Conduct and observance

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

letting the bird go

There is a practice in Asian cultures of letting a captive bird go.

Of course, this practice is fraught with all kinds of symbolism, for any culture. Today I'm just going to discuss its relationship to relationship.

When we work to form an inner union, there is a temptation, the moment anything coalesces, to do two things. One is to grab it; the other is to push it farther.

Of course there are whole practices that center around the idea of "storming the gates of heaven." Physical or Hatha Yoga has a wide range of exercises designed to capture, store, and manipulate energy. I can't comment in any great depth on these practices, because I don't engage in them, even though some people have showed some of them to me and I have seen some of the more exotic ones performed by yogis in documentaries.

Have they produced an endless range of enlightened masters? Perhaps you can seek answers for that question for yourself. Such work is not my way.

I have found it useful to take the advice of my teacher, who said to me a number of years ago in no uncertain terms, "don't force it." If we refer ourselves back to the nooks and crannies of Gurdjieff literature, J. G. Bennett himself confessed in his book, "Idiots in Paris" that his intense practices alarmed Jeanne DeSalzmann. She repeatedly warned him that people working under Gurdjieff in other groups who had attempted the same things obtained "bad results."

Based on my own experience, I'm not sure any of us ought to risk finding out what "bad results" might mean. There is no doubt that when things really change in a human being, that is, when changes begin to become physical in an inner sense, instead of just changes in ideas or mental states, they cannot be undone. Gurdjieff made this quite clear to Ouspensky in "In Search of the Miraculous."

So we want to be quite careful how we work. As Dogen often said to his followers, "I respectfully ask you to take good care."

When something real it is brought into relationship within us, in that first moment where it is recognized, it can be a good thing to just let it go. It does not, after all ever actually disappear, just because it leaves our immediate line of sight. Once a relationship is formed, once it remembers itself, it is able to do work on its own of a kind that we are unable to supervise. This could be one esoteric meaning of separating the coarse from the fine. We (as we are) are what is coarse; the new relationship that forms is what is fine.

And, after all, perhaps we can admit to ourselves --we cannot separate the coarse from the fine. This is a type of work with which we are for the most part unfamiliar. In the lessons of alchemy, it is said that the gold will attract the gold; and it is certainly not the lead--what we are, as we are now-- that transforms itself into gold.

Another agent is at work there, wouldn't you agree?

It is a good thing, I suggest, to treat the beginnings of a more coherent inner union like a delicate animal-- a bird which we have encountered in the wild and been fortunate enough to capture and hold in our hands for just one moment. Long enough to appreciate the extraordinary beauty invested in this creature.

In that moment, if we are within attention to the moment, we may recognize that this beauty needs to be free, that if we try to restrain it, we will almost certainly crush it.

We open our hands and let the bird go. In that moment, we reach a relationship with the bird -- and everything it represents --which is far more important than the one that wants to hold and keep the bird.

So for me, this metaphor of letting the bird go extends deep inside, to the precious places we discover which cannot be touched with rough hands.

May your trees bear fruit, your wells yield water, and your birds fly free.

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