(For Laurie & Pat & Patrick & Tom & Ed & All…)
Life’s a Story We Tell Ourselves
One of the stories I tell myself is that it’s always time to begin again, like Mr Polly.
Last night (3rd May 2014) for the umpteenth time I watched the old b&w, entirely gimmickless, film The History of Mr Polly (based on the novel by the incomparable HGWells) which I first saw exactly sixty years ago to the day (or at least month) in Kingston, Surrey, one afternoon from Kingston Grammar School when we were studying it for final exams.
Mr Polly, dedicated to exploratious chivalraic menanderings and entranced by sesquippledan verboojuice — the kind you find, for instance, in Rabeloose — Mr Polly, c’est moi!
I am forever so grateful to that schooling.
And another story I got more recently from Stephen Covey who, at around the age of 70, is reported to have said, ‘the best is still to come…’ That’s a great story.
All these 3-score years I’ve spent a fair amount of time concocting a story about the way I imagine I am now… Lots of sub-stories that have come out variously in poems and novels, music & painting. Each separate story is told by a different part of what I choose to call my self. One of the stories I tell myself is that it’s worth spending time consciously making up stories of one kind or another.
In another of my stories I am always wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up.
One of the very greatest stories is Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, not to mention Meetings With Remarkable Men.
And I’ve told lots of stories to groups I’ve worked with — more and more as it became clear that the stories I told myself could be interpreted by others in their own way and help them to transform their lives too.
All life’s a story we tell ourselves. Another story I tell myself is that there’s no point in telling yourself a story if you’re not its hero/ine. Hero/ine in a humble/invisible/non-self-important kind of way — one that leads from the rear (Enneagram Top Form 8).
On courses, modelling on Wyatt Woodsmall, I tell a series of stories (or Guided Visualisations) about Old Sage-I and Apprentice-I. It’s entirely open to the listeners to figure out which of these shady characters is themselves. I change the story on the spot to include references to images members of the group will have come up with while we’ve been together.
Of course, one eventually discovers that all the people in the stories are aspects of self. The hero/ine is whoever you take it to be.
The Life House
Old-sage-I said to Apprentice-I, “You know there’s this ancient idea that the human-being is like a house. It’s interesting to think about your house as one with many rooms like that grand National Trust house we’ve just been to. It needs many servants to keep it going.”
“And lifts to take you to other levels,” said Apprentice-I.
“And lifts… and dumb waiters and many servants. Especially when the master and mistress are abroad and the servants are playing up.”
“How do we know this?” said Apprentice-I.
“By looking very carefully at what’s going on inside your house.
♦ the butler is looking after the garden and making a real mess of it
♦ the gardener is doing the cooking
♦ the cook is polishing the shoes
♦ the chauffeur does the shopping and forgets his list
♦ the maid sweeps the dust under the carpet
♦ there are wild parties every night
“I see: my servants are not doing the jobs they are employed to do. It’s not good enough,” said Apprentice-I.
“You suddenly decide that until the master and mistress return you’ll take on the role of Deputy Steward. What will you do to sort out your unruly servants?”
“Call a meeting…”
“At the first opportunity…
♦ get the butler to agree to serve the meals
♦ have the gardener do the gardening
♦ get the shoe-boy to do the shoes
♦ make sure the maid does a proper job
♦ ban unruly parties
Ensure that every part of your house is run on sound lines…”
“Have all my servants perform as they should do…”
Old-sage-I had gone home to his house.
In the Forest
Old Sage-I and the Apprentice have been travelling for many days when it occurs to the Apprentice to say, “Now we’re in the middle of this deep dark forest, I realise that it is not at all clear to me what the purpose of our journey is…”
“The purpose,” said Sage-I, “is just whatever you conceive it to be—stay in the Here and Now and you will know just what it is…”
“In that case,” said the Apprentice, “I need to know where we are going to…”
“That’s not in the Here and Now,” said Sage-I. “Stay in the Here and Now and where we are going will not matter in the slightest…”
“Well, tell me exactly where we are here and now,” said the Apprentice, “so that I may get my bearings…”
“Wanting to know where you are is the result of wanting to join past with future—to establish some kind of seamless continuity which makes you wonder what has been and what is to come. Such a concern takes you out of the Here and Now. Stay right here in the Here and Now where past and future have no existence.” Sage-I continued: “Look at the patterns of shadows on the path. See the blue sky between the tops of the trees high above you and know that that’s all there is. And Love. And awareness. And certainty. And joy…”
“But if we don’t know where we’ve come from and we don’t know where we’re going to and we don’t know where we are now how will we be able to make the return journey when the time is right?”
“Stay in the Here and Now. When you ask a question like that, you not in the Here and Now. Stay in the Here and Now… And let the return take care of itself.”
In the Here and Now which is the only reality, Sage-I and the Apprentice are back in their little castle and the Apprentice has spent a long time in the library reflecting on all the things Sage-I said and applying the lessons to his own life.
“And what have you learned? said Old Sage-I.
The Apprentice said, “I have learned that to begin to know something about who I am I must BE HERE NOW. I have found that when I focus on the past I neglect to be Here and Now. When that happens, past regrets, concerns, gut-rots and even successes prevent me from being in the Here and Now. On the other hand, when I focus on the future, I get into fearfulness, consumed by expectation and ambition and I lose touch with the Here and Now that way. So I am practising being in the Here and Now. But I am still worried: tell me what I have to do to stay like that?”
Sage-I, head to one side, just looked at the Apprentice in a slightly quizzical way and said nothing.
“Right,” said the Apprentice, “I know—that question comes out of the future. When I’m in the Here and Now I don’t ever have to ask such a question. I just look at the shadow reflections from the moat flickering on the ceiling. This is me being me Here and Now…”
When he turned for approval, the Old Sage-I had disappeared.
In the Castle
Old-sage-I and Apprentice-I have set themselves up in an old castle with hundreds of rooms and a central courtyard off which Old-sage-I has a Laboratory of the Mind.
“What are we going to do today?” said Apprentice-I.
“It’s up to you really,” said Old-sage-I. “What you could do to start with is to go up into the Watchtower, up all those steps so you get a good fill of air — second Body Food — to re-charge your batteries.
Half-an-hour later, Apprentice-I returned.
“And what did you see?”
“The landscape, the patchwork of fields, the gulls, an eagle, clouds, the horizon, villages far and wide…”
“The Food of Pure Impressions…” said Old-sage-I.
“Eh??” said Apprentice-I.
“The Food of Pure Impressions — it comes when you take yourself out of your self…”
“Into Meta-I?” said Apprentice-I.
“Into Meta-I, where you get things pure and simple. When you are in Being-here-now-I without past or future…”
“This is me being me here now,” said Apprentice-I.
“The Food of Pure Impressions is the very highest form of food without which you would be no more…”
“My experience is telling me that I have to believe this. An eagle, a gull, the horizon…”
“Without the names, just as they are up there: and so you get to the Centre of your Being, the very heart of it all…” said Old-sage-I.
After they had thoroughly explored this in Old-sage-I’s Laboratory of the Mind, they discovered that they had, as it happened, done all that they needed to do so they went home.
On Not Naming Things
Old-sage-I and Apprentice-I are in the garden…
“I’d like to know the names of all these flowers. The kinds of birds that come here, the insects…”
“And what would that do for you?” said Old-sage-I.
“I’d be able to catalogue reality, to get it straight in my mind.”
“There was a time when nothing had a name. Everything was nameless; it just existed in the here and now,” said Old-sage-I. “Then along came human-beings and invented names and categories.”
“I’m not sure what’s wrong with that,” said Apprentice-I.
“Well, it takes you out of the here and now and into the parallel invented world of books— dictionaries, reference books, encyclopedias—and now websites. These are all replacements for things as they are. Look at this tree—what do you see?”
“I see the kind of leaves that tell me it’s a horse chestnut…”
“But what do you see?” said Old-sage-I. “What do you see?”
“What do you see?”
“Movement… Patterns of twigs & leaves…”
“What do you really see?”
Apprentice-I was suddenly speechless for what he suddenly saw was treeness, the essence of tree, the pattern, the flow of sap. Strange creatures without names.
“There are three kinds of food,” said Old-sage-I. “Fish & chips, oxygen and the highest form of food which is Pure Impressions. Tree as treeness is what can just hit the senses—just let it come in the here and now without striving after meaning. Stand just here for a moment by the fountain and project yourself beyond the garden so you see distance, knowing that time and space are just human inventions…”
“I can see pattern. The words have all gone. There’s a play of light and shade and then I can make even those words dissolve…”
“Pure Impressions,” said Old-sage-I. “Feel their energy. Take it into yourself here and now. Then do the same with human-beings though it’s best to start with cats & dogs — they are more sensitive… and then little babies. Grown-ups are more of a challenge.”
“I feel what you say,” said Apprentice-I…
Back in the Forest
The Apprentice is back in the deep cold dark forest, Being Here Now. Notice the dense patterns of leaves, hear the sound of birds, shout STOP every now and again, become aware of inner and outer self, notice the pattern of ‘I’s, become aware of the shadows on the path and the special gem-like stones there are in this area.
Moving attention outside the mind, the Apprentice is suddenly aware that the trees are beginning to thin out. There is a clearing in the middle of the forest and a congregation of people standing around looking a bit blank; the Apprentice seems to have met quite a lot of them before but is not quite sure where; they seem familiar. Where have they been all the time?
There is a huge statue in the clearing; it seems to be made of crystal; it shines in the light of the flames from the wood fire that has been lit in front of it. It is still. Unmoving. Its arms are raised towards the sky. It seems to be standing there as a silent Witness, collecting energy for many centuries but unable to move. The fire on its own does not give it life.
The people are unable on their own to give it life; they stand around at the base of the statue mumbling disconsolately to one another. “What else can we do to bring the statue to life?” “Listen to the wind — perhaps that will breath life into it…” The wind on its own does not give it life.
They look to the water in the passing stream. The Apprentice looks at it with them and understands that they are not in the Here & Now, and notices the clear ripples bubbling on the gems on its bed, hears the burbling, sees the kingfisher swooping and the yellow celandine dripping down from the banks. The water on its own does not give the statue life.
“What if we lift up our eyes to the mountains in the distance?” The landscape opens up before your very eyes as the camera pans out and the forest takes its place in a vast bowl of a valley.
You see the fire leaping up at your feet; you hear the sounds of the stream running past; you feel the wind on your face; you raise your hands from your heart to the tops of the mountains.
Earth, air, fire, water, all together bring your Witness-I to life. Witness-I crystallises out from the feeling of being at one with the universe. Earth, air, fire, water. Suns and stars, planets that have been and planets to come. You can see the people in the clearing going about their business, no longer mumbling to each other but seeming to know their purpose and their intent, focussed on what they are doing, getting things into order for themselves. Witness-I takes its place amongst them. Mingles. Helps to keep things going.
You look round for the Apprentice. The Apprentice is nowhere to be seen.
On Leaving Things Behind You
Old-Sage-I said to Apprentice-I, “Well, here we are back in father’s garden…”
“What are we doing here, now, then?” said Apprentice-I.
“We are finding out what it’s like to be here now.”
“But all that was so long ago and it makes me feel sad to think about it…”
“As I said — here we are back in father’s garden, as if we’d never ever been away. We don’t actually need to think about it. Thinking breeds all kinds of unnecessary things. We’re here, now and the garden is inside us; we are the garden. Look! Outside the French windows the path through the rockeries to the lawn. The only good thing that mother had to say about father was that he kept the best lawn edges in the street…”
“I feel sad…”
“There is a sadness — but it’s only one part of us; it’s just one single ‘I’ that feels sad. Thank it! It needs to help us to remember but it’s not in the here & now. When you determine to be here now, there is no sadness…”
“And beyond the lawn,” said Apprentice-I, “there’s an abundant cherry tree and a pond with newts in it…”
“By the side of the lawn is the path by the herbaceous border with roses & golden rod where we stood and looked up at Orion…”
“And then the pergola — father’s pride & joy which he left behind him to fight on the edge of some war in India — the rose stems an inch thick,” Apprentice-I warmed to the idea of being here now; it was just as if there was no gap between anything; you can…”
“Take it all with you… Connect everything up together. The smell of creosote… The bonfires and the apple trees & pear trees…”
“Just like in our garden now…” said Apprentice-I.
“Where we’ve contrived to make space in celebration for everything we associate with father — spur valerian, creeping ginny…”
“He told us never to let that into a garden…”
“That’s why it’s here… And all the sedums and sempervivums… the Always Living… How he loved them…”
“And the four foot cactus thriving out in the snow one year…” Saying this, Apprentice-I shivered.
“We always said that our next garden would contain what father loved: rockeries, a pond, a pergola, apple trees, crazy paving…”
“And here we are, here & now, five gardens later, everything transplanted: rockery, pond, pergola, apple trees, crazy paving, bonfires…” said Apprentice-I, convinced now that father’s garden was in soul & mind.
“Look at the creeping ginny, creeping all over the place like there was no tomorrow…”
“And the spur valerian ready to burst into bloom…”
“And the roses…”
Centuries later they were back in their father’s garden in the here & now of Now…
Apprentice-I looked round; Old-Sage-I had disappeared into the shrubbery.
Then I tell myself the story that these are just templates for endless stories into infinity…