Parts: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9],  Downloadable PDF

A Little History

In Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, Gurdjieff proposes the Sacred process Antkooano. “And all cosmic truths usually become known to all on these planets, thanks to the fact that the beings of the given planet who by their conscious labors learn some truth or other, share it with other beings of their planet and in this way all the cosmic truths gradually become known by all the beings of the given planet without any distinction.” [BT p.563]

This impulse to share can be conveyed through writing, demonstrating, lecturing, instructing, dialogue, creating art, modeling. To share with a group of people appears to be more efficient than working one on one … if you wish to reach as many people as possible. But is it necessarily more effective? Gurdjieff said that knowledge was material and spoke insistently on the greater importance of quality over quantity. “If… large quantities of knowledge are concentrated in a small number of people, then this knowledge will give very great results. From this point of view, it is far more advantageous that knowledge should be preserved among a small number of people and not dispersed among the masses.” [In Search of the Miraculous, … ISM  p. 37]”

Gurdjieff appears to have taught both in groups and individualized instruction. The recorded notes from his meetings made by his pupils, the stories about his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, beginning in Russia and culminating in France and the many reminiscences of pupils, have modeled, and encouraged most of Gurdjieff studies to take place in groups. This model remains the core of Gurdjieff Foundation groups across the world, as it is for many traditions.

 Usefulness of Groups

“There is no particular benefit in the existence of groups in themselves and there is no particular merit in belonging to groups. The benefit or usefulness of groups is determined by their success.”  ( ISM p.232).

Several aspects of group life seem necessary for the process Gurdjieff brought. His Sacred Dances and “Movements” can only be effectively taught and practiced in groups. The “sharing of impressions” from weekly ‘tasks’ and personal “work on oneself” allows group members to compare and contrast their own experiences with that of their companions. As the group leader responds to observations and questions from one member, all the others are listening and can apply those responses to their own unasked questions. Thus, presumably, learning can be facilitated vicariously at an accelerated rate due to the larger pool of shared impressions. The tradition of long Work retreats, ranging in duration from a few days, to multiple weeks, seems based on the initial, live-in format of Gurdjieff’s Institute, which he abandoned, but may have been reconsidering shortly before his death. The effort, physical, emotional, and intellectual, that is inevitably demanded by such intensity, breaks down defenses and can open participants to extraordinary experiences and impressions about themselves that are rarely available in ordinary life.

A primary content for these teaching-impressions is the internal friction felt by each person as they struggle to execute the methodology, i.e., self-remembering, self-observation, non-identification, sensing the body. To study “myself” necessitates seeing and acknowledging, as fact, my inconsistencies, my negativity, my suggestibility, my hypocrisy, my judgments, my projections, my weaknesses, as well as my strengths. I can’t stop judging others until I am honest with myself about the existence in me of the very manifestations which I often most vehemently criticize in others. Until the conditioned negativity in me is self-acknowledged, understood to its roots and de-potentiated, my development may be stalled at the “First Conscious Shock”. [3]   What better environment to stimulate these reactions in me, for my inner study, than the friction experienced with people of other typologies and reactions? Thus, groups have great utility for creating conditions that evoke this internal friction which can then be “observed” in myself and shared as impressions with the group while other members share the same in return. This allows for the practice of sincerity, but most importantly, learning how not to identify with my mechanical concerns about what others think of me. The practice of non-identification with my egoic concerns about self-image is foundational to the transformative experience of “dying to oneself” and the maturation of “higher being bodies”.

This can also build trust with my companions; trust that I can expose the underbelly of my personality without fear of rejection as others are risking the same. This growing feeling of trust can bring members closer to a shared understanding of this type of inner work and its aims. From one perspective, the members of the group can begin to share an emotional ‘body’ of value and wish, both generating and being generated, by their spiritual search. Dr. Keith Buzzell [1] referred to this sharing of value and meaning as a “group Kesdjan body”. Kesdjan is Gurdjieff’s other term for the “Higher Emotional Body” of an individual or what he suggests can be thought of as the “sack or vessel of the Soul”. In contemporary language applied to “normal” life, we recognize reverberations of this phenomenon as Esprit de Corps, team spirit, loyalty, camaraderie, brotherhood, sisterhood.  Such a bonding can facilitate results, for better or worse, not easily obtainable under less connected conditions. Whether this type of climate or group culture can appear depends very much on the understanding and personal style of the leadership.

This is not to imply that transformation always requires a group. The history of spiritual and religious teachers clearly shows that an opening can occur spontaneously on “the road to Damascus” as well as many other locations. And, a corrupted group, due to leadership or groupthink or both, is disastrous and dangerous.