For the Week of February 4 – February 10: Emotional Center and The Nights
February 2021 Aim,The Church of Conscious Harmony
Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
- Romans 12:2
"A [person] unites with truth only through [one's] love, as it were, and in this way, [one's] being is changed. … This Work is beautiful … It is about liberation. It is as beautiful as if, locked for years in prison, you see a stranger entering who offers you a key. But you may refuse it because you have acquired prison habits and have forgotten your origin, which is from the stars."
- Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, "Note on How to Work on Oneself," April 26, 1941, Vol. 5, p. 1743.
In last week’s email, we explored the three primary practices of the Work: self-observation, non-identification, and Self-remembering. Along with a sitting meditation practice, such as Centering Prayer, these practices of the Work help open the eye of our heart. This week, we will aim to deepen our understanding of the emotional center and how the classic spiritual teaching of John of the Cross on the Dark Night of the Spirit relates to the Work. First, let's review a bit about the centers, then progress to the emotional center itself.
The Emotional Center
Our focus this year is on the emotional center and the invitation to wish and work for its continued purification and freedom from unconscious reactivity. This raises two questions. What is the emotional center? And how is it healed and evolved?
What is it?
C.S. Nott, one of Mr. Gurdjieff's students, "recalls Gurdjieff playing music on his hand organ that made his students weep, touching their higher emotional center in a way that they had not been touched in all their previous years of work" (Sophia Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, p. 58). This speaks to something of the poignancy of the emotional center, that we all can intuitively grasp and verify in our own experience.
In the positive side of the emotional center, we experience likes and dislikes, religious, aesthetic and moral emotions, artistic creation, and what the Work calls magnetic center. In the negative side of the emotional center, we often experience a barrage of depleting, damaging and dividing emotions -- feelings, moods and states, such as suspicion, fear, hatred, jealousy, greed and violence, to name a few. Mr. Nicoll reminds us that "the peculiar characteristic of negative emotions is that they go on and on by themselves, always creating fresh negative emotions, long after the [first] cause is removed. And they take so much energy and waste it uselessly so that people often become ill as a result" (Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, "Wrong Work of Centers," November 28, 1941, Vol. 1, p. 87).
So, left to itself, the emotional center can grow quite disorganized, mechanical, reactive, and asleep. The analogy of the carriage, horse, driver and master is a useful way of conceiving the role the emotional center plays. In this Work parable, the emotional center is represented by the horse, and the driver represents the intellectual center. But notice that the analogy also includes something beyond the carriage (body), horse (emotions) and driver (intellect). This "something more" in us than just the three bodies/centers (moving/emotional/intellectual) is called the master, or Real I, which begins to give inner guidance to the driver.
One reason we may be drawn to this Work is that we have lived enough life to discover that we have a wild, untamed "horse" in us, and that we need help. So often the emotions unconsciously run the show and not only dictate our thinking but also impact our physicality.
This leads us to the expression the wish is father to the thought. Mr. Nicoll comments on this saying that "Any of our emotional states tend to govern our thinking. This is an example of one center hypnotizing another and so of the wrong working of centers. So, we must try to free our thoughts from our emotions when they are negative. But this is all a matter for observation and to speak about it fully would require a long time" (Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, "Wrong Work of Centers," November 28, 1941, Vol. 1, p. 87).
You can explore more about the various parts of centers and how they operate HERE.
How can it be healed?
We will spend much of 2021 unpacking and exploring this question. The Work identifies several ways of being or behaviors that we must work on if we are to develop and fulfill our purpose as self-developing organisms who serve God and our fellow humanity. Over the course of this year, we will explore many of this acquired programming that keeps us asleep and mechanical. But just for a brief overview, the list might include at least the following dynamics:
Negative thinking Multiplicity Imaginary I Buffers
Identification with negativity
The Emotional Center and Purity of Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
- Matthew 5:8
This is Jesus' profound teaching referred to as one of the Beatitudes recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. Clearly, the echo of Jesus' teaching can be heard in St. Paul's prayer in Ephesians that has inspired our 2021 Aim:
May the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.
- Ephesians 1:18
Using this teaching as their template, the first Christian monastic communities developed a system of purifying the heart, applying Jesus' Beatitudes in a psychological way, particularly dealing with the passions, such as apathy, lust, anger, greed, gluttony, etc. This system surely influenced the development of Mr. Gurdjieff's teaching.
Two monks are important to note. John Cassian (360-435 CE) wrote in his Conferences extensively about these common human passions and how to deal with them in an appropriate spiritual and psychological way. We will explore these passions later this year. A thousand years later, a different monk whom we now know as John of the Cross (1542-1591 CE), developed an early state of purification of the heart and called it the Dark Nights. Purity of heart is a state of being and might correspond to the teaching of the Work as follows:
Evolution in knowledge and being
The will to refrain from expressing negative emotions
The will to externally consider always, internally consider never
Emergence of Real I
Increasing permanence of non-identification and Self-remembering
Increasing contact and surrender to the wisdom of higher emotional/intellectual centers
For our purposes this week, these Work dynamics can be paired with the traditional Christian understanding of the spiritual journey, particularly through the writings of John of the Cross. Thomas Keating has provided a modern and psychological update to the teachings of John of the Cross, in his Spiritual Journey series where he develops the idea of unloading the programs for happiness and teaches about the Night of Spirit.
John of the Cross: Night of Sense and Spirit
There is one journey, but there are many different mappings and descriptions of the journey. Here are three maps for comparison. This is an incomplete presentation designed only to highlight, from a stance of wondering, the universal three-fold process/development in each map:
Today, we may hear someone say something like: "I’m in a dark night." It turns out we might find it helpful to ask the question, which night? Here is a brief overview of the characteristics of the different nights, which will help by way of contrast, put the Night of Spirit in clearer focus. The map is adapted from a helpful summary by James W. Kinn in his book The Practice of Contemplation According to John of the Cross:
I. The Purgative Way:
Active Night of Sense
John of the Cross speaks of this in his book, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Books One-Two. It is the first stage in purgation where one begins to discover and release attachments/passions (i.e., programs for happiness) that are primarily related to the senses, often associated with the body or emotions. It is active because it involves our deliberate participation and efforts of such denials and self-restraints.
Active Night of Spirit
John of the Cross speaks of this in his book The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Books Two-Three. This night deals with active development of prayer, moving deeper into the silence from mental prayer to wordless prayer, "the simple prayer of faith." It is a night because it is a deliberate movement away from sensible consolations in prayer, where one cultivates dark, interior silence. It is a "night of spirit" because it has to do with the soul resting and not partaking in mental prayer.
II. The Illuminative Way
Passive Night of Sense
John of the Cross speaks of this in his book The Dark Night, Book One. He calls it a night because this season is a time when one "gets no satisfaction or consolation from the things of God … God does not allow the soul to find sweetness or delight in anything." The night can feel like a season of darkness, aridity, and lack of growth or any pleasure. It is passive because this is caused by God's work in the soul and it is a night of sense because it is without consolation or affection, freeing us from our dependence on sensible satisfaction in prayer, the attractions of life, and restraining our sense desires. God does this work in us for our continued progress in prayer. John teaches that we cannot accomplish this purification by ourselves.
Passive Night of Spirit
John of the Cross speaks of this in his book The Dark Night, Book Two. He describes this night as a state of powerlessness and radical poverty of spirit in prayer. It is a night because it involves an unseeing, yet loving gaze of faith. Perhaps this passive Night of Spirit pairs with the Work experience and state of radical non-identification and more ongoing Self-remembering. This phase may also introduce us to our first experiences with connection to our higher emotional and higher intellectual centers, which are perhaps a more modern way of speaking about the medieval understanding of the higher faculties of the soul. This Night of Spirit is of a finer energetic quality than the earlier more active efforts of Work against the personality. The Night of Spirit is more akin with the state of life after one has become Balanced Man, not dominated by just one of the three centers (1, 2, 3) and our programs for happiness or acquired conscience.
III. Union/Spiritual Marriage
Finally, John of the Cross speaks of this state in his writings The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love. The unitive way is the work of the Holy Spirit, which results in a new quality of being he calls the "spiritual marriage." Here are two quotations that speak to this unitive experience and state:
"I went into divine union with God through love. Insofar as, the soul is … purged through the Work of the dark night in a twofold way (in the sensory and spiritual parts with their senses, faculties, and passions)" (cf. The Dark Night, 2.5.1).
"In the dark night … we dealt with the intensity of this purgation … of the sensory part and … of the spiritual part, and the time or stage along the spiritual road in which the nights begin … Let it suffice now to know that the very God who [seeks] … the transformation of love is the one who first begins this Work" (cf. The Living Flame of Love, 1.25).
Observe your emotional responses to this statement by Maurice Nicoll. What is evoked? "A [person] unites with truth only through [one's] love, as it were, and in this way, one's being is changed. …This Work is beautiful. … It is about liberation. It is as beautiful as if, locked for years in prison, you see a stranger entering who offers you a key. But you may refuse it because you have acquired prison habits and have forgotten your origin, which is from the stars."
Uncritically self-observe identification with negativity and observe states of Self-remembering. Describe and contrast the difference of energy, sensation, experience. What do you see? What additional understanding about yourself have your received? About existence? About all reality?
February Aim and Practice
The February Aim and Practice is star gazing. We are invited to look up and feel our place in the cosmos as a means of purifying the emotional center. Take a few minutes each night to go outside at notice the stars. Which one calls to you? What constellation intrigues you? Then, look up at the same place before dawn. Notice how the stars have changed and shifted. Feel your feet on the ground. Feel your consciousness as a part of the whole cosmos. Feel someone else looking at Earth, from far away. Notice the sensations.
Attend: All are encouraged and welcome to attend tonight's class for a review of these teachings and how they are landing in you: 7:00 pm Central Time via Zoom only.