By Ramsey Tietjen
Wonderful, uplifting experiences have a way of turning into ideas and becoming dead. The stuff in your head is all yesterday and tomorrow, all dead stuff. If you read and study mystical things, you may find yourself thinking about the path to liberation, realization, illumination, enlightenment: things that somebody experienced yesterday and you hope to reach tomorrow. A real teacher, a guy like Joe Miller, is always trying to bring you relief, NOW! After all, if something uplifting is going to happen, it will have to occur now, to the first person in the present tense. When else can it happen, and to whom?
Many spiritual teachings tell us that we are not the physical body; yet the body is your present tense. You don’t have to be an acrobat, Olympic weightlifter, or master of the martial arts to live in it. The thoughtless present tense of the body, out of the vortex of mental babble, is waiting for us when we remember to drop into it. It is a simple remedy for an overheated, uneasy state of mind. There are no special qualifications, no ideas like enlightenment or self-realization, required to find relief there.
The following excerpt from “Balanced Man” by Fritz Peters struck me as a beautiful exploration of this immediate, practical, and uncomplicated nature of mystical truth:
What I think most of us came to understand (and I am not speaking primarily of the children at the Prieuré) is that life is an incredible adventure and that death – whatever else it may be – is also at least a potential miracle. Man’s impulse to fly into outer space, climb Mount Everest, hunt man-eating sharks, go around the world in a sailboat alone, dive to the bottom of the sea, etc. seems to me to be only the physical counterpart of the search for and development of a higher self. So I find the daily risks of life anywhere (why freeze to death in the Alps, when you are just as likely to drop dead if you fall off a ladder in the bathroom?) as exciting as any other hazardous occupation; and it’s a lot less expensive.
I do not know how could I, if there is an afterlife but I am certainly going to find out whether I want to or not, because the only way I can find out is by dying. Also, if there is an after-life, it has at least a fifty-percent chance of being a miracle. If it is simply going to be the end of everything, then at least I wont have to go through the process of earning a living at some dreary job and paying for the antics of the federal government every year. Also, given the possibility that death is just the end, then my only alternative is to get as much as I can out of this life while I am living – to enjoy it fully, in the philosophical sense: “To be immediately aware of?… not as an object of thought, but as a phase or ingredient of one’s own conscious state or activity.” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary)
In other words, an acceptance of the fact of one’s own death, is a potentially winning ticket; that it may be, at least fifty-percent, a losing ticket, is also true. Perhaps this is simply the difference between optimism and pessimism. Whichever view one takes and it is difficult to believe that anyone interested in philosophies which may lead to greater development of one’s potential ability to achieve an harmonious state of consciousness (which is surely the main aim of Gurdjieff’s teaching) is a pessimist by nature – the view of the possible afterlife or afterdeath is something that can be self-instilled. It is not an automatic result of one’s heredity or conditioning. And the recognition – the awareness of death – is one of the first necessary steps in what Gurdjieff tried to convey to his students.
Admittedly, it is easier to convey a concept or an idea to children than it is to adults; children are not only more receptive, but they do not have all those associative, habitual reactions to new ideas. They are curious, usually eager to learn and they have not surrounded themselves with the emotional, mental and physical attitudes that make it difficult or even impossible to reach their essences. For all these reasons, I feel that it was the children at the Prieuré who were the most fortunate. I, for one, was not yet numb with despair, or embarked on that perilous road to wisdom or development through the mind which so many people of all ages seem to be taking today. Wisdom, if that is the correct word, is of different kinds: physical wisdom is transmitted physically, emotional wisdom emotionally, and intellectual or mental wisdom is transmitted through the mind, and through the transmission of ideas from one person to another. But when all learning is confined to thinking, it only makes the process difficult. It is comparatively easy for one to learn how to plant a rosebush by watching the gardener. It is a great deal more difficult to plant that same rosebush if one has to first learn mentally what a spade is, how to use it, etc. If one has never seen a spade, it is really hard work to translate the mental concept of a spade into an actual spade so that the body will know what it is and how to use it.
My body understood, without words or explanations, how to work at all kinds of things at the Prieuré simply by the process of physically watching other people do those things. Watching someone fry an egg for the first time makes frying eggs easy. On the other hand, if you have never seen an egg or a frying pan, and your only weapon is a cookbook, it is much harder to learn how to do it. Gurdjieff taught us by example always, which was invaluable training. To have to approach the problem of creating new physical habits by reading a book about how to do it, is much more difficult. And I often think that is the crux of the problem that faces sincere seekers today. Since there is no “place” (like the Prieuré) for them to, go to, they go to group meetings and read books, which forces all the discipline to come through their intellect, rather than through their bodies The same is true of emotional training. You can learn in an instant the reason for human conflicts and emotional misunderstandings if you are in a position to see people going through them – and Gurdjieff created “friction” at the Prieuré in order to produce just such conflicts. Yes, we were fortunate?… I might even admit to the word lucky.
Finally, I think there is an emotional attitude that seems to me healthier as well as proper to mankind certainly preferable to continually bemoaning one’s fate in this “vale of tears”. It is a vale of tears only if we decide – emotionally – to think of it as such. I learned to like life when I was a child, often simply because Gurdjieff managed to make it seem ridiculous and therefore amusing. The conscious use of humour–at which he was an expert – reduces the greatest human drama to something absurd. Great human drama does not lose its dignity in the process, but it is put into perspective: it is still tragic, perhaps, but tragedy is only the other side of the coin, comedy. Life, to me, is a gift and a privilege, and perhaps the most important thing I learned from Gurdjieff was that there is nothing wrong with “having a good time”, first of all, just living to the hilt. Since life itself is a potential daily miracle, what reason is there to be solemn about what may happen when it comes to an end?
(Fritz Peters, Balanced Man)