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The Future of the Work
After a six-week Intensive in the Gurdjieff/JG Bennett Work and a period of reflection, I see that this Work has a further and necessary step to take in order to remain valuable and to fulfill its purpose in the world. The Work, as with every teaching where the initial teacher has died, must keep evolving (as did Gurdjieff himself) in order to remain responsive to the changing needs of the world. This utility is the key to the parable of the 'Sower and the Seed.' Man has a necessary role to play, that both of sower and ground, stony or otherwise. The ability and necessity to read what is called for in the moment, to know what form of growth is required is the part and parcel with the parable. Good farmers maintain the land. We have all seen what happens when people either become fixated on the past, when Gurdjieff was alive and perpetuate the form without the shock of change that Gurdjieff was constantly introducing. Conversely, some pursue, without knowledge of what is required in the moment, whatever appears new and glittery or just adulation of the latest guru come to town. We all recognize why these forms are repeated; they provide energy and the illusion of progress, when, in truth, such behavior does nothing to serve the future. There is a need to reflect seriously on the intent of the Work, what it is for, not just in light of our personal desires for a “Kesdjan” body but what those in the Work should instinctively need to do for the planetary good.
The notion that the Work should be in the service of "planetary good" is not new. Gurdjieff presented the idea of "being partkdolg duty," those practices that are ‘becoming’ to three brained beings or to put it as Gurdjieff did, "that is to say, thanks to those factors, which, from the first arising of three-brained beings, were destined by our Uni-Being Common Father to be the means of self-perfecting." However, it is intended that being-Partkdolg-duty extends beyond self-perfecting. The Five Obligolnian Strivings make this clear as each extends the duties of humans, first to one’s planetary body, next to the aim of personal transformation of being, third to the higher intellectual center, the fourth to finish themselves well enough to move on to service-and the last to do that service for others, and not just humans but those “of other forms.” While no exactly linear, the latter duties being accessible even to newcomers in small doses, growth in understanding is certainly a key to the fourth and fifth striving. There is a lot to contemplate here. What is our Partkdolg Duty towards the greater world?
A feeling persists amongst people in the Work that by merely 'Working on oneself' one is actually changing, the world, in the sense of cosmic energies, thereby fulfilling their role in Reciprocal Maintenance, the balance of entropy or negativity. This construct has been used as a koan, so that the Work may (and should) remain hidden, not manifested in the outside world, which might find the unfamiliarity of the philosophy off-putting. Even though Gurdjieff himself was known to grab people off the streets for a movements demonstration and JG Bennett lectured openly on college campuses, the PD Ouspensky reticence has dominated and limited the manifesting of the Work to loci or centers whose purpose is to provide venues for 'self-work.' In Making a New World, John G. Bennett quotes Gurdjieff as saying that "the program of the Institute, the power of the Institute and the aim of the Institute can be expressed in one sentence: The Institute can help a man to be able to be a Christian." He goes on to quote further that there is no difference between true religions, that “originally they all had the same ideals as Christianity” (pg 144, Making a New World) In the west, the dominant religion, Christianity, calls upon humans to serve through works of charity in this world. In Matthew 25, lines 34-40, as Christians there are corporal acts, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the dying and more that are behaviors 'becoming to three-brained beings' to do. Does that mean, that those in the Work need to become 'do-gooders' to fulfill our Partkdolg duty? This question needs to be closely examined, as does the concept of what is ‘good’ to do. However, the belief that we in the Work are somehow balancing the cosmos by sensing ourselves is simply naive.
If we are 'to let our light shine' before others, then our manifestation must be in interaction with others. We cannot be hidden away on a large piece of property whose purpose is to provide work for ourselves. Many in the Work look upon themselves as some sort of ‘inner circle’ of humanity. For instance, the Fellowship of Friends refers to those who may or may not inhabit World 96 as 'Sleepers.' This attitude pervades the Work in general, that we, who have 'found the way' disdain those who have not or in truth, may care not, to follow this path. Those others may be good church, synagogue, mosque or temple-going people, less concerned with 'specialness' than many in the Work. They may be disinterested in personal development and yet be hardworking, kind, and good neighbors. Yet there is a bit of 'cosa nostra' attitude toward them, as if they would judge the people in the Work as cultists if only they saw some sort of manifestation that was different than the day-to-day expected behavior. This is simple paranoia, presuming that one’s specialness would be too challenging to 'ordinary' people and that making an effort to be of service would lead to a witch hunt of some sort; both a bit silly and self-justifying to be lazy in regards to real sacrifice. So one finds that much potentially useful energy is taken up by maintaining these large properties. In a way doing so is a form of avoidance of the discomfort of living with those who are different than oneself. Work adherents must come out of their self-defined prisons in order to fulfill being Partkdolg duty. Their insistence on clinging to their centers and doing movements makes a statement that they wish to really go no further in this work, indeed that there is no distance left to go.
I disagree. My experience leads me to believe that the Work must come out of the shadows and manifest in order to survive and to fulfill its duty to the world. This is demanded by the fifth Obligolnian striving, the assistance of others. Again the question, does this mean somehow doing 'good' in the world? And how is that 'good' defined; what would it look and feel like? Let me give some examples. On a workday, a group took on clearing a weed-choked traffic circle in a nearby neighborhood. The practical work was to clear it; the inner work was just that, inner. It had no benefit to any particular person. However, throughout the work task period, strangers walking or driving by, stopped to say thanks and how nice that someone was taking an interest in a neglected corner. The group had discussed and were well prepared to smile & nod and to not ascribe virtue to themselves by dint of what task was being done. In fact, the appreciation and praise became opportunities to watch ego manifest. It was useful work, both outside and inside.
However, this manifestation clearly affected those who randomly witnessed it being done. It had no practical benefit to those participating, or those observing, could hardly be called 'do-gooding' in the normal sense, and yet spread out into the greater world by its very act. I will term this a 'feeling' manifestation, bringing into the world an act of service that is visible and without recompense. This is where groups ought to begin, carefully and slowly, and well prepared for the temptation of self-congratulations. We are all aware of the pitfalls of doing good, whether in organized religion, environmentalism, food choices or any other of a myriad of opportunities for the ego to manifest. These and other acts where one feels 'in the right' are not what is being proposed here. In Matthew 5:16, the active student is called to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." It is the reason behind the act that is praised, (whether a god or the Work) not any one individual or group performing the act. The choice of manifestation must be carefully considered and only those which bring a ‘light’ into the world chosen
This is a difficult balance to achieve. In JG Bennett’s talk on Conscious Labor and Intentional Suffering, he speaks of the Sower and the Seed. The sower cannot know what the outcome will be. The individual or group must cultivate indifference to the outcome and perform a 'feeling' task solely because it needs to be done. Indeed, indifference to outcome is the hallmark of this sort of approach, of conscious labor. The task sets the conditions and the person who wishes to develop conscience responds appropriately. It may seem simple but snares abound. Even the simply spoken wish to 'save a soul for Jesus' has a frisson of accounting about it and the risk of egoism. We must light the lamp only because it is dark and then the light is shared as Matthew says, 'by all in the house.' Let’s consider another example, not my own. A friend told me of practical work task undertaken on a seminar to clear a near-by beach of detritus. Tourists present watched the group move around the beach, putting garbage into sacks. One such holidaymaker asked my friend why they were picking up the trash in a public place. He answered, "Because it needs to be done." Concurring, the woman then queried why the group was pausing every fifteen minutes and standing still. He then answered, "to remember that there is more to life than picking up garbage." Then, slowly, some of the other people, those not involved in the seminar began to join in to the activity, and, notably, to pause to the sound of the bell until most were involved.
I am convinced that all on the beach that day, those in the Work and those on holiday, will remember this happening for a long time. It brought a change into that small corner of the world, gave birth to an image that those present will recall and perhaps grow from. Something was sown; what happens after is not the business of the sower. It is acts like this that can change the energy in one area of the world and in doing so bring something really new.
This type of work can make us real co-creators because it brings a value into the world that did not manifest before. Nothing is real until manifested. Any sacred impulse exists only in the world of possibility until it is birthed in the world. Perhaps rather than a sower of seeds, those in the Work perhaps may look upon themselves as midwives to a lighter, truer existence. Perhaps, in contemplating the fourth striving, we can begin to get a sense of the act of co-creation. The midwife is neither the mother nor the child, yet is essential to the process. We as people dominate this planet and make it what it is. How can work in the capital 'W' sense begin to bring change, without relying on constructed presumptions of cosmic energies? It is not without possibility that all of Gurdjieff and Bennett’s cosmology is speculation and optimistic thinking. But there is the nitty-gritty of life, where an act of kindness or cruelty brings about either a gentility or brutality of atmosphere. This is palpable, while more rarefied energies may remain theoretically. We must, in actuality, lift the burden of the Creator by being creators of our own world ourselves. Why must creation constantly depend on the wasted energies of elevated beings when it is we who must take the responsibility to elevate the 'diction?' This again is analogous to the fourth and fifth Obligolnian strivings. Time to give up personal wants and spiritual ambition and assist the needed manifestation of this Work in the world. Individual work must and should go on, but the emphasis needs to be serving the future.
When one begins to take the last two strivings to heart, then one must be both co-creator, who lifts the burdens of vibrational regulation from god (whatever one believes that to be) to ourselves and also the inspiration for the impulse for perfecting, here defined as Christian, way, as sharing one’s light with "all that are in the house." In this evolution, where is the need for large properties that, in the past, were schools and places of nurture for the acquisition of Work ideals and practices? The Prieure and Sherborne were deliberately limited to a period of time, for the experiments of techniques to advance students. What is the use now of these large properties and locations that have been acquired over the years, in imitation of the Prieure? Are they only for the opportunities for practical work? Many have been used as wombs for the Work, it is true. But many of the groups have become identified with their locale. There is not longer a plan in place to give birth in any way to the ones gathered there. There is no sending forth, so to speak, as there was at Sherborne, where students came for 10 months and then left. People were regularly ushered out of the Prieure. In a recent, germane interview in the Gurdjieff Internet Guide, Toddy Smyth referred to this very Diaspora of students. It also serves to remind residents of such properties that identification with such is simply identification, slavery.
Smyth, a long-time student of Mrs. Staveley’s and resident at Two Rivers Farm, also referred to such places as useful for setting conditions for inner work and that any feeling of community that arose was secondary, as in the case of the 'Farm,' unexpected. Smyth also spoke of the “shifting structure” of the Farm although its apparent permanence puts it in the category of large properties dedicated to Work. However, one must be careful to always be sifting the evidence whether this fulfills the fourth and fifth strivings. How much do these large properties sow seeds outside the ‘inner circle’ and those who wish to join them? Although there is mention about how the school attracts community members who then take an interest in the inner work, it is not that entirely that I am advocating here. It is the higher emotional center 'feeling tone' that needs to become patent, not attraction but peace that needs manifesting. As we mature as students, we need to turn the Strivings upside down, sacrificing the personal for the greater.
Ms. Smyth again speaks of the need to "sacrifice one’s suffering." She goes on to expand, "I think it’s a lot more complex. If we wish for the highest potential of human possibilities everything has to be sacrificed, absolutely everything, so I would question that phrase about sacrificing suffering and examine it a lot more carefully." I concur. The sacrifice is giving up what we want to see happen. It is this personal identification with world view, even with the Work, which needs to be sacrificed. Especially fraught is the desire to have something for ourselves. This must go. The need for certainty must go. We must admit, for all our theoretical knowledge of triads and pentads, of exercises and movements, that we know very little and are rather meaningless to the greater universe. We are like bacteria; our only power is to choose the better colony, to grow as we should. The strivings and Partkdolg duties are the road map. They are simply what we are called upon to do in this manifest world. So how, should we act? Withdraw to out large property and do movements? Spend our time talking with those similar to oneself? Form 'communities' to promote our own self-work? All appear rather pallid and even limp responses. Where is the engagement to promote the light?
Perhaps we should go back to the first quotation from Gurdjieff: that the purpose of the Work is to help man (and woman) 'to be able to be a Christian,' (again referring to the universal truth behind all religions and its attendant conduct). If we are to be able to 'love one’s neighbor,' first we must be exposed to him, if only to find out how difficult that really is. I love my neighbors on either side because they are good and generous people but the one across the street is particularly annoying. How, then, can I learn to follow that dictum? Let me again turn to a work day project our group did 'off campus.' The local State hospital for the insane had buried patients before 1960 with a number marker only. A thoughtful nurse had kept a name/number list that had surfaced and a local veteran’s group was raising money for headstones. Our group spent a morning with them setting those headstones, finding the numbers and mapping graves. We did not say who we were but came as ordinary people, paused on the quarter hour, seemingly contemplative of the task. And, indeed we were contemplative. The work proceeded in near silence, with only necessary talking. The emotional center energy was palpable, not because of the work itself but of the reclamation of humanness. Anyone who has spent time around mentally ill people can testify how uncomfortable that can be. We may have avoided these people in life, human derelicts condemned to the state hospital, but in death we could face our shared humanity. Let’s classify that as ‘practice.’ We need to practice, for our own sake, little by little, a more compassionate role in the world, including for my crusty neighbor.
How to bring this new role into the world is also fraught. First, groups need to get away from the multiple acreage wombs. They suck away energy in their upkeep. Perhaps, new people may still come to ‘break’ their modern sloth. However, if a group decides to keep such, then all identification must be smashed. For instance, unless the property already is used by others freely, citizen groups, other spiritual groups, organic farmers, for the local food bank, unless the land is at its highest use, then the group must open it up to such. It has always been this way traditionally with large properties under spiritual groups, whether monasteries or ashrams. The community acts for the benefit of the greater populations, providing medicines, food during famines and spiritual comfort. Perhaps the phrase ‘sequestered but engaged’ might describe these historical refuges. However, these properties truly belonged to no one having ‘outsiders’ camping in your Eden is a good way to break identifications. Otherwise, the property just is another way to hide one’s light. It becomes something that makes work ‘to avoid Work’. Those in the Work, (and especially the JGB branch) love their huge projects, identify with them, attune their bodies to heavy physical work. This may be as Bennett says, ‘legitimate work’ but it is certainly not ‘Conscious Labor’. Conscious Labor, again, has the hallmark of indifference and identification with one’s group’s property is certainly not indifferent. Again, when all labor goes to maintenance of the property there is little left over for any real growth beyond the personal work of dealing with people who share your interests. It is not dealing with the real annoying people out there.
The Work proceeds on many levels. We might be addressing our own inner dilemmas, practicing acceptance of the differences of others or working to change the vibrations of the world. In the Obligolnian strivings, several lines of work appear. Again, without ascribing linearity to them, there are certainly differences as to what is possible in any moment. We would expect that someone new to this Work would not really understand the fourth and fifth strivings. Understanding of these arises over time and effort; they are not immediately accessible. So if not linear, they are certainly developmental. At certain times and perhaps with certain shocks, we are able to move ahead. The older strivings are not abandoned but de-emphasized in importance.
The form of the Work, the group meetings, the movements, the sittings, the practice, the inner work and all the other tools at our disposal will only take one so far. A shock must occur to truly move forward. To me, as well as to Ms. Smyth, that seems to entail a major-perhaps the most major sacrifice. I believe that one must give up ENTIRELY AND SINCERELY, the wish for something for oneself. This is the sacrifice described in the Allegory of the Cave or in Buddhism or Christianity or Islam. One must surrender to the world and become the assistant ‘to the most rapid perfecting’ of others (and perhaps those especially not like oneself). It is necessary to take this step in order to break spiritual ambition, to truly become ordinary. There are people who are courageous in the Work and have sacrificed much already. Recently, I heard a talk by Robert Fripp, saying that it is only necessary to take the first step; that we do not need to know what the second one is. It will appear when necessary. It is time to step away from safety into the suffering world.
Our group has taken on the task this year of exploring what sort of group work, inner and outer, to manifest in the world. Not proselytizing, not doing public movements but some simple tasks, such as the above that have shared characteristics. They will be, to some extent, public. They can be done in front of other people, stops and all. They should be designed to bring about a pause in those viewing, a moment of questioning, a bit of joy, a lifting of the focus on being driven along in one’s life. What they are will become clearer as we experiment. The world needs the Work directly engaged in it. The form of the Work has engaged the first three strivings. Now our Being Partkdolg duty is to move on. I am open to suggestions and dialogue in this matter.