Caring for a Clarinet: 13 January 2024

On 9 December 1930, Gurdjieff said: “… an aspirant to learn to be a pianist, can never learn except little by little. If you wish to play melodies at first without practising, you can never play real melodies, and the melodies you will play will make people suffer and hate you. So also in life with psychological things. To gain anything real, long practice is necessary. Try to accomplish very small things first.” Early Talks, 402.

We aim at a whole and entire sense of presence. The far aim is the presence of “real I,” but on the road to it, there are experiences of wholeness which it is hard to compare, one with the other. These experiences are a necessary part of any “work for self-perfection and inner development.” Concerning this, he said that: “we have to join with movement our normal feelings and sensations, as well as the special feeling and special sensation which we are aiming to acquire. This other sensation should be acquired without destroying the sensations already present.” Early Talks, 231.

Gurdjieff went on to say that: “… to make a movement truly useful we must gradually join with it all the above-mentioned other movements of a different category.” That ties in with the opening quote.

I would say that in all Gurdjieff’s directions for conscious work in life, in Movements, and in the secluded conditions of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation, it is necessary, as he says to gradually add the components of the whole together.

That is, conscious inner work requires that the main parts of the whole be worked on separately, “cleaned and cognised” to borrow the phrase offered by a friend, and then put them together. That means to study sensation by itself, relaxation by itself, feeling by itself, the atmosphere by itself, and so too for the breath and other realities as well, of which I would suggest that aim is by far the most important. Then, having at least made the effort with each of them, to bring them together. At first, perhaps, we work with two, three or four. But eventually, more and more is added.

Strange to say, there is an effort wherein one does not have in the front of one’s mind how much is added together, because to the extent that consciousness of the whole is present, and fills our awareness (so to speak) consciousness of the parts is not – it is taken up into the greater whole.

How can this be? How can assiduous work on a part lead towards an effort with the whole, and not away from it? Is working with sensation, for example, not taking us away from our aim?

That may be a danger of getting lost in drills and exercises, but as with learning an instrument, they also present a possibility. Consider this analogy. I have a clarinet. To play it, I must have a reed, all the parts of the clarinet body, wax, and a cleaner. I have to know how to moisten the reed, and when it is necessary to change it. I have to know how to attach it to the mouthpiece so that it is neither too tight no too loose, and properly aligned. The cork of each piece must be properly waxed. Then I have to assemble each of the pieces in the right order, and to attach them without damaging the keys. The whole must be correctly aligned, and there is very little range for error. With the right orientation, I can now play. But when it is done, I have to clean the inside of the instrument to remove the moisture and disassemble it without damaging it. Then I can play it for the term of its natural life, we might say. But this work must always be done. Even dispense with waxing the cork too often, and you will just not be able to assemble and disassemble the instrument.

I think the analogy to spiritual work is good. We are more complicated even than the clarinet or double-bass, so the care must be correspondingly greater, but it cannot be less. We cannot take the attitude that we do not need it without fooling ourselves. That is, I believe a great danger: people start to imagine that they are working. But if they have no consciousness of sensation, that is, if their feet are not on the ground, what are any visions of the third heaven worth?

Finally, to return to the quote from p.231: why should “This other sensation … be acquired without destroying the sensations already present”? beside anything else, I would suggest, that if one simply displaces ordinary experiences by extraordinary ones, nothing changes in our being, but in those experiences. To meditate and have moments of bliss is like going to the movies to escape the humdrum of life. There is no doubt that during the film, one feels moved, maybe even as if life will never be the same. And yet, sooner or later, the usual range of life tempos reassert themselves, and we are back to where we were. Our being has not changed.

As we prepare for the 13th, this is, I think, one aspect of Gurdjieff’s achievement: he brought a suite of practical methods to make permanent and lasting change to being. But we only benefit from them to the extent we use them, time and again, growing gradually.

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