Posts Tagged: Gurdjieff

Mar 15

“Harvester of Eyes, That’s Me”

There is no one time for harvest. It’s always harvest time. The cemeteries throng with the hulls of ongoing harvests. Who is the harvester? Merely the old man with the long beard, or Time, the winged hourglass seen on the old Calvinist headstones? Or is it the hooded scythe bearer? No, those are the masks of the harvester’s servant.

The harvester watches from within us; and it watches from without, perhaps using the moon as its magnifying lens. It is the harvester of perception, of experience. The harvester is seated behind every pair of human eyes, behind ego and false self; it’s seated too, in simpler creatures: behind the glittering eyes of a bird, behind clusters of spider eyes. It watches from behind blind fish; it harvests all perception, even perception via cilia. The harvester reaps *seeing* itself, along with the raw energy of untamed life released when the organism disintegrates…

The death of the outer organism, of the vehicle of the faceless infinite inner seer, then comes about in utter completeness: unrestrained, unstoppable, annihilating personality, memory, conventional self–unless…

Unless the outer organism, sentient enough, perceptive enough, and diligent enough, makes an arrangement with the harvester, and creates a field of independent selfhood that can perceive, and harvest, in other planes; to provide more finely attuned harvests for the harvester.

Or, cf., this book, say: Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas

Jun 14

The Gurdjieff Work–and the Use of Psycho-Active Drugs

While the following was written for people interested in (or practicing) the Gurdjieff Work, it could be applied to other forms of spirituality too.

Now that marijuana and hashish are on the road to legalization, people in the Work should probably decide how they feel about psychoactive drugs with regard to the Gurdjieffian path. My own view is that narcotic use is counterproductive once one has seriously taken up the Gurdjieff work–but there are howevers and modifiers to apply here.

I was told by my teachers in the Work that Gurdjieff was opposed to their use while one is engaged in the Work. Lord Pentland, a very influential teacher in the work, was quite strictly opposed to any use of narcotics. Late in life, Ouspensky recommended against them–but he tells of his own experiments with Hashish in one of his books. Gurdjieff certainly knew a good deal about mind altering drugs–he wrote discourses on opium and cocaine–and I have no doubt he had some experience of hashish and probably other drugs, early in his search.

That’s a key phrase, to me–”early in his search.”

Here’s what Gurdjieff told Ouspensky: “There are schools which make use of narcotics in the right way. People in these schools take them for self-study; in order to take a look ahead, to know the possibilities better, to see beforehand, ‘in advance,’ what can be attained later on as the result of prolonged work. When a man sees this and is convinced that what he has learned theoretically really exists, he then works consciously, he knows where he is going. Sometimes this is the easiest way of being convinced of the real existence of those possibilities which man often suspects in himself.”

So, Gurdjieff acknowledges that mind altering drugs may have some value at a certain point, for some people. (Other people, psychologically fragile or over suggestible people, should avoid them entirely, in my opinion.) That is, psychoactive drugs, like mescaline, say, or certain mushrooms, or even hashish, may open the curtains on a small window. And one can then look through the window and see a wider world out there: the world of higher consciousness. One may briefly be able to perceive more vividly, more intensely, sometimes more insightfully…One’s “frames per second” in the film of reality will increase in number–more will be included. Often it can seem too much more–the experiencer, without the being to handle the increase in perception, can feel overwhelmed.

While a glimpse of something real can be had there, the view of higher consciousness through drugs is blurred by one’s own mind; distorted by hallucinations, personal obsessions, cerebral wiring. And to me it has always appeared that the more frequently people take a drug, the less real use they’re getting from it.

Gurdjieff, in the quote, spoke of knowing the possibilities better “in advance”. Implied in his putting it that way is that it’s kind of like climbing a tree to see the lay of the land before a journey. But you do not stay in that tree–and don’t try to jump from tree to tree! You have seen something that confirms that there is a place you can travel to. But now you have to find the practical way to get there: step by step, on the ground, with your eyes wide open.

Use of mind altering drugs has risks. It would be irresponsible to recommend it. But I can’t say it didn’t help me a few times, as a young man, many years before I found the Work. It briefly opened those curtains for me and that was encouraging–I learned that there was something more. Ram Dass said that LSD insight is like a business call–once you get the message, you hang up.

Bottom line, what is attainable by work on oneself is far more vital, more rewarding, more nourishing than drug experience. Higher consciousness achieved through the Gurdjieff work is something that accretes in us slowly–but permanently. And it comes to us without hallucinations, or bad trips, or throwing up, or fits of paranoia.

But here comes a however–some people may have legitimate reasons for moderate use of marijuana, or hash or “magic mushrooms”. Medical reasons perhaps, with pot–and there are legitimate therapeutic uses of psilocybin in psychotherapy. I don’t know as these milder drugs should be entirely forbidden to people in the Work–it’s up to those people themselves, of course. It seems to me that someone could smoke their weed occasionally if they’re not foolish enough to come to a work group stoned, or to try to sit in Fourth Way meditation while stoned. My opinion is, they probably won’t find it a terrible impediment to the Work if they do it occasionally, not in a Work context.

Dec 13

Those Who Poison the Fourth Way Well

I think it was Ouspensky who said that everyone will get their “fair share of slander” and Gurdjieff, he said, has certainly gotten his share. Some of it was Gurdjieff’s fault. He was no saint.

But a lot of what purports to be the Fourth Way, aka the Gurdjieff Work–nearly all of it, in fact–is just weird little offshoots, cults, scams. Robert Burton’s Fellowship of Friends is all three: an offshoot, a cult and a scam. People use poor old Gurdjieff’s name and slap it on their personal fantasies and cons. The John Bennett people (don’t blame Bennett) created a money making scheme with a blurred notion of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Ichazo made up a lot of nonsense. Helen Palmer fabricated her enneagram personality foolishness. William Patrick Patterson took a little knowledge and made it into a lot of cultish tomfoolery. “Osho”, aka Rajneesh, had a muddied idea of Gurdjieff’s teachings which he folded into his own cult. On and on it goes.

There’s a reasonably coherent Fourth Way school, in which the original current flows, the one Gurdjieff’s student Jeanne de Salzmann created at his behest: the Gurdjieff Foundation. Also called by other names in other countries. It’s all volunteer, no one makes money off it, no one gets paid. It’s neither big nor small. Few are admitted to it; no one’s life is interfered with; no one is kept from leaving, or even urged not to leave it. It’s an esoteric school. Really, its methods are more or less similar to Vipassana Buddhism, with an admixture of hermeticism. It’s not far from Zen, either, really. It’s not terribly easy to find that school. . .

Gurdjieff shouldn’t be taken too literally on everything he ever said. But I think he was right that we’re prone to be asleep when we suppose we’re awake; that we’re mechanical, reactive, lacking “real I”; that there is a way to freedom from those conditions. He had his methods–NOT taught by people like Robert Burton–and the best Zen people, for example, have theirs, which overlap with the Fourth Way…

Don’t blame poor old George Gurdjieff for all the people who use his name…

Apr 13

Interview with..well, with Me, Recorded Live, Online

At ULTRACULTURE: “John Shirley, America’s Most Provocative Science Fiction Author, Stops By for Our First Podcast!

“We’re proud to present the first Ultraculture podcast!”

Discussing my book from PM Press coming in late May, NEW TABOOS, and a lot of other things…

Sep 12

The Courage of Consciousness

When I was much younger I was at a reception, speaking to an Orthodox priest: a bearded man who was quite evidently very self-contained and aware; it seemed to me he was constantly making small conscious choices, inwardly, as to how he responded to people. Anytime the choice was between his own vanity, some self indulgence, or listening to someone else, he always turned toward concern for the other. He did this without being a show-off, without being demonstrative about it, out of a kind of sincerity that seemed intrinsic to him. I was impressed by this sincerity, which was almost a palpable thing, and found I wanted to impress him in turn. So I said something flattering to him about how he demonstrated goodness rooted in self honesty—and he immediately changed the subject, turning it away from himself. Though he was never unfriendly, I not only noticed his rejection of the flattery, somehow I could feel it, within myself, as though he’d literally expelled my flattery from him. It was as if my attempt to flatter him—something I did, really, so that he would like me better—simply bounced off him. There was a quality about his awareness of himself that made me more aware of myself. And when that came about, I saw myself, for a moment—I saw my flattery, my shallowness, for what it was.

All in a flash, I saw something about myself I’d never seen before. I saw that I was in the habit of using flattery to “get around” people, that I’d been doing it for years, that it was protective—that it was a function of my fear of other people. I saw that I would smile at them, chat wittily with them, but all the time I was afraid of them.

Somehow I knew that little lightning stroke of self-knowledge was valuable; that it was a flash of light illuminating a moonless, nighttime landscape normally invisible to me.

I kept watch in myself for this tendency, and learned to be aware of the impulse, the desire to do it. Gradually I weeded out this tendency to flattering others —though occasionally it crops up when I’m in an unusually insecure mood.

But eliminating a bad habit isn’t the point; the real value of seeing the bad habit, and the shallowness it was a part of, was in the realization that there must be much more about myself– about my behavior, my habitual responses–that I wasn’t seeing. Since I frequently struggled with self destructive impulses, I was very interested in seeing myself as I really was. After that insight, I was roused to work harder at that basic building block of consciousness, self-observation.

“If we remember that there are many people who understand nothing at all about themselves, we shall be less surprised at the realization that there are also people who are utterly unaware of their actual conflicts.” That’s Carl Jung telling us, once again, about the part of ourselves we choose not to see, usually without knowing we made the choice.

But there’s a particular hurdle to real self-observation. We have to be willing to leap into the unknown—to leap into areas we’re afraid to explore. Self-observation takes courage. It takes bravery to see oneself as one really is.

I was lucky to encounter that priest, a man of that depth of character, in just that circumstance—he held up a mirror between himself and me, which reflected my falseness back at me. I was in a fairly receptive mood—and I saw what was in the mirror. But normally, I don’t have access to someone who can compel me to see myself. Most of the time, if I hope to become more conscious, I have to have the courage, all on my own, to look where I would normally fear to look.

In Ouspensky’s classic, In Search of the Miraculous, he provides a simple drawing of “divided attention”, which is part of the process of self-remembering. The drawing is simply a line with two arrowheads, one on each end; one end represents attention directed outward, the other arrowhead represents attention pointing inward; the two arrowheads are linked by the line. It’s a simple drawing of a simple process—but keeping this inner spotlight on, keeping this attention shining inward while maintaining a solid connection with what is extrinsic, is hard to do. Our habitual state resists it. The process requires persistence, and courage.

In a spiritual group, I heard a teacher remark, “…but don’t you find self- remembering to be exquisitely uncomfortable, at times? I do.”

Why should being more fully aware of oneself ever be “exquisitely uncomfortable”? Of course, we’re talking about taking in feelings, emotions, impulses, sensations of the body, all experienced actively, in the present moment. Perhaps it’s like stepping out of a dark room into the glare of noon—naturally I blink, and recoil a bit, at first, with all that light coming at me. Facing that plain discomfort can require courage. But for my money, there’s another aspect of advancing consciousness that takes even more courage: psychological self-knowledge.

Seeing myself as a shallow flatterer—well, it’s not flattering. It’s painful for me to think of, even now. Like everyone else, I am still prone to mindless reaction, to a kneejerk impatience with those around me—if I look at myself actively while interacting with people, even people I love, I see that negative reactivity in myself. And just seeing it is painful. It takes courage to really see it, and to bear it.

Self-flagellation over perceived faults is itself cowardly, an avenue of escape from the reality of the perception. It’s a way out. It’s playing a sort of game with oneself, using a projected inner parent to go through a little drama, a passion play of histrionic penance. “I was bad, I punish myself, and I can forget about it now”. And then I leave that particular drama, free to go back to sleep—to slip back into an unconsciousness of the Shadow side of myself, because I’ve dutifully played out the psychological drama.

Buffering the dark side away, being asleep to it, is more than easy—it’s reflexive, automatic. It’s much harder to simply remain “in front of” an insight, some grim little epiphany, and integrate it into the overall knowledge I have of myself. Eventually, if I have the courage to remain with it, it finds a place in me, it is just another jigsaw part, and the feeling of putting a jigsaw piece in its right slot is pleasing. There, that’s where it belongs…and I see how it’s part of the larger picture.

When I consider the process of trying to become more conscious, it all pivots on attention, and where I direct attention, in myself. It seems to me that when I sit, and occasionally reach a degree of real mindfulness—when I sense and feel without surrendering to some narcoticizing fantasy—that the movement of attention really is like a spotlight, a directed arrow. Only after awhile, it’s as if there are many arrows pointing in many directions, a cluster of arrows all pointing outward from one center, from a unity. Esoteric writers sometimes use the analogy of going from the duality of two parallel lines, to a triangle, to a square, to a pentagram, to the six pointed star–the Seal of Solomon.

But it’s a long road from the parallel lines to the Seal of Solomon. Anyone who pretends that consciousness expands without effort, without discomfort, without courage, is misleading those of us who wish to achieve more consciousness. When I sit and turn my attention inward and outward, both, completing that circuit, there is always a resistance. Something in me knows that while this effort is going to be rewarding, while it can be relaxing and liberating, it can also be “exquisitely uncomfortable” at first; it can turn my attention to aspects of myself I’ve spent years turned away from. And that is going against the grain that I’ve grown into. I have to create a new “grain”—and that means looking at myself with a bracing sincerity, without self-judging but also without looking away. The animal part of me naturally turns away. It resists. The horse bucks when you put the saddle on it—and who can blame the horse? Prepare to be bucked off, and to get back on, somewhat bruised…

It takes courage to get back in that saddle; it takes courage to face inner resistance. It takes courage on a second-by-second basis, because the resistance will be a sharp feeling, like an inner prod, that will keep trying to tilt me, push me off balance, back into my daily habitual state of self-hypnosis. When I have the courage to include that resistance in my sphere of attention—including it, reconciling with it, a little more consciousness becomes possible.

The tranced state, our sleep as we move through life, seems so much safer, so much more comforting, to the part of me that is afraid of my real inner reality…