The initial commentaries on the “Web” exercise speak to the relationship between a personal “atmosphere” and the “web” that comes into being through group work together, and remains, undispersed, when the group is apart. As a potential exchange between the group atmosphere and the planetary atmosphere grows, Cynthia invites us here to consider how the monastic vows support, with “due humility and awe,” the group work possible at this level.

Welcome to Cynthia’s latest post in her Pandemic Homework series, the fifth of her Commentaries on the “Web” exercise, from Joseph Azize’s new book on the work of G. I. Gurdjieff. See the links to all the posts in the series at the end of this post, where you can also learn more about the book. We encourage you to share your comments below. Now, to Cynthia:

You might picture Gurdjieff’s “web” as a two-directional amplifier. Directed inwardly, it enables individual group members to draw continuing replenishment from the collective strength of the whole. Directed outwardly, it boosts the magnitude of the group’s common aim to a point where “you can have a reciprocal action on a whole city.” Through the amplifying effect of its web, the group becomes a real player in the planetary atmosphere.

This is an awesome invitation, of course. Were our hearts not burning to hear it? But it is also “awesome” in the traditional sense of the word, meaning needing to be approached with due humility and awe. For it carries a solemn responsibility and comes with all-too-real risks of running off the rails. Particularly for us “newbies” who have not been fully prepared to work at this level, and surrounded as we are by a culture that has largely forgotten this level even exists, the dangers are all too real of getting shanghaied by lesser agendas. Powerful work can indeed be done here—and I think is in fact crying out to be done here—but some fairly rigorous protocols need to be observed in order to ensure that our work remains sober, lucid, and safe.

As I mentioned in the last Web commentary, Global Warming Revisited, most of the rubrics are already embedded in those classic monastic vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, once you learn to hear these not as ascetic renunciations but as practical safeguards for all esoteric work.

CHASTITY, in this case, means: Keep your atmosphere within its atmosphere.

In the “Atmosphere” exercise you practiced on an individual basis keeping your atmosphere within a certain finite limit of a meter to a meter-and-a-half: not letting it escape beyond that limit, not letting it get distended by thought or emotional waves. You practiced sitting within it, allowing its waves to quiet, and learning to maintain conscious stewardship of it as you brought it with you into your daily rounds.

The same is true, on a larger scale, of your group atmosphere. It needs to stay coherent and clear, able to stretch across whatever distance it circumscribes, without being unduly ruffled by waves of passion or grandiosity. It wants to be a still pond in which the full moon is reflected. All urgency or self-importance will immediately kill this reflective capacity—and alas, those impulses can ignite like brushfire in an atmosphere gathered around a common aim. Considerable restraint is needed here—chastity—to keep from being taken over by what Gurdjieff rightly calls “a misuse of the sex center”—i.e., intoxication, over-excitement, demagoguery, and all too often, violence.

POVERTY means: Give up all attachment to outcome. Even all curiosity about outcome.

It’s a natural human inclination to want to hold our aim a little too tightly and then wait eagerly for the results. We light a candle and visualize a specific outcome: the healing of our planet; the disappearance of the corona virus; a restoration of the broken links of our human community. But it never works this linearly and in fact can’t work this linearly, for imaginal causality is not linear but synchronous. It produces its effects nonlocally, instantaneously, in places you’d never expect or with partners you don’t even know you’re playing with. Perhaps the atmosphere of your group melds with a compatible atmosphere of—say—some Sufi dervishes in Central Asia you don’t even know are out there. And in a manger in Bethlehem, a Messiah is quietly born. It’s like that: way more indirect, way more playful. You simply carry your little pebble of conscious striving to the edge of the cliff and toss it into the ocean. The rest is in the hands of God.

And yes, there are certain initiated elders who do in fact have the authority to bend intention to a desired end. Fortunately, this power lies beyond most of us—for good reason—and one does well to tread with utmost humility here. Creative imagination fettered to a still untamed ego will always result in some variation of magic—at best, merely overwrought and foolish, at worst, deadly dangerous.

OBEDIENCE means: Listen, Listen, Listen!!

In fact, that’s literally true. Obedience comes from the Latin ob-audire, which means “listen to the depths,” or “listen from the depths.” Ninety percent of the work you will be doing inside your group web is listening: listening to one another, listening to the subtle directives that emerge out of the depths as you gain more proficiency in attuning to them, listening to the needs that the rapidly changing conditions in the outer world are laying before you.

The operative model here is actually best captured in that relatively new physics buzzword, a self-specifying system, of which the cell is our baseline example. The cell demonstrates diversity of function within an overall unity, maintained by an instantaneous capacity for self-regulation governed by its DNA and RNA. Inside the cell there is always a dance going on, a continuous process of listening, of making micro-adjustments. Through that dance the cell remains in dynamic equilibrium, i.e, alive.

The wonderful implication here—fully glimpsed though not fully articulated by Gurdjieff—is that the group web is in fact a self-specifying system. It has “emergent properties”—capabilities not present in its individual components but vested collectively in the whole—that is again that mysterious “fineness” we’ve spoken about several times before. Individual members sacrifice a degree of personal autonomy in order to partake of the far greater capacities of the whole. Through listening—that continuous dance of adjusting, deferring—those capacities become available to each member, insofar as he or she remains in coherence with the whole. The web remains alive.

In the end, one either surrenders to this higher level of wholeness or one does not. What doesn’t work is to sit on the fence.

Modern buzzword or not, the idea of a self-specifying system has been around for a long, time. St. Paul was already onto it in the first century with his celebrated teaching “We are all members of the one body of Christ.” And so it comes as no surprise, perhaps, that these ancient vows should again demonstrate their timeless timeliness as we now scramble to self-organize at a new evolutionary level, in order to meet the evolutionary challenge that has just been thrown down on our human plate.

 


A Note from Northeast Wisdom 

Cynthia has been sharing her response to the pandemic sweeping the world with an on-going series of posts on the Northeast Wisdom website that began on March 23, 2020. That initial post, Pandemic Homework, outlined recommended practices that people could take themselves in response, and was followed by: 
From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions);
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises;
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework; and
Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict & Zoom.

The Pandemic Homework posts include a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,” which refer to the six (originally four) Gurdjieff exercises that are the first item on Cynthia’s to-do list. We do these exercises she says, “…in direct cognizance of the needs of our present global crisis—we receive something for ourselves, we offer something back.”

The Commentaries are posted as follows: 
“Clear Impressions”: Commentaries Part I;
“Lord Have Mercy”: Commentaries Part II, A & B;
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C;
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Commentaries Part III, A & B;
Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, A;
Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, B;
Preliminary Remark, the “Web” Exercise: Commentaries Part V, A;
The Group Atmosphere: “Web” Exercise, Commentaries Part V, B;
Yin and Yang: “Web” Exercise, Commentaries, Part V, C;
Global Warming Revisited: “Web” Exercise, Commentaries Part V, D.

Coming next, Cynthia’s final Commentary on the “Web,” followed by her collection of essays on the sixth and final exercise, “Four Ideals.”  

Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary, and all quoted references in this post are from it as well. It is a great resource and we recommend it. 

Image credits from the top: Neural rosettes from stem cells assemble into spheres, credit Gist Croft and Ali Brivanlou, and courtesy of Rockefeller University; HeLa cells, courtesy National Institutes of Health, credit Tom Deerinck and National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research; Fibroblast cells, colorized Micrograph, credit Jan Schmoranzer, courtesy of Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie; cover of Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises by Joseph Azize, photo courtesy of Laura Ruth.

Welcome to Cynthia’s third commentary on the “Web” exercise in this Pandemic Homework series, details of which you will find at the end of this post. Please post your comments below!  

In the meantime, Cynthia has extended an invitation:

Today, Thursday, May 21, Ascension Day, I will offer myself in the Four Ideals Exercise on behalf our entire planet. Anyone care to join me? Not nailing down a specific time…just “whenever…” real time will always flow into the infinite NOW.

I wonder if our casually joined atmospheres could indeed “warm the earth” on this day of cosmic arising….

In regard to the special invitation above, see the “Four Ideals” (pp. 229-240) in the book Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises. If you do not have access to the book, you can find resources available online.

Now, back to “warming the earth” through the “Web” exercise! The first three commentaries on the “Web” exercise speak to the relationship between a personal atmosphere and the web that comes into being through group work together, and remains, undispersed, when apart.

The far more interesting possibilities implicit in this exercise, however, open up for me in the opposite direction: between the group atmosphere and the planetary atmosphere. Let’s say that a conscious work group has managed to establish a group atmosphere that is coherent, stable, and clear. Can this atmosphere then interact with our larger planetary atmosphere to actually bring a new influence into the situation? Can it really, indeed, “have a reciprocal action on a whole city?” (p. 200).

Gurdjieff’s answer—offered allusively but fervently—is that it can indeed. And if this is the case, it opens before our Wisdom sangha a powerful new avenue of service, together with a very stringent road to tow if we are to make good on it.

Azize makes the invitation explicit in his lean, four-bullet-point commentary:

“Second, says Gurdjieff, when the people whose atmospheres form the web come together with a common aim, there is a warming in the webs. This invisible reality is not something neutral: It is positive. It also means that a conscious aim, especially perhaps a common conscious aim, is an active element not only for the group, but even for society, represented here by the city of Paris” (p 201).

While Paris may indeed be intended only to “represent” the larger society, I think it’s important not to lose sight of the particular context here. Azize notes the date of this exercise as May 25, 1944—or in other words, less than two weeks before the allied forces will arrive on Normandy Beach and begin their relentless drive east. Three months to the day later, Paris will be free, and the former “Fête St. Louis” will have been rebaptized as “La Fête de la Liberation.”

Throughout the entire dark and terrible four years of the occupation Gurdjieff had held his ground right there in Paris. Unlike most other spiritual teachers of his era, who had fled to places of greater tranquility to carry on their spiritual work undisturbed, Gurdjieff had stayed put, finding the conditions for transformation not in tranquility but in fierce presence. From his small apartment less than a mile as the crow flies from the Nazi command post on the Place de la Concorde, he simply went about feeding people, spiritually and literally. Drawing on his proverbial skills as a magician and wheeler-dealer, he somehow managed to acquire valuable stockpiles of staples and even gourmet items. The staples he stored in a back pantry, accessible through a back stairwell that was never locked. The gourmet fare he laid out in lavish banquets before whatever assortment of pilgrims happened to assemble at the table that night.

There was teaching, inquiry, liberally flowing Armagnac—and a suffusion of love that still blazes in the hearts and writings of those students blessed enough to sit at his feet during those times. His teaching became simpler, more direct, more overtly religious, more compassionate and universal in its focus. He was literally warming the atmosphere of Paris.

Some of you may know of the white-knuckle drama unfolding at the same time—grippingly recorded in the book Is Paris Burning Yet?” Recognizing that the German retreat was inevitable, Hitler had laid in place an elaborate scheme to leave as much damage in his wake as he could. Bombs had been laid beneath the celebrated monuments of Notre Dame and the Louvre. All was in readiness for the obliteration of a thousand years of Western cultural history. The only thing still awaiting was the command from the German commanding officer, Dietrich van Choltitz, poised there on the Place de la Concorde.

Somehow that command never came. Like a tide that reaches its flood and then noiselessly recedes, so the German army of the occupation simply receded. No decision was ever made NOT to bomb Paris; the moment simply slipped away. No one knows exactly why.

That is the sort of thing that can happen when an atmosphere is warmed.

In linear causality, of course, there is absolutely no way of proving a connection between these events. In imaginal causality (that “higher dimension” Azize referred to where conscious work takes place) there is no way of NOT seeing it; the lines of causality cross vividly before your eyes—in the web.

I am not saying that Gurdjieff deliberately set out to accomplish that result; almost certainly he did not. It never works that tightly. He simply felt in his great heart the atmosphere of a Paris grown brittle and mineral under the occupying forces and undertook to supply the missing element. Call it food, call it abundance, call it love; without it the human spirit starves, and life grows frozen and intractable. When the atmosphere thaws—when even in one tiny corner of it life becomes flowing and supple—then something new is possible everywhere. For as Gurdjieff pointedly observes, “If one current comes in at one point, it shall arrive everywhere; if one sensation of warmth is in one point, all the points shall feel the heat. Picture how what happens in one place happens everywhere” (p. 201).

I lay this story before your creative imagination to invite the Wisdom Community to envision a broader and bolder way that we might intentionally work in the world. A web is underutilized if we only use it to shore up our personal sense of safety and connectedness within our immediate group. It can more powerfully be used to offer direct transfusions of hope, courage, compassion, and resilience to an entire planet grown dark and mineral for want of these things. It can begin to warm the atmosphere in the inner ground, so that new movement in the outer ground becomes possible.    

There are cautions and protocols around this kind of work, essentially encapsulated in the classic monastic vows of “chastity, poverty, and obedience.” I will be looking at these in my next post. But for now, let’s stay with the extraordinarily high possibility being laid before us here: that a “warmed atmosphere” constellated within a group through the melding of their common aim can then be turned outward, where it can indeed “have a reciprocal action on a whole city.” Even a whole world.


A Note from Northeast Wisdom

Cynthia has been sharing her response to the pandemic sweeping the world with an on-going series of posts on the Northeast Wisdom website that began on March 23, 2020. That initial post, Pandemic Homework, outlined recommended practices that people could take themselves in response, and was followed by:

From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions);
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises;
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework; and
Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict & Zoom.

The Pandemic Homework posts include a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,” which refer to the six Gurdjieff exercises that are the first item on Cynthia’s to-do list. She says: The (six) exercises I have recommended are all examples of what Gurdjieff calls “transformed contemplation”—and in direct cognizance of the needs of our present global crisis—we receive something for ourselves, we offer something back. Each of these exercises highlights a slightly different aspect of this and works on a slightly different skill set. The Commentaries are posted as follows:

“Clear Impressions”: Commentaries Part I;
“Lord Have Mercy”: Commentaries Part II, A & B;
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C;
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Commentaries Part III, A & B;
“Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, A;
Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, B;
Preliminary Remark, the “Web” Exercise: Commentaries Part V, A;
The Group Atmosphere: “Web” Exercise, Commentaries Part V, B;
Yin and Yang: “Web” Exercise, Commentaries, Part V, C.

Coming soon, Cynthia’s final two Commentaries on the “Web” and the “Four Ideals” exercise.  

Joseph AzizeJoseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary, and all quoted references in this post are from it as well. It is a great resource and we recommend it.

 

Image credits from the top: Morning Star by artist Alex Janvier, courtesy of the Canadian Museum of History; Gurdjieff’s pantry in Paris, image courtesy of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York; Montparnasse, Paris, photo courtesy of Henrique Ferreira, Unsplash; photo of Joseph Azize with his book, courtesy of his website, linked above.

For any of you who are new to the website: Welcome! And welcome to Cynthia Bourgeault’s third commentary on the “Web” exercise; part of an ongoing series of posts that began in late March 2020 in the midst of the global covid-19 pandemic. Gurdjieff called these exercises “Transformed Contemplation,” which Cynthia says is a “contemplation that actually transforms something, both in ourselves and in the world. It is a kind of sacred alchemy, which is to be understood within the context of Gurdjieff’s great vision of ‘reciprocal feeding’: the exchange of physical/energetic substances between the realms which maintains the whole cosmic ecosystem in a state of dynamic equilibrium.” More information and links to the series can be found at the end of this post, where you will also find a place to share your comments and questions.

Here’s Cynthia:

The Web Exercise is unique in the Gurdjieff repertoire, Azize comments, “in that it requires the members of the group to work at it in conjunction with each other, both when they come together as a group and while they go about their usual [i.e., separated] activities” (p. 200). The exercise thus has a kind of “yin and yang” quality to it, and it is coming to see how these two phases work together that the real learning is to be had.

I don’t want to push the yin/yang metaphor too far, but let’s say that the yang phase corresponds to the time when the group is actually physically working together. Here Gurdjieff suggests that rather than just “disappearing” into one’s private inner work, as happens all too often in spiritual groups, a deliberate effort be made to reach out and establish a direct contact with that common aim that has brought the members together in the first place.

“Direct contact,” of course, means through sensing. In the same way we have already practiced sensing our leg, sensing our head, sensing our atmosphere, we now simply expand the radius of our attention one notch farther and directly sense the atmosphere of the entire group, the atmosphere called into being by the confluence of all those individual aims.

In so doing, a mutual quickening happens. The group atmosphere is consciously activated and synchronized; it comes into coherence and becomes a unified field. As Gurdjieff picturesquely puts it, “The atmosphere is warming for an aspiring with all your being towards a common aim” (p. 200). Then, from the warmth of that activated field, all members can individually draw reinforcement as they work together toward the fulfillment of that common aim. This is the “fineness” I spoke of earlier: the mysterious “something” that sometimes enters and allows a group to work miles above their own heads in a seemingly effortless clarity. I believe it is actually an emergent property of the whole, of the group atmosphere that has been summoned into life.

I repeat here my earlier caveat: that the real benefit conferred through an on-the-ground group is that it ensures the balanced participation of all three centers. As the group circulates through its rota of daily activities—teaching, exercises, practical work, movements, meditation—the sensation of unity gradually grows across a spectrum of activities and becomes deeply seated in the body: as a felt-sense memory, not simply an emotion of closeness or a speculative ideal. In that deeply embodied configuration, it can be more quickly drawn on when the group enters “Phase Two.”

 

THE YIN PHASE

Once that morphogenetic field has been created, the first surprise in store for the individual members is the discovery that the group atmosphere does not disperse when the group itself physically disperses. The atmosphere remains in place, continuing to infuse and bind its members together—“at the apex”—even though they may be widely scattered geographically. The product of a higher order of causality, it is not limited by the conventions of space and time. Its operational mode is non-localized action. Azize comments: “Movement is effectively instantaneous in time and space, for conscious activity is realized in higher dimensions” (p. 201). There is no need for members to be physically—or even “virtually”—in contact with each other; what is known in one corner of the web is mysteriously available throughout the entire web. Encouragement, insight, solidarity, healing, prophetic initiative, the sudden entry of third force: all of these are knowable and instantly available to all within the “warmed atmosphere” and sheltering intelligence of the web.

Learning how to work with this property comprises the yin phase of this exercise.

As you can now more fully imagine, this is the main reason I have been reluctant to jump whole-hog onto the bandwagon of simply riding out the pandemic lockdown with a proliferation of zoom groups, online study groups, zoom retreats, even zoom liturgies. First of all, it isn’t a priority or in fact even necessary in an authentic wisdom group. Everything you need is there already through the common sustenance flowing to you through the web. Second, this continued allure of the surface pulls you away from the level at which the real juice is flowing, the level at which you have by grace and grit been preparing yourself to work. It substitutes a more superficial level of “staying in touch” and horizontal fellowship for the alchemical fusion of souls that is awaiting you at the depths. A bit like trying to grope your way in the dark with the help of a flashlight when what you really need is to learn how to see in the dark.

The first step is the hardest: lean into the emptiness! Don’t immediately rush to fill up all the available space. Lean into the darkness and let your eyes adjust. Little by little you’ll discover that you’re actually seeing a new landscape, seeing in a slightly different way. The deeper clues of connectedness begin to fill in for you, announcing their presence in small and often surprising ways. As your imaginal vision gains strength, that strength flows back into the web, and the web itself gains strength and presence—presence enough, eventually, to begin to hold within its collective atmosphere healing and even prophetic force.

And yes, I know. Some of you are holding teaching and pastoral posts with commitments that must be upheld and folks out there who are frightened, lonely, and disrupted, longing for connection at any level. Do your work; feed the hungry. But when you are finished what you have been given to do this day, shut down the computer and lean into the emptiness; the atmosphere has your back!

Trust that what we have built on the ground over these past two decades during our yang phase of our Wisdom work, is now there for us all as we collectively enter the yin phase, which may feel like a diminishment but in fact “draws the circle just.”


A Note from Northeast Wisdom  

Cynthia has been sharing her response to the pandemic sweeping the world with an on-going series of posts on the Northeast Wisdom website that began on March 23, 2020. That initial post, Pandemic Homework, outlined recommended practices that people could take themselves in response, and was followed by:
From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions);
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises;
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework; and
Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict & Zoom.

The Pandemic Homework posts include a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,” which refer to the six Gurdjieff exercises that are the first item on Cynthia’s to-do list. She says: The (six) exercises I have recommended are all examples of what Gurdjieff calls “transformed contemplation”—and in direct cognizance of the needs of our present global crisis—we receive something for ourselves, we offer something back. Each of these exercises highlights a slightly different aspect of this and works on a slightly different skill set. The Commentaries are posted as follows:

“Clear Impressions”: Commentaries Part I;
“Lord Have Mercy”: Commentaries Part II, A & B;
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C;
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Commentaries Part III, A & B;
“Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, A;
Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, B;
Preliminary Remark, the “Web” Exercise: Commentaries Part V, A;
The Group Atmosphere: “Web” Exercise, Commentaries Part V, B.

Coming soon, Cynthia’s further Commentaries on the “Web” and the “Four Ideals” exercise.

Joseph AzizeJoseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource.

 

Image credits from the top: Buk, Korean drum, courtesy wikimedia commons; Group X, No.2, Altarpiece, Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, Tracey Bashoff, photo of courtesy Laura Ruth; Earthshine Moon, courtesy of NASA; Joseph Azize courtesy of his website.

In this ongoing series of posts, Cynthia has taken a deep dive into the underlying tenets of her March 2020 letter to the community entitled Pandemic Homework. The first item on the emergent to-do list was to begin to work with specific Gurdjieff practices—exercises which she has written about in her Commentaries on the Elements of the Exercises. This post is the second of a six-part essay on the fifth practice, called the “Web” exercise. You will find links to previous posts in the series at the bottom of the essay, along with a link to the book of exercises. We invite you to share your comments below as well.

Cynthia continues here with the second part of her Commentary on the “Web” exercise:

Just as there is an individual atmosphere, so there is also a group atmosphere, formed from the aggregation of individual atmospheres. Gurdjieff picturesquely calls it a web. When this web is clear and conscious, it can become a tremendous source of support and transformation, both for its individual group members and for larger planetary purposes.

Gurdjieff may never have heard those contemporary buzzwords, “quantum entanglement” and “non-localized action,” but in this exercise—which in my opinion is less an exercise than an extended reflection—he demonstrates a precocious awareness of both these dimensions of nonlinear causality. In this exercise he sets before us the dazzling possibility that a group which has become capable of navigating consciously in these deeper waters can become a profound force for good.

Don’t pass through the metaphor of the web too quickly, taking it simply as a synonym for a network. When you look more closely, you see that Gurdjieff is actually talking about a substance—“a material” as he calls it—manifested in and through that web, which actually creates the web in the first place. It’s this substance we want to keep our eyes on. I have tried to call your attention to it in a few of my earlier posts.

The substance in question is this mysterious quality of “fineness,” of a higher order of synergy, understanding, clarity, that sometimes flows through a group and lifts it into a whole new realm of expressivity—as if the group is, with one body and soul, collectively “in the flow.” We experience it usually as “oneness” and tend to process it as a feeling. What is actually going on, however, is that we are collectively tasting a substance of an infinitely more delicate, crystalline nature, a substance perhaps bearing the fragrance of that “sacred aiësakhaldan” I referred to in my commentary on the “Make Strong” exercise, that direct nurturance emanating from our Most Holy Sun Absolute. It takes a prepared heart and a prepared nervous system to be able to partake directly of food of this subtlety. This is true both for the individual and for the group. But when that preparation has been carefully made, miracles can happen.

The quantum entanglement extends in two directions: between the group and its individual members, and between the group atmosphere and the planetary atmosphere. In this and the next post I will be focusing on the first of these aspects; then I will turn to Gurdjieff’s astounding assertion that through the “warming” produced within the web: You can have a reciprocal action on a whole city.”

 

THE CONSCIOUS WORK GROUP

We’re not talking about any old group here, of course. By “group” (or “brotherhood,” as he also calls it here) Gurdjieff means an intentional work group, bound together by a common aim and a willingness to abide by the protocols of conscious labor and intentional suffering. If the atmosphere of the group is clear and consciously tended, and if the desire to “go towards the aim,” as Gurdjieff puts it, is strong enough, then the group can accomplish collectively—through its melded atmosphere—a transformation unavailable to an individual working alone.

The stipulations are clear, however. The first is that the group must be held together at the apex (in Azize’s perceptive comment) by their “shared conscious aim.” Held together from their Omega Point, as Teilhard might say. No lesser motivation will do. A conscious work group is not for support, fellowship, or a feeling of belonging. None of these proximate aims, no matter how laudable in their own right, are strong enough to endure the ravages when the shadow side starts to surface. Only the true north of the common aim will guide the seekers across the darkened waters.

The second stipulation is that this brotherhood must truly be “one for all, all for one.” The terms for arriving at the destination are that all arrive together; all are bound in a covenant of mutual becoming. This is a core theme for Gurdjieff. You will see it resonating very strongly as well in his fifth Obligolnian striving:

The striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai,’ that is, up to the degree of self-individuality.
      (Beelzebub’s Tales, 1992 Arkana ed., p. 352; 1999 Arkana ed., p. 386)

It is to my mind no coincidence that exactly these same two stipulations form the twin pillars of The Rule of St. Benedict, which has guided Christian seekers for some 1500 years now, the longest continuously surviving conscious fellowship in the Christian West. The sense of a common aim in this “school for the Lord’s service” pervades the entire Rule. Perhaps less well known is the sublime reflection in chapter 72 (the next-to-the-last) on “The Good Zeal of Monks”:

This, then, is the good zeal that monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else….

It’s also much the same, incidentally, in a good choir—which in my own experience has actually been the closest approximation of the ideal Gurdjieff is laying before us here—though of course with a more limited aim. No good choir forms to offer fellowship to its members. The choristers are there for one purpose only: to collectively serve the music, to give it voice and unlock its beauty. Everybody yearns to feast on this beauty, and they can only recognize their aim collectively. Sometimes choir members do not like each other; they wince at each other’s mannerisms and bear each other’s infirmities through gritted teeth. But in order to make the music happiness they must defer to each other and “earnestly compete in obedience to one another.” A choir of individual prima donnas will never deliver the music. They cannot form a coherent atmosphere.

What can be accomplished when a group atmosphere is woven on the loom of these two great stipulations? Plenty. We’ll consider some of the practical implications in my next post.


A Note from Northeast Wisdom

Cynthia has been sharing her response to the pandemic sweeping the world with an on-going series of posts on the Northeast Wisdom website that began on March 23, 2020. That initial post, Pandemic Homework, outlined recommended practices that people could take themselves in response, and was followed by:
From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions);
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises;
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework; and
Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict & Zoom.

The Pandemic Homework posts include a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises”:
“Clear Impressions”: Commentaries Part I;
“Lord Have Mercy”: Commentaries Part II, A & B;
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C;
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Commentaries Part III, A & B;
“Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, A;
Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, B;
Preliminary Remark, the “Web” Exercise: Commentaries Part V, A.

And soon to come, Cynthia’s remaining commentaries on the “Web” and the “Four Ideals” exercise. Stay tuned!

Cynthia says, “I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five—now six—of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere. They are something you can actually do: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do.”

Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource.

 

Image credits from the top: Body of Water, image courtesy of Fernando Jorge, unsplash; Path of Light through Honey, courtesy of Nandhinikandhasamy, wikimedia commons; Image courtesy of the Young People’s Chorus of NYC website; Holy Week image courtesy of William Britten.

I had not originally planned to include this exercise in this introductory sampling and still have serious misgivings about sharing it now. There’s a significant risk that some of you may be tempted to try it out under inappropriate conditions and wind up in a hall of mirrors.

But the exercise so clearly furnishes the bridge, both conceptually and practically, between the “Atmosphere” Exercise we have just been working with and the magisterial “Four Ideals” Exercise upon which we are about to embark that to leave it off the table turns out to be impossible. You will meet a new side of Gurdjieff here, a whole new depth to his collective and compassionate engagement with the world, that few commentators, even those senior in the Work, have sufficiently noticed.

So here’s the caveat up front: Please do not try out this exercise with your newfound friends in your online spiritual study group. Repeat: DO NOT!! It needs to be anchored in actual on-the-ground experience, lived cheek-to-jowl with your fellow seekers, shored up by a hefty component of practical physical work. Full engagement of the moving center is mandatory for understanding, for as in The Rule of St Benedict, it is the intentional, rhythmic circulation through a daily round of activities—“prayer alone, prayer together, work alone, work together”—that undergirds the gradual transfiguration of understanding. If you try to do this with your virtual group, you will be starting too far up in your body and in only one quadrant of activity. You will inevitably mistake the emotional feeling of closeness with your group members for the imperishably finer, more spacious, more impartial substance that enters “from above”… “when the conditions are right…”

Instead, I would ask you to try to recall a time in your actual on-the-ground group experience when something of this other order of intensity entered. A whole different flavor, a whole different taste from either clinging, sentimentality, or enthusiasm.

Represent it to yourself; use your conscious imagination to actually make it present to yourself again.

I can recall two such experiences clearly marked by this other quality of fineness. The first was during a Wisdom School several years ago on the Olympic Peninsula, where our combined Fourth Way/contemplative group suddenly found itself in the midst of a morning of “sohbet”—spiritual conversation and dialogue—thinking as if with one intelligence, seamlessly articulating a whole that was infinitely more than the sum of its parts. Quakers point toward this same experience when they speak of a “gathered” or “covered” meeting. In the utter stillness of their melded “atmospheres” something of a different substantiality sometimes enters in.

The other experience was more recent; at our Mr. Gurdjieff Meet Mr. Teilhard seminar at the Claymont Center in West Virginia just last fall, where the “gathered meeting” actually went on for several days, across a variety of spheres of activity. Maybe it had something to do with our opening-night Eucharist right on the movements floor, commemorating the 70th anniversary of Gurdjieff’s passing. Maybe it was our daily work with the “Make Strong” exercise. Maybe it was the movements themselves; they have an uncanny capacity to evoke this dimension. Whatever the combination, the group soon fell into an effortless collective transfiguration. It cut across the teaching, the practical work, the work in movements. We were effortlessly carried, as if on a wing.We saw things, understood things during that liminal week that simply cannot be reconstructed now. But we knew it was food from above.

And we are still drawing on it now.

I share these personal recollections to help you get a taste of the quality of oneness we will be looking for as we begin in the next post to ponder the remarkable assertions Gurdjieff is making in his “Web” Exercise. Using Fourth Way language, one might say it bears the distinct fragrance of “higher emotional center” and even “higher intellectual center.” It cannot—repeat—CANNOT be generated from below, from even the most fervent application of our usual wishing, desiring, aiming. Instead, you must wait in stillness, quietly poised within your own atmosphere, attending with bare simplicity to the next thing that needs to be done, until—in the words of Paulette Meier’s beautiful Quaker chant—”light arises out of darkness and leads thee.”

Then and only then are you really clear to participate in forming that web which does, indeed, have the capacity to significantly shift the state of things both in our own world and in worlds beyond.


A Note from Northeast Wisdom:

 

This series began on March 23, 2020, with the post entitled: Pandemic Homework; a letter from Cynthia outlining a four part to-do list in response to Covid-19 and our times. The practice of these exercises—the first point on her list—are in her words, “something you can actually do: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do.”

The series of posts that followed are available on Northeast Wisdom at these links:
From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions);
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises;
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework;
Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict & Zoom.

The posts continue with a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,” which began with:
“Clear Impressions”: Part I;
“Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, A & B;
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, C;
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Part III, A & B”;
“Atmosphere”: Part IV;
Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Part IV, B.

We are looking forward to Cynthia’s six-part commentary on the “Web” exercise, here on Northeast Wisdom. Stay tuned!

Joseph AzizeCynthia says, “I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five—now six—of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere.

 Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource, and highly recommended.

 

Image credits from the top: Wooden path, top view, photo courtesy of Kamil Slusarczyk, unsplash.com; photo courtesy of Chris Ensey, unsplash; photo courtesy of Joseph Azize website.

For most of March and April, as many of you know, I have been hanging out here on the edge of the known universe on Eagle Island, taking the time to renew my flagging hermit skills. What little technology I have access to on my two-panel, four-battery solar system huffs and puffs to keep up. On days like yesterday when I sat in the teeth of a gale for twelve stormy hours, the whole system went down by sunset.

Surrounded by mostly time and tide, I have been slowly coming to my own decisions about what is my own rightful participation in the virtual community that is being generated and sustained during this great pandemic re-set. I am aware that we are all called to participate in different ways; it’s not a “one-size fits all” solution to the conundrum, and all sincere contributions work toward the common good.

As for myself, however, I feel that the contribution specifically being asked of me is to be extremely judicious in my involvement in live internet community (zoom, skype, facetime, video-conferencing, etc.). Partly because it is so clearly a privilege reserved for the already privileged. Partly because it continues to support both economically and energetically the continued electromagnetic inflammation of the planetary atmosphere and the economy of unabashed economic and moral capitalism that drives it. And partly because the great spiritual traditions all know of a better, deeper, and more powerful means of intercommunication already seeded into the human heart, if we can only remember how to use it.

Repeat; this not a blanket statement, not an assertion of any presumed moral high ground. It’s just the place that seems to be accorded to me to uphold in this global transition.

My decision going forward is to limit my zoom participation to two areas only: continuing board and task-force meetings with groups I am already committed to; and a few larger, “conference style” teaching events, particularly when they replace already contracted on-the-ground obligations.

I intend to keep an engaged presence within the Wisdom School Community and on the internet through blog postings, commentaries and ‘Ask Cynthia’ here on Northeast Wisdom, and on the Wisdom Community facebook page. And I will also continue to support my online courses with the CAC currently running or in the works. 

I will not regularly be participating in zoom retreats, zoom liturgies, or zoom classes or conversations of an ongoing nature whose primary purpose is to maintain teaching or fellowship. This is very good work, but it is not mine to do. In general, I am limiting screen time in ALL formats (both online and offline) to six hours a day. I am relying on the Benedictine rule, with its practical balance of “Ora et Labora” to rebalance my three-centered awareness and help reverse the atrophy of those inner senses required for clear perception in difficult times.

I am in possession of no crystal ball here, but I suspect as we are able to begin moving about again, that my role is going to shift toward helping to re-open small, on-the-ground events. The human horde has been badly traumatized by its newfound terror of physical proximity, and this trauma will need to be released before truly embodied compassion can begin to take root in us again. Love still lies on the other side of fear, and the bridge will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. I am trying to prepare myself, both inwardly and outwardly for what this may require.

I want to emphasize that I am in full solidarity with the beautiful efforts you are all making here to sustain community over distance, and I will certainly be holding you all in my hearts as these conversations unfold. My decision is to be understood as simply my own way of putting teeth into this solidarity. And of trying to hold myself accountable.

Blessings and Love,

Cynthia

Cynthia


A Note from Northeast Wisdom

 

Cynthia has been sharing her response to the pandemic sweeping the world with an on-going series of posts on the Northeast Wisdom website that began on March 23, 2020. That initial post, Pandemic Homework, outlined recommended practices that people could take themselves in response, and was followed by:

From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions);

Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises; and

Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework.

The posts continue with a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises”: “Clear Impressions”: Commentaries Part I;

“Lord Have Mercy”: Commentaries Part II, A & B;

Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C;

“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Commentaries Part III, A & B;

“Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, A; and

Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, B.

 

Soon to come: Cynthia’s commentaries on the “Web” Exercise and the “Four Ideals” Exercise. Stay tuned!

 

Cynthia says, “I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five—now six—of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere. They are something you can actually do: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do.”

Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource.

Image credits from the top: Eagle Island, Maine, Lighthouse courtesy of lighthousefriends.com; Rainbow on Eagle Island, courtesy of Cynthia Bourgeault & Contemplative Society; Cynthia’s hermitage on Eagle Island; Holy Week 2020 photo image courtesy of William Britten, beloved friend of Northeast Wisdom.

EgyptianCynthia’s first commentary on the “Atmosphere” exercise was posted on the Northeast Wisdom home page blog on April 27, 2020; part of the Pandemic Homework series of posts that began here on March 23, 2020. You may learn more about the entire series, and find the index and links to each post, at the end of this blog.

Meanwhile, Cynthia continues with her commentary, “exploring what it means to “keep within”: not merely as a spiritual demeanor, but as an actual mode of embodied presence.”

 

There is a very good reason, I believe, that Gurdjieff set the boundary of our personal atmosphere at a meter to a meter-and-a-half: that is the maximum radius that most people, without further specialized training, can actually embrace through direct sensation, rather than defaulting to visualization.

It is, in other words, the functional radius of our attention.

I must confess that I have always struggled with the Work phrase “divided attention” and its companion instruction (whether in the movements, the exercises, or in practical work): “Divide your attention.” I know this instruction comes with hoary authority: Gurdjieff himself taught it. So it is with justifiable fear and trembling that I raise my dissenting voice here—may God smite me if I am wrong!!!

But I stand by my own experience: attention cannot be divided. Like the body of Christ in Symeon the New Theologian’s celebrated poem, it is “indivisibly whole, seamless in [its] Godhood.” And since it is thus by nature infinite, it cannot be divided by any finite integer. You cannot place half your attention on your right arm and half on “I AM.” The two must occur simultaneously, held together in a three-dimensional space, a sphere of attention, with its center located deeper within.

“Where do you pay attention from?” Ben Grant asked us, almost offhandedly, at the end of a teaching session with the Toronto group in the early 1990s. Ben Grant was an elder in the Work, a first-generation student of Gurdjieff, at that point probably already in his eighties.

The question riveted me. In all my years in the Work nobody had ever asked that, either before or afterwards. But the answer from within was not long in coming. Nor has it ever varied.

The seat of my attention is in my solar plexus.

With my attention firmly grounded there (which is also, in many chakra systems, the seat of the personal will), I then project it out like a lightbeam, scribing a sphere according to the radius—to the candlepower—of my attention.

MercuryWithin that three-dimensional space, attention is not divided; rather, it expands effortlessly to fill the space, just like air in a balloon as you blow it up. Everything within the radius of that sphere can be simultaneously comprehended, held in balance, like planets circling around a sun. When I am on the movements floor, for example, I do not apportion 30% of my attention to my feet, 30% to the arms, and 30% to the counting task; in that mentalized configuration my attention swiftly collapses. Rather, fiercely gathered and present at the seat of my attention— “quivering like a drop of mercury,” in Rumi’s evocative phrase—I simply do—for as far out as my attention can hold the unbroken field.

That is the beauty of the “Atmosphere” exercise as Gurdjieff offers it to us here. Our “atmosphere” is really the functional circumference of our attention; within it, we get to taste ourselves directly. It is as close as we can get to touching our own essence, to a direct sensation of our being, our “Real I.” Within this cloistered garden the fragrance is sweet. It is nurturing. No wonder Gurdjieff encourages us to suck it in.

Go much beyond that meter-and-a-half and the attention buckles; you collapse back into the story of yourself, the emotions, the vicarious projections. Back to viewing yourself through the periscope of your mind. That is why Gurdjieff was so insistent on “compelling the atmosphere to remain within its limits.” Better to stay with a small truth than a large illusion.

In any group activity, your foremost priority is to take responsibility for maintaining the unity and coherence of your own atmosphere. As the old Shaker maxim goes, “We should pass by each other lightly, like angels.” When we get pulled off-balance, out of three-centered awareness—when we get co-opted by our agendas, our emotions, the excitement racing through the crowd—then the external manifestations emerging from our disturbed atmosphere will always be cacophonous. They will always clash with and incite other atmospheres. Agitation, posturing, headiness, stridency, sentimentality, emotional manipulation are always the result: initially perceptible—once you’ve trained yourself to look—in the raised decibels and sharper tone of voices and in general body agitation. This is how groups get shanghaied and sincerely intended visions and aspirations go down in flame.

I repeat: in all groups, but particularly in spiritual groups, the responsible custody of your own atmosphere is your first and primary obligation. As the individual atmospheres go, so will the group atmosphere as well. If something is going off-track energetically, STOP!!! Put the argument on pause, and attend to this beautiful, simple exercise to restore and recollect your own atmosphere—”quivering like a drop of mercury.” Then you can all begin in a better place, and carry on with the cosmic work that a “seamless and indivisible” group atmosphere can contribute so profoundly to our aching and fractured planet.

As usual, Rumi nails it. Here is the rest of the poem:

 

The Waterwheel

Stay together, friends.
Don’t scatter and sleep.

Our friendship is made
of being awake.

The waterwheel accepts water
and turns and gives it away,
weeping.

That way it stays in the garden,
whereas another roundness rolls
through a dry riverbed looking
for what it thinks it wants.

Stay here, quivering with each moment
like a drop of mercury.

 

 

A Note from Northeast Wisdom:

 

This series began on March 23, 2020, with the post entitled: Pandemic Homework; a letter from Cynthia outlining a four part to-do list in response to Covid-19 and our times. The practice of these exercises—the first point on her list—are in her words, “something you can actually do: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do.”

The series of posts that followed are available on Northeast Wisdom at these links:
From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions)
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework  
The posts continue with a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,”
“Clear Impressions”: Part I
“Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, A & B
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, C
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Part III, A & B”
“Atmosphere”: Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises Part IV

Cynthia’s commentaries on the “Web” exercise will be posted next. A recent mailing to the community, “Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict and Zoom” will also be posted as part of this series, here on Northeast Wisdom. Stay tuned!

Joseph AzizeCynthia says, “I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five—now six—of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere.

Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource, and highly recommended.

Image credits, from the top: Seated Egyptian, 12th dynasty, courtesy of DocPlayer.net; Seated Female, Republic of the Congo, or Cabinda, Angola, 19th century, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art; Mercury, courtesy of USGS, public domain; Salvator Mundi, Leonardo Da Vinci, courtesy Salvator Mundi; Waterwheel, courtesy of piqsels; Joseph Azize, courtesy of his website above.

“Keep within! And when they say, ‘Look here’ or ‘look there is Christ,’ go not forth….”

This beautiful gem of Quaker wisdom, set to music by Paulette Meier and well loved by many of you around the Wisdom network, encapsulates both the method and the deeper intention of Gurdjieff’s Atmosphere Exercise. Here we will be actively exploring what it means to “keep within”: not merely as a spiritual demeanor, but as an actual mode of embodied presence. You can listen to the chant here.

Call it your “aura,” call it “electromagnetic field of your heart”: the words all point to the same underlying recognition that “we” do not end at the outer edge of our skins. We move within an encompassing energetic field which we ourselves generate, and which—according to Gurdjieff—we are responsible for maintaining in good working order: i.e., unruffled, contained, and under our conscious supervision. He picturesquely refers to this field as our atmosphere.

Contemplative Christianity has also long prized this state of inner containment, which is known in the Christian West as “recollection” and in the Christian East as “vigilance.” It is a state of alert, calm, gathered presence. In its absence, the energy around our being rushes and swirls in an automatic jumble, losing much of its directional force while at the same time negatively entangling itself with other similarly untended atmospheres. The result is an energetic cacophony.

This relatively straightforward exercise will help you to begin to settle down within your own atmosphere, keeping your being-energy contained and quiet under your conscious tending.

As usual, the chief culprit is thinking—or, to be more specific, the completely mechanical and autonomous movement of thinking when we are not consciously present. Gurdjieff says, arrestingly: “Your atmosphere is displaced in the direction in which your thought moves. If you think of your mother who is far away, your atmosphere moves toward the place where your mother is.” To be sure, this speaks of the wondrous, space-traveling capacities of our creative imagination, carried on the wings of our attention: so long as both are under our conscious control. But when imagination becomes infected with nostalgia or fantasy, or is suddenly intoxicated by its own magical powers, then the journey is aborted, and our space traveler falls back under the sway of delusion.

But until you have learned to sense your atmosphere directly, you won’t be able to taste the difference between imagination indentured to fantasy and “the real deal.” It is a tragic trompe l’oeil, on which many sincere aspirations have foundered.

In this exercise we practice remaining within our atmosphere, not letting our thoughts and emotions go ricocheting out beyond the meter to meter-and-a-half circle we imaginatively draw around ourselves. It is the exact inner equivalent of the task we took on one day during our Wisdom School in the desert near Tucson: to draw a six-foot ring around ourselves and sit within it for an hour. We are drawing that same ring—only now in the air, not on the ground. This will be the paddock where we contain the wild horse of our thoughts, emotions, and impulses until the whole thing comes quietly into a wordless equanimity.

In this exercise we meet for the first time Gurdjieff’s unique use of the phrase: Represent to yourself.” Representing to yourself is not the same thing as visualizing. Close, but not identical. They have subtly different flavors, since they are in fact the work of different centers. Visualizing draws primarily on the intellectual center. Representing remains much closer to sensation. With your attention firmly anchored in your solar plexus (at least that’s how it works for me), you simply allow the radius of your attention to expand outward, to establish a direct sensate contact with the entire sphere of that atmosphere. You will discover that you are able to do this fairly easily if you don’t interfere with the process by thinking.

You may watch how the waves of thinking, emotion, agitation, wash across the still waters of your atmosphere. But if you simply “keep within,” not allowing yourself to be dragged outside its sphere, things will quiet down once again and the depths of a deeper, mysterious aliveness begin to emerge.

One must also “compel the atmosphere to stay within its limits—not allow it to go further than it can sustain.” That limit is concretely set at a meter to a meter-and-a-half. It actually exists, a palpable energy field. Anything beyond this, and you will likely be venturing out under the sway of thought, emotion, or unanchored visualization. And you will inevitably get tangled up in other people’s atmospheres.

I have often used this sanctuary of my atmosphere to navigate through a rough patch when a group I am teaching begins to get energetically disturbed—i.e., heady, confrontational, or intoxicated with a kind of group musk. Sometimes the only thing that can be done is to plant my attention in my solar plexus, “shelter in place” within my atmosphere, and hold the space until the disturbed waves subside. Mysteriously, this will often have a calming presence on the whole group. I have learned through repeated hard knocks that usually this is the ONLY way to shift the energy. Taking the bait when an inflamed emotional or intellectual challenge has been hurled onto the floor is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Only by standing firm in that stillness will the disturbed atmosphere within the group begin to settle.

And this stands to reason, since the disturbance has been created in the first place by the group leader failing to notice when, carried away by thought, emotion, or passion, the group members have been drawn out of their individual atmospheres. The result will always be trouble.

Learning to stay within one’s own atmosphere is not only responsible self-maintenance; it is also foundational group hygiene. We will see more why this is so when we come to the next exercise: The Web.

 


A Note from Northeast Wisdom:

 

This series began on March 23, 2020, with the post entitled:
 Pandemic Homework.

 

The series of posts that followed are available on Northeast Wisdom at these links:
From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions)
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework  

 

The posts continue with a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,” which began with:
“Clear Impressions”: Part I
“Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, A & B
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, C
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Part III, A & B”

 

A Postscript to the “Atmosphere” exercise will follow this post, along with Cynthia’s commentaries on the “Web” exercise. A recent mailing to the community, “Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict and Zoom” will also be posted here on Northeast Wisdom, so stay tuned!

Joseph Azize

Cynthia says, “I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five—now six—of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere. They are something you can actually do: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do.”

Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource, and highly recommended.

You may find Paulette’s new CD on her website, Paulette Meier, here.

Images credits, from the top down: Hildegard de Bingen, Blue Christ mandala; Hilma af Klint, Group IV, The Ten Largest, No 9 Old Age, 1907; A Man Enthroned within a Mandorla in a Tree, 1277- 1300; and image courtesy of the website of Joseph Azize

Found on a handwritten note dated 1939, “Make Strong! Not Easy Thing” is at the top of the list of the Gurdjieff exercises that Cynthia specifically mentions in “Pandemic Homework”; the blog post that initiated this series of posts and is her response to these extraordinary times. She begins her commentary on “Make Strong!” with the essential element of the breath. Joseph Azize, author of Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises, quotes Gurdjieff early on about “the food of the air” in his chapter “An Overview of Gurdjieff’s Ideas;” and the breath remains a key factor to the last chapter. More information and how to purchase Azize’s book, as well as the links to the complete series of the Pandemic Homework essays, are available at the end of this post.

As Cynthia wrote, in a response to a student of the exercises: “Yes, breath…so glad you’ve noticed…for breath is the ultimate field of exchange in all realms!”

 

A. Breath

I was first introduced to this exercise by my dear colleagues Amy Silver and Deborah Rose Longo at the Claymont Society Retreat Center in West Virginia. We worked with it during both sessions of our “Mr. Gurdjieff, meet Mr. Teilhard” seminar last fall, where it definitely raised the collective fineness of the group—“fineness” here being understood as sensitivity, vibrancy, and synergy.)

This exercise is particularly beloved by many Work devotees because it speaks in Gurdjieff’s own voice—it seems to have been copied down essentially verbatim by one of his students, preserving not only his instructions but his broken English and unique pacing and syntax—and thus bears his presence in a particularly personal and sacramental way.

In this exercise we will be working primarily with the breath—though inseparable, of course, from its other two major components, the I AM,” carried on the breath and three-centered awareness.

For Gurdjieff, breathing was the source of our “second being-food,” which not only sustains life in the planetary body, but also contains—if the breathing is conscious and fully embodied—elements needed for the building up of our subtle inner bodies, the bodies that allow us to begin here and now to perceive and navigate in the invisible higher realms. Without trying to hold the terms too tightly, the gist of the idea is laid out in a couple of key paragraphs in Mr. G’s chapter “Hypnotism” in Beelzebub’s Tales:

The substances of that part of the being-blood designed by Nature for serving the planetary body arise from the transformation of the substances of that planet on which the given being is formed and exists.

But the substances designed for serving the Kesdjan body of the being, which in their totality are called Hanbledzoin, are obtained from the transformation of elements of other planets and of the sun itself of that system where this three-brained being has the place of his arising and existence.

Finally, that part of the being-blood which almost everywhere is called the sacred Aiësakhaldan, and which serves the highest part of the being called the ‘soul,’ derives from the direct emanations of our Most Holy Sun Absolute [i.e., the Source of Everything existing, or God Himself].

After explaining that the substances required for the building up of our planetary body are ingested in the form of food, and for our first higher body (the Kesdjan body) from breathing, Gurdjieff then adds the kicker:

As for the sacred cosmic substances required for the coating of the highest being-body, which they call the ‘soul,’ these substances can be assimilated and correspondingly transformed and coated in them only through the process of what is called Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation, actualized in their common presences with the conscious participation of their three independent spiritualized parts [i.e., their three centers]. (pp. 520-21 in Viking Arkana edition; pp. 569-70 in Penguin Arkana 1999)

Aiessirittoorassnian-contemplation is the term that Azize translates as “transformed contemplation.” If you take the “aiëss” cognate seriously, it literally means “contemplation intended to nourish the sacred Aiësakhaldan, which builds up our highest being body, the soul.” More simply put, consciously ingesting those being substances that emerge directly from our Most Holy Sun Absolute; from God.

This is what these contemplative exercises, in toto, are all about. Each is a specimen of Aiessittoorassnian-contemplation. Collectively, they reveal the heart of Gurdjieff’s vision of transformation and the essence of his method for how to get there.

As we work with “Make Strong! Not Easy Thing” it is important to bear in mind that we are actually taking in a substance gratuitously offered to us through the Mercy of God for the building up within us of that “immortal diamond” which allows us to live here and now in those deeper waters that lie beyond death. We could all use a bit more of that substance on our planet just now!

 

B. “I AM”

The second component in this exercise is the “I AM,” which is placed on the breath: “I” on the in-breath, “AM” on the out-breath.

We have already explored in my last commentary (Connecting the Dots: The ‘Lord Have Mercy’ in Commentaries Part II, C), how “I AM” and “Lord have Mercy” are complementary phrases for Gurdjieff; they invoke and complete one another. “I AM” is not an autonomous assertion of “my” individual being; it arises within a relational field as a gift mysteriously given in each moment. The name of this field is the Mercy, and as I have been pointing out for twenty years now (borrowing an insight from that venerable wise woman Helen Luke), the root of the old Etruscan term mercy—merc—literally means ‘exchange.” It has nothing to do with pity, let alone condescension. It speaks of flow.

“Every breath you take is the breath of God,” the rascally old monk Theophane of Snowmass was fond of saying. We sense this gift freely flowing toward us, and realize that we do not hold ourselves in life; it is renewed in us breath by breath. Try to sense The Mercy as you say the I AM; let them dance in one another. And if you want, ponder this comment which Gurdjieff made:

When I say “I,” something inside me stands up; when I say “AM,” something inside me sits down.

If you recall Olga Louchalova’s insight—in my previous post (Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C)—about standing on the threshold “of the innermost mystery of the ontopoietic (self-manifesting) process”: well, there you are!

As your inner sensing gets more subtle, you may actually begin to be directly aware of these higher being substances as they play in the air you take in. Just in the moment before the out-breath draws back into in-breath, you may sense them particularly pungently. But don’t strain to catch it, and above all, don’t mess with your breathing! Don’t pause or add in any artificial hesitations. Gurdjieff was strictly adamant in breathing exercises—that the natural flow of the breathing not be interfered with. It is a very good recommendation for both safety and humility.

MAKE STRONG means to do this exercise in all three centers; if you float through it on autopilot, nothing will have been accomplished. While this exercise does not involve a body rotation, Gurdjieff does call for an initial “fifteen minutes relax”: during this time, it would not be time ill-spent to summon your bodily presence to full engagement. Get yourself alert, collected, and filled with sensation. Then you’ll be good to go.

The task of the intellectual center is to keep the mind from wandering. The emotional center becomes engaged as you realize the sacredness of the being-sustenance you are being offered and feel the Mercy of God as an intimate enfolding tenderness holding you and everything else together.

 

A final reflection…

Writing at this precise moment, as we enter the eye-of-the-needle of Holy Week engulfed in a global pandemic, I am excruciatingly aware of the corporate and collective dimension of this exercise. When the covid-19 virus kills, it kills by taking away the capacity to draw nourishment from this second being-food, the air. I breathe in solidarity with all those struggling for breath; I feel that the gift of breathing, still by grace unfolding in me, is for their sake as well. At a fundamental level, breath ties us all together. The world is closely in the backdrop as I sit down on my prayer mat these days and endeavor to MAKE STRONG. Indeed, not an easy thing.

One final, totally Gurdjieffian prophetic twist: At the end of that same chapter, “Hypnotism” (pp. 522-3, 1992;pp. 571-2, 1999), he notes that the invitation to transform these higher cosmic substances embedded in the air is not only a sacred opportunity but also a collective human obligation—failure to do so throws the whole system of inter-realmic reciprocal feeding off-kilter. The untransformed “crystallizations” of these higher cosmic substances reign back down on the earth—as viruses!!! He suggests that it was precisely this imbalance that gave rise to the first global pandemic, the Spanish influenza of 1918!!! You can dismiss this as voodoo if you like, but at root, I believe the old sage may have a point. Our postmodern arrogance and skepticism notwithstanding, we humans are indeed very small cogs in a huge and merciful inter-cosmic wheel. As we reawaken reverence and gratitude, courage and strength will surely follow.

 

A Note from Northeast Wisdom

Cynthia posted this commentary to the Wisdom community originally on Good Friday saying that the “Make Strong! Not Easy Thing” exercise “wants to weave itself through your work on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.” As we move into this liminal time between Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, we have an opportunity to discover, in Cynthia’s words, that “there is an energy in these practices—a direct contact with assistance available to us from beyond simply this realm, and an energy desperately needed in our current planetary crisis.

This series of posts began on March 23, 2020, with the post entitled Pandemic Homework on March 23, 2020. From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructionsFoundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises; and Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework followed. 

The posts continue with a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,” which began with “Clear Impressions”: Part I; “Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, A & B, Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C. This post, “Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Part III, A & B,” will be followed by Cynthia’s commentaries on the “Atmosphere” Exercise and the “Web” Exercise, as well as: “Going Forward… A Personal Statement re Time, Tides, Benedict and Zoom.” Stay tuned!

Cynthia says, “I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five—now six—of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere. They are something you can actually do: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do.

Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource.

 

Photo images credited from the top: G. I. Gurdjieff, origin unknown; Waterworlds, courtesy of NASA public domain; Sun, NASA public domain; Ascent (aka Liberation) by Agnes Lawrence Pelton, 1946, courtesy of Wikiart; A Storm, by Georgia O’Keefe, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art; Eastertide photo by William Britten courtesy of the good man himself.

The “Lord Have Mercy” exercise is one of five exercises first recommended by Cynthia Bourgeault in late March 2020 and available in Joseph Azize’s new book Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises. This post is the latest in a series which began with “Pandemic Homework.” Each post goes a little deeper into the recommended homework. More about the book, and links to the series, can be found at the end of this blog.

These exercises are offered for our work right now. As we begin to allow them, as Cynthia says, to “take root in our own hearts,” may we know ever more viscerally “that through this planetary dark night we are being tenderly held by conscious and loving hands greater than our own. The fundamental requirements are simply to trust…to tune in…to receive…to act on what we receive…” Cynthia continues:

This third installment, Part II, C of the Commentaries on the “Lord Have Mercy” exercises is a bit technical, but may be of interest to those of you who already have the bit between your teeth here. Take it or leave it as you please. I am proud and moved by the stunning work that is being done. I’ll be circling back with commentary on the next exercise up to bat, the “Make Strong,” coming soon on Northeast Wisdom.

There is indeed a way to connect the dots between Gurdjieff’s version of “Lord Have Mercy” and the Jesus Prayer of Orthodox Hesychasm. But the route doesn’t lie through their formal or theological similarities. You have to dive down deeper, to their common ontological core.

Azize properly calls attention to a statement made by Gurdjieff’s designated lineage bearer, Jeanne de Salzmann: that the phrase “I AM”— surely one of the core mantras in the Gurdjieff teaching—can be replaced with the phrase “Lord have mercy.” I would personally be far more cautious than Azize in reading implications into this statement. From the de Salzmann text itself (Reality of Being, p. 73) it is not clear whether this is a general principle of equivalency sanctioned by Gurdjieff, or a situational dispensation granted by de Salzmann. But my gut feeling is that the awareness of a deep reciprocity between these two statements does in fact originate with Gurdjieff himself. It is certainly not alien to his spirituality, and may in fact be at the heart of it. And when you follow his lead here, it winds up revealing some surprising new depths in both the “I AM” and the “Lord Have Mercy.”

At these depths, by the way, it doesn’t really matter whether you hear this phrase as emanating from the Trisagion or the Jesus Prayer. In the end, the two prayers are two streams of the same river.

 

Christophany…again…

To make this deeper inquiry into the meaning of the phrase “Lord have Mercy,” and why it might even remotely be considered an equivalent to the affirmation “I AM,” you will need two resources, which thankfully will already be familiar to many of you in the Wisdom Community. The first is Raimon Panikkar’s Christophany—specifically, Section Two (pp. 39-138) on “The Mysticism of Jesus the Christ.”

The second is Olga Louchakova’s extraordinary 2004 essay, “The Essence of the Prayer of the Heart,” which has circulated in Xerox copies for many years within our Wisdom community. The page numbers here, followed by the section heading, are from the original published version; the essay is easily available online, as a chapter in a collection of poetry by spiritual teacher Lee Lozowick called Gasping for Air in the Vacuum.

In his powerful reflection on Jesus’ own deepest sense of selfhood, Panikkar is struck by two apparently contradictory aspects: first, Jesus’ “intense sense of filiation,” as Panikkar calls it, encapsulated in the phrase, “Abba, Father!”; second, his serene sense of connaturality with his divine source, exemplified in the phrase “I and my Father are one.” Jesus experiences himself as both finite and infinite, temporal and timeless, dual and non-dual. These two poles of his being are not static; rather, they become the driveshaft of a dynamic, relational ground held together by the continuous act of kenotic self-giving, summarized in Panikkar’s memorable one-liner: ”I am one with my source insofar as I too act as a source by making everything I have received flow again.” This is the sphere of the Person, in which God becomes recognizable as love.

 

And Louchakova…

Olga Louchakova’s brilliant study of the Jesus Prayer brings together her extensive knowledge of the Vedanta and yogic traditions as well as her own initiation in a contemporary Russian school of Hesychasm. Her approach is comparative and phenomenological, taking Prayer of the Heart as a type of spiritual self-inquiry which boldly poises itself on the cusp between dual and non-dual experience, affirming the validity of both while linking them in precisely the same dynamic flow we have already observed in Panikkar’s exegesis.

“Prayer of the Heart is implicitly a dialogue,” she writes (p. 43, The Worship); “It is relational, always I-thou.” But the nature of that dialogue is not static, not simply the petition of a hapless mortal to a divine power-broker—as many still hear in the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Rather, tenaciously anchored in the embodied sense of self carried in the chest—and she insists on this!!!—it morphs into a deepening self-inquiry, and finally into a “whole being engagement in the direct perception of identity” (p. 39, Direct intuition of God). When followed all the way to its endpoint, Prayer of the Heart marks a journey that “collects the self, transcends the self, annihilates the self, then annihilates the annihilation” (p. 39, as above).

In the end, one discovers it is not merely the individual identity that is being systematically onion-skinned; we find ourselves partaking in a parallel process within the layers of divine identity as well, until at last we find ourselves standing at the very precipice of that cosmic wormhole through which the divine Unmanifest is forever pouring itself into form. As Louchakova remarkably writes, “the practitioner becomes aware of the innermost mystery of the ontopoietic (self-manifesting) process” (p. 48, The death of an I).

And one final gorgeous insight:

This continuous [repetition of the name of the Divine Person], accompanied by the inward flow of worship in the direction of intimacy with the unknown Other, open the focus on the origins of Being…This engagement with the unknown God-Other is the pivotal moment where the emotion of love loses its willed direction and instead becomes a continuum, a field….the individual self does not exist…it is not voided, but becomes a locus of the manifestation of the Larger Life. (pp. 47-48, The death of an I).

That field—that dynamic flowing continuum between finite and infinite—is what Panikkar senses as the essence of the mind of Christ. It is also a pretty good felt-sense approximation of what Gurdjieff means by “Lord have mercy.” And remember, if you will, that venerable insight from Helen Luke’s iconic book Old Age that the word “mercy” originates in an old Etruscan root whose meaning is exchange. Just like in “commerce” and “mercantile.”

 

Connecting the Dots

Once that continuous backdrop of exchange is recognized, it is not difficult to connect the dots between “Lord have Mercy,” the Jesus Prayer, and the I AM. They join precisely at that “innermost mystery of the ontopoietic process.”

Gurdjieff, Panikkar, Jesus, the Jesus Prayer: all implicitly recognize that Being—by which I mean not just our individual being but divine Beingness itself—arises within a relational field. It is nobody’s ontological possession, not even God’s. “I AM” is not an a priori assertion, not a statement that can be made or even cognized apart from that field. The spiritual modality being shared here is not the “Atman is Brahmin” mode, not a non-dual realization that cancels all particularity. Rather it is a supremely Western acknowledgement of and self-entrustment to the coherence and dynamism of that relational field.

To the degree that Louchakova is correct in the assertion that the Orthodox Prayer of the Heart has at its epicenter the burning quest to discover and abide in that true I AM, then I think the affinity between this tradition and the mainspring of the Gurdjieffian teaching becomes evident.

But to say that the two terms “I AM” and “Lord have mercy” are equivalents, that they can be used interchangeably, is to say something still more: that they invoke each other, that they are implicit in the other—“bidden or unbidden.”

For me, this radically shifts the picture, makes me hear both phrases with new ears.

Whenever I say “I am”—as within Helen Adie’s version of the Lord have Mercy exercise, at the sectional divisions in the Clear Impressions Exercise, or the “Make Strong,” it is with the implicit recognition that this is not about me finding “my” Real I, “my” realized being. It is all going on within the wondrously mysterious and irreducible sphere of the divine Mercy. One bows the knee of the heart.

When I say “Lord have Mercy,” I am not making a pious devotional statement. It’s not about worthy or unworthy, shame and guilt, blame and punishment. Rather, I am feeling to my very bones that yearning for being and sharing of being that permeates the entire created order. I am implicitly acknowledging that one cannot know without also BEING KNOWN. I am affirming my willingness to stay awake, to endure the vulnerability. I am actively engaging humility—not obsequiousness, but a recognition of the scale of things, the depth of the suffering and the yearning that binds the created order to the uncreated light.

Jesus is the tie-rod holding the “I AM” and the “Lord Have Mercy” together. That is Panikkar’s point. And hence, whether there is or is not a FORMAL connection between Gurdjieff’s “Lord Have Mercy” exercises and the Athonite traditions of Orthodox monasticism, there is definitely a heart resonance there, a path that will become increasingly clear as the exercises take root in your own heart.

 

A Note from Northeast Wisdom:

Joseph Azize devotes a chapter in Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises to the “Lord Have Mercy” exercise:

My deep wish is to submit entirely to an inner voice, the feeling of the divine, of the sacred in me. I know that a higher energy—what religions call God or Lord—is within me. It will appear if the mind and the body are truly related…We can say, “Lord have mercy,” in order to Be. (Jeanne de Salzmann, p. 244, Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises)

We are grateful to Joseph Azize for this work, chock full of carefully gathered and relevant notes and references like the one above. It is available here on Joseph Azize’s website, for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. It is also widely available online.

Cynthia Bourgeault shared her response to the pandemic sweeping the world in a post entitled Pandemic Homework on March 23, 2020. From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions); Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises; and Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework followed. 

The posts continue with a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,” which began with “Clear Impressions“: Part I; “Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, A & B and now, with this post, Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C. Coming soon is commentary on the “Make Strong” exercise, in two parts, and the “Atmosphere” exercise, as well as the tentatively titled: Going Forward… A Personal Statement re Time, Tides, Benedict and Zoom. Stay tuned!

 

Photo credits from the top: Eastern Orthodox Monk image (fair use, origin unknown); logo image for The Society for Phenomenology of Religious Experience (SOPHERE), Olga Louchakova- Schwartz, founding president; Biblical Tree of Life tapestry, British 1600-1650, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY; Oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator (6th or 7th century, public domain); Cynthia Bourgeault, New Zealand, spring 2015, photo courtesy of Pip Nicholls.