November 05, 2005

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

Churning Opposing Thoughts
Man, says Gurdjieff, is actually a machine because each of his actions, thoughts and feelings are passive and mechanical responses to stimuli. Life forces, however, can be used to wake him up. Every phenomenon in the universe is inevitably the manifestation of three forces — an active force, a resistance to that force and then a third force that is the neutralising force, perhaps emerging from the struggle between the active and the resisting force. In the Hindu myth of the churning of the ocean, the opposing forces of the devas and asuras churn the milky ocean (manthan) and something new, the nectar, emerges. So the starting point is to take any of life's forces — say one of our numerous habits, physical, intellectual or emotional — and attempt to stand against its demands. Then an internal churning happens between the force of the habit and the resistance of it and something new emerges: A new kind of awareness, consciousness, a hint of objective will. And we have so many habits to pick from. For example, take the common habit of constantly justifying ourselves. Try watching yourself each time you are placed in a situation that makes you justify yourself and resist the urge to justify. You will experience a kind of inner transformation, a touch of something higher than the petty call of ego. The secret of alchemy is the struggle between forces that convert lead into gold.
Urban life conditions provide a rich source of opportunity for awakening. Talking, for example, is a mechanical activity. Rarely do we speak consciously. It is difficult for us to control our speech. Take lying as another example. Refusing to lie, we will again see how difficult it is for us not to lie. Lies for coming late to work or for forgetting to return a call. Unpeeling one more mask is what Gurdjieff calls voluntary suffering. Expressing negative emotions is another favourite mechanical habit. We complain about even the weather, as though the weather was meant to be arranged for our personal comfort. Or take self-justification and try the experiment of refusing to self-justify even for a few hours and you will discover a new truth about yourself. The refreshing element of Gurdjieff's method is both the spirit of experimentation and verifying the truth by oneself, in true rational and scientific spirit and as in the highest tradition of the spiritual through direct perception. His teachings are for living in ordinary day-to-day life; a balance between the outer world of relationships-jobs-security with an inner life of clear seeing, lucid presence and sensitivity.

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