This is my life, your life, our life. Truly, we are in the middle. We live between the world that demands our immediate action and response and another world that awaits our attention. The discipline of making choices as to where to invest my energy is the price I pay for active participation in my life. In my heart is the hope that finer energy may descend on me even though I’m buried deep in activities. But whether or not I remember that wish, one thing is certain: there’s always work to be done.
Few rewards are as satisfying as finishing a job to which I’ve given my “best professional work,” as Mr. Gurdjieff would say. Yet after a lifetime of making efforts at what we call Work in life—attempting to be single-minded, engaged, united in purpose rather than pulled in many directions—the question remains. How to stay open to an ongoing call from another level as I go about my daily achieving maneuvers? That’s the capital “W” in Work that’s so easily forgotten. What is, in fact, the goal, asks Jack Cain in The True Hermit, “to find the next lamppost . . . or a distant, inaccessible star?”
Perhaps because I’m older, and at moments wiser, success seems less important nowadays than to acknowledge frankly that I’m divided, and that the unification of this multifaceted human being may never take place. I’ve accepted that this present moment, my opportunity to be here now, won’t provide an escape hatch to Nirvana. Only in my dreams can I get away from the primary human situation: living at the crossroads between yesterday and tomorrow, between earth and heaven. In the middle.
Pauline de Dampierre, one of the senior leaders in Paris who worked closely with Mme. de Salzmann, helped me to accept this fact. On one occasion I spoke to her about my efforts at work in the midst of an overactive life—caring for my mother at 92, working at a demanding full-time job, and committed to a busy schedule at the Gurdjieff Foundation. I noted down what she said:
Try to feel without guilt that the body is not attuned to something higher. Our work is not to get a higher state but to be aware of what we are. When I wish to work, what can I bring? Only a sensitivity of something heavy, something not tuned. When I stop feeling guilty about it, something else begins to appear.As soon as I began to speak about what she was saying, she interrupted me:
My body is not in a state to be open. I see that and don’t run away from it. Then something becomes related in me. I am quieter in a new situation. At first there is this quietness. Then I gradually begin to feel that I am two-sided. But I identify with one current or the other. Mme. de Salzmann said we had to “stay between.” It was a new stage of the Work for all of us when she came to this.
We should not hate the coarse current. If you can, don’t go with it. Then what is coarser begins to feel it needs the other current and an assimilation begins. How can I work in that coarser state? I need to see it, but I fly away from it, so I’m unable to have the perception I need.
Find no explanation. Stay aware of the coarser state. It will help you and it is always there. You can count on it. The angel isn’t easily available. The devil can help you, as Mr. Gurdjieff said. There are two energies in me. Don’t have an idea about anything. Accept to feel the heaviness of the body. The work is subtle, it is able to liberate the other impression. My wish, my suffering, comes from the heaviness.Nevertheless, a lifetime may go by as we attempt to discover ourselves between our two natures, seeking a path through our confusion. But what if we are the path? And, if so, where are we taking ourselves? Roger Lipsey shares a fable that could apply to any of us, when things aren’t going well, when the first discoveries have come and gone and the leader who pointed the way is no longer with us. Uncertain, but still striving, we muddle on, and from time to time, as James Moore affirms, “something unnameable descends. Then . . . the very proof of work in life finds honest expression, and the vital current still issuing from Gurdjieff confirms its on-going momentum.”
In spite of such moments, I imagine that you, like me, alternate between longing for contact with spirit and identifying with the joys and sorrows of life on earth. Maybe you, too, have flirted with following a cloistered path, wondering if you could get to Cloud Nine and give up the struggle. Gurdjieff himself assured us that no matter how deeply we aspire to self-development, or yearn to escape the harassments of life, the best place for us is not a monastery. “Sitting in your room you will not see anything,” he said. “You should observe in life. In your room you cannot develop the master. A man may be strong in a monastery, but weak in life, and we want strength for life.”1
Strength for life. Where will it come from? Like raja yoga, Gurdjieff’s teaching is a path of action in life. We hope to learn to act consciously and be acted upon by the forces that govern our possible growth of being. We look for a way of working that puts us in touch with an essential rhythm, a rhythm that moves toward perfection in the sounds of accomplished craftspeople in any field as they sweep the floor, saw wood, paint a house, cook dinner. Their work, inner and outer, flows freely into a movement for which daily, hourly, even momentary commitment is indispensable. The strokes, the moves, the instant decisions in the heat of the moment, all call the master-worker into three-centered balance.
Here I am talking about the Work in life as if I already had the key! But as soon as I begin to doubt what I thought I knew, a thousand questions bloom. Can there be work that isn’t in life? What’s the effort to be made? The very attempt to make an effort asks a question that could integrate thought and action, whether I’m sewing on a missing button, experimenting with a new kind of soup or trying to listen to my children’s problems without telling them what to do.
It would seem that for the growth I seek, food is necessary every day and no one super-effort will get me to the top of the ladder. I need to meet myself with integrity, without flinching, every day, both in quiet and in action, right in the middle of my circumstances. That, to my mind, is the Work in life.
From the Egyptian Book of the Dead (the Papyrus of Ani, 240 BC). The sun lies at the horizon between the two lions, “Yesterday” and “Tomorrow,” of the God Aker, who guarded the passage of the sun’s daily journey across the sky as well as the gate of the underworld.
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The daughter of Louise Welch and Dr. William Welch, Patty de Llosa knew Gurdjieff as a child and is a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. She is a professional journalist and just released her first book, The Practice of Presence, Morning Light Press, 2006. The book contains the seminal ideas and experiential activities of five spiritual paths, including the Gurdjieff teaching. You can visit Patty at her website: www.practiceofpresence.com.
1 G. I. Gurdjieff, Views From The Real World, New York: Dutton, 1973, p 147.
|Copyright © 2007 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing|
Featured: Spring 2007 Issue, Vol. X (1)
Revision: April 1, 2007