The single most distinguishing characteristic in the Gurdjieff practice is self observation. In no other practice I know of do we find this emphasized so often, or in so much detail.
The practice of self observation as we actually encounter it in our lives is, however, probably a very idealized one. I say this because in real practice, it is nearly impossible to "do" this. True self observation would be to be present to the manifestations of the self -- the manifestations that take place within ordinary life -- with no manipulation whatsoever. To just be there. To actually live within the unadulterated, unaltered circumstances of the ordinary manifestations of being and its ordinary reactions without any interference.
I maintain this is next to impossible because the dualism of our ordinary mind, its insistence on right and wrong, good and bad, causes us to demand that we fix the way things are ordered within us in one way or another, whenever we encounter them. This is grasping.
To merely inhabit the conditions without interference would involve the birth, and nurture, of a different self which we are for the most part, at this point, entirely unfamiliar with. Consequently we conduct almost all our "work" and "self observation" from within the fortified walls of our own constructed psychology.
It is a very busy transit around an exitless circle.
My wife and I were discussing this this morning and she asked me, "Then what about Gurdjieff's exercise in which we behave "as if" we had already acquired something?"
I think this is worth discussing.
If we engage in the "as if" exercise in an outer sense, it may well become a materialistic activity. That is to say, it can too easily become affected, a pose. Everyone falls victim to this to one extent or another. It's in the imitative and habitual nature of men and women to do so.
We start from an assumption of how we should be -- formed from our beliefs and observations about what spirituality and development consists of --and then we attempt to conform to it. This may lead to legitimately compassionate and intelligent outer practice, but it can just as easily become a mask we wear. And even worse, it may become a reason to criticize ourselves when our "as if" behaviour fails to measure up to the wish we have.
In adopting such outer ways, we may not be invested in life, truly warm, truly open hearted. We may not be sincere. We are pretending to be a certain way and behaving a certain way because of our assumptions. We may in fact be absolutely convinced that the behaviour is legitimized. After all, if we imitate the teacher, aren't we treading on the right path?
But is it? Or is a great deal of it just ego and false personality having their subtle way with us? Is it perhaps even a con game we run on those around us?
This reminds me a lot of what people say about me. I keep hearing about what a "good man" I am. Actually, I'm not a "good man" at all. I have to suffer both my inner and outer manifestations enough to be quite sure of that. Anything "good" in me comes only from the mass of negative inner material which I have to go against on a daily basis.
Anyway, I think readers may agree that pretense, artificiality, and constructed behavior that follows a set of preconceived "bon ton" rules does not have a whole lot to do with legitimate self observation, or any definite act of real Being. We can behave "as if" we're enlightened all we want to--ultimately, if we're being honest with ourselves, all we can say is "good effort." We're not fooling ourselves. Following a constructed pattern of behaviour has little to do with living the life. More often than not, buying into that will lead to apostasy when one finally realizes it was all just a sham.
So let's consider an alternative: to engage in the "as if" exercise in an inner sense. This is a very different thing, and a very difficult thing to talk about--but I will try. And what I am suggesting here is a bit on the order of a new idea, an experiment. So please take it that way.
In attempting this inner "as if," we might try to behave in an inner sense as though it were possible for us to be whole. In other words, we encounter our assumptions, our artifices, and this entire construction that we call "me," and we try to adopt an inner posture that is independent of the construction.
It admits of a possibility.
We are not whole. We can see that we are not whole. And yet our inner effort rests on the presumption that a wholeness might be available. By affirming that possibility with an inner posture that allows it -- rather than subscribing to our ordinary inner pessimism and negativity -- we render the conditions more favorable for encountering openness.
We attract something.
There is a tricky thing embedded in this idea of inner "as if." It is actually the invocation of a kind of magical thinking, which is actually not thinking at all, but rather, the cessation of thought. We may not be able to stop thinking -- even if we try it, we are thinking about not thinking -- but we can try to taste or smell not thinking. We can pretend we are not thinking. We can try to drop everything on the floor inside; to adopt an attitude of complete inner unknowing. In order to understand, we have to stop knowing. So we have to behave inside "as if" we don't know--not talk sagely, outside, about how we don't know, and everything is a question.
Let's forget about talking about how we "don't know" or "don't understand" outside, in the process of ordinary life. It has become too strong a form. I think we should discard it.
Every time we do that, we pretend that we understand that we don't know and we pretend that we understand we don't understand.
We have all seen how far that gets us. We prattle on about it between each other, everyone nods their heads, as though something significant was being exchanged.
The act of not knowing has to become an inner act, of intentionally behaving within--innocently, slyly, silently, or in any other way we can--as if we didn't know.
What could happen then? Could something new arrive? Could something touch us that we are usually not in contact with?
In my experience, it can.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.
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