Work in Practice
How might we approach the ancient instruction,
The Gurdjieff teaching offers
a wealth of engaging,
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 full humanity involves a way of life. To know oneself—the ancient and ever-new challenge, so full of promise—isn’t a separate enterprise. It is woven into our lives.
The Gurdjieff teaching provides practical methods we can learn to use – as a craftsperson learns to use tools – so that we can begin to know who we are. Group meetings to explore direct experience based on the principles and exercises of the teaching; studies, discussions, and readings from the Gurdjieff literature; work with crafts ranging from mosaic and kitchen to theater and more; 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 and occasions shared at the Cambridge house of work. We come and go from the house and community. We go toward our lives, where much of the effort toward “Know thyself” takes place. Work on oneself asks for individual initiative in daily life. And it makes living so very interesting.
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. Work on crafts provides this inner workshop. 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
Group meetings are central to the Work. In these weekly meetings, the ideas of the Gurdjieff teaching are deeply explored. The Work comes alive only when one brings to it one’s own experience and insight; that is, real self-observations in daily life, real moments of presence.
With self-awareness as a core aim, our teams work on special projects, particularly on the care of our House of work. We initiate studies of the teaching, which include discussion of specific questions and readings from a wide collection of Gurdjieff literature. We participate in Movements and listen to and perform the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann music, in which there is such a call to deep humanity and presence. At times, we work in quiet conditions; at others, with the joy of being together, as Gurdjieff would say, on a spree. We work in groups at our House and independently in daily life. Both support inner work.
The aim is to touch and develop all the parts of a human being, in the context of the great spiritual traditions of the past and the amazing scientific developments of the modern era. "Take the understanding of the East, and the knowledge of the West -- and then seek." This is Gurdjieff’s counsel.
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