Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

G. I. Gurdjieff's teaching, research, books, conferences

HE DOESN’T PASS LIKE A SHADOW

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Part One

In this post, I wish to try and bring something which may be of continuing practical value, although it is perhaps most accessible to those in Gurdjieff groups. In June 1980 the Adies set their groups a task: submit a written report, retaining for yourself a copy, stating: (1) what you feel you have gained from the work, (2) what you feel you now need, and (3) your plan to acquire what you need. Even if one were not engaged in the Gurdjieff “work”, the task is pertinent. One can substitute for “the work” the name of one’s path, or simply the word “life”. But anyone can take this as a task. The transcripts below may provide some assistance.

On 25 June 1980, Mrs Adie said in response to a question by someone who found it difficult to formulate a plan: “…you could take one habit, for example, watching t.v., or smoking, and try and change it. But it is very important to remember why you are doing this. To stop watching t.v. or to cut down smoking will create a friction and a suffering. It can easily become an ordinary sort of misery, but the recollection of your aim is a factor which can prevent the suffering becoming an ordinary misery.”

After this reference to aim, Mrs Adie came to a related topic – wish.

“We have to realise much more our wish. Most of the time there is no truth to our wish, one could even say that there is no wish at all. That is why so little happens. But there are moments when there is some wish active in us. And the most important moment is in the morning preparation. If it is done sincerely and with a certain amount of will and force, the feeling comes from it. Feeling comes as a result of making an effort, there is no doubt about it, but it is not going to last. So it has to be repeated in some way, but it won’t be repeated unless – at that moment – I plan for the next moment.”

“But at that moment there is a wish. During the day I may remember. During the day I may get a guilty feeling, but there is no wish. Yet only that wish will produce a result. One sees more and more in all the questions that is the main difficulty, really. At some time a shock is received and a fresh impulse appears. There is a wish. But that does not stay by itself, it must be reinforced.”

Part of the significance of this statement is that wish, the wish for conscious evolution which is essential in all of us, “resides”, as it were, in feeling. “Feeling” and “emotion” are different things. Feeling is in essence, and always brings a sense of myself in relation to reality. It is always permanent, not in the sense that the feeling lasts forever, but that the truth of the experience is permanent. If love turns to hate or vice versa, this is emotional love not feeling. If I experience love in my feeling, that feeling is always true for me. I can never deny it or say that I had been deceived or was wrong. Gurdjieff says that from the result of experiencing love, “we can blissfully rest from the meritorious labours actualized by us for the purpose of self-perfection.” (Beelzebub, p. 357) This love never fades: it is always remembered as an immediate being-reality. While emotions can be very violent, and hence believable, they can be blown away. Feeling is always deeper, immeasurably deeper, but feeling is always quieter. Indeed, a correlation can be made between feeling and a certain kind of silence. But the opposite does not necessarily hold: silence, the cessation of sound, does not always point to feeling.

The feeling of “Wish” is a great mystery. In Life Is Real Only Then, When “I Am”, Gurdjieff speaks of the three impulses “I Am”, “I Can” and “I Wish” as being “sacred for man”, and as “Divine impulses”. (p.136 in both the privately printed 1975 edition and the 1999 paperback). In the critically important chapter “Hypnotism”, Beelzebub refers to the “sacred being-impulses” of faith, hope, love and conscience. It seems to me that there are correlations between these two sets of impulses such that one may even think of faith as approximating to I Am, hope to I Can, and love to I Wish. I do not say that the terms are interchangeable: but if one holds these concepts side by side in thought, the experience may be enlightening.

To complete the reporting of the meeting of 25 June 1980, Mrs Adie stated in reply to a question: “It is very interesting. It has often been said “Don’t work for results.” But it’s also said that every effort has a result. But it’s not always what we expect.” She was going to develop this thought, but the person who brought the question cut across her.

Part Two

From the same period, comes this edited transcript of the meeting of Wednesday 18 June 1980, taken by both the Adies. The task was the one mentioned above: the report with three aspects. But some of the people also referred to an exercise which the Adies had from Gurdjieff in 1949, and which I call the “Clean Impressions” exercise. In my experience, to date, this is the king, as it were, of Gurdjieff’s exercises.

The first question came from Basil, who asked about his troubled younger son, and how he could not relate to his son except in the “normal fatherly way” of advising him to think of himself and others. He finds, however, that this achieves no lasting result. Perhaps, said Basil, he needs to accept the situation as it is. However, he added with real honesty, he found it very difficult to accept the situation without disapproval.

“Well unless you do”, replied Adie, “you cannot help him. If you refuse to accept the reality, you can’t understand. Everything being as it is, then you have to agree that this is the situation. As for leaving a more permanent effect, this is a big doing. Unless I have this actual transformation going on in me, how can I leave anything at all enduring in anybody? What more permanent impression can I achieve in myself?”

“Take yourself: you are the operative factor. You wish to affect him, You wish to minister unto him. But can you minister unto yourself? Because what is to do the ministration?”

“Yet”, added Adie, “this is what we need to do to come to the point of our lives.”

In this idea of the point of our lives, something very deep is touched, which having been sounded, will be picked up again later in the meeting. At this point, however, Adie referred to the task which had been given: “All the answers to these questions show this up tremendously clearly. Almost every answer, almost every one, begs the question. It says “I have to do this”. But it does not say how. It says “I have to make a plan,” but it does not say how, almost exclusively. In one or two instances there was a very theoretical one, “I must have a higher thought”. Of course I must. But how? This is the great difficulty: it stands out now from all the answers. We are not in very intelligent contact with the world we live in, or with the bigger world. See after 10, twelve or fourteen years, what is our contact with life on a bigger scale? Where is the sense of obligation or duty … or meaning? Where is the meaning of life? Have I got a duty? And whom would that duty be for?”

Let me just interrupt once more: I think this is terribly important for the future not only of each individual, but also of the Gurdjieff tradition as a whole: what is its contact with life on a bigger scale? What is the contact of each group with life? Gurdjieff used to feed the poor and support the needy. I shall one day collect the references to this, but it is sufficient here to refer to Tchekhovitch and to Conge. I hope that the same can be said of today’s Gurdjieff groups, because if it cannot, this points to a deficiency in their work. To return to Mr Adie’s answer:

“Well, I think everybody ought to study their answer and see. Some of the things which were said were perfectly alright, but they have to be taken further. In that respect, there is little difference in anybody’s answer. They all go round about. Time and time again, someone says what they need, and then they state the furthest need, “I need to remember myself”, yes, but alright, then what am I going to do about it? “I am going to try and remember myself.” It’s almost as banal as that. Almost.” He turned to Mrs Adie and asked for her opinion. She agreed, saying:

“I was thinking that there were one or two good ones among them, but most of the answers could have applied to anybody. People have not written about their particular difficulty. But everybody is different in some way: we all have our own subjective weaknesses and ways. They were left too general.”

“Interestingly”, said Mr Adie, “the answers which we had received from people who had only just come were better. At least they saw quite crisply that this was an obstacle. This specific thing. They really felt something about their lack of will, their lack of control. It came out. They felt that this they needed, and that’s why they came to the work.”

“See, we’re in front of a great challenge there. We need the influence of the far off, but we need to experience it, not as a tale that is told but as an actual fact. What is it that stops that, and how could I have that experience more often? Someone would say by remembering their far aim, yes, but how am I going to achieve this increased recollection? Practically no one cited anything that they had got to give up. Almost no one said “I have to sacrifice this”, or that they had to acquire that specific thing in order.”

“This relates to what you’re saying, Basil. How to come to be useful in this situation. One finds people who will say, “you must do this, and try to realise that”, all these wise man responses, very sage, very salutary. I think we don’t realise the necessity of getting down into the same situation. I don’t mean getting down from a condescending point of view, but standing side by side. If there were something wrong with a motor, would I sit in my chair and tell him to go outside and fix it? Or do I sense his need, leave my chair, and have a look with him? Maybe I can’t exactly do that verbally, but if I’ve got it in my feeling, then I could even remain mute and yet share his situation, and that would be much more lasting. If only I could feel myself in relation to him. You refer to your son, I can refer to one of our sons, and there there is great difficulty. From the ordinary point of view it is heartbreaking. But what is shared sometimes is a quality of feeling, and that certainly is an enduring thing.”

“Just a certain little while, shared in a wordless way, even just cooking a meal together, or getting something from the shop, because words never satisfy, they always go the wrong way, while feeling is a more permanent influence. But to have a result … ah, that’s a different matter. We have to settle for the possible, and even to be grateful for that, and to see that the other is beyond our power. But if something is exchanged there, in our presences, then that remains a recollection possible for him. Mmm?”

“One does not know what stage people are at, what point in this enormous long life, they are at. Do you know John Bunyan’s remark, when he saw the fellow led off to the gallows. He wasn’t being mock-humble, he just realised that everybody is exposed to these tremendous forces, and that there was one being led off to the gallows. “There, but for the grace of God go I, John Bunyan.”

“But too often, for us, other people present a bleak prospect, and for us it is unacceptable. Certainly, as you yourself say, acceptance is absolutely essential. That means, really, in practice, in this case, an absence of negative criticism. You don’t have to say, oh yes, it’s alright. You have to be free of blaming – in your feeling. You can realise how ghastly and costly it is. But in your feeling you don’t blame.”

Mr Adie then turned to Paul, who in his report had said that he found a good state but he could not find the words:

“And Paul wrote, certainly from the most sincere place that he could, but still you have to come to an answer, you cannot leave it unanswered, because our work is on this level. Facing that higher state, I am wordless, I cannot know. I am in challenge totally, but if I am going to work, I have to come to some kind of an answer, I have to work to it. So I go forward. Maybe you come to something trite, it doesn’t matter. You cannot remain in that exalted state for long, you return … and then you follow. Try and take it further. Don’t be satisfied with this formulation. I have to work to do. With the benefit of this, whatever it is, I go and find the work.”

Mr Adie then noticed Richard, who had not handed in a report. Why, he asked him, had he not submitted one? Well, Richard replied, he did not think it had to be submitted.

“Nonsense”, retorted Adie. “You fail. Next time you do not come if you do not bring it. You are not entitled to be here, if you are not serious.” After a pause he added: “Somebody speak about work. Let us get away from this dead spot. See what we’re speaking of is the real interest. If nothing is going to change, if we’re not going to get any of these powers, then what is it about? Our understanding is not adequate, therefore we have to work to increase our understanding. So, we’re always lacking, but if we can see our lack and go on, then that is the way of the work.”

I would relate this to what I have earlier blogged about the “romance of the search”. If there is no possibility of finding, the “eternal search” is farcical.

Someone asked about negative attitude, and surprisingly, perhaps, Adie replied: “I don’t think you need to ask about that.” My sense is that Mr Adie thought the person’s difficulty lay elsewhere. “Try and work to make it very practical for you. You, like everybody has, to some extent or other, a real possibility of playing a part in the work of the universe … it’s an enormous concept … but what is a responsible being, a man in life that one could respect for a moment?”

“What is it one respects about that man? He has some stature in humanity. He contributes something. He brings something, he works. In a way, he leaves a mark. It may not last very long, but it isn’t as if he never was.”

“He doesn’t pass like a shadow. He passes like a being with some meaning. But we have no meaning, see, when we have no aim we have no meaning. A person without any meaning is a sort of shadow, just a phantom.”

There was a silence. Even on the tape it sounds like a strong silence in which these powerful words were absorbed. Remember the reference to aim, especially if you attempt the task of the report, and recall what Mrs Adie said on 25 June. It is aim which is the catalyst which raise efforts beyond the meaningless.

Part Three

Eventually, Alwin asked a question: “Mr Adie, there’s many times during the day when I get a reminder, but I simply do not want to make use of it when I could. I might be preoccupied or in a negative state or whatever. I cannot overcome that, even in the smallest instant, and I would like to make some progress.”

“You have to bring yourself to face that time and time again. The need for that. That is practical.”

“But I can only find that in retrospect.” Alwin was fond of an argument, and fond of being at a loss. Often, I find, people would much rather have the attention which comes with having an intractable problem than they would have the solution.

Adie, however, was not to be deflected: “Do it more often and find the wish in retrospect. And then the next time it may be that you get the echo of that wish. But if you only remember it from the point of view of negative failure, you only have the recollection of negative failure. With this attitude, you don’t face it out long enough to really bring your being in contact with it. Because if you do, then when it comes again, your being contact will also come. Surely you can see that?

“Yes, but –”

“Yes, but this is the way. It’s then we can work in our confrontation. That is the preparation. Don’t think we can just change, suddenly become aware and find responses extempore like that. Of course not. We have to make the response, if there is to be one, now. When the time comes, if it has been made, there shall be the response! Which will help me then to hear the message and take some action.” Alwin kept arguing. Adie replied: “Something sees, but you are not there in the right form. But some I keeps reminding you of the work. You say you keep remembering during the day. This is a useful I, if you can connect yourself to it.”

“I have to bring myself and my feeling, and then it gives me a whole different field of work, because I can tell something about my feeling from my manifestations. I can’t make love and cut a throat at the same time – and if I am manifesting negative emotion, or pride, I will not be able to remember what I need. But my wish to respond will bring me to a moment, and then maybe I see these very definite things, and I work.”

Ian now brought a contribution. Ian saw himself not as Adie’s equal but as his superior. He did not even like to say that he had followed Adie’s suggestion. He tried to make it look as if he independently had the same idea. “I tried for myself over the break, to come to something very similar to what you asked.” What he found difficult, he said, especially while he was away by himself, was to overcome the “great inertia” in his thought.

“And a momentum. There is a momentum to our thought.”

Ian pushed on: There were two definite occasions, he said, when he was by himself, when he had a breakthrough, and he wrote some notes down in a restaurant, but now he finds that he cannot bring that feeling he then experienced into his thought.

“But if you read your question while you are present to yourself, surely it gives some kind of connection”, Adie said. “All sorts of different levels co-exist within me, and I remember clearly a level I would glad to be on. I seemed to understand, to have less doubt at that moment. I felt some wonder, not just ignorance. And I would like to be connected with that again, not to have it exactly like that, but to get the influence of that level. This is what you’re talking about, isn’t it?”

Yes, Ian replied, it was.

“I don’t see how you can expect more than that. Then, from that, there can be another experience. It won’t be the same, it doesn’t have to be. It’s a good thing it isn’t. If it was the same it wouldn’t be a birth, it would be a repetition. Every birth is a unique thing, and in a way, a momentary act is a birth, if you like. It is a unique act, every second.”

Adie then addressed the fact that Ian had then been overseas: “When you’re away like that, your possibility of sensing your own reality is greatly enhanced, because you are taken away from many of the customary stimuli: the family is not there, the climate is different, the jobs are different, the timetable is different, and one is helped to bring to oneself one’s own reality. You are operating in a rather different medium, and you have constant impressions of the new medium. I have to decide a little bit more often: even breakfast is different. It always raises different little questions. I can’t even pick my hairbrush up from the same place. All this stimulates my self-awareness in a way. And I have a sense of self-responsibility – maybe very very little, but very useful..”

“What you say is partially true,” allowed Ian.

“I am glad of that,” Adie said softly, and everyone laughed. Everyone but Ian: “I find, in general, there is a great deal of agitation inside.”

“Of course,” replied Adie, “but agitation is real, too. I may be a in a spin, but nevertheless everything is different, it’s calling me in a different way. I notice my perturbation much more. If it’s the same old dreary perturbation, I don’t notice it so much. But I can’t always be away, so how can I make use of that strange fact? Connects at once, doesn’t it, with the idea of making strange essence tasks? Of having something that’s different, something that will intrude a little on my customary automatic routine. How could I do that?”

“You see, to begin with one makes little experiments, one finds one cannot do, and then gives up the ghost. But now after ten or 15 years we should be approaching the point of doing, of inner doing. It then gives point to these small things again. There’s a connection.”

Samuel then asked about his experience at work. He had taken as a line of work his identification with certain matters which gave rise to some rather serious grievances. One of these related to a colleague who had been mistreated, and undergone a complete mental collapse. In both instances, the employer had been deceitful. Yet he planned to be neutral and take no sides. Yet, he said, he had felt very angry, and had “disappeared into it completely.” He was now despondent.

“Yes, but don’t you see,” said Adie, “that you were deeply identified even in the task you choose. Where was your objectivity before you went? There’s an idea to be impartial, but that’s an enormous word, because it doesn’t mean that I cease to care. And if this person is callous and his policies dangerous, then surely you should take a side, at least against such behaviour.”

“That’s true,” said Samuel.

“Impartial does not mean that I cease to care. It does not even mean that I try not to do anything about this awful situation. But my first task is internal. I free myself from righteous indignation. But you choose something where you almost know you can’t do it before you start. So now go on, and try and separate yourself in your representations about it. There was something naive about the preparation. Now you see that it has to be wiser. Try and take a measure. Try and be realistic in it. Give up the dream. The dream can even help me if I listen for one moment, and then remind myself that that’s a dream … of a kind of a higher level. Okay, now I’ve got work to do here.”

“Just the same as you, Paul, you’ve come to that point, which is something. You feel it, the presence of a question you can’t answer. But I have to then come away from that at the right time, and come back to the point of practicality. I cannot continue indefinitely there, otherwise, without my knowing it, still sitting in the Buddha’s seat, I am doing some idiotic thing.”

Now Ian spoke of the “Clear Impressions” exercise. “I saw one thing in the preparation you gave, the new one you gave us, in the second part of it, in particular, where it seemed that it was possible, not continuously, to come back to the state where instead of looking I just received impressions. And, I think it was two mornings ago, I found a sort of seductive element trying to come into this. This is quite enough … well it was interesting to see the thought come, and to see it in that light. I found it difficult to look out but not think about it.”

“In a flash, you’ve lost everything, but in a flash it’s back again, differently. I am glad you’ve had that. Did anyone have this experience, of a fine division of time?” Adie paused. “We think that our measure of understanding is to say “chair” when we see a chair, and “painting” when we see a painting. But can one look at a wall without putting words on it? What can it mean without words? I am in front of a mystery, straight away. But I start looking and it becomes subjective. Why would I have to describe it? How can I hold myself in front of the wonder of everything?”

Someone then brought a similar observation from the exercise, about looking but trying “not to give any thoughts out to it.” Indeed, he said, he had tried to “blank out” all thoughts.

“Could you say how you tried to do your blanking?” asked Adie. “If you do it at all, it’s by a sort of tension, which isn’t good. Let the thoughts do what they like, but don’t have anything to do with them. If you start blanking them out, you become tense and you really increase the thought. You simply get a long tense impression, that’s all. You’re bound to get impressions of everything if your eyes are open. Receive the impression, and be present to that, but don’t resist anything.”

“The point is I wish to experience myself relatively free from thought. That force which usually gets taken in these speculations becomes mine. I need that to reinforce my being-conscious–reality for a moment or two.”

Sarah then mentioned that she had been able, in the exercise, to sit with her eyes open, receiving impressions, “I found that I am able to be in that room, take in the impressions, and the external noises without a reaction. There doesn’t seem to be a shock. I hear it, but I remain stable. It helped me during the day.”

“We have to really try and remember the finer divisions of time, and the very very fine impressions of higher thought. A higher, finer matter which is moving at incredibly faster vibrations than normal. As we begin to tune in to those a little, to receive a fraction from that, we begin to experience a totally different time, with a totally different effect. That’s one of the elusive things. Until one gets to a certain point, one does not understand this and its value, the vast differences between my time and the sun’s time. But here it now begins to become practical. If we really work during this ten or 15 minutes, there is a great amount of time there. But then one can open one’s eyes after 30 minutes and find that nothing has happened.”

Adie then gave instructions for the experience of “a different kind of physical functioning”, something essential to the practical method as he had it from Gurdjieff. After he had given the instructions, he added: “Keep on. Don’t be put off it’s a bit uncomfortable. Use it. Pass a certain point of discomfort. If you get to what you think is the limit, go for another half a minute. I think we’ll stop there.”

In memory.

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Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

March 8, 2008 at 12:26 pm

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