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SUGAR IS AN ESOTERIC ISSUE (revised 28 may 2010

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Sugar is an Esoteric Issue (revised 28 May 2010)

I am absolutely serious. Sugar is an esoteric issue, together with smoking and narcotics. Of course, it is not nearly so dangerous as narcotics, which can make conscious development practically impossible. But I am not sure how it compares to tobacco. That issue is difficult, because, among matters, people who consume tobacco invariably consume sugar, so the respective roles of these poisons in causing disease is tricky. Also, the sugars which are sometimes added to cigarettes make their smoke more cancerous (they increase by up to 60% the amount of formaldehyde in “mainstream” cigarette smoke, i.e. the smoke produced after puffing on a cigarette). Therefore, the effects of sugar and tobacco may operate jointly.


Where is this all coming from? An article I wrote, dealing with sugar and its equivalents from a legal and ethical point of view, has been published in vol. 17 of the Journal of Law and Medicine (May 2010, pp.784-799).

In that article, I contend that there is a crying need for legislative intervention to actually tax sugar, ban sugar products from schools, require full disclosure of sugar content in any food (even in bread), with health warnings on confectionary, and more of the same fanatical measures. You can read the facts about sugar in the late John Yudkin’s readable classic Pure, White and Deadly. My article summarises some of the latest evidence, the vast bulk of which supports his conclusions about the relation between sugar, diabetes and cancer (not to mention dental caries), and some of which shows that sugar is addictive in much the same way that narcotics are.

That is all very well, you may say: but why put this on an esoteric studies web site?

The Esoteric Significance of Sugar

For those who know Gurdjieff’s ideas, let me say first, that sugar disharmonises the tempo of our common-presence, and second, that it damages essence.

Now, let me rephrase that for the non-initiated. Sugar is wreaking havoc on our civilization. It’s just doing it slowly and enjoyably. Gary Taubes, whose work in this area seems to me to be – without hyperbole – magnificent, writes: “Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization.” (The Diet Delusion, n 27, p 454) The italics on “dietary causes” is Taubes’ own.

Over time and in sufficient doses, sugar can do great damage to a person’s body and emotions. That is, it damages essence, the real you, the heirloom with which you are born. Indirectly, sugar will even damage how one’s mind works, because the workings of the mind, body and emotions cannot ultimately be separated (although the organism is very adaptable, and can often reach extraordinary levels of intellectual and emotional functioning despite even near-fatal physical damage). Indirectly, through diabetes and, it seems, other diseases, sugar can even be fatal. And if it does indeed contribute to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, what have we unloosed upon ourselves?

When I say that “over time and in sufficient doses, it can do great damage to a person’s body and emotions”, we must bear in mind that how much time and what doses are sufficient depends upon the person, their conscious control over their organism, their genes, the balance of their diet, the exercise they take, their sleep, their lifestyle, and other factors.

Now for common-tempo. In a talk he gave in Paris, in August 1922, Gurdjieff said that a person’s reception of impressions depends on “the rhythm of the external stimulators of impressions and on the rhythm of the senses”. Right reception, he said, would be possible “only if these rhythms correspond to one another”. In fact, he went so far as to say: “a man can never be a man if he has no right rhythms in himself.” G.I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, pp.82-83.

Briefly, as I understand it, in Beelzebub, especially in the chapter on “Hypnotism”, Gurdjieff teaches that each centre of the organism, and also essence (as a whole) and personality (as a whole) function at different tempos, and that parts of the human organism can mutually communicate only when their tempos stand in a particular relation. At p.1163, Beelzebub says to Hassein that each of the functions which compose our individuality acquires a “harmonious tempo in the common functioning”. In other words, our individuality (the distinctive nature of our being), is made up of various functionings, each of which is formed as a whole (“crystallized” is Gurdjieff’s word) and works at its own tempo in an integrated organism, in harmony with other functions operating at their proper tempos.

One can think of it as being like a car: all the moving parts have their own tempos. The wheels, fan-belt, ignition, battery, all work at different speeds, or more precisely, within different ranges of speed. In fact, they can only perform their proper function without damaging the machine if they remain within their specific speed ranges. If one could arrange all these parts so that they operated at one identical speed, the car would be useless . I am aware I am now speaking of “speed”. Shortly, a speed is absolute: it is measured from zero, but tempo is a relative speed. Tempo is meaningful only as comparing the speeds, rhythms or rates of a particular activity.

Gurdjieff says that we have two established tempos of blood circulation (provisionally taking the tempos as absolute). Each of these tempos is related to a form of consciousness: essence (sub-consciousness), or personality (consciousness). A change in consciousness can cause a change in the tempo of blood circulation, and a change in that tempo can cause a change in consciousness.

Sugar disrupts that tempo to an extent which was not, I believe, contemplated by nature, and which is not under conscious control. Interestingly, anecdotal evidence suggests that if taken naturally (i.e. directly from sugar cane), it is not nearly so noxious, if at all. This makes sense: one researcher says that refined sugar is a “genetically unknown food”. That is, it is not a use but an abuse of nature. Further, you get a load of sugar a lot faster drinking soft drinks than you ever can by chewing on sugar cane. In the right dose, and for some people the right dose is an extremely small one, sugar causes a nervous energy within the body and disrupt emotional equilibrium.

Because sugar is (apparently) the only food which provides energy and no nutrients, there is nothing good to say about it which cannot be said for anything else which makes food more palatable (e.g. cinnamon and vanilla). On the other hand, those foods have positives which sugar does not. The glucose in sugar is oxidised in the cells, and the bloodstream cops the released energy. This is the basis of the “sugar-fix”. And this disrupts the tempo of the body, and the all-important tempo of the blood circulation. In other words, sugar is a food (although I would say it is better understood as a food derivative that is, in itself, a good-substitute), and a poison, which makes it harder for essence to manifest, and easier for personality to manifest.

If you don’t believe me, try and observe carefully what happens inside you when next you ingest confectionary, cake, sweetened biscuits, soft drink or anything else to which you’ve added sugar. You may be surprised to find that what you thought were part and parcel of your natural fluctuations of mood (and, in Gurdjieff’s terms, your “state”), are in fact abnormal but familiar results of sugar ingestion.

Part of the “esoteric danger” is this: because we do not think of sugar as a slow-working poison (albeit of low toxicity in small and irregular doses), but as a food and only as a food, it hardly enters our heads to think of its effects as being unnatural. We are far more likely to attribute its psychic effects to other causes.

Also, we are so used to sugar that we tend to accept our unnaturally sweetened state (to coin a phrase which is meant only half-humorously) as neutral, or even as positive. We take so much sugar, and we see so many people who take it, that we don’t know how jumped up we are.

There is more. I could do a social analysis and say that we live in a “sugar-coated” society. And I believe we do: but that is another area. I sometimes wonder if sugar is not one of those things like tea, coffee, hops and opium, which, as Gurdjieff said, have a complete enneagram within themselves. For what it’s worth, I think that mint and garlic may be other such plants, but of course benign ones. But for now, I just want to raise this issue.

Gurdjieff, Sugar and the Tempo Paradox

There are two related objections to consider: the first is, but didn’t Gurdjieff use sugar? And, considering the different tempos used in the movements and sacred dances, surely Gurdjieff didn’t try and impose one tempo on us? So if we can changing tempos is not noxious there, why should it be different if we change tempos by taking food?

The answer to the first question is simple: yes, Gurdjieff seems to have loved sugar, and was even known as “Monsieur Bon-Bon” because of his lavish distribution of confectionary. But Gurdjieff didn’t know everything. His being was beyond ours to an extent which makes comparison pointless, but he wasn’t omniscient. He still had to find out where the shops were, and learn the English language. He had to learn: in fact, he spoke to the Adies about one particular thing he had learned (as I shall mention in the forthcoming book on Helen Adie, where I can provide the context to do justice to the issue). As with sugar, I doubt that Gurdjieff would have used tobacco so much, or allowed people to smoke as they did, had he understood the dangers, especially the risks of passive inhalation where people who do not smoke suffer from others’ indulgence.

In respect of the second question, the first point is that it is striking that what I might call the sacred dances do seem to be slower than the other movements. I am thinking of “The Big Prayer”, “The Camel Dervish”, and of those which form the esoteric series within his last series of movements. But you could contradict me on that, and I would be unconcerned. There is something deeper than all this.

And this is it: first, disrupting our standard tempos is analagous to disrupting our standard roles. Gurdjieff said that man “has a role for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life; but put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role and for a short time he becomes himself.” At p.239 of Miraculous, the phrase “for a short time he becomes himself” is italicised. I think something similar happens with tempo. Is it going too far to say that each person ““has a common-tempo for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life; but put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable tempo and for a short time he becomes himself”? This would be the purpose of movements. It is done there relatively consciously. But the same thing could not be said for eating confectionaries and cakes.

The second point is that although I have been studying tempo for a while now, I have only very recently started to think that the key to the awakening of essence is the ratio of tempos. Of course, the corresponding ratios should fall into place mor easily while one is quiet. This is why the preparations and exercises Gurdjieff bought are so important. Through these, he taught how to raise certain organic tempos to consciousness. But this was taught so that the state attained could be an influence in daily life, and the results crystallized in us. As Mr Adie used to say, it’s like learning to row a boat. You start off in calm waters, but one day, with sufficient practice, you might be able to manage in rough water.

Now, in so far as the movements have to do with changing the tempo of our organism, the aim is that we remain conscious whatever the tempo and how it changes: or so I tend to think. In terms of what I have said above, it is consciousness and the ratio of tempos which are critical. The quicker my body must work in the movements, the finer the work of the mind and feelings which is demanded. A different kind of consciousness, both active and passive, is called for to take the movements and the monitor what results.

I have made this as clear as I can, but of course I cannot disclose on the net the actual methods used in the preparation and exercises. Without that disclosure there will always be an irreducible margin of vagueness. So, perhaps these comments can help: a certain physical tempo is necessary only as an aid. Essence is not a slow tempo, or any tempo at all. Essence is in feeling (real feeling, and not the emotions). Feeling centre works faster than any of the centres but for sex and the two higher centres.

When essence appears through feeling, it can handle any speeds. Once we have awakened, we can manifest. But for man number 1, 2, and 3, there is a long work required to understand, by inner-sensation, the appropriate range of physical tempos and how to bring them within their proper ranges and mutual ratio.

And I will add one last comment which I shall expand on in future writings: we can, in my opinion, only work on bodies. But if this is right, then we’d better look after them.


I began by speaking about sugar. I said that in addition to the physical illnesses it contributes to, it damages essence and disharmonises the tempos of our common presence. I am recommending that anyone engaged in a spiritual quest has a spiritual reason to give up sugar altogether, and a responsibility not to facilitate its use (indeed, I feel a duty to actively discourage it).

Yet, I know from experience that it is very difficult for us to logically confront such matters. Neither do I think it’s only an issue of how I raise it with people, although that is not always guaranteed to help.

I would ask you read Yudkin and Taubes, and look at the evidence. If you can get the Journal of Law and Medicine, read my article. Then consider whether sugar is not, as I suggest, an “esoteric issue”.

And if you think it is, what prevents you acting on your knowledge?

Is this an area where the ‘I’ that knows is not the ‘I’ which is present when we come to eat?

28 May 2010

p.s. For regular updates on the science of sugar and related problems, check out the website “Raisin Hell”, maintained by David Gillespie. I must disclose that I have struck up a sort of friendship with David (who is also an Australian and a lawyer). But the friendship is a result of our reading the other’s work. We’re friends because we agree on these important issues, rather than agreeing because of friendship. You could also read his book Sweet Poison (Penguin Books). To find the web site, enter his name, or “Raisin Hell” and the words “Does saturated fat really cause heart disease?” into a search engine.


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