Friday, June 27, 2008

A difficult position

Some of my best and closest friends in the work enjoy characterizing our efforts as a warrior's struggle.

I can support their effort and their view. This is certainly one of the potential contexts and paths of interpretation from which we can view inner effort. Ouspensky's "In Search of the Miraculous" opens a window on the early era in Gurdjieff's teaching, where these ideas certainly dominated both Ouspensky's interests and Gurdjieff's transmission.

Not only did the book seem completely valid and accurate to me when I first read it over 30 years ago, it continues to present a compelling cosmology, one which, in the light of recent discoveries in physics and biology, seems increasingly relevant to man's contemporary understanding.

Nonetheless, the book has a dark side, and many people who read it are concerned by the impossibility of the work it proposes. We are in desperate circumstances, under desperate conditions, and desperately short of resources for this work -- that point is made over and over again. Our chances seem limited, our possibilities tightly constrained by how badly mankind's conditions have deteriorated. This is a message, incidentally, which Gurdjieff's classic "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" also drives home in a hundred different ways.

The other great flaw of this book is that it is annoyingly intellectual. I actually value it for that quality, but the material in it obscures a great deal of what might be understood because it is not accessible to people whose intellect isn't strong and persistent.

That problem did not escape the master himself. It seems clear to everyone who knew him that Gurdjieff's emphasis on teaching method had changed considerably by the time he died. Ouspensky himself openly confessed that he left Gurdjieff because Gurdjieff's work was becoming too spiritual for him. I think it's clear that Gurdjieff began, from his highly evolved djana yoga practice, to integrate the development of the heart into his work in a new way. In other words, having understood what was necessary -- as he explained to Ouspensky -- he then proceeded to acquire it. And what was necessary was love: not love as we ordinarily understand it, but an objective love that encompassed everything and everyone.

It seems to me that although she admitted to--and never abandoned the question of -- the difficulties alluded to in the early teachings of the Fourth Way, Jeanne DeSalzmann continued in Gurdjieff's footsteps by offering us a work with more hope. Not only that, she transformed the work to a work that puts more love at the heart of the enterprise. Ravi Ravindra's "Heart Without Measure" is a document of that transformation. And I think that today's work at the various Gurdjieff Foundations worldwide has certainly expanded that flowering tree so that many blossoms are now in the process of opening.

So what of the terrible difficulties? What of "the terror of the situation?" And what of the Warrior's Path?

It's true we are in a terribly difficult position. However, the temptation to see it as an extremely negative position is just another artifact of our ordinary state. Violence will not lead us where we need to go. In my own experience, our temptation to see it this way is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Framing our inner effort as a struggle is less productive than framing it as an effort at relationship. All of the oldest people in the Work continually bring that point back home on a regular basis. The drama of struggle is attractive, but the world is not made of warriors alone.

It needs farmers to feed them, and women to love them, too.

We must not adopt a philosophy or a working method which implies a permission, or even a need, to dismiss and devalue everything about our ordinary life. We do not, as I understand it, need to eliminate these impulses. We need to form a different relationship to them.

A gradual and balanced inner transformation will lead us to a relationship that accepts these impulses and their mechanicality, along with the fact that they do exist and have a value on the level they manifest on, in a healthy way.

It is not the condemnation of what we are that will lead us to an inner transformation. It is the exploration of what we are. As Henri Trachol once said to me, "Life is an experiment in which we are called upon to participate."

I wish to point us all back to the idea that every manifestation, every arising, on every level is both valid and true. Events, circumstances, and manifestations differ according to level, and some of them appear to be difficult or even horrible. All of them, however, are both necessary and lawful. Mr. Gurdjieff made this point many times in his discussions with Ouspensky.

An objective point of view takes this into account without judging. The difficulty we are in stems from our partiality. By viewing the events, circumstances, and manifestations on this level partially -- that is, without a wholeness of the inner centers -- we fail to understand their significance or how they can help us to grow. All of them are food, and all of them can be ingested differently, according to inner relationship.

In confronting this question, it is our opinions that give us indigestion.

As regular readers know, I deal with the questions of psychology, as opposed to inner work, on a regular basis in this blog. There is a constant temptation on everyone's part to confuse the machinations of ordinary life and ordinary psychology with what is necessary for inner transformation. We all find ourselves locked in the middle of this confusion. It is, in the end, a mixing of levels, which my own teacher admonished me about many years ago. It took me many years to understand what she meant by that.

If we truly begin to distinguish between the inner and outer self, a discrimination can emerge which will begin to clarify that question.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.


  1. Mr. Gurdjieff's own words when shown the Ouspensky book for his permission to publish it are telling (Ouspensky had forbidden it's publication - even posthumously). In his broken English he is reported as having said, "Before I hate him (Ouspensky); now I love him like brother. Very true, what I say, but something missing"

    What was "missing" in Ouspensky's book? Perhaps that very "something" was the "something" that caused people to follow Mr. Gurdjieff for years through the "wilderness", from Russia through Georgia to Constantanople to Germany to France, through two world wars and through much hardship as well as Mr. Gurdjieff's own volitile personality, where he could be caustic one minute, and radiate unbeliveable compassion the next, instantly and seemlessly.

    Could it have been his "love," hidden like the yeast in the parable of the woman and the loaf? In the early days he rarely(virtually never) used the work "God", as he considered it threadbare and subject to a subjectivity verging on recursive infinity.

    Later he was know to say "God helps me", and that his aim was to change "Man's idea of God and man's place in the Cosmos".

    It seems to me that he suceeded, at least with some, and no amount of bickering can change the impulse and force of his "work" and dispensation to mankind as a whole.

    We are currently at war in this country, at one of those times when Mr. Gurdgieff said that men throw away even the small amount of common sense that they have been alloted. They cannot hold on to this common sense and face their consciences at the same time, so it is better to throw away the common sense and bury their conscience deep.

    Then it is up to the "bees" to collect this material honey and keep it in a safe place, until it can be dispensed again in a new spiritual transmission, like a space pod containing a desicated spore, which when meeting H2O again, returns to life.

    In the meantime, there are those of us who collect and "work", realizing that bickering and arguing may have it's place in the interpersonal work of acting as sandpaper for each other, but instead mostly just acts like people pulling on two ends of a knot.

    Many who are "in the Work" forget the contract they have made, and are like those so called "christians", who leave their religion in the church.

    Nothing is accorded to them, because religion is not in a building or dogma, but rather is a living current, meant to hide within a person, but act invisibly on life itself.


  2. I received quite a shock this morning while reading Maurice Nicoll's Psychological Commentaries of Gurdjieff & Ouspensky's work. "Suppose you were to go on a stage where there were hundreds and thousands of actors dressed up in all sorts of costumes, quarrelling and making love and murdering and so on, and you realized to your horror that they were all fast asleep and were completely identified with their parts, which means that they were taking themselves to be what they had been cast to be in the big drama--what would you do? You would probably seize hold of the nearest one and shake him violently and try to make him wake up. You might shout in his ear and say: "Don't be so silly, don't stick that knife into that person, you are asleep, you forget who you really are." And what do you think the result would be? Probably that knife would be pushed into you!" This careful balance of not becoming an actor and also not shaking others around you is what our struggle is about. This is our mission as spiritual warriors. I believe that is why Gurdjieff's work became more spiritual because he reached for a higher force to maintain this center of gravity. I often reflect on what it means to change one's level of being and I think Gurdjieff accomplished this and so thus it made his work more spiritual. On another note I would like to say that I appreciate you and all who comment on this blog because it feels so good to know there are others out there that are working and sharing their experiences. Thank You.


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