Saturday, April 2, 2011

Entertainment value

Yesterday's post may seem tongue-in-cheek. Nonetheless, it raises serious questions about how we disseminate information in a spiritual work. The Buddhists, for all their foibles, have found effective ways to get their message across... good marketing is a skill, and an art.

Many religions have developed effective marketing, but more esoteric works generally find it rather difficult. Now, one might believe this is the whole essence of esoteric work–it is supposed to be obscure, secretive, hidden. But I think that that is a mistaken understanding of what esotericism is all about. It isn't necessarily secretive or hidden–although it has been just that in eras where persecution was a danger.

What esoteric work is is inner work. This means that it is focused inward, towards a centric view of the soul, rather than outward, towards an action of man in life.

Of course, in Gurdjieff's method, a balance between the inward and the outward is essential. That being said, it's still necessary to get the ideas about inner work out in front of the public. If one is a religion, with attractive formal trappings, this is an easier task. And religious organizations well understand the question of entertainment–if something doesn't have an entertaining aspect to it, people simply aren't very interested. This is probably more true than ever in today's entertainment-centered world.

I have been known to dabble in entertainment myself; I used to have a rock band. (Neutron Blonde's recordings can be heard by clicking the link.) More recently, while I was in Cambodia last month, I encountered some unique foods... to put it bluntly, I ate a tarantula. In the interest of offering the readership some flat out, unabashed entertainment, here is the link at YouTube:


Be forewarned, it is not for squeamish people! I didn't, however, do this to gross people out: I was just interested in the impression of what spiders taste like. To me, this was no big deal: I can eat almost anything, as a consequence of my many years of traveling in Asia, where unusual food traditions abound.

What is the role of entertainment in esoteric work?

Entertainment need not be idle amusement. To entertain can mean to welcome as a guest, and to feed.

Over the years, the Gurdjieff work has become a relatively stodgy, formalized organization. There is nothing outward or colorful about it. Yet, paradoxically, Gurdjieff himself was anything but stodgy. He was a masterful entertainer, famously hosting elaborate dinners with much laughter, a great deal of drinking, and so on. He presided over many public demonstrations of his movements, openly advertised in newspapers. He packed lecture halls.

There is, in short, absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he understood and actively implemented the value of entertainment in attracting people to a spiritual work.

Today's Gurdjieff work seems to have lost that touch. Perhaps it's because “the master” is no longer alive, and only he was capable of understanding. That does not, however, seem to me to be a very likely explanation. It sounds more like a cop-out.

More likely, ever since he died, we followers have been fearful of taking "wrong" steps--a disease that seems to have dogged and plagued successor generations for decades--and have pulled our antennae in more and more over the years, failing to get out there in front of people and let them know that the work exists--and that it can even be fun and joyful.

Yes! Joyful. Self remembering isn't self-flagellation- it isn't self-criticism. It is the deepest form of self-discovery.

Some brief footage retrieved from the archives that was taken at the Prieure nearly a century ago shows a young Jeanne de Salzmann on the lawn, doing the "stop" exercise with a group of adults and children. Above all, the impression one gets is one of joy and openness. They are having a good time. No formal, oppressive tone is in evidence. Instead, an air of spontaneity is conveyed.

The film is, consequently, entertaining-- even delightful.

Entertainment relies on this air of spontaneity. If entertainment is not in the moment, it generally isn't effective. It may be elaborately planned, rehearsed, and executed, but the air of spontaneity is always present.

If we don't understand the value of entertainment, both in ordinary life and in spiritual work, we miss something. One might argue that entertainment is mere frivolity, but this simply isn't the case. Entertainment is an invitation--it is a force and, like any other force, can be turned to service. It can serve higher interests as well as lower ones. And at its best, it can be effectively used in a lighthearted way to spread very serious messages, as John Stewart has so ably proven with his masterful Daily Show.

It's interesting to me that a man of Gurdjieff's stature, who relied so ably on entertainment to spread his ideas, has left behind a legacy of foundations and people displaying so little facility in this area. One would think there would be more films; that there would be public displays of movements, especially in large cities like New York.

Where is the movie based on Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson? The book offers the opportunity for a world-class piece of filmmaking, but, so far as I know, no one has ever attempted it... even though Gurdjieff himself openly foresaw such possibilities. Peter Jackson ought to tackle it.

The whole question needs, in my opinion, to be examined more thoroughly. The work ought to be joyful. It ought to be open, lighthearted, spirited. And it should present itself to the public–and to itself–with that open quality of joy.

Entertainment in all of its many guises might help to serve that purpose.

May our prayers be heard.

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