What you can learn from Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff George Ivanovich Gurdjieff died on the 29th October 1949 in the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris. Although I have little respect for Gurus (as, neither, did the man himself) and would have found Gurdjieff repellent had I actually met him, he changed my life.

I would not be alive now had I not accidentally discovered Gurdjieff’s teachings. When I was going through a bad, depressed, suicidal patch in my 20s, I came across one of Maurice Nicol’s Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky in a bookstore on the Charing Cross Road. In there, I read that all negative states were delusions. A light-bulb went off in my head. Could I actually be creating my own misery rather than being a victim of life itself?

I read on further. Not only were negative ideas fantasies but they were based on wrong work of the intellect. That the correct way out was to restore right work of the mind, the heart, the body, and the sexual instinct. That the way out from despair was to repair the intelligences in those centres and to do work on oneself in order to become a complete, fully-functioning, human being using each of those centres. That only the ego, and its relentless self-pity, could possibly get in the  way.

30 years later I am struck by just how much I had borrowed from Gurdjieff when I developed the ideas that led to Reverse Therapy. Here are a few examples:

1. That personal growth relies on hard work and humility.

2. Headmind, or the Intellect – is not necessarily the most important organ you possess. Your personal genius and your passion is equally important.

3. Headmind chatter – gossip, internal self-talk, journalism, academic writing, television – is the enemy of self-development.

4. It’s important for your health to separately pursue satisfaction for all your vital centres – emotional, physical, sexual and intellectual, on an equal basis.

5. If you rely too much on one centre you can will experience disatisfaction according to the centre you are fixated on: intellect (anxiety), emotion (sentimentality), sex (lust), or body (greed).

6. Most human beings are slaves of conditioning – out-of-date customs, insincerity, empty rituals, received ideas – which keep them asleep.

7. The task that God (Gurdjieff refers to him as ‘His Endlessness’) sets us is to wake up and serve his purpose: to wake up other people and live a more intensive life.

8. That the word Sin (in ancient Greek) means merely ‘missing the point’. No human being is born evil in the Christian sense. Our only ‘sin’ is to fall asleep again.

9. All living creatures are ‘idiots’ which (in Greek) means they try to go their own way regardless of others. Even God, in this sense, is an idiot. Realising that you, too, are an idiot, provides humor as well as compassion for others.

10. The purpose of life is self-development to the point at which you can appreciate God’s purpose. Which is love. But love is not a matter or words or fine feelings. It relates to empathy – your deep appreciation of the idiot who exists beside you. And who needs your appreciation (and humor) as much as you do hers.

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