Gurdjieff made some very particular contributions to the pursuit of educating personality, after the period when Ouspensky was his pupil. In this post, I will consider just one. It concerns what he called variously “active reasoning” and “active mentation.” The best full treatment of this comes in the talk “Liberation, Identification,” given at the Prieuré on 13 February 1923 (Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, 239-242).
This lecture opens with the words: “Liberation leads to liberation,” meaning that the lesser liberation, which is “liberation from influences within us,” precedes the greater liberation, which is “liberation from influences outside us.”
Outside influences, he says, do not reach us all to the same extent: for a man in sleep, the inner influencs are so great that the outer cannot always enter. That is, our sleep, our personal distortions, cut us off from reality. This being before he has decided to write a book called Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, it is interesting to note that he says that vanity and self-love, our “two most active enemies,” are called in one teaching “representatives and messengers of Beelzebub himself.”
If we wish to be able to receive more outside influences, that is, to be better related to reality, then we need to liberate ourselves as much as possible “and finally altogether” from vanity and self-love.
But how? There are many methods, says Gurdjieff, but he says that without “unnecessary theorizing” we can use “simple reasoning, active reasoning” with ourselves. He then teaches that while there are other methods available, if active reasoning does not help, then no other method will be of use to us. That is, if we cannot use our minds, then nothing will work for us.
I have come to conclude that this is the very truth: I would say that, through all my ups and downs, minor successes and major failures, I have verified for myself that active reasoning is absolutely essential. Good minds are needed in the Work, and I fear that some of what has happened in some groups, at least, has tended to the dulling of intellects through blindly following “group lines”. It is not that we should be intellectual, if that means being cut off from a full sense of being-reality, with feeling, organic instinct and mind working in harmony (and even other more subtle faculties joining in on an increasing number of occasions). It is rather that we do need to come to think for ourselves actively.
Returning to the lecture, Gurdjieff then makes this extraordinary comment: “Take, for instance, self-love, which occupies almost half of our time and life. It someone (or something) has wounded our self-love from the outside, then not only at that moment but for a long time afterwards its momentum closes all the doors, and therefore shuts out life. Life is outside. When I am connected with outside, I live. If I live only within myself, it is not life. Everything lives thus. When I examine myself, I connect myself with the outside.”
“For instance, now I sit here. M. is here, and also K. – we live together. M. called me a fool – I am offended. K. gave me a scornful look. I am offended. I consider, I am hurt and shall not calm down and come to myself for a long time.”
After some explanations, he continues: “M. called me a fool. Why should I be offended? I don’t take offence, such things do not hurt me. Not because I have no self-love, maybe I have more self-love than anyone here. Maybe it is this very self-love that does not let me be offended.”
“I think, I reason in a way exactly the reverse of the usual way. He called me a fool. Must he necessarily be wise? He may himself be a fool or a lunatic. One cannot demand wisdom from a child. I cannot demand wisdom from him. His reasoning was foolish. Either someone has said something to him about me, or he formed his own foolish opinion that I am a fool – so much the worse for him. I know that I am not a fool, so it does not offend me. If a fool has called me a fool, I am not affected inside.”
“But if in a given instance I was a fool and am called a fool, I am not hurt because my task is not to be a fool … So he reminds me … I shall think about it and perhaps not act foolishly next time.”
That is all I will quote from the talk, but I always had a problem applying this. Gurdjieff gives two instances of active reasoning, but both of them relate to other people thinking badly of me. That is something of a problem, but the issues which faced me always had more to do with self-criticism.
Of course this could go on forever, but let us take this as an example: “I acted like a fool – I am hurt and shall not calm down and come to myself for a long time.”
“I think, I reason in a way exactly the reverse of the usual way. I acted like a fool. Can I not learn? No matter how often I fail, if I persevere I may one day change. I am not hurt because my task is not to be a fool. My memory doesn’t leave me alone until I have changed so much that I am no longer the same man. Very good, so much the better for that. I should be glad. I shall ponder it and perhaps not act foolishly next time.”
More is possible, but I shall save those thoughts for a future article, because they relate also to other methods which Gurdjieff brought.
Joseph Azize, 6 June 2017