Photograph by the author
I understand that this has become what appears to be a complex scientific and philosophical discourse; yet the point that I made in the beginning— manifest your work within, then go out and live— is an entirely practical action, not based on an intellectual structure or plan.
It is, rather, based on a robust intelligence rooted in the body which has a practical and uncompromising willingness to show up for what happens regardless of my fears and attitudes about it, and engage. This is a messy process which does not, I discover, conform to my lofty spiritual principles and the imaginary ideas I have about what a good (or bad) person I am and all the abilities I do or don’t have. It doesn’t conform, in fact, to anything I suppose; the only thing it conforms to is itself, and it is a continual manifestation of truth which I must put myself in front of.
Gurdjieff was interested in helping us to understand how to see reality; and the seeing of reality is all about manifesting the work within ourselves, perceiving and participating in this world of impressions which we ingest, making it our own from a practical point of view with more than just our minds, and then taking that experience and the very solid basis of living that we form within ourselves out into life so that we can encounter it, as he would have said, “objectively.”
It is possible, by digesting one’s impressions thoroughly enough, to begin to form a solid basis of being, a more concrete platform for experience, that you carry through your life at all times. This part of yourself, which is more thoroughly integrated (inwardly connected by those innumerable tiny routes I described earlier) has the capacity to remain stable and receive impressions through all three centers even while the ordinary psyche, which retains its flighty habits, does its usual job of attempting to navigate through life, often with a hint of egoistic desperation. I am not going to get rid of that part, so I might as well make friends with it, and, like a patient parent, attempt to counsel it as it gets buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
I bring this question up because we must understand that we need to form this more durable part of ourselves; and we cannot do this without a much deeper perception of how our various parts take the world around us in, and the cooperative nature of their enterprise. We are, as my personal business card states, “supervisors of various engines of creation.” This means that our intelligence ( by this word I do not mean our intellect alone, but our entire psychospiritual Being) has to be poised within us to perceive all of the creative actions that take place, both within ourselves and within others, in the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions that arise around us. In doing so, we will surely discover how inadequate we are; and yet we will also discover that a great deal of growth is possible.
Forming this durable part allows me to maintain an anchor that guides me through this process, a place that I can return to at any time when I begin to forget that in the end, it is only the action of my Being that provides a reliable foundation and basis for life itself. Eventually, of course, I will see that this Being does not truly belong to me, but I simply have the privilege of participating in its action, which is much larger than my individual manifestation; and, in a mystery and paradox that cannot be explained in any verbal manner, I will equally see that I must become more responsible for my individual manifestation within this context — even though I do not belong to myself or to anything or anyone but God, I still have a responsibility to be within what Gurdjieff called “I am.”
That “I am" is a community and a set of relationships, a dynamic environment of experience, intelligence, and obedience.
Without those features, there is no “I.”
Without the formation of a more durable part that receives, none of these perceptions are much of anything more than a theoretical construct which I think might help me in life.
—Part 4 of an essay written November 18, 2018, Sparkill, NY
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.