Gurdjieff International Review

A Normal Man

Bill Dudley


urdjieff returned again and again to the assertion that we are two-natured beings. This ancient idea put forth in many traditions and teachings, in many forms, is the fundamental basis for practical approaches to spiritual work of all kinds. The “wolf and the sheep” are intentionally and repeatedly brought into confrontation, producing a struggle that can only be reconciled from Above, that is, the “Above” in our Selves. This confrontation is achieved in innumerable (yet precise) ways and, of course, is a gross oversimplification of a very complex and law-conforming truth that Beelzebub himself implied was unique in the entire Megalocosmos, arising from unusual and unfortunate planetary conditions on Earth over millions of years. It will likely never be fully resolved for the whole of humanity. Instead, a question must inevitably arise: What is normal and natural for a two-natured being? Given that these two aspects have completely different lives and needs, and are seldom even in contact with one another, how does anyone become a “good shepherd” of these utterly opposite natures entrusted to one’s care? This is the neglected link in human development that Gurdjieff brought to the attention of all those who imagine they are seekers, who propose to attain anything along the ascending paths. Before entering heaven, one must first enter normalcy. But what does that mean?

As with almost everything related to conscious energy, there is no fixed answer. Our experience is limited to moments and flashes, fragments that must be gathered up over a lifetime and somehow cobbled together by understanding, until some intelligence derives enough force to lead us and maintain that precarious balance between natures. It’s often a work in the rear-view mirror, so to speak; many years later, one realizes how a particular moment or impression guided or influenced one’s path. How something was already there, recognizing the difference in quality between that moment, and all the others.

The following story could be taken as an example of this. Despite the subjective, anecdotal limitations that any retelling of personal experience carries, some readers may perhaps detect the taste of truth. This piece was originally published in my book, The Chosen River. In the years since it was written, it has continued to be a guide for myself and, indirectly, a few other people, not so much from the form or even the content, but from having touched an interior vibration that might in itself point the way towards “normalcy.”


hen I was about four years old, my Granddaddy Budrow took me fishing at Mr. Grime’s pond. Budrow (his real name was Lonnie, but everyone down South gets a couple extra names along the way) was manager of the A&P grocery store in Lexington, North Carolina, and he routinely worked six days a week, but I’d been bugging him to go fishing so much, he took a Wednesday afternoon off in self-defense. He didn’t even change clothes; we rode out to the farm in his old Buick, me in shorts and a tee, and Bud in a white dress shirt and tie, slacks and his good black shoes. I think he planned on swinging back by the store after I quieted down, but if so, it never happened.

It was hot and bright, the misery-middle of a classic August dog day. You couldn’t pick a worse time to go fishing, but I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I was finally going to get to fish Mr. Grime’s pond, a legendary place I’d been hearing about all my short life. It was the best Bud could do to keep me from diving right out the Buick’s window as we went through the pasture gate and bounced across the field along an old tractor trail. We parked on the earthen dam, grasshoppers and cicada whirring in the heat, and Budrow set me up with a cane pole and bobber and a box of red wiggler worms he’d picked up at a service station outside of town. I hadn’t quite graduated to regular tackle at that age, and I’m sure Bud figured the cane pole was the lesser of evils, compared to the mess I’d likely make of spinning or bait-casting gear. And he was almost right.

Now, the one thing you can count on in those Carolina farm ponds, even in the killing heat of August, is bluegills and bream. They’re spunky, hand-sized panfish, the backbone of the food chain in all healthy ponds and lakes, very prolific, surprisingly strong, and willing to eat whatever you’ve got, at just about any hour of the day or night. A bluegill or bream is the first fish almost everyone in the South catches, and as a bonus they’re also some of the best-eating fish you’ll ever fry. I started nailing them right off, mostly small ones, but plenty big enough to get me going and keep Bud busy unhooking and re-baiting. He’d gotten out his own rod and leaned it against the car, obviously intending to wet a line himself once I got settled in, but between the fish and me, he never had a moment’s peace.

At some point, though, something a little bigger yanked my bobber under, and I set the hook at the exact moment the fish took off for deep water. The unexpected power surge yanked the pole right out my hands. Stunned, I watched as the bamboo went skiing off towards the far bank, unable to squawk or squeal, until I heard my grandfather snort with laughter.

“Well, Willy, what in the world you doing there?” he keened.

I think I must’ve started crying then; I know I felt like the whole day was ruined, in that over-magnified way children feel. But Budrow didn’t miss a beat. Without hesitation, he waded right into the pond, good work clothes and all, and chased down my cane pole. Came slogging back through the cattails and cow muck and muskrat holes along the edges and handed it to me, fish still attached, and stood there dripping wet. “Pull him on in,” he said, grinning.

I have long ago forgotten the fish. I’m not even sure what it was. But I have never forgotten my granddaddy wading into that pond to get my pole back. It made me feel something I couldn’t name and won’t attempt to now. But we all know what it is.

So maybe this is as far as the words can take us: To a beginning, a starting place. To that first little turn towards a Love that is calling, always calling. □

A long-time member of the Gurdjieff Foundation in San Francisco, William Dudley is the author of The Chosen River: Writings from Days Well-Spent (2012) San Francisco: Ka-Pish Cove Books.


Copyright © 2020 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Winter 2019/2020 Issue, Vol. XIV (1)
Revision: August 13, 2020