Friday, December 12, 2008

Reinventing the Work

In every generation, a spiritual work needs to be reinvented.

Of course, the forces in the world work directly against this. There is a great wish in everyone for things to be frozen, to remain the same, because this is safe.

This is the exact antithesis of spiritual work, which requires a constant risk and daring in order to encounter Being.

Consequently, every spiritual work becomes a dogma very quickly. The Gurdjieff work is no different. All over the Internet -- and presumably all over the world -- there are people that want to freeze it in the state that Ouspensky brought it to the world in. Such people often get angry when they encounter what they see as deviation. People even get Ouspensky confused with Gurdjieff, as though they were on the same level.

The problem here is that understanding is very, very different than knowing. We can know the work through Ouspensky, but we can't understand it through him. It's very important to recognize that distinction. Gurdjieff did leave us a text which can help lead to understanding, but it is unique, and works in ways impossible to describe.

Understanding is unique and fragile. People who have truly understood something pass that understanding onto others, who instantly intellectualize it. In that process, the believers believe that they understand. The new ideas, the new understandings that are brought are parroted and repeated until they become meaningless.

Understanding never becomes real in anyone until they encounter something absolutely real within life that they see quite clearly they don't understand, and never understood, yet always thought all long that they did understand.

That first encounter with something that is actually true is usually a huge shock. It can destroy people. Especially people who have invested too much of themselves in dogma.

So every one of us needs to come to a real understanding of our own about the spiritual work we are in. This is a process that takes many years. While it goes on, we repeat what other people said before us in order to take on protective coloring, to camouflage our lack of understanding with words. But all of that is a mask we can wear only so long as we pretend. The moment something real answers -- the first time we ever encounter something that is truly miraculous, and beyond our understanding -- the mask has to start to come off.

That is the point at which we need to discover ourselves, rather than the selves we have cleverly adopted through the language of our work. In the process, we must unmask the adopted self, which is hardly a comfortable process.

We are increasingly confronted with this bogus, ersatz self, and see how terribly pompous and limited it is.

And that -- the discovering of ourselves -- is where the real risk lies. Because it involves gradually surrendering the "life" we have inhabited up until then, in the faith that this tiny seed of what is new will grow to take its place. We have no idea of where that will take us, and while we are young in this process, things look threatening and dangerous.

In fact, they are threatening and dangerous. What is born when real understanding first arrives is tiny and soft. It needs to be nurtured, attended to, nourished and treasured. This brings me back to the point of intimacy that I talk about rather often. What is born in us when we first encounter a real understanding is actually a child, and needs to be treated tenderly and intelligently.

In this process, we have to completely reinvent everything that we thought we understood up until then. The transformation of understanding is a transformation of our entire conception of what work is, from a conception that resides in our intellect, to a conception that lives in our organism, in the cells. This process is so radical that the ordinary mind can do nothing but interfere. And even that realization creates a struggle -- not a struggle against our life and against what we are, but a struggle for what we can become.

In every generation, we have a responsibility to discover an understanding for ourselves. We can't lean on the people that came before us. We can't lean on textbooks and phrases. In fact, we can't lean on anything. Trying to stay upright and immobile, which is safe, is a denial of the movement required in order to let the energies that work on us circulate.

As I've pointed out before, I think everyone who enters any spiritual work does so because they want to know "the truth." This presumes, of course, that there is a single "truth," which is a presumption. I'm not saying there isn't; I'm just pointing out that anything that we think for ourselves is a presumption.

The fact is that we learn truth, such as there is any, organically, in fragments, and by degrees.
Within the context of that understanding of truth--any understanding of truth -- the discovery has to become personal, radical, and, ultimately, in defiance of what we know.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.


  1. Lee, I'm not in the Foundation. I'm in a smaller group, which also has a direct lineage to Gurdjieff. The man who founded that group, who was a direct pupil of Gurdjieff for 25 years, often warned against reliance on Ouspensky and insisted that members read Gurdjieff's own writings, particularly Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

    I appreciate your blog and your honesty. I often hear people in the Foundation emphasizing the need for the Work to change. I would like you to give examples that would be permissible for you to share. I'm sincerely interested in knowing what you are talking about. I spent a brief period in the Foundation, so if you allude to them obliquely, I might catch your meaning!

    I've read Beelzebub's Tales three times and I'm on my fourth reading. One thing that struck me was the destruction of the labors of Ashiata Shiemash, and how it occurred. Gurdjieff writes here and in other places (for instance, discussing the Buddha's "definite" teachings in the chapter on India) about how "definite" teachings become lost through the changes introduced by subsequent generations. The Book itself is a gargantuan effort at preservation. For these and other reasons, the emphasis on "change" puzzles me. Gurdjieff introduced new methods during his lifetime, but he was the teacher. Was he thereby teaching that we must in our turn continually innovate new methods of Work? I think Beelzebub's Tales answers pretty emphatically in the negative.

  2. the change that needs to take place is an inner one that belongs to us.

    What is given in an outer sense as work is a different question. Within each form, the beginning can be consistent. Even across generations. But there comes a moment when we have to move past the beginning.

    That is when the work lives in us, and that is when the work begins to change.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.