December 20th, 2013

G.I. Gurdjieff: The Necessity of a Teacher

“To a man who is searching with all his being, with all his inner self, comes the unfailing conviction that to find out how to know in order to do is possible only by finding a guide with experience and knowledge, who will take on his spiritual guidance and become his teacher.

And it is here that a man’s flair is more important than anywhere else. He chooses a guide for himself. It is of course an indispensable condition that he choose as a guide a man who knows, or else all meaning of choice is lost.

Who can tell where a guide who does not know may lead a man?

Every seeker dreams of a guide who knows, dreams about him but seldom asks himself objectively and sincerely—is he worthy of being guided? Is he ready to follow the way?

Go out one clear starlit night to some open space and look up at the sky, at those millions of worlds over your head. Remember that perhaps on each of them swarm billions of beings, similar to you or perhaps superior to you in their organization.

Look at the Milky Way. The earth cannot even be called a grain of sand in this infinity. It dissolves and vanishes, and with it, you.

Where are you? And is what you want simply madness?

Before all these worlds ask yourself what are your aims and hopes, your intentions and means of fulfilling them, the demands that may be made upon you and your preparedness to meet them.

A long and difficult journey is before you; you are preparing for a strange and unknown land.

The way is infinitely long. You do not know if rest will be possible on the way nor where it will be possible. You should be prepared for the worst. Take all the necessities for the journey with you.

Remember where you are and why you are here. Do not protect yourselves and remember that no effort is made in vain. And now you can set out on the way.”

–G.I. Gurdjieff

Views from the Real World: Early Talks of Gurdjieff

Illustration: Dante and Virgil emerging from the exit of Hell by Genoa (?) 14th Century

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December 19th, 2013

The Long-Johns Are Out of the Bottom Drawer

Today on the island it’s bitter cold.

Bitter cold. It’s a cliche, but really nothing else will do. It is bitter, biting cold. And snow has been forecast for the weekend.

When I moved from Hawai’i to Washington many years ago, 18 years ago to be exact, the reality of living in a city where snow was a possibility was novel.

And then it happened, my first year of living on Capitol Hill with my boyfriend. It snowed so much there were people on skis out on the street, just to move about. And kids, non-stop, screaming as they sledded down Thomas Avenue on flipped trashcan lids. The echo of that keeps pinging around my head today, again, such a novel happening.

Buses were stalled, willy-nilly all about the city. Like a scene from a disaster movie. And I remember Alex and I walked to the Cinerama theater that afternoon to see — what? — one of the Star Wars movies? Or maybe not. But I do remember the world ceasing; the shocking quiet, the peculiar light — because of so much snow.

Obviously, Christmas was wonderful that December. From Hawaiian palm trees to Seattle street lamps piled with mini-mountains of white.

Watching that sight — of the streetlamp with the snow ridge up top and the halo of light that illuminated each particle of ice that fell into its nimbus — in the night, from our bedroom window, hedged-’round with old-fashioned Christmas lights (the big bulb kind) — it all feels timeless. Now. 18 years later.

As we prepare for snowfall on Vashon.

Time and Christmases past collide into one another; or pile-up into a stack is a better way of putting it. Most likely because our sharpest memories come from the excitement, the wishes, the colors, the sounds, the change of heart in our caretakers — all of those marked sensations and impressions — related to the season. How odd. The mystery of memory and Christmas.

Ouspensky once noted that as we look back on our lives we recall, easily, the moments that we were most awake and alive — immersed in essence — because those were the actual moments that we were imbued and present. If essence isn’t present then what is there to remember? Why bother? It’s all a blur when we sleepwalk through life. So that notion has always made sense to me.

So the bitter cold made me pull out my old red long-johns that Alex had given to me as a Christmas present that first Christmas in Seattle in my first big snow. And I walked for miles around the island this afternoon, swearing that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, mid-way through my walk, when my face was numb and discomfort was giving way to regret. But I forged on.

Got home and the cat was howling for dinner. She knows nothing about the season. Just tuna.

And I lit the lights around the Buddha.

I’ll probably do the same tomorrow, in the fresh snow — go for a walk. Light lights when I get home. Feed the cat. It’s something we do here in Washington.

Photograph: Tramp Harbor from Dockton Road, Vashon by F. Woodruff

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Filed Under: Christmas
December 17th, 2013

Horror as a Prompt for Awakening

“Human beings are attached to everything in this life; attached to their imagination, attached to their ignorance, attached to their fear, attached even to their own suffering — and possibly to their own suffering more than anything else.

A person must first free himself from attachment. Attachment to things, identification with things, keeps alive a thousand false I’s in a person. These I’s must die in order that the big I may be born.

But how can they be made to die?…It is at this point that the possibility of awakening comes to the rescue.

To awaken means to realize one’s nothingness, that is, to realize one’s complete and absolute mechanicalness, as well as one’s complete and absolute helplessness…So long as a person is not horrified at himself, then a person knows nothing about himself or life.”

— P.D. Ouspensky quoting G.I. Gurdjieff

Photograph: In the Paddy Wagon, by Weegee, 1920

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December 16th, 2013

A Christmas Mix That Will Not Make You Want to Kill Yourself Vol. 2

Part of the extreme sport-like difficulty of being a music mixer is attempting to blend contradictory styles of music. The segues must remain germane to the integrity of the entire playlist. It’s no easy feat, and often, like painting a painting it’s the accidents that turn out to be best parts of the canvas.

On this second volume of yuletide tunes (even more so than on Volume 1), I attempted to do just that: Have happy accidents. So you’ll hear Big Band blasters dovetail into country songs that shift into solemn carols, and classical instrumentals giving way to polychromatic pop numbers.

Some words about some of my choices:

The Carpenters‘ Merry Christmas Darling is, to me, the last really stellar Christmas song to make its way into the honorable holiday music canon. The title alone calls back to the 40s or 50s; and Richard’s arrangement makes it work in ways that other contemporary Christmas tunes can’t duplicate. And anything with Karen’s vocal is transformed instantly into something golden. Instead of featuring a cut from the last truly great modern Christmas album, 1963’s A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, I chose this song.

The most beautiful non-secular Christmas song is O Holy Night, from the French Cantique de Noël. And its history and transformation over time is fascinating. The elegance of the melody married to such compelling lyrics: Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, the night when Christ was Borne — makes for something astonishing. We’ve heard the song so many times — usually delivered with blaring glory notes and glissandi — that the song’s impact has dulled. But country singer Martina McBride, with her open, clear tone and natural annunciation brings everything that’s mystical about the song into high relief. This is the finest version I’ve experienced. Read more

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Filed Under: Cosmix and Music
December 14th, 2013

Saturn: The Work and the Love

Love and work … work and love, that’s all there is.
— Sigmund Freud

The outcome of my life is no more than these three lines:
I was a raw material;
I was cooked and became mature;
I was burned in love.
— Rumi

Rarely is the astrological Saturn associated with love. Traditional astrology certainly doesn’t make that distinction. Though esoteric astrology does. Alice Bailey once noted that to view Saturn as the bringer of opportunity, and not simply disaster, was a sign that one had touched upon the path towards wholeness. Both Freud and Rumi understood the truth related to this alchemical process. Work, as a kind of friction, and love as the driving force that is also the culmination of the process. A willing mixture of work and love, a conscious acknowledgment and co-mingling that denotes spiritual maturity and wisdom.

That is how Rumi summarized his life work — in the above poem. And for each of us, the journey from ‘raw material’ to alchemical cooking and maturing, to the eventual transmutation through love, is an unavoidable engagement. We each have our appointed time with this process. Freud, who devoted his life work to rummaging through and classifying the structure of the unconscious, emerged for light in the end with his simple truism. It’s all about love and work, work and love.

One does the work and discovers the love, but more specifically one sees that love facilitated the work all along. And in this sense Saturn can be associated with love. We think of Saturn’s exaltation in Libra as being related to equanimity and the uncompromising law of what is fair. Which in one sense is true — within the Saturnine cosmology there is never cheating. You pay a dollar and you get a dollar’s worth.

As Ouspensky once said, it’s true people do occasionally find money in the street, but such an event is rare, you can’t count on a philosophy of happenstance to sustain a life. Saturn in Libra evokes a force that is the exact opposite of magical thinking. There is simply reality, seen in all its ‘is-ness’ and from there one begins their work. Libra, being a sign that is not human or animal, facilitates this sharp sort of clarity.

I would add, too, that Saturn’s exaltation in Venus’ sign conveys a deeper mystery. When we meet reality head on — that is to say, without filters, buffers or illusions we actually begin to sense the ground of love, and its unifying, form-making presence. A power that maintains the manifestation, keeps it visible — with distinct and particular colors and shapes, but all united in love. Evolving and deepening, the movement of love.

It’s a shocking insight, really, this equating of love with Saturn. But I’d like to suggest you contemplate Saturn’s placement by house and sign in your horoscope and see if you can’t connect to that unifying, form-making principle of love related to the particular ‘stage set’ of your life — represented by Saturn’s house placement. And then tease out, as you reflect over your history, the various trials and limitations that — as a kind of friction-making conundrum — generate the warmth, light and, yes, love, that create meaning and purpose. These are Saturn’s gifts to each of us.

Try this inquiry, and please feel free to share your observations below.

Opening painting by Odilon Redon Silence. 1911. Museum of Modern Art

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