The now! The very now! Arise! Awake! 1
Shakespeare, of course; Shakespeare!
I feel some shame at stealing his words so totally out of context—a far cry from our subject, yet so utterly appropriate to it.
But I know that even if I had spent a thousand and one nights seeking such a pithy clarion call to respond to this crucial component of Gurdjieff’s teaching, I would never have found comparable words, comparable brevity, comparable force: words cutting to the heart of the matter; words everyone can understand.
Yet even as I write, suddenly the affirmation: “I, here, now” appears in me: an example from Gurdjieff himself of the immediacy and simplicity (and depth) with which all great teachers convey the kernel of their message.
‘I here, now.’ Yes, indeed: ‘the very now.’
The crucial component of Gurdjieff’s teaching which we are studying here is conscious attention, described by Jeanne de Salzmann as nothing less than “a divine force,” by Henri Tracol as “the most tremendous power in the world,” and by Madame Ouspensky “as oil in the lamp” whose light is consciousness.
The absence of this attention in us, Michel de Salzmann suggests, is due to our inability to mobilize the all of us, our three brains, head, heart, body. “Questioning,” he says, “requires attention, so: little attention, little question,”2 the factual statement, somehow tinged with sadness, making it difficult thereafter to say “So? What’s it got to do with me?”
Like all Gurdjieff’s “ideas” this one is not meant to remain of abstract interest, possibly even great abstract interest; not meant to stay in the book, but to leap off the page, asking to be lived as a primary, direct, verifiable experience.
Conscious attention, true attention, intended to touch us, to call us, to activate us, with the hope of finding our way to it in its many forms, including the all-encompassing one, described so refreshingly in this issue by Paul Reynard.
Ultimately it is ‘devoutly to be wished’ that it leads to love itself, as both Natalie de Etievan and William Segal discovered in themselves, and undoubtedly many other seekers of this jewel in the crown of being.
But what has Mr. Gurdjieff himself have to say about attention?
When he uses that actual word in Beelzebub’s Tales it is in its most ordinary sense, and although there are numerous references to ‘being-Partkdolg-duty,’ it is in Views From the Real World that he states categorically that “attention is gained only through conscious labor and intentional suffering,” the very stuff of Partkdolg-duty, obligation: each of the three centres to strive simultaneously for ‘being effort,’ accepting to bear our inability to do so.
This frequent repetition of that all-inclusive phrase: “being-Partkdolg-duty” is haunting: being duty, obligation, three times over? Head? Heart? Body? The all of me? The connected three brains? The three centres?
What else could that be but conscious attention? An intentional effort on my part which could lead, might lead, yes, does lead to connection with another attention, not mine, the conscious attention which many years later Michel de Salzmann will describe as “the next attention,” unceasingly being offered, but which cannot be experienced without a commitment to work, again and again—and again—on the “first” attention, “my” attention: the one and only way to alignment with something higher.
“If I could do one thing properly I would see God.”
These words of a long-forgotten English author3 resonate with the helpful advice Mr. Gurdjieff himself offers us: to make some small aim our ‘God’ as a way to relate—however tenuously to start with—to the huge life-changing, impossible-seeming possibilities he is telling us should be the true birthright, the property of a man “without quotation marks.” A small aim, one small thing done well, is proportionate to our realistic possibility: he once said that he could talk to someone who could make a good cup of coffee. So practical, possible, accessible, “try-able.”
Many years ago I was at a lunch where Henri Tracol invited a guest, who had also worked with Mr. Gurdjieff, to speak a little about attention.
Although I don’t remember what she said, I do remember what he said to her, as he turned to thank her afterwards: “But I am sure you will agree that even after all these years we still don’t know what attention is.”
Did he say that perhaps above all for us younger ones, gathered at that table, so as not to close the door: said to keep the question open for us to search for ourselves, to have our own question, our own direct experience?
The greatest help for this to come about is the anchor of self-observation insisted on by Mr. Gurdjieff always and everywhere in order to prevent a kind of Cheshire Cat disappearance into the lofty ether of the abstract.
It came to me while studying some of his exercises in the Third Series that we are not to fixate on them or any other exercises per se for that matter. Their application is not in order to have a form, a stricture, a framework, but the other way round: they should come from the formlessness which lies behind them, that is, from that “next attention” which we can join only through that “being effort,” “the one thing” we can do, are obliged to do: that “self-remembering” which is “being-Partkdolg-duty.”
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Born in South Africa, author Jenny Koralek was educated in England and at the University of Paris. Her many books for children and young people include The Friendly Fox, The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams, The Coat of Many Colors, The Story of Queen Esther, and War Games. She is the principal translator of Henri Tracol’s writings about the teaching of Gurdjieff, and with others of René Zuber’s Who Are You, Monsieur Gurdjieff? She has been a member of the Gurdjieff Society of London for over 50 years and serves as a member of its Council.
|Copyright © 2013 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing|
Featured: Fall 2013 Issue, Vol. XII (1)
Revision: November 1, 2013
2 In a French telecast on September 22, 1978 on TFI (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel).
3 Margaret Kennedy (1896-1967) in her best-selling novel, The Constant Nymph.