’s just faith!
    Peace to all,

  26. I think that it’s fair to say that gravity is an absolute truth that holds us to earth, just ask Newton, or drop an apple on your own head if you doubt. It’s also safe to say that we are meant to fly into the highest heavens. If there is something that we can do for one another to help us learn the art of flying, then I hope that we would. And I think that there is bit of destiny at work here too. Do you believe in flying? Is it good for you? And do you think that once you have flown, that you will want to walk the earth again. Even if you traveled to farthest distance you could in the universe, wouldn’t you have a strong desire to come home again one day?

  27. Ron,
    Gravity may well be an “absolute truth”. But never having seen it fail, and being an absolute impossibility for it to fail I think are two different things: Fundamentalist Christians do not, and I suspect cannot believe in the Theory of Evolution because;
    1. It is not mentioned in the Bible,
    2. It’s timeline and the “fundamental” timeline of the Bible cannot be easily reconciled, and
    3. Evolution may be like a grace note from outside the Cave – it may lead to paradoxes with a “fundamentally read” scripture that could be seen as a threat within the gravity well inside.
    Likewise, the scientific community tends to reject any and all references to a spiritual reality because;
    1. It too is not easily reconciled – with scientific theory, and
    2. Spiritual events have this nasty little habit of refusing to sit still while science runs endless tests on them – after all, thats how the scientific method works. You gather your data, test, re-test and re-re test, ect., until a hypothesis is generated. But said hypothesis must ALWAYS be open to the “friction” that future data brings — they may well rip the old theory to shreds, as did Copernicus and his new hypothesis.
    And yet, NEITHER side has access to a mathematically-derived equation that PROVES their stance. Spiritual or secular, each has FAITH in what they believe. The “absolute truth”? It is probably floating somewhere in the middle.
    Our beliefs, philosophies and programs are attempts of the human mind to understand the truth – but I don’t believe that any of them can be 100% right. By definition, man is a flawed being. Is it possible for him to live a life free from the emotional imperatives that mislead him, however close to the truth he may be? Is it possible not to approach every mundane daily event without SOME subconscious faith that it will play out the same way it always does? And do any of us really want to live in a world where some higher class has such a lock on the truth that they are essentially on a par with It, or God, or however truth manifests itself? I, for one can tell you that I do not occupy such an exalted position, and I believe that this gives me a certain value when it is kept in mind – my chances of tripping into the hubris that threatens society is just somewhat reduced. I return home every day NOT because I am unerring welded to the truth, but because up to this time my faith has somewhat coincided with truth. If God is as defined (a.k.a. all powerful), and it was in His interest to alter the truth, I might have to be more flexible in my approach to “reality” as it unfolds before me. Perhaps a small part of man’s value also exists as such flexibility – otherwise would we risk being more the automaton of a previous blog? And perhaps the concept that we can be 100% sure of our take on “absolute reality” is a dangerous draft indeed – there has to be some space and never-quite-ending distance to grow with value towards the truth/God/whatever – not by strict linear destiny, but rather through the dendritic choices of a destiny-path OFFERED to our free-wills.

  28. Hi Lewis

    Does faith and belief have the same meaning? If not, do you distinguish between relative qualities of both faith and belief?

    For example Gurdjieff speaks of three qualities of faith: “Conscious faith is freedom. Emotional faith is slavery. Mechanical faith is foolishness.”

    The disciples lacked conscious faith even though they believed in Jesus.

    This raises the question if a person possessing conscious faith would find the truths of science as an expression of “being” perfectly natural and would be a person of wisdom in the world acting from “common sense.”

  29. Perhaps one day soon spirit and science will develop a new language to describe these mysteries or the mystery. The is something, or maybe nothing to be said about kenosis. If we can let go of all our thoughts for just a moment, with a leap of faith even, then perhaps we will fly to the highest heaven, nirvana-sunyata, or Brigadoon, somewhere over the rainbow as my Aunt Dorothy migh imagine. She lives in Kansas by the way.

  30. Nick,
    Excellent question. Most of the dictionaries I have managed to check in the past few hours seem to define belief as a “thing” that largely arises out of due conscious deliberation, whereas faith is used as an imprecise synonym for SOME beliefs – those confined to the dark reaches of dread spirituality. After a long conversation with my employer whose opinion I trust, I am beginning to wonder if I am using the term “unconscious faith” incorrectly, for another “thing” that I am not sure I have a term for…
    Nevertheless, When Gurdjieff speaks of a “conscious faith”, distinct from others, one is led to think that, in some way, he acknowledged other faiths that are not conscious – otherwise why make the distinction in the first place – unless he is also using the term conscious in a different way. I can imagine emotional and mechanical faith as being rooted in the unconscious in some way. But belief still seems to me to be the result of deliberate ongoing cognition, rising through a hierarchy of stages.
    I also still believe that there is but one reality that man approaches through different paths. But when our lives are ramified with fear rather than love, prejudice and denigration of the other paths results.
    I urge everyone to reread “Flatland” – the mathematical satire of Victorian morays by the Anglican cleric Edwin A. Abbot. Here, A. Square, a middle-class two-dimensional mathematician with a two-dimensional brain evolved in two-dimensional space is transported by A. Sphere into the third-dimension. When he returns to 2-D and starts to try to tell his tale, he is imprisoned by the State.

    Ron, the problem I see with your notable idea is overcoming the fears of the populace to LEARN the new language – a little bit like having to go back into the Cave?
    One final frivolous thought that occured to me this morning. To extend Abbot’s metaphor – and assuming that there is something to Cosmic String Theory and it’s adjunct conclusion that multiple dimensions exist unwound within the strings –what if the God/Truth that we are trying to journey towards dwells within a higher dimension. Can our poor three-dimensional brains, evolved to operate in three-dimensioal space, ever hope to totally understand the multi-dimensional reality that is responsible for all of this in the first place?
    Then again, maybe it still comes down to some kind of faith.

  31. Hi Lewis

    Using your example of Flatland, could we agree that the beings of flatland are creatures of reaction, void of a quality of consciousness capable of self awareness and connecting levels of reality? If so, the State is a construction of this collective mindset. The being that becomes inwardly aware of this additional dimension vertical to Flatland acquires a human perspective revealing the limitations of Flatland. naturally he must be eliminated just as Jesus and Socrates were for pointing out the same thing.

    Beliefs from the flatland perspective are just conditioned rationalized reactions. We could say a dog has beliefs because of its conditioned reactions. It is insulting to consider that we are really the same. Perhaps the only difference is our ability to lie to ourselves in order to rationalize these beliefs. But if we are on Flatland or in Plato’s Cave, then that is the “human condition.”

    Conscious faith is an attribute of a person having consciously and psychologically gone beyond the limitations of Flatland and become sufficiently aware of this additional dimension so as to begin to “Awaken.”

    “The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?” – Thoreau, Walden

    How many have the humility to admit to being in Plato’s Cave or on flatland so as to become open to inwardly experience this new dimension?

    I remember when I was in college. I thought I knew my way around philosophy. Then later when I read “In Search of the Miraculous” by Ouspensky which is an account of his time with Gurdjieff, I was inwardly introduced to this additional vertical dimension which was new for me. When I digested the Ray of Creation and the teaching of the cosmoses as related to dimensions, it became clear that I knew nothing in relation to the potential for human “understanding.” It became obvious to me why I had no knowledge of objective human meaning and purpose or the objective meanings of words like “faith.” They are expressions of human consciousness which as a contented resident of Plato’s Cave, I lacked any realistic awareness of.

  32. Hi Nick,
    I agree that the beings of Flatland are creatures driven to find it most comfortable to be creatures of reaction, as the circle-priests of the State desire them to be, and in THIS sense are made “void of a quality of consciousness capable of self awareness and connecting levels of reality.”
    But I also think that one of the points Abbott was trying to make (I could be wrong – I haven’t read the text since college) is that in each of us is that potential spark, that can be kindled under the right convergence of circumstance to power a spiritual journey – otherwise A. Square would have later dismissed his journey as some sort of nightmare – especially when confronted with imprisonment. And when seen in this frame, I agree – it would be insulting to accuse humans of lacking said spark. The ability to “awaken” must be acknowledged…
    The only thing I worry about is Thoreau’s numerics – did he mean that the numbers of men open to intellectual exertion and divine life just happen to arise through inertia, or have they been “pre-fixed” somehow? If the truth/reality to which we desire vertical ascent is in anyway conscious, and is responsible for some divine class-system, then I find myself back with Ellison – the ability to awaken MUST be imbedded in ALL, REGARDLESS of whether they choose to avail themselves of it or not. If not, then God/Truth/Reality is little more than a thug playing favorites, and I would side with Milton, and “rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven” – and I would give the thug one hell of a run for his money.
    It’s the ability for ALL to choose, that gives the choice, it’s potential value.

  33. @Lewis – Who knows where angels dwell, perhaps heaven is another dimension or many. There are ancient tales of mystical masters who have transported themselves there and back again. Wherever do they go? It’s fun to ponder, and it makes you wonder. ;-)

  34. Hi Lewis

    I see you are one of those that feels the need to ponder ideas. I know the feeling. :) You wrote:

    I haven’t read the text since college) is that in each of us is that potential spark, that can be kindled under the right convergence of circumstance to power a spiritual journey.

    I would agree that we all have this spark to a certain extent. The trouble is that the spark normally dies from not being nourished. It is one thing to have a spark and another to understand the power of resistance. Consider this excerpt from Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” P. 219. Gurdjieff is speaking:

    “But there are a thousand things which prevent a man from awakening, which keep him in the power of his dreams. In order to act consciously with the intention of awakening, it is necessary to know the nature of the forces which keep man in a state of sleep.
    “First of all it must be realized that the sleep in which man exists is not normal but hypnotic sleep. Man is hypnotized and this hypnotic state is continually maintained and strengthened in him. One would think that there are forces for whom it is useful and profitable to keep man in a hypnotic state and prevent him from seeing the truth and understanding in his position.

    “There is an Eastern tale which speaks about a very rich magician who had a great many sheep. But at the same time this magician was very mean. He did not want to hire shepherds, nor did he want to erect a fence about the pasture where his sheep were grazing. The sheep consequently often wandered into the forest, fell into ravines, and so on, above all they ran away, for they knew the magician wanted their flesh and skins and this they did not like.

    “At last the magician found a remedy. He hypnotized his sheep and suggested to them first of all that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned, that, on the contrary, it would be very good for them and even pleasant; secondly he suggested that the magician was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place, he suggested to them that if anything at all were going to happen to them it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it. Further the magician suggested to his sheep that they were not sheep at all; to some of them that they were not sheep at all; to some of them he suggested that they were lions, to others that they were eagles, to others that they were men, and to others that they were magicians.

    “And after this all his cares and worries about the sheep came to an end. They never ran away again but quietly awaited the time when the magician would require their flesh and skins.

    “This tale is a very good illustration of man’s position.”


    A person who is a healthy kernel of life can easily fall victim to imagination. As a result the spark dies.

    Gurdjieff spoke of reincarnation as a potential for developing souls that have become more than a seed with a spark. They are more aware of what they lose from basking in imagination. My guess is that Simone Weil was such a person. I cannot explain her need for truth in any other way. In France some call her the reincarnation of Joan of Arc. Such people have a need for truth which we cannot appreciate under the effects of imagination.

    Gurdjieff said as recorded in ISM p.64:

    “There are, he said, “two lines along which man’s development proceeds, the line of knowledge and the line of being. In right evolution the line of knowledge and the line of being develop simultaneously, parallel to, and helping one another. But if the line of knowledge gets too far ahead of the line of being, or if the line of being gets ahead of the line of knowledge, man’s development goes wrong, and sooner or later it must come to a standstill………………


    In order to seriously discuss this question of Man’s developing soul and conscious evolution, we would have to consider what is meant by the relativity of Man’s “being” in addition to our knowledge. I’ve experienced that reading ISM has been the best introduction to this relationship between knowledge and being and well worth reading for those open to this question

  35. What is “being” ? In the Buddhist tradition the yearning for being (and the yearning for non-being) are regarded as hindrances to awakening. A refined craving perhaps but still craving.

  36. Yearning for “being” or yearning for anything may take me out of this moment, out of the Now, and then this could become a hindrance, as you say, or as the Buddhists say. But it remains all words and talk and diverts, or can divert, one from work on oneself, from being present, from experiencing Presence. When the Stillness is no longer “heard” or is no longer recognizable, then the “being” must be reduced at that second.

    Where do “I” stand in all this, though, today, July 13, 2011 at 8 in the morning?

    Gurdjieff states in In Search of the Miraculous that “Generally speaking, the being of a modern man is of very inferior quality (Is he talking about us? D.O.). But it can be of such bad quality that no change is possible. This must always be remembered. People whose being can still be changed are very lucky. (I am going to assume provisionally that this description would apply to most Parabola readers and readers of this blog, although there are no real guarantees of this. D.O.) But there are people who are definitely diseased, broken machines with whom nothing can be done. And such people are in the majority. If you think of this you will understand why only few can receive real knowledge. Their being prevents it.”

    Elsewhere in the same chapter in Search, he describes “Being” characteristics as pettiness, egoistic, caviling, mean, envious, vain, naive, absent-minded. Some of those get pretty close to us/me.

  37. Tracy wrote:

    What is “being” ? In the Buddhist tradition the yearning for being (and the yearning for non-being) are regarded as hindrances to awakening. A refined craving perhaps but still craving.
    Should we equate the yearning for “being” or “non-being” with the need “to be?”

    I’ve experienced that this yearning for being is usually just fantasy common in New Age practices for example. The need “to be” is something that the fallen human condition cannot cope with so interprets into fantasy. Gurdjieff said: “In order to do it is necessary to be. And it is necessary first to understand what to be means.”

    Is the need to be in order to do a “craving” or just being naturally and essentially human?

    I’ve often pondered the apparent contradiction between the Buddhist goal of the cessation of suffering and Simone Weil’s explanation of Christianity. But again as Simone said, a contradiction rightly experienced is really a door.

    “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” — Simone Weil

    She seems to be inviting conscious experience for the sake of the potential for Man’s “being”

    “People should not worry as much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works.” Meister Eckhart

    Our being is what we ARE. Meister Eckhart suggests we can change what we ARE which is more important than the concern for what we DO. Is this a yearning for being or having deeply felt the calling “to be?”

    I’ve come to appreciate that Interfaith seeks to develop community. It celebrates what we collectively ARE. Yet Gurdjieff’s description of Interfaith begins with the realization that we ARE NOT but feel the need “TO BE.” Its purpose is to develop individuals. Can they be reconciled?

    “Here there are neither Russians nor English, Jews nor Christians, but only those who pursue one aim — to be able to be.” Gurdjieff

  38. Hi Donald

    This is one of the advantages of being under the weather today. I can put more time into contemplation

    I define Interfaith as defined in Wiki:

    The terms interfaith or interfaith dialogue refer to cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e., “faiths”) and spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional level with the aim of deriving a common ground in belief through a concentration on similarities between faiths, understanding of values, and commitment to the world. It is distinct from syncretism or alternative religion, in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions to increase acceptance of others, rather than to synthesize new beliefs.
    It sounds good but I believe the premise is faulty. It assumes understanding where it is not possible. As a result it makes for nice discussions and shared wonderful thoughts but the problem remains the same since it glorifies our collective egotism, what we are, the quality of our being. It is collectively ignorant that since we are as we are, everything is as it is, It cannot admit to our nothingness so everything must remain the same.

    An Armenian parable of the Wolf and the Sheep (ISM: 366)

    “Ones there lived a wolf who slaughtered a great many sheep and reduced many people to tears. At length, I do not know why, he suddenly felt qualms of conscience and began to repent his life; so he decided to reform and to slaughter no more sheep.

    In order to do this seriously he went to a priest and asked him to hold a thanksgiving service.

    The priest began the service and the wolf stood weeping and praying in the church. The service was long. The wolf had slaughtered many of the priest’s sheep, therefore the priest prayed earnestly that the wolf would indeed reform.

    Suddenly the wolf looked through the window and saw that sheep were being driven home. He began to fidget but the priest went on and on without end.

    At last the wolf could contain himself no longer and he shouted: “Finish it priest! Or all the sheep will be driven home and I shall be left without supper!”

    This is a very good fairy tale, because it describes man very well. He is ready to sacrifice everything, but after all today’s dinner is a different matter A man always wishes to begin with something big, but that is impossible; there can be no choice, we must begin with the things of today”.

    I see this as classic Interfaith. Hypocrisy is the norm for the human condition as it is, Dealing with the human condition is not wonderful thoughts and speeches about commonality but in becoming capable of conscious “attention” as described by Simone Weil. We need individuals capable of “presence” to compensate in the world for the normal results of wonderful thoughts and speeches

    “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

  39. Hi Nick,
    Just a couple of thoughts: I think I agree with your responses today – except the idea that “the spark normally dies from not being nourished”. Don’t get me wrong – I think the vast majority of people on the planet fail at such nourishment, but if the spark is what defines us as being separate from all other beings and their “conditioned reactions”, then for the spark to die would equate with ceasing to be human, and thus not having any choice to engage on a spiritual path from that point on. Perhaps a better way to look at it would be “allowing the spark to fall into a comatose state” (or a hypnotic sleep) – still, however unlikely, recoverable from through an inner choice fired by some ray of outer grace. Therefore – dare I use him as an example – Hitler’s ultimate fate might be even more tragic. Possibly given various chances unknown by a “benevolent truth” to reform, he twisted the gift of choice in favor of irrevocably destroying the slumbering spark – thus negating it’s value to zero. (That’s bad enough as I don’t believe in Hell – it seems we are quite capable of constructing that for ourselves here and now. His non-existance seems enough).
    As far as Interfaith, I do not see the attempt of people of good faith, however weak and unfocussed it might be, to forge a working dialogue, as “hypocrisy”.
    Will man fall from ignorance or weakness again and again on this path? Probably. But if there is anything to Huston Smith’s “conceptual spine” of the world’s religions, (I would be willing to include SOME philosophies and self-work systems here), and the spark feels pulled toward these tendrils that rise from multiple paths towards the overarching truth, then perhaps the attempt towards an interfaith dialogue is well worth the odds against it – and further gives the choice greater value.
    Hope you feel better soon!

  40. Hi Lewis

    Actually I am feeling better after a nap. thanks for asking.

    Is the seed of the soul necessary for reactive life in Plato’s cave? I would say no anymore then this seed is necessary for any other form of organic life to function on earth.

    Jesus said in Matthew 8:

    21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

    22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
    Granted this has many meanings but the dead burying their dead is really just the purely physical human being performing rituals. They are spiritually dead.

    Of course there are people in the world that are spiritually dead but for some reason come to life so to speak. However I do believe some become dead in a way that cannot come to life.

    The sin against the Holy Spirit is considered unforgivable. I take this to mean that if one finds the true path in themselves and corrupts it for the sake of their egotism, they may never find it again. This is why I believe that a true spiritual teacher will only accept certain students. A person can do great harm to themselves on the inside by perverting experiences they are not ready for and become truly lost or spiritually dead even with a flourishing ego.

    A real teacher will sense this potential in another and refuse them for their sake. From this perspective it is far better for a great many to live in dreams. At least they do not harm themselves.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that there is anything “wrong” with people dialoging. I just believe it is meaningless because of hypocrisy as normal for our being. That is why I support those willing to admit the human condition within themselves and appreciate their necessary role of solitude. I believe they are essential while interfaith dialogue comes and goes depending upon the cycles of external conditions.

    You mentioned Huston Smith’s “conceptual spine” of the world’s religions. Have you read Frithjof Schuon’s book “The Transcendent Unity Of Religions?”

    Consider Thomas McFarlane’s diagram of the various traditions. All the problems and misunderstandings occur on the exoteric level. Yet they exist as ONE at the source of their arising. If this is true, it is obvious how there never can be understanding at the exoteric level. Our being prevents it. Yet our conscious potential is for a transcendent quality of being beyond the exoteric level.

  41. It has been an education reading this blog and then the responses to it. I shall be researching Gurdjieff and Simone Well in the morning. It’s invigorating to find an engaging and expansive blog and organization. kia ora

  42. Nick, glad to hear that you are feeling better. Just a few thoughts from late last night:
    To rephrase Tracy somewhat, I believe that we are always “being” – whether we yearn for being or non-being. And with you, I believe that there is something that separates us from other beings and their “conditioned reactions” – that is “human–being”. I would say that this is the spark (some would say soul) emeshed in our collective Midgard. What is it that makes the Holocaust a tragedy? If Hitler and his cronies (or almost an entire nation by semi-conscious proxy) just let their sparks die to a point where salvation was absolutely impossible, then everything that followed might as well have been committed by polar bears or cantaloupes – beings that can’t vertically rise to even our somewhat miserable levels of moral responsibility. The tragedy would thus be reduced in meaning — and thus insulting? Why does Lady Macbeth end the way she does? It is because, in spite of all her actions, her spark is NOT dead -she was never just a “diseased, broken machine for whom nothing could be done”. Somewhere, deep inside the minute that passes unnoticed when content was warped into a string of endless lifetimes – where the spark cannot live the paradox– live with that damned spot….
    The tragedies – the tragedy of all mankind is in our coming to that multi-dimensional fork in the road and for reasons of aspiration, greed, paranoia or just plain sadism making the very worst choices over and over and over again – even as the potential Bifrost of our redemption, awakening or transcendence is offered. Bellerophon did not roam the globe in SADNESS because his spark was dead – it was because it was ALIVE!. To deny the ongoing life of the spark in all humans, even when most abused is to un-explain more of human nature, the nature of tragedy, AND human responsibility than it explains. We may not be as receptive as Hemdall when he listens to the growing hairs of the sheep -yes, there probably can never be true, 100% exoteric understanding while we are on this terrestrial ball, but the potential for redemption in man – for choosing to wake from what Gurdjieff does NOT refer to in the quote of July 13th as the death of the spark, but rather a “hypnotic state”, from which man can awaken, is what explains tragedy, and I suspect both comedy and the glorious potential to rise into our Asgard.
    Or maybe not.
    As to other things – no , I have not read Frithjof Schuon – although you are the third person this week who has advised me to do so! I am still haunting used book stores for books by or about Gurdjieff and Weil — strangely enough the people at my favorite hangout, the Tattered Cover on Colfax, just give me a blank look when I mention them….
    And one last thought – everyone might want to be careful when quoting ancient texts. Although i am certainly not by any means an expert, I know that such texts are contextual. The Bible was written for a pre-industrial, bronze-age agrarian repressed monarchy not operating under English Common Law, but Davidic Law. When most people read the story about David and Jonathan, they assume that the writer is primarily concerned with the evils of homosexuality, when in actuality their primary concern was always inheritance law, in a State where to “lie down” with another – regardless of gender, age or class constituted the establishment of a common-law relationship (thus critical in farming and monarchy). Such details, contrary to what Fundamentalists like to believe, are often lost in cycles of translation from culture to culture. This does’t mean that the text is wrong – but it could be yet another challenge to man’s need to rise to responsibility to BE man — and not a cantaloupe.
    Peace, Lewis

  43. Hi Emily, Lewis, and all others concerned with pondering.

    I know it doesn’t appear so but it is only relatively recently that I decided I must be more active in the world as regards great ideas. Then I read Prof. Needleman’s observations on ideas and it convinced me that encouraging realistic contemplation is necessary in the world today. It is an aspect of solitude because the collective cannot be sincere. So I’d like to share this observation with you that I copied from his book “The American Soul:”

    “Our world, so we see and hear on all sides, is drowning in materialism, commercialism, consumerism. But the problem is not really there. What we ordinarily speak of as materialism is a result, not a cause. The root of materialism is a poverty of ideas about the inner and outer world. Less and less does our contemporary culture have, or even seek, commerce with great ideas, and it is the lack that is weakening the human spirit. This is the essence of materialism. Materialism is a disease of the mind starved for ideas.

    Throughout history ideas of a certain kind have been disseminated into the life of humanity in order to help human beings understand and feel the possibility of the deep inner change that would enable them to serve the purpose for which they were created, namely, to act in the world as conscious,individual instruments of God, and the ultimate principle of reality and value. Ideas of this kind are formulated in order to have a specific range of action on the human psych: to touch the heart as well as the intellect; to shock us into questioning our present understanding; to point us to the greatness around us in nature and the universe, and the potential greatness slumbering within ourselves; to open our eyes to the real needs of our neighbor; to confront us with our own profound ignorance and our criminal fears and egoism; to show us that we are not here for ourselves alone, but as necessary particles of divine love.

    These are the contours of the ancient wisdom, considered as ideas embodied in religious and philosophical doctrines, works of sacred art,literature and music and, in a very fundamental way, an indication of practical methods by which a man or woman can work, as is said, to become what he or she really is. Without feeling the full range of such ideas, or sensing even a modest, but pure, trace of them, we are bound to turn for meaning.”

    I believe that all who participate in sincere exchanges, it is spiritually and psychologically healthy both for ourselves and for the world in general. Of course the important word here is “sincere” as opposed to acting self important and showing off that happens all too often IRL with politicially correct altruistic platitudes.

    “The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” Simone Weil

    Ideas of a certain kind can arouse a sincere hunger which is why I consider them a blessing.

  44. Hi Lewis

    What defines an oak tree? Is it defined by the tree or the acorn that can become an oak?

    I see it as the same with Man. Since I believe in conscious evolution, the physical body of man on earth that has within it intellect, emotion, and sensing that connects it to the external world in our normal state contains a seed of human evolution just like the acorn contains the seed of an oak.

    Is humanity defined by the shell of the acorn, our personality, or by the kernel of life it surrounds that has the potential for conscious evolution? So you can see that it is difficult to define a human being since the being of conscious humanity is of a higher quality than sleeping Man on earth.

    Conscious humanity has inner unity. Man on earth exists as a plurality or diversity. Gurdjieff describes the human organism as analogous to a driver (mind) a horse (emotions) and the carriage (body). The passenger which should normally be in charge is asleep in the carriage.

    Because the passenger is asleep, the driver doesn’t know where to go and relies on what it has been told, the horse doesn’t care what the driver thinks and has its own concerns so just pulls the carriage on its own. In the process, the carriage is getting rusty from lack of care.

    To make matters worse, since there is no conscious connection between our mind, emotions, and body depicted in this way, they become connected through imagination that allows us to sustain this arrangement. Consequently, the seed that houses the spark existing deep within the heart covered over by all our negative emotions never gets beyond the horse sniffing the flowers.

    You wrote

    The tragedies – the tragedy of all mankind is in our coming to that multi-dimensional fork in the road and for reasons of aspiration, greed, paranoia or just plain sadism making the very worst choices over and over and over again – even as the potential Bifrost of our redemption, awakening or transcendence is offered. Bellerophon did not roam the globe in SADNESS because his spark was dead – it was because it was ALIVE!.

    I would agree that it may be alive. But there ae those that are dead and unable to “feel” lost in imagination, incapable of receiving grace that makes any change through awakening possible. I don’t like writing this but it makes sense to me. If a person loses the ability to “see” the light, what else is possible but the darkness of imagination?

    Gurdjieff suggests that sleeping man living as a reacting plurality of many “i’s is serving a purpose lawful for organic life on earth while conscious humanity with conscious inner unity functioning as “I” serves another. Man’s being is relative. Asleep on earth it is of one quality. Conscious humanity is of a greater quality. The passenger is awake and directing the driver who educates the horse. Simone suggest the same. When I receive the same idea from two qualities of necessity, I must be open to it. It no longer is a question of who is dead but how to become more alive, more realistic, and capable of serving a conscious purpose.

    “The sea is not less beautiful to our eye because we know that sometimes ships sink in it. On the contrary, it is more beautiful still. If the sea modified the movement of its waves to spare a boat, it would be a being possessing discernment and choice, and not this fluid that is perfectly obedient to all external pressures. It is this perfect obedience that is its beauty.” “All the horrors that are produced in this world are like the folds imprinted on the waves by gravity. This is why they contain beauty. Sometimes a poem, like the Iliad, renders this beauty.” “Man can never escape obedience to God. A creature cannot not obey. The only choice offered to man as an intelligent and free creature, is to desire obedience or not to desire it. If he does not desire it, he perpetually obeys nevertheless, as a thing subject to mechanical necessity. If he does desire obedience, he remains subject to mechanical necessity, but a new necessity is added on, a necessity constituted by the laws that are proper to supernatural things. Certain actions become impossible for him, while others happen through him, sometimes despite him.” Excerpt from: Thoughts without order concerning the love of God, in an essay entitled L’amour de Dieu et le malheur (The Love of God and affliction). Simone Weil

  45. Hi Nick,
    Sorry I wasn’t able to respond sooner – this weekend was a killer…
    Upon reflection, perhaps my basic hangup is with the question of responsibility. Or perhaps it is with the way I have been conditioned to define God, Man, Responsibility, ect. Or maybe it is just a Western bias….
    Your question about the duality of the acorn/oak caused me to remember an incident that happened to me a long time ago. When my Dad got better and didn’t need round the clock care, I decided to go back to college nearby – only this time I would choose my own major. I had become entranced with the idea of Medical Illustration – it would combine two of my great loves – art and science. So I enrolled in classes, and found myself taking Human Anatomy in my second year. Towards the end of the semester, I was selected with a small number of like-minded students to attend some actual autopsies. It was the strangest experience – Here was the corpse, laid before us, matching exactly the anatomical KNOWLEDGE that we had accumulated. But something was wrong – something that I later found none of us could put our finger on at the time. In retrospect, I believe that the PERSPECTIVE we gain of the unified whole human was missing. Every time I attended such an event, I had the same nagging feeling – until the last. Everything seemed exactly the same, except I didn’t have “that” feeling. Then the corpse sat up and yelled “Boo!” It was an end of the year hazing.
    In my life, I have met some truly odious people – people I COULD say were spiritually dead. But I have never felt that odd feeling pool around them. And when I have attended the viewing of any departed – whether it be my parents or a friend, I HAVE again felt it. Maybe I am just projecting my needs, my culture or my Anglican upbringing into this blog. Maybe I am not well read enough or too low on my spiritual path to understand, but the concept of responsibility STILL seems critical.Placing the responsibility for our spiritual destinies on God alone redefines God into a more random presence that I am uncomfortable with – going to the trouble of evolving acorns only to scatter some in such rocky ground that they can’t possibly have a chance. Inventing a Devil is just a literary slight of hand to throw responsibility to the side. No – I have to go again back to the Cave. The man didn’t have to leave the Cave – he chose to, against all of his fears. And once he was enlightened, he didn’t have to risk persecution by re-entering – he chose to. His choices give his actions greater validity – because he didn’t HAVE to. This IS becoming the Oak. It’s choices could not be made if the “spark” isn’t present to make them. And, to give some higher power the choice to choose to allow them to crush out their spark prior to the cessation of life is to take that responsibility away from them – and thus devalue them in whatever it means to be an oak or a human. This is not a reality I find comfort in – and maybe that is the problem. Maybe I am being too subjective, but it seems the paradigm is somewhat false – in the “real” world you cant HAVE the acorn without the oak, and vice versa. If there are any such oaks, they only have the value of an end table.
    I just need to hope for something more.
    Thanks for your continuing guidance,

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