Sunday, January 26, 2014

Three essential statements by Gurdjieff, part I

Over the next few days, I'm going to examine three important premises of inner work as expounded by Gurdjieff in Transcripts of meetings, 1941-46.  All of these essential statements are found in meeting number one, conducted on Sunday, December 7, 1941 — the same day on which the Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Fortunately, the Japanese were not the only remarkable thing in the air that day.

Let's begin today with the following comment:

By the way, it is only by explaining something to others that one understands and assimilates oneself completely.

 This seemingly off-the-cuff statement summarizes the absolute need and responsibility for a human being who has made efforts and understood something — anything — to explain it to others.

 It has become the fashion in some portions of the Gurdjieff work, and (to be perfectly fair) other inner or esoteric works over the centuries, to claim that nothing can be explained, that there are no words, that only silence matters, and so on. The absurdity of this in the face of the fact that these things always have to be communicated with words apparently fails to strike those who make such statements. Gurdjieff, as we can see here, held it as essential that one make an effort to explain things to others. (...it is only by explaining, emphasis mine.) Without this effort—an effort within to understand and then offer—one is not fulfilling one's Being-duty, and one cannot begin to understand oneself and create a whole out of the many different fragments that fill one's Being.

There are, in other words, necessary explanations: and there are answers, which, as I have pointed out many times, are responses, not the bugaboo of fixed places where everything stops and dies, as some would have it.

In my own opinion, those who lack the courage to make an effort to explain, in so far as they understand, are engaging in a form of cowardice. It is a way of attempting to hide and live in a private world, essentially selfish; of avoiding real relationship, which is invariably thorny and provides an absolutely vital friction essential to the growth of Being.

 Explaining, oddly enough, comes from the archaic root plain, which preserves its original meaning in the word plaintive, that is, a sad and mournful cry, and plaintiff, one who claims injury. It originally meant to lament.

So the word itself already implies that the effort includes sorrow at its root. The wise woman or man, the one engaged in inner effort, tries to explain—to emit a lamentation— knowing they will fail, and in an effort to deal not just inwardly, but also outwardly, with the anguish of not knowing. If explanations are truly born from this root within the anguish of not knowing, they are always valid and needed. We must not only confront our individual inner sorrow from not knowing God; we must share it with others. Mr. Gurdjieff understood this quite well; and it summarizes the fundamental reasons for his heroic efforts, over the course of a lifetime, to explain who we are and what we need to do to improve ourselves in an inner sense.

So let us put aside, once and for all, any nonsense about not explaining anything. Ibn al 'Arabi, as impeccable a source as any, insisted that man must increase his wisdom, his understanding, and his knowledge; being faced with the impossibility of fully understanding or knowing anything, and the full and certain knowledge that we are not wise, one must nonetheless gird one's loins and make the effort. It is only the friction that results from this kind of effort that can help us grow: again, from the first transcript:

One needs fire. Without fire, there will never be anything. This fire is suffering, voluntary suffering, without which it is impossible to create anything...  Only you can prepare, only you know what makes you suffer, makes the fire which cooks, cements, crystallizes, does.

 Gurdjieff himself explained ad infinitum over the course of his life; he struggled with it, changed his message over and over again, and suffered for it. The man did not rest on his laurels or continue to repeat the same canon over and over like a parrot; his understanding evolved, and with it, his explanations. Towards the end of his life — these transcripts cover that — he reached a level of sophistication where individual sentences such as the one which this essay opens with imparted a world of knowledge and understanding which require deeper examination.

Hosannah.

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I might have to get a copy...it seems the material was also made available somewhere by J. Walter Driscoll???

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