Gurdjieff International Review
Sunsets help me. More and more, as old age advances, I watch them in silence. These undenominational eucharists, these spell-binding elisions of cloud and colour – ask nothing of me except an inner resonance. My cultural and historical ‘specificity’ abates. So many other eyes have followed the slowly setting sun, and so many others will. I am oddly nourished by the truth that a sunset will come which I will not live to see. . . I am here now.
Poetry helps me . . . has been for me a lifelong passion. Two long lyrical poems (unfashionable today and even hilariously parodied) are often my sunset companions: Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and Edward FitzGerald’s collage The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Neither is Gurdjieffian in temper yet with a musicality and aptness that an ashokh might envy they address profound themes: time and the processional of history; the poignancy of the human condition and the inscrutability of individual fate. A glass of wine approves them.
Dawns I no longer watch, though my old cat guarantees my early morning call – jumping on my chest and renewing with her tickling whiskers a relationship deeper than I enjoy with any human except one. This irreplaceable companion has been with me 20 years – a little scrap of life whose sensitivity and being would put most people to shame, including me.
At the Rococo Café, where I have morning coffee, I repeatedly observe how I am irked by the chatter, the banality of mind, and the desecration of the English language. Engaging round-eyed infants look up from their prams but meet no corresponding eyes. Their distracted mothers are “like” talking into their mobiles, “or whatever,” “y’know what I mean?” Do I query my self-righteous reaction? Yes I try, but it is a good job we are not working for results.
Mildly addicted to Rococo’s free daily newspapers, I confess a more insidious addiction to my disdain; there are papers on the rack which I can scarcely bear to touch without a shudder of disgust. Yet if the newspaper barons are politically manipulative, the editors subservient, the columnists self-important, and the photographers prurient; and if the ‘burning question of the day’ is the merest historical flim-flam – then what remedy can I mobilise? Mr Gurdjieff gave no courses or ‘workshops’ in how to read newspapers – just Beelzebub’s Tales and an injunction: “In life never do as others do.” To read the newspaper – even for five minutes – in the light of Gurdjieff’s objective critique, is to make the devil serve.
Over the café table or strolling home I contrive every day some pretext to speak openly with complete strangers, struggling to build an aura of relationship, while maintaining purchase on my sensation. How interesting and rewarding some people can prove, yet I hold this truth to be self-evident: that all men are not born equal – the quick and the dead remain sharply differentiable.
Back at my desk I contend with the latest email surge, for I rashly correspond worldwide, allying myself with anyone seriously engaged in practical or scholarly Gurdjieff studies. A big accusatorial piece about the Internet’s impact upon the Work is surely overdue but – like it or not – this unforeseen cultural and technical Tsunami is irreversible and we can only surf it. The World Wide Web oversupplies acutely painful evidence that Mr Gurdjieff’s work has fallen among thieves, but for any single individual or institution to usurp the good Samaritan role would be a presumptuous misreading of scale. History glumly confirms that the agencies of blind unconscious forces promptly despoil any new-born spiritual impulse: yet the slow resurgence of a subtler and purer energy may be trusted ultimately to redress the balance. Great is truth and shall prevail.
Though keyboard and VDU gain a hypnotic hold upon my absconding attention, each self-extrication from the Internet’s ‘virtual world’ affords me an astringent sensation of inner struggle. Occasionally I am helped by an external shock, a so-to-say etherogram from the real world. Today for example I received with joy an honest-to-God postcard from Lhasa. It was sent me by a staunch friend (who first drafted the constitution of The Gurdjieff Foundation of New Zealand). After fond goodbyes to a grey and white cat in the Jhokang monastery, she was en route to the Ganden monastery, and thence to Nechung, former seat of the Tibetan oracle. . . For me, however, there is no ‘Lhasa’ any more, and as to an oracle I have only my heart.
It is my heart which prompts me not to forget my grandparents, and their grandparents, and theirs. Not to forget my debt to a misty line of ancestors for whom ‘work in life’ meant hard unremitting physical toil barely imaginable today; and who are now subsumed in the oblivion of the good earth they cultivated. According to modern values they were poor people – certainly their hands and their ideas were not well manicured and whether they ‘worked on themselves,’ or even needed to, I leave in question. I do know that on Sundays when I work on our group’s little parcel of land I encounter exigent truths which need no esoteric riddling: “As Ye sow, so shall Ye reap.”
My hair is grey now and my group leader role aligns me with the archetype of the wise old man – just when my mental and physical powers are conspicuously chastened. After fifty years I find I command no method at all and am essentially a spiritual opportunist gypsying my way from occasion to occasion. Small wonder I harbour, and must somehow reconcile, feelings of fraudulence and authenticity; small wonder I face my pupils with trepidation. Yet the case is not so dire. With Pentecostal energy, something unnameable descends. Then on both sides of the group room the very proof of work in life finds honest expression, and the vital current still issuing from Gurdjieff confirms its on-going momentum. In my utter personal insignificance at this moment I find a consolation and an enigmatic promise.
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Copyright © 2007 James Moore
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Featured: Spring 2007 Issue, Vol. X (1)
Revision: April 1, 2007