the first fragment from the part 2 (Gurdjieff in New York 1948-1949) chapter 6
We, from the old Mr. Ouspensky’s group, went now into an entirely new experience. We were introduced en masse to the intricacies of Mr. Gurdjieff’s obligatories, temple dances, dervish prayers, and coordination movements of all sorts. This was something entirely different from what we had expected; we, who had looked forward to more talks and to further comments on the diagrams and the ideas that had taken good hold of our minds and of our hearts!
All talking had been set aside by this time; this was true of the diagrams also. No intellectual questions were heard from anyone, let alone answered. Whoever wished to do so was welcome to hear the readings of All and Everything, and to do the movements. It was a great privilege, we were assured, for there were many people interested in doing them who had never had the opportunity that was now opened to us. It was necessary for us to make our moving center ready also, for it needed a taste of discipline. In fact all these long months of preparation, reading while we sat on our hard backless wooden benches for three or more hours at a time, listening to dull voices read in a dull monotone from a book that made no sense to anyone, depriving ourselves of cigarettes while we were thus engaged, struggling against sleep (we were tired after an ordinary working day), against cold, against hunger (because we frequently read when we should have been eating our dinner and could not eat until the reading was over, almost by 9 o’clock p.m.), struggling against bodily needs, since we could not excuse ourselves to attend to the call of our physical apparatus while the reading was in progress—all these inconveniences, and still others which I need not enumerate, were a form of preparation and, to a very great extent, represented part of the payment we had to make for the privilege of working with the incomparable “Dancing Master,” the great magician Mr. Gurdjieff.
And a privilege it was indeed! We worked at an unbelievable pace, twisting, whirling, taking positions entirely unheard of, and never taken by any of us before; we learned to break associative movements, to coordinate, to dissociate coordination’s, to tax our memory with words and sequences and numbers and rhythms entirely unfamiliar to us.
And now the time came to carry on the disciplining of our bodies at a studio hall that was rented for the purpose. There we would stay for two or three hours at a time, counting, pacing, chopping, rotating, changing places, whirling, jumping, going through routines we had never thought possible for anyone, particularly anyone in this group as we all were well in our middle age. Soon our bodies began to respond; already there was a semblance of harmony and order in our coordinated movements, when the moment for which we had hoped came unannounced: the people from Mendham joined us in the studio hall early one evening. They were all there, those we had not seen in months, among whom we had always felt that we belonged, and who, logically enough, had severed all relations with us since Mr. Ouspensky’s departure, fearing Madam’s wrath if they did not.
It was a solemn moment, pregnant with meaning and emotion —a moment that brought me a surprise: I was now free from these people as people. I was no longer identified with them. They searched. I sought. We were going in the same direction. We were now together where we had been separated a while back. That was all.
We worked and did what we could. For me, I can say that it was more for the sake of doing group work, of working with others, than because I had any understanding of what I was doing.
And then came one evening when, in the middle of a whirling exercise, I heard a heavy tread in the distance. It was far away from where we stood doing our movements. In fact it could not yet be heard in the lower part of the studio but only outside in the hall of the building. A tread that was portentous, massive, whole.
I did not know who it was, since he had just arrived that morning and his visit to the studio had not been announced. But all along my spine the same sensation crept that I knew at Mendham when Madam approached, and I simply knew that Mr. Gurdjieff was coming: I felt it in my bones. And I was right. It was not long before he showed up. His presence absolutely pervaded the space between him and us. His power in this respect was indescribable, so far as I was concerned.
Mr. Gurdjieff exuded poise and inner strength; he commanded immediate respect, and arrested one’s attention. I understood at once why no one could ignore his presence wherever he might be; once they had seen him, human eyes could not be easily diverted from him nor could one be insensible to the feeling of fascination he evoked. Indeed, he was the Master!
He went at once into his superbly silent, though frequency garrulous teaching routines, and had us whirling in perfect harmony or in pandemonium as the situation might call for. It is not an experience of which one can speak in so many words, but no person touched by his wizard’s rod could ever be the same again! It was not necessary to study with him for years on end in order to earn and receive the brand that stamped one as his pupil. Even once would have sufficed to feel his influence, had one actually come to him without any preconceived antagonism. And his influence for that single time would have been strong enough to make itself felt for the rest of a person’s lifetime. One could never have forgotten him.
As for me, I know that I loved him from the moment I saw him. I saw kindness and compassion in his flashing eyes. From these two impressions surprised admiration and loyalty were born in me. This must have opened the founts of my understanding, otherwise he could not have cut so deeply into my heart and reached into die marrow of my bones in so short a while!
The movements in general, and some of them in particular, are like snowflakes: each a thing of beauty, complete in itself, original in its unique pattern. Each pattern discernible only to those who examine it through the microscope of their own essence; the entire ensemble a great blanket of life, alike yet different, graceful always, like falling snow.
So far as my negative emotions were concerned the therapeutic value of the movements was immense. It was not in vain that Mr. Gurdjieff called himself simply a Teacher of Dancing. Dancing indeed, but on what level! Through the movements he bared their souls to his dancers, he unmasked them, forced them to see themselves in their stark nudity, at the same time he lifted them up from the mud in which they waddled, providing them with these charts to higher places in themselves from which they could begin to do his work.
To work with Mr. Gurdjieff at the movements was something indescribable, judging from my own very limited experience when he was in New York for the last time. It was on the floor of the movement hall that he became alive with the fire that burned in him; he rose magnificent before our very eyes, dictating movements, changing rhythms, spotting mistakes, lashing orally while we stood at attention, ready to follow his every gesture; changing from one number to another, giving fast explanations on the spot, never compromising, demanding more and more effort, playing no favorites, urging understanding. Mr. Gurdjieff exuded vitality and power, he vibrated with energy which he transmitted unsparingly both to those who danced at his command and to those who watched the movements. His gaze moved ablaze in all directions, and brought everyone’s thoughts, emotions, and movements into one single simple point of togetherness and effort.
To me it was a real discovery to understand—for myself, that is—that the “struggle of the Magicians,” that famous ballet which had fired people’s imagination and for which many had been expectantly waiting since they first heard of Mr. Gurdjieff in one way or another, was actually being staged all along within each one of us—the constant dance of all our “I’s,” that motley plurality that forms our personality. Meanwhile Conscience sleeps within us and there is no one to witness the performance, there is no public to see it: her entire Court sleeps with our princess. And Consciousness, the prince who will bring awareness and life, is still far away!
I see quite clearly why the ballet, “Struggle of the Magicians,” never took place within anyone’s recorded reflection. I feel it is because the whole pattern of the Work to which Mr. Gurdjieff gave birth, and which still flourishes around his memory now that he has gone, is itself the famous ballet he advertised and which brought so many persons to him, intrigued by his advertisements—the ballet for which they waited throughout the years to materialize; the ballet in which all of us become White and Black Magicians in turn to have a gargantuan struggle with ourselves in an effort to neutralize our negativity and become White Magicians on reaching somewhat higher levels through unrelenting work on ourselves. Naturally enough, this ballet is never staged: it is our personal ballet and we cannot see it, although we work on it daily just the same. And here lies the beauty of it all, the truth that becomes apparent when one has felt the full impact of the movements in every cell.
Since Mr. Gurdjieff first mapped his own way and started working toward his personal aim he apparently began tracing his plan on the basis of the Law of Otherwise. Perhaps he never intended to stage any ballet; had he meant to stage it he would have done so, since he was a person for whom the impossible did not seem to exist except for the purpose of overcoming it. That is, certainly he did not mean to stage it “as is customary.” Meanwhile the entire world became his stage; the play was prepared, the choreography was ready, and the dancers began to train for the great event, in the persons of all the people in his groups, from the very beginning to our times, holding constant rehearsals of the entire ballet, keeping it alive and glowing in the recesses of their own hearts.
Mr. Gurdjieff kindled the fires of imagination through his talk about his coming ballet, and all the time he saw it in progress in the actions of each member of his troupe both individually and collectively.
It is natural, since the movements were and are always being taught, that many persons believed that they were preparing for the day when the Great Ballet would be staged in all its glory. Others, already disappointed at the failure of the ballet to take shape, accuse Mr. Gurdjieff of speaking nonsense, or wonder why he spoke about the ballet at all, pondering whether he wished to mislead people merely for the purpose of inviting attention to himself and to his groups.
Mislead. . .what an inadequate thought! The Law of Otherwise has no room for misleading. There is at no time any intention to “lead” away from anything but rather the express effort is to “lead to something.” But each one must find something for himself, and that which the searcher finds is the truth at that particular moment for that particular individual. Anything else would be of the nature of what is accepted from another, from hearsay, taken on faith. It is my feeling that Mr. Gurdjieff never misled anyone but merely used the Law of Otherwise to further his own work, and at the same time to make the System available to the individuals that came to form his groups.
As I mentioned before, when he made his first appearance among us in my group at the Studio where we practiced the Movements we all stood frozen into attention by his presence.
He ordered us to try dancing the first part of certain movement exercises “like black magicians.” I understood him to say that we were to make ugly faces, hideous grimaces, and inharmonious gestures: the worse, the ugliest that we thought we could manifest to picture anger, fear, envy, lust, vanity, and pride.
Everybody began to move back and forth in a frenzy of changes in positions and tempo, whirling past one another with satanic fury, making detestable faces. When the exercise began, I too started whirling. But as I saw the faces around me, I found it impossible to force myself to act. I felt myself rooted to the ground all of a sudden. I was unable to move, and the whirling figures went about and around me like mad. I began struggling to make may way to the front out of the dancing lines through all this dancing fury. Finally I succeeded in what it seemed to me to be ages. I came out by the armchair on which Mr. Gurdjieff sat. I had been prepared for a blast of abuse from him, but now I felt reassured.
I looked up at him, our eyes met, and I found myself. Instantly I saw my state of superstition, my identification with all the things that I had read about witches and demons and devils and such. I had been unable to make grimaces because I was afraid of becoming a black magician just by making faces. I was not free. I was a slave to this stupid fear. And what indeed was a black magician, what did I understand by a witch? Nothing at all. I was a puppet, being pulled by the shreds of tales and stories heard in my childhood.
This was a very deep experience and I understood so much in such a short time! I was still looking into the depths of myself when I saw the dancers change at his command and the White Magicians now appeared. They were the same people: the movements, however, were beautiful now; they were harmonious, soft, flowing, and they evoked feelings of love and compassion, of piety and awe. And I saw more and more into myself, realizing that these, too, were just terms I had heard, seen, and read here and there; that I knew nothing about their real meaning and had always taken them for granted as given, without ever even knowing if I had felt these emotions at all.
This happened at the very beginning of Mr. Gurdjieff’s arrival in New York. I always bless the moment when it took place, for I was never again the same idiot. An idiot I have remained throughout the years, but not the same kind of idiot. I saw then something about which I had never dreamed. Thenceforth my aim centered on getting to know myself better and better; on seeing things about me to which I had closed my eyes, or which I had never expected to find in myself. In fact our work—at least my work—with Mr. Ouspensky had been very intense, but emphasis had been above all on self-remembering, on endeavoring to awaken the mind to understand the wealth of ideas that he had placed so generously on our lap. But I had done no routine work on myself, no directed exercises on self-observation. I had accepted the need for these because they seemed desirable to me, just as I had thought about the ideas he had given because I found them interesting. Nothing else.
When Mr. Ouspensky had told us that we must observe ourselves because psychology means, first of all, “to know oneself,” I felt that this must be so and that it was important. I tried to observe myself as best I could in ordinary conditions involving my likes and dislikes; but real, actual work on self-observation, my struggle with myself in this respect did not begin in full force for me until after Mr. Gurdjieff’s arrival here.
No doubt it was I who had not been ready as yet for this phase of the Work, but this is how it was until this moment came of which I speak, and I had this experience to contribute to the group with which I worked at the time. My leader, Mr. Nyland, knew thoroughly well how to share with those whom he led and how to pass on to them his vast knowledge regarding impartial self-observation.
Yet it was long, very long, before it became possible for me to try to sense as to be present to my tensions when I assumed ordinary postures or made gestures according to my state of mind so as to be able eventually to observe them. I was told again that each person has a limited number of postures to match his every attitude, thought, emotion; postures peculiar to himself, which go unnoticed most of the time. Now it meant something to me. I began to recognize the taste peculiar to my gamut of emotions: fear, anger, pride, despondency, revenge, compassion, affection, surprise, and elation. As I made efforts to observe myself less subjectively, as I learned to do the movements with my body after releasing my mind from the needless task of following step by step the order in which I moved and began to observe without thinking that my body moved, I began to see the connection that existed—for myself—between the movements as I performed them in the exercise hall and my own everyday personality movements.
And the realization came that the wry faces, the grimaces, and violent gestures and grins that were my personal lot were exactly the same as those I had seen portrayed on the faces of the dancers whom I had been loath to join when Mr. Gurdjieff had us whirling at the Carnegie Hall Studio in an attempt to experiment with his “Struggle of the Magicians.”
No wonder I had refused to move! I had not wished to face myself, and had hidden behind superstitions and taboos to justify my refusal. But now I was free. I had to see the black magician within myself; to see all my negative grimacing, shrilling, screeching “Fs” with which I had to struggle for life from now on in order to save my sleeping princess from their grip until the time came for her awakening.
This thought has helped me to struggle against my negative thoughts, attitudes, and emotions; the thought that I, myself, am one of the stages in which Mr. Gurdjieff’s ballet goes on all the time. There are moments when my White Magicians call a victory and close the doors altogether against the intruding marauders that are their opposites. I have learned to smell their approach, for they come and go otherwise unseen, like real magicians. But I have learned to parry, to sense their proximity, and this I have done exactly through the repertoire of gestures, grimaces, wry faces, and screeching or hoarse sounds that denounce their coming.
The movements help me greatly in this respect. They help me to fix the tension, to find the posture particular to myself, that brings about release from negativity or capture by it. Many times I am about to speak harshly, when a swinging forth of my arm—a gesture I have already identified as a personal one of incoming irritability or anger—heralds the arrival of the Black Magicians. At once the tempo changes, the rhythm is altered, and White Magicians appear on the field of battle to overthrow the invaders.
And those of the movements that have become mine in a sort of three-centered fashionhave proved to be weapons which I use in my struggle against the downpull of inertia. There are movements that I do to relax, others that I do to overcome despondence or sadness; those that awaken and quicken my desire to move on, my desire to live and, best of all, those through which my body prays while the whole of me lauds the Lord for the help that He saw fit to bring into my experience through the Teacher of Dancing, His extraordinary servant, George Ivanitch Gurdjieff.
In thus speaking about the Movements I do not wish to create the impression that I know a great deal about them—their origin, their meaning, their purpose. I speak about them merely on the basis of my personal experience, as I have done them and thought about them and understood them for myself. I speak from my own very simple and practical level. This is precisely the level at which, to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing to rival our System; the System for those who live and struggle in the midst of life, in the World, who cannot give up either their duties or their pleasures to search for guidance in the realms of the Monk, the Yoga, or the Fakir, to enter which it is first necessary that man give up everything.
My first encounter with the Movements was in the nature of a challenge. I had never done or seen them. I had never been particularly interested in physical exercises, and certainly had never suspected that such uncoordinated sequences, such complicated gyrations could be tackled by a simpleton like myself. When I was launched into them, together with some others who had already done Movements, and also with many other novices like myself I found that I had to give undivided attention to the instructions given us in order to be half able to try to follow them. It was not possible for my attention to waver; because one lost moment—and I would lose all track of where I was. No imitation is possible in the Movements. Rows and files move constantly, differently, position changes flow like running water and, at the beginning especially, one does not know which way to look. Everyone is enjoined against imitating and urged to make mistakes of his own in preference to moving adroitly and on time in imitation of someone else. But even with the best intention to imitate it would be difficult to do it, considering the nature of the Movements themselves.
Moreover, I soon found out that “considering” was out of the question. Once I had of my own volition taken my stand where I stood, I could not worry about the impression I might be creating on the teacher, or on the persons who watched, or on those who whirled around with me. I could not “consider” them, and try to move sensibly and to follow instructions as soon as imparted.
I find this very impossibility to give any thought to ordinary life interests while engaged in practicing of great therapeutic value. It results in complete relaxation, irrespective of how strenuous the Movements themselves may be in a given number. Whoever comes with heavy thoughts, or thoughts of any kind to do the Movements, must necessarily leave them outside the Movement Hall before sitting on the floor to await instructions. Thus it is possible to spend a full two hours practicing in what, as regards everyday cares and anxieties, is a real paradise into which they find no admission. And in the absence of considering, one eventually does what one is doing and learns the Movements with at least a certain degree of personal accuracy. I found that this effort left in me an inner accumulation of energy that subsequently made itself felt in life as poise and physical ability to withstand difficulties without fanciful emotional entanglements.
Of course this was so in my case. I realize that we are all made differently yet all of us in my Movement Group discussed our experiences freely, and I readily saw that most of us reacted in a like manner. Off and on, some persons may have reacted otherwise due to individual inner disturbances somewhat beyond the pale of our everyday normality, but they always left the Movements, either of their own accord or by advice, certainly much before they could have had even an inkling of the fabulous wealth they were rejecting.
It always surprised me to note that the handful of this kind of people that I knew throughout the years always seemed to feel that it was the Movements instead of themselves who were wanting in “something.” Nevertheless, it was they for the most part who daydreamed about the “powers” that could be developed through Eastern teachings, who wanted to become magicians, black or white, and who, so far as discipline went, were too weak-willed or too preoccupied with their own importance to give the Work a fair trial in their moving center.
In any event the Movements taught me how to relax in a way that would have seemed miraculous to me before. I also discovered that I had muscles which I had never felt I possessed. I learned to establish contact with them by sensing and tensing; I learned to assume postures which, although perfectly natural and easy for my body to take, I never took under ordinary life conditions, thus depriving myself of movement or limiting it to a very few meager gestures out of all the hundreds that are possible through combination of all limbs moving in unison in opposite and in entirely different ways.
The Movements taught me to see myself as I had never seen myself before. My blood circulated freely, perspiration was copiously healthful; not once did I come to do the Movements, tired and exhausted after a day of hard work and barely able to keep my eyes open, without leaving the class after practicing bubbling over with the feeling of well being, my muscles tingling with life, my eyes clear, my spirits high, and my emotions in perfect check. This is an experience in which all who do the Movements share alike when they do them with understanding, and surrender themselves to them, disregarding the “emotional swelling” that passes for real emotion in us.
We are told that the Work must be placed between life and ourselves. It was through the Movements that I was first able to put this into practice. My bogeyman was anger: my repertoire of gestures and grimaces for expressing it was itself very rich. Among the different arm and other positions that we took in the Movements I found many that made me aware of my own useless gestures, and when I found myself in ordinary life, lost in cuffing and in buffeting I immediately became sober when the gestures, automatic as they were, awakened my body and my body in turn awakened the “I” in me that observed and it saw what was going on. This “I” called a “stop!” and the “stop,” so rich in emotional content for me, eventually succeeded in giving me relative freedom from these exhausting manifestations in which I had been formerly so constantly involved.
Nor was this all that the Movements gave me on an entirely practical level. They also came to my help when I found my mind wandering, or when I became lost talking to myself at great length, worrying as to whether or not this or that event would come to pass, whether to act in this or in that manner, telling myself that I would put this or that person in his place, wondering what this or that one meant when she spoke such and such words to me or looked at me in this or that manner. Whenever I found myself lost in these idle manifestations I appealed to the Movements and began to make mental rehearsals of anyone of the numbers that I knew and loved so well. I tried very firmly not to lose myself before bringing my mental task to an end; and since many of the Movements are done in cannon, and each row moves differently, I would have to take row after row, sometimes to count, at others to repeat certain words that accompany them, and the overall exercise would so engage my attention that it was impossible for me to wander very far off in mental flights of any other kind.
In this manner many of the Movements became very much mine to the extent that, so far as recollection goes, I can do and know Movements mentally and clearly see, besides my own self, the persons who stood alongside me in other rows and did the Movements with me at a particular time when I learned the particular exercise. I find that this is an excellent antidote to the tendency to waste energy through inner talking. The stock of Movements that become our own serves us for life; they return to us a thousandfold what we put into them. They represent insurance against negative boredom, a tonic for tired nerves, a help to relax overtension, a bane to worries, since two thoughts cannot hold sway in the mind simultaneously. And in one’s declining years, or when Movements are no longer done in a group they become a source of energy on which to draw daily to prepare oneself to start the day awake in a much better condition to begin the struggle against sleep and against oneself.
During the process of learning and doing them, the Movements endowed me with that inner quality that builds strength, endurance and resistance, fostering the ability to meet everyday life conditions that are boring, distracting, disagreeable, baffling, irritating. In this sense they became, for me, an extra weapon to use in the struggle against inner and outer situations that spell danger and have frequently offered me shelter and refuge from impending storms.
I have used the movements in many ways to work on myself. And I have been interested time and again in observing how some persons, particularly young ones who come to readings and make efforts to attend group meetings punctually without seeming to make any headway, suddenly become restless until they join a movement class and begin to bloom as their understanding of the Work grows by leaps and bounds and they respond to the feeling of companionship—of belonging together with others in the Work striving toward the common goal.
Into my own life, lacking in variety of daily impressions, as is true of most of us, Mr. Gurdjieff’s sacred dances and ritual movements brought light of such magnitude that it is impossible to explain it to those who have never done and possibly never seen the movements. For even to see them is in itself an experience that can touch a person to the core of his being.
Of those who do the movements, it has been said that they “look like frightened mice.” We exert such little efforts to be, we have such rare occasions to observe others engaged in so exerting them that we really have no sense of values in this direction. In ordinary dancing, in ordinary exercises, while we wonder about the impression we create on our audience, wishing to excel and to please, identified with our own actions, we may well indulge in pleasant smiles to show that we are aware of our public whose approval we desire. But in movements of the nature of Mr. Gurdjieff’s work it is not possible to perform half satisfactorily at the same time that one indulges in dreams. One must work, and try to be present.
That work does not imply movements only. It calls for inner efforts to be exerted while the exercises take place. It would be out of the question to give the impression of a jingling bell, to look like a lake swan while this happens. It just cannot be done.
If you wish to verify it, try a simple experiment. Recite aloud a simple poem that has emotional appeal, listen silently to every word uttered, and with each word make a movement, assume a posture, different in every instance—not opposite but different— now with this or with that, or with all members of the body. Add now a count; try to move the head at the count of two, the arms at the count of four, one leg after another in three counts. Throughout it all try hard to hold on to your attention; do not lose sight of the fact that it is you doing this exercise, that you do it because you wish TO BE. Try, then, to repeat it in sequence, from beginning to end or vice versa, or from the middle back and forth, or in any form you wish. It is very simple. You are not really working; you do not have to bother about cannons, you need not be on the alert for orders that must be carried out at once. You do not know what it means to work on yourself, to observe impartially, to separate from yourself, to see what you are doing without identification. Nobody is watching you; you need not take into account any effort to move in harmony with others who are not there at all.
But despite this simplicity, you will probably find yourself concentrating desperately on what you are doing—if you really wish to go through with your self-imposed task—so much so, that anyone watching you will surely tell you that you look like something much more unprepossessing than a frightened little mouse! You will learn a great lesson: you will understand from your own experience that it is not possible to pass judgment on the basis of surface appearances.
People usually ask whether there are books in which the various positions for the movements are shown; whether it is possible to learn them by heart. Rather not! Herein lies part of their hidden value. The movements are unexplainable, unpicturable. Their power lies in learning them as they are dictated; in doing them, not for themselves, not for the sake of perfection or as a physical exercise, not for any kind of gain, but only for the sake of working on oneself, working with others and, in a larger sense, working for the Work by letting your own energy flow into the general pool of force through which the Work vitalizes and heals those who come into it.
It is not how you do the movements alone that counts; it is how much the activity means to you, how much you understand without being told. It is how they have touched you, how many of them have become so deeply ingrained into you that they could even withstand the shock of death in moving center memory. It is how strong a link they forge for you with others in our chain—those who have taught you, those with whom you worked. It is, best of all, the extent to which they help you to integrate all your other Work experiences, to realize the debt you owe that Teacher of Dancing, Mister Gurdjieff, who sought through these very movements to bring you close to harmony, to your Father Creator, to awaken in you the Wish To Be so as to repay your debt and “help mitigate the sorrow” of His Endlessness.