Wednesday, July 1, 2009

a return to old themes

Every once in a while, I use the blog to jot down the not-so-idle musings of an afternoon. Here are some of today's unexpected impressions, and my equally unexpected ponderings on them.

Browsing through C. S. Nott's "Teachings of Gurdjieff--The Journal of a Pupil," I came across a passage where he mentions that Gurdjieff said the Sphinx in Egypt is the copy of a statue that dates back to 8000 years ago in ancient Babylon.

So this enormous statue, which is becoming a replica of itself due to the extensive restorations currently underway -- is a replica of a replica.

I just read the first half of Chapter 4 of "In Search of the Miraculous," in preparation for a meeting tonight. In doing so, a number of impressions struck me. The most prominent one is that after more than half of a lifetime in the Gurdjieff work, I still don't understand many of the ideas. Or, rather, I am finally beginning to understand many of the ideas, and one of the first things I understand is that I never understood them properly, all the while thinking that I understood something.

This seems odd to me in light of the enormous amount of swaggering that goes on around me -- especially on the Internet, but also in "real life" (presuming, of course, that what goes on at the Gurdjieff Foundation is, in fact, "real" life, a presumption that is very much open to question) and many other places -- a swaggering in which otherwise mature and intelligent people act like they know things.

If one studies the situation, it's quite shocking, really, how most of us who refer to ourselves as "adult" behave. We all sit around like frogs in our little ego-ponds, surrounded by a comfortable layer of familiar, identifiable scum-- all that slimy, self serving gunk we ooze over our tender, moist little skins and present to others in the form of our personality -- and we are just as happy as clams.

As we preen ourselves, we think, "Aren't we the smart ones, though? And... BLAP... we stick our tongue out and eat one of those delicious flies we thrive on.

To me, the most staggering thing about Gurdjieff's assessment of the nature of man is how very often he hit the nail on the head. For the most part, our being is of relatively poor quality. We are packed full of knowledge -- in this "information age," facts pile up like snowflakes in a blizzard -- and, as he pointed out, all it does is confuse us and complicate things. Yes, he says exactly that, go read chapter 4. Anyone who has spent enough time alive (of necessity, almost all teenagers are excluded from this set) will know how true that is. We are confused, and things are unnecessarily complicated.

As we preside over what is undoubtedly the most spectacular destruction of planetary ecosystems ever wrought by a single organism, we congratulate ourselves on our "progress." Yes, that is what takes place in the external world, and all of us have been called as witnesses to it -- those, that is, with enough shreds of consciousness and conscience left to admit the situation.


We have created an endless series of technological marvels which accelerate everything -- especially destructive processes. The metamorphosis of culture and materials, which used to take place on a scale that could at least be measured, has speeded up so much that within a few years landscapes and cultures are transformed so violently that nearly nothing of the past remains. We are like drivers who have been given a fabulous new car and are intent on pushing the pedal down to the floor and never taking our foot off of it.

I wonder, however, whether there is an analogous process taking place within each one of us.

After all, the entire process of our own life is an ecosystem -- a complex set of relationships that feed each other. Our consciousness lives within the context of that ecosystem. With the concurrent acceleration of the means of destruction of one's inner life-- a destruction that is taking place as a result of incessant bombardment by media, the veritable worship of technologies at the expense of human beings, the mechanization of processes so that individuals are crushed in a communist system posing as free enterprise capitalism (ask anyone who has had to deal with a bank lately, you will see exactly what I mean) from one year to the next, we are filled up with so much garbage that we are barely recognizable to ourselves.

The only hope we have is to revert back to a simpler form of living, and yet none of us seem to have the will to do that. Mr. Gurdjieff was right--we lack will.

And it seems possible that I--that we all--stand at the edge of one of those moments where civilization is destroyed because its knowledge outweighs its level of being.

The civilization I speak of here is not the external civilization, but rather the inner civilization -- the opportunity for unity within the man.

In this work, this inner work I undertake, I arrogantly assume that I understand. I read an observation of Gurdjieff's and I think I understand something. At time I encounter it, I think to myself smugly: "Well, of course, isn't he right about that? And I completely understand what he is saying. ...I, after all, am not like these people he is describing at all."

It's only later -- much later, perhaps years later -- that I suddenly see that I am exactly like those people he is describing, in fact, I am very precisely one of those deteriorated individuals he is describing, and I have a very long way to go, a very deep hole to crawl out of, before anything more will be possible.

In myself, I have created a replica of a replica of inner work.

I have no doubt about it, there is a real mystery; my reconstructed sphinx, my simulacrum of the Gurdjieff work, represents something real, and it's pretty nifty. Very impressive... thank you, thank you, thank you.

The difficulty is that I don't see that I am dealing with a replica of the replica. In order for me to peel back the layers and discover what is real within the context of Being, everything needs to be thrown away. There needs to be an effort to become completely naked, and stand before the chasm of time, and unconscious experience, that separates me from real understanding.

In the meantime, most of my mechanical behavior will continue to follow established forms, causing me to fail in any effort to develop a real wish that might bring me to this moment.

I wonder whether the real point of Mr. Gurdjieff's work was, above all, to bring us to a point where we understand just how helpless we actually are. It strikes me that this question lies close to the core of both Islam and Christianity; practices where we must get down on our knees and be humbled beyond a point that the ego can touch.

Gurdjieff mentioned on more than one occasion that if a man becomes wrongly crystallized, the whole of the man must be shattered in an experience of incredible suffering in order for him to start over. Maybe this is the actual, normal condition for every one of us as we are now.

As we gradually become more open to influences from a higher level, we can hope that they will help us, but we cannot rely on it. For those to whom much is given, much will be expected.

All of us will inevitably have to continue to conduct our investigations about the nature of understanding and nature of being in the midst of our own profound misunderstandings.

There may be no easy remedies for our misunderstandings, but there can, at least, be an acknowledgment.

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


  1. Indeed humbled at reading this..."the terror of the situation" is now a sort of catch-phrase with no experiential meaning. Terror is putting it nicely...

  2. Easy enough to read a phrase about "sensing one's own nothingness" and toss it off with a nod, like I get it. As you've mentioned in other posts, sometimes when I pause a bit, what I think of as "my knowledge" is only a blur, an impression of this or that.

    I can often recognize the truth of a statement, or a situation, but it dissipates right away: I can't contain it.

    Your post reminded me of a brief passage from Ravi Ravindra's new translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, replete with many references to Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann:

    "...the practice of telling the truth, or of not lying, has many levels. When we speak of what we do not know, when we are partial, and when we are convinced that we know all there is to know about something, we lie. We lie when we speak as if we are the center of the universe and can pass judgement on everyone and everything. We lie when we weave fantasies in our minds and do not see the way it is."

  3. Enjoyed your posting. I have been striving to limit my focus to certain areas of knowledge as I had found myself overwhelmed with the amount of tidbits thrown my way through web/tv-most of which does not serve me. I have been doing more reading and discussion with like minded friends that has lead to a higher level of reflection on my actions and spiritual growth and the spiritual paths others around me are on. We have a chance to practice everyday and I have enjoyed the challenge.


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