Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Warring against Sleep

I was reminded by reading J.B. Priestley's 'The Magicians' to read Colin Wilson's small book. 'G. I. Gurdjieff: The War Against Sleep' geographically appropriately on a day trip to and from the Paris that was, for so long, his home. To do so is to be reminded what a good writer Wilson is - fluid, intelligent, concise and clear - handling complex subject matter with judicious care.

Wilson's Gurdjieff is a highly gifted experimental psychologist who came to a penetrating understanding of how our minds might work towards their full potential but not a guru whose system was closed, perfected and infallible (nor simply a charlatan though a man equipped with the characteristics of a trickster).

Indeed Wilson, rightly, shows that in spite of its remarkable results it was all too human, deserving correction and development. Wilson's sees it as a system that was both too pessimistic (about the robotic nature of our usual human round) and, as a result, too emphatic on the importance of 'extra-human' struggle to overcome such mechanicalness.

Nevertheless in shaping an understanding of the complex relationship between our 'two minds' - the wide focused shaper of connectivity and meaning and the narrow focused rational calculator - he was a trend setter as was his emphasis on the importance of 'self-remembering' - of holding that quality of awareness of the doing at the same time as of our doing it - from which is born a renewing perception of the world and our creativity within it. And, importantly, joy in that world - Wilson brings a breezier Anglo-Saxon optimism to Gurdjieff's theorising.

I was struck too, again, how Gurdjieff sets this out within a framework of the objective - we may be subject to our minds but their laws are objective and describable. Follow these instructions, tread this path, with the right attention and effort, and you will unfold into a waiting world as objectively real, if not more so, than the one that greets our everyday perception.

This is what first excited me about Gurdjieff (and his pupil, Maurice Nicoll) when I first encountered them in my twenties in discussion with Ann Wetherall, friend and colleague, as we started the Prison Phoenix Trust together. Though the Fourth Way as such was never part of the Trust's mission and, though I believe Ann had known (or met) J.G. Bennett, she was never a 'joiner' nor disciple - except as a dance student of Uday Shankar. This last point not incidental, I think, to an attraction to Gurdjieff - recognising a path that passes through, at least in part, the wisdom of the body. (One thinks of Peter Brook in this regard).

The conversation, as I recall it now, was permeated by this sense that if you 'get it right' you slip across a threshold, stepping into a connected, enfolding yet differently ordered nature of things; and, you can learn to get it 'right', to dispose yourself to that waiting presence and objectivity of consciousness,

I was reminded of an Orthodox service when if the priest, choir and congregation find themselves in alignment and are successfully present and yet self-forgetting, you step into that pattern of liturgy and worship that is woven into the very heart of the world. Paradoxically, at the other end of the liturgical spectrum, you can find a similar moment in Quaker worship when the collective body find themselves in the objectivity of silence and are communally directed in the light. It is, sadly, why most Catholic and Protestant services too often feel made up - speaking out of and to the personality (as Gurdjieff would call it) rather than from the 'essence'.  And one example of getting it right, I was taught by Metropolitan Anthony, namely how to read the Gospel without inserting your personality or 'giving it expression' rather allowing it to speak through you, as you get out of the way.

Yet this difference can only ever be shown, not said, evoked and then experienced.

After I had read Priestley's 'The Magicians' http://ncolloff.blogspot.ch/2016/04/the-magicians.html, I had an experience of this when I found myself in a 'memory' - reliving it again both as my younger and my present self - what Priestley has his characters refer to as 'time alive' - and the quality of the memory was of a different kind, hard, real, objective, not the usual half tied remembrance and lostness of things. It was akin to the difference between a lucid and an ordinary dream. In it you could see each and every emotion and thought that was at play in what was a moment of significant decision and how some  of those forces continue in play to this day and in being seen in this way that they might be shifted for the better.  It was an experience in which I was 'truly alive'. Meaning was being made anew,  essence being glimpsed beyond the play of personality - and for that enriching 'moment' I have, I sense, partly an acquaintance with Gurdjieff to thank.

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