Gurdjieff International Review

The True Hermit Lives in the City

Jack Cain

A paradox.

An old Chinese proverb has it that “The mediocre hermit resides in the forest; the great hermit lives in the city.” Yet how can our hermit, if he lives in the city, be a hermit? From what would he have withdrawn? Is he taken by the attractions and repulsions that flourish around him? No. Does he participate in all that circumstances have placed in his path? Yes. Then how does he come to an inner separation that would allow this to be accomplished?

What Gurdjieff brought has been termed “a way in life.” We are asked to “work in life.” How can we be clear about these two terms: work and life? I think of my life as a collection of events and states. But is this reasonable? When I make an effort to work in life, an effort toward consciousness, what do I actually attempt? What is my goal in that? I can recall Gurdjieff’s formulation of my goal being the Etoile, which means I simply need to find the next lamppost on the way to the Etoile. But what is the Etoile—a noisy traffic circle in Paris or a distant, inaccessible star? Or something else entirely? In what direction is this collection of random thoughts taking me?

As I watch myself being “taken” by the circumstances of my life, I see my passivity. What is the opposing force that would be capable of meeting this enormous force of passivity? Henriette Lannes wrote to a student, “Strive also to see that the active force is really intentional thought—the very thing most lacking in human beings.”1 Yes, I see that my thoughts are not directed. They just happen. Perhaps in a movements class I can see a form of thought that is not random. It is not pure; it comes and goes, but it does have the taste of intention. Now, to bring that into my day-to-day life, would I then approach the life of a hermit in the city?

Jeanne de Salzmann has written, “Objective thought is the look from Above.”2 This clue lifts me for an instant out of my petty world. She goes on to say, “I have the power to lift myself above myself.” For a moment there is light in a situation that is otherwise dark and hopeless—the chaos of my day-to-day life.

And my other parts—how can they join in this inquiry? The body, yes, I can have a contact with it, be here in this body. But the feeling? I’ve found a clue in Solita Solano’s notes. Gurdjieff innocently asks, “Usually we constate with the mind. But in the case of constating with feeling instead of the mind, what would such a word be in English?”3 How simply he brings me to see that any fleeting connection I manage to have with feeling is very far from any intent to approach the real meaning of my life.

The work we are engaged in is essentially self-initiatory. Although usually not seen or not accepted, help is abundant. And yet, I must make my own way. From my hermitage, a distant bell—barely heard.

~ • ~

1 Henriette Lannes, This Fundamental Quest, Canada: Editions de Tournadieu, 2003, p. 162.
2 Gurdjieff International Review, Vol. VII No. 1, Fall 2003, p. 8–9.
3 From Solita Solano’s personal notes deposited in the U.S. Library of Congress.

Copyright © 2007 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2007 Issue, Vol. X (1)
Revision: April 1, 2007