Gurdjieff International Review
Coming Up Against Life
I was always convinced for myself that the activities I engaged in in life were not something that I should turn my back to at all. They provided every day the opportunity for seeing myself in action, getting to know myself, seeing what kind of reactions different people and situations produced in me; and they were also the acid test of any results of my own work. I might think I understood something when I was quietly reflecting on things in my room at home, but when I was brought up against the actual situation and saw how much I remembered that understanding and actually put it into practice, that showed me how much I had really understood. I couldn’t blink then. If I had not had the opportunity of coming up against life in my life’s work, then I might have deceived myself very easily into thinking I had understood more than I had. But it was a constant reminder.
I think it is quite a natural thing, but mistaken, to have this idea that the Work is opposed to one’s efforts in life. If you begin to think about it, you will see that, whatever you do, you will do it better when you are awake than when you are asleep. It isn’t a matter of discarding one’s life activities and transferring all the investment in them to the investment in some kind of theoretical work. It is a question of bringing to life’s activities a new kind of attitude, in which they become not an end in themselves but a means to an end. One has to think for oneself carefully about what this means.
I find that this is a question that arises again and again, and I find it perfectly natural that it should, for some kind of opposition arises in people’s minds between the Work as we study it here and try to put it into practice, and our occupational life. And unless one sees our work as something that has a relation to every activity in life, one doesn’t see what our work is. It is not something that should take away from life’s activities; it is something one should bring to life’s activities. Indeed, if one really wants to do something very well in life, it provides again and again opportunities for one to see in that particular relation, in that aspect of one’s life, the principles of the Work. This is why Gurdjieff used to say, “Give me a man who can do something really well, and I can talk to him.” Because anyone who can do something really well has to in practice have understood, in relation to that one thing, many of the principles of the Work.
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This excerpt from a meeting transcript dated June 27, 1977 is used here with the kind permission of Christopher Hugh Ripman.
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Featured: Spring 2007 Issue, Vol. X (1)
Revision: April 1, 2007