Gurdjieff’s Contemplative Exercises and his Movements

Movement implies the animation of a still point.

When a still point is realised through Gurdjieff’s Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation, it is poised, it is disposed to receive animation from a higher influence, and it is capable of conscious participation in the life of that higher level.

To speak of sacred movements is to imply that the physical body, with the subtle bodies which permeate it, are spiritualised: that is, they are animated – they are put in movement. Perhaps this corresponds to the mystery of Gurdjieff’s movements, that all bodies are engaged, at least in potential. If that potential is realised, the bodies are awoken. The movement is thus the form of the unity of the animated bodies. Otherwise, it is merely a drill.

This will not happen by itself merely because I am in a movements class. The effort requisite to come to the still point is the effort requisite for all spiritual work; and the purest, cleanest, and simplest avenue I know of making that effort is precisely Gurdjieff’s contemplation-like exercises.

It seems to me that there are four synchronous stages in the spiritual life, although even to say “stages” is to risk misunderstanding, because they often overlap. But it is still, I think, a better word than “aspect” or “dimension” because there is an internal logic or reason to the unfolding of life, and it is presented to our minds as stages. So this is a more convenient way of speaking about something which we must always refer back to our experience, for that will correct us should we start to become too literal.

The stages are this: forming an aim or education, purification or disciplining, illumination, and consolidation or unification. This vocabulary is gratefully drawn from the Christian mystic tradition which speaks of purification or purgation, followed by illumination, and then union. I am not aping the great Christian mystics, I had read some of their writings and about them before I had heard of Gurdjieff, but I have since found the truth of much of what they taught. My own practical study also showed me that they assumed the preliminary step of forming an aim, which is perhaps the highest fruit of education. The aim of a real man, of course, brings with it his wish.

The ideas are fundamental in the first stage. They never lose their value, and in fact, the more one proceeds the more necessary they are, for when one starts to sail over unfamiliar waters, the map, the ability to navigate by the stars, becomes indispensable. Whether we are speaking of the exercises or the movements, this first stage of education is necessary. It informs my intention, it helps to rouse the interest of the feeling body, and it corresponds to that aim, formulated yet always calling me on.

The second stage of discipline and purification or purgation follows the first stage, if not only because one has to know aim at becoming clean, healthy, and ordered. Hence, Ouspensky said that after consciousness, the most important of Gurdjieff’s ideas was that of the struggle with negative emotions. Sometimes in the exercises, or more precisely, in the state of collection they lead to, it is possible to work fairly directly on harmonising our denying factors, including negative emotions. This is a part of what Gurdjieff called “being-logical-confrontation,” the inner act of collecting myself and confronting that which denies my affirming aim. In the movements, I think, the actual realisation of the movements, and likewise of stillness, requires a state in which the denying forces are passive. The mind is restrained from wandering, the emotions  from running amok, and the body from taking habitual postures by the form of the movement. As that movement has to unfold in time, I have to obey its laws, which are higher than those of the level on which we live. To put it another way, I lose my conscious position in the movements class, if I am taken by any of these features (considering, negative emotion, unnecessary talking – within myself or aloud to others, etc.)

Illumination is the third state, and clearly enough, it often coincides with the previous two. But it can be realised with more intensity, and when it does, it is experienced as an access of positive emotion. Again, Gurdjieff’s exercises offer a path to more directly experience positive feeling, because we usually have no control of them. The movements are not quite so direct, and there is a danger of imagination creeping in (“Oh, I am performing a sacred Sufi ceremony”). But still the music can, and the movements themselves often do, evoke a purer feeling than we are used to.

The fourth stage is union or consolidation. Perhaps there are many grades within this stage, as there are within the others. But I would venture to say that without at least touching this stage, or perhaps better to say acknowledging it, the highest value of the spiritual life is lost. Behind real I lies God, Gurdjieff said. Maybe we can say that behind a real movement …

When we work with the movements now, we begin with a more formal preparing, and at the end, with a contemplative exercise. I am aware that Gurdjieff did not close the movements classes with an exercise, but would he disapprove? We have found that this helps us, quite considerably, to benefit from the movements and our coming together.

I began by saying that movement implies the animation of a still point. There is a great mystery here, for if it is animated, it does not lose its stillness, even in movement, for its timeless unity is reflected in and permeates the diversity of movement in time.


  1. “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
    Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
    But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
    Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
    Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
    There would be no dance, and there is only dance.
    I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
    And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.”

    BURNT NORTON 1935 / 1943 / 1952
    – T. S. Eliot
    Student of P D Ouspensky.
    As editor with Faber & Faber,
    facilitator of two published volumes of the first known English translations of portions of DOBROTOLUBLYE, Paisius Velikchovsky’s Church Slavonic redaction of PHILOKALIA.

  2. Thank you for this – this is immensely helpful.
    And when you spoke of the preparation at the beginning and contemplation at the end, I realized that the movements are a microcosm of the daily round – the “exercise” of awakening from night-time sleep, preparation exercise – sensing innerly and outerly, listening innerly and outerly, looking innerly and outerly, and then sensing the mysterious movements arising from stillness throughout the day (continual self-remembering and self-observation – trying to sense this), and the closing contemplative exercises at the end of a day. Life as a school of temple dancing . . . . Temple being this body within these bodies within the body of Earth and Cosmos . . .

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