"Light the lamp that needs no oil." - Hafiz

The Fellowship of Friends

January 2017

Theory and Practice

I was once consumed in thought, trying to make sense of a very unwanted experience, when a bird's song called to me from a nearby tree. 
Meister Eckhart

One's life is theoretical until one is present to it. Sleep is a darkness that clouds the senses, a compulsive flow of imagination through one's psychology, occupying one's attention and defining what we think, what we do, what we say. Even when a moment of consciousness reveals the existence of a serene, detached 'Other', this often does not prove strong enough to penetrate sleep, or enable the warrior of our work, the 'steward' as Gurdjieff describes it, to banish it altogether. Sleep is perpetual. Presence is occasional. As the poet Wordsworth says, 'Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting', and when the nature of sleep is shown to be pervasive, and the effort to awaken so necessary, one is driven to find practical, manageable methods of escaping.

A school teaches the necessity of engaging presence as a principle by which to live and as a continual activity throughout the moments of one's life. As the aim is awakening, the function of a school is to invent or revive techniques for producing presence. Some of these techniques are familiar—meditation, prayer, chant, dance—although not so much for their original intention, which is to interrupt sleep and produce presence, but for their additional virtues of healing and promoting psychological balance. Yet whatever the technique of a school, the first intention is to produce presence through controlling attention.

Struggle to pierce that darkness above you with the dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens. 
Anonymous English Monk

A school perfects the technique for engaging presence, and at the same time, prepares the being of its students for the difficulties of awakening. Schools of meditation taught controlling the mind privately until a student could then begin to practice constant awareness of the mind in all circumstances. Prayer was once a school technique taught in the temple so that it could be brought into the streets, in the market, among people. The echoing chant of the cloister was once taught by a monastic school so that it can be remembered in the ear, a reminder of the beauty of that conscious 'Other'. The physical training used by ascetic schools was taught to train attention for the chaotic, random movements of common circumstances.

Be energetic in the work that takes you to God. 


What one learns in a school is then practiced in places that seem removed from the heart of a teaching. Presence is taught personally, verified privately, and then strengthened in ordinary life. On a bus, a student of a school watches his mind on the way to work, neither believing nor rejecting his thoughts. Another student walks through a crowded street, and with graceful, attentive movement, creates a dance out of a jostling, negative experience. Two students meet in a busy, down-town café and use conversation to inspire their work on consciousness. A student practices breathing with presence before her commute to work, preparing for the battle between sleep and awakening, the real master game of her day. This is the teaching of a school. Life is a dream until one awakens and places presence behind everything. A school teaches awakening through small, practical efforts.

Light the lamp that needs no oil. 

Julian B.