Joining a Gurdjieff Group / School
After I published an article online some time ago (no longer available) regarding Gurdjieff work groups, a prospective student of the Gurdjieff work emailed some questions. What follows is Part III of my response to the prospective student’s queries. (The student’s questions have been abbreviated.) Read Part I here and Part II here.
Query: Do modern followers make any allowance for the changes in society since Gurdjieff’s writings were published? There are distinctly misogynistic undertones in places in his writings (particularly in ‘Meetings’). In his time, it may have been ‘a man’s world’, but it no longer is ….. ?
Response: The methods a teacher uses to present the work ideas are right for the time in which that person is teaching which is why, as mentioned in the previous email, imitation of another teacher’s methods may be wholly inappropriate. If I came across a teacher who was imitating Gurdjieff’s way of teaching I would be put off by that.
Query: It is actually possible to verify through experimental means specific things like Gurdjieff’s law of seven or the food tables?
Response: Maybe. Verification is an important idea but as you’ve realised, only some ideas can be verified, not all. I don’t know what you mean by ‘experimental means’. What I do know is that verification comes through personal effort. In my work I’ve focused on working with what I came to see as the most important ideas of the Gurdjieff system: self-remembering, self-observation, staying out of useless imagination, non-identification, and the transformation of negative emotions. Working with those core ideas brought understanding and change of being. Speculating about food tables yielded nothing.
Query: ‘Self-remembering’ seems to be a key activity to making progress, but the process is not well described in the published works. Is this only something taught in work groups or are there other resources available (books/online) that you’re aware of?
Response: You’re right. Self-remembering is not well described and it’s one of the more difficult areas to grasp. In the group I was in people frequently asked for a definition of self-remembering and every time the answer they got was different. It was frustrating.
It helps if you take the view that your self is composed of different parts i.e. members and that you are trying to discover what they are and re-unite them (re-member them) in order to function as an integrated being. As you discover more about your self you might imagine you’ve finally got the complete picture of self-remembering when in fact you haven’t. There is yet more to be discovered. This explains why people have difficulty defining self-remembering and thus describe it as different things.
Self-remembering is one of the many challenges of work on your self. By making efforts you will be constantly struggling towards an ever deepening understanding of that core idea. You won’t grasp it with your intellect alone.
Query: If my understanding is correct, the ultimate purpose of self-remembering is the same as vipassana – the destruction of self/ego (or realisation of ‘no-thing’ or however you want to put it). In Buddhism, this is considered as the ultimate – nirvana. However, again, as I understand things, G’s approach then causes a new self to become into being. Is my understanding correct?
Response: Oh my, where do I start 😉 I’ll go back to making distinctions again. Understanding is different from knowledge. Is your understanding correct you ask? But what you are stating here is not your understanding, it’s your knowledge. You are writing about ideas you have read somewhere and are repeating. They may not even be true. You are writing about fragments of knowledge which you think are connected to other pieces of knowledge. This is not understanding.
Query: If so, why would one want to lose the sense of interconnectedness with all, and replace this with a new ego based personality? Where does this new personality come from?
Response: What is this ‘interconnectedness’? Who has this ‘sense of interconnectedness with all’? Maybe a few people feel something, rarely, fleetingly, but nothing that is sustained. You may however, through prolonged work, develop a feeling of integration of what is outside yourself with what lies within.
If you do succeed in creating a new sense of yourself it will come about as a result of efforts. The false picture of yourself will gradually be replaced by one that is true.