Hacienda Temozon, Yucatan
Because I'm married to a movements teacher, I have for many years been closer to the movements end of the work. I interact with a lot of movements people due to my wife's associations; it's safe to say they are a clan of their own within the Gurdjieff work. I mean it in the best way possible when I say that they all think they are, like the blues Brothers, on a mission from God.
They are... well, we all are.
This unique Gurdjieffian clan has a mystique to it. The movements are considered, for all intents and purposes, magical; and people who aren't movements teachers and aren't privy to the arcane lore of the movements clan (it's not that arcane) sometimes get the impression that movements people are "more special" than the rest of us — an misleading impression, but there you are.
This particular branch of the work is strongly dominated by body people — that is, people whose strongest ability is located in moving center. They're all wonderfully intelligent people; but few of them, in my experience, have an intellectual prowess of higher order— any more than the intellectuals in the Gurdjieff work are great dancers.
I recall, here, the error of excellence Socrates recounted in the apology:
"Because each of them performed his craft well, he considered himself to be most wise about the greatest things—and this sour note of theirs overshadowed their wisdom. "
The take-away here is that while dancers may find it all too easy to think they're thinkers, it's nearly impossible for thinkers to think they're dancers.
The veiled, yet-progressive, devaluation of thinking in the work by shamanistic impulses (which of themselves, in modern people, are very nearly always the result of a deplorable intellectual laziness) is regrettable, because a great deal more thinking ought to be done about the movements. The movements needs thinkers to dedicate their attention to the theoretical and practical intellectual structure of the practice, as well as body people to perform them and emotive people to play the music.
In this sense, folk with inner strength vested in each of the three centers need to come together in this study and collaborate. My point to my wife on this was that the advanced movements people ought to invite those who devote their energy to thought about the work to sit and watch the classes for weeks and months and ponder their significance from a much different point of view. This is a real task, not some casual suggestion. If the foundation were truly serious about its business more things of this kind would be considered and implemented.
Recently, there was (finally, after too many years) a movements presentation that an audience was invited to — preparation for something I've publicly advocated for many years now, that is, a presentation of the movements for the general public. Allowed, as I was, to sit in the audience and see the movements, which is a vital, but almost universally ignored, part of work with movements, I was able to take in some fascinating impressions.
Now, let us remember that Gurdjieff routinely did movements performances with audiences. He well understood that the movements was not at all just for the participants, but above all for the audience—whose task it was to take in a very special set of impressions created by those participants.
In this peculiar way, the movements have always been intended as a communal service to those who see them rather than just a Self-centered, inward activity for those who perform them. This is essential yet forgotten fact may eventually be resurrected and transform the movements both from within and from without into what they were always meant to be. We can but hope.
In any event, back to these impressions. One of the movements in particular, which had many intricate movements like clockwork, in which the participants join and then separate, turn, multiply, divide, and move up and down — no, not all the movements are quite like that — demonstrated law in an intuitive way that connected not just with our impulse towards the higher, but reflected, in a very real sense, the action of law in terms of movement on the molecular level. Specifically, one obtained a conceptual impression of the DNA molecule and the way that the parts of it touch one another, come together, move apart, fold and unfold, and replicate itself. Encoded in this movement are the laws that make biological life function.
That is, of course, as it should be; law is universal and acts in the same ways on every level. It shouldn't be any surprise that we find information of this kind encoded in the movements, even if there are other layers and levels encoded within it as well. The fascinating thing is that one can sit there, listen to the music, watch the dancers move, and see what takes place in cells, as well as the cosmos.
I'll share one other impression I had out of many. These movements are very, very ancient. They are records of an impulse that has been passed down through mankind since before there were civilizations as we know them to build buildings or write things down. These specific movements themselves are even very ancient; for a moment, there was transmitted to me the certain knowledge that I was seeing and participating in something older than the pyramids.
Back to my point about having thinkers sit and watch movements for weeks and months as the classes work. That first observation — about the DNA — was relatively low hanging fruit, gleaned from a single performance; and in my opinion sheds a new and fascinating light on the nature of the Gurdjieff movements. If such insights can be gleaned from a one-off performance, just imagine how much more we might understand from a concerted effort.
The writers— those who are more able in the area of the intellect and emotion —in the work have been offering their material to the world at large for generations.
It is now, more than ever, time for the movements people — the body people — to also offer their own work to the world at large in a much more generous way.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.