Gurdjieff International Review

In Search of Peradams

Those familiar with Rene Daumal’s Mount Analogue1 will recognize the reference to the only real means of payment in that far-off country. The peradam was described as “a clear and extremely hard stone . . . a true crystal . . . harder than diamond,” so transparent that it was almost impossible to see and extremely difficult to find. The discovery of a peradam was never accidental, but resulted from some kind of inner effort. At such a moment, its “brilliant sparkle like that of a dewdrop” might catch the eye of those who truly and sincerely sought the truth.

In the world of Mount Analogue, all authority came from above. Since these peradams were the only currency accepted as payment by the mountain guides, those who wished to climb the mountain would need to find some in order to move on. Most peradams were found on the rough and dangerous trails up the mountain. However, to everyone’s astonishment, the leader of the band of adventurers whose story is told in the book uncovered one in the sand on the beach, seconds after he renounced his authority over the group he had gathered together and led for many months.

The editors invited a number of people in groups all over the United States, Canada and Europe to write a few paragraphs about the inner jewels they have gathered in their attempts at what we call Work in Life.

A Vanilla Latte

I own a café on 42nd Street in New York City. It’s a busy place which attracts people from all walks of life. My aim is to increase sales by maintaining operating standards, creating a welcoming atmosphere and promoting harmony amongst the staff. I have been working on developing a more expansive attention while keeping larger goals in mind in the face of reactions and events which steal my attention.

My café is a “people intensive” experience, a great laboratory for self-study! As manager, I sometimes feel I just can’t listen to one more problem, or remind an employee one more time about the right sequence for putting the syrup, milk and espresso in the cup for a vanilla latte. My reactions pile up quicker and quicker over smaller and smaller things. My inner dialogue becomes more repetitious, including threatening to fire the employee as I become more closed within myself.

To deal with my reactions, I sometimes try to slow down my movements ever so slightly and “open” to the other person while maintaining a connection with the sensation of the lower half of my body. Something begins to relax. If I can stay with it, or try again and again, there’s a kind of blending of the reactive movement and another possibility, not denying one for the other, but opening to the reality of both. The larger aims of the café begin to reappear, and the relations with staff often become stronger. The next exchange with that latte-deficient employee can be surprisingly effective for both of us, and the day ends in a way I never thought possible.

Glen A., Café Owner/Manager

The Work Has Changed Me

I try to be as present as possible as I go about my daily activities, to actively live my life in this body. There are practical tasks we’ve been given over the years like sensing, which can develop into an awareness of my whole body; attention to breathing; awareness of my surroundings and the people I am with; listening to others or the sound of my own voice; doing things in unusual ways, etc. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what I try, as long as I try something.

I have always had trouble with the idea of coming into contact with the higher in any direct way, of me managing to ‘do it,’ or to undertake something which leads me there. Whenever I have had an experience which seemed out of the ordinary, which seemed to be a connection with something higher, it has always come as a surprise and not directly related to any particular effort that I was making. It also seems to happen only when I’m aware of my inability to work and in some way am suffering that fact.

The knowledge that others are also trying adds strength to my efforts. When I first heard the theme for this publication, I thought of how my involvement in the Work has affected the way I am, who I am. I haven’t changed anything in myself but the Work has changed me in many little ways over the years. For example, I now have a little more tolerance for how others are and must be.

Ethelda B., Manager

The Beginning Point

A conversation in a hot apartment in lower Manhattan (since torn down), with bathtub in the kitchen and bright paper flowers stuck all over the doorways. I was a college student working in a Third Avenue coffee shop, midnight to eight AM. A friend said, “There’s a book you might like to read.” He bestowed the title as if it were a gift or an honor: In Search of the Miraculous. I went to Weiser’s bookstore off Union Square, but hadn’t enough money and came back to get it the next day.

I read it straight through without stopping. This book addressed the enormous questions I’d been suffering with, and like nothing else, it seemed true. It explained my experience. It explained itself. It explained the failure of all the other explanations that had promised so much and disappointed so sadly.

The missing link was the idea of “Self-remembering.” The beginning point, wrote Ouspensky, is the search for self-knowledge; and the pathway is the movement out of sleep towards a state of consciousness which includes my “self” in the contents of awareness.

Then the friend said, “There’s a man you might like to meet.” I had no idea what he meant, no concept of groups or schools existing in present-day America, and certainly no confidence in my ability to sustain a conversation about consciousness, particularly with an “expert.”

When I met this man in his office on Columbus Circle, that’s exactly what I told him. I didn’t know why I was there, what I wanted, what anything meant. I only knew that my life did not seem real, and I desperately wanted something real. I asked him to help fasten my dress, which had come undone in the back.

Somehow—I understand much better now, how—he saw an authentic wish behind the confusion. Conversation flowed with a tangible quality of his putting more into his responses than I felt my questions merited. At the end, he gave me something to try, something we might now call a “task:” an exercise that related mind and body, attention and presence. I could practice it invisibly, privately, in any circumstance, exactly in the context of my ordinary day. This was not like anything else. And it was for real; it wasn’t just words.

Right there the light broke: this is what was meant by a “Way in Life.” And the journey began that I now call “working.”

Barbara D., CPA

Inner Acrobatics with a Business Rival

Work in Life seems like a trapeze act in my marketing firm, with another acrobat edging out to the center of the same high wire I am on. Someone will fall. My largest client once required that I share some project with another company that clearly wanted to take away my account. My rival was an aggressive executive well versed in corporate combat. We hated each other on sight, and I realized that this was an opportunity for some real work in life. From our first meeting I decided to listen carefully to everything she said and see what I could find in it to agree with. Beyond that I wanted to discover what it was like to be in her shoes, how to connect as a human being. Mostly I had to deal with my reactions of rage and disbelief that I should be forced to deal with such a negative woman. But the feelings could not overpower my resolve, and I never showed any sign of my anger or fear. This inner struggle gave me plenty of material as we worked together for more than a year, traveling to half a dozen cities and staging various promotions. Outwardly I treated this woman as a respected colleague. Inwardly I had to remember my aim over and over again.

After some time she stopped attacking me and began to take me into her confidence, even sharing many of her professional secrets. The strange part of this exercise was that due to the efforts she had forced me to make, not only could I no longer hate her but I had a feeling for my former enemy very much like love. My struggle not to react in a habitual way, to pay a close and objective attention to my feelings of rage gradually transformed them. I did not try to love my enemy, I would not have been able to do that. It was the struggle itself that transformed the relationship and taught me the power and the price of an inner effort.

Lillian F., Marketing Executive

The Horseshoe Dervish

Konya, Turkey in the late 1970s was a spiritual focal point for the seekers who had managed to survive the ’60s. I was living in a no-star hotel near the tomb of Jelaluddin Rumi. This was an out-of-time experience for a good white boy like me from the Midwest. Rumi’s tomb, now a museum, used to be one of the last Sufi schools in Turkey before modernity moved in during the 1920s, shutting down many of the old traditions. Despite this, there was still enough spiritual juice present to sustain an inner sense of questioning and not knowing. Konya was exceptionally hot that day. The road was dusty. I was on my way to study at the home of Suleyman Hayati Dede, the leading Sheikh of the Mevlevi order of Sufis, when my life took a detour.

The heads of slaughtered sheep lay across the street in the smell of their own blood. The ‘horseshoe dervish’ as he was called, also a Mevlevi, was standing in the doorway of his blacksmith shop looking in my direction. Without any explanation he stopped me and I was invited in for a glass of tea. Slightly disarmed, I soaked in all the impressions. His room was simple, a compacted dirt floor with an anvil and fire in the corner—bare bones—the smell of smoke infusing everything. His English was minimal, my Turkish was nonexistent, however our communication was very clear. “Life is like electricity” he said, as he flicked the light switch on and off. “We are all connected to the same current.” For a brief moment it sounded a little simplistic, but while the horseshoe dervish quietly talked, his being drew me into the clear depth of his true understanding. I looked again at the walls of his blacksmith shop. Horseshoes hung on nails in the neat room. Small works of art row upon row, reminding me of paintings hanging in an art gallery. Uncluttered. Simple.

Michael F., Teacher of the Alexander Technique

On Active Service

For 20 years I worked for a commercial company with companions from our group, under someone committed to the principles of Mr. Gurdjieff’s Work. She claimed no interest in how much money the company made, so long as it paid for itself as we tried to put Work ideas into practice. Working together that way may sound easy, but as so often in business, competition and ambition creep in—the salesman who exceeds his target sees himself as more important than the administrator who produces the estimates. Nevertheless we tried to respect each other’s work according to the saying, “If you can’t respect the person, respect the place.”

Could we arrive at the office every morning “fully awake,” active both outside and within? I’d call it being “on active service.” We contacted prospective clients, related to customers, listened to their needs and generally build a basis of trust. We also learned to play a role. After a long time orders began to roll in, so we had to become efficient, give attention to every detail, deliver the goods and services on time.

Attention was called for at every point, no matter how trivial the details. At weekly meetings we had exchanges about our problems and difficulties and tried to look at what lay behind them. More often than not the problems lay in us, not outside. The work was hard and intensive, and there was little time for office politics and gossip.

It seems to me the workings of an organization are similar to the functioning of a healthy organism. Both need to work in a harmonious and balanced way. If one part tries to do the work of another, confusion soon sets in. So many times in company work, one person thinks he or she can do the job better than another, just as in inner work when one center tries to do the work of another center. Often chaos is the result.

After a time we began to accept what it was to work under discipline for the sake of the good of the whole. Although some of us eventually retired from the business as those whom we had trained took over, that feeling of mutual respect and shared endeavor we had built still persists today. And the new employees never suspected the presence of Gurdjieff’s Work.

David G., Artist

An Expression of Conscience

For the first ten years my work was connected with seeing my automatic movements, habits and thoughts—to set a specific task for the day and to face what happened when I met it and what happened when I didn’t; and to study my reactions. Then to search for a willingness to start again.

The next decade was the struggle to understand that the Work is not about fixing anything in life, nor judging what I saw, nor adopting an acceptable code of behavior. What I needed was to struggle to see the movement of automatic energies in myself. More and more I experienced the Judge or the Fixer within myself, and my work became trying to stay with those movements of energy for just a few seconds more.

Now my work touches more deeply the movement behind my manifestations, the automatic forces of thoughts, of emotion, of physical habits. But who sees? I experience that I am shown to myself. I wish to follow the energy that goes out, and I see that it is not me following it, but another attention that has somehow been given in the moment. I am beginning to face the question of: “Where is my place? What is required of me?” There appears what I can only call an expression of Conscience. I am not alone. I begin to feel others, and I wish to work more for some unknown but important need that I cannot label or formulate.

Carol H., Educator

Chain of Beings

Walking along a quiet city street, leaves blowing restlessly about my feet, I was reminded suddenly of the Sunday evening walks I used to take with my parents. As a young woman in my twenties, I often felt uneasy at the beginning of these walks. I was acutely aware of the lack of common material that could be exchanged safely with middle-aged parents. But as we walked along briskly in the dark, our breath visible in droplets of fog, a silent communal exchange took place. Time seemed to expand. Frictions were absorbed, perhaps in the vastness of the night sky, as we walked along in increasingly companionable silence.

Now, as I walked my dog along the unusually empty New York City street, I felt extraordinarily close to my parents. I was thousands of miles from my rural home town and my parents died several years ago. But now I felt their presence quite vividly as I passed beneath a flickering street lamp, aware of my breath condensing in the cold air. And then I understood something about my connection to them and my own children. I realized quite clearly that my children will exist on Earth after I am gone and their children also. And I felt something about this connection. Flesh of my flesh—where does that come from—that miracle that makes out of one’s cells a quite new person, who yet contains part of oneself? I am placed now in a long chain of beings who have been on Earth before me. Now it is my turn. Why am I here?

I found myself alive in a world full of meaning: aware of the dimly lit street, with the smell of winter in the air, connected to the past and future at the same time. I felt a longing for this recognition to infuse my life; a wish not to return to the empty, the trivial, but to experience this depth in my daily life, in place of relentless reaction.

Patricia H., Reporter

The Commuter Between Two Worlds

He walks out through his doorway into the street. Caught up by the crowd, he is hurled in the direction of his daily work. At supper-time the current carries him back the way he came.

All the while, inside himself, he is making another journey, moving along the hidden path toward what is most true in himself and then away again.

With every move of attention toward his own centre, he is paying tribute to the current of human ardour that flows toward the source. From time to time there comes from an immeasurable distance (from what is closer to him than himself), a response: a moment of insight, a flash, a clear-eyed vision of himself as he is.

Bent over his work, attentive to the job at hand, attentive to himself, he moves in the company of those who circle the spiral-terraced mountain of transformation.2

Martha H., Writer

The Subway

Finding myself on the subway, I am reminded again that I wish to work, so I try sensing the hand holding the strap over my head and at the same time sensing my feet. The arc between the two creates something stable inside of me so that I no longer feel threatened by all the strangers around me, as if nothing can harm me. Otherwise, when I don’t try, I feel the aggression of the other riders—the rudeness as people jostle or try to press past me.

One cold day I had to wait longer than normal before going home. I looked at all the people rushing to the subway, and I also wanted to join that movement, to go home, a movement so strong that it was hard to resist. Looking around at everyone rushing and running, I realized that this, too, was my habitual life.

David K., Salesman

I Was Not Chosen

I am attending an academic conference at an internationally recognized university. In the late afternoon I listen to a panel discussion on a field in which I consider myself to be an expert, although I was not chosen to be a member of this panel.

The session ends, and I am walking across an open courtyard to my hotel. There is something going on. I discover disappointment and self-righteous indignation. I recognize this state and am familiar with these feelings. I come to myself. Something registers the fact of myself in this condition. The emphasis of this registration is not on a description of my state, or a criticism of my state, rather it is on the fact that I exist in this state. Is this an experience of what Gurdjieff meant by the subtitle to his First Series of writings, namely, An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man?3 Something present to me recognizes the nature of life existing in this form with the influences from my education and cultural background. The feelings and reactions continue, but there is something else.

I see this state of myself and my reactions to it—which happens all the time—as a necessary opportunity for Work. That is, in addition to the reactions, there is a Wish for Living, based partly on a recognition of what I am and partly on a glimpse of what could be. A wish to change, as Gurdjieff writes, from the Itoklanos4 principle of being-existence to the Foolasnitamnian5 principle of being-existence.

I continue walking.

Robert K., Mathematician

Into the Boiling Pot

The Gurdjieff Work is not a self-improvement society. Neither is it a train station full of timetables and destinations. A sublime and elusive teaching, it proves itself so subtle that it always comes as a shock—sometimes the shock of the small, quiet voice; sometimes like a mallet striking me hard enough to knock the sense both out of and into myself at the same time.

Our Work in life is supposed to be invisible. Whereas in Hatha Yoga there are well-defined postures to be taken and held, in the Work it’s the position you are already in which must be explored. Changing your posture, emotional tone, or associative subject matter doesn’t count. If anything, it betrays a judgment of oneself.

Mostly my efforts show me the strength of the forces that hold me in place—I get a better look at the bars of my cell and the personality of my jailers. If I want to escape, I must follow a different path—whose first step is to stop trying to escape.

But I do change, and the important changes are the ones I can’t see. I change because I’m one among many in a boiling pot called the Work. We live in relationships. Our umbilical cord is separated at birth, which takes us from the tight bond with our mother and gives us to one another. It’s an interesting fact that there are no movements for individuals in Mr. Gurdjieff’s Work. As we lend ourselves to it, after some time we see that we are as our neighbor. I am the same I am that you are when you say I am.

Richard L., Musician

My Two Realities

In my dream I’m in a part of Manhattan I’ve never seen before, inexplicably peaceful, with open fields and sunlight and no trace of the chaos and commotion of the surrounding city. The presence of the city is palpable, yet it has no sway over this secluded spot, and there’s the sense that this is as it should be, that the city could not exist without this place.

The moments when reality seems completely transformed bring a taste of greater clarity, inner silence or peace, pointing to the possibility of a world that is usually unnoticed and unseen. We touch it in moments of silence, when we experience a particular relaxation in the mind, body and emotions. As I respond to the call of this inner world, I retreat from my everyday life, withdrawing to this quiet place.

Yet as soon as I start to attend to the needs of the physical world, I lose contact with that inner world. A thought, a physical discomfort, an emotion, however trivial, is all it takes to sever the connection. Once lost, it’s as though the inner world never existed. It’s not surprising, then, that I view these worlds as two separate realities, with no point of contact. Just as naturally, I trust the world I can touch, and am far less certain about the elusive inner realm. To begin to trust the inner world, I must touch it, so I find ways to gain a little freedom from the distractions—seeking out quiet places, engaging with communities of like-minded individuals, exploring means for quieting the mind, relaxing the body and allowing the emotions to settle.

Gurdjieff emphasized the value of a search in the midst of everyday life. Accounts of his last years tell of gatherings in Paris and New York, largely unnoticed by the outside world, a life of an entirely different quality hidden in these vast cities. By example and in his teachings, Gurdjieff challenges us to be related to these two realms simultaneously—to rediscover the inner world and to engage in the struggle to sustain the connection in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. In meeting this challenge, there is the possibility that a new communication between the two worlds can appear, a relationship indispensable for both.

Tom M., Agricultural Engineer

A Momentary Absence of Babel

When I was given an introductory biology laboratory class of bright, attentive college students, I asked myself, what was I supposed to “teach” them? On one level, my job required that I become a bridge connecting the students with the scientific ideas they were about to explore. But was there something more essential that needed to be done? The students, a different 30 each day of the week, silently asked for something else. What was it?

“Affirm the being of the child,” was the advice Madame de Salzmann gave to a team of adults in New York who were working with children. Could I try this with my students? As I moved among the students at their laboratory benches, I tried to see what this idea meant in action. It was apparent that I had no idea what “to affirm the being” of another person meant. What did “to affirm” mean? What was “being”? The only thing visible to me was the wall between myself and the students.

With these questions in mind and without any answers, I tried nevertheless to practice the injunction. Somehow the wall between myself and the students began to melt, and in its place an avenue of exchange was created. Time stopped, and the faces around me were no longer a blur. Each student stood out as an individual, and each one had enormous value.

One day after class, a young man came to me to ask for help with the data that his experiment had produced. While speaking with him about this, and at the same time trying to practice Madame’s injunction, I suddenly found myself standing in a stream of light. Where his confusion lay became clear and the guidance that would truly help him was right in front of me. As I spoke to him, his confusion instantly gave way to understanding. It was as though a light flowed through me into him and illuminated the topology of his thinking. The result was a different quality of sight for both of us.

This exchange went on for what seemed like a long time. Then suddenly it was as though a cloud appeared, and the connection with the light was broken. The student became confused, and I no longer saw what would help him. I began to understand the root of the story of the tower of Babel.

Lise M., Teacher of Biological Sciences

How Does Work Affect My Art?

How does Work affect my art? There is always plenty of noise in life, that’s a given. But what am I serious about? For me there are three serious interests: my relationship to Work; my relationship to my art; my relationship to my family. Although each serious interest runs in a separate direction from the others, they affect each other nonetheless. But you can’t say they are in a stream.

Work affects my photography, photography affects my Work. When Minor White started talking about “conscious camera work” he just lost me. For me the connection is not a specific application from Work to art. It’s an atmosphere, and I want to leave the connection between Work and photography as something graceful, happening in that atmosphere.

Look at Gurdjieff and his pupils. They are our teachers, but they had very active lives in the world. Life feeds Work. Engagement in the world is where real self-knowledge comes from, and from that comes the possibility of finding real simplicity in the midst of engagement.

Photography is my path in life. When I am in the darkroom developing a print, I move the tray as I watch the image develop, and I make simple work attempts. Art is a form that contains content. (Work is not a form.) Photography is not Work. Which is not to say it cannot be transcendent. When I look at a Vermeer, or a Bonnard, I see in it something transcendent—not like in a Dali or a Gregory Crewdson, where the artist has put in symbols that “mean” something.

If there is something in my photographs that is transcendent I didn’t put it there. It comes from something more inner. Look at Edward Weston’s “Pepper.” You see the pepper. It’s a pepper. And then it transcends the pepper, and you see it. Seeing without thought is creation.

Philip P., Photographer

Musings on the Battlefield

A man free from the chains of selfish attachments, free from his lower “I am,” who has determination and perseverance, and whose inner peace is beyond victory or defeat—such a man has pure Sattva.6

At this moment, while I sit alone in my place of work where I serve as the president of a successful internet company, I stop and ponder the way I am. It was in this very seat that I spent the weekdays in the midst of action. I try to taste my inner reality in the quiet of an empty building and find that my entire body, mind and feelings had served the demands of my livelihood as a clenched fist, reacting automatically to events and serving imagination, fear, ambition and a false sense of duty. I had made it an intention to sit in this very place early on Saturday morning not only to sense its vibrations but also to sense myself here in a state of inner calm and quiet being. Much of me wishes to leap back into the habitual and fragmented state of mind that exists when I sit in this seat during the week. But at this moment, those tendencies are tethered by a feeling of remorse and tears form in my eyes as I watch these forces work in me. I realize how powerful the forces of sleep are, and how weak is the wish to stand before them.

The role of an executive is often associated with strong-willed action, ambition, decisiveness, force; qualities that are inherent to a strong sense of ego. Drive, determination, and achievement, based directly on the action brought to bear on forces in the world, are valued in this field of action. However, in the Bhagavad Geeta, Krishna speaks to the warrior Arjuna of a quality of action that is intrinsically different in nature. A quality of work in which one sacrifices the results of action and the machinations of the ego. Given the close approximation between Arjuna in the battlefield with the situation of an executive in business, I am filled with hope that I may meet my obligations with a different quality of being. In the quiet and empty building, the mind is more easily tethered and the forces of identification to the “I am” are visible and apparent, but when the battle begins and the forces of business are arrayed, what I tasted in this quiet is easily lost. Yet, with hope in hand I will begin again each day, each week, to find moments to gather the subtle and weak voices to work. It seems that even in this field of action, each moment, each day, each week, is an invitation to a journey from myself to my Self.

Ram R., CEO

Lead into Gold

I’m standing in a line at the post office. It’s a long line. There aren’t enough clerks. I’m already late to meet with someone. I’m impatient, annoyed, spurred inwardly by my hurry. I can chafe in the line, mutter about its slowness, inwardly or aloud—or I can work.

“Wasting time” while waiting is a chance to transmute the quotidian dross of life—waiting, tedium, irritation—into something valuable. It’s a chance for inner alchemy. It’s something I know and too often forget.

This time, at the post office, I remember. I turn my attention inward, dividing it to take in my sensations, my feelings, the fullness of the moment as I stand in line, minute after minute. Here’s my impatience manifested as muscular tension. My irritation is a keening in my nerves. I take it in; I take an impression of it. I keep my center of gravity dead center in my sensations. I’m receptive to my feelings. I see my reactions to waiting in the line but now I’m no longer identified with them—seeing those reactions as impressions of my inner state, while keeping myself grounded in the sensation of the body, sets me free. I experience them without being burdened by them. Something arises from this new condition: something is briefly sparked. Another quality of energy arises.

As I leave the post office I run into a neighbor, a man I’ve always felt an antipathy for. Normally I’d become identified with my antipathy, but my efforts in the post office have refreshed my state, and I’m more sensitive, more present to myself than I normally would be. Because I don’t like him—exactly because I don’t like him—he represents another opportunity for me. I keep some attention for my inner world as I talk to him and some for my emotional center, the place where my feelings resonate. As a result of these efforts, I see him differently than I usually do, more three-dimensionally, more humanely. I get a glimpse of his condition and sympathize with him in a way I never have before. Two unpleasant encounters became opportunity—alchemy: lead into gold.

John S., Writer

In Front of the Fourth Striving

How to work in life is a fundamental question for our generation and requires all the re-examination we can bear. One obstacle is the insidious crystallization of Work becoming ‘a way of life’ rather than ‘a way in life.’

If I do not strive to integrate the practice of Work in the raw conditions of my nitty-gritty life, something in me will involve even though I may be promoted up the tiny ladder of titled positions in a given work organization.

My gut feeling/thought is that we are in front of the next step, and it all has to do with service: how to pay for the labors of our teachers, all the way back? How to prepare for those who come after us? How we pay has much to do with actualizing our own individuality.

Toddy S., Editor

Open Your Heart

A few years ago a Frenchman named Dominique visited our dojo. He held a high rank in aikido and was also a skilled practitioner of kyudo, Japanese archery, which had given him broad shoulders and well-developed pectoral muscles.

Dominique led our practice one morning and watched me meet up with a vigorously striking partner. “Open your arms! Open your heart!” he called out, stretching wide his supple arms as if embracing the atmosphere of the dojo. The timing of that dramatic command, delivered in a French accent, brought me to an instantaneous awareness of how closed-in and tense my chest was. When it relaxed I felt re-connected to myself.

In one way or another, I’ve received that reminder often. Each time there comes a moment of denial. Wasn’t my chest already open? Wasn’t I already aware of the need for that? “Yes, but not aware enough,” the answer keeps coming. “You’re not as open as you think you are. Look again, and you’ll see that.”

There’s a kind of joy in these moments when I take that message in and can welcome that bittersweet recognition. For a little while something in me will be more open. I need help to see how closed down I’ve become, a reminder that my movements are not meant to be small and constricted, but generous and full.

Mary S., Writer

Catering to People’s Vanity

I would prefer that most people take me for a shallow type interested only in appearances. What could I possibly understand in my role of catering to people’s vanity? I know very well the effect that appearance has on one’s moods, sense of self. When someone says they don’t care what they look like, you can be sure they are lying. They are very much invested in their picture of themselves. Change their appearance and everything has a possibility of change.

Working all day in front of a mirror, I can’t avoid catching unexpected sight of myself as I work on a customer. It is always a shock, never appearing in the mirror as I do in my mind’s eye—and the contrast between the two evokes a moment when I can come back to myself strongly. This happens over and over during the day. Nobody knows this about me, and I feel no need to speak of it. But as far as my clients are concerned, I’m the complete service person. My inner life is invisible and this enables me to work in my salon freely and unhindered. And the word ‘pride’ has a more positive meaning in my work.

Richard S., Hairstylist

To Nourish Myself

When I speak of “work in life,” what comes to mind is the difficult terrain of my everyday existence—challenged by distractions, habits, and lack of resolve. Set aside from my work in the everyday world are efforts made with the support of others sharing a common aim, where “more” seems possible in circumstances purposely apart from the outside world. And in those “special” circumstances, I often ask myself: How can I bring this quality of effort to my daily life? The apparent distinction is further reinforced by the extraordinary moments of clarity and openness in that context as compared to moments “in life” where I see my efforts are partial and fleeting. Inevitably these moments of clarity become an unconscious goal, one to be strived for, a kind of underlying standard for my inner work. They lead to the repeated lament: “I don’t work often enough or deeply enough.”

Certainly the conditions which support my inner work are essential. Experiences in these conditions reappear as reminders to begin again and somehow reinforce my efforts. Yet at closer examination, I see that all my efforts are “in life.” Seen this way, there appears to be a continuum along which my inner relationships, my attention, my attitude vary in intensity and duration at any given moment. The outer circumstances necessarily affect a changing inner state and results follow lawfully. My work with others is seen in a new light, not to be recreated when I’m on my own, but to nourish a place within myself where an effort might begin and be supported. What emerges as most important is seeing this beginning, regardless of the circumstances of its arising or where it leads or how long it lasts. I am reminded of the need to “see” this movement, not to orchestrate it, but to know it and, above all, to experience my place in it from moment to moment. My attention, then, is brought to bear on the only meaningful ground it has: my life as it is.

Barry S., Architect

Agendas and Reality

I stare at the screen and consider this interesting question of Work in life and quite soon I’m lost in daydreams. Yet the question touches me even though my mind produces nothing but random thoughts. I see how pretentious they are. They have their own agenda, not the truth, because they are programmed to support the ego. For this they have an endless supply of insincere, but plausible, material. Yet they and I both know that if I quieten inwardly they also quieten. For example right now my body instinctively sits straighter and relaxes. I breathe deeply and gratefully as tensions in mind and body dissolve.

It’s not such a big deal. Anybody serious who meditates knows this process and realizes they have to find such a quiet moment two or three times a day. And it’s true that when we are quiet and inwardly open the complex patterns of thoughts, feelings and tensions are revealed. If I study them I see that they are the machinery that drives my life.

The three centers are my reality and the only surprise is that I’m not more interested and more intelligent in finding out more about them. But I lack the stamina to remain in front of this world of ego, lies and insincerity. I am weak to the point of non-existence, so I permit myself to believe in a substitute for reality, a pseudo-life in which I assert myself against a hidden background of insecurity and weakness. Work cannot appear in this charade because it’s not life. But there’s something else besides the ego. Strictly speaking it is unknown to my ordinary mind but I call it the soul. It’s always there: silent, still, unmoved by the mechanism of the lower centers. It has the natural power, as soon as I awaken to its presence, of transforming their energy. They are life and its action could be called work. Attention is the medium in which this event can happen. Work is knowing where my attention is; life is where my attention goes.

Dick T., Art Gallery Owner

Tasting the Water

The fact that my very own life is the perfect place to study touches me deeply. With all the flaws, lacks, obstacles and shortcomings that are apparent to me, to suggest that I need not ‘change’ anything but, rather begin where I am, as I am, turns everything upside down. My mother was a simple welfare mom and my father spent several years in jail. The oldest of seven siblings, I was raised by hard-working grandparents whose sincerity and earnest beliefs indicated a direction to me. Now, as a wife, educator and theater artist, I’m intrigued by the idea that every life situation is an adventure that can lead me toward my aim. I am alive, here where I am, whether that’s in the Foundation, a school, on stage or with family.

As a solo theater artist who plays multiple characters on stage in front of hundreds of people, I’ve had some very ‘alive’ moments of work. Everything is so tightly woven together between text, choreography and the interplay of characters that one moment of distraction will unravel the whole thing. One time, in the midst of performance, I lost the thread of attention. Instead of trying to remember the text I came back to the Work, back to my body, I held on to the moment and suffered what felt like an eternity, but my whole body began to tingle with life. Memory returned so vividly that I and the audience shared an electrifying impression.

The ideals and efforts I bring into my daily life working with hundreds of students, elders, people of all ages have an influence. For instance, when working with high school students who struggle with volatile emotions that interfere with their classroom work, I can see that they are stuck in one center, so I try to engage their attention in a new way—changing postures (shaking up the physical dynamic of the group), or introducing an exercise that calls on greater mental skills, or tapping into their poetic abilities to free them from negative emotions. Maybe I can just help keep something open, a potential for essence to grow. For me, the Work ideas together form a container like a bowl does for water. Mr. Gurdjieff gave us the means to taste the water.

Peggy T., Actress, Playwright, and Educator

Feeding the Soul

My husband and I get up together in the morning, and I prepare coffee while he showers. He sits on the sofa, and I bring in our cups. I try to be present as I hand him his coffee. We have our daughter, her husband and new baby living with us. When she comes upstairs with the baby I try to make the effort to stop and to be available to what is taking place. I can feel my rising impatience to get on with the next thing. If I allow myself to stop and remember, I come to an awareness that these are fleeting and precious moments which feed my soul. In a word, this represents for me what it is to learn how to bring the Work into life.

Does the possibility for “opening”, “stillness”, “presence” and “attention” exist at every moment, or do I have to be in a particular building or amongst certain people for this to happen? Through our work activities, we learn how to strengthen our attention, find energy to make efforts and to feed our wish. Without the help, demand and example of others who make these kinds of efforts, I forget. I need practice, and this takes a long time.

Our first encounter with Work ideas was through a couple who, unbeknownst to us, were in the Work. It was the attention they brought to speaking, listening, and preparing food that attracted us again and again to the wish to be in their presence. We wanted to be like them.

Carla V., Homemaker with Home Business

Cell Phone Symphony

Nothing pulls me into the world outside myself more than the ring of a cell phone. It has become habitual for me over the last few years to respond with an urgency bordering on panic to get the shrilly, demanding machine out of my pocket and flipped open so I will be “connected.” To what? My life.

On Sunday mornings, I often join a meditation circle at our house of Work in order to be for a short time in a place I can best describe as inside myself; inside my body, observing my thoughts and associations. Even, sometimes, experiencing what I really feel about my life.

Last Sunday we were well into the meditation, slowly letting go of outer concerns, when I realized I’d forgotten to shut off my cell phone. It was in the breast pocket of my shirt and would probably ring any second and disturb everyone in the sitting. I would have to scramble to get it out and shut it off and I’d look like a total loser who has no respect for the finer, inner things in life. I would be humiliated and have to crawl from the room into a small hole somewhere.

I went down that path so quickly that I almost gasped aloud. Then I woke up to the reality of sitting in a circle of energy created by the people around me and, yes, still felt by me somewhere inside myself. If it rings, it rings. If it rings I will reach into my pocket, shut it off, and return to the meditation, having included that event as if it were part of any other event in my outer life but looking at it from inside where my real life is lived. At this point I almost wished the phone would ring so I would have a chance to struggle with myself; to “work” on my considering. But right away voices in me were pleading “No! Please don’t ring! Not now!”

I almost laughed to see so many parts of myself, all manifesting within seconds of each other in so many different directions. Now that’s something to talk about, even on a cell phone!

Don V., Film Set Designer

Desert Rock

I’ve had an abiding interest in photography for thirty years. This image was not visible to me at first, but finding it was not altogether an accident. It involved a search. In a sense, the photo and I found each other. How that works is not altogether clear. Something announces itself to some part of me, sometimes faintly, sometimes all at once in a single moment. What that part is which sees before my ordinary awareness has gotten involved is not clear, but there is a certain taste I’ve learned to trust.

The rocks here did not announce themselves loudly. At first, I was inclined to regard them as ordinary. But, nevertheless, I walked toward them and something in me began to come to life. It was the response to something present. What was there? This question immediately realigned something in my way of looking. It placed me in a new state of openness. Without that new state of openness and an active search for what had touched me, this particular image would never have come about.

What does this photo say to others? Does it somehow embody anything of the experience I had? This remains unknown. On the other hand, there is some measure, perhaps purely subjective, that is content to allow the photo to stand on its own.

Richard W., Editor

Unripe and Incomplete

Near the end of the film, “Meetings with Remarkable Men,” Prince Lubovedsky says to Gurdjieff, “You have found conditions in which the desire of your heart can become the reality of your being. Stay here [at the Sarmoung Monastery] until you acquire a force in you that nothing can destroy. Then you will need to go back into life and measure yourself constantly with forces which will show you your place.”

As students of Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching, we discover that a new relationship can appear among our parts—mind, body, and heart. More importantly, at such a moment we sense the descent of something, as Madame de Salzmann often said, “from on high.” Thus open . . . quiet . . . related to myself and the world . . . I begin to intuit the meaning of my life.

But as I return to the movements of outer life, all this is shattered in a moment. The automatic arising of impulses and reactions creates a fog, obscuring the vital truth so recently felt. I reawaken moments, hours, or even days later, perplexed. How could I have forgotten? Why is it so difficult to be present amidst the currents of life?

Thus begins a lifelong search for a way to plumb the depths of stillness and at the same time to move through the demands of my life. This quest is at the heart of all traditions, even Zen, which on the surface appears dedicated to seeking enlightenment through meditation. In fact, the satori experienced sitting on a cushion in the meditation hall is considered “unripe” or incomplete by the Zen master. Years of additional practice are needed before students are able to live in all conditions in accord with what has been experienced in silence.

The Ten Ox Herding Pictures are a beautiful expression of this truth. In the last illustration, the mature seeker passes through the Marketplace doing nothing special but, as he passes by, blossoms burst forth from the cherry trees in the middle of winter. How will I be able to stand up and cross the room without forgetting?

John W., Business Manager

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1 René Daumal, Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidian Adventures in Mountain Climbing, translated by Roger Shattuck, Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1986.
2 First published in A Journal of Our Time, No. 2, 1979, Toronto: Traditional Studies Press.
3 G. I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1950.
4 Ibid., p. 131.
5 Ibid., p. 130.
6 Bhagavad Geeta, Chapter 18, Verse 26, translation by Juan Mascaro.

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Copyright © 2007 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2007 Issue, Vol. X (1)
Revision: April 1, 2007