Sometimes one of life’s accidents—misfortune, a deeply moving encounter—rattles the relatively factitious and solid edifice that a human being has built up for the comfort of his existence. Shaken to what he believes to be his roots, he is burned for an instant by the fire of a question, a doubt: who am I? why am I living? where am I going? At this moment of reality, he thinks. But such moments are almost always exceptional and accidental, particularly for the specialized men—conditioned by social attitudes, withdrawn into vicious circles in the shadows of their consciousness—that our modern civilization produces in abundance. But the edifice’s semblance of balance is rarely compromised in a serious way. For the question “who am I,” civil status, first names, last names, positions, professions, titles, ranks, social circles, mirrors, ambitions, vanities and laziness are there to give the pretense of an answer. If the person is of a slightly speculative nature, his little internal philosophy also keeps answers to these rattling questions—brilliant, consoling or approximative answers—in reserve. And man, that phantom vessel, sets off again under his illusory rigging on the waves of this world where, at times, a real vessel leaves its wake.
Moreover, how would he have resolved these questions? Even looking at them straight on—as in Jacob’s time men confronted blazing angels on mountaintops and struggled with them, burning their limbs—what could he do? Where to begin? It is difficult to start questioning everything if one has not seen or at very least heard of an open way, no matter how hard or narrow it might be, in the search for a real answer. But in the miraculous logic of life, it seems that every true search will find the external help, the road-signs it needs: not a vehicle which would transport man effortlessly, in which he could rest and let himself be driven, but a precise finger which always shows the most direct, and the harshest, path, in an area where each one, to go forward, can only count on his own effort.
What to do, where to begin for those whom doubt has shaken, for those who have not lost the childhood desire to seek themselves, to experience themselves, to build themselves? And what to do to spare the child experiences which are often long and painful, to guide him along a path of normal human development (I do not mean conforming to external and arbitrary rules, but following the real and complete evolution of the consciousness invested in a human individual)? There is no lack of educators or supposed instructors who believe or make believe that they have found the key, the ideal system. In reality, these systems almost always center on an idea or observation that is true, but partial. For one, the perfect education will be the fully natural, animal development of the human beast; for another, the cultivation of spontaneity and sensitivity above all; for a third, the methodic exercise of intellectual faculties. Almost always, they will place the accent on a particular discipline dear to them: physical culture, sports, camping, painting, music, philosophy or natural history. Almost always, they are men with hearts full of good intentions; and some of them are eminently dangerous because they uniformly impose their good intentions, their limited concepts, their manias or even their tics on the students confided to them, without realizing that a given educational method, excellent for one, will make the other a mental cripple.
If I have spoken of a miraculous logic of life, it is because at a time when the need for it in all of us is so great, I have seen in action a method of education, in the exact meaning of the word, capable of indicating to each one, child or adult, the truest direction in which to search for himself. Not only of indicating, but, by an incessant call to the consciousness and presence of the total individual, by exercises, conditions and experiments appropriate to each one, of inciting each one to walk, blossom and ripen in this path on which each one goes alone, in the solitude of a single presence which is nonetheless the place where we can all communicate.
The fact is that there exists a teaching founded on this knowledge, which can address every human being because it addresses every aspect of the human being. Not by compiling various methods and teachings, as do most current “educational” institutions, which believe they can develop the whole being by adding together one hour of mathematics, one hour of drawing and one hour of gymnastics, thus cutting the individual into little slices, whose center of centers, dispersed, is lost; but rather, by first asking each one to be present as he is, at that very moment, with all he possesses in organs, faculties and acquisitions, from head to foot via the heart. And the only form of existence common to the diverse aspects of the individual being, which will thus be the means, the grounds of this teaching, is movement. If someone says, the same as of the moving body, that one is “emotionally moved,” that “thought races,” these metaphors are not simply rhetorical figures. All of this is movement. And all movement is subject to a speed (a tempo), a cadence and a rhythm. The science—not only theoretical, but lived—of speeds, cadences and rhythms will thus be a choice means for a genuine education. This practical science has several aspects. Two of the main ones are or were known under the names of dance and music: arts, not as the digestive, emotional or intellectual gratifications we usually know, but as a superior know-how, a knowing-how-to-make-oneself, in the sense that Music for the Greeks enveloped all culture; in the sense that Poetry is creation, edification of the self.
But still I fear, by this theoretical display, that I am veering away from the central fact. I would like to make you attend one of these “lessons,” or rather one of these life-concentrates. But no, it would not be enough for you to see and hear; even repeated over and over, the sight would always have something new, you would feel that work was being done, that something was on the move, but it would still be an external sight.
A whole other landscape, which opens in the self, appears to him who takes part (if only once) in these “lessons.” First, there is an internal chaos, a profound confusion; everything is put back into question. They ask you to make very simple gestures: your body no longer obeys as soon as you step slightly away from your old habits. They ask you to express a very simple feeling and you remain expressionless, or with inappropriate expressions, as soon as you are stripped of your learned attitudes and conventional masks. They ask you to make a very simple effort of memory, reflection, calculation, and your intelligence works only with great pain as soon as your associative mechanisms, your set expressions and your clichés have fallen in cold ashes on your brains and tongues. This experience, with which life is stingy, is offered you at every moment. Every minute, you see a bit more clearly all that is mechanism, death, sleep, cowardice, pose, vanity, chatter, in the various formations of your being. But you will not be crushed by despair, for you will see an open path, a way to settle into the flickering, poor and naked glimmer which, with eclipses, glows in you. You will see a way to revive this little flame, to feed it, to make it grow and last and rush onto the free path that it must light. Then you will understand that when the pupil who had such difficulty with the simple act of walking suddenly lights up with joy and ease, it is because this joy is the sign that, finally, he has really performed the action of walking at a given pace—not made the physical pretense of walking, but has consciously walked at this pace, harmonizing his torso with his legs, his head with his heart, and his heart with his feet. You will know what this joy can mean from real contact with yourself, when it rises up in you, when not only a simple pace but an entire rhythm comes to life in your body. In your heart, you will discover treasures and manure heaps. You will see your brain working, your blatant theories, the mouldy libraries that encumber the room upstairs. And perhaps, at that moment, an eye will open inside your skull, and will shoo out flocks of chattering parrots. You will see what those who stood stock-still saw: what jungles, what aviaries, what menageries full of cries, murmurs, growls, what a realm of which you are king, and what disorder the country has fallen into because the prince was sleeping or dreaming of distant nations. And time will seem very short indeed. There is so much clearing out to do, so much order to establish and so many orders to give.
Sometimes, the voice that externally directs you will point out that a given muscle in your body is too tense, or not tense enough; that a given nerve is uselessly irritated; or that your mind is wandering into other lands. You will know that this was true, you will pull yourself together. Little by little a profound operation, whose only visible sign is a joy, a relaxation, a sudden ease in your entire body, will be accomplished in you. And little by little, you will begin to seek, in the acts of your life, that consciousness of being here. More clarity, more justice and judiciousness will develop in your gestures, your works, your rest and your daily relations. Or sometimes that voice will speak a little longer, and its words will fall on you as onto well-ploughed earth, whereas for another they would have inspired only sterile curiosity.
Since we must give everything a name, when someone asks Mme. de S. what her “courses” consist of, she generally answers that they consist of movement. The word has the double advantage of being exact, provided one takes it in its complete sense, and of being safe from label-stickers of every category, from every something-ism. By appropriate movements of all kinds (including the active and conscious immobility which is an absolute mode of movement), by suggesting speeds, paces and rhythms to an individual’s diverse activities, such a method guides him along paths at whose bends he inevitably meets an often unexpected side of himself. Man can thus, step by step, manage to weigh what he is worth, what he is capable of; to command with appropriate economy, for the best possible return, the resources, reserves, transformations and uses of his energy—in all the aspects in which it manifests itself; to move body, feelings and thought in mutual balance toward his goal; to know what he wants to do and to do it, to love doing it, to want what he does.
|Copyright © 1991 Mark Polizzotti|
Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books
This webpage © 2002 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2002 Issue, Vol. V (1)
Revision: April 1, 2002
Translated by Mark Polizzotti from the anthology he edited, The Powers of the Word: Selected Essays and Notes of René Daumal, 1927–1943, City Lights (San Francisco), 1991. One of the most gifted literary figures in France in the early part of the twentieth century, René Daumal was a genuine seeker of truth and spent the last fourteen years of his life studying the teaching of Gurdjieff.