You Stay in Prison When The Door Is So Wide Open??
My life is immersed in the Gurdjieff Work, and
I bear its mark. Every moment, a self remembering,
every breath drawn in awareness and consciousness.
Yet , when I sit down to write about it…
to share with you the depth and beauty of this
work, I find myself strangely silent. There are
no words to transmit the taste of it on my tongue,
nothing I can say that will not trivialize and
asphyxiate the essence of this great teaching.
To really understand, you will have to make a
"journey to inaccessible places" deep
within the innerscapes of your own being.
All I can do is tell you a story…
Once upon a time, there lived a man who taught
that " When it rains, the pavements
get wet!" His name was Georgi Ivanovitch
He was born somewhere between the years 1866-1877,
in the Caucasus region of what is now Russia,
to a Greek father and Armenian mother.
As a young boy, this man was wonder struck by
many strange and inexplicable events that came
his way. Seances… miraculous cures…uncanny
accurate predictions…Yezidis who died if
they came out of a magic circle…mountains
that vibrated when the perfect musical note was
played...He was full of questions about why we
are here, on this planet. What are we living for?
What happens at the end of it all, at death? Questions,
to which there were only uncertain answers from
his teachers and elders. As he searched for answers,
he experimented with hypnosis, trained as a physician,
studied religious practices, learned music, and
eagerly scoured the land for ancient texts and
manuscripts, but was not at all satisfied with
the results of his efforts.
So, he intensified his search, and embarked on
a lifelong quest for a hidden body of knowledge,
which, he believed, had its roots in ancient traditions,
and which might shed light on the meaning of man's
He vanished from sight, and travelled to almost
inaccessible centers of learning, temples, and
monasteries, reaching from Egypt, across Central
Asia, to India & Tibet. Here he came into
into contact with the secret, esoteric practices
of ancient brotherhoods, and discovered the"
unchanging core of true wisdom," he had been
After 25 years of searching and learning, he re-surfaced
as a spiritual teacher, in Russia, in 1912. He
escaped, during the Russian Revolution, with a
caravanserai of pupils, and finally settled down
in France. In a mansion in Fontainebleau, close
to Paris, he established his Institute for the
Harmonious Development of Man.
He lived in Paris till his death in 1949.
This mans language and ideas were strange, his
methods even stranger.
A little understood, much maligned, much loved,
bold revolutionary thinker,
"He was a man whose virtue was not tame
But grew luxuriantly wild like ferns,
And bold like dandelions. All the neat
And mended moral fences in the world
Could not restrain the reaches of his love,
Nor curb the reckless flowering of his mind."
(Wrote Mavis McIntosh Riordan, a pupil)
He taught through diagrams and symbols, through
money, through alcohol, through the preparation,
cooking and eating of food, through manual labor,
through music , sacred dance, and stories of Mulla
Nasr-U-Din. He taught through attention, and silent
presence. He taught through "shock"
by stepping on psychological corns, and painfully
challenging the "sleepwalking" state
in which he found human beings. He taught through
And, what did he teach?
Gurdjieff braided all his diverse learnings into
a rich, intricate, multi-layered system that included
cosmology, cosmogony, psychology, human typology,
phenomenology of consciousness, philosophy, sacred
dance, musical octaves…
These are big words… my friends
Essentially, this system, or The Work,
with all its breathtaking scope of ideas and methods,
is like a coat of many colors, woven with a common
thread…around the idea of conscious evolution…
and offers human beings practical methods of transformation
and liberation from the prison of conditioning
and mechanical suffering…Of learning how
Gurdjieff said "if a man could understand
all the horror of the lives of ordinary people,
who are turning round in a circle of insignificant
interests and insignificant aims, if he could
understand what they are losing, he would understand
that there can be only one thing that is serious
for him - to escape from the general law, to be
free. What could be serious for a man in prison
who is condemned to death? Only one thing: how
to save himself, how to escape: Nothing else is
"You do not realize your own situation.
You are in prison. All you can wish for, if you
are a sensible man, is to escape. But how escape?
It is necessary to tunnel under a wall. One man
can do nothing.
No one can escape from prison without the help
of those who have escaped before. Only they can
say in what way escape is possible, or can send
tools, files, or whatever may be necessary. But
one prisoner, alone, cannot find these people,
or get in touch with them. An organization is
So, my friends, it appears we must first understand
the truth of our situation - that we are in prison:
It is not enough to merely describe the dimensions
of our prison, or spend our lives embellishing
our chains: We must want to escape: Then we need
maps, knowledge, & precise instructions, from
the ones who have escaped before us. Then we use
these tools, and the help of other prisoners…
It"s all so simple, isn't it? Ofcourse we
would do all these things if we were in prison!!
The problem is, we do not recognise that we are
in prison. We think we are free!!
Yes, we are born free. We are born with Being-
Essence. A real identity, with its unique tendencies
and predispositions, already colored by the configuration
of the stars and planets at the moment of its
birth, which will grow, if not stifled, into mature,
healthy "selfhood." And yet, in this
process virtually every one seems to fall into
a kind of stupor that is the ordinary waking state,
and forgets the origin and destiny of the Being-Essence.
We lose a self, and acquire a personality.
This "personality" is our invisible
prison. The one we deny we are in!
How is it possible to lose a self ?
An anonymous author has written a heartfelt story
I would like to share
"The treachery, unknown and unthinkable,
begins with our secret psychic death in childhood…
It is a perfect double crime, in which the tiny
self gradually and unwittingly takes part.
He has not been accepted for himself, as he is.
Oh, they "love" him, but want him, or
force him, or expect him, to be different!
Therefore, he must be unacceptable.
He himself learns to believe it, and atlast, take
it fot granted.
No matter now whether he obeys them, whether he
clings, rebels or withdraws… his centre
of gravity is in "them" not in himself.
If he so much as noticed it, he'd think it natural
enough. And the whole thing is entirely plausible;
all invisible, automatic, and anonymous!
This is the perfect paradox.
Everything looks normal. No crime was intended:
there is no corpse, no guilt. The sun rises and
sets as usual. But what has happened? He has been
rejected, not only by them, but by himself. He
is actually without a self.
What has he lost? Just the one true and vital
part of himself: his own yes-feeling, which is
his very capacity for growth, his root system.
But alas he is not dead
"Life" goes on, and so must he.
From the moment he gives himself up, and to the
extent he does so, all unknowingly he sets about
to create and maintain, a pseudo self. But this
is an expediency. A self without real wishes..It
shall go through all the motions (Oh ! but they
are caricatures) not for fun or joy, but for survival.Not
simply because it wants to move, but because it
wants to obey. This necessity is not life - not
his life - it is a defense mechanism against death.
He will be torn apart by compulsive (unconscious)
conflicts, into paralysis, every moment, every
instant cancelling out his Being; and ,all the
time disguised as a 'normal' person , and expected
to behave like one!
Gurdjieffs bleak view of the personality - this
prison of our entrapment and suffering, goes further.
Essence is one, but personality is legion. We
have many "I's"- scores of parasitic
pseudo selves each with its own set of neurotic
needs and behaviors, each using the word "
I " to describe itself. There is utter chaos,
as each "I" surfaces indiscriminately,
and is " Caliph" for an hour. Many of
the selves don't know of the existence of others.
One "I" makes promises, that another
has no knowledge of, and therefore cannot honor...There
are 'I's of different ages and temperaments. These
are not different aspects or even fragmented parts
of a whole, these are a crowd of people who represent
"Do you see that psychologically and spiritually
you would appear like a crowd of people walking
along, of every age, and if you introduced yourself
you would include everybody, and call each person
by your own name. Sometimes a very odd crowd _
Some dressed up, some in rags, and some deformed
and some in better shape, and so on - may represent
you. This ill assorted crowd of somewhat queer
people represents the multiplicity of your personality.
It is a great shock when you realize this, but
once you do begin to understand you are a multiplicity,
you begin to cease saying "I" so easily
to this crowd. You may begin to see that it is
not "I" but an I in me that behaves
in a particular way" (Nicoll)
Friends, by now you may have begun to connect
with your particular prison, and the selves that
inhabit you. For me it has been a journey full
of unexpected discoveries, rude shocks and unwilling
meetings with my I's. As I see that all the I's
of my personal history are not me, these historical
selves have begun to fade away, and glimpses of
an essential self break through sometimes. I have
learned to watch the little I's, and holding back
from identifying and falling into them has slowly
become a little easier. It is a rocky road, that
leads out of this prison, but now that I know
I am in prison, I must set myself free, no matter
how rocky the road.
But, do not be satisfied with knowing how things
have gone for me, or waiting for my story to unfold
further. Gurdjieff insisted that we not take his
word for it, but investigate and understand for
ourselves through direct experience. Watching
oneself even for 10 minutes, can yield a wealth
of information and insight.
This is a primary technique in the Work. Self
- observation. The whole of the work starts from
a person beginning to observe herself.
You are not asked to be good, or kind, or become
vegetarian, or practise celibacy, or wear particular
clothes, or to think positive, or perform rituals,
or chant mantras ,
or worship any Deity…
All you are asked to do is direct your attention
inward, & observe all the performances going
on in you, all the voices you take as your own,
all the parts you have invented, that you think
Serious and continuous self - observation, leads
to definite inner changes. Observe everything
in yourself as if it were not you, but it. Not
"what am I doing," but "what is
it doing?" You then see the thoughts going
on, the emotions, the private plays and self dramas,
elaborate lies, stories, excuses and inventions
passing through you.
Observe how you enjoy all this!!
Observe without judging, criticising, approving,
analysing, justifying, or cringing!
And, you can start now, where you are, as you
This is a practical method for entering deep inner
The first tool from Gurdjieffs-how -to-escape-from-prison