An attitude is a position, or posture.
The Gurdjieff Movements are thus, in essence, a series of attitudes. Through movement we learn to see ourselves within our attitudes. Above all, this series of physical exercises ought to help us learn how to see ourselves emotionally; because it is within our emotional attitude that we need to develop a new kind of seeing. And that seeing needs to take place in ordinary life. Not under special conditions.
The development of compassionate attitude is essential to the experience of Being. Real Being cannot take place under any other set of conditions; and although we may well (do) perpetually violate the sacred terms, the contract, of our existence as sentient beings (three-brained beings), it does not excuse us from perpetual efforts to inhabit and understand compassionate attitude.
This is what Gurdjieff meant when he said we should consider outwardly always, inwardly never; it’s an effort to manifest compassionate attitude. Of course, in his own case, with his own pupils, and given his own aims, he manifested this quite differently (and counterintuitively) from the way you or I might exercise it; yet we are evaluating the nature of inner work here, not Gurdjieff the man, and we can dispense with discussion about how he was or wasn’t.
The point is how I am or am not; it is up to every individual to properly manifest their own inner work as they understand it and as they see fit, comprehensively, actively and within a given moment; not as some other person sees it. Nor should we get dragged into discussions about how earlier teachers may or may not have manifested. The teachers are dead; “if you meet the buddha in the road, kill him.” We are each of us fully responsible for how we bring “the” inner work, our own inner work. We can’t lean on the dead for support; at best we can lean on each other, and even that is, as everyone knows, dangerous.
For myself, as I age, compassionate attitude seems to be the most essential part of inner work; an ability to try and see the other and deal as fairly, intelligently, and sensitively as possible. Even when I am angry this requirement falls on me; I need to see more clearly in such moments. When I do, I generally see that I’m not better than the people I’m criticizing; there (as we say in Alcoholics Anonymus) but for the Grace of God go I. I need to bring this practice to the point of intelligent attention as often as possible.
The point of intelligent attention is the point to which intelligence (understanding= Latin intellegere-understand) is stretched (attention= Latin ad-to + tendere-stretch.) In this action, the mind is stretched to understanding—a special effort is made.
In this effort one suffers with the other—this is the original meaning of compassion. It means we suffer together in relationship. The implication is one of shared burden; and we can know not only one another, but ourselves, through this action.
It’s this point of intelligent attention that matters; it’s there that I can suffer feeling, which by itself confers a different kind of consciousness. Think on this; Christ suffered for all mankind. All we are asked to do during our lives is suffer on behalf of a few other people; yet we’re poor at it. If I want to honor and obey Christ’s example—which is all I am asked and tasked to do— I ought to strive to understand this better.
Brining one’s intelligent attention to the point of conscious experience is the same practice as Gurdjieff’s idea of bringing awareness to the point where impressions enter the body.
Think on this a bit. And consider the idea that all the hope of one’s spiritual development rests on this point of intelligent attention—this newly compassionate understanding of life—which rests on an intentional—willing— experience of suffering. If rightly understood, the practice of attention can’t really be separated from this action of suffering: compassionate attitude.
I am (mind), I sense (body), I suffer (emotion.)
All three minds, and their wills, help me to organically participate in this action, which then becomes an active mindfulness.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.