George Adie: The Need for an Aim

Part A

This piece from Mr Adie was incorporated into one of the booklets we produced in the years immediately after his death. Reviewing the booklet for the second time in many years, I was quite impressed by its quality. There must have been something special in the process of producing it, too, because I remember a group of us sitting around a table at a house on the Newport Plateau, discussing aspects of it. This now, is the closing piece.

You know, the longer we have been here, my aim and my presence should be drawing closer together.

One should call the other. My aim should call me. Every recollection of aim should bring me. And my presence should remind me of aim.

You see, how can I consent to live without an aim? Continue to be a purposeless nothing?

How many attractions … but these are all bonds, these are all identifications.

How can I live without an aim, without a purpose – a purpose; that is, a purpose in my being?

Then, how can I have an aim if I am not there? I have to be there, otherwise nothing. And already from what we have been trying, we know that normally we are very little there – there’s very little centralised balance or discrimination. We are swayed here, there, and yet we think we are strong and powerful. It’s all accidental, it’s all automatic, there’s no choice.

I experienced very often, not so much now, but for years I experienced a certain difficulty about aim. Sometimes it had meaning and at other times it was a theoretical thing.

The need for an aim – a far off thing. But somehow I need to put my hands on aim. It’s in this sense that I mean our presence and our aim should be calling each other, because without aim, nothing has any meaning – there is no meaning. There is no reality without aim – there cannot be.

Part B

 The word “aim” means “ to endeavour after.” It contains the idea of some effort, and often of directed work. As Mme Ouspensky said, “Work is a definite effort, in a definite direction, for a definite aim.” These concepts – work, effort, direction, aim, and definiteness – are all relatable. Incidentally, it is just this insistent demand for the “definite” which characterised the authentic Gurdjieff system, and distinguishes it from the “New Work.” Of course, to be “definite” does not mean to be rigid, limited, or blinkered. Maybe because I am wish to awaken, and have some practical understanding of it, that I will be more alert for facts which I had neither suspected nor expected. Definite ideas can develop. Indefinite ones have to take form first.

Skeat says that in Middle English the word “aim” was spelled “amen, aimen, eimen,” and meant “to guess at, to estimate, to intend.” It entered English from an Old French word, “aesmer” meaning “to estimate.” Now, English often drops “s” before an “m”, e.g. the words “blame” and “emerald” were originally “blasme” and “esmerald.” According to the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, the Old French originally came from the probable Vulgar Latin word “adaestimare,” meaning “to determine the value of a thing … to esteem.”

Now, the root of the Latin is IS-, AIS-, meaning “wish” (Lewis, A Latin Dictionary for Schools, 1185). But the authorities do not say that this is where the meaning of “aim” came from. Rather, it is said: “The current meaning developed in the 1400s from the sense of calculating or estimating the direction of something, such as an object or a blow about to be delivered (Chambers, 21).

So, etymologically, the idea of “aim” was originally to estimate where something was heading. It then came to mean “having the intention of taking something into a chosen direction.”

It is fitting, then, that Mr Adie should speak of aim and presence calling each other: my conscious aim must be the aim of my being, and also be for my being. “Presence” refers to a condition when something or someone is manifest. Presence, I think it fair to say, is the manifestation of my being, whether demonstratively or otherwise. One can make a rhetorical question of it: what would be the reality of my aim if I had no presence? It would only be a wish.

Another good word to consider is “purpose.” “Aim” and “purpose” can often be substituted, one for the other. Chambers glosses “purpose” as “intention, aim, goal.” It comes from a French word with those meanings, and can be traced back to the Latin “proponere,” or “to put forward.”

Perhaps because it has two syllables, and its “p” sounds are more emphatic than the “m” of “aim,” the word “purpose” seems to imply an intention more fully formed than the word “aim” does. I think that is more a poetic nuance. I suspect they both have the same meaning, although “aim” may convey more a sense of having considered and formulated one’s intention.

Now, I shan’t go into it here, but some words for “sin” mean “to miss the mark.” A posthumous book based on Nicoll’s papers has just this title. To “aim,” is a related concept: it is to line up the mark. This confirms the soundness of Gurdjieff’s observation: “Sins are what keep a man on one spot if he has decided to move and he is able to move. … And then sin is what stops a man, helps him to deceive himself and to think he is working when he is simply asleep. Sin is what puts a man to sleep when he has already decided to awaken” (In Search of the Miraculous, 357).

Joseph Azize, 10 April 2020

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