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February 2010 Edition of Journey to Essence

Escape From the Prison of Yourself

I am deeply indebted to many individuals whose insights have shed light on so many of the Fourth Way Teachings, and whose writings are leading me out of the prison of "myself".  Of course, teachers like G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, Maurice Nicoll, J. G. Bennett, and Kenneth Walker, to name few, all of whom have passed on from this life, but also to those teachers still among us, such as Tim Cook, James Parkinson and Theodore Nottingham, who remain faithful to the original Gurdjieff Teachings.  This month's issue of Journey to Essence is dedicated to these "living masters" whose understanding of the Fourth Way Teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff has been nothing short of illuminating in my efforts to raise my consciousness to higher and more enjoyable levels of existence.

In addition to sharing some personal reflections on my own Journey to Essence, I have included some thoughts that came to me after watching the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" titled "Escape from the Prison of Oneself," a remarkable piece of writing by Theodore Nottingham called, "The Watch of the Heart", and a short article, "Thoughts on the Inner Life," by James Parkinson which I hope will provide you with a deeper and more complete understanding of the innumerable treasures contained in the Fourth Way Teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff.

Personal Reflections by J. I. Meyers

"Do the best that you can from your understanding in the present.  Any time spent thinking of past regrets or future fears leaves no room for God's inspiration to reach your mind, wisdom from above which is always present in every moment."

I have been traveling this Journey to Essence pretty much on my own (don't we all), often stumbling through very unfamiliar psychological territory.  Having visited countless churches over the years, I have been exposed to volumes of information about "personal transformation" and the "worlds of spirit", but found nothing that could offer me the kind of help I needed to lead me out of my confusion and sense of meaninglessness about life with its darkness, wars, and inhumanity to man.  That is, until I was introduced to the Fourth Way Teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, "The Work" as it is called.

Early on in my studies of the Fourth Way Teachings, I came across a description that brought to light the true nature of my predicament. Maurice Nicoll, in his five-volume work called Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky states: "This work is beautiful when you see why it exists and what it means. It is about liberation. It is as if locked for years in a prison, you see a stranger entering who offers you a key. But you may refuse it because you have acquired prison-habits and have forgotten your origin, which is from the stars."

By giving serious attention to the "Work-ideas" over a lengthy period of time, I came to realize that my own "prison habits" would continue to block any chance I had of breaking out of my self-made prison without the aid of someone who had already escaped.  Due to my deep "sleep", I was simply unable and unwilling to face the truth about my "self", and the true cause of my suffering.  The experience of living in this "prison" called "myself", and finding myself again and again returning to the company of so many negative psychological and emotional states became so intolerable that I finally decided to get serious about ending my existential angst, anger and frustration.

It was only then that I understood that "myself", that is, the "self" I imagined "myself" to be, was completely unconscious of the fantastic and illusory nature of its own existence.  I then began to apply some of the "Work-ideas to "myself", to struggle to become aware, to "awaken" to the many wrong thinking habits I had acquired about my "self" and the world in which I lived through the conditioning of life.  I had finally come to the realization that I was "lost", locked away in a prison filled with illusionand that this prison was "myself"!  The pressing question of my life became, "If myself was, in fact, an illusion, how was I going to escape?"

Escape from the Prison of Oneself

"The Work is a series of stages in the understanding of it.  If it does not penetrate, it remains words on the surface.  Then you argue about everything.  But its ideas are spermatic, that is, capable of penetrating and fertilizing the mind and feeling, otherwise it would not be the Work—real teaching.  It corresponds to something we have forgotten, something waiting in us, something to which we have gone to sleep long ago, something covered over by continual life.  That is why this ancient teaching can awaken us."

– Maurice Nicoll –

If you saw the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption", you'll remember when Andy (Tim Robbins) finally made his difficult journey through that sewer pipe and came out the other end into the stream, where in the pouring rain he raised him arms to the heavens while experiencing the liberating emotions of his hard fought for freedom.  What a beautiful movie, especially if one views Andy's story as that of any individual's struggle to achieve inner spiritual freedom—maybe even your own.

The "outer" story of Andy's incarceration, that is, all the trouble he experienced with being wrongly accused and all the struggles with other prisoners, like the ones who raped him repeatedly, can be taken to represent the "inner" psychological and emotional struggles we all experience from time to time.  Andy's relentless inner urge for freedom, and his struggles with other prisoners, the prison guard and the warden, when understood on a psychological level, can be seen to represent all those thoughts and feelings within ourselves that keep us locked in our own prisons of "spiritual bondage."  None of Andy's struggles where enough to hold him back from his escape to freedom.  And, if you remember, Andy's struggles were a lot of WORK, taking him nearly 20 years to tunnel out of prison.

The Shawshank Redemption is such a wonderful analogy of man's inner spiritual struggle and journey towards freedomand it does take WORKa lot of psychological work.  G. I. Gurdjieff's Fourth Way Teachings, especially the way Maurice Nicoll presents them in Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, offered me some very specific things to observe and struggle against in myself.  By applying "The Work" to myself I have experienced a sense of inner freedom that can only be described as liberating, and that is why I love to share these teachings with others.

The Watch of the Heart by Theodore Nottingham

The following is a presentation on the ancient spiritual teaching from early Christianity.  This method of self-awareness is highly effective and contemporary in its insight into the human psyche.  This material is a lost compass from the source of Christian spirituality."

"I want to talk to you today about some of these inner teachings of Christianity which remain so unknown to the general population, these teachings that were preserved in monasteries and which were often instructions to monks on "inner warfare", internal self-awareness, on ascetical efforts, and efforts of spiritual discipline for their development and awakening to spiritual reality."

"These teachings were never meant to be for the few or for "specially called out" people, or for people with a particular vocation.  These teachings are for all people, and this science of spiritual development is one that is available to humanity, not merely to those who have special access to this material.  The split between the East and the West in 1054, that is, between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, in many ways cut those of us in the West off from these profound wisdom treasures which are still as valid today as they were in the 4th, 6th and 10th centuries."

"Let's take a look at one of these marvelous gifts to humanity that have come down, so hidden, though they were not meant to be.  One of them is known as the "The Watch of the Heart".  The Desert Fathers of Christianity used this approach as a central method to help people unify themselves around the consciousness of the Divine.  The Watch of The Heart translates as "self-observation", that is, observation of what is actually taking place within one's psychological and emotional life.  This is to say, that instead of taking for granted every thought and emotion that comes to us, and calling it "I", letting them, so to speak, "take over" in the present moment and which cause all sorts of random havoc, we become not only aware but discerning to this activity within our minds and emotions.  For instance, if thoughts enter that have dark qualities, that is, negative and violent energy, instead of identifying with them, we consciously resist them."

"There is a graphic and rather crude expression of this methodology to be found in ancient writings which is: when we see the snake coming in through the hole under the door, when the thought is about to enter your heart and take you over, and cause you to act out, you must cut off the head of the snake.  This forceful teaching understood very clearly that if we allow any emotion or thought to come in unguarded, shall we say, and enter our minds and hearts, we "ascent" to it, as the early Fathers would say, we "agree" with it, accept it, receive it—only to become captives of it.  So, when the suggestion which initially appears to us is accented to, we become captive to it and we act out its wrongful expression.  The Desert Fathers perceived that what happens to you and me today is a fundamentally human, universal phenomena; something comes into our mind, we mull it over, we let it enter into our heart, we bond with it, and then we become the thought or emotion."

"Most of you know that we often and suddenly hear a piece of music in our heads out of nowhere, and we can't even trace where it came from, it's just stuck there.  The same is true with many thoughts and emotions. Sometimes we pick them up from the environment.  Think of how you feel after watching a violent horror movie.  Those negative elements of fear, violence, tension or anguish fill us, and we need to be cleansed from them.  So this teaching is very much a contemporary recognition of the human condition—of our condition.  And the fact is, Jesus said it loud and clear, that we must "cleanse the inside of the cup", meaning cleanse our inner life, our psychological life, our spiritual life.  We cannot go around with heavy, negative thoughts and think that we are going to progress anywhere in the spiritual life, or please God in any way."

"We certainly can't call ourselves 'religious people' when we live in these lower states of consciousness, acting out in "any old way" from the darkest parts of ourselves.  This psychological work, from the true Christian perspective is "spiritual warfare", that is, the battle to lift ourselves out of anything that drags us down, thoughts and emotions which seem constantly to try and drag us down.  In many ways, the world around us, our culture for example, seems to actively and aggressively seek to drag us into the lowest centers of our being.  It is up to each of us to use our free will to not go that way, but to go another way, to take the "Royal Road" and go the way of love instead of the way of judgment, which only leads to violence.  We are not speaking merely of morality; we are talking about the purification of the heart.  Purification is a key spiritual concept that we find down through the ages, and it begins with the simple practice of "inner attention", of developing some kind of self-awareness and self-control that allows us to not be victimized continuously by whatever is going on around us."

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could control yourself in such a way that throughout the day you remained consistent, constant in your state of mind in what it is you would like to be, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, or anything that could contribute to the chaos that takes place within our minds and emotions?  For example, something as simple as having to wait in line at a grocery store and causing one to become inpatient, and stimulating the adrenal glands and all that which generates a state of mind that is far removed from Spirit.  This is a daily "work effort", and the great genius of the early teachers of Christianity was that they combined this moment-to-moment inner attention with prayer.  Attention and prayer became one, so that in every moment we are conscious of the presence of God.  We are in tune and in touch, invoking and enabling Spirit to work in our lives.  This is, as Jesus said, "a pearl of great price" and truly a legacy for all people who seek that higher life which gives meaning and purpose to all that we are and to all that we do, and which enables us to consciously bring the "invisible" into the visible realm of reality, to become part of God's mission of loving the world as our only true purpose, which gives abundant meaning and joy to our existence."

"May you be self-aware and attentive in discerning, freeing yourself from anything that would hold you captive and pull you down into the darkness of any negative thought or emotion.  There is help.  You can find it if you honestly and with right motivation seek to live this discipline out.  Through the practice of uncritical self-observation, this "watching of the heart", you will find your way to "The Way", to the "Royal Road", to the Way of Christ, the way of self-surrender, the way of consciousness of God, and become aware of the presence of God in every moment.  May you find this great gift to humanity, this revelation of truth and wisdom."

Thoughts on the Inner Life by James Parkinson

"Who can blame people for toughening up to survive this harrowing experience we call life?  Since I've used the word harrowing to define life, it's only fair that I expand on it a little.  A harrow is an implement consisting of a heavy frame set with teeth or tines that is dragged over plowed land to break up clods, remove weeds, and cover seed.  The heart is like a field that has been left to the elements without being plowed or harrowed.  The heart becomes hard with misuse or lack of use, and it must be prepared to receive new seed, new meaning so that it may produce an abundance of good fruit."

"The intellect isn't going to stand still for a thorough heart harrowing because it entails suffering and no suffering is a good idea to the intellect, unless it is the suffering of someone else, someone who deserves it.  We don't have much willingness when it comes to suffering.  Even if we have some willingness, it's still hard to hold still for it.  It's a good thing a field can't move to get away from the plow and harrow.  We'd never get a crop if that were the case.  I suppose we must all be rendered somewhat immovable to be properly harrowed.  Life is up to the task.  How we take it will make the difference.  Learning how to suffer rightly will certainly take more time than we wish.  I've read somewhere that we don't have to suffer.  It's a lovely idea but I find that at my current level of misunderstanding it is not true for me.  The best I'm able to reach right now is to try to hold still when the harrow passes, remembering that it is passing no matter how slowly I think that may be.  If one hurries harrowing it insures an extra pass or two of the harrow.  I would like my field to be able to receive good seed and produce abundant fruit.  The better the field, the better seed we are willing to sow in it."  Find out more about James Parkinson at

The Heart and Soul of Maurice Nicoll

I invite you to click on The Mark to experience the tender heart and soul of Maurice Nicoll.  Simply scroll down the page until you see the YouTube video titled "The Mark".

"There is something in us eternally young that can understand beyond the visible world, beyond phenomenal reality.  But this one thing in us, eternally young, is lost to us in the world of objects and the external things of the senses, and using the logic of the senses, wastes itself in useless speculation which are without meaning for it."

– Maurice Nicoll –

New Perspectives

"Go out one clear starlit night to some open space and look up at the sky, at those millions of worlds over your head. Look at the Milky Way.  For a man who wishes to wholly be himself one day, the search for the truth of what he is becomes the most urgent necessity."

– G. I. Gurdjieff –

Antidote to Man's Missing the Mark of His High Calling

I recently added a short video to the website, narrated by Carl Sagan, which I have re-titled "Antidote to Man's Missing the Mark of His High Calling".  This beautiful video will give you a new perspective on man's place in the universe, and the importance of humanity heading Carl Sagan's timeless message, "to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the earth."

Quote of the Month

"Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will.
Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being."

– Mohandas K. Gandhi –

If you have any comments or questions please click for e-mail address.  I trust that your journey through the website will lead you back to your essence...back to your 'Real I'.

Know Thyself,

Jeff Meyers

The beginning of spiritual transformation is to observe your own psychology in action.

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