For anyone with an interest in Gurdjieff’s ideas, this volume is not just useful but valuable. For those attempting to put his ideas and methods into practice, it is indispensable, because from its pages there emerges with great clarity Gurdjieff’s insistence upon the use of inner exercises, and of confronting and working upon negative emotions (not least by drawing the energy into oneself, for one’s own being). Before I pass to a short discussion of these, let me say that the book, ISBN 978-0-9780661-4-7 is readily available from both the publisher (Dolmen Meadow Editions, Toronto) and By the Way Books (bythewaybooks.com).
As stated, these two ideas of the need for inner exercises, and of working upon negative emotions, dominate Gurdjieff’s answers. But these are by no means the only ideas found here. Very significant, too, is his injunction to choose an ideal for oneself, and the distinction he drew between “me” and “I”. More commonly known, but reiterated here in memorable phrases and with practical advice, are his teaching on remorse and repair of the past, conscious relaxing, assimilation, impulses, children, human relations, and the true nature of effort for awakening. This is but a taste, my own draft index, which I shall type up and make freely available on the web since the book has none, has about one hundred entries.
But first, exercises, and negative emotion. George and Helen Adie always placed a premium on the inner exercises. Of these, the fundamental one was the “collected state exercise”, when used first thing in the day, as part of the “Morning Preparation”. As I have explained in fuller detail elsewhere, there was more to the Preparation than only that exercise. However, that exercise was the critical heart of the Preparation. They also made significant use of the exercises in the Third Series, judicious use of some of those in the then unpublished manuscripts of Paris meetings, and some others which Gurdjieff had taught the Adies. I have already published a deal on those exercises, and shall probably publish more. Suffice to say, the contents of book reinforce me in all my conclusions.
Then, the “second” idea in Gurdjieff’s system is, as Ouspensky understood it, that of negative emotions, that they fulfil no good purpose, but are rather a sort of cancer in the psyche and even a danger to our physical health, that there is no unavoidable reason for their existence, and that they can be made passive. What Gurdjieff adds here, with a clarity and insistence I do not recall to have otherwise seen, is the advice to be aware of the action of these emotions in us, and to use their force to feed our real selves.
I will take but one example. On p.74, the meeting of 15 July, PA says: “When I experience a violent negative emotion and I make the required effort, I experience clearly that the negative force is mine. When I am rid of it, I feel a great wholeness, but I don’t know what to do with it.” On the next page, Gurdjieff answers: “… we spoke specifically about this. We said, “This force, I wish it to be my force”. This force, you can gather it and use it.” I will just pause to note that there is a transcript of Mrs Adie saying almost exactly the same thing, and even that one can withdraw the force back into oneself from one’s atmosphere, because some of the force remains in one’s atmosphere for quite a while (as anyone with any feeling can verify for themselves, negative emotions do remain in a person’s atmosphere).
Then, PA protested: “I try, but I don’t know how, and in an instant, it’s used up.” Gurdjieff replied: “You have to do it. Today you do it automatically. If you do it consciously, then you transform this force with your consciousness. But you do it like a donkey, automatically.” The exchange continued, and Gurdjieff related this to the collected state exercise. I shall not delve into his answer, it is too rich to do it justice, except to quite this part, which is vital to my present theme: “Make this force of which you speak your own. My weakness, I make it mine”. This idea, that of making the weakness mine, is vital in Gurdjieff’s practical teaching. It is not that there is no such thing as a weakness, but that it can be used, and by “making it mine”, it calls “I” to appear.
It is interesting that this volume should appear now. I have just completed a study in which I conjectured that there must be many more transcripts of meetings than those which have been made available. This one book has at least doubled if not tripled the amount of transcript available to us. Further, the anonymous editors state that they have corrected errors and undone some of the editing in the previously available versions. I have already spotted one or two of Gurdjieff’s comments which the previous editor, Solita Solano, removed, possibly because they seemed a little crude to her. I can only wonder whether transcripts from other years will be published. These, too, must exist. It is a nicely printed and bound volume, in authoritative dark blue. I am yet to spot a typographical error. There are several blank pages at the end: essential for making notes which will not obscure or distract when one returns to the text. The major lack, in my view, is an index. It is not easy to produce a good index, but the Toronto group, who published this, were also responsible for the two editions of the Guide and Index to Beelzebub. Given that work on this project apparently started when Michel de Salzmann was alive, it has taken along time to get this point (although we do not know when the decision to publish was made, or by whom). Perhaps the price of an index would have been a further ten years, and that would be too high.
I shall return to this book in future blogs. The more I read it, the more I realise its importance.
Joseph Azize, 11 December 2017