“In order to develop from any of the three ordinary types into higher orders of being it is necessary to crystallize and temper essence into a permanent and unifeid “I.” This is done mainly by instigating a struggle between essence and personality. Both essence and personality are necessary for this work: essence must have personality or it will not wish to develop. Personality provides the material to study, the obstacles to overcome, the temptations to resist, the delusions to invalidate, and in the process of struggling with and testing itself against personality, essence gains in strength and maturity. This battle is what Islam calls the holy war (jihad) and in this war the more evenly matched the opposing sides, the greater the intensity of combat and the more thorough the destruction and renewal entailed.”
– Kathleen Riordan Speeth
I’ve always put up a Christmas tree. Despite the halfhearted participation (and groaning) of my boyfriends, I’ve faithfully, right after Thanksgiving, headed out and bought (or here on Vashon, cut down) a tree to lug home. It’s a ritual I rarely miss.
After visiting India some years ago I returned home in the winter and the notion of putting a bauble-laden tree on display felt absurd. This is a rite of passage for anyone who ventures to India: Your brain cells are rearranged and you never view your world, or its customs, the same. I know that was true for me as a Westerner. Christmas in America, after the dust and squalor of India, felt gluttonous. So I skipped the holidays that year — though I missed having a tree in the house.
I enjoy the act of arranging the colors, textures and lights on a tree. It’s similar to making a painting, the alchemy of conjuring art. Simpler, but no less magical. I especially love the ricochetting of light amidst the ornaments, as it envelops the tree at nighttime. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to understand that the ritual of displaying a tree is a sacred act — although I’ve never fully understood why.
Most of us are familiar with the historical origins of the Christmas tree. Its association with the pagan rite of celebrating the solstice. When the light of the Sun ‘returns’ in the Northern hemisphere and begins its increase and ascent, the radiance grows stronger and longer through the ensuing months. Trees would be displayed to honor the burgeoning of light and life. And the fruits and trinkets that would decorate the tree honored the bounty, the wish of a successful harvest in the year to come.
And yet the historical perspective never impressed me much. I mean, none of those facts would drift through my mind as I’d lounge on the couch in the evening — no matter my age — and stare at the tree until I fell asleep. Nope, another set of mysterious associations would encircle me and send me into a reverie. And it wasn’t until I came to the conclusion of one of my favorite books this year that I began to make sense of my devotion.
Martha Heyneman‘s book The Breathing Cathedral is a fantastic interweaving of the cosmologies of Gurdjieff, Dante, Aquinas, Stephen Hawking and others, into a new model, a new interpretation of the universe we inhabit. I was drawn to the book because, as a longtime student of Gurdjieff’s teachings, I was intrigued to see how Heyneman, a zoology student turned poet, was bringing Gurdjieff’s teachings forward and marrying them to the world of science.
The last chapter of her book is titled O Christmas Tree, and at first the subject — the family Christmas tree — seemed an odd way to summarize all that she’d explored in the previous chapters. But in the end I understood completely. Read more
Rumi composed a small eruption of a poem about love’s most beguiling and dangerous qualities. This gem of verse marks out, like a Morse code, the action, the alchemy of love. I’ve revisited this poem many times, and with each close reading new facets are revealed, sharper insights gleaned. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Love comes sailing through and I scream.
Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.
Love puts away the instruments
and takes off the silk robes. Our nakedness
together changes me completely.
The opening conveys abrupt immediacy. Things are one way one minute and then — a surge: “Love comes sailing through…” Sailing evokes being on an ocean, perhaps the Sargasso Sea where we often drift in the humdrum trance of our day-to-day life. But then the majesty of love glides in. Also, the word ‘sailing’ connotes a particular sound, the movement of Cupid’s arrow perhaps?
Love’s entrance — and then: a scream. Not a yell or a shout. A scream. A kind of fright or terror. The shock of love. Rumi is writing about the ego’s perception and reaction to love. Unnerving, startling — a harbinger for what exactly?
P.D. Ouspensky wrote in Tertium Organum: “Love is the potent force that tears off all masks, and men who run away from love do so in order that they may preserve their masks.” I guess that would explain the screaming.
Should we endure, there’s the promise of an intimate alignment, a regulation that calms the initial shock: “Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.” This line enchants me, the image it calls forth. “…like a private supply of itself.” This speaks to the notion that we are each a localized, unique expression of love — and when we experience love we’re given the opportunity, through the mirror of the Beloved, to remember, to see this condition. We relax, perhaps unaware of the disarming that will follow.
“Love puts away the instruments and takes off the silk robes.” Now Rumi’s describing another love action — the revealing, the stripping — making naked. The initial reading is a prelude to sex, and this can work in the poem too. But there’s something more; the instruments, the clothing — the ways the ego displays its talents, or how it hides behind a facade — all of that’s got to go in the presence of love. Nakedness implies as much. Read more
What keeps us out of the upper floors [the higher intellectual and emotional centers] of our mansion? Obstacles to higher levels of consciousness are abundant in daily life: they are our legacy from generations past. Perhaps the most central is identification, the basic flavor of ordinary waking state.
“In this state,” Gurdjieff noted, “man has no separate awareness. He is lost in whatever he happens to be doing, feeling, thinking. Because he is lost, immersed, not present to himself, this condition is known…as a state of waking sleep.”
Identification is the opposite of self-consciousness. In a state of identification one does not remember oneself. One is lost to oneself. Attention is directed outward, and no awareness is left over for inner states. And ordinary life is almost totally spent in states of identification.
The thinking of ordinary people occurs when something “occurs to one.” It is mechanical chatter, colored by lying, which is not under any control. Formatory apparatus, the moving part of intellectual center, is incapable of comprehending orders of truth higher than the dualistic: thus the ordinary individual is third-force blind. He sees things in terms of opposites — cause and effect, good and evil, truth and falsity, seeing duality not not trinity.
– Kathleen Riordan Speeth
To simply consider the Full Moon invites Luna directly into your head.
The evolutionary process has burrowed her image deep into our cerebral cortex. We can’t escape her colossal, fat roundness — pushing out the boundaries of our inner vision.
After Father and Mother — the two defining primordial images in our lives — there looms the Sun and the Moon. Our consciousness develops and is sustained by this quadrant of forces. And between the Sun and the Moon life on Earth thrives and dies.
The Sun radiates and sustains whereas the Moon reflects and craves, as Martha Heyneman writes, always the Moon “…is tugging at everything on her side of the surface of the earth. She sucks on the very rocks. As she passes overhead the earth’s crust rises a few inches beneath her and is elsewhere compressed, kneaded as a cat kneads your stomach.” Read more