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June 2010 Edition of Journey to Essence

Are We Awake?

G. I. Gurdjieff maintained that if a man's consciousness is not awakened his existence is as if living in a suspended state of "hypnotic sleep".  To prove his point, Gurdjieff presents us with a very convincing argument: "How could it be possible for fully conscious people to kill each other during the last World War to achieve some trivial and illusive aims? Only asleep people would be able to do it." 

"How can we prove to ourselves at any given moment that we are not asleep and dreaming?  Life circumstances are sometimes as fantastic as dream circumstances and change with the same rapidity.  What if we should wake up and find that our waking life is a dream, and that our present sleep and dreams merely dreams within a dream?"  These questions and more are addressed by A. R. Orage in "Are We Awake?"

Personal Reflections

Below is my response to an e-mail I recently received from a GurdjieffWork.com visitor who gave me permission to share our communications for the benefit of others who may be struggling with similar questions.

Jeff,

I have long since given up on finding any real teaching in today's world, and have felt alone in my perspective on life.  I hope to find others and hopefully the inspiration to redefine my direction.

As I reread my e-mail, I don't think my thoughts are very well expressed.  At the moment, I am feeling more lost than I ever have in my life.  My biggest personal enemy from psychological growth has been loneliness, but I have never found a partner, or anyone for that matter, who values or even recognizes the possibility of an inner change of being.  The world of things always seems to be most important.

Last night I wrote you a letter in my mind trying to narrate my path, my influences, my fear of maybe being too suggestible, and my current state of mind being a product of influences that are different from the norm—that the rest of world is 'normal' and it's just me who is messed up.  But, as I am reading Nicoll's "The New Man" again, I realize that only writings of this nature give me an un-namable inner feeling of being true or real.

If you are available for a brief head shrinking session I sure would appreciate it.

Steve

Dear Steve,

In response to your comment regarding having "given up on finding any real teaching in today's world," I'm wondering how you would know when you found such teachings, and what expectations, if any, you might have about what "real teaching" is?  Would these so-called "real teachings" make you feel better, lessen your loneliness and fear?  This may be a question for exploration with others and a qualified teacher once you settle in with a Gurdjieff Study Group in your area.

As far as giving up your search completely, that option may prove to be even more painful and confusing than your present circumstances.  As much as I would like, at some point on my search, to experience a perpetual state of no doubt, no anxiety and no pain, I suspect this is an unrealistic expectation on my part, or anyone else's for that matter.

From my perspective, what the world has to offer, that is, in terms of traditional societal values surrounding success, failure, ultimate meaning, 'God', etc., is very limited and narrow.  Like you, I have experienced higher and lower states within myself.  The ongoing struggle for me is to simply ride out the lows, and make efforts to remain detached from my thoughts and emotions, knowing that the "storms" will clear sooner or later, and to keep searching for that "peace that passes all understanding."

Ultimately, as individual persons, we are all alone on this journey of life, and desperately alone if the higher dimensions of consciousness never enter our awareness.  However, as I have discovered, surrounding myself with other seekers, active participation in a spiritual community, and having a few faithful and caring friends that I trust enough to open my heart to without pretense or hiding my true feelings, keeps the door of opportunity open to finding the answers I seek as well as new possibilities of being and expression.  When, as you say, "I have felt alone in my perspective on life", are you implying that were you to find others in agreement with your perspective that you would feel less alone, less afraid?  What if your perspective, whatever it is and I am casting no judgment here, was not based on real teachings?  What if your perspective was unrealistic, based in imagination or, in the worst case scenario, based on false teachings and beliefs, or an incorrect understanding of yourself?

Well, I for one am not grading you on how you express yourself.  It is what it is.  Where did that inner judging 'I' come from, the one that compares how you express yourself with others?  I think there is great value in examining how we communicate, and that we carefully choose our words when communicating our thoughts to others.  The Work advises that we not 'identify' with our thoughts and emotions, that is, not let them take control of our being, not act them out (especially the negative ones), not believe in them, and not become entangled in them.  Our thoughts and emotions, if we do not separate from them, detach from them, can take us into some very dark and dangerous — even life-threatening — territory.

When experiencing those psychological and emotional "storms", you may receive relief if you focus your attention on something outside of yourself, for example, reading a book, doing some physical work, or doing something with your hands that requires thoughtful attention to the task at hand.  Ultimately, and this is what the Work teaches, we must separate from those thoughts and emotions by dividing our attention into two parts, an 'observing' side and an 'observed' side, where the observer dispassionately and without criticism observes one's thoughts and emotions from a distance, observes what you refer to as your "loneliness" and your "fears", that is, observe those thought structures and taste the emotional "flavor" that make up those toxic feelings.

The very act of stepping back and observing oneself — as if watching another person from a distance — can lessen the force and energy of these wayward thoughts and feelings, thus providing some immediate relief of your negative feelings.  I do not ask that you accept what I am saying at face value, but rather try to understand the foregoing, and more importantly, make conscious efforts to practice the discipline of self-observation thus being able to verify for yourself the truth of what has just been stated.

I question whether, as you say, "finding a partner, or anyone for that matter, who values or even recognizes the possibility of an inner change of being", is of any benefit whatsoever?  Ultimately, your happiness and contentment will have to come from within you.  Your happiness cannot sustain itself if you are seeking the company of others who fall into some pattern of thinking or behavior aligned with your expectations.  I dare say that you may simply have not yet found those individuals — and there are many — who recognize the possibility and value of inner change.  The question is, do you recognize the value and possibility of inner change within yourself?  Once realized, you cannot be negatively affected by what others think, say or do.

I have heard many testify to the value of journaling however if one is caught in the web of one's own thinking, that is, thinking that is not based on the knowledge and understanding that can lead one to inner freedom, then one will remain, as you say, "lost", within yourself.  The only way out is to keep searching until you find that truth that can set you free from yourself, free from your false ideas about yourself.  I am convinced that the Gurdjieff Work and the Gospel Teachings can lead a man to that inner freedom.  It is not easy and it takes tremendous commitment and dedication to continue the struggle with oneself.

It seems to me that we are all very suggestible, that our state of mind at any given moment is the product of many "influences".  What I am typing at this very moment is the product of influences, but influences of a different kind, a different energy and force.  Obviously, my comments are influenced by the thoughts of Gurdjieff and Nicoll.  If, as you say, "writings like The New Man give me an un-namable inner feeling of being true or real", then who, or as the Work would have you observe, what 'I' is speaking in the first part of your e-mail where you say that you have "long since given up on finding any real teaching in today's world"?  The key to your happiness and the ending of loneliness and fear lies in identifying with, going with, believing in the 'I' in your e-mail that thinks, "writings like The New Man give me an un-namable inner feeling of being true or real."  Do you recognize the two 'I's here?  When you identify with the 'I' that thinks, "have long since given up on finding any real teaching in today's world", you can be assured that you will become lost, lonely, and afraid.  However, when you are conscious of yourself, that is, when in a state of self-observation, when not identified with, when separated from your negative 'I's, you create a space from which you can choose what 'I' you will go with, which state you will identify with.  These two 'I's speak independently and are not aware of each other's existence.  Do you see?

If, as you say, there is no real teaching offered by the world and its values, why not simply stop looking for it there, and instead focus on the kind of real teaching available in Nicoll's books such as "The New Man", or "The Mark", or "Simple Explanation of Work Ideas" and "Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky"?  Immersing yourself with others who are practicing the disciplines of the Work and making efforts to internalize and act from the knowledge contained in the foregoing titles may provide you with the help and inspiration you need, as you say, to "redefine your direction."  Learning to observe your different 'I's is the key.  At some point you will be able to recognize the voice of what the Work calls 'Real I', the voice of higher consciousness.  When you become attentive to this voice it will, like a traveler's compass, lead you to the realization of that truth which you seek—a truth which is also seeking you.

Was this the kind of "head shrinking session" you had in mind?

Jeff

The Heart & Soul of Maurice Nicoll

"The object of esotericism is to connect man with the will of God."

Maurice Nicoll

In The New Man: An Interpretation of Some Parables and Miracles in the Bible, Maurice Nicoll examines the idea of 'sin' which, in the original Greek, meant 'missing the mark', as in a spear thrown at some object and failing to hit its target.  Subjects dealt with include the "Parable of the Sower", the "Grain of Mustard Seed", "Metanoia", "War in Heaven" and "Esoteric Schools".

In The Mark: Further Elucidation of the Themes Explored in the New Man, Nicoll examines the New Testament Gospels to reveal the esoteric teaching beneath their surface interpretation.  Subjects include the idea of "Temptation", the "Marriage at Cana", the "Good Samaritan", "Laborers in the Vineyard", "Judas Iscariot", the "Sermon on the Mount", "Necessity of Prayer", and the "Kingdom of Heaven".

Quote of the Month

"Will you never perceive what you are, or for what you were born,
or for what purpose you are admitted to behold this spectacle?"

Epictetus

If you have any comments or questions please Click for Email Address.  I trust that your journey through the GurdjieffWork.com 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 our own psychology in action.

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