Gurdjieff International Review
The Art of Living with Oneself
Pauline de Dampierre
In Meetings with Remarkable Men, Dean Borsh puts to Gurdjieff’s father the question: “Where is God just now?” And the answer that Gurdjieff’s father gives is, “He is in a forest making double ladders and on the tops of them he is fixing happiness, so that individual people and whole nations might ascend and descend.”
[There is] a double movement of life in ourselves: the current that carries our usual materialist life and another more conscious life. . .
If we really study the history of civilizations, we will see that this vision of the two currents always had to be worked for and kept alive. There were periods when it was strong and radiant and others when it vanished and had to be rediscovered. And so, perhaps, what in fact has been lost today is the exact understanding of the necessity for human beings to establish this right relationship within themselves. In any case, these two processes are always there and their existence sounds a call within us. They sound a call because the materialistic life is not enough for man, and, when he is sincere with himself, he knows this. He feels a certain lack, something is missing. He may try to fill this emphasis by turning more and more toward the material aspect—but the call remains.
So today Gurdjieff comes to our Western civilization to reanimate this understanding. And for that he brings a new language. He doesn’t speak to us of sin and virtue, or punishment and forgiveness. He speaks to us first of all about our sleep, our mechanicalness, and calls us to awaken and to discover what he calls our being-duty, our obligation to the universe and to our own being. . .
We do not see that what we accept as real with our minds and what we actually live by are usually quite different things. We may try to find truth in books, in philosophy, but the sense of reality only comes to us through what we actually experience in our lives. We are constantly involved in an outer life which, with all its dangers and attractions, draws us, because it gives us the feeling that we exist. We constantly feel compelled to respond to that life and its demands. We may very well admit that another kind of life is possible, that there are other capacities within us. But if we experience no trace of this in the world we actually live in, it will never be real for us. It will simply remain an insubstantial ideal, which we know we should pursue—some day, but not right now.
But if, one day, we find ourselves face to face with someone who is actually connected to these capacities in himself, who is able to let them act in his life—which we can see for ourselves is a powerful life full of meaning—that can have an enormous influence on us because it opens us to something quite different in ourselves, which we have never experienced before and which gives us a deeper sense of our own existence. Then a new kind of hope arises within us. . .
What is truly useful is to be able to accept that one’s limitations in outer life can act as a hindrance to engaging in the search. It’s very hard to accept this, but I can tell you that this acceptance can give an extraordinary impulse for development to both the inner and the outer life.
As to the question of what kind of work to choose, there is no ready-made answer. It depends. A person should examine the situation and consider why he might decide to do this or that. But on the whole it can be said that we need a relationship with the outer world. We need to find something to do that we care about. We need to be appreciated, we need to feel useful, to feel that what we do has a value.
It is not an easy challenge in a society which is not made for this inner work, which doesn’t understand anything about it, where people spend all their energy on their careers. So how to manage?
Those who really accept the challenge will have to find a way to their own equilibrium. They will have to discover how to obtain what they want and to keep enough time and energy and emotional freedom for their inner search. They will become wiser, more apt. And they will develop abilities which have been lying dormant in them.
But an individual who seeks to develop his life capacities must be sure to keep in his mind and in his feelings the reason for which he is doing this. He must not allow himself to be devoured by his efforts to improve his outer life. In this, he will also be better able to understand his fellow human beings, because he himself will always be feeling tempted by life, tempted to go further and further in that direction. And if he goes too far, life will swallow him up, because life is like that. It’s always pressing us to give more to it.
In anything we do, we must never forget our aim, our central, essential value: to return again and again to this inner presence which opens us to a broader dimension.
We see from all we have said that this work has to do with living, an art of living with oneself, with opposite tendencies—those of our automatism and those which will open us to another dimension and create a harmony, a balance, and a better functioning of the whole of our nature.
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This excerpt is taken from Material for Thought, The Present Life: A dialogue with Pauline de Dampierre, San Francisco, July 1986, pp. 49–63, and is used here with their kind permission.
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Featured: Spring 2007 Issue, Vol. X (1)
Revision: April 1, 2007