It is a large gathering. All the sitting cushions are taken; only a perimeter of closely set chairs are available. After settling into a chair with someone seated on my left, I close my eyes to prepare. Before long, someone sits in the chair on my right. I don’t move when I sense this person’s shoulder in contact with mine. I wait. Her shoulder stays. I stay.
Hmmm … Is this going to be a shared sitting? I half joke to myself. Packed in with nowhere to move, I turn toward the space within. Something quieter. Never aware of any muscular effort of adjustment, I am surprised to realize after a while that a separation of our shoulders has taken place. I am no longer attached to the person sitting alongside. How did this happen?
Perhaps the body was responsive in its own way, and through its world of subtle micro-movements, it brought about a relaxation. Often directives to relax from a tense mind seem to leave the body unfazed. By a more indirect way, perhaps, by yielding to the presence of another or to the conditions given, does the body sense a different message? Being with the breath in this sitting most likely helped in allowing impulses to move, speak, or tweak, to come and go without disturbing a developing stillness. A listening silence brought a sense of wonder about the influence of the other person whose stillness felt like a presence.
"Sensing awareness, following the breath, and observing thoughts, feelings, posture, and gesture are part of a basis for self-study ..."
Relaxation is an important study and practice in the Gurdjieff teaching. Sensing
awareness, following the breath, and observing thoughts, feelings, posture and gesture are part of a basis for self-study and for relating body and mind -- and for noticing how often I forget to be present to both. The body is a home for consciousness. In a collected state, the mind helps in remembering and gathering attention. The body is always sensing and when awareness is brought to this energetic reality, the mind as well as the body can be experienced as quietly enlivened.
How might the feeling life enter into this capacity for mind-body relationship? Feelings are often elusive, and so becoming more sensitive to them can be aided by observing qualities of body expression (posture, gesture, breath, and so forth) as well as qualities of mind with its thoughts and associations. The practice of relaxation brings greater receptivity to a sense of wholeness.
I remember many years ago, not feeling relaxed, trying to be or at least appear to be “conscious” when meeting someone who I was told was involved with the Gurdjieff work and had organized some study groups with sittings, readings, and practical work. I had just read Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, which was truly an answer to a wish, and I understood that I needed to work with others. But, in actually confronting the possibility of working with this person in particular as well as with various unknown others, I had one thought, “This is going to be difficult.”
How do we choose our field of difficulty -- recognize my place, the people I can work with, the ideas and values that feel right? What seems to have helped in deciding back then was the appearance of silence. I cannot define silence, but I know that it is more than the absence of sound. Early remembrances of hushed tones and silence in church felt instructive. Now I wonder if the language of silence is related to being and knowing? I cannot summon silence. But a sincere questioning, as a form of listening from the whole of myself and in relation to a greater whole, can be cultivated.
I cannot summon silence. But a sincere questioning, as a form of listening from the whole of myself and in relation to a greater whole, can be cultivated.
The sense of wholeness and quality of mind encountered in reading Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, as well as many other Work-related books, helped me begin to know my own mind better. Great ideas are indispensable for a finer attunement to one’s own possibilities of inner development and responsiveness to life. After many years working with others in the Gurdjieff work, something that stands out is the quality of subtlety in many who have devoted themselves to this work in life as well as on the cushion.
A personal discovery recently shared by someone in the Gurdjieff work struck a chord when he said, “It’s interesting to realize after all this time that the matters of life matter more than ever.” As if the work of attending our inner-facing reality brings greater clarity and meaning to our everyday outer-life responsibilities. Could it be that the relationship between our inner life and outer world is being maintained through silent threads of remembering a sacred connection between these two worlds?
Please refer also to the Gurdjieff practice.