Thursday, January 19, 2012
What are the Movements?
Over the years, I've heard many discussions about the Gurdjieff Movements and what they represent. Being married into the Movements end of the work, I've also had the privilege of hearing many movements teachers during off-the-record discussions about the Movements; in addition, I've been fortunate enough to take classes from some well-known and very experienced movements teachers.
The Movements are a sacred art form. What does that mean?
The words don't necessarily mean much to us anymore; although Gurdjieff described the idea theoretically in both Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson and his conversations with Ouspensky (see In Search Of The Miraculous) few, if any, sacred art forms actually exist anymore as living traditions in any society. We see faint reflections of them in some sculpture and painting; hear echoes in some music, especially sacred hymns; and there are, of course, sacred principles embodied in the rituals of a number of religions, although many of them are simply executed by rote nowadays.
A sacred art form serves, on a larger scale, the same purpose as the small objects on my desk: it recapitulates the entire action of the universe in an interactive, living form. It embodies material: the physical objects and human beings involved, the music being played. It moves through time. And, in the wholeness and entirety of its form, it creates a harmonious relationship between those material objects through time, the entire interaction and movement thus engendering a third force that binds matter and time together. As such, every Movement– it doesn't matter which Movement, they all do this– embodies the principles of the Universal Octave in a living, real-time form.
Movements, in other words, are each and every one of them a model of the universe.
Sacred Movements such as the ones Gurdjieff brought us reenact the continual interaction of quanta, atoms, and molecules; they breathe life into the relationship of material over time; they reveal the sacred and evolutionary nature of form by putting it in a context that demands of us that we immediately and deeply ponder the nature of life, death, and relationship.
It's no accident that so many of the Movements incorporate elements of the enneagram and the multiplications. Gurdjieff brought to us a form that allows a group of human beings to collectively experience the concrete expression of these laws, so that instead of remaining as theoretical or philosophical abstractions, they become proximate allegories– an expression in the immediate moment– of the forces that animate everything at all times.
It's tempting to see the Movements as "things" that exist separate from us: special activities living in a sacred, secret bubble, protected from the rest of the world, that confer magical principles. We don't see that they are, in essence, the immediate expression of life as it always is, wherever we are. A deep connection to sensation in the body will sometimes speak in that way to a man; but this is unusual. Our perception of the Sacred Movements as separate from our ordinary lives doesn't necessarily help us in attaining the kind of understanding they are there for in the first place.
Gurdjieff used to perform the Movements very publicly. It was a way of attracting people to the work. They could see there was something different about them; and indeed there is. Unfortunately, public performances of the Movements by Gurdjieff Foundation branches have all but ceased to exist over the last twenty or thirty years. The reasons for this are many; yet how can it possibly be right?
One might reasonably presume that Gurdjieff's behavior was to serve as a model for how we ought to handle things. We certainly take it that way when we see the examples he set us for how to work. Now, it is just the plain fact that he had a vigorous exoteric side to his work. He performed movements and music in public. He advertised them with flyers. He was, in other words, not someone hiding behind closed doors.
In a day and age when every work is opening its doors, and its so-called “secrets,” to the rest of humanity, intuiting that we are at a critical moment in the work of mankind and the planet, and sensing that those of us who do work need to share everything we can in these desperate times, do we really have a right to keep this work as secret as we do?
Perhaps the answer is yes; but perhaps it isn't. This matter may be a question of life and death not just for the work itself, but for humanity. Art, after all–and perhaps, above all, sacred art–is there to be shared. It is, in point of fact, an essential exoteric form of sharing. Art that is kept secret and not put in front of others so that they can learn from it isn't art at all. It becomes a form of selfishness, denying the impulse and intent that created it.
Hiding the Movements films in closets has not protected them, or the Movements. Anyone can see that they are all over the Internet, and that hundreds of defecting Movements teachers have continued to teach Movements without the Foundation's permission, all over the globe. The cat, in other words, is long out of the imaginary bag we are still stuffing it in.
Furthermore, hiding such material in closets is not laying our treasures up in heaven, where they need to be laid. I wonder- are we emulating the man who buried his coins in the field, afraid to invest them, and afraid to spend them on anything, thus earning the wrath of his master?
[Our archives are most certainly not located in heaven; I know this, because, at least in New York, I know where they are, and if that particular place is heaven, well then, hell must at the very least be a great deal more spacious; which is a good thing, judging from the number of candidates for it.]
In order to serve the exoteric branch of the work and strengthen it, it may be time for the Gurdjieff Work to release some of this Movements film material to the general public, so that they can see what real sacred art is, and know- at least in their heart of hearts– that not everything has been lost. Right now, the best of what we do is entombed; perhaps for the best of intentions, but I think this particular interment was unfortunately premature.
Even more to the point, it may be time to put on live public performances of the Movements again.
I respectfully ask you to take good care.