The Gurdjieff Journal—Fourth Way Perspectives

Working in the World
Party Down with Mr. Bellybutton


(#) Parentheses indicate footnote number

Mr. Bellybutton

Speaking of Americans, Mr. Gurdjieff, in his inimitable way, said "there remains among them the largest percentage of beings in whose presences the said possibility [for the acquisition of Being] is not entirely lost."(1) He was quite familiar with America, having visited it nine times; the first in January 1924, the last in 1948–49. He worked with groups in New York and Chicago and traveled to Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and went as far as Taliesin, Wisconsin, where he visited Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Olgivanna, a former student. America, as a nation, he saw as "still quite young." He liked Americans but found them immature, "like an infant 'peaches and cream.'"

America's Chief Weakness

He saw our existence as "feverish" and that we had developed a strange and destructive love. He reported through the redeemed Beelzebub, his fictional persona in the First Series, that our predominant urge, or chief weakness, was our "love of 'dollar business' and of dollars themselves."(2) In the chapter "Beelzebub in America," he speaks of our Americanisms, two in particular being especially detrimental: the media, whose "conscience," he says, "is completely atrophied"(3); and advertising, which he calls a "maleficent invention." He goes to the heart of the matter with a saying of Mullah Nassr Eddin's—"that man will become a friend of the cloven-hoofed who perfects himself to such Reason and such being that he can make an elephant out of a fly."(4)

But it is our passion for food and sex that Gurdjieff warned will be our undoing. Our strange and destructive eating habits—the canned and processed foods of his day (to say nothing of the frozen and genetically altered foods and microwaved meals of ours). Our abnormality with food will be the cause of digestive disorders that will weaken our constitution; while sex—in objective reality "the most sacred of all sacred Divine sacraments"—which we use for titillation and worse, will lead to impotence. He illustrated this with his tale of Beelzebub visiting Chicago and being taken to a "story party" by a man whom Gurdjieff refers to as "the amiable and obliging Mr. Bellybutton." All the guests he found "exceedingly gay and very 'merry.'" They were telling "funny stories" which Beelzebub would have found amusing "if it had not been for one 'feature'...their 'ambiguity' and 'obscenity.'" The next evening Mr. Bellybutton escorted him to a "petting party" where a young woman he had never met stroked his neck. For the following evening Mr. Bellybutton proposed a "'swimming party' where young people bathe together but of course all dressed in special costumes." Seeing Beelzebub's disinterest in such 'tame affairs,' Mr. Bellybutton—who is now spoken of "as the obliging and exceedingly 'amiable' Mr. Bellybutton,"(5)— offered to take him to something "more substantial."

If these digestive and sexual disorders were allowed to proliferate throughout society, Gurdjieff foresaw America being destroyed as czarist Russia had been. "The process of the destruction of the large community 'monarchic Russia,'" he wrote, "proceeded in consequence of the abnormalities of, so to say, the Reason of the power-possessing beings there,(6) whereas the process of the destruction of this community America will proceed in consequence of organic abnormalities. In other words, the 'death' of the first community came from, as they say, the 'mind' whereas the death of the second community will come from the 'stomach and sex' of its beings....it is precisely these two functionings necessary to their common presence, which are now both going in the direction of complete atrophy; and moreover, at a highly accelerated tempo."

Mr. Bellybutton Turns 50

With this as context, it was interesting to read "Big Birthday Bash Turns Heads (And Some Stomachs)," which appeared recently in the San Francisco Chronicle. A contemporary Mr. Bellybutton is among the city's most powerful political savants and campaign managers. His birthday parties have always been "infamous" or "legendary," depending upon one's values, but apparently this Mr. Bellybutton's 50th birthday, attended by some 300 revelers, outdid them all—"a wild Caligulan scene," reported the newspaper. The smoke-shrouded ballroom had male and female strippers gyrating to hard rock pumped through a heavy duty sound system. Revelers could get tattooed, have bells and fetishes sewn into their backs and chests, or ogle the various sex and bondage scenes. "But nothing," reported the paper, "compared to the 'main event'—a 'blood and urine' show in which a trussed up guy had a satanic star carved into his back, and then, as the blood flowed, he bent over and was urinated on by a leather-clad female assistant who then sodomized him with a bottle of Jack Daniels.(7)

The next day when the uproar hit, Mr. Bellybutton absolved himself of any responsibility, saying the party was put together by a committee of about ten people, and even he found some of the acts "a little offensive, but all in good fun."

"As for the 'main event,'" Mr. Bellybutton said, "That was when you could see the separation between the partiers and the politicians—who headed for the foyer." Overall, however, Mr. Bellybutton had no regrets. "Most people said it was the best party they'd ever been to." And he added—"And it wasn't anything compared to the after-party at my house."(8)

As parties go in 'enlightened' San Francisco, Mr. Bellybutton's bash was hardly unusual. What made it so were the power-possessing politicos in attendance. These included Mayor Willie Brown, City Attorney, District Attorney, Sheriff, Board of Supervisors President and two Supervisors, all elected officials, and about half of Brown's top staff. Also attending was Carmen Policy, president of the 49ers football team, and his wife, and top officials of the 49ers. The team is trying to float a controversial public bond issue with voters for a new stadium and mall, and so the party came at a particularly bad time. Said Policy, "We simply view it as an example of poor taste," but he would refuse to fire Mr. Bellybutton who is the team's chief strategist on the bond issue.

Ego-Laden Values & Psychic Maladies

Seemingly unconscious of the pun in his words "poor taste," Policy's mechanical remark also points up another feature of latter day American mentality: the idea of not judging. Not judging, allowing everyone "to do their thing," came out of the Timothy Leary-Alan Ginsburg 1960s drug culture. Taking drugs to increase vibration, users entered what Gurdjieff calls the higher emotional or higher mental center. The problem was—never having worked on themselves and thus purified their vibration by their own conscious labors and intentional sufferings—their egos subtly skewered and distorted the experience. They unconsciously projected their own ego-laden values and assorted psychic maladies onto the higher reality. In a word: they personalized the impersonal. As Gurdjieff would say, imagination was created in higher centers.(9)

As the drug wore off, the drug takers "came down," returned to their original heavier vibration, and scorned the denser, more causal level of everyday existence as being "phony," "hypocritical," and the like. Taking the world to be one (which it is, and isn't) they didn't see they were applying the knowledge and ideas of a higher level to a lower. What were once direct impressions of the higher level were deflected into the argot and acting out of half-remembered ideas. Hence, the flowering of the idea that it wasn't cool to judge anyone. This, along with the equally delusive idea of 'equality,' and assorted other utopian ideas put America on the fast track to societal insanity. The Mr. Bellybuttons of the day did their free love dance and society passively followed.

However, the impetus for the foregoing having been given long before, Beelzebub could warn that the sex center and the power center—"the two chief motors of their existence thus deviated retrogressively"—were both moving in a "direction of complete atrophy; and moreover, at a highly accelerated tempo." (And this, remember, was in the context of 1924–1949) He pointed out the Mr. Bellybuttons already among us, those exceedingly amiable and obliging bastard-guides to the animal realm, who make everything so easy, so nice, so respectable, so fun. And he spoke of a law "according to which one must always and in everything guard just against the initial impetus, because on acquiring momentum, it becomes a force...." This initial impetus was given and accepted long ago and now the question, as it is for virtually every area of American life, is how to get off Mr. Bellybutton's stairway to hell. The answer, individual and societal, can only begin to be understood by working to be present to the state of things that, unfortunately, is. Only by the fearless facing of that can we come to a courage of presence that is in life but certainly not of it.


Notes

(1) G. I. Gurdjieff, First Series, p. 1041.

(2) Ibid, p. 920. Our dollar love may strike more deeply if we ponder what St. Paul said about money. It gives us a view of what Ayatollah Khomeini might have meant when he called America "The Great Satan."

(3) Ibid p. 945.

(4) Even more psycho-toxic is today's virtual reality which of course is not virtual but merely artificial. What's at issue is the real versus the unreal as purveyors of the artificial in all its forms contend with reality (which of course does not contend at all) for the one and most powerful thing people have to give—their attention.

(5) It is interesting to note the words with which Gurdjieff portrays Mr. Bellybutton. The common perception of the 'devil' is that of the dark and animal which is seen in Goya's paintings, for example. That the 'devil,' or his minions, would appear as obliging and amiable, an exceedingly nice guy, is a much more sophisticated perception.

(6) The czarist court was replete with soothsayers, seances and other forms of the spirit of its time, much like our own New Age. This psychic contagion permeated much of Russian society and prepared the way for the revolution. Even today, it is reported, the Russian media is full of such spiritual degeneracy.

(7) The day following the 'main event' act, the participants—he a pastor in the Church of Satan and she a performance artist and poet—said it was an 'Apache ceremony' intended to show how alcohol has ruined American Indians.

(8) For a comprehensive view of what Mr. Bellybutton and his parties demonstrate in Work terms read Uspenskii's chapter on "Sex and Evolution" in his New Model of the Universe in which Uspenskii gives a cogent and sweeping perspective on the use and misuse of sexual energy which bears real pondering. He begins by pointing out that "in all teachings that admit the possibility of the change and inner growth of an individual man...evolution [not in the biological or anthropological sense] is always based on the transmutation of sex energy." No such evolution is generally possible, he believes, for people of infra-sex whose chief characteristic is "arrested development or a degeneration." However, it is difficult to distinguish people of infra-sex because in some the sexual energy, desires, and sensations "appear to be strengthening and have an exaggerated development;" while in others there is "hidden degeneration" and such types "appear the most moral, in religion the most saintly" but this is because of their aversion to sex, impotence, lack of sensation. All violence, derision of sex in which it is made a joke, something comic, pornography, and so forth is all connected with the psychology of the lupanar, which, of course, does not understand and condemns normal sex. Such infra-sex always justifies people of "intermediate sex...as well as for various abnormal means of sexual satisfaction." It is Uspenskii's point of view that "The whole history of mankind is nothing but the rule of pathological forms over normal."

(9) Once created, it has a life of its own that creates psychic belief systems which feed on human energy and wall off the spiritual. All higher influences are thus skewered and octaves of decay and degeneracy must set in.


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