Tell the Tale: The Wisdom of Story
A talk by Roger Lipsey, Ph.D.,
author of Gurdjieff Reconsidered: The Life, the Teaching, the Legacy,
with special guest The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault,
author of the foreword
Please visit our Videography page for the entire talk.
Story is part of every wisdom tradition, every practice tradition. Guidance and instructions about practice are typically austere: they speak to our possibilities and require understanding and perseverance. Stories are of another nature. They lighten the burden. They are precise entertainments, memories carefully preserved, little revelations. If you listen closely, they reveal the lives and character of teachers and the deep humanity they embodied. And, no less, they reveal the lives of pupils.
G.I. Gurdjieff lived among his pupils for nearly forty years. He taught them with force, precision of word and gesture, and ready humor. As part of his unique approach to teaching, he was a consummate teller of tales -- and was himself the subject of innumerable anecdotes. In this talk and exchange, Dr. Lipsey and Rev. Bourgeault will share some of these tales, and also look at teaching tales drawn from other traditions, both ancient and modern.
Gurdjieff Reconsidered is a discerning look at Gurdjieff's profound influence on contemporary Western spirituality. Seventy years after his death, centers dedicated to his teachings now quietly thrive in cities throughout the world. With new insight and with sensitivity, Dr. Lipsey revisits Gurdjieff's contribution to the essential ideas of man's evolution and spiritual potential, a living teaching that continues to be handed down through practice and story.
Dr. Lipsey is the author of Hammarskjöld: A Life, recognized as the definitive biography of Dag Hammarskjöld, of two studies of Tomas Merton Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down: The Long Encounter with Thomas Merton and His Abbott, James Fox and Angelic Mistakes: The Art of Thomas Merton, and many other books and essays. Forthcoming from Shambhala Publications (winter 2020) -- Politics and Conscience: Dag Hammarskjöld on the Art of Ethical Leadership. (Photo credit: Abbey of Gethsemani.)
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest, widely read author and retreat leader. She divides her time between solitude at her seaside hermitage in Maine and a demanding schedule traveling globally to further the discovery of the Christian contemplative path. She is the author of numerous books, including The Wisdom Jesus, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, The Holy Trinity and The Law of Three, and The Heart of Centering Prayer.
The Meaningful, Vibrant Life You Were Meant to Live
Much of our life is spent lost amid the intricacies of the day, automatically reacting to each unfolding event. We lose contact with who we are and who we can be. Life can become a rut -- dull, circular, and without meaning. We are told that the fault is in us, or in the culture, and that the solution is for each of us to become a better person. This is a trap. Self-improvement does not address the underlying problem: we still live outside ourselves, reacting to others and to events. Can we experience real change so that we respond from within?
The Gurdjieff teaching posits a work on oneself so that we can participate actively in each moment without getting caught up in it. The result is not only a deeper, more vivid experience of life, but also the ability to see what is missing, to observe the choices we make, and to discover who we are. This aim of active participation in one's life is not easily won; it requires constant and repeated effort -- a daily practice in awareness of the mind, the feeling, and the body, and of the connections between them.
This presentation will focus on the ways this teaching can support a work on self -- particularly work in daily life with the body and sensation.
Ways and Means toward Awakening
Falls series, 2018
Gurdjieff’s aim was to help human beings awaken to the meaning of our existence and to the efforts we must make to realize that meaning in the midst of the lives we have been given. As in every authentic spiritual tradition — from the great religions to the traditions of indigenous peoples — specific methods and perspectives embody the teaching, sustain it, and transfer it from generation to generation.
The Gurdjieff teaching is rich in method, rich in oral teachings that illuminate method. Through varied forms of work, uniting method and insight, participants may discover a finer inner world and a new relationship with the external world. A new, more awakened way to be in life.
Senior members of the Society will discuss methods which, for more than a century, have been practiced in the Gurdjieff Work — sittings, group meetings, study of the literature, the Movements or Sacred Dances, work with the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann music, and participation in teams focused on a wide range of activities, from crafts and cooking to house maintenance and much else. It is all practice — practice shared with others equally concerned to develop presence and conscience in the only way possible: step by step, from week to week, learning the marvelous intricacies and unknown depths of human nature.
October 10 -- Music and Craft as Ways of Working
November 14 -- The Movements, the Sacred Dances
December 12 -- Work with Others: Group Exchanges, Sittings, Retreats, Teamwork, and Maintaining a House
"To pay for one's arising and individuality"
The phrase “to pay for one’s arising and individuality” comes from one of the five strivings that Gurdjieff presents in his Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson. Its meaning is not apparent to the intellect; it does not seem to respond to everyday analysis. Instead, it speaks to our feeling—a subtle sense of duty, a responsibility, a hidden aim. If allowed to touch us more deeply, the idea can become a question—How am I to live my life?—that can accompany us from moment to moment and guide our inner search.
Such an exploration can be transformative. It may help us to experience, both intellectually and emotionally, and with increasing clarity, the meaning of each of Gurdjieff’s five strivings and the vibrant, expansive inner world that they describe.
In this presentation, we will introduce the strivings and discuss the orientation they can give us in our daily lives.
What is missing? Revisited
Isn’t this one of the fundamental questions? Doesn’t the sense that something is missing propel us through our endeavors in all the domains of life? Materially, we strive to improve our circumstances. In our relationships, we often feel that something is lacking and wonder how to make it better. It’s also the case in our careers: What could improve them and make them more satisfying?
Isn’t it also the sense of lack that motivates us to enter into a spiritual path or discipline? That sense that something is missing in one’s relationship with oneself or in one’s understanding of life itself. Very often this most fundamental level of uncertainty is too obscure or vague, crowded to the periphery of awareness by all one’s other responsibilities.
A spiritual teaching helps one become more sensitive to this sense of lack. Learning to stay in front of it can be the beginning of a more serious questioning of oneself and of life. The inquiry becomes richer when shared with others who also acknowledge that something is missing. A dynamic developmental process becomes apparent, a process that can exist side by side with one’s daily life. The Gurdjieff teaching breathes new life into a timeless human endeavor: work on oneself.
What light does the Gurdjieff teaching shed on religion?
"O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me" (Psalm 139)
A conversation with Roger Lipsey, Ph.D.
You may view several video clips from Roger's talk on the Videography page.
The Gurdjieff teaching is not, and has never presented itself as a religion. It has no creed, no demand for faith in things unseen. It is strictly about what Gurdjieff called work on oneself: a search toward self-knowledge and presence to oneself and the world. But then, it speaks of a living cosmos in which we human beings have the obligation, insofar as possible, to "lighten the sorrows of His Endlessness": in other words, to help God on this disturbed planet of ours. And then, the search for self-knowledge can uncover internal zones of insight and feeling that are recognizably religious: they have to do with our human depths and a sense of belonging to something vastly beyond us. The Gurdjieff teaching is not a religion, but it throws light toward what religion might be.
During a conversation in the 1920s, Gurdjieff said, quite severely: "Only he who has succeeded by persistent and conscious efforts in freeing himself from the chaos resulting from his own lack of consciousness can be aware of what religion really means.”
Seeing as a Path to Being
In the search for awakening, the search for a more authentic life, we discover that it is essential to see ourselves as we really are. In the Gurdjieff teaching, self-observation—seeing myself in a moment of being myself—is a foundational practice. What does it mean to really see ourselves, and what practical tools of this teaching can help us to see?
On our own, we can easily fool ourselves, believing in our longstanding ideas of who we are. But working with others who are also searching, we begin to glimpse blind spots, to see aspects of ourselves we ordinarily do not see, to have new impressions of our thoughts, feelings, and physical habits. Being seen allows us to see ourselves in a new way, as if a light were suddenly aimed at aspects of our personalities that had previously remained hidden from us.
The question “Who am I?” arises naturally as a product of these new impressions. A desire to know myself, unvarnished, emerges.
Gurdjieff's Teaching on Death and Dying
Death is a fact that we cannot deny or ignore. Gurdjieff taught that we have a choice: to die a conscious death, or to "die like a dog," as he bluntly put it. He also said that we live in sleep and that in this life, we must “die” to our mechanical responses and habitual attitudes.
Each time we have an opportunity to see within, we automatically identify, judge and criticize what we see. What is needed to accept what is seen? How can I “die” so that I can open to an awakened life? The Gurdjieff Work offers methods--self-observation among them--to study ourselves and our automatic responses to life.
To face the truth about our partial existence is a powerful impetus to work for more conscious living and an integrated presence. And then we might understand something about the potential to die with dignity and to experience a proper death at the right time.
To Know Oneself: Opening to Experience
In the earliest years of life, we are open to experience in the most immediate sense. Impressions enter unfiltered. Gradually we become "educated," and the taste of direct experience becomes lost, surrounded by a developing ego trying to find and make its place in the world.
In an age of distractions and overflow of information, our sense of self is heavily reliant on outer life. A way of knowing through inner taste is forgotten. Sometimes we find ourselves "just going through the motions." This can be unsatisfying and unfulfilling. There is a flicker of an inkling that life could be different.
What are the possibilities for a refreshed, refined experience within? What are the obstacles? What would it mean to experience my inner world more fully? Certainly it has peaks and valleys. We are exposed to an abundance of influences of endless variety, influences that are not of our own making. We make choices. Some, we are aware of; many, we are not. How might I be more aware of my inner choices? Might I have awareness while I am experiencing moments in my life?
Direct experience is the basis for self-knowledge in the Gurdjieff teaching.
Am I Who I Am Meant To Be?
Many of us have the sense that somehow our lives fall short, that we are not who we are meant to be, and that our lives lack the purpose and meaning they are meant to have. We live in a false way not in accord with our essential natures, and this conflict between who we really are in the best parts of ourselves and how we live leads to unconscious tension, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness.
Our possibilities are far greater than we imagine; we have capacities and abilities that are relatively underdeveloped or simply unknown. But as we are, we live our lives through “different I’s,” innumerable selves in conflict with one another. One wants to work hard; another wants to be lazy. One is charming; another is rude. One is responsible; another is irrational. One is enthusiastic; another doesn’t care at all. These I’s rotate through us without our being aware of them. Trying to appear consistent when in fact we are not, we construct complex stories that are not real. We live in only a small part of ourselves, not in touch simultaneously with the three centers that greatly expand our perceptions and capabilities. Are these statements true for me?
An aim of the Gurdjieff teaching is to develop what Gurdjieff calls “real I”— permanent, whole, and awake. What might be a way forward?
What is missing?
At certain moments in our lives, we may feel that something is missing—not a material possession but some elusive inner meaning and purpose. Often we assume without question certain beliefs about ourselves. But growth stagnates if we live without inquiry, and our experience of life reaches a plateau. If we take stock, intuition may direct us to a way that provides assistance, knowledge, and method that will substantively alter our way of approaching a moment, a day, our lives.
Gurdjieff taught that each of us has the possibility to experience higher levels of knowing, understanding, being, and consciousness that we ordinarily do not experience. He provided a map: a way of individual inquiry through which the meaning and purpose of our lives can be revealed. He proposed that by inner work we can discover the possibility of a continually deepening awareness and sensitivity.
In this talk, we will explore our capacities for knowledge, understanding, and being, how inner work can lead to the integration of these human capabilities and an entirely new way of living.
Exchange as a Practice of the Gurdjieff Teaching
The Gurdjieff teaching is a way of awakening and nurturing a lifetime of inquiry. An essential part of the Gurdjieff practice is the effort to express our questions about the undiscovered potentiality in each of us.
Our effort to articulate these questions regarding the nature of who "I am," the world around us, and a possible spiritual development are fundamental to this teaching. Each of us is called in a unique way. The way in which we respond to the call to being is the basis for an essential and helpful exchange. We invite you to this evening's gathering with several of our members to engage around your questions about inner work and the Gurdjieff tradition.
Living in Two Cultures: The Conditions of Inner Work
We all find ourselves immersed in contemporary culture and subject to its many influences. One's working day, one's home life and recreational life all unfold under the spell of our current time. What are some of the visible signs of these influences at work? Noise. Hurry. Marketing. Distraction. Are these some of the "abnormal conditions of being-existence which they themselves created" which Gurdjieff repeatedly mentions in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson?
These conditions are a seamless medium within which we are held captive. Involvement in a living teaching offers the chance to place oneself temporarily under influences of a different order. Quiet. Deliberate movement. Thoughtfulness. Learning to work on oneself requires circumstances outside the bounds of everyday culture. One then returns to one's daily life better prepared to live with a measure of independence, an independence which is essential to ongoing spiritual search.
A panel of four from the Gurdjieff Society will speak together about the experience of living simultaneously in two cultures, our common contemporary culture, and the timeless culture of an oral teaching. We welcome your attendance and your questions.
Introduction to the Gurdjieff Teaching: What is Our Real Service in These Troubled Times?
Gurdjieff says repeatedly that human beings have forgotten a fundamental duty: to work on ourselves, to understand and refine our identities so that we can participate more fully in our own lives, in life with others, and in even larger ways. As caring human beings, how do we respond to the demands of these troubled times? What is our real service? Who or what do I serve? These questions can be felt as a call from the best of ourselves to the rest of ourselves.
The call needs to be heard. But to hear deeply enough, efforts will be needed -- efforts of a new kind little explored or even described in today’s culture. It is effort toward awakening -- but what is awakening? That too must be explored. Awake at last, each of us can be more wisely and resourcefully helpful to ourselves, our communities, our planet.
Introduction to the Gurdjieff Teaching: Knowing and Not Knowing
How do we know? What different ways of knowing are there? What are the differences between knowing with the head, knowing with feeling, knowing with body, and knowing from experience? What kind of knowing cuts us off from experience? Is there a knowing that keeps us from being present? Is "not knowing" the opposite of knowing? We often think of not knowing as a lack, as ignorance. But is there a "not knowing" that is integral to any true Way? And then another question, hidden among all these: what is the difference between knowing and being?
Introduction to the Gurdjieff Teaching: How to Approach Life's Difficulties
For most of us, life provides situations we find difficult. We can be disturbed by outer events big and small, and by our inner attitudes and history. We can be knocked off kilter by physical conditions such as weather or traffic, by political events, or by a personal interaction. Seeing these reactions is an inevitable part of knowing oneself.
If there were sufficient sensitivity and relaxation in all one's parts, perhaps there could be an embodied presence in touch with something quite deep within, which would mysteriously provide a different perspective.
Might difficulties even be welcomed as calls to awakening, brushes with reality? How in the midst of difficulty might an awakened attitude and right action appear? Then one could serve the good.
The Gurdjieff Teaching is a Way of Life: A Conversation with Roger Lipsey
Lines from one of the ancient Indian Upanishads can start the conversation. The guru instructs his student, "Place this salt in water. In the morning, come back." So the young man does. His teacher says, "The salt you put in the water last night -- please bring it to me." The young man looks but cannot find it; it is completely dissolved. The guru continues: "Please take a sip from the top. How is it?" The student replies, "Salt." Instructed to drink also from the middle and bottom of the cup, the young man each time reports, "Salt." Invisible, pervasive. (Chandogya Upanishad 6.13).
How better to start our conversation about the Gurdjieff teaching as a way of life than by remembering this ancient conversation?
Introduction to the Gurdjieff Teaching: The Witness Within
Who isn't familiar with times of adversity and doubt, or a lingering sense that life isn't adding up very well? At those times, we may long for something more -- for some life-changing, firm creativity one can hardly describe.
Uncertainty is the human condition, but we all have the potential to live the human condition with clarity, positive energy, sustained inquiry. All of these good things -- elements of a new awakening -- are linked to the gradual appearance in us, out of the fog and imprecision of our lives, of a witnessing presence: my friend, my impartial and respected judge, an increasingly dependable guide, a transformer.
For most people, this witnessing presence needs to be earned. It calls for persevering work in the circle of an authentic teaching. Gurdjieff once spoke of the need for "a club in every city" -- a community of fellow seekers willing to undertake this work while continuing to live just where they are, with just who is there -- family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and co-workers. This work is in life.
By what method might we begin to discover this inner witness? By what practice can we struggle to create this more stable presence? In the Gurdjieff teaching, this work begins with efforts to know oneself. Through intentional effort and opening to a new attention and new relaxation, we begin to find a balance between our higher and lower selves and a deepening awareness of who I am. The aim is a quality of conscious thinking, feeling, and movement that enriches us as individuals and as contributing members of the commonwealth.
Introduction to the Gurdjieff Teaching: The Body
Gurdjieff said that it's essential "to have in one's ordinary existence everything satisfying and really necessary for the planetary body." This is the beginning: to have a well-cared-for body. What is the role of the body in awakening to another level of consciousness? Through the body we are grounded, we can sometimes experience our deep connection with nature. Human identity and experience are fused with the body.
Yet we are more than the visible, physical body. It is the home of our psychic reality. In this session we want to explore how the Gurdjieff teaching relates the body to the search for a finer awareness. Awareness also is a beginning. It is the basis for lives that make sense, that develop in depth and meaning from year to year. We hope you will join us for this conversation.
Introduction to the Gurdjieff Teaching: Honesty in the Spiritual Search
The Gurdjieff Work is based on the notion that development and growth are real possibilities provided that serious inner work is sustained over time. To persevere, an attitude of honesty is necessary, and this also needs to be developed. Self-deception is an obstacle that appears in many forms and must be seen with a truthful inner eye. The teaching provides ideas, tools, and fellowship to help orient the seeker.
A panel of four provides thoughts and first-hand experiences that testify to the difficulties and the hope in this adventure.