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January Seminar in D.R.

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THE PRESENT MOMENT  (January  1966)

By J.B.Bennett

The present moment is our life, or our reality. Outside of this present moment there is certainly some greater reality, but we are not directly in it. Our present moment opens and closes. It can become very small, when all that is present is just some fragment of experience in a part of our nature. It can also open tip and we can be directly aware of it doing so. In terms of consciousness, we can be aware of more or less, and it is possible to expand beyond our own experience and penetrate beyond this life or ours. People ordinarily think of the present moment in terms of consciousness, but the more important side has to do with decision and the will.

The decision that holds the present moment together is something that characterizes every kind of being, but we men are given a certain power which enables us to live in a present moment far greater than that of any animal. We have memories of the past and we can foresee the future and have expectations. These memories and expectations of ours do not depend on the senses as do those of an animal, who anticipates or remembers because of the traces left in its organism of past sensations. We have something more than that. We are not brought together by the same kind of forces that bring animals together into a herd, or insects together into a hive. There is something in us which is able to make decisions because we can see the past and the future. This enables us to expand the present moment. That is why Gurdjieff said that a man was a being who can "remember himself" Not to be able to remember our self is a sign of not being a man. In the chapter "Why men are not men"  in Beelzebub's Tales, Gurdjieff says that the reason is that they do not exercise the power of decision that is in them.

This does not mean that all the time we must live in a state of expanded consciousness, otherwise the present moment would be nothing else but a matter of consciousness. This is a mistake that is often made. It is often thought that our embrace of consciousness determines what we are, but this is not right. The present moment is not only what we are conscious of, but also what has become part of us by our own will and decision.

For example, if I decide to go for a walk, it is implied that I have two legs, that I have learned how to walk, that I have the strength to make the effort, and that I have the knowledge of how to get to the place I have chosen to walk to. None of these things need come into my awareness. The decision to take a walk covers all that is implied in my making such a decision.

We have met together to try to come to a new understanding of time. In this a whole lot is implied. One obvious thing is that you will be able to follow me when I speak in the English language. This is not consciously taken into account, but without it, this event could not be taking place. The present moment has something of the nature of an iceberg -by no means is all of it floating above the surface where it can be seen. We are not aware of great deal of it. We can, by making an effort, become aware of something which is under the surface, but is usually not needed. There are some things, such as the finer workings of our organisms that we cannot become aware of at all.

The present moment is the whole region of our experience within which we are able to do something-that is, where our actions are connected with our purposes. Outside of the present moment we have to rely upon something external to make a connection. If I go outside of my present moment, there will be unknowable and unpredictable that can make it impossible for me to do even the simplest things. The realistic way of looking at the present moment is as the world of our effectiveness. Some people have a world of effectiveness that extends much further than it does for other people. We say that their responsibility is greater. Some people, for example, are able to take decisions which involve factors extending over months and even years. (That is, real decisions which are carried through.) Others can only take decisions which involve themselves and much smaller spans of time.

One part of our work is to learn how our present moment can be expanded, to go from a series of fragmentary experiences to the coherence in which we find ourselves. Another part of our work is to learn how the present moment can be shared, because the present moment of an individual shut up inside himself is really a very ineffectual thing.

When there is a complete cycle that can be foreseen, as in these series of meetings, we can practice bringing our attention back to the purpose of it all. Doing this will in itself furnish enough data to begin to understand what I have said about the present moment. Such a practice is already Work on enlarging our present moment and sharing with others. Real sharing comes through acceptance of a common pattern of intention.

What I am trying to get you to understand is the significance of "will". But first of all we have to realize that "will" requires an instrument. It can be associated with any of the energies, which, so to say, enable it to work. But, according to the level of energy that will be greater or lesser freedom, and greater or lesser power of embrace associated with the present moment. When it is one of the lower energies working there are simply fragments of will. What I call the automatic energy  manifests will as many It's: every thought, feeling and sensation saying "I".  The fragmentation of will corresponds to the state of automatism in man. The automatic energy or substance does not permit an action of the will beyond the immediate experience of that part which happens to be experiencing. When there is a transition to the next level of sensitive energy, there is a sense of connectedness. It becomes possible to say yes or no. This is the first point at which the personal will begins to be operative. Beyond this point, real decisions are possible.

There is a combination of energies which produces a certain substance. When that substance is available, then the will is free to decide within the whole region into which the quality of stuff can penetrate. For example, if enough of this substance is in me, I can make a decision that will be (is) operative for the whole of myself. The will is able, through that substance, to make a decision. I am talking in almost literal terms-as literally as I can get it. There has to be so much  of the substance because it is circumscribed and limited. It is quantitative, not just a quality of experience. When this substance is concentrated there is a present moment, and when there is a decision of the will that present moment is the present moment of that will

We have certain exercises in our psychological work connected with acts of will and decision. You have to do something to prepare (perhaps not so much as an ounce, maybe a grain) some of this substance. Even one grain will enable you to make a decision that you will fulfill. This substance has the quality of certainty. When it works in the mind you can recognize truth. When it works in the feelings, you have positive emotions. It is through this substance that people are connected. When this substance is sufficiently concentrated in a group of people for the connection to be permanent, then this is what is called  "the communion of the saints" In them, there is only one will. When this substance has actually pervaded the being of a person, they are transformed from an ordinary mortal to an immortal being.

This substance also enables us to be aware of destiny. When it is lacking, we have either to rely upon what we have received from tradition in the past of what people have done in similar circumstances, or we have to be guided and instructed. But when this substance is present and awakens the perception of destiny, then we do not require the one or the other ; we see what has to be done. Jacob Boehme put it in this way, there are two "yes" in man, one which looks into time and the other into eternity. For myself, I would say that the second "eye"  looks into hyparxis, the direction of destiny, where something has to be accomplished in the creative world. We can see our destiny only to a certain point. Everything is limited.

As we are, our present moment is weak, but this is not solely a matter of our own weaknesses and limitations. There is a force which is trying to draw everything back into an undifferentiated state, or the time state. On the purely material level, this is just probability, but in the higher regions of energy it begins to take the forms of evil and temptation. The whole task of these forces is to disrupt the present moment so that a particular purpose should be accomplished. This is allegorically described in the Book of Job, where Satan is given special permission to disrupt Job's present moment until it is almost entirely destroyed. But something remains of his will, and although the substance of which we have been talking has been removed from him, his present moment is able to rebuild and return to all that it was, and more. It is quite accurate to picture the disruptive force on a high level as a conscious working. It is not just entropy. Job comes to see that although he does not lose his will, he is completely powerless and that his will depends on whether he is given the means to exercise it.

When the substance works in us we can see. It is an obligation for those who can see to help those who cannot. One who cannot see cannot do very much to help another one who cannot see. So, if two hundred people join together and none of them can see what is required, it will perhaps be two hundred times worse than if they operate separately. A mere joining together of people of good intentions guarantees nothing. The question we have in front of us is whether there are people who see and whether there are people who are able to take decisions on a scale that is great enough to form a present moment in which we can find our own place.

Most of the work we have done together has come from the transmission of something that I received and which has been transformed during the last twenty five years of the activities to do with Coombe Springs. I was under an obligation to share this with you, because I received something that I had no doubt was the product of Work, of an understanding. But certain conditions remain unfulfilled; particularly conditions connected with this substance that I have been speaking about. It became quite clear to me that without this substance, one was bound to be ineffectual. I long ago put aside the idea that one can work by ones  own knowledge and natural abilities and strength alone. I had an experience with Gurdjieff in 1923 in which, under the conditions he was able to create, I was able to understand not only myself, but also him and what he was doing. That experience has remained unaffected by time and it is as strong now as it has ever been. At that time Gurdjieff was speaking about this substance and putting it in quantitative terms. He told us that we may not have enough of it for our work-we need a pound but we have only an ounce. Then he said that some people have concentrated enough of it to have some to spare for others; then these others can become sources in their turn. All that he said was very vivid for me because I was experiencing the reality of it at that moment.

In the very same conversation that day, Gurdjieff spoke about  "the Work"  in an objective way, as a present reality which people who could recognize it were able to serve. It can only be served by those who understand what is required. The Work has its own present moment which is not the whole history of mankind and even less the happenings on the earth which are not even historical. In the world of happenings, possibilities go by the way of least resistance, according to the greatest probabilities. There is no resistance set up, or one so small that it only has the effect of producing little eddies that quickly disappear again. Then there are events in which a resistance is set up where people have strong convictions and are willing to make sacrifices. This produces a deep disturbance in the stream of happenings and builds something up, a potential that is not swallowed by time. We may not know the names of the people who produced the historical results, but we can recognize the event. The Work lies beyond this.

There is the possibility of seeing what has to be done, and this we call the Work. It must be clearly understood that there is no way of verifying the reality of the Work, because everything that we verify is only a result, and what is more, a second order result. The Work is effective in that region where our senses and our thoughts are blind, the region of destiny. One can ask why the purpose we are called to serve is not made plain to everyone, so that if we have the good will to do it we can serve it? But the serving of this purpose depends upon discovering it, not upon being told. What can be told belongs to the middle region where people see what they want to do and why they want to do it. The Work has a task to do just with that region in which men are blind, where they can only see if something is transformed in them; and this leads us again to the concentration of that substance without which we cannot see.

It is strange that we wish to do what is right; we wish to serve, but we are all stuck because we do not  see  what is required. We say  If only I knew what is required of me, even it meant the most bitter sacrifice, I could make it; but I cannot even make a sacrifice if I do not know what is wanted. It is because we do not  see  that we have this kind of undertaking, by which we try to prepare ourselves to come to the point where we will be able to do what is required. Until our own  seeing comes, there is inevitable dependence. In the Masnawi, Jalal ad-din Rumi says,  If you have a lodestone then you find your own way, but if not, join with someone who has, otherwise your journeying will be wasted.

It happens that if people join together in order to prepare themselves to see what is required, this very undertaking produces some of this substance, maybe enough for at least one person to  see.  If one person "sees",  it is enough, because they are so joined together that they know what has been seen is valid for them all. At this particular time, there is an enterprise of this kind going on. It depends on a decision that is not made by us, but by those who have the vision, who may not even be alive now. It is possible that this decision concerned this country, that here should be established a certain focus for the concentration of this substance to enable certain things to happen, rather like a service station. Such places have existed in different parts of the world, including Central Asia. It seems that several generations ago, at the beginning of the last century, some people saw that a certain kind of work had to happen in the West. There is a certain action, which may span two centuries, concerning a great transformation in the circumstances of human life on this earth. This action could not take place by people telling each other that the world was going through a crisis. It needs a great concentration of the substance we have been talking about, without which nothing can be done. It may be that the task of collecting this substance has been going on for a very long time. As some of you know, this task is often compared to the work of bees collecting honey, who gather it, drop by drop.


Possibly something of this sort has already been brought into the life of people, and this may account for some of the otherwise unaccountable events happening on the historical plane, such as people having been drawn together and accepting one another in spite of the frightful disruptive influences at work. This may be so. If it is, then what we are doing corresponds to that, but on a smaller scale and on a lower level of concentration. Because of the low level of concentration, it cannot produce the freedom of action that is required. The only way in which what we have done and are doing can be fruitful is if it is integrated into a larger action. Small actions make large actions possible, but they must be connected according to a permissible pattern. The honey can be collected and concentrated because the bees can also make honeycombs. Honeycombs are an analogy for various things, even places such as the one we have here.

When a new hive is to be started, the old hive has to make a sacrifice -sometimes it means even losing the queen. In the same way an extraordinary sacrifice has been made for what is happening now. I see more at this stage than you have been able to see. To bring the present moment into existence there has to be a separation. This is where something painful is involved and one must not suppose that it is otherwise. It may be that somewhere, for many centuries, there existed a place of concentration which produced, one can even say, blissful conditions of existence for those in its neighborhood, and the possibility of transformation for all those connected with it. It is a considerable thing to sacrifice all that and allow the concentration to move to another place. Without it, there could not be this event which we are seeing one corner of. We should have a special kind of gratitude towards the people who were ready to make such a sacrifice.

We know that when we try to work on our own it is very difficult. Each of us has a certain degree of commitment, which depends on this substance in us, but it is weak. We need to integrate ourselves into a present moment that is not just our personal decision. This is the significance of a group. Probably all of you who have worked in groups are aware of the difference between what you are able to do for the sake of the group and what you are able to do for your own sake. This is very surprising, considering how self-centered we are. It is strange that we really only care for ourselves and we are full of suspicions and difficulties in our relations with other people; and yet, when we come together in a group to undertake some kind of work, we find a force of quite a different order than the force we find when we try to work for our own sake. This can all be understood in terms of the present moment. The force of the individual will may be the greater, but the amount of substance that is available to make the will effectual is too little. When there are a number of people together there may be enough substance for a decision to be taken. If we can understand this in terms of our own experience of working in groups, we may then realize that on a larger scale, things may be possible which we do not dream of at the moment.

You must remember that I am talking about a direction within the present moment in which man is blind. It is not possible for me to produce evidence to convince you about these things. At best you can see by the results that something different has been at work, but you cannot tell what, or how it works.

The substance we have been referring to time and time again is not simply an energy like electricity, which requires a certain kind of apparatus in order to be useful; it is in itself an intelligent energy. At first it seems very hard to grasp that there is an intelligence which is not the intelligence of a person. But intelligence is a substance which enters into people and makes them intelligent. Without it they are not intelligent. In the ancient symbol of the honey and the bee, honey is the substance of intelligence, or the substance of know-how,  the substance by which it is possible both to see what has to be done and also to have the integrative power to make the necessary combinations in order to achieve it. The greater part of human life is run on an extreme minimum of this substance. A few people have it and are able to keep things going.

In Ouspensky's Fragments (In Search of the Miraculous), Gurdjieff refers to "knowledge" being limited. He says that it becomes dispersed and it is the duty of Schools to collect and concentrate this knowledge so that it can become available when required. This refers to knowledge, not in the sense of information, but in the sense of effectual knowledge or intelligence. When this is about, people act more wisely than they know. It is one of the most peculiar features of the twentieth century, especially now, that although dreadful things are being done and the disruptive forces are more dangerous perhaps than at any other time, there is a quite certain advancing towards a new state of affairs in the world-in which humanity will be able to accomplish things that have never been accomplished. This is not due to the cleverness of people, or to their good intentions, or to moral teachings- none of which could possibly prevail against the disruptive forces. What can prevail, if it is available, is this substance.

When this substance is available, it can produce actions in people which are more sensible than one would expect of them. This you can observe. When people know how to use it, it produces the action beyond history that we call the Work. It enables things to be prepared and the relation between fate and destiny to be rightly adjusted for humanity, so that things that have gone off the rails can be brought back and new tendencies introduced into human life. New modes of thought, new kinds of relationships and so on, are all possible if this substance is sufficiently concentrated in the hands of those who know how to make use of it. A great deal of the Work is concerned with this. To the extent that we can take part in this, we enter into this present moment.

Copyright belongs to
the Estate of JB and Elizabeth Bennett


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