Many of us are looking for a path that will lead to happiness, health, and a real feeling of compassion towards others, especially those of us who have come to question the meaning of life in the face of the suffering, stress and uncertainty of today’s world. A growing number of us are exploring meditation, yoga, t’ai chi and other expressions of knowledge that have come from a more ancient time in human history in the hope that something about our lives will change. But do we ever question whether or not the kind of change we think we’re looking for in life will put us on a path that can actually put us in contact with something higher?
Do I ever honestly reflect on my wish for change? Upon reflection, is it possible that I’m trying to fit meditation, yoga and the like into my life as if they were made just for me, to be manipulated? A question that then arises…might there be some value in shifting my point of reference away from viewing myself as the center of the universe, as one who can consume all that is around me? Is there room in myself to consider facing the question of how I, as I really am, might fit into already-existing laws of the universe, infinitely greater than I, from which yoga and meditation have surely been drawn?
This shift in perspective, this opening up to question all that I think I know, may very well be the vital clue to what makes the Gurdjieff tradition so unique…a perspective that may be alienating to some, but for others, providing the first taste of hope through its provocatively different approach to finding meaning and happiness in life.
And from this new, fresh perspective, I almost immediately realize that if I wish to find my place, then I will need to more about myself. What can I truly say that I know of myself…not in an analytical way, but from actual observation of myself in action? Clearly, “who am I?” becomes the fundamental question I must face.
From observation of myself, questions may arise. “What gets in the way of my wish for something higher in my life?” Do I have a set idea of how I think I should/or want to be? Do I judge everything I see in myself as “good” or “bad?” Is it even possible to accept what I see, both the “good” and the “bad,” without judgment…as glimpses of an overall picture of who I really am?
Gurdjieff draws a connection between the principle “know thyself” (which can be found in one form or another in all the great religious traditions) and the formula “as above, so below.” Thus, a clue from the long distant past that a search for something so much greater than I may very well begin with a study of what is right in front of me…myself. Through his writings, music, and movements (the “sacred dances”) Gurdjieff introduced an all-encompassing cosmology and practical approach designed to help us conduct this search for our place in the overall scheme of things. He draws on a body of knowledge that can be found in varied expression in all the great religious traditions, including the need for a connection between mind and body that can be found in meditation, t’ai chi-chi kung, yoga and elsewhere. An exploration of how one can bring all the parts of our being…our thinking, our feelings, and our senses…into a harmonious development is at the heart of the Gurdjieff tradition.
In today’s culture there seem to be so many keys being held in front of us that offer promise of happiness, health and compassion toward others. The Gurdjieff work goes infinitely further by also suggesting to us how we might arrive at the door in which these keys fit.