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Core Faculty Member
Dennis Lewis

A longtime student of the Gurdjieff Work, Advaita, and Taoism, teaches the transformative power of presence through breathing, qigong, and meditation. A widely recognized authority on natural, authentic breathing, Lewis is the author of acclaimed book "The Tao of Natural Breathing" and the new book from Shambhala Publications "Free Your Breath, Free Your Life." He is co-editor with Jacob Needleman of two books: "Sacred Tradition & Present Need" and "On the Way to Self Knowledge." Lewis has studied tai chi and chi kung with Dr. Wang Shan Long, Mantak Chia, and Bruce Kumar Frantzis. He can be reached through his website at http://www.authentic-breathing.com.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

"A conscious man refuses war. Mutual destruction is a manifestation of men who are asleep."--G.I. Gurdjieff (Gurdjieff: A Master in Life, recollections of Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch, 2006).

The political and social events of the past several years should make it clear to any sane-thinking being that we are truly asleep to the great miracle and mystery and sacredness of life. Though there are some sleeping people who quite naturally draw our attention because of the power they wield in such an unconscious, mechanical way--the current American president is surely one--there is no need to look around and cast blame; all we have to do is look within to see where the problem begins.

That human beings kill each other is not a new phenomenon. That human beings justify their actions based on their beliefs in right and wrong, good and evil, and all the other dualities that are the refuge of the lazy heart and mind, is also not new. What could be new is the inner realization that each one of us is partially responsible for the current state of affairs, and that if any real change is going to take place, we ourselves have to change.

Some of us believe that the only thing that matters is maintaining our own personal life style, hoping (or most often assuming) that others will somehow continue to ensure its reality through the goods and services and conveniences that we believe are our birthright. Others of us believe that the only thing that matters is our own personal salvation (or our group's salvation), as envisioned through the prism of our own particular religious or spiritual tradition. What most of us don't see is that the very way we live--and all of the conscious and unconscious expectations that we have about this life--fuels the misunderstandings and conflicts and warfare and killing that we see occurring around the world.

Of course we can always circle the wagons and try to hold off the evil enemy, fighting the battles outside the circle, but eventually we will have no choice but to realize that the enemy is already within, and that the very act of circling the wagons of "righteousness" to repel evil is itself an act of war--a war that we can never win. We see this phenomenon of "circling the wagons" not only among social groups, political parties, and nations but also in various spiritual traditions and organizations that believe they represent the truth in its purest form. And we see it in the habitual differentiation between "us and them"--a differentiation which in the long run is doomed to failure.

Back in the early 1970's I worked for a while with a friend on an ill-fated book entitled "The Survival Game: How to Stay Alive in the City Without Becoming an Absolute Beast." Living in San Francisco at the time I used to drive over to Field's Bookstore early every Saturday morning, where my friend Kent (who worked in the store on Saturdays) and I used to wrestle with the question of what it meant to survive in today's world without becoming a beast. The first thing we noticed is that neither we nor anyone else had the slightest clue as to where all the goods and services that we relied on came from. Nor did we have any idea of all the myriad people that were somehow involved in providing them to everyone in the city--people from every part of the world. We had no appreciation of the vast web of work and activity that made our lives possible. We used to interview people on the street outside the bookstore, and they didn't know any more than we did. Most of us didn't even know where the water we drank actually came from. And no one really seemed to care. We felt we were in front of an almost impossible task.

Both Kent and I were involved at that time in the Gurdjieff Work, and it came as no surprise that we found a passage in one of the Gurdjieff books in which Gurdjieff stressed the importance of looking at any object and seeing in that object everything that made it possible--from the invention and
design of the object, to the mining of the minerals or manufacture of the materials used in the object, to the many aspects of the production of the object itself, to the shipping of the object, to the selling of the object, to fuel that made all these previous activities possible, and so on. But, of course, such a way of looking took mental effort, and we quickly found out just how difficult this effort was. It meant that we had to think in a way that was not simply "reactive" or "associative" (you might like to read an article I wrote on "Real Thinking," which you can find at http://www.dennislewis.org/real_thinking.htm).

There is an old truism that goes something like "We deserve the leaders we get." In the case of our current American president this is a frightening prospect, but it is nonetheless true. We may not have voted for him, but our overall ignorance, unconsciousness, and mechanicalness as manifested in our psychological, social, and political lives provided the conditions in which such a man could readily come to power. He is, after all, a reflection of our own "beast," the side of ourselves that believes that our way of life is the best way of life and will do everything possible to maintain it and survive, including lying, cheating, and killing. It is no use to say that "That's ridiculous. I don't cheat and kill." That may be so, but the fact is that many of us are quite happy to let others do the job for us.

War may be inevitable, and each of us may eventually have to fight, as Arjuna did in the Bhagavad-Gita, or at least support the fight, but we don't have to believe that the battle is between good and evil, right and wrong, pure and impure. We don't have to believe that we are superior beings battling evil men and women. We don't have to b elieve that ours is a righteous war, anymore than we have to believe when we argue with our neighbors that we are necessarily right and they are wrong. And the same is true of all the so-called ideas and ideals we cherish, including the ways we view God, the universe, and the meaning of life. We all have stories we believe in, but does anyone really know the whole story?

Finally, when we allow the light of consciousness to shine within and are truly sincere with ourselves, when we begin to live from burning questions instead of dead answers, we realize that in spite of all our ideas and beliefs and judgments we really don't have a clue about why we are here on this planet. And with this realization comes an instant awakening to the beauty, mystery, and sacredness of the whole of life, including not just ourselves and our loved ones but also all those who are outside the circling of our wagons. We realize that we are all dependent on one another in ways that are difficult for the mind to grasp but easy for the heart to feel. Of course, with this realization comes an experience of real remorse--the felt understanding of how we have not only lived completely selfish, unconscious lives (even many of us who consider ourselves seekers of truth), but of how this unconsciousness has brought terrible suffering both to ourselves and the world.

To be sure, there is no solution to be found in these thoughts. As long as we continue to live as unconscious beasts, concerned mainly with our own ideals and our own comfortable survival, war will likely always be with us. But insofar as we learn that the real struggle is simply to wake up, to empty ourselves of our habitual beliefs and judgments (even our beliefs about the process of what it takes to wake up), and to look at the whole picture as best we can, without waving or burning flags, we will begin to influence others by our very being. And, who knows?--since in some mysterious way "our being attracts our life," perhaps life itself will, over time, undergo a peaceful transformation. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but is there any other avenue open to us? Violence clearly doesn't work--at least not for very long. The way of the violent warrior has never been a solution.

It is interesting to note that the recent film "The Peaceful Warrior," a film that has some relevance here, has been panned by so many film critics. The usual comment is that this is a film of New Age platitudes. What is remarkable is that the reviewers, almost all of them, don't have a clue as to what these so-called "platitudes" actually mean. Learning how to be present to the moment with one's whole mind and heart but without judgment is not an idea but a way of living. I recommend this film to everyone. Another recent film, a comedy, that has some relevance here, perhaps not a very well executed film but one that expresses nonetheless a great truth about how we in Western World live today, is "Click." Our effort to "fast-forward" through life, avoiding moments of unpleasantness, boredom, pain, suffering--in short, everything we don't like"--all in the name of some goal in the future that we believe will bring us meaning and happiness, also plays a big role in the current situation.

It would be great to hear from you on these or any other issues.

With best regards,
Dennis

"Once you open a can of worms, if you want to re-can them you will need a bigger can."--From Murphy's Laws 

dennisl1@breathing.com

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The breathing improvement techniques, practices and products outlined in this publication are extremely gentle, and should, if carried out as described, be beneficial
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