Friday, April 13, 2012

A Glancing Blow from Gurdjieff, Part One

Gurdjieff, philosopher, spiritual leader, mystic, is and remains for me a mystery. I have read some of his works, some of what others have said about him, and I am pretty much as confused as when I started. However, some of it may have been seeping into my pores without my realizing it. As with many other things in life, I’m just going to see where my own experience guides me. 

This post and the following one concern a journal entry I recently stumbled across that is astonishingly pertinent right now, as I move toward a different level of understanding about my life and my relationship with horses. The journal entry I’m talking about is from many years ago—how slowly we stumble along the path toward wisdom!—at a time when I was struggling with a deeply disturbing relationship.

I was also reading works by and about Gurdjieff. No, I’m not going to say anything about that man and his philosophy—greater minds than I have attempted it. Nevertheless, I was reading and feeling into his teachings.

In a waking dream a month or two before the encounter described below, I experienced a “visitation”:

An intense little Russian (?) man wants me to understand that “the process can’t really be controlled”—we just provide the circumstances, which evidently I have done or am doing, and then the development moves forward on its own. I assume that he’s referring to the process of “waking up” that Gurdjieff talks about. This fellow was VERY intense and didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor about this stuff.

Some months later, my Guide and I talked one night about the relationship I was embroiled in. I told her I had begun to be able to see patterns in almost everything in my life. She suggested that I practice using my eyes (metaphorically as well as literally) and my brain at the same time, in order to understand more clearly. She said, “The training wheels have come off.” I didn’t know what that meant. Here are my notes about that encounter:

I’m trying to understand my feeling—or, more accurately, the reasons for those feelings, the reasons for the intensity. I am so aware of the game, and that I play it in spite of what I might actually feel, deep inside—I think maybe, even in this case, it’s against what I feel at some level. It’s certainly against the best interests of everyone concerned.

My Guide talked about “ripples”—the effects of my actions, for good or ill, on others. She says I have been trying to ignore them, to not see them, though I know they’re there. Her words were so uncomfortable to me that finally I just couldn’t take it, and broke the connection.

I’m still as stuck as ever, and the only way I can see out of this is to change the way I think and feel—to really look at the ugly old patterns in my psyche that keep me tied to those behaviors. Only if those patterns, those games, start looking hideous enough that they lose their appeal can I hope to break loose. As things stand, no matter my Guide’s dire—and very real—warnings, no matter the consequences to anyone, or even to my self-respect, I doubt I’ll be able to do more than I’m currently doing. I risk losing EVERYTHING. And still I persist.

But I want to change that. I want to move forward. I want to change the way I think about things, the way I feel about things, and I suspect that the way to do that is by examining the games and the beliefs that underlie them.

In the end, before I left the “conversation,” my Guide proposed that I give myself a test—to look at the “ripples” and give this relationship up because of them. That’s a test that I know I will fail, at this point, unless I can manage to learn to see and feel differently. As things stand, with the resources I have at hand in this moment, I don’t have either the strength or the will to quit.

I have to find another way, because no amount of badgering from the Guides is going to help here. I need to figure this out somehow, and probably on my own.

At the time that incident took place, I was reading Ladies of the Rope, a book describing a group of women studying with Gurdjieff in the early part of the 20th century. I read this passage the very next morning:

Jane told Georgette that by attempting to put her life into words [as Gurdjieff insisted], she had objectified what had heretofore been unexamined. What had been said was no longer buried, could no longer be dismissed. By her truthfulness she had made the past—her past—come alive. She had brought it into the present, made it active and real. With it came a vulnerability, a certain chaos, a feeling of being adrift at sea, alone and unprotected—what she had been avoiding all along because of the suffering it caused. And so her psychological structure, with all its defenses and buffers, had been shaken and had begun to break down. She no longer could calm herself with the idea that she knew. Now, she could be spoken to. (pp. 12-13)

Jane explains that love doesn’t exist as a thing indivisible, but rather, according to Gurdjieff, as a function of one or more of the physical, emotional, and conscious centers.
Usually, one is instinctively in love, emotionally in love, or mentally in love. This love is fragmented, personal, and subjective. It is the “love” of one center, not the love of three centers. Hence, it is not whole, impersonal, objective. (pp. 12-13)
The fragmented nature of “being in love” that she describes rings true. I knew, even at the time, that the relationship in which I was entangled appealed to, supported, and nourished only a part of me—and that part wasn’t who I really am.

Later in the book, Gurdjieff is quoted as talking about “Idiots” (Greek root meaning “I make my own”) of various levels.

[O]nly in the recognition of one’s nothingness could there be the development toward consciousness and conscience. Otherwise, all forward movement was certain to be stopped by a “wrong crystallization”: that is, a fusion of a particular level of consciousness on the basis of false personality. If such a crystallization is not dissolved before a given Idiot is reached, it may become insurmountable. This is because this very defect, or defects, was a definite factor in the original ascent. Interestingly, the limitation of a wrong crystallization is not realized until the results that such a crystallization produces have been observed.

Only through work on oneself—the correct remembering and observing of oneself—does one automatically descend to Ordinary Idiot. Once the level of Ordinary Idiot has been recognized and reached, the ascension is also automatic. Every two or three years a new Idiot is reached. . . . (p. 52)

The part about the Idiots also makes sense. This is what I was trying to do—to get back to the me who existed—and exists, in the timeless realm—before the “wrong crystallization” happened. And—here’s another thing that gave  me chills—what my Guide had insisted on in our conversation was right there on these pages that I read the very next morning: only by observing the results that the wrong crystallization produces can the damage be undone. Wow. This was pretty spooky, even for me.

The journal entry continues:

Things are indeed shifting under my feet. This is surely the “vulnerability, a certain chaos, a feeling of being adrift at sea, alone and unprotected—what [I had] been avoiding all along because of the suffering” it causes. So it’s no wonder I feel like my “psychological structure, with all its defenses and buffers, [has] been shaken and [has] begun to break down”. Like Georgette here, I can no longer sustain myself by thinking that I know and understand what’s going on. Nothing is that certain any more—only that I don’t know.

But one thing about me, I do have courage. And I will look at things. In one way I was right: I can change nothing at all about my behavior until I change the way I view it, or maybe better put, change the angle from which I view it. It has to look and feel different to me in a fundamental way before I can act in any way other than the way the old patterns, the wrong crystallizations, demand. What I didn’t realize at the time was why my Guide kept insisting that I needed to look at the effects, at the ripples. Wow.

I can only hope that I have begun the process that the little Russian man told me about….

[Part Two,  when I've figured it out, will be linked here.]

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