For me, as I grow older, the aim is, increasingly, to live. Not to practice techniques that will allow me to live; not to learn about techniques that supposedly lead towards living. No; the aim is to live.
This aim transcends technique.
One of the signature features of Ouspensky's classic "In Search of the Miraculous" was that Gurdjieff taught him all kinds of techniques. The book itself is remarkably technical in nature, answering questions and explaining the nature of esoteric work in exhaustive detail. A lot of people get stuck on this book-- and on Ouspensky's analytical "version" of the work, convinced somehow that this is the real thing, and that anyone who deviates from it has missed the point.
Gurdjieff, on the other hand, changed his teaching methods radically as he grew older and stopped explaining everything in that way. He still gave esoteric exercises, but they were more circumscribed, and left a great deal to the student to discover. So I believe there was a recognition on his part that technique is not an answer. In a sense, at the end of his life and the end of his teaching, it turned out that he himself repeatedly did what he always exhorted his students to do: throw out the book, start everything over. One might say his teaching transitioned from one of technique to one of process.
Let's face it, you can go out and read any number of books by any number of yogis or spiritual masters, packed full of all kinds of techniques. If they really produced the results that are claimed, the world would be swarming with enlightened individuals, and it just isn't. The one thing that they quite definitely produce is a desire in people to act like grasshoppers, jumping from one technique and idea and practice to the next, as though it were always the next thing that was going to bring enlightenment.
There is something that, for me, misses the mark in all of this technique stuff.
The aim is to see the bark of the tree. Not to understand the technique that will allow one to see the bark of the tree.
Perhaps the difficulty is that the bark of the tree is too ordinary. It is a simple thing, if beautiful. If we really see the bark of the tree, if we really, really see it in a new way, we suddenly understand that we have never actually seen the bark of a tree.
But we don't see that. What we see is dry, brown, scabby stuff with bad-tempered squirrels running around on it.
Techniques and descriptions of techniques, on the other hand, are instantly alluring.
They are complicated.
They are attractive to the ego, which likes to show itself how very clever it is by understanding complicated things.
Techniques allow us to create "in groups" whom presume to understand something together, as opposed to the rest of those idiots, who don't understand anything. We all do this-- while solemnly swearing to ourselves that we would never, never do this.
And above all, they give us the illusion that we are powerful and can do things.
There is no doubt, I have spent plenty of time studying techniques, and I've even written about this -- in some cases, extensively. I am at a moment, however, where I doubt this enterprise, even in the case of my own work. I can go back and read anything I wrote about such work three or five or eight years ago, and poke all kinds of holes in it. Nothing that is written is complete; there is always more to add, mistakes that have been made, things that were not adequately understood then, and so on.
Looking back on what I thought I knew then, I increasingly see that everything I think I know now is suspect.
Not only that, techniques can be dangerous. I am unfortunately familiar with this problem, to the point where I have actually stopped discussing techniques I know with other people. What works for one man may not be good at all for the next one, and in any event, in the wrong hands (or at the wrong time), an excellent technique can turn into a form of inner poison. One has to be cautious, even within one's own work, in understanding this. You can't pour rocket fuel into a Honda and expect the engine to run well.
So, should we advocate the abandonment of technique?
In the more intense and esoteric instances, I think, yes. At least in this work.
One of the beauties of Gurdjieff's " harmonious development" is that it is a subtle and deep work which sidesteps many of the questions of technique. That isn't to say that it doesn't have techniques, but they are relatively simple, all things considered.
And after delving into the intricacies of enneagrams and chakras, centers and hydrogens and so on and so forth, there comes a moment where one perhaps wakes up for a minute and realizes that trees have bark on them.
One sees that the techniques, in other words, have become another form of hypnosis. And until one actually sees the bark on the tree, and understands how that seeing is real, one is convinced that seeing bark on a tree is just not enough, that much more spectacular things must be done.
Well, I don't know if I've explained this very well, but in the end, it all comes back to the organic sense of being, the inner gravity, the understanding that we have to live first.
To inhabit the organism, not inhabit the technique.
One last note: I urge my readers to check out my friend Kathy Neall's new blog, Come to Capernaum.
Kathy and I have worked together for many years. Her input has been a fundamental influence during the evolution of the Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff blog.
May the living light of Christ discover us.