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The Thief The continuation of the lives of the Livingsons. Another generation accepts the mantle as bearers of the truth, the custodians of the great knowledge which arose in the dimness of time and has been passed unchanged from generation to generation. They meet the challenges of outmaneuvering those notorious thieves: self-delusion and habitual routine. The probing dialogs between the host and the guest introduce: the streamlined tools of self-examination which empower us to overcome our own impediments—in order to achieve command of our inner world, and further insights into the illuminating ubiquitous structure of all that exists.
Read an excerpt below or read it at the Voyager Press page:
Excerpt from The Thief © J.L.Lawson 2010
The city lay out before them, the dull sounds of the traffic wafted up to them, as the very late afternoon sun just peeked out from behind a scuttling formation of clouds. Their position also commanded a view of the dim fringes of green from the distant forests, and the winding turns of the Seine as she flowed along her ancient banks, into the mass of buildings and monuments and out again. “I hope we shall not be walking back.” Harold said on behalf of them all. When they were all assembled together once again, they returned down the hill in search of transportation, in the reverse order of their arrival, so Harry and Kaitlyn followed the rest of the group.
Jameson and Aaron, in the lead, followed by the four single ladies in a group, processed past the last of the steeper streets and entered the Pigalle neighborhoods as the evening descended. There had still been no sign of a taxi, so the little troop carried onward. As Jameson turned to look back at the group following, Aaron made a turn at street corner and walked a little ways before he realized no one was with him. He returned to the corner and just saw Harold and Chloe with Harry and Kaitlyn in front of him. He hurried his pace and caught up to them, a little disturbed at his own missing sense of direction. Ahead, Jameson slowed to join the ladies, and looked back again to be sure Aaron had rejoined the group behind. Satisfied, he put his attention on the sidewalk ahead of him, none too late. A knot of men were gawking at the doorway of a very tawdry cafe. He moved to the inside, closer to the buildings and between the ladies and the little crowd of now ill-smelling people. Once past, they were facing similar scenes all up the avenue. He checked the other side of the street and it seemed less inhabited, so he made mention that they should cross over.
Harry witnessed Jameson’s actions and imitated his decision, soon all the company was across the street. They might have been safer on the side with all the cabarets. As the lead group reached an alleyway, three unsavory characters stepped onto the sidewalk and barred their passage. Jameson summoned what little of the language he had acquired and asked to pass. At least he hoped that’s what he asked. Two larger men emerged behind them. Harold, Chloe, and Kaitlyn quickened their pace to join their impeded companions. Harry, holding Hannah, walked slowly forward after them, with Aaron just a little behind him. The, now, five men were looking hungrily at the ladies, but it wasn’t until one made the mistake of pawing Hipolyta, that anything amiss had begun. She clamped his hand where he had grabbed at her shoulder, ducked and spun, as a loud snap could be heard and the man’s scream of anguish. This, naturally prompted the man next to him to try and grab her as she let go the wounded man, she crouched, spun and his legs went out from under him with a thud, he landed on his back on the sidewalk in front of Chloe and Kaitlyn. Two of the three men nearest Jameson made a failed attempt to bludgeon him in the head, they each clubbed one another, leaving just the one remaining miscreant reaching for Titania. This might have been dealt with more gently, but he produced a straight razor in his other hand, supposing to regain control of the already failed attack. She leapt straight up from the sidewalk, spun in the air, and as she landed, the thug’s head was captured in the bend of her right knee. She pivoted and a nasty crackling noise came from his shoulders, he dropped to the rest of the way to the ground, unencumbered, his arm with the razor in hand held above him. Titania removed it from his, now pliant, fingers, closed it and put it into her little hand bag. “This will need a good scrubbing, no doubt,” and walked on a little way passed the fracas.
Harry had just walked up to the rest of his companions, they parted at his approach, “Do please watch where you are going, we have a baby with us this evening.” Kaitlyn joined him as he passed the moaning and crumpled. Harold and Chloe waited for Aaron, Becky, and Mandy to get up closer to Harry and Kaitlyn, before passing Jameson and the twins, allowing them bring up the rear. Before they had gone two more blocks they were again impeded, this time by only two poorly dressed men in broken top hats. Kaitlyn stepped in front of Harry, to the broken smiles of the two in front of her. She kept up her pace as if intending to walk between them, they didn’t part to let her pass, but without breaking stride, leapt into a forward somersault, knocked their hats off, landed in a crouch behind them and swept their legs from beneath them with such force, they landed hard enough to knock their uncovered heads on the concrete. She rose and didn’t even glance back at their fallen and whimpering bodies. Harry stepped between them and gained Kaitlyn’s side once more. Their companions, following, did the same. At last they reached a broad thoroughfare, the Boulevard de Clichy. The sidewalks were wider, and allowed the travelers to walk nearly abreast as they strolled on towards the Arc de Triomphe, and Etoile.
Harry halted them at the gates of Le Parc Monceau, where they gathered around the several benches between the closed entry gates. “Kaitlyn, my love,” and he passed Hannah to MamaKat. “Well are we all still in one piece? It’s a shame we didn’t find a taxi.”
“All fine here, Harry” Jameson said, standing beside the twins and Mandy.
“Good here, sir.” Harold answered, with Becky and Chloe on either of his sides, and Aaron just walking up beside them.
“Lovely. Well perhaps, Jameson, you might find us a good restaurant? Something not to far away?” Titania and Hipolyta dragged him along, pointing to a brightly lit series of somethings across the, now, narrowed boulevard.
Mandy moved closer to Kaitlyn, who was quite inconspicuously nursing. “Did I see what I thought I saw, back there?” began Mandy. Becky also moved to within their little circle, with Chloe and Harold standing nearer Harry and Aaron.
“That depends I suppose. What is it that you think you saw?” replied Kaitlyn evenly.
“Those two cute little twins, that I have known from birth, destroyed several large, ugly men on that street back there. Then you walked through two even larger men as if they were sheets on a clothes line?” she recounted, not too far from accuracy. Becky added, “Is this what you meant last night when you talked about ‘the wall’ and ‘the thief and the tiger’? I thought you were speaking, you know, metaphorically, or at least poetically.”
Kaitlyn answered impassively, “There is nothing poetic or metaphorical about the dangers lying in wait around the next corner, no matter where you go, be that city, village, forest, or farm. Higher consciousness only does you any good, or any good for anyone else, if you are alive. What happens after that, well, we’ll see. But not tonight.”
Aaron, who had remained uncharacteristically silent since his missed directions in the Pigalle neighborhood, at last turned to Harry and asked a short question, “So, what Mrs. Leonowens told Becky and I…that was true?”
“In some sense, yes. From her description of the man from southern china, which you related to me, that was my Great-uncle Li Fong, and he was right, he chose not to follow his father’s path, but because of that, he couldn’t offer anything but a sketch of what he imagined was a part of The Way. Very incomplete, at that,” replied Harry with a touch of sadness for his relation.
“So, everything I practiced and attempted to attain growing up…” he faltered, tears rising to choke his voice. “Harry, I have been a smug, self-indulgent, self-centered boor. I have been convinced of my own importance and accomplishments, though they were mere hollow, echoes of what is really available to a man.” Becky put her arm around her brother, and he cried, unheeding of who heard him. Straightening a little, he looked into the compassionate face of his friend, for the first time seeing him for who he was. He knelt. “If you can bear the sight of me, would you consider me as a candidate for training?”
“Aaron, stand up,” insisted Harry. “Your no uglier than you were five months ago, when we stuffed ‘Guy’ together…” Aaron stood up again, and with his head still bowed in mortification, “But you hardly knew me then,” he muttered.
“Didn’t I?” answered his friend kindly. “Come let’s eat something, Jameson has found us all a great place to dine.” And Harry dusted off the knee of Aaron’s pant leg, and the shoulders of his coat, as if tidying him up for an important engagement. “I’ve just been waiting for you to see things a bit clearer for yourself.” Aaron looked up then and managed a feeble smile, “You might have been waiting a very long time, how shall I atone for my already considerable tardiness?”
“Dinner’s on you tonight.” smiled Harry, and he turned to receive Hannah back into his charge. Becky continued to hold her brother’s hand as they all proceeded to the restaurant in front of which Jameson and the twins were waiting. Kaitlyn took her husband’s arm, and Mandy walked behind with Chloe and Harold. Harold whispered aside to the ladies next to him, “Took him bloody long enough, I like him already.”
Chloe responded in kind, “That’s only because you took only two months to break down, and you already had the excuse of being in love. Honestly, dear, you didn’t truly even begin in earnest until after visiting the Clive House undercroft. Be nice.” Harold felt his neck and cheeks warm, “Yes, my love.”
It was another very good meal, perhaps due to the appetite acquired from the exertions of the day. At any rate, they ate well and lingered around the large table well after the meal. Glasses and brandy were delivered, and bowls of almonds and of cherries were placed in the center of the table. Harry, still holding Hannah, merely asked, “Would someone please just pass the nuts?” The table erupted into uncontrolled hilarity, Kaitlyn blushed from toe to head, and whispered her confession to Harry of that last evening at Chelsea House. Between spouts and gasps of laughter, Harold recounted to Becky and Aaron the cause of the sudden breakdown in their friends otherwise sedate demeanor. Mandy was at last laughing with the rest, and truly enjoyed Harry’s expression of bewilderment, which had been hers at the last utterance of those very words. It was very late indeed when they at last returned to the Splendid, and regained their rooms.
The next morning, as arranged, Harold and Jameson met Harry in the hotel’s patisserie for a conference. The developments of the last couple days forced Harry to consider the circumstances of their tour. “We need to make a small adjustment to our itinerary, Venice should precede Vienna. Jameson would you be so kind as to find time today to purchase our train passage for the day after tomorrow?” Then turning to Harold, he opened a different line of questions.
“Harold, I genuinely do not know what contacts you have acquired in Europe through your business…” opened Harry, to which Harold responded quickly, “Some few, if I am to speak modestly, a great number, if you need something done.”
“Well, yes, the latter I’m afraid. Would you make inquiries for real estate on offer in Venice? A good size penzione at a reasonable cost would do nicely,” answered Harry cryptically.
“A boarding house? How about a villa or a hotel, or better yet, the Doge’s Palace? It may be available, the economy being what it is,” countered Harold, trying to grasp the weight of the request, and resorting to his natural penchant for understatement.
“If it is available at no more that this amount…” and Harry passed a bank draft to Harold, who looked at it, folded it and slid it into his inside coat pocket with his wallet. “Okay, not the palace. May I ask what ‘we’ are planning?” he returned.
Jameson had followed the brief interaction and had been considering the ramifications himself, “If I may,” he responded before Harry could answer, “We have the charge of three students, fate, destiny, cause and effect, call it what you will. The situation remains. Harry needs a school house.” He sat back and continued his private deliberations. Harold looked between the two men and rolled his eyes, “Alright, Harry, I’ll find a Penzione.”
Harry put his hand on Harold’s, “In two days, and preferably in very poor repair, with a decent water supply and electrics.”
The company assembled for the continental breakfast, they were becoming used to expecting in Europe. The galleries and the Museums were at the top of the list for the day, according to the ladies. Kaitlyn had already prepared her two charges for the outing, supplying them with very particular instructions for how they should exercise their attention on the sightseeing excursion. Harry offered Aaron the opportunity of not viewing anything in his habitual manner, but rather to attempt perceiving whatever was in front of him as if he’d no idea of its history, background, purpose, or actual meaning. “I realize this may cause you some disquiet at first, you are a most well-informed individual, however, appearances can be deceiving,” and he left off the instructions on that curious note. “As you wish, sir. I shall make the efforts required.” accepted Aaron simply, and resignedly.
Harold begged their indulgence, saying he was compelled to ferret out some business for his company, and would join them perhaps in the late afternoon. Chloe kissed him tenderly, and winked, before he had the chance to explain his ulterior motives. Slightly undone by his wife’s seeming foreknowledge of events, he kissed Hannah and departed. “This should be interesting,” he muttered to himself as he made the street and headed for the business of a reliable contact.
Aaron, Becky and Mandy, each on their own personal instructions for the use of their attention during the outing, were, in a word, somber. The intentional management of their otherwise habitual perceptions made not only for a novel day, but also yielded some rather interesting revelations to each. Chief among those, commonly, was the distinct recognition that observation, when intentionally directed, is a lot more effort than merely looking at ‘stuff.’ Next, in order of degree, they each also noticed sounds and smells that hitherto had gone unnoticed. Each building had its own distinct aroma, every street and lane offered a panoply of noise, music, and cacophony unique to itself. In the visual field, subtleties of color and texture came to the foreground of their vision out of the plainness they each once merely ignored. By the time Harold rejoined the group in the Tuileries, one of their predetermined rendezvous locations, ‘somber’ had been replaced by humility. A nuance of demeanor, to be sure, yet palpable to the observations of their mentors, and profound for themselves.
The company returned to the haven of the Splendid, and enjoyed bathing and redressing for the evening’s anticipated entertainments. Jameson made a detour in his return to the hotel, to procure transportation for the afternoon, two days hence, and after a sponge bath, arrived downstairs in fresh clothes. Harold passed the address and receipt of the morning’s request to Harry, as Jameson delivered their train documents. They handed the ladies into carriages, hired for the entire evening. “Hors du Cabaret Chat Noir,” directed Jameson to the drivers. “I thought it might be better this evening to take our transportation with us…” Harry intimated to his wife once they settled in the coach, as Kaitlyn happily arranged the corsage he’d given her, as an accessory to her elegant dress. “Yes, dearest, very thoughtful,” she replied, then to Hannah, “Doesn’t MamaKat look scrumptious tonight, Hannahbelle? Uncle Harry is trying to make up for her having to keep her kittens safe last night. Isn’t Uncle Harry the most contrite of men?”
Chloe and Harold simply had to laugh out loud at that, “Well I think you’ve done splendidly, all things considered, for a gentleman on his honeymoon, that is…” inserted Harold. Chloe winked to Kaitlyn, knowing full well her sister’s absolute ecstasy at having her treasured husband dote upon her so. Mandy was still practicing the directed exercises of the day, and became positively mesmerized by the aroma of the corsage, mixed with the freshness of her companions’ clothing, the scents of the wet cobbled street, the lighted attractions and traffic of Paris after sunset…The world was quickly becoming far vaster than ever she had experienced it before, and she was at last rising to its voice of introduction.
“Now you’ve, no doubt, studied the chart you constructed. Have you noticed anything for which you would like some more in depth explanation?” asked the guest.
“I have been trying to remember every vibration of the map to see from which part of me some of my more ridiculous…uh…” he began.
She interjected in assistance, “Manifestations?”
“Yeah, ridiculous manifestations, where they are coming from. It’s a lot to keep in my head. Is there another way I can approach ‘digging out the roots,’ once I’ve made an observation of something in me that I don’t like?” asked the young man.
His elegantly poised guest relaxed a little into her chair, and with a pleasant smile twinkling at the corners of her eyes, attempted to respond. “You have hit upon a most essential need, for which there are a number of tools available that you may employ. That you are making the effort to ‘do,’ is a wonderful indication that you could make use of them.” He wanted to pat himself on the back for her praise, but he also needed to hear what she might tell him, so he postponed the self-inflicted ovation. She continued, “Perhaps it will be instructive, if first you were made aware of the nature and properties of that singular asset which is: our attention. I must in this endeavor defer to that same venerated seeker of the truth from Alexandropol, in the Caucasuses. The son of a storyteller, Georges I. Gurdjieff spent his life trying to answer the, for him, central question of existence: ‘What is the sense and significance of life in general, and particularly, the aim and purpose of the life of man?’ From that search, there is something which will assist us here.” She gathered her focus and proceeded, “For the definition of this property in man, which is called ‘attention,’ there is, by the way, found also in ancient science the following verbal formulation: ‘The degree of blending of that which is the same in the impulses of observation and constatation in one totalities processes with that occurring in other totalities.’ He used this definition as a starting point for explaining to himself the curious nature of that peculiar sensation, common to all of us, which is: that it seems as though there are, at any given moment, several beings living inside of each of us. Now, you have a map of man’s inner world as a guiding reference, but let’s examine the topography of that map. Early on you were told that we are made up of three dualities, each with a ‘given’ side, and an ‘acquired’ side. Those three dualities, the three ‘stories’ of our bodily house, if you will, are the ‘totalities’ mentioned in that definition.
So, if I rephrase it slightly, perhaps the essence of it will become more accessible for your future understanding. Each totality exercises an attention unique to itself, with its own flavor you might say. The impulses of observation, and constatation, are simply another way of saying, what strikes its fancy at any given moment and which it then continues to dwell upon. Let’s take a simple example, and see what might be happening. The first story, or totality, notices and appreciates the warmth and glow of the fire in the hearth on a chilly morning, how it smells, and the sounds of the crackling and popping fuel. The second story, or totality, experiences the recollection of the satisfied, or dissatisfied, feelings from all the previous times we sat before the hearth, and depending upon those recollections, evokes in us a certain mood, or background emotion. The third story, or totality, generally fainter in strength for most people, may ponder the significance of simply having a fireplace to warm oneself beside, or the fascination with the origins of fire, or perhaps the objective gratitude, one must ultimately acknowledge when one finally realizes what we generally take for granted in the world around us, that it did not spring into existence when we were born; everything has its own origins and history that predates our encounter with it.
Those three separate, and unique processes of observation and thought, blend. So that as an individual, each of us senses the echoes of several voices regarding the incoming impressions. The resultant of that blending is the human property of attention. So which ever totality, or even constituent center, shouts with the loudest voice, if you will, at any given time is the center of gravity of an individual’s, overall, attention,” and she looked into her host’s face for an indication that her explanation was in some way illuminating.
“Okay, I think I can see what your driving at,” he tried to say aloud what he thought he heard. “Every center perceives the world in its own way, and when the centers are paired off and then grouped, each of their unique perceptions are mixed together, that mixed something represents the strength, or weakness, of my attention at any given moment. Not only that, but, like in your example, if my mind wanders off to when I sat by the fire with my girlfriend for whole winter’s evenings, and I don’t pay much heed to how close I am getting to the fire, and scorch myself; then the center of gravity of my attention was more in my second story, and even muted the screams of my first story sensing the extreme heat; and who knows what my third story might have contributed…”
She smiled encouragingly, “That’s a as good an extrapolation as we can approach just now. It seems you’re getting the gist of it, anyway. Good.” Now, he allowed himself a moment of self-satisfaction, and almost missed what she began to say next. “So, to respond to your initial request, ‘to know from which part of me some of my more ridiculous manifestations are coming from, and digging out their roots,’ let me suggest that while your map is indispensable to the task at hand, there is yet the topography to further resolve,” and here, she settled herself into a posture which would allow her to both deliver the needed information, and keep an eye upon his reactions and responses. For she had need of his participation in the following explanations. “Turn your notes back to your copy of the map, and fetch a deck of playing cards…”