I had not originally planned to include this exercise in this introductory sampling and still have serious misgivings about sharing it now. There’s a significant risk that some of you may be tempted to try it out under inappropriate conditions and wind up in a hall of mirrors.
But the exercise so clearly furnishes the bridge, both conceptually and practically, between the “Atmosphere” Exercise we have just been working with and the magisterial “Four Ideals” Exercise upon which we are about to embark that to leave it off the table turns out to be impossible. You will meet a new side of Gurdjieff here, a whole new depth to his collective and compassionate engagement with the world, that few commentators, even those senior in the Work, have sufficiently noticed.
So here’s the caveat up front: Please do not try out this exercise with your newfound friends in your online spiritual study group. Repeat: DO NOT!! It needs to be anchored in actual on-the-ground experience, lived cheek-to-jowl with your fellow seekers, shored up by a hefty component of practical physical work. Full engagement of the moving center is mandatory for understanding, for as in The Rule of St Benedict, it is the intentional, rhythmic circulation through a daily round of activities—“prayer alone, prayer together, work alone, work together”—that undergirds the gradual transfiguration of understanding. If you try to do this with your virtual group, you will be starting too far up in your body and in only one quadrant of activity. You will inevitably mistake the emotional feeling of closeness with your group members for the imperishably finer, more spacious, more impartial substance that enters “from above”… “when the conditions are right…”
Instead, I would ask you to try to recall a time in your actual on-the-ground group experience when something of this other order of intensity entered. A whole different flavor, a whole different taste from either clinging, sentimentality, or enthusiasm.
Represent it to yourself; use your conscious imagination to actually make it present to yourself again.
I can recall two such experiences clearly marked by this other quality of fineness. The first was during a Wisdom School several years ago on the Olympic Peninsula, where our combined Fourth Way/contemplative group suddenly found itself in the midst of a morning of “sohbet”—spiritual conversation and dialogue—thinking as if with one intelligence, seamlessly articulating a whole that was infinitely more than the sum of its parts. Quakers point toward this same experience when they speak of a “gathered” or “covered” meeting. In the utter stillness of their melded “atmospheres” something of a different substantiality sometimes enters in.
The other experience was more recent; at our Mr. Gurdjieff Meet Mr. Teilhard seminar at the Claymont Center in West Virginia just last fall, where the “gathered meeting” actually went on for several days, across a variety of spheres of activity. Maybe it had something to do with our opening-night Eucharist right on the movements floor, commemorating the 70th anniversary of Gurdjieff’s passing. Maybe it was our daily work with the “Make Strong” exercise. Maybe it was the movements themselves; they have an uncanny capacity to evoke this dimension. Whatever the combination, the group soon fell into an effortless collective transfiguration. It cut across the teaching, the practical work, the work in movements. We were effortlessly carried, as if on a wing.We saw things, understood things during that liminal week that simply cannot be reconstructed now. But we knew it was food from above.
And we are still drawing on it now.
I share these personal recollections to help you get a taste of the quality of oneness we will be looking for as we begin in the next post to ponder the remarkable assertions Gurdjieff is making in his “Web” Exercise. Using Fourth Way language, one might say it bears the distinct fragrance of “higher emotional center” and even “higher intellectual center.” It cannot—repeat—CANNOT be generated from below, from even the most fervent application of our usual wishing, desiring, aiming. Instead, you must wait in stillness, quietly poised within your own atmosphere, attending with bare simplicity to the next thing that needs to be done, until—in the words of Paulette Meier’s beautiful Quaker chant—”light arises out of darkness and leads thee.”
Then and only then are you really clear to participate in forming that web which does, indeed, have the capacity to significantly shift the state of things both in our own world and in worlds beyond.
A Note from Northeast Wisdom:
This series began on March 23, 2020, with the post entitled: Pandemic Homework; a letter from Cynthia outlining a four part to-do list in response to Covid-19 and our times. The practice of these exercises—the first point on her list—are in her words, “something you can actually do: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do.”
The series of posts that followed are available on Northeast Wisdom at these links:
From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions);
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises;
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework;
Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict & Zoom.
The posts continue with a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises,” which began with:
“Clear Impressions”: Part I;
“Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, A & B;
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy”: Part II, C;
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Part III, A & B”;
“Atmosphere”: Part IV;
Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Part IV, B.
We are looking forward to Cynthia’s six-part commentary on the “Web” exercise, here on Northeast Wisdom. Stay tuned!
Cynthia says, “I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five—now six—of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere.
Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource, and highly recommended.
Image credits from the top: Wooden path, top view, photo courtesy of Kamil Slusarczyk, unsplash.com; photo courtesy of Chris Ensey, unsplash; photo courtesy of Joseph Azize website.