Thursday, January 19, 2012

What are the Movements?

Following immediately on the moment I wrote the previous essay, the question of the Gurdjieff Movements and their possible relationship to cosmological questions came up.

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.


1 comment:

  1. There is something that the movements taught me a long time ago, and which has never left me - there are NO movements for individuals.

    EVERYTHING is in relationship, perhaps the MOST important word that is most easily forgotten in this world of "selfishness".

    I am enlightened; I am spiritual; I am "special. These are some of the "games" that reside in the basement of Man, the place where man has shut himself up like the "self haters". he sees no further than his OWN nose.

    The learning of the movements can demand every last bit of a man's attention, and just when he can pride himself, there is inserted another piece which shatters his pride, his importance, his hubris; he bumps into his neighbor, he does the exercise backwards, and those around him enter a cognitive dissonance wherein they question themselves, so they imitate.

    In a movements class a mistake can become contagious, until even the "teacher" has turned the entire count on it's head. Who is right when you know internally that you have kept a count and the correct movements but everyone else has lost the count, all in the same way: you are no longer "right", but have become wrong in the stream of time.

    Then, you are both right AND wrong. You are and have been doing it correctly from the moment it was demonstrated but you have shifted into being wrong, because your relationship is haughty; you need to turn with the wind, which now lists in another direction.

    And several years into the classes I was given something else: whilst doing a complicated multiplication, I was shown the Enneagram in a way that completely connected with my limited musical understanding (I am a guitarist but do not read music notation).
    From that moment, during a two breath count, I was given a skeleton key which has informed my musical understanding (which is an understanding of everything, as the dynamic universe IS musical).

    Gurdjieff taught through numbers and ratios and through music. But this musicality has been divorced from the study of his learning except in small groups that learn to play his music by rote. Music and numbers are how the universe live, in consonance and issuance all is played out, but we never look towards the body and it's importance as our vehicle. It is the only pen with which we write our lives in the ink of our manifestations and behaviors...
    We look UP, and hope for a connection with a "higher" that may be a mirage until we look down as well, as we are higher for the lower and lower for the higher, which places us right where we are.

    Once during a 10 day Work period we split into tree movements groups, and each worked as they were able...the elders in one group, those of us considered half baked in the second, and those new in the third.

    At the end of the time together we were permitted to watch each others groups do their movements, and I will never forget watching my elders struggle; forget themselves, and yet something of a very high level of consciousness emerged from their concerted effort; as strong as to make me weep at the strength which traveled through what individually I could easily judge as ordinary shmoes.

    As St. Paul put it in the Mouth of the Creator:
    "My Strength is made Perfect in Your Weakness".

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