Work in Practice
How might we approach the ancient instruction,
The Gurdjieff teaching offers a wealth of engaging, practical
What is so difficult to express, in today’s world of electronic media and weekend workshops, is that the search for a deep connection to one’s humanity involves a way of life. To know oneself isn’t a separate enterprise. It is woven into our daily lives.
The Gurdjieff teaching provides practical methods we can learn to use, as a craftsperson learns to use tools. Group meetings to explore direct experience based on the principles of the teaching; studies, discussions, and readings from the Gurdjieff literature; work with crafts; sitting together in quiet meditation; participation in the Movements; care of our house; listening to and performing the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann music. These are some of the activities shared at the Cambridge house of work.
Our aim is to awaken to our fullest potential and to allow that potential to become of profound, creative service to others.
Work on a craft is work on attention. A whole attention: the guiding attention of the mind, the sensitive attention of the body, the subtle attention of the feeling. The craft itself – whether laying a floor, creating a mosaic, sewing a quilt, building a bench, performing a play, playing the piano, or practicing the Movements -- requires the whole attention. Why is this so difficult? Our attention is often captured by externals and by meandering thoughts. To develop a real attention calls for practice. It is this new attention, practiced at our House, that we take into everyday life.
"What then, is the creation of the craftsman?
If he recognizes himself as the receiver rather than the author of the message,
he also sees that this concept, this message, depends on him for a new form
through which it can be transmitted.
He is called to its service, he is vital to it:
the words will not be heard
unless he can rephrase them,
give them a new sound;
but the message itself is not his to change."
– Dorothea Dooling, A Way of Working
"Each time we meet together, the meaning of what we are doing
has to be again renewed for oneself.
Each time has to be a moment of acute questioning.”
Jeanne de Salzmann, The Reality of Being
In the Gurdjieff teaching, the group meeting is an occasion like no other. It brings together weekly your closest companions in the search for a new quality of knowledge, a new way to be. Typically guided by individuals with long experience in the teaching, it is an exercise in relaxed attention, in learning to voice your discoveries and insights (often but not necessarily from the preceding week), in listening to others “with one’s whole mass,” as Gurdjieff would say, rather than from the thought or out of curiosity. Group members learn from each other no less than from the leader or leaders who may be present. For this reason group meetings offer a shortcut through sharing.
The form is ancient. There were, in effect, group meetings with Socrates in the Athenian marketplace and comparable meetings in their eras with the remarkable teachers Heraclitus and Epictetus. Surely like those meetings long ago, our meetings are conversation with a difference. Attention, listening, and physical quietness become so acute that a movement toward fuller presence can occur, toward moments of self-awareness that teach without words. Group meetings under the light of the Gurdjieff teaching proceed on two levels: the exchange of knowledge and an unspoken inner movement toward awakening potentially shared by all participants.
"In a group, the direction is toward the unknown. The questioner is opening the door to the unknown, and the listener is called to an exchange that flows between them, a movement in two directions. Real change of understanding would mean that, with the listener also questioning and the questioner really listening, the level of both participants would change."
Jeanne de Salzmann, The Reality of Being
Together, we sit in meditation. These sittings can be either silent or guided. The emphasis is on a free attention that integrates thinking, feeling, and body, in the present. As well, we encourage individual sittings, a daily practice that can gradually bring about a qualitative change in awareness.
"I am very still in the body.
I follow the breath.
I watch the movements
of thoughts and associations.
The feelings become quiet,
and the activity in the head diminishes.
I am more."
– William Segal