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Gurdjieff - The Enigmatic Guru by michael mifsud

Gurdjieff - The Enigmatic Guru by
Article Posted: 01/06/2015
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Gurdjieff - The Enigmatic Guru

Self Improvement,Motivation,Relationships
I was only sixteen at the time and super brains, the Head Boy at Gibraltar Grammar School simply thrust the book in my hands. I often wonder what he saw that made him do it, but it would change the whole course of my life. Fresh from GCE´s and a whole lifetime of first in form and religion, I suppose that I felt a bit above the common herd, except that I was just about becoming aware that the nature of life did not depend on how many subjects you had under your belt. In fact things started to go wrong from that point onwards because whereas my passion for reading would remain unaffected throughout the whole course of my life, my emotions were beginning to tell me that I did not have a clue as to what I wanted or where I was going. No doubt, I would have become a permanent scholar – if my parents had had the money of course, but it was not a question of that. The head boy, Edwin Yeats would disappear into thin air and emerge in Oxford to become a Don, I think, but apart from not knowing what the difference was between that and Cambridge I found I could never quite make up my mind fast enough and usually ended up with two or more of everything, afraid to discard either. People however, filled my mental screen with awe. Each and every one of them was larger than life. Every single detail of their personalities and unspoken thoughts either threw me into their field of play or raised a wall that despite the years were never, lamentably to come down. My sensitivity it would appear was exaggerated and to most, too intense. In those early days however it found its course in curiosity and discovery. Despite the pains of everyday life and particularly the breakaway from ones loved ones, the horizon beckoned with the mystery and attraction that would reduce everything else to insignificance. The bobsleigh would reach bottom of its own accord or flounder with unforeseen interruption but it would take many layers of discouragement and many years of hard earned experience of the nature of man to stop me on my quest for the knowledge that would make me still.

I was considered a strange child. I only had to gaze at someone and see a complex entity that I wanted to understand from every angle of view. I reached out with the simplicity that either put people at instant ease or bottled them up in sustained defence. It put most people off and threatened to make a hermit out of me. When it did work however, the look in their eyes told me that I had made them feel that it was where they wanted to be. In any case, my contribution to the school magazine at fifteen had caused a furore. I had gone through a variety of sources and managed to write a striking article, very much as I continued to do for decades after. It was to prove embarrassing because none of my competitors accepted its authorship. They insisted that I had plagiarised somebody or various, despite the teachers attempting to make them understand that quoting others and illustrating a point was an important and valid way of writing. For me, "the cat sat on the mat" style of writing had come to an end and multi layered forms of expression designed to provoke thought and action in the reader seemed a much better use of the medium. "Why write therefore", Some fifty years after the event I understand the fear of the idea that I was doing things that they had not been taught how to do. I had cheated. I had broken the mold and I was to pay the price forever after.

The dawn of emotional awareness

My favourite teacher and mentor was everyone´s pet hate but I could see that somehow he felt that I was a product of his aspirations and maybe he was right. Brother Power -an Irish Christian Brother, was an unusual man who frightened most but I once caught a glimpse of his soul and like Gurdjieff and his travelling companion, felt that sinking sense of loss when our paths diverged. I enquired about him throughout his life from his colleagues whenever they crossed my path, but I was never to see him again. He had apparently become a competition golfer but then as Science master he probably knew every angle and weight of every shot, at a glance. I always came up top with his own highly definable subjects like chemistry, geometry, physics etc but what was peculiar, was that I started to fail in knowledge that was meaningless to me. History dates for example, British politicians called younger and elder and puppet like figures like Walpole who conjured up images of Mr.Pickwick and the welsh singer Harry Secombe. People and first impressions started to modify my sense of presence and shape my very nature. Something was happening in those early years and nobody seemed to be interested in what I was to do next. Lack of teachers, was the excuse given. I felt the terrible vacuum like a discarded rag. I also felt a chasm between me and the University, which attracted me but for which reason, I felt, was not of itself, sufficiently meaningful to consider it as a primary goal. Advanced level subjects were necessary and despite obtaining them in the UK, the feeling that I had to justify my choice to everybody, including my own family which needed my extra help, put an end to that aspiration. The teachers, in their wisdom, had previously dumped me on the local Cable and Wireless station with the sad hope that I would take their engineering career and crown all those scholastic scores. I felt betrayed, but something had already happened - I had entered a world of self awareness that the book Edwin gave me would endorse indelibly. The searcher had already been born. I hitched a lift to the legendary London some thousand miles away and my life began

The Revelations of the British Surgeon

Edwin´s book was called "Diagnosis of Man" and it was written by a British surgeon called Sir Kenneth Walker " It appeared that he was a disciple of the Sufi George Gurdjieff and although the deep study of man he wrote about swam before my eyes, something remarkable happened. I read between the lines of the book I could barely understand but the path ahead shone with a clarity that even now, I realise, was unusually clear. I felt I knew Gurdjieff personally and I would in future defend him and his teachings as if I had been a close disciple. I also read Ouspensky, the brilliant mathematician, who complicated things unduly, I thought and among others, some of the works of disciples like Bennett but somehow, what came through from these, was an obscure apology for failure. I later met one of Bennett's own pupils who had in effect created mayhem at the Prieure and even assaulted Bennett himself. It made me wonder whether the basic tenets of Gurdjieff´s guiding principles had been properly assimilated or whether the initial sense of purpose passed on had somehow been diluted by post war values. It was interesting to me that this highly unlikely student of Gurdjieff´s discipline, could have ever been admitted but also noted that for the rest of his life, he made himself felt on every subject under the sun in the columns of a local newspaper. He was also a talented singer/guitar player and free thinker and perhaps his confrontation with Bennett was a two way affair.

I have come to the conclusion that despite not really understanding at that tender age, what it was all about, that something got through like an invisible subliminal shot. I even promoted Gurdjieff and made every effort to make myself known to his circles in London and Paris. I was answering a call. I began to wonder whether Sufism perhaps was not part of the training of the Christian Brothers who had taught me so much. The Jesuits it was known, had trained at the Ishmaeli Universities in Alexandria and Cairo. Curiously, The Jewish and Hindu pupils in our school were, I am still told by them, totally at home in this Christian environment. Additonally, my first real appreciation of brave historical figures came through the stories told verbally with abundant detail by our Headmaster who brought Douglas Bader, the legless pilot, the child Dalai Lama and the legacy of Tibet to our fertile minds without regard to their religious affinities

The Capital of Learning

London had the world on a plate. Its teaching institutions offered every subject imaginable for free at any time of day or night. It offered me the opportunity to see what remained of Gurdjieff´s work. I did not quite hit it off with any of the front bench spokesmen of the Gurdjieff Society circles, I contacted. I thought they had lost their way perhaps and become introverted and defensive but then, the way was not for those who did not persevere, including me - and I did not pursue the issue. Culture could also have been at the core of this obscure response to the existance of a line of descent and there were many who undermined the very legacy of the system. These were all too ready to retort with little provocation that "Gurdjieff was, a foreigner after all and an Asian at that, who made his mark before World War II when the world was a different place" I could almost hear some of them think and "what did he have to say anyway" ? These remarks convinced me that in the post war public mind, destroying the ego was of itself a weakening exercise akin to shooting oneself in the foot. As society became increasingly competitive and aggressive, so most people thought that the only way to survive was to attack as a form of defence. "He´s too difficult" – some would say and others with a flourish - "old hat ole boy, old hat..." The collective ego appeared to be so deeply rooted that it blocked the approach to concepts (if they were not fashionable), as appears to be the case with the Beatles´ guru, the Maharaji, the subsequently popular Maharishee and the unlikely – Mr. Moon. These created their own followers of fashion and few probably even knew the slightest thing about the nature or quality of the teaching. St. Teresa of Avila herself, a mystic of some consequence who grappled with the traumatic revelations her mind led her into, refused to go to Southern Spain where the high and mighty of officialdom interfered with her work to the point of violence when their daughters were forbidden entry into the cloisters for fashionable reasons.. St. Teresa, found herself harangued and later prosecuted before the compliant Church Authorities for not allowing these empty vessels to don the habit and sport it around. It was not what she was all about and the Inquisition very nearly put an end to her life and work. It shows however, how teachings that become popular can be subverted and abused by those who want the glory of the association but not the work.

Images of a Hidden Past.

I took an ageing but strikingly alert Polish Countess involved in mystical new age groups to see the film that Peter Brooke made of Gurdjieff´s book "Meetings with remarkable men". The joy and meticulous attention to detail that this astonishing director put into it was immediately obvious and the dance scenes, lifted anyone with any degree of sensitivity, way above ground level. She was not that impressed or so she said, but her mind was already made up about new and more relevant mystics which struck me as some sort of exposure to modern Rosicrucian courses - straight from California. I was not taken in by the apparent dismissal, as her eyes fled sideways. It was too late for her to change her course she admitted. She had just introduced me to the Chancellor of the University of Peace of Costa Rica who also happened to be an ex- president of the nation itself and whatever she was on, seemed to work quite well. The redoubtable Princess Gargarin of Armenia was also highly charged on good work although I got the impression that it lacked the rails that Gurdjieff could have so easily given these women of destiny. I was to come across this reaction many times and I understood distressingly, that Gurdjieff was probably the only one who could put his discipline across. To satisfy my unrequited search, I would have had to dedicate my whole fragmented life to the re-installation of the famous "Prieures – a conceited and improbable proposal. Many scintillating minds had gone to them in search of self discovery and found the ability to influence social change. Much had been going on in the Europe of the twenties and this exposure to eastern mysticism had found root in many a household. Rudolph Steiner, Hitlers confidante and mystical architect had impressed the social upper classes with his peculiar, domed, magical buildings. Gurdjieff centres had experimented with enclosures of this but then taking the founder´s interest in altered consciousness it is not surprising. Fashion may have also made some sort of contribution to the resounding interest in the Sufi call of the time. Yet at the heart of it, there was a way and not one that Gurdjieff himself had invented. He had put his own unique interpretation to aspects of it and without doubt, it was based on a sound understanding of the needs of the human psyche.

I had noted that the circle which had been bred by Gurdjieff himself was not so far from London, and had taken the disciple Bennett to the end of his life. The experiment appeared to have come to a silent halt. Idris Shah – the popular Sufi writer had, it appeared, taken it over at Bennett's requests and dismantled the place for property speculation reasons. What happened next is not very clear. Gurdjieff I am sure, would have not been surprised, but the legacy of the great man – the physical evidence at least, was gone, including one of those architectural experiments in the grounds which appeared to induce an altered state of mind. From a historical point of view, the loss of the Prieure appeared to be an act of municipal and ultimately, national neglect. I was however beginning to suspect that deep within society well versed and spiritually developed adepts secretly maintained the memory and work alive despite the vicissitudes of epoch to epoch, degeneration.

I obtained the same sort of depressing reaction from another major disciple, Madame Saltzmann from the Paris "Preure", whose voice on the telephone betrayed a despair that suggested an inability to leave a heritage. I began to have doubts however, about the loss of this valuable survival when I saw Peter Brooke´s screen effort and noted the presence of actors of the calibre of Terence Stamp within the cast. The ritual dancing presentations were as hypnotic as could be expected and it was not difficult to understand that despite the lack of presence, the way was there and many were its followers, ensconced like the Templars, within the fabric of social management.

It was difficult to understand however, how something as significant as this, which had touched the intellectual world and released so much energy in figures like Isadora Duncan and Lenin, could have been allowed to lose its roots so easily. Isadora, who revolutionised stage dancing and by the same means shaken the very core of the society of her hypocritical age, made it into legend. Again, whilst it does not appear to be acknowledged publicly, Lenin himself was of the same source and his political thrust proved to be of the magnitude and incisiveness expected for good or bad. Had Stalin not vandalized the work under cover of false documents and so called blessing of the grand revolutionary, his international acknowledgement would have been of a different order. On the dark side, the tragic death of the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield at the Prieure and whose brief encounter with Gurdjieff had,it seemed disturbed her deeply, is also another pointer with respect to the strong influence that the mystic himself had on those who sought his awakening and mistook it for support. Strange words indeed, but then, Gurdjieff himself was a very peculiar man – a man who had found the exact dimensions of his own spiritual needs and could not but look down on the untidy mess of fellow man. He called them (zombies), for want of a better word, if only in the context of the state of sleep he reasoned, most people were mainly in. It is not difficult to understand what he meant when we attempt to dialogue sincerely with most products of today´s entangled, meaningless, societies. Contemporary events speak for themselves as power merchants sell their comfortable wares and studied presentations designed to make their consumers dance to the tune of their purposeless incitements. Gadjet after gadjet loose on curiousity and habit appears to push humanity further and further away from reality and purposeful survival. This philosophy of destruction of the sense of challenge, calculated to undermine the will to survive is without doubt behind the collapse of social values, modern illnesses and zero bank balances. Heinous crimes against family and friends – against tutor and advisor, of an order historically unknown and lacking in reason, is but the tip of an iceberg that threatens to deteriorate further. The flip side however shows that public alarm begins to recognize, at last, that lack of self imposed discipline and sense of direction is at the very roots of the evil.

The Power of Words.

"Wake up and take notice" - is the message that came through to those who listened carefully, even though the way to listen and act was not as easy to apply as most knowledge seekers would expect it to be. "Show me how" is not the same as "show me how, master" The need to empty before the tutor is but a means towards that refinement of hearing – that loss of the clumsy ego that forever tries to take it all for itself. Gurdjieff did belong to his time, but it takes very little to begin to understand that he took a very long time and a great deal of personal desolation in real terms, to start to get to the point of the psychological discoveries that he wished to take to the West. His mission had little to do with political manifestoes and more of an attempt to unlock the power of "being" in humanity. This attempt became his goal in life as a teacher, rather than a propagation of a contemplative element. The second course was chosen by some of his early colleagues and fellow travellers who had chosen to be at peace with themselves rather than walk with Gurdjieff further down the path. For them therefore, contemplation was the means and an end.

Gurdjieff had a way with words because he was more interested in their inherent sounds than the words themselves. In this way, he came closer to language as a tool of thought transfer than as an instrument of self delusion. It has often been said that language obstructs the capacity of the mind to think for itself. It has also been said that understanding comes from keeping words away from the process of thinking. Perhaps in the same way as anxious people tie words up in long strings to the point of monologue, so the mind, aware of the approaching silence, defends itself with the noise of unspoken words in an attempt to take the easy path – the path of apathy and self indulgence. Sufism has one deadly enemy – the ego. Real knowledge is surely only meaningful in terms of personal attunement and the means to interpret it ? If it does not cause change, it cannot surely be knowledge as far as the recipient is concerned ? Realisation has to be the end result, but it can also be falsely attributed by a deceitful ego, anxious to misinterpret and continue unaffected. How then to differentiate ? These concepts were clearly outlined by Gurdjieff but towards the end of his life, he knew that there was very little time left to waste on those whom his own disciples had more time to take to task. His satirical trilogy "Beelzebub´s tales to his Grandson" has to be seen in this context. Symbolism as can be expected, plays an important part in his apparently senseless narrative. Making it meaningful is a matter of approach and angle of view - hence The Way.

Existing and newly appearing works attempt to carry the powerful voice of Gurdjieff´s soul to the few who have it in their hearts to stop and listen. There are aspects of his teachings or techniques however, which can be spelt out clearly to express his thoughts on the essential preparation to self fulfillment. One of the terms he utilized frequently with great amusement was "Kunderbuffer" or something very similar. It carries an immediate sense of childhood and cushion comfort. This, he understood, was a built in barricade to understanding and self realisation which had been placed in the mind (as a programme) by (whoever) and had to be short circuited or removed to attain objective understanding. This single item alone, among many of his interesting concepts deserves a great deal of thought but without taking Gurdjieff too seriously in his very personal attempts to get his message across. Humour, cynicism, boyish intransigence – all played a part, but within that smoke screen, a very elevated soul tried to make man in his own image, if only through those he could communicate with and align quickly. Gurdjieff knew the length and breadth of the result of his material when he saw it and those who said they could not bear the intensity of his look, were searching for a knowledge that they had perhaps not been prepared to ask for.

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