What I’m reading, April 2013

Taking stock of books I’m currently reading, just read, or soon to start:

The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff by Jeanne de Salzmann. My Fourth Way  group undertook reading this book aloud together. De Salzmann was one of Gurdjieff’s long-time students. She wrote about his teachings in a straightforward way, making them understandable and accessible. Her heirs found her undated notes after she died at 101 and published them a couple of years ago.

The book is about waking up the Essential Self. There are many, many passages I could share, but this one is from early in the book:

Gurdjieff taught the necessity of self-observation, but this practice has been mostly misunderstood. Usually when I try to observe, there is a point from which the observation is made, and my mind projects the idea of observing, of an observer separate from the object being observed. But the idea of observing is not the observing. Seeing is not an idea. It is an act, the act of seeing…it is an experience that can take place only if there is no separation between what sees and what is seen….

Next up for my book group is Practical Work on Self, by E.J. Gold. After that, we’ll be reading Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: All and Everything, by Gurdjieff , which will probably take us two years, accompanied by a commentary.

On my own, I’m currently reading Gurdjieff: Making a New World by J.G. Bennett, about Gurdjieff’s searches for ancient wisdom (which has me using Google Maps to get familiar with the geography mentioned — Gurdjieff traveled from the Caucasus region to Egypt, Ethiopia, Tibet, Siberia, Italy, and points between in his searches, done on foot, horseback, and by rail before 1915).

Before starting Beelzebub’s Tales, I plan to  read In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by P.D. Ouspensky, an account of his teachings by an early student.

I’m also interested in reading J.G. Bennett’s book Enneagram Studies to learn more about Gurdjieff’s understanding of the enneagram. He used the enneagram symbol extensively, but I’m not sure how it relates to the system of understanding the fixations that keep us asleep.

It’s not hard to understand the attraction of someone who believes wellness must include body, mind, heart, and spirit to the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. I like the format of my group: We take turns reading, engage in discussion, do exercises.

I’m interested in Gurdjieff’s teachings, but I wouldn’t call myself a follower. I’m more of an explorer seeking wisdom. By the way, although he was fluent in Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Russian, and other languages, Gurdjieff didn’t write in English, and apparently a lot of what he wrote was embellished for teaching purposes and not necessarily straightforward, so to understand his teachings, it helps to read what his students wrote.

I do think he was a remarkable man and urge anyone interested in his life and teachings to at least see the film Meetings with Remarkable Men, or read his book of the same name, an account of his search for ancient spiritual wisdom.

Another book on my nightstand is called mBraining: Using Your Multiple Brains to Do Cool Stuff, by Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu. It includes recent findings in neuroscience about the head, heart, and gut brains and how using these multiple brains can increase intuition and wiser decision-making. The authors’ background is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), cognitive linguistics, and behavioral modeling.

Our modern culture emphasizes the head brain. We try to think our way out of problems. Farming and civilization have been around for 12,000 years, and we are still killing each other. We are now ruining the planet we live on. In my opinion,  more intelligences are direly needed! I would surely like to have more resources, to use my multiple brains appropriately and experience less conflict, more intuition, better decisions…

So how do you tell which brain is operating? How do you know which brain is best suited for a given situation? How do you know when they’re not working together? How can you strengthen the brain you use the least? How can you ensure all three brains are in alignment for important decisions, relationships, and well-being?

Read the book and learn!

I’m in a different book group reading a book unrelated to the above books except as it applies to my quality of life. We are reading Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence to become knowledgeable and mindful about the role of money in our lives. We use a study guide (available for $5 from The Simple Living Network) developed for groups using the book to start on the path toward financial freedom. We meet seven times.

So far, I’ve added up my lifetime earnings (way more than I thought), started tracking every cent that comes in and out, started an inventory of my possessions, calculated my real hourly wage, and come up with a way to determine whether my spending is fulfilling and aligned with my values.

The authors have gotten feedback that after implementing the nine steps, people have reduced their expenses by 25 percent within 6 months and say their quality of life has gone way up. I’m finding this very helpful since I’ve transitioned from being an employee with a regular paycheck to being self-employed.

I’m also making my way through a couple of bodywork books, which I’ll write about another time.

If you’re reading this, you’re a reader. May you find books that nourish you!

Free screening of Meetings with Remarkable Men: a film about Gurdjieff

My weekly book group, the Austin Redfin Group, just recently up and named itself and decided to host a public event!

We’ve been reading books about “The Work” of G.I. Gurdjieff, a famous Russian mystic and spiritual teacher. Right now we’re reading The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff, by Jeanne de Salzmann, his closest follower, whose notes on his teachings were just published in 2010, even though Gurdjieff died in 1949. I find her writing very clear and accessible.

We’ve also read books by E.J. Gold, author of the American Book of the Dead and many books in the Gurdjieffian Fourth Way tradition.

We’re hosting a viewing of the 1979 film Meetings with Remarkable Men, based on one of Gurdjieff’s books of the same name. The film covers his adventurous search for truth, his initiation into the mysterious Sarmoung Brotherhood, and a demonstration of the movements and sacred dances that later became part of The Work.

Filmed on location in Afghanistan, the movie tells a story of the universal search for the truth and meaning of life and the desire to awaken and realize oneself.

The screening is at Casa de Luz, Serena Room, 1701 Toomey Rd., on Tuesday, July 24, 2012, from 7-9ish pm.

If you are or have been a seeker after truth, you might really enjoy seeing this film. Please consider yourself invited to attend.

Is maze brightness in rats an equivalent of enlightenment in humans?

I thought you might like to read an excerpt from the book I’m reading in a book group. The book is called Life in the Labyrinth, by E.J. Gold, who is in the Gurdjieffian Fourth Way lineage of teaching awareness expansion.

As a child of thirteen and fourteen, I found my bedroom overrun with lab rats, and more or less as an afterthought — I had no other use for them, not being particularly attracted to vivisection and the like — built a few mazes to study rat behavior.

One item stood out clearly in my observations of dozens of rats stumbling, bumping and sniffing their way toward their final reward as they learned to synthesize experiential data through a primitive form of deduction…or didn’t learn, and nearly starved to death.

I discovered, independently of texts on behavioral sciences, something which I later learned was by convention called maze brightness, which could be defined for the moment as “becoming able to find new paths through the maze toward the reward-point through sheer repetition”, from which we could, if we weren’t overly concerned about how far we could quantum leap, deduce that some rats eventually become aware of the general rules of maze construction, of course only on a purely subjective-instinctive nose-and-gut level.

I discovered through this a special learning process which could enable the rat to solve not only one known maze but virtually any maze it may thereafter happen to encounter by accident or design.

I also concluded, probably rightly, that such a rat would, eventually — having blundered its way through a sufficient number of mazes — in spite of itself, begin to dimly recognize the inescapable fact that it is in a maze and that moreover, it cannot — at least by present means — remove itself to parts unknown.

Once this first all-important recognition has been achieved, without which nothing further is possible in any direction except down, it can begin to perceive and analyze its surroundings as they actually are, and not as its unexamined fears and perceptual occlusions have caused it to imagine them to be.

Because the perceptual-emotional will have, for the moment, been resolved, it will no longer exhibit the compulsion to maintain a self-constructed veil of confusion and disorientation.

One would think the thrill of observing that single rat, which out of dozens, suddenly gave indications of having become aware of the maze would soon pall, but au contraire…the excitement of this simple yet magnificent discovery never failed to strike me as anything less than downright apotheotic*, and any behavioral scientist worth his or her weight in potassium nitrate who says anything different is spouting pure scoria*.

A rat achieves maze brightness, and its eyes seem somehow at once both older and younger; general posture and behavior toward the environment and toward itself show radical signs of alteration. It seems less frantic, more self-assured, and noticeably less self-destructive.

At the same time, one can see visible signs of excitement as a new sense of freedom descends overwhelmingly upon it, the same sense of freedom which humans who have discovered what they call “enlightenment” experience.

E.J. Gold is a good storyteller, and I’ve just ordered two more of his books, Practical Work on the Self and The Human Biological Machine As a Transformational Apparatus. The book group I joined has already read them, so I have some catching up to do.

*apotheosis means to exalt a person to the rank of God

*scoria means the scum left after melting metal

Massage, brainwaves, NLP, work, yoga, women in prison, Gurdjieffian book group, trailer, and more

Life is going pretty well. Knock wood, right?

I’m doing well in massage school. Got in some great practice on three people outside of school this past Wednesday, ahead of Thursday’s practical exam. I have a major written test next week and then a week off. It’s hard to believe that I’m about halfway through!

Tomorrow it will be three months since I finished brainwave optimization. I am glad I did it. I feel more centered, my memory is better, and so is my focus. It’s been worth the expense, and I can still go back for individual sessions if I feel the need. It’s been helpful with juggling school/trailer/moving/remodeling/working and so on.

I’m looking forward to doing some gamma wave enhancement when my trainer Gigi Turner at NeuroBeginnings is ready and I have time.

Also, I can have a drink now! You are warned not to drink alcohol during the training and for three months afterward. Kinda makes me wonder what alcohol actually does to the brain. Any drinking I do will be very light — my alcohol tolerance is low.

I did an NLP session with a friend today and picked up a freelance writing/editing job for her website! This is my second recent website writing job. I love doing this for people who have created and are running their small businesses that make the world a better, healthier place, people who are living their passions. I’m looking for more work like that.

I posted my technical writing resume on Monster.com a couple of weeks ago. I’m looking to work 20 hours a week at most, flex-time and telecommuting preferred. Meanwhile, I’m open to doing freelance writing and editing, as well as more yoga and NLP coaching.

I’d love to teach yoga out of my trailer to individuals or small groups (up to 4 max). I’m putting this out there so if you know anyone in South Austin who’d like a small class with more personal attention, you can refer them to me.

I’m considering teaching a donation-only class on Saturday mornings until the weather gets cold. I plan to check out Searight Park in my neighborhood as a possible location. I have Sun Salutations on my mind!

I’ve been attending a weekly class in Anusara yoga at Castle Hill taught by Brigitte Edery or Liz Belile, both great teachers who stimulate and challenge the mind and body. It’s a natural segue from my Iyengar-based training. Love the attention to awareness.

Next week I’m going with Keith Fail into the state prison in Lockhart to teach some basic NLP to women in prison, as part of Truth Be Told‘s Exploring Creativity program. We’ll teach triple description — first, second, and third position, like first, second, and third person in English class, only applying it to your real life. Perceptual flexibility is a fabulous skill to teach, and I’m looking forward to it.

I’m participating in a book group, reading Life in the Labyrinth, by E.J. Gold. This is my first foray into the Gurdjieffian lineage, not counting my longtime interest in the Enneagram. The group has been meeting for a while, and I’m honored to have been invited. We take turns reading aloud, covering a chapter a week, and enjoying some stimulating discussion.

I’ve signed up for a one-day workshop at Lauterstein-Conway later this month on cranio-sacral massage. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I received CST every month for 2-3 years from Nina Davis. It is a fascinating branch on the massage family tree.

Week after next, I’m trading two hours of Swedish massage, with all the extras, for a two-hour lomi lomi (Hawaiian style) massage with James Moore. Really looking forward to that! I haven’t had a lomi lomi massage yet but have read about the Hawaiian healers who have kept this art alive.

Last, the trailer. I’m working on finding the best weatherstripping for the aluminum jalousie windows — something that will last that I can buy in bulk for the 48 windows, which have had the old, melted weatherstripping painstakingly removed.

Then, I hope to replace the nonworking sliding glass doors at the entry with something that works and build an entry deck. I’ve been using the back door to come and go.

Oh, and I must share this! August 2011 was the hottest month in the hottest year on record in Austin. It was also my first full month of having AC in the trailer. Friends have been telling me about their outrageous electric bills — as much as $400.

My AC ran nearly all day every day in August. I worried about my bill being outrageous.

The August bill was $100. Whew! Jon Esquivel at Austin Star Services did a good job getting a good unit in this trailer. For that I am grateful.

Other tasks coming up include plumbing and wiring my shed for a washer and dryer, getting some good window coverings and installing them, and planting more trees and a fall garden with some edible landscaping.

I am really, really loving my life now and the direction it’s going. It’s scary to make a big change in direction like I did, and it is working out well. Knock wood!