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  • Roger Lipsey

Know Thyself: Finding Your Way Along Both Dimensions -- 2

Script created at the Prieuré

For those wishing to find their way along both dimensions, horizontal and vertical, there are a number of helping values. The first is Know Thyself. This is ancient advice; it comes from Delphi. It was heard by Socrates; he obeyed it. Gurdjieff revived this in our time as a fundamental direction. He’s not so much saying “Acquire self-knowledge,” as if self-knowledge were an object that you can gain and hold. He’s saying that it’s worthwhile to discover and practice a movement of knowing in the course of daily life.

Know thyself: acquire self-knowledge

The result of that movement is an acquisition that you could call self-knowledge, but by nature it is always dynamic, never finished. This is an example of relativity: today’s self-knowledge is nothing compared with tomorrow’s, and tomorrow's nothing, potentially, compared to the knowledge of the day after. This is a teaching – and any valid teaching is full of striving. It’s not for lazy men and women. Yet there are times of rest and also of celebration.

Another essential value is expressed by the words “work on oneself.” Gurdjieff’s teaching is called the Work. That has two meanings: one echoes back toward alchemy, toward the notion of the Great Work. The other meaning is much more down-to-earth. It means that I need to take myself in hand. I need to learn to understand that, if there’s to be positive change in who I am and how I live and how I am with others, I must take myself in hand. I have to work on myself. Now, that is a call. It is ever so appealing that one could take oneself in hand. It does mean that in this teaching, as in many others, I’m not going to rely on Lord Amida or Lord Jesus to do all the work.

There is an important teaching structure in both Japanese Pure Land Buddhism and in some phases of Christianity. That branch of Buddhism speaks of genuine self-entrusting, total abandonment of one’s own will, so as to allow the goodness of which Amida Buddha is seen to be the agent of change.

Similarly, in some phases of Christianity, Jesus is the agent, the sole actor. This is very good psychology. It’s an extraordinarily powerful way of setting in motion the best of one’s possibilities as a human being, but there are other ways.

Generally, in Western culture, we don’t find it surprising that we need to take ourselves in hand. The notion of work on oneself is a valid, inspiring, and practical approach—within which the practitioner will find much latitude and need for “genuine self-entrusting” and deep receptivity.

The Idea of Search

Another helping idea that unites the vertical and horizontal axes is the idea of search. A search is by definition unfinished. A search means that you come upon good things and bad things and interesting things. That you speak of them with your comrades, that you assimilate the happy, you assimilate the sad, the interesting, the new, and the search continues. This is, again, a matter of striving. The notion of search is humble by nature. It doesn’t allow the seeker to assert: Well, I’m done, the search is over and I’m going to celebrate it with my buddies.

That attitude, which all of us can have at some point, is not in the spirit of search. Search allows resting stations, it allows points of recollection, points of happiness, of satisfaction, but then one moves on. Today’s results shape the platform, the basis for tomorrow’s search.

One further interesting, helping notion. On one hand, work on oneself in this teaching, and no doubt in other teachings, is quite independent. Only I know what’s inside here, and only you know what’s inside there. We can share certain elements; we can have the best of conversations; we can learn from our elders; we can work with our peers. But in the end, there’s a strongly independent element. Gurdjieff spoke of self-initiation. It is one of his strongest ideas.

And yet the Work must be with others, alongside others. We all need to help each other. This balance of work together and of independent work on oneself is a marvelous thing to keep in mind as one moves along.

For more on the Gurdjieff teaching.

I Need to See That I Do Not Know

A facile “I know" is a rote thought. When I’m faced with the reality that I might not know, I experience a new sense of gravity in my body.

Why We Work on Crafts -- 2

The head knows the steps; the body is the faithful servant of the mind; the feeling surrounds the thinking and the body with love.


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