“Settle down in your room at a moment when you have nothing else to do. Say “I am now with myself,” and just sit with yourself. After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored. This teaches us one very useful thing. It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored! Why is this so? It is so because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought, for emotion and for life. If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement. In other words, we live by reflection, by reaction… We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from the outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things. How seldom can we live simply by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves.”
Here is an illuminating interview with James George, former high commissioner to India and former ambassador to Iran. The Dalai Lama calls him “my old friend.” Chogyam Trungpa referred to him as “a wise and benevolent man, an ideal statesman.”
He has been a gentle teacher and a friend who has inspired many to engage in a spiritual practice in the midst of life–one that can bridge the external world with the inner world.
I rediscovered this remarkable photograph of Yasunari Kawabata today, the Nobel Prize winning Japanese short story writer and novelist. It made a strong impression on me. Possibly because of the the atmosphere or his countenance, I don’t know. It just really struck me. Maybe it’s because I find myself struggling through the discipline of writing lately, and in this photograph Kawaabata appears to be in the flow of things as they are. He looks meditative and at home in the process of his writing, which is a place, or a state that I aspire to be in. I haven’t explored his work yet, so I don’t have much to offer, except a couple of pithy quotes that I find noteworthy:
“Cosmic time is the same for everyone, but human time differs with each person. Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way.”
“Because you cannot see him, God is everywhere.”
I re-encountered the remarkable work of Karlfried Graf Dürckheim (October 24, 1896 – December 28, 1988), German diplomat, psychotherapist and Zen-Master recently in the autobiography of Alan Watts: In My Own Way. According to Wikipedia: Dürckheim was born in Munich. He was a descendant of old Bavarian nobility whose parents still had a fortune, eventually lost during bad economic times. In his early twenties, he was reading in the Tao Te Ching of Lao-Tzu.
“Suddenly it happened! I was listening and lightning went through me. The veil was torn asunder, I was awake! I had just experienced ‘It’. Everything existed and nothing existed. Another Reality had broken through this world. I myself existed and did not exist… I had experienced that which is spoken of in all centuries: individuals, in whatever stage of their lives, have had an experience which struck them with the force of lightning and linked them once and for all to the circuits of True Life.”
Meister Eckhart became very important for him. “I recognize in Eckhart my master, the master. But we can only approach him if we eliminate the conceptual consciousness.”
Dürckheim was a professor at Kiel for a few years. Then it was discovered that he had a Jewish grandmother. Eventually he became an envoy for Nazi Germany’s foreign ministry under Joachim von Ribbentrop. Before World War II, in 1938, he was sent to Japan, residing there for eight years.
After the war, Tokyo was occupied by Americans. Dürckheim went into hiding in Karuizawa and was arrested on October 30, 1945 by agents of the US Counter-Intelligence Corps. He was imprisoned for a year and a half in Sugamo Prison.
“That time of captivity was precious to me because I could exercise zazen meditation and remain in immobility for hours.”
Graf “Duerckheim” is identified by Albert Stunkard in Zen Teaching, Zen Practice, (Weatherhill 2000) edited by Kenneth Kraft, as the person who suggested to Stunkard that he should visit D.T. Suzuki in Kita Kamakura, not far from the Sugamo prison. That visit started a chain reaction of visitors to the Suzuki residence, one of whom was Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen and founder of the Rochester Zen Center. Dürckheim thus was directly responsible for launching Zen into the American mainstream.
Along with psychologist Maria Hippius, Dürckheim founded the “Center of existential and psychological formation and encounter” in the early 1950s. It was located in the Black Forest village of Todtmoos-Rutte. His books were based on his conferences, and were influential in Europe.
“What I am doing is not the transmission of Zen Buddhism; on the contrary, that which I seek after is something universally human which comes from our origins and happens to be more emphasized in eastern practices than in the western.”
Dürckheim’s “Initiation Therapy” dealt with the encounter between the profane, mundane, “little” self — the ego — and the true Self. “The therapist is not the one who heals, that is, who intervenes with his own skills; he is a therapist in the original meaning of the word: a companion on the way.”
Here are the words of Karlfried Graf Dürckheim recounted in Alan Watts’ autobiography:
“A great deal of my present work is in helping people who underwent great spiritual crisis during the war. We know, of course, that sometimes, in extreme circumstances, people have a natural satori or spiritual awakening when it appears that all is finished for them–and they accept it. This happened often in the war, and when those who lived through it tried to tell the tale to their friends it was shrugged off as some king of hallucination, a brief fit of insanity in a desperate situation. When these people come to me, as they often do, I have the happy opportunity of showing them that, for once in their lives, they were truly sane.
There were three typical ways in which these crisis came about. You heard the whistle of a bomb falling straight at you, and you knew that this was quite certainly the end. You accepted it, and quite suddenly the whole universe made sense. All problems, all questions vanished, and you understood that there was no ‘you’ other than the eternal. But the bomb was a dud, and you lived to remember the experience….You were in a concentration camp, and you had been there so long that you were fully convinced that you would stay there for the rest of your life. Finally, you had to accept it, and in that moment you understood everything….You were a displaced refugee far from home. You had utterly lost your friends and relatives, your possessions, your job, your very identity, and saw no hope of regaining them. You accepted it, and suddenly you were light as a feather and as free as the air.”
–Alan Watts: In My Own Way (California: New World Library, 1972), 321.
Before I die, I want to understand what life is, and what or who I am. A few days before her death at the Prieure with Gurdjieff, Katherine Mansfield wrote in her Journal “the question is always: Who am I? You see,…if I were allowed one single cry to God, that cry would be: I want to be REAL.” Years later, Gurdjieff put the title on the 3rd Series of his All and Everything: “Life is Real Only Then When I Am.” Now it is my turn to ask who am I, and for what?
These are two ways, it seems to me, of putting the same question—a question that may only be answerable after I am freed of the body with its limited perception of reality, inner and outer. Yes, I am grateful that, even during my lifetime, homo sapiens has, inspite of these limitations, come a great deal closer to understanding the nature of reality and life and consciousness. But we are still embedded in bodies that have senses for only a fraction of what we now know to be the whole spectrum of vibrations that constitute what our ancestors used to call manifested reality. Have we now unconsciously come to assume that there is nothing beyond this manifestation, that there is no evidence for a Manifestor or Creator? Where does the Law of Causality stop, then? Most contemporary scientists would, I believe, hold that we cannot look for answers beyond manifested reality. They are clearly uncomfortable with anything they cannot measure, with infinity, with time, and with consciousness. From the time of the ancient Greeks, “man is the measure of all things.” In fact, most scientists would still agree with Max Planck’s dictum a hundred years ago that, “if it cannot be measured, it is not real.”
In the 9th century, Shankar Acharya of India spoke for a very different world view when he affirmed that all that can be measured is illusion; that even the Sanskrit word maya means both “measure” and “illusion.” From his perspective, if I may borrow Kant’s terminology, all measureable phenomena can only be understood in their relations to the noumenal world from which they come and to which they return. In all spiritual traditions, this noumenal world is the Source of all that is. It is the underlying Reality.
Over the years, I have come to realize that there is a remarkable unanimity among spiritual pioneers of every stripe, from St Augustine to Gurdjieff, that this Source Reality is everywhere. For St Augustine, there “is nowhere God is not.” For Gurdjieff, Consciousness is “omnipresent.”
These are difficult truths for the scientific mind-set to swallow but after long reflection I have come to accept that this is the View opening towards an expanding future for humanity, towards a View that embraces the best of Western science and Eastern insight, uniting what we call the outer and the inner worlds in One. This is the mysterious Unity “in which we live and move and have our being,” as St. Paul puts it. This is “I, You, Me, We,” as Rumi says. “I and the Father are One,” Christ affirms.
If we live with the scientific view of Max Planck, we are imprisoned in what Humberto Maturana and most other scientists call a “closed domain,” a measureable finite world with all the mystery squeezed out of it and not a hint of the noumenal Unity that underlies and subsumes the known phenomenal world. In a closed system, there can only be an end in death through entropy. Life requires an open domain, open to life, to mystery, to the unknown.
If we train our attention properly, I have found through observation that both views can be well justified by our own experience. Most of the time I am totally unaware of the noumenal Reality, caught in what Gurdjieff calls “hypnotic sleep,” an abstract world of associations expressed in language with which my attention is identified passively. But there are moments of presence when I become directly aware of my actual experience, unmediated by thought or language which can never be directly aware. It is the nascent human capacity for awareness that is our opening to the noumenal world and to a quality of awareness that shows us everything at once, wordlessly, in an instant of realization that can transform our being for the rest of our lives, awakening us to our essential nature and its relationship with the noumenal. That quality of awareness I cannot maintain, but through years of practice I have found that it can be briefly extended and found again more often than when I began on this path. It is in these moments of awareness that I am open to the Presence of God, to Life. The rest of the time I am as good as dead—passive, asleep.
This direct awareness of presence, I have come to see, is only possible because the essential experiencer, or the “I” in me, is a particle of the omnipresent Reality which it is given to glimpse occasionally. Without it, I would not be alive. If it were otherwise, how could there be any relation between my lowly level of being and the Highest One? But this unparalleled opportunity naturally carries with it a sacred obligation unconditionally to serve the One. That appears to be the cosmic purpose for which we were designed. But who can say that they do that?
Does this mean that the human enterprise is a cosmic failure, unable to realize the expectations of the Designer? Not if we regard it as an evolutionary work in progress, still in its very early stages. In the last few years, cognitive scientists have been amazed to discover how much of the brain in our ordinary state is waiting to be used and how it “lights up” during peak experiences of Wholeness.
During my sitting one morning recently, I was given another burst of light, starting from the head but soon enveloping the entire body and spreading into the surrounding space. In that state, I understood far more than I can now, or even an hour later, put into words or remember. I know only that it happened and that the quality of knowing was completely different from the successive “knowings” of daily life which follow a logical sequence along a horizontal time line. This was simultaneously knowing everything in the moment that was out of time, in a vertical dimension, eternal and endless, but then distracted and lost in the next moment of ordinary time.
Now I only know that it happened and left another trace of blessing for which I am immensely grateful to I know not what. To Life, let us say, or to Consciousness, or to God, as humans begin to comprehend the Unknown “Being of Beings,” to borrow Gurdjieff’s apt phrase. Even as I slowly write these words on my keyboard, I am feeling the impossibility of keeping up with the flow of impressions arising from the well of this fresh experience of the sheer energetic abundance of what is available when we begin to open to our potential to live consciously, not only in the phenomenal world but also in the noumenal, which is the source of all creativity and ultimately the source of Life.
Just as in the phenomenal world there are many levels of matter and energy, so too, we may guess, there are many levels in the ontological or noumenal world of being. In both worlds, it seems, no energy can be alone, independent. There are just an infinity of vibrations of different wave lengths and qualities, interacting and interconnecting on every scale we know anything about, from nano to cosmic, and probably beyond in both directions. The phenomenal world is the world more or less accessible to our senses and to our sciences. The noumenal world is also a broad category for the reality of being and consciousness and life that is not yet directly accessible to our sciences but is palpable to spiritual pioneers and to most humans in their more sensitive moments. Whenever we are fearless enough to drop our habitual “thinking about it,” the awareness of presence lights up in us naturally, without any effort, when we relax and await it with fully attentive equanimity.
This, I have found, is a way to connect with the subconscious (as Gurdjieff called it) or the unconscious (to use Jung’s term) where the invisible noumenal, the real “I,” is hiding.
Science, and mainstream culture, are no longer (as they were with Max Planck) confined to the measureable or phenomenal world, but are now exploring the noumenal which they are beginning to call the world of information. In the Smithsonian for May, 2011, James Gleick writes: “Most of the biosphere cannot see the infosphere: it is invisible, a parallel universe humming with ghostly inhabitants. But they are not ghosts to us—not anymore. We humans, alone among the earth’s organic creatures, live in both worlds at once. It is as though, having long co-existed with the unseen, we have begun to develop the needed extra-sensory perception.”
So what am I afraid of? Death? Or the responsibility for living? Maybe both but in my case, especially the latter. As Nelson Mandela famously said at his Presidential inauguration, we are all more frightened of success than we are of failure, more afraid of our power than of our weakness. We lack trust in the power of presence which can manifest in us when we drop our self concern and self importance, our egotism and narcissism dressed up as spirituality. That is what keeps us powerless. I can see it in my posture, I can hear it sometimes in my tone of voice, and recognize it in my associative thinking, all of which can show me my lack of presence. But whenever I AM, I see and feel and know the difference at once. To the extent that I am present, I am a different being, a human being. At such moments of presence, I see that I embody a Life that is in resonance with the Great Life, and I am aware that I share that Life with other beings. In that sense, there are no “others.” None of us is alone. At our most awake moments, we know without the least doubt that we are designed for such an awakening, for such a transformation. That is our inner purpose and the cosmic purpose.
My outer purposes keep changing, but my inner purpose, whenever I remember it, is as unchanging as the compass needle heading north. I wish to BE! To be REAL! What more could any of us wish for at this early stage of human evolution?
—James George, from a talk given at the Toronto Institute of Noetic Sciences, October © 2011. Used with permission by the author.
PHOTO: BERNARD WEIL – James George, 92-year-old former high commissioner to India and former ambassador to Iran, relaxes in his Toronto apartment. In the 1960s, the Dalai Lama asked Canada to resettle Tibetan refugees. Canada refused. George convinced Trudeau (an old friend of his) to do it. In 1971, 228 Tibetan refugees came – in small groups and at different times – to Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. From the Toronto Star.
“That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”
—Mary Oliver, Long Life: Essays and other Writing, Capo Press, 2005
Image: Poet on a Mountain Top, ink on paper or ink and light colour on paper, album leaf mounted as a hand scroll, by Shen Zhou, Ming dynasty; in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo., U.S. 38.7 × 60.2 cm.The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; purchase Nelson Trust (46–51/2)
“The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.”
For thousand of years the human brain has been conditioned to act from the center to the periphery and from the periphery to the center by a continuous movement, going out and coming back. How could this movement ever stop? If it ceases, an energy will appear that is without limit, without cause, without beginning or end. To come to this, it is first necessary to make order -to clean house- a task that requires complete attention. The body must become very sensitive and the mind completely empty, without any desire. Understanding comes not by an effort to acquire or become, but only when the spirit is still.
Our true nature, an unknown that cannot be named because it has no form, can be sensed in the stop between two thoughts or two perceptions. These movements of stop constitute an opening to a Presence that is without end, eternal. Ordinarily we cannot believe in this because we think anything without form is not real. So we let pass the possibility of experiencing Being.
Our fear of being nothing is what pushes us to fill the void, to wish to acquire or become. And this fear, conscious or not, leads to the destruction of our possibility to be. We cannot get rid of it by an act of will or by any effort to free ourselves. Opposing one desire with another can only engender resistance, and understanding will not come from resistance. We can be liberated from this fear only by vigilance, by becoming conscious of it. We must see clearly through the contradictory desires with which we live. It is not a question of concentrating on a single desire, but of freeing oneself from the conflict engendered by avidity. With the dissolution of this conflict comes tranquility. Reality can appear.
The highest form of intelligence is meditation, an intense vigilance that liberates the mind from its reactions, and this alone, without any willful intervention, produces a state of tranquillity. This requires an extraordinary energy, which can only appear when there is no conflict in us, when all the ideas have completely disappeared, all belief, hope and fear. Than it is not contemplation that arises, but a state of attention in which there is no longer a sense of ”I,” someone present to participate in the experience, to identify with it. So there is no experience. Understanding this at the deepest level is important for one who wishes to know what truth is, what God is, what is beyond the constructions of the human mind.
In this state of vigilance, I do nothing, but I am present. The mind is in a state of attention in which there is lucidity, a clear observation without choice of all that one thinks, all that one feels, all that one does. The mind concentrates without boundaries. This state creates tranquility, and when the mind is perfectly quiet, without any illusions, ”something” comes into existence, not constructed by the mind, that cannot be expressed in words.
“One book opens another” says an old proverb. I have just finished reading Patti Smith’s National Book Award winning memoir, Just Kids. It is both a love story as well as an elegy. It describes the ascent of two young artists, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith behind the backdrop of the tumultuous New York art world during the late sixties and seventies. Essentially, the book is about the plight of two young kids driven to the path of art, devotion, and initiation, and how they sustained and encouraged each other along the way.
I always read with a pen. This way I can underline, write notes in the margins and put asterisks beside important passages. I can’t help it. But, interestingly, I am completely against folding over corners of pages. The great thing about reading an autobiography of an artist is that it is almost always filled with the influences and overall inspiration that fueled their quest. The books of Henry Miller come to mind, especially The Books In My Life. His books are filled with what inspired him. He holds nothing back. Throughout his books, Miller drops artists like Hansel and Gretel dropped food crumbs in the forest in order to find their way back home. If life was a bone, Miller sucks everything out of it, right down to the marrow, and when he’s done, it falls on the plate with a thud. I collect the scraps that are left behind and try to make them my own. I guess that is why I deface my books. Miller’s energy and enthusiasm for what keeps him going is contagious. I found Patti Smith’s writing also contained this quality of vibrancy and life.
When I started reading Just Kids, I realized that music was going to take center stage. I started making notes of all the artists and song titles Patti mentions and I made a musical playlist out of it as I read along. I was familiar with many of the artists but there were some new discoveries, like the folk singer, Tim Hardin for example. After I finished the book I also decided to make a list of all the writers, books, painters, photographers, and films Patti Smith mentions. For the most part I have listed them here in the order in which they appear. I’ve also added a few links just for the fun of it.
“The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods, but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in this seductive and incorporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work. It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.
I left Mephistopheles, the angels, and the remnants of out handmade world, saying, I choose Earth.”
–Patti Smith Just Kids, p. 256
“By chance, Jimi Hendrix came up the stairs and found me sitting there like some hick wallflower and grinned. He had to catch a plane to London to do the Isle of Wight Festival. When I told him I was too chicken to go in, he laughed softly and said that contrary to what people might think, he was shy, and parties made him nervous. He spent a little time with me on the stairs and told me his vision of what he wanted to do with the studio. He dreamed of amassing musicians from all over the world in Woodstock and they would sit in a field in a circle and play and play. It didn’t matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language. Eventually they would record this abstract universal language of music in his new studio.
“The language of peace. You dig? I did.”
–Patti Smith Just Kids, p.169
Tosca “Vissi d’arte” (*), John Coltrane A Love Supreme (*), The Doors “The Crystal Ship,” L.A. Woman (*), Jimi Hendrix “Hey Joe” (*), Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde , Bringing it All Back Home & Nashville Skyline, “Lay Lady Lay,” “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” Tim Hardin “Black Sheep Boy,” & “How Can You Hang On to a Dream?” (*), Lotte Lenya (*), Edith Piaf, John Lennon, Eleanor Steber Madame Butterfly (*), Rolling Stones Between the Buttons, “Sympathy for the Devil,” & Beggars Banquet (*), Joan Baez, Vanilla Fudge, Tim Buckley, The History of Motown, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman (*), Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin (*), The Byrds “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” (*), Nina Simone “Wild Is the Wind,” Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, Brian Jones (*), Country Joe and the Fish (*), Jefferson Airplane, The Excellents “Coney Island Baby” (*), The Velvet Underground (*), Lou Reed (*), Johnny Winter (*), Patty Waters (*), Clifton Chenier, Albert Ayler, Kurt Weill “Speak Low” (*), Hank Williams (*), Blind Willie McTell, Neil Young “Ohio” The Band Stage Fright, “Medicine Man,” Billy Swan, Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson, Roger McGuinn, Kris Kristofferson, The Marvelettes, Silhouettes “I Sold My Heart To The Junk Man” (*), Phil Spector (*), Todd Rundgren (*), Holy Modal Rounders (*), Lenny Kaye (*) Maureen Gray “Today’s the Day” (*), Dovells’ “Bristol Stomp,” Lee Crabtree, Blue Öyster Cult, Marvin Gaye Trouble Man (*), Jimmy Cliff The Harder They Come (*), Big Youth and the Roys Screaming Target (*), Hank Ballard “Annie had a Baby,” The Pipes of Pan at Joujouka (*), Television: Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Richard Hell, “Marquee Moon” (*), Jonathan Richman, Ivan Kral, Van Morrison “Gloria” (*).
WRITERS & BOOKS
“Swan, my mother said, sensing my excitement. It pattered the bright water, flapping its great wings, and lifted into the sky.
The word alone hardly attested to its magnificence nor conveyed the emotion it produced. The sight of it generated an urge I had no words for, a desire to speak of the swan, to say something of its whiteness, the explosive nature of its movement, and the slow beating of its wings.” –Patti Smith Just Kids, p. 3
Arthur Rimbaud Illuminations, A Season in Hell (*), Frank O’Hara (*), Anaïs Nin Collages, Jean Genet Miracle of the Rose (*), Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Maxwell Perkins (*), Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie, Janet Hamill (*), Timothy Leary Psychedelic Prayers, James Joyce Poems a Penny Each “the signs that mock me as I go”, Jules Laforgue (*), Anne Frank The Diary, Allen Ginsberg, Friedrich Nietzche, Paul Verlaine, Yukio Mishima (*), William Burroughs Junky, Andre Gide, Maurice Maeterlinck (*), Sylvia Plath Ariel, Gérard de Nerval (*), Bertolt Brecht “Pirate Jenny”, Antonin Artaud, Vladimir Mayakovsky (*), Mari Sandoz Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas (*), The Golden Bough, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Wolfe You Can’t Go Home Again, Aleister Crowley Diary of a Drug Fiend (*), Walt Whitman, Blaise Cendrars (*), Raymond Roussel Locus Solus (*), Théophile Gautier (*), Henri Michaux (*), Thomas de Quincey (*), John Keats, Shelley, Gregory Corso The Happy Birthday of Death, Gerard Malanga (*), Gertrude Stein, Andre Breton, Djuna Barnes, Jim Carroll, Oscar Brown Jr. (*), Vachel Lindsay (*), Jack Kerouac, Alexander Trocchi Cain’s Book (*), Homer,, Herodotus, Sam Shepard, Nancy Milford (*), Ray Bresmer (*), George Mandel “The Beckoning Sea” (*), Anne Waldman (*), Robert Creeley, Ted Berrigan (*), Albertine Sarrazin (*), Stéphane Mallarmé, Bob Dylan Tarantula, Dave Marsh (*), Tony Glover (*), Danny Goldberg (*), Sandy Pearlman (*), Enid Starkie’s biography of Rimbaud (*), Charles Baudelaire Paris Spleen, The Koran of Muhammad, Gerard De Nerval Women of Cairo (*), Paul Bowles, Mohamed Mrabet (*), Albert Cossery (*), Isabelle Eberhardt (*), Thomas Mann Death in Venice, Richard Hell, Arabian Nights, Peter Reich A Book of Dreams (*), James Joyce Finnegan’s Wake.
ART & ARTISTS
Richard Poussette-Dart (*), Henri Michaux (*), Michelangelo’s slaves (*), Dada, Surrealism, Tantric Art, Willem de Kooning Woman I, Jean Dubuffet (*), Diego Rivera (*), Jackson Pollack, John Graham (*), Arshile Gorky (*), Maxfield Parrish, Joseph Cornell (*), Ronald Brooks Kitaj (*), William Blake Songs of Innocence and of Experience & Milton, Edward Gorey, Lee Krasner (*), Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol Index Book, Harvey Parks, Louise Delsarte, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Camille Claudel, Picasso Guernica, Hans Hofmann, Frida Kahlo, Sandy Daley, Edward Hopper, Salvador Dalí, Brice Marden (*), Larry Poons (*), Georgia O’Keefe, Alice Neel (*), Gio Ponti (*), Constantin Brancusi (*).
“Being allowed to lift the tissues from these photographs, actually touch them and get a sense of the paper and the hand of the artist, made an enormous impact on Robert. He studied then intently–the paper, the process, the composition, and the intensity of the blacks. “It’s really all about light,” he said.”
–Patti Smith Just Kids, page 190.
Jacques-Henri Lartigue (*), Billy Name (*), Cecil Beaton, Félix Nadar (*), Helmut Newton (*), Judy Linn (*), Diane Arbus, Man Ray, Ed van der Elsken Love on the Left Bank (*), Fox Talbot (*), Alfred Stieglitz “Georgia O’Keefe Nudes” (*), Paul Strand (*), Thomas Eakins (*), Lewis Carroll (*), Julia Margaret Cameron (*), Edward Curtis (*), Irving Penn, Lynn Goldsmith (*).
Richard Lester How I Won the War, Splendor in the Grass, Bonnie and Clyde, Jean Luc Godard Bande à part, One Plus One, Midnight Cowboy, Psycho, Paul Muni, John Garfield, Robert Bresson, Paul Joseph Schrader, East of Eden, Wages of Fear, Funny Face, Butterfield 8 (*), Films of Jeanne Moreau, Of Human Bondage, Howard Hawks Scarface (*), Andy Warhol, Don’t Look Back, Donald Cammel, Anna Magnani Films, Easy Rider, Beau Geste, Michelangelo Antonioni Blowup, Jean Cocteau Les Enfants Terribles, The Harder They Come, One Touch of Venus (*), Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones (*), The Night of the Hunter, Roger Vadim Barbarella.
“Yet you could feel the vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of a decade. Sometimes I just wanted to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up.”
— Patti Smith Just Kids, p. 104
The literature of all times and all lands offers examples of moments of sudden appearance in which a man perceives the world anew. In the stillness and silence, what counts is not the state of well-being and realization, forgetting who I am, but, rather, an attention to the very thing that constitutes my life: this life that is swept along by my body, my enthusiasms, the ebb and flow of thoughts and associations that fill my days — everything that gives me the assurance that I am living fully.
But on the contrary: attempting a moment, in stillness and quietness, of placing a clear and unfluctuating attention reveals itself to be an impossible task. We can look for complicated explanations, we can intellectualize, and yet be incapable of maintaining our attention. I make a precise plan to help myself and I find myself, a few minutes later, lost in completely different thoughts. I try again and I am lost. Who would believe it?
But I am not asked to believe it. The point is to try. Something else is proposed: “to awaken to oneself.” Un-proposed are truths that can be grabbed at and which must be learned by rote. It is only in the moment of experience that life can appear. It is not the result of outside help alone, for it cannot happen without the individual’s own effort.
Change nothing in the course of daily life, but devote a portion of it to this effort of attention. Try. Begin again. Once more I find myself asleep; I had thought myself concentrated, my aim defined, but again I was lost in dreams, going over past events, imagining, making plans for the near or distant future. I do not participate in what I do. Everything happens by itself.
In actual fact it all functions, but “without me.” It is like a well-oiled machine programmed for unforeseen events and changes, though only up to a certain point. For the accident which unseats me, which rudely shakes me out of my habitual world, shows me the limited extent of those adjustments. My existence runs along well-worn tracks. There is a definite repertoire for this which I refine according to the situation, but the ruts are deep enough for the driver to let the machine run in them without him. Quite literally, “I absent myself.”
The difficulty is not only in the definition of the problem, it is also there in its realization: “Yes, of course, all that is very true; I had already noticed that I function like that. But I am aware of it, and besides I do have some control over the situation!” How can I see that this thought is a new trap? The only thing that counts is trying. One of the most valuable aspects of this practice is the uncompromising demand never to stop trying.
But how to try if everything is a trap? What is the point of trying if in any case I am asleep to myself? How will I know when the situation changes?
The answer lies in the gradual discovery that if all these questions are active in me, whether I like it or not, an attention appears in me which does not disappear so often, which returns again and again, each time bringing with it an entirely new impression of myself. The return to myself is accompanied by a taste which is both new, and yet at the same time familiar. And now a new space is all around me, giving new life, new energy. It is a life which flowers only when I make a place for it. But I am too attached to my debris.
There can be no escape, neither upwards nor downwards. I am all these mechanical manifestations which carry me away at each moment. But I also belong to this other world which brings with it a taste of life. How I wish that everything were simple and more clearly defined, so that I would not have to carry these questions. But I am destined to be divided. I need to develop a sensitivity to this duality in my nature and, if I open to it, to stand on the bridge between these two worlds. I am obliged to live at an ephemeral level while being conscious of the relationship with a higher one.
I need to be astonished once again by the impression that the present moment, now, is filled with life. I believed myself a man, but there is no one there, and I awaken within the skin of a puppet. When this true “I” awakens, and if it consents to stay there — without turning away from what it sees and usually takes itself to be — then this very activity creates an unforeseen relationship with real life. So to return more often to this questioning is, perhaps, the first step on the road toward our true destiny as men.
—Excerpted from an essay, Between Form and the Indefinable, by Christian Heck, from Gurdjieff, Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teaching, edited by Jacob Needleman and George Baker, Continuum 2004. Photograph: Jim Denevan: Apollonian gasket, a fractal, located in the Black Rock desert in Nevada, 2008.