Those of you familiar with the standard Gurdjieffian ouevre will recall what Maurice Nicoll said about this image, to the effect that it represented different levels of truth. In keeping with the tradition of allowing for many rich layers of interpretation within the context of allegory, there is no reason to discard this idea. However, if we want to bring it a little closer to the heart of the work, we can bring it back to the question of impressions.
Above all, learning to work is learning how to take in impressions. Now, in our ordinary state, impressions flow into us like water. They flow into us whether we are conscious of it or not. Mr. Gurdjieff pointed out that being conscious of the arrival of impressions has a dramatic effect on the way that the human organism operates. He is, so far as I know, perhaps the only spiritual teacher who ever suggested such a thing in such a specific way. Psychologists and scientists have, of course, assembled a great deal of evidence that suggests this is true, but it has never been assembled into a single comprehensive picture in the way that Gurdjieff did.
In any event, the most singular and remarkable contention G. offered us is that the human organism can undergo unanticipated and miraculous changes if the attention is applied to the place where impressions enter the organism. People who have taken drugs such as LSD certainly have an inkling of what this might mean, but it is a confused and disorganized one. Going about it this way is like opening all the floodgates on the Hoover dam when what you need to do is water your garden. In any event, the human organism has sensitivities we are unaware of in our ordinary state, and it is able to drink in impressions that fall into the body in places we are now unaware of. Much deeper places that can affect us in transformational ways, transcending our ordinary psychology, and leading us into territory that no longer admits of description in any ordinary terms.
This, it seems almost certain, was what Christ was referring to when he spoke of changing water into wine -- or did it. The water of impressions can change into a wine. That is, if the body becomes more sensitive to the intake of impressions, if they go deeper into us, the effect is much richer and more powerful. It feeds parts of us that have been starved for most of our lives. It leads us down paths we did not know existed, into places we have never seen or touched or sensed or felt.
The fact is that not all of these places will be comfortable or reassuring -- they are, after all, strange and unknown. Nonetheless, on the whole, the organism -- if it is gently led into an awareness of its own work, and not forced or pushed into that awareness, as so many works attempt to do -- will know the way it must go, and will sense the rightness of the unknown in relation to the known.
This taking in of impressions is man's primary work on the planet. Or at least, it is where his primary work begins. A man cannot begin to fill what Gurdjieff called his "Being-Parktdolg-Duty" (which, according to some are "official" interpretations, means "Duty -- Duty -- Duty," or, three centered duty) unless he lays a foundation by doing this work of taking in impressions.
I entitled this post "drinking God" because, in a certain sense, when we actively take in impressions (which has implications in relationship to suffering which I will not go into here) we are in fact drinking in tiny particles of God, which gradually coat the various inner parts of the being and render it more sensitive to receiving the vibrations of His Endlessness.
The work of a connection with sensation of the body-- to work towards developing an organic sense of being-- is a direct precursor to the effort to take in impressions more actively. Generally speaking, almost all the impressions we take in are taken in with the intellectual mind alone. The mind of the emotions and the mind of the body are not participating. This is one of the central dilemmas of our condition as it is: we ingest most of what we ingest using the mind, and mistake it for a full nourishment, instead of seeing how intensely partial it is.
One of the reasons that it is quite necessary to work in person with other people who understand this question is because it cannot really be understood or communicated by reading things. Which brings me to another thing I have noticed.
I have an almost instinctive aversion to the many forums online which discuss Gurdjieff ideas. In pondering this strong reaction, which I have almost every time I log on to one of these sites, I have often wondered if it is some form of hypocrisy on my part, since I myself write about ideas online.
I recently reached a few conclusions about this situation.
This blog is not an online forum. Comments are welcome, but not necessarily encouraged. The blog is not here for people to praise what I write, or tell me I am a blithering idiot -- both of which things have happened-- thank God, more the former than the latter. (I, after all, am human like everyone else, and do not like criticism that much.) So the blog is a bit different than forums. It is a place that one can come to quietly get something that might feed them a bit without a bunch of argument, or batting balls back and forth across the net at the tennis court.
This is a place that is supposed to offer the opportunity for something that could be contemplated.
I've got to confess, coming from a background of argumentation -- I have often said that my family should have been named the "van arguments"-- that as I grow older, I am particularly tired of long discussions that try to literally explain, or arguments that aggressively prosecute, one or another point of the Work. It seems to me that most of us would benefit from an effort at just working quietly more often.
I include myself in that observation.
Now, I have no intention of trying to squelch or even critique the active discussion and all the online forums, some of which have many earnest people who mean well. It's just that this kind of "mind exchange" is not a useful substitute for working directly, physically, with other people in your life.
Even if one is in a place where there are no Gurdjieff groups, and one may never have the chance of joining one, to just look another man in the eye when you speak to him once in a day, to speak honestly to one person, to engage in one act of generosity which is sincere and in which your being participates -- well, this is what we call work in life.
To paraphrase something that Gurdjieff once said about making money, it's fine to read things on the Internet, or in books... as long as one only does it with one's left foot.
May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.