The Gurdjieff Journal—Fourth Way Perspectives

Working in the World
The Collective Interval


We live in an interval, a great collective interval. All the forms are cracking. Everything is loose, blurred, uncertain.

"There are periods in the life of humanity," says Gurdjieff, "which generally coincide with the beginning of the fall of cultures and civilizations, when men irretrievably lose their reason ... Such periods of mass madness, often coinciding with geological cataclysms, climatic changes, and similar phenomena of a planetary character, release a very great quantity of the matter of knowledge."

Everywhere, as René Guénon, author of The Reign of Quantity: Signs of the Times, foresaw, there is a "reversal of values," the aberrant legitimizing itself. And everywhere "solidification." Everywhere Heropass, time, appearing to dominate the human experience of Space: physical, psychic and spiritual.

Heropass—what Gurdjieff called "the unique subjective"—is seen as "money." Every action is tied to the efficient making of money. Heropass is money. So seen, it becomes one of the bastard gods of the day. The other bastard god of the day is Scientism, the worship of Science and Technology. These two gods order our life, plunder our resources, suck out our energy in the name of "The Information Age," a low-born age that covets not wisdom, or even knowledge, but time-bound information. "Information is power," "Greed is good," shouts Das Man, Martin Heidegger's mechanical "they-self."

But this horizontal world-time, however each of us may describe it, is recognized. The question remains: how to work in the collective interval?

Imagine what it was like for Thomas de Hartmann to have dinner in Essentuki with Gurdjieff, he spending all of his student's last 500 rubles on a feast, while the dark hooves of Soviet anarchy thundered on the steppes. Were we in de Hartmann's chair—would we really listen as Gurdjieff explained the difference between mechanical and objective faith?

If it is difficult to work during stable periods, how much more so during uncertain periods? But given the release of the "matter of knowledge," now is the most potent time to work. But we must work with real faith, not blind faith, as Gurdjieff told de Hartmann in Essentuki, but faith that is the knowledge of feeling.

Balancing the world of our "outer life," that of our ordinary life in the world, with our "inner life" requires a lucidity and deft sensitivity that only presence can give. So little does the web of our outer life of family-relationships-job conform to our inner that often we live with a sense of compromise, resignation; and if we have touched that "something else" that Gurdjieff speaks of, perhaps even a sense of self-betrayal. We self-calm with dreams of changing jobs, changing relationships, getting a new start in life. Just as dreaming postpones our effort to live in the present, so too does acting from these dreams. We only change webs. Though the look may alter, the intrinsic pattern will be the same. We can only seemingly put off the facing of our reality—who we are and what we are in the outer world.

A former alcoholic told of a life of binges, broken bones and broken homes until he realized who he was. A successful salesman despite himself, he was sobering up in a drunk tank, thinking to himself what a bunch of bums and low life he was in the tank with when suddenly an inner voice, clear as a bell, asked: "And who do you think you are?" He had to admit to himself what had been obvious to everyone else: he was a drunk. When asked why he couldn't have admitted this to himself earlier, he scoffed and spat: "If I had, don't you see, then I'd either have had to go off the bottle, or accept myself as a drunk."

One-Centered "Knowing"

So no matter how many times he changed his life, he couldn't escape himself. He had to pay the piper. The truth of this behavioral fact is so self-evident as to be cliché, yet like all truths knowing it intellectually, knowing it with only one center, is incomplete, partial, lopsided. And so prone to error.

Until we know it with all centers alive, there is only partial understanding (which is not understanding at all). So the aim cannot be to know or understand; in a state of waking sleep that passes for the waking state, such aims can only be one-centered projections. The aim must be to be present, relatively speaking, to ourselves, to see ourselves, our "I"s, as other people see them; that is, impartially. Seeing the "I"s eat the energy of our centers, twist our impressions and pass themselves off as the one I before all "I"s, we get a reading on how the system, our system, misfunctions.

The Truth Kills

This requires sincerity, earnestness. What we "think" is sincerity is, of course, only one-centered knowing, which means we do not know what sincerity is. Earnest work can only begin at ground zero, when we begin to realize how insincerely we actually manifest, when we begin to see that, despite the lip service, we don't want to be sincere at all. Why? Sincerity is a killer word.

To be sincere is to see the truth; and, later, be the truth. It is said that the truth shall set us free, but free of what? Of the lie that snakes around us. That snake has to be killed. We think we are the snake, such is the level of identification. So the truth first kills us. (That's one of the esoteric meanings.)

No wonder we all think of changing jobs and lovers and wives—anything but changing ourselves! Why? To do that, we will have to die and that is the last thing we want. That is one reason why, as Gurdjieff tells Ouspensky, "The last thing a man will give up is his suffering."

What happened with that salesman in the drunk tank? Reality became so stark, his self-image so heavy, that he had to see. If he still lied, he would have joined the list of the breathing dead.

This loss of belief in ourselves and our outer world is the crossroads where something real can come to us. Such suffering opens us to the new. The new is never on the horizontal. It is not on the same line of our life, but above it. But, we so personalize suffering, identify our "I" with it, that whatever new influence we come to is quickly degraded into old patterns. Not only will we not give up our suffering, as Gurdjieff says, but we do not know how to suffer.

For example, what if we see suddenly that the division we have made between our outer and inner lives is arbitrary? What if we see that our exalted thoughts and feelings are not what is meant by an inner life at all? What if that which we take to be "spiritual" in us is really inflation, imagination? What if we see that what we took to be "conscience" in ourselves is really a conditioned pattern, no more real than any of our other "I"s?

In essence: what if we suddenly see that what we have taken to be real is not real at all? Can we live with the ensuing psychological and organic suffering that will erupt?

Can we not self-calm ourselves with imagination, vituperation or vain action but stand in the fire, not flinching? More often than not we will see—if sincere—how insincerity traps us. Not to indulge in any "I"-blame, but to continue to allow the impressions octave to proceed is a form of intentional suffering that will help bring us to the humility that Hubert Benoit speaks about in his The Interior Realization.


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