Gurdjieff International Review

The Stranger

By Don Hoyt

That evening still comes vividly to mind. I was seated at a table on the patio of a favorite haunt of mine in the Village, in Manhattan—an Italian café frequented mainly by locals. It had only been two months since my discharge from military service following the end of WW II, and so I was young and full of hope—and naïve. The evening still held remnants of a soft glowing light—it was early summer—and I found myself in a tranquil state with no concern about the immediate future. At an adjoining table was a rather elderly man whose presence I could not help but feel. He was possessed of a kind of inner authority that emanated a palpable sense of total awareness—and stillness. It was a stillness that unaccountably held me within its embrace in a state of silence, empty of thoughts or concerns about what I might expect next. And then, as if by some inexplicable signal known only to him, I was released from this embrace of his awareness as if to indicate that he was granting me permission to speak.

“What do you do?” I blurted out. “I teach,” was his terse reply. “And what do you teach?” I asked. His one word response was “Awareness.”

“Did I hear you correctly? Did you actually say awareness?” I asked. “You heard correctly,” he dryly answered. His blunt unadorned way of expressing himself was unsettling since I had always prided myself on being able to guide a conversation—on my terms.

Thinking I could shift the ground of our exchange by interjecting another line of thought, I asked, “Do you see personality disorders as an obstacle to an inner search for spiritual freedom?”

Again that uncompromising brevity of response “Personality only show window.” And that was that. Not another word was added.

In reading back my notes of that exchange after so many years, nothing seems out of the ordinary in what those words convey. Yet what I remember so vividly, even now, was the unmistakable force of inner authority that accompanied his reply, awakening in me a long forgotten echo of another world—a real world—leaving in its wake a quickening sense of my own presence. It was a magical moment in which for the first time I felt myself fully alive, fully aware of everything within me and around me.

Yet all too soon the old familiar patterns of response reasserted their claims. “But surely,” I now retorted, “there must be other dimensions to personality besides what the metaphor of ‘show window’ suggests.”

“Indeed there are,” he replied, “But how often are you aware of this personality of yours, as one expression, perhaps one among many, of your true identity? How often are you aware of how it consumes your vital life energies, on behalf of its own agenda of self concerns—wholly apart from who you are—apart from that unknown presence within you which emanates from the core of your being?”

Stunned into silence by the force of authority of this line of questioning, I found myself bereft of all the usual defenses, because in that moment, there was nothing that had to be defended. I was simply who I was. Nothing more, nothing less.

And again it happened. And again it was the force of his presence that imparted a palpable atmosphere of being in the presence of another world. When finally my voice returned, it seemed to emerge from a long-forgotten place.

“I don’t think that’s ever been part of my experience.”

“Well then,” he responded, “You may wish to explore how that could become a living part of your experience, in which you become aware of the co-existence of these two lives within you. As such moments become more frequent, then the question you’ve just posed could become more serious for you. It could acquire a new depth of meaning.

“Besides, there are other domains of your interior reality, other levels of awareness that are not accessible to you now, simply because of the overriding dictates and claims of this personality.

“This is why it is of such crucial importance that you learn to become aware of the personal self—this self that you mistakenly take to represent who you really are. To learn to catch impressions of its endless ruminatings about itself. And above all, to bear witness to its unrelenting overview—over every thought, every feeling, every perception you have, to where you finally see how completely it rules every aspect of your life.”

Again the silence, the stillness.

Then from out of that stillness I heard my voice speaking. “But why this emphasis on becoming aware of what I am not? Why not set my sights on the real issue of what I am?”

As we sat there together in silence, I found myself empty of the need to press the issue further. When he resumed speaking, his voice, although barely audible was lucid and clear.

“What has yet to be understood is that the entire sweep of your awareness, as with everyone, is utterly dominated by the ceaseless agenda of self concerns of this personal enclave of yours that you call your self. A self that is continually interpreting and defining for you what you are pleased to call your inner life—to the extent that it even presumes to take on the role of spiritual custodian of that inner life. But you don’t notice this because this enclosure of personal self reference has become your inner world, a world that has been allowed to define for you your sense of who you are. You are no longer the you you once were—the you that has always been, and still is, your birthright.”

The stillness that now prevailed brought me to an unfamiliar place in myself, and I heard my voice speaking. “How strange that just being silent like this has deprived my question of any substance. I can see clearly that what I am can only make its presence known to me through bearing witness to what I am not. Yet what has also now become painfully clear is that the life I’ve been living is totally under the spell of this enclosure of personal self reference that utterly dominates every aspect of my interior world. What hope do I have of ever coming in touch with the real world, the world of what I am?

“So then,” the stranger responded, “you find yourself in front of the one question that is truly worthy of your deepest concern. And I now ask you, who is going to rescue you? Who will extricate you from this dilemma?”

“Would that be you?” I asked.

His response was immediate. “Something in you already knows that no one can assume that role on your behalf, simply because the help you wish for can come only from you, from an awakened force of essence intent. I say an awakened force of essence intent because were this not already present within you we would not be sitting here together having this exchange.”

“Then how do I contact this force of essence intent in myself?” I asked.

A stillness descended once again, and then his quiet, incisive voice emerged. “This is where you must find your own way—to deepen your wish to be in contact with your essence intent, so that it can make its presence known to you. And the way towards that is through attuning your inner state of listening to the signals it is, and has been, ceaselessly sending your way through the only link you have with your essence—through the whole of your physical presence. These signals speak to you through the subtle interplay of sensations that can only be available to you at ever deeper levels of your awareness when you accept to be in a totally receptive state, a state innocent of any hidden agenda or expectation of results.”

“Then I find myself in a quandary,” I replied. “I’m not even sure now that I know what is authentic in me, what is from essence, or for that matter, what is not authentic in my life, except that I often try to make it seem to myself and to others that I do know and that I can invoke different states of awareness.”

“If you have caught that much,” he replied, “then your search for inner freedom can begin to acquire substance and depth—that is, once you fully realize that awareness is not something that you invoke, that it does not come from you. You cannot summon awareness for the simple reason that you are already immersed within the plenitude of its abiding presence. However, what can be said in relation to awareness is that the state of your attention can be closed or open, and about that we may have more to say further on.

“Now this quandary you’ve come to is indispensable if you wish to be in front of a central question, a question that can be put quite simply: Under whose auspices do you live your life? Who runs the show on your behalf?”

“The ego?” I replied, quite certain that this was the correct response.

“Not the ego,” came his immediate answer. “Ego is a word that has lost all the potency of its original meaning. It is now little more than a catch word that only serves to divert attention away from the central issue, away from the central question that needs to concern you: Under whose directive is your life being lived? Not only your outer life, but even what you regard as the sacred ground of your inner search?”

He signaled me to speak but so immersed was I in the state of inner plenitude that I dared not disturb it for fear I would lose what had just been opened up for me. Nevertheless I felt impelled to speak by the force of his silent command. Yet, when he saw that I was almost about to voice my thoughts, he indicated to me that I now needed only to listen to what he was about to say.

“Of course you realize this is not a question begging for an answer. Rather you need to live with this question until it begins to haunt you, until finally it dawns on you that there actually are these two lives that co-exist within you.

“One, the life of this authentic being that you are, which lives outside the arena of personal self reference; and the other, the life of the personal self that ever diminishes your interior world by reducing the majesty and scale of a greater reality so as to keep it within the bounds of personal selfhood. In the absence of a simultaneous awareness of both these two lives, distinguishable, one from the other, your movement along the path towards spiritual freedom will inevitably be compromised—simply because it will not be apparent to you how easily, and imperceptibly, your quest towards inner freedom can fall under the sway of the personal self.

“When that occurs, when unbeknownst to you your inner journey has come under the directive of that one, that one masquerading as you, as if by your consent, then indeed your bid for inner freedom has become subverted.”

~ • ~

In 1955, Don Hoyt became a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation under the guidance of Lord Pentland. After Lord Pentland’s death in 1984, Don Hoyt served as President of the Gurdjieff Foundation of California until 1988.

Copyright © 2003 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2003 Issue, Vol. VI (1)
Revision: April 15, 2023