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From Being Double to Being Single Again: Testimony of One Year of Inner Work
To the living memory of the Teacher
It has been a whole year since I decided to drop from every activity related to my outer work. I came to this categorical decision when I realized that in relation to the work on myself I was living in two mutually exclusive worlds. But what shocked me the most when I ascertained this fact was the realization that there was absolutely, and I mean absolutely, no correspondence between these two worlds. To use a term dear to us electrical engineers, these two worlds were like two sinusoidal voltages one hundred and eighty degrees out of phase.
In order that the reader understand what I mean by these two worlds and why I say that there was a total lack of correspondence between them, I have to engage in a brief description of these two worlds as they existed at the time I made my decision.
What I call my outer world was characterized by a number of activities I was then engaged in. The main activity and the one I loved the most was a series of lectures on Beelzebub’s Tales that I was given at the apartment of Guy and Avvie Hoffman, in Manhattan, to a group of about twenty people. I was also part of a little group that met weekly at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was a member of the Planning Committee of the All and Everything Conference and was part of the panel in charge of reviewing papers submitted for presentation at the Conference. I had just finished publication of an article in Reijo Oksanen’s GIG website and I was assiduously working on another article for submission to the same website. I had just traveled to Maine for a weekend workshop on Beelzebub’s Tales at the hospitable home of Keith and Marlena Buzzell and was scheduled to travel to Salt Lake City for two talks on the Tales to the group facilitated by Bonnie Phillips. In addition to all these activities, I was engaged on a number of exchanges through different website groups and with a number of people around the world.
My inner world presented a totally different picture. It was my own daughter, who is a psychologist and works with troubled children, who called my attention to several aspects of my inner world. She had told me that I was angry most of the time and that I was always finding difficulties and inconveniences in my relation to most of my daily activities. One day, using an expression dear to psychologists, she said to me, “You are becoming the ultimate passive aggressive.”
I have to say that my anger and irritability of those days manifested not only in relation to my family but extended to each and every activity of my daily life, sometimes in very subtle ways. For instance, in those days I was actively participating in Guy Hoffman’s Friends in the Work website group. I was answering almost everybody’s e-mails and sometimes Guy did not send my answers out because he knew better. One day, in a personal exchange after one of my lectures at his apartment, he asked me, “Why do you always have to have the last word?” But the best example of my anger and aggressiveness of those days was a heated exchange I had over the Internet with James Moore, the author of Gurdjieff’s biography. He called me a mediocre intellectual because of my poor English and I called him an inconsiderate and contemptuous because of his sarcastic treatment of people in his book. The exchange was full of anger on both sides and it took the wise intervention of Sy Ginsburg to put an end to it. Yes, as my daughter had pointed out to me, I was indeed becoming the ultimate passive aggressive.
But in spite of my daughter’s admonitions I continued with the business of my outer world work. I was convinced that this kind of work would eventually bring me to a full recognition of my inner weaknesses and difficulties and to the possibility of eradicating them. But the fact of the matter is that it was not happening.
And it could have never happened. Even if I had spent the rest of my life working the way I was working nothing would have ever happened. The reason, as I came to understand, was the total lack of contact between my two worlds. My only hope was to find a point of contact between these two worlds and if possible to fuse them into one single world. All this I would understand much later but I have placed it here because it illustrates what I mean by existing in two mutually exclusive worlds.
Little did I know in those days that the point of contact I so desperately needed had already began to materialize in the form of a dense cloud of darkness that had descended on me and surrounded me like a famous New York blackout (in fact, the day of the last blackout was a day of total darkness for me). In those days I tried and tried the exercise I describe in my article, “An Experiment Extracted from Beelzebub’s Tales” published on the GIG website. But it was to not avail. This exercise worked only when my problem was physical, as I describe in the article. But my problem now was physical, emotional, and mental. I had to go deeper this time.
I began to address the matter of darkness in my lectures on Beelzebub’s Tales. Very specifically, and in connection with the law of three, I began to put more emphasis on the holy-denying than on the other two forces. The topic of darkness was coming out aloud. At the end of one particular lecture in which the topic of darkness was heavy, David Kherdian, who was attending the lecture with his wife Nonny, read his poem “Darkness” that is part of his collection from Seeds of Light: Poems from a Gurdjieff community. Toddy Smyth, who spent years with the Oregon group and is a longtime student of the Tales, was also attending that lecture. After the meeting was over, while we were socializing at a nearby café, she bought an original piece of cake with one side black and the other white and gave it to me as a gift while making some comments on the Yin and the Yang. I also brought the matter of darkness to our weekly group discussions. And the question of darkness became the center of gravity of my website exchanges with numerous people. We certainly emanate what we are going through regardless of how much we want to hide it.
In summary, I can say that in those days my whole life was well characterized by this formula so dear to Mr. Gurdjieff, “Roses in outer world; thorns in inner world.”
It was right after the weekend workshop on Beelzebub’s Tales in Maine, in early October of 2003, that my darkness took a turn for the worse. During the workshop I could not sleep for more than one hour each night, in spite of the comfortable room Marlena Buzzell had given me in her comfy home. I had driven to Maine for the workshop and on the way back to New York I gave a ride to the late Chris Thompson who had attended the workshop and was a longtime group leader in the Gurdjieff London Society. During the six hour trip I spoke to him about my darkness. He listened very attentively and gave me some useful advice. He stayed with us in our home overnight and early in the morning we did a sitting together that was very helpful. But my darkness not only continued but increased.
It was then that my daughter gave me her last admonition. In her typical psychological utterance, she said, “Every time you come from a Gurdjieff gathering you give the impression that we are an inconvenience and a nuisance to you.” Then she added with the tone of a final judgment, “You are definitely withdrawing from life.” I have to say here that I never felt lack of respect on the part of my daughter because of the things she was telling me. I always encouraged her to express her opinion and she was just doing that. Since I have always considered her to be an intelligent, insightful, and impartial person I asked her many times, “How do you see me?”, which was a question I never asked my wife and two sons before. She was now answering this question without my asking it.
But the worst was yet to come.
By late October my wife and I paid a visit to David and Nonny Kherdian at their home in upstate New York. I had become good friend with the Kherdians since I began to publish in Stopinder, the Gurdjieff journal they had founded in Oregon. After putting an end to the journal, after three years of continuous publication, the Kherdians had moved from Oregon to upstate New York and as far as the Work was concerned they had gone into a complete retreat. By then David had arrived at a definite opinion of the Work in general that he transmitted to me in all its details. In essence, he was of the opinion that most of us use the Work as an escape from life. In other words, we bring our life into the Work instead of bringing the Work into our life. Although David’s idea may not apply to every person in the Work, it certainly resonated with the things my daughter had been telling me. I listened to him with full attention and openness.
We stayed over the weekend at the Kherdians and I took advantage of the many hours we spent together to share with them my experience of darkness. My wife, who has never been in the Work but who has never opposed it either, expressed her own opinion about the whole thing. The Kherdians listened to my wife and to me with total attention and few comments. We then went to sleep late in the night.
In the morning I came down from the upstairs’ room while my wife was still dressing up. I found David in the living room reading the newspaper. He greeted me with the usual good morning and then, without waiting one minute and with the look of a mischievous child or a true poet, said: “We have a program for you. You have to drop from everything you are doing and work only with your family.” No sooner had he finished that my solar plexus sank to the bottom of my feet. With my ordinary consciousness I told him that what they were asking for was impossible; but with my subconscious or real consciousness I knew that what they were asking was the only way out for me. But we do not want to hear the truth, no matter how serious and sincere we are in search for it. That is why my solar plexus sank to the bottom of my feet.
It was back in Flushing, where I live, that the real struggle began. For three days I went around asking myself one troubling question: “How am I going to abandon everything I am doing and have been doing for so many years.” I have to say that what disturbed me the most every time I contemplated my question was the fact that I had to stop my lectures on Beelzebub’s Tales. For more than twenty-five years I had been studying the Tales and I had written extensively on my experience in relation to my years of working with the book. I loved preparing my lectures and delivering them and in my mind it was the only thing that could keep me going in the midst of my darkness. And now not only had I to stop giving the lectures but also I would have to stop reading the book. I definitely was deep down in real American galoshes.
I finally was able to come out of my struggle. In order to do it I made use of two bits of knowledge. I remembered some words from Mr. Gurdjieff I have read somewhere. He had said that sooner or later in one’s search one must voluntarily become a slave. One must do what one is told to do, one must say what one is told to say, and one must think what one is told to think. One is not afraid of losing anything because one knows that one has nothing, because we are nothing. But that in this way one acquires everything. These words from Mr. Gurdjieff made lots of sense to me at that moment of my struggle and stimulated and awakened by my struggle I clearly understood what he meant. The other bit of knowledge was Mr Gurdjieff’s idea that one must sacrifice something in order to get something else. I clearly understood that in order to take care of my inner world I had to voluntarily sacrifice my outer world. There was no other way out. In my mind there resonated very clearly these words from the Teacher, “For one satisfaction, always there must be one dissatisfaction.”
Following the Kherdians’ advice I decided to take a whole year off in relation to my outer world work, sort of a sabbatical year, and concentrate exclusively on working on my inner world. I immediately notified the Kherdians about my decision. I also went to my computer and sent out e-mails to all of my past acquaintances to notify them of my decision.
The date was October 30, 2003.
Mr. Gurdjieff said, “In this business everything profits us.” I profited from the advice given to me by the Kherdians. I profited from those words of our Teacher that I have remembered from here and there. And above all, as I was soon to find out, I was to profit from my own darkness. But now, right after I made my decision, I began to profit from my many years of study of the two fundamental cosmic laws, particularly the law of seven. My many years of sweating to understand the intricacies of the sacred Heptaparaparshinokh began to pay off.
The fact is that with my decision I had set in motion an octave of work and the law of seven immediately began to manifest its lawful results. External help in the form of opportunities of work that conformed to my decision immediately began to flow through the subjective action of the “mechano-coinciding-Mdnel-In.” The results of the action of my own efforts began to flow through the subjective action of the “intentionally-actualized-Mdnel-In.” And the disharmony flowing by itself from the change of the two “Mdnel-In,” that is to say, the “Harnel-Aoot,” began to manifest lawfully. With respect to the subjective action of this “Harnel-Aoot” or fifth Stopinder (also known as Fifth of the law), in a paper I presented at the 2003 All and Everything Conference in England with the title “A Macroscopic View of the Operation of the Two Fundamental Cosmic Laws in Relation to the Motion of the Trajectory of One’s Search,” I wrote:
“The Fifths are the moments of truth in the Search. They are those situations in the face of which the Seeker is required to make a choice on which rests the future as well as all possible outcomes of the Search. The Fifths are the Search’s trials and temptations. If the Seeker falls during realizations of any of the Fifths, the Search, in the best of cases, must be reinstated from its very beginnings. At worst, the Search stops or something catastrophic occurs in the life of the Seeker, accident or illness, which makes continuation of the Search impossible.”
No sooner had my new octave of work began than the Fifths, or Temptations, began to manifest in conformity to the law. I began to receive e-mails and telephone calls from past acquaintances telling me that I was making a big mistake and that I should reconsider my decision. Few of these communications were literal warnings. They warned me of the consequences of my decision and made reference to the often quoted Teaching’s statement that one has to work in a group and that by oneself one cannot go far. One particular e-mail coming from an unknown source even warned me that if I continued this lonely path I would end up in a septic well full of corresponding substances. I have to confess that in several instances I questioned my own decision and was tempted to drop the whole thing and return to my life in the well-known world of other days.
But I was not alone. The fact of the matter is that when one is working along a serious and honest path, one is never alone. My intent was so strong that I began to attract help from outside. For instance, while questioning my own decision I came across an exchange in which Mr. Gurdjieff tells a disciple searching for a compromise in relation to a work decision he had taken, that in life one can compromise but in the Work there can be no compromise. I understood this to mean that once one takes a Work decision one must stick to it no matter what. In addition to this understanding I also relied on an experience I had had many years before while struggling with another important decision in my life.
I had made the decision to move with my family from Venezuela to the United States. It was not an easy decision because I was already 43 years old, during my 15 years in Venezuela I had built a successful profession, had made a number of friends, was part of a very interesting Gurdjieff group, and I was living a good and comfortable life. And now I had to leave all that behind and start a new life. In those days I was totally immersed in the study of the two fundamental cosmic laws; particularly the law of seven and I hoped to make use of this law to carry out my decision.
My decision finally hinged on some business affair I had to solve. For this purpose I went to consult a lawyer whose office was in the seventh floor of a building. I vividly remember that I was the only passenger in the elevator when it suddenly stopped on the fifth floor. It was not moving up or down. I rang the emergency bell and began to panic. But soon I felt calm and relaxed and I decided to sit in the floor and wait. It was then, in this strange environment and totally alone, that it came down on me that the fifth floor was an analogical representation of the fifth Stopinder of the law of seven. Furthermore, I realized that two possibilities have opened to me. One was for the elevator to move up in which case I could continue to the seventh floor or seventh Stopinder; the other was for the elevator to go down to the first floor or first Stopinder and then I would have to start a new ascent. As this experience presented itself to me at that moment, I was completely convinced that I was going through a living example of the operation of the law of seven. The elevator started to move up and I was able to complete my business affair. (Needless to say, on my way down I took the stairs. One does not fool around with the law twice on the same day!). A few months later I moved with my family to New York City.
I have to add here that right after my experience I went straight home and began to read the chapter in Beelzebub’s Tales about the sacred Heptaparaparshinokh. It did not take me too long to find a theoretical confirmation of the experience I had gone through. It was in this way that I learned first hand about a very important and hidden detail of the sacred Heptaparaparshinokh. I want to quote this statement here because I consider it one of the most practical aspects of the law of seven, one that we can and we should use in our work.
“It is necessary at this point in connection with the actualization of the fifth Stopinder of the sacred Hepataparaparshinokh to trace a parallel between two processes which externally have nothing in common with one another, namely: in the same manner as the first being-food cannot acquire its vivifying power until after its transformation into being-Piandjoëhary, in the same manner on this piano the vibrations of a chord do not acquire a corresponding vivifying power until they have been fused with the preceding vibrations produced, starting from the center of gravity of the totality of the vibrations of the note ‘sol.’” (B.T. p.869).
Well, right now, while going through the fifth Stopinder of the octave I had initiated with my decision to drop from all activities related to my outer world work, I understood that my only possibility to move up the scale of my octave, as the statement quoted above clearly indicates, was to go through the actualization of the lawful manifestation of the Fifth of my octave of work. I was correct because in few months I had moved up to a new and higher octave of work. All is in conformity to the laws.
The octave of inner work I had initiated began with work with my family according to the advice given to me by the Kherdians. My work centered on working primarily with my wife and daughter but extended to my two sons and my son-in-law. Mr. Gurdjieff said that for the practice of remorse the people closest to us are all we need. I had studied in great details the sacred process “Aieioiuoa” or “Remorse” described in Beelzebub’s Tales, and I had written about it, but now I was putting in practice what I had understood in theory.
For five months, from November 2003 to March 2004, I worked with full dedication on my inner world according to a rigorous program, much of it worked out by the Kherdians. My work paid off. My darkness was gone and I felt good and experienced real satisfaction in relation to my work. I was very pleased when I visited the Kherdians with my entire family in March and, while having lunch, both my wife and my daughter acknowledged that a real change had taken place in me.
But thanks God I was not content. Somehow I knew that this phase of my work was coming to an end and now I had to move to a new phase. I was also pressed by the fact that certain undesirable aspects of my old life were coming back again and again and I knew I had to work on them. I felt I had to move to another form of work on myself but I did not know how to do it. I just began to think about the whole thing.
It was about this time that I had a dream that had such an impact on me that even now it feels like I had this dream just last night. I have to say that during my many years in the Work I never paid attention to dreams nor had I never worked on this idea. But my dream was so vivid that I could not put it away.
I dreamed I was in a room standing in front of a large wall mirror that extended all the way from the floor to the ceiling of the room. As I was looking in the mirror I noticed that my image was little by little shrinking until I had become a little boy. While this was happening I was experiencing great anguish and even physical pain. Then the image grew back until it became normal again and at that my anguish and physical pain were gone. I turned around and as I was moving away from the mirror I was met by a boy of about ten years old. The boy was dressed in pure white, including even his shoes. Only his hair was as black as the rest of him was white. The boy reminded me of myself when I went through Holy Communion. The boy shook my hand and said in clear Spanish: “No te preocupes. Todo va a salir bien” (Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay). I woke up from my dream and looked at the table clock. It was around three o’clock in the morning. I did not go back to sleep and remained in bed trying to interpret my dream.
It did not take me very long to arrive at a satisfactory interpretation. The boy in pure white represented the birth of a new being in me, the so-called spiritual child. The anguish and the physical pain I experienced while my image projected in the mirror shrank to the size of a boy, represented the labor that must accompany every birth, either physical or spiritual. I felt that my interpretation of the dream was correct and never again thought about its meaning, although its impact is still with me.
Stimulated by my dream and by the fact that I knew I had to initiate a new phase of work, I directed my thoughts towards a new beginning. It was during this train of thought that I hit upon a work idea that had never crossed my mind before. I realized that the success I had had during the preceding five months of work on myself was due to the fact that I had deliberately abandoned all activities related to my outer world work. Somehow the fact that I had been able to do this had caused intensification in both my self-remembering and the work on myself.
I then made an interesting connection. I realized that this was exactly the discovery Mr. Gurdjieff had made right at the edge of the Gobi dessert during his own search. He had found out that he had to abandon the power he had developed in order to be able to intensify his self-remembering during the process of his existence among other beings, as he dramatically described it in the Prologue to Life is real only then, when “I Am.” Everything then made perfect sense to me. One of the reasons we cannot remember ourselves is the fact that we live a life of repetition and mechanicalness, going around in a circle of repetitive behavior. It is only when we break away from this life of repetition that we can intensify self-remembering. I have to confess that I was elated by the discovery I had made. Of course, it was not an original discovery because Mr. Gurdjieff had already arrived at the same idea and his discovery was deeper and vaster than mine. But the fact that I had arrived by my own efforts and on the basis of my own experience and my own thoughts gave me great satisfaction.
Looking back, I am now convinced that had I not gone through the five months of intensive inner work I had just gone through, I would have never arrived at this discovery. And I have to add that I would have never made the connection I made with Mr. Gurdjieff’s own discovery had it not been for the fact that many years before, while I was still living in Venezuela, I had spent a whole year translating into Spanish the French edition of Life is real only then, when “I Am”. I finished the translation just before I left Venezuela for good. I did not worry about publication and gave the translated manuscript to friends of the Venezuelan group that did not read French or English. And now, almost twenty years later, my efforts had unexpectedly paid off. The point I am trying to make here is that, as Mr. Gurdjieff insisted again and again, we do the work now and the results come later. The results are unexpected and do not belong to us; the work, on the other hand, depends exclusively on us.
Stimulated now by my latest discovery I began to ask myself one very concrete question: “What is there in my past life that if I were to abandon it now would help me to intensify my self-remembering and the work on myself?”
It took me few days to arrive at a satisfactory answer to my question. I realized that what I had to do was to abandon my ordinary mind and nothing else. The fact is that during the five months of intensive inner work I had gone through, my inborn tendency to make use of my intellect in relation to the Work returned again and again. During these five months I could not deprive myself from the habit of putting down in paper certain ideas that kept coming to my mind in relation to the Work. I wrote a number of short articles with the intention of sending them for publication sometime in the future. I had no question now that what I had to do was to abandon what I then in my mind referred to as my ordinary mind.
It was about this time, when I was struggling with the question of the role my ordinary mind played in relation to my search and the work on myself, that I had an interesting experience that helped me to see the workings of the ordinary mind. I read an article in the weekly science section of The New York Times (Tuesday, April 13, 2004) describing the works that Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA, was doing in collaboration with a scientist at the California Institute of Technology to determine what constitutes human consciousness. The idea behind their work was to put an end to the old question of mind and matter or soul and body. As Francis Crick himself put it, “the most profound implication of an operational understanding of consciousness is that it will lead to the death of the soul.” I read the article several times and the more I read it the more it brought to my memory the gathering of “learned beings of new format” in Babylon to discuss “the-burning-question-of-the-day,” namely the question of the soul, as it is described in the chapter “Beelzebub’s Flight to the Planet Earth for the Fifth Time” of Beelzebub’s Tales. I finally put the article away telling myself that, as it had been the case in Babylon twenty-five hundred years before, there was no way these “sorry scientists” were going to find answers to the question of the soul. And I had a little moment of illumination and soul expansion remembering the story of the sympathetic Assyrian Hamolinadir told in that same chapter of the Tales.
This experience reinforced my belief that with my ordinary mind I was never going to find answers to the most important and fundamental questions of life. For instance, it became very clear to me that there was absolutely no way I could ever understand Objective Divine Reason with my ordinary mind.
But what exactly do I mean by ordinary mind? As I then understood it and still understand it, this question is addressed in the first pages of the first chapter of Beelzebub’s Tales, “The Arousing of Thought.” We are informed that we have two kinds of mentation, namely, “mentation by thought” and “mentation by form.” Like everything else in Beelzebub’s Tales, the matter is treated in such a way that the reader has to make some effort in order to fill in the details. After some effort to put everything together, one can infer from the little that is said that “mentation by thought” is the mentation of personality while “mentation by form” is the mentation of essence. As it is said, this mentation is formed in childhood when essence is being informed and formed. One can also infer that “mentation by thought” brings knowledge while “mentation by form” brings understanding. What I call ordinary mind corresponds to “mentation by thought.”
I decided to abandon my ordinary mind as it applies to the Teaching and the Work. I have to confess that at this point in my work I found Orage’s wise formulation, “take hold tightly; let go lightly,” very handy. I decided to use my ordinary mind only for the ordinary things of ordinary life, such as earning a living as an engineering professor, or finding an address in a city, or surfing the Internet. But as far as the Work was concerned I decided to try not to use my ordinary mind again. I knew that my decision would entail extra efforts on my part because my strong habit of making use of my intellect for each and every thing I do in life. But I also knew that my decision would help me to intensify my self-remembering as well as the work on myself. I have to add that I also felt that by abandoning my ordinary mind as the most important instrument of my search, I would in some way also be abandoning pride and vanity because my mind for me was always a source of pride and vanity.
I was now quite convinced that my decision of abandoning my ordinary mind in everything related to the Teaching and the Work was the correct one. And the proof of my correctness did not take long to arrive.
As soon as I made my decision my work drastically changed direction. I was almost immediately invaded by a great resistance. The resistance compared in intensity with my previous darkness, but was totally different in nature. While in darkness I was able to move around and to do things, even to deliver my lectures on Beelzebub’s Tales. But this resistance now was paralyzing me; I could not move nor did I have any desire to do anything whatsoever. My mornings became pure hell. I would wake up early in the morning overtaken by my resistance and I would stay in bed for hours, without any incentive to get out of bed. Why and for what reasons to get up were the questions of my mind, while I remained in bed and watched the hands of the clock move against my wish and will. Since I always teach in the afternoon and evenings, I had no pressing need to get up. Sometimes I stayed in bed until noon. On weekends I stayed all day in the attic of my house watching television, that is to say, doing nothing but killing time, most of the time feeling sorry for myself.
It was all very funny because I did want to get up while my mind said YES but my body said NO. And it looked like the body was having the upper hand. Somehow I knew I had to mobilize my body because my resistance was entirely concentrated in my body, not my mind. (I have to say that my very observant and perspicacious daughter found a perfect Spanish name for my despondency. She called it “mi pesadumbre” (my oppression)).
I had now hit bottom. Never in my life had I felt worse than I was feeling now. I had read Dante’s Divine Comedy and had been impacted by the souls existing in limbo, the first circle of Hell. I now felt I was one of those souls.
But, thank God, I always had something positive going for me. There has always been throughout my entire life this tiny grain of hope telling me that what is happening now must have some meaning and some purpose; otherwise, life has neither sense nor meaning. In the evenings, when “mi pesadumbre” had lightened up a little bit, I was in a better position to see my situation. And probably because the influence Beelzebub’s Tales has had on me I saw my situation by reasoning along these lines: It may very well be that this strong resistance I am now experiencing is an indication that I am moving from the system of Saint Venoma to the system of the Archangel Hariton.
In any case, I then decided to ask for help. In the words of our esteemed Mullah Nassr Eddin, “One can never know who might help you to get out of galoshes.” I drove up to the Kherdians and had lunch with them. I shared with them my whole situation and, as always, they listened with full attention. Just before I was to leave their home David came out with a very good practical suggestion. Right after waking up and while being taken by my strong resistance I was going to take my wrist watch in my hands. I was going to convince my mind that for the next ten minutes and ten minutes only, my resistance was my master and I her slave. But after ten minutes the roles would be reversed and I would be the master and she the slave. No matter what, after the ten minute period I would get out of bed. David’s suggestion sounded logical and powerful and I promised I was going to put it in practice.
I have to say here that this was my last visit to the Kherdians as far as asking them for help. Somehow David knew this because when I was about to leave their home he told me that now I was more awake than the first time I had visited them with my wife. He then added, “I think you can now go on by yourself.” He was right. Few weeks later I sent them an e-mail telling them about my progress with the ten minute period exercise and told them that now I had to do some very personal work. For several months I had been in the path of slavery and obedience but now I was determined to find my way and if possible it would be that something Mr. Gurdjieff calls “the aim and sense of one’s existence.”
I worked for two weeks following David’s suggestion. For ten minutes and ten minutes only I let my resistance to take full possession of my being. But at the end of the ten minute period I said, enough! And, sometimes with a super effort, I got out of bed and went straight to the shower and from there to my morning sitting, which I reinitiated again. At the end of the two weeks my situation had really improved. My resistance was still there but now I was out of bed and struggling instead of feeling sorry for my situation.
It was now the end of May and I was in a much better position to contemplate my situation. I soon began to detect a meaning and a pattern hidden behind my resistance. I began to see that my resistance was nothing but the external manifestation and the symptom of a much deeper rooted impulse. All throughout my life I always instinctively felt a malaise existing somewhere in the depth of my being. However, I had never been able to pinpoint with exactitude what this malaise was. But now I began to see that what was hidden behind my resistance was a deep negation of life and that this negation was the malaise I always experienced. It had always amazed me how I had been influenced by those I had met whose deep negation of life and self-destructiveness resulted in their either destroying themselves or even in putting an end to their lives. I had seen a number of intelligent people make a total waste of their lives. And now I was beginning to understand why these lives had attracted me. We certainly attract according to our being.
The idea then came to me that if I elaborated a work program addressed to deal with this deep negation of life, I could eventually free myself from my malaise and again be a happy being as I had been in my childhood; but how and with what way was I to start this program? I then remembered the first aphorism inscribed above the walls of the Study House at the Prieuré: “Like what ‘it’ does not like.” I decided that whatever my work program would be it had to start with putting in practice this aphorism because my negation was “it” does not like. I then made a list of things “it” did not like to do and that I did not have to do.
The first item on my list was to accept the invitation of a friend to go to Iowa for what he called “a four-day-investment-trip.” This friend had invited me several times but each time I rejected his invitation because the perspective of spending four days in an auction buying tax liens did not appeal to me, in spite of the fact that my friend had repeatedly told me to go just for the fun and experience of the trip. But this time I accepted just because “it” did not like it. I made the necessary arrangements for the trip and convinced my mind that I had to go not for the benefit of my present “it” but for my future “I.”
When several days later I woke up at three in the morning to go to the airport, my body was full of negations and was berating me with the single word: NO! But I had already made up my mind and no matter what the body must eventually obey a decisive mind because the mind is higher than the body. I got up and went ahead with my plans. It was a crazy trip but the demand on concentration imposed by the auction was such that for four days I forgot my resistance and negation, although by late evening they were always back. I invested enough money to pay for traveling expenses, which to me was a sign that this kind of life was not for me. On the way back home I thanked Almighty God for having spared me from having to earn a living in this kind of crazy environment and resolved never again to attend one of these auctions. I must add here that my friend was a Chinese acquaintance from my days at a Chan (Zen) Meditation Center. While sitting at O’Hare airport in Chicago waiting for the connecting flight back to New York, my Chinese friend looked at me devilishly and with the broad smile of a Bodhisattva of the Ming Dynasty asked, “Are you coming back next year?” I think he really worked hard and deep on his sitting meditation because I am sure he read my mind when he did not get a response from me.
It has been said that old devils know how to reincarnate. Back in Flushing my resistance and my negation were immediately back. But I began to notice that the heavy body resistance had transmuted into pure negation. All I felt was a pure vibration of negation in my being.
I began to concentrate exclusively on this pure note of negation. I went back into my past life and tried to isolate through thinking and feeling (“mentation by form”) those instances of my life when this negation had been the predominant force behind my actions and my life. To my amazement I found one instance after another. They were so abundant that I really wondered how I had been able to survive in the face of this deep negation of life.
I read somewhere that at one point in one’s search one is given the opportunity to see the Devil face to face, with the possibility to challenge Him. I do not know exactly what this means and I suppose that the Devil one sees depends on the depth of one’s self-remembering. But now I was convinced I had been given the opportunity to see my “devil” and maybe the possibility to challenge him. The more I penetrated into my deep negation of life the more I saw how this negation had become an independent personality with a will of its own. It was a possession that possessed all parts of my being; a true and genuine “demon.”
I want to give a concrete example of what I mean by an instance in my life when negation dictated my actions, and what I mean when I say that my negation was my “devil” and I was literally possessed by this “demon.” During a period of my life that just preceded my first encounter with the Teaching and the Work, a period I like to refer to as the existentialist period of my life, I fully embraced existentialism and totally shared its view that “life is the eruption of an unhappy existence within a happy non-existence.” For over three years I read and reread only existentialist literature, my favorite books being Sartre’s La Nausee and Camus’ nihilistic The Stranger. As soon as I found the Teaching and the Work I totally abandoned existentialism, although one of the first things I did when I arrived in Paris in search of a Gurdjieff group was to visit the café Aux Deux Magots where Sartre used to meet with his existentialist friends. It was when I began to study Beelzebub’s Tales that I became convinced that existentialism, with its fundamental premise that existence precedes essence, an inevitable consequence of the negation of Divinity, is a negation of life (it is interesting to observe that Sartre arrived at this conclusion before his death). Well, it is now obvious to me that my strong attraction to existentialism was an expression of my deep negation of life, manifested in this case by the power of intent of my intellect. This is only one example. The fact of the matter is that my possession was intellectual, emotional, and physical. I indeed wandered how I had been able to go through all that and survive. But I knew that other people had been able to do the same thing.
I have to say here that I very soon found out how I had been able to survive my deep negation of life. The fact is that everything began with my encounter with the Teaching and the Work. For many years after this Blessing from Above, I struggled with my mind and my struggle was centered on trying to understand Beelzebub’s Tales. It was in this way that I was able to face my negation for more than twenty-five years. I was indeed very lucky because my mind has never been lazy and there has always been a will in my mind. Otherwise, I would have probably not survived my strong negation of life, as was the case with many of the people I have met.
I also have to say that during my first years of struggle with my mind, when I still was part of a group, both in Paris and in Venezuela, many group leaders and even some of my friends in the Work criticized me for what they considered my excessive intellectualization of the Teaching and the Work. It was fair criticism and it called my attention to what indeed was an excessive and abusive use of only one center. But it is now that I understood that we should not be very severe in our criticism of others in the Work. There is a time for everything and there is always a reason for what we are doing. I am now totally convinced that my excessive use of my thinking center was my only way to cope with my deep negation of life. And thank God I was able to do this.
In any case, I very soon made another interesting discovery during this phase of exploration of my deep negation of life. I discovered that my struggle followed a logical and lawful sequence. As I have said, as soon as I decided to abandon my ordinary mind and I had stopped reading Beelzebub’s Tales, my struggle descended from my mind to my body. This is in conformity to the laws because the mind being above and the body below the struggle most descend from mind to body. This reflects the fact that all possibilities to man come from Above. But more important than this is the fact that as soon as my resistance and my negation began to manifest in my body, the struggle with my mind transformed this into a struggle between the body saying NO and the mind saying YES. My struggle began to conform more closely to what Mr. Gurdjieff said in the sense that the real struggle is between mind and body, between the head and the animal, between “I” and “me.” This has to be so because it is the only way for actualization in us of the law of three and for the transmutation in us of the holy-reconciling.
Back in Flushing after my short trip to Iowa in mid June, I began to search for ways to deal with my deep negation of life. Since I was now aware of the fact that my struggle had descended from my mind into my body, I strongly felt the urge to engage my body in the work on myself. But I had no idea how and where to start. I then went through one of those streaks of luck I usually go through in life. But maybe it was not luck; maybe it was luck according to the laws because I was seeking, asking, and knocking. Whatever it may have been the fact is that I began to take early walks with my wife in a nearby park (Kissena Park). The area of Flushing where I live has lately been invaded by Chinese (as well as Koreans) and right now it has the second largest Chinese concentration in New York City, second only to the well-known Chinatown. For some cultural reason Chinese is the only ethnic group that likes and enjoys doing physical exercises in large groups and in the outdoors. In my early walks with my wife I could see not less than ten different groups throughout the park engaged in one form or another of physical exercises, most of them centered on some form of Tai Chi.
The idea then came to me to join one of these groups. I knew that work on the body is much easier when done in groups, as it is the case with movements. I began to pay attention to each particular group and finally decided for one of them, led by a Chinese man who, as I learned later, was sixty-eight years old but looked in his forties. What most impressed me about him were the demands he imposed on himself. None of his thirty students came close to be like him. It was obvious that this man had worked on himself, even if only with the body. I also liked the fact that the exercises were varied, although they followed a fixed pattern. The group met the seven days of the week, from eight to nine thirty in the morning. I joined the group and began to follow as closely as possible the instructions given by the teacher
After several days of hard discipline and hard work with the Chinese group, I began to notice that the negation I had experienced in my body after my trip to Iowa was back again. The fact is that I was feeling as bad as I felt after the trip. I wondered why this was happening. I soon realized that the reason was that I had completely forgotten my aim. When I joined the Chinese group, my only aim was to work on my negation, which at that time was being manifested in my body. I clearly remembered that during the first few days with the group, my body strongly resisted and rejected the group exercises. But very soon my body adapted to them and the work on my deep negation of life stopped. The fact is that my deep negation of life was not only in my body but also in my feeling and my thinking. In addition to this I realized that I had become identified with the teacher. I remember one day I asked him for the name of what he was teaching. In broken English worse than mine, he said: “No name. Hate names; Tao with name no Tao.” I then remembered I had read somewhere that in Taoism one can find a teacher in the most unimaginable place. Was he a Taoist master? The fact is that whether he was one or not was irrelevant from the point of view of my aim. It is the classical example Mr. Gurdjieff gave of the man who went to buy a shirt and ended up selling his. The result of all this was that I lost track of my aim. I then decided to put a temporary stop to this form of strenuous work while at the same time searching for other forms of work programs.
I then entered a phase of my work I like to call “the tuning of my work programs,” maybe in reference to my many years of research in the area of mathematical tuning of parameters in the control of guidance systems. For three months (August, September, and October) I worked in the formulation and subsequently modification of a number of work programs. I would formulate a work program and after two weeks I would modify it according to my needs of the moment. If I saw that a work program was not working for my most immediate need, I would just drop it and start a new program. Looking back to those days, I am now convinced that this phase of my work was in great part inspired by the material in the Prologue to Life is real only then, when “I Am.”
For instance, at one point I felt the need to work with my feelings only. I understood that I had to love myself more and stop being as hard on myself as I have always been. The only way to accomplish this was to work on feeling and I formulated a work program accommodated to this need. At another point I felt the urge to read a book I always wanted to read but that I had never gotten around to reading it. I am referring to Mount Analogue, the book by the French poet René Daumal (the only material related to the Work I read during my year of inner work). This book, by the way, served as a corroboration of my decision to abandon my ordinary mind. Soon into my reading I was able to penetrate the very essence of the central message of the book: as we climb the mountain of being we leave behind the valley of ordinary knowledge. The book also served as a reminder of how easy I forget my aims, as it had just happened. No sooner the climbers arrive at a town at the base of the mount that they completely forget why they are there.
I even changed my morning sitting and adapted it to the needs of the moment. When breathing was demanded to calm my mind I did breathing. When working on sensation was required to be closer to my body I worked on sensation. When the “I Am” exercise was needed in order to increase my attention and concentration of the moment I worked on this exercise. When I felt really bad, as it happened during several days in September, I just sat with the Zen attitude of “sitting here; doing nothing.” The important thing was to adapt what I was doing to my needs of the moment.
I then began to notice something very interesting, something I had never noticed before in working on myself. The more I tuned my work programs in order to adapt them to my present needs, the simpler my attitude towards them and towards my work in general became.
When I was in a group in Paris, the second wife of Henri Tracol always attended. She was not a group leader and sat in the back. From time to time she spoke and when she did, we all felt the weight of what she said because it was simple and straightforward. One day, after the meeting was over, I approached her with this question: “To what do you compare what we are trying to do here?” Her answer was immediate and simple: “To a baby extending her arms to embrace her mother.” I liked what she said but I did not understand what she meant. Now, almost thirty years later, I think I understand what she meant. What could be simpler than a baby extending her arms to embrace her mother? This is the kind of simplicity I was now experiencing in relation to my programs and my work. But what was even more amazing was the fact that this simplicity was extending to other aspects of my daily life. Maybe it is true what the Teacher said about his Teaching: “I teach that when it rains the pavements get wet.” In my personal case, it is always my intellect that complicates everything. Once the mind makes a decision, we should let body and feeling take over because body and feeling are closer to Nature.
My one year project ended on October 30, 2004. I have spent several weeks working on this testimony. I now want to share it with all my invisible friends out there. As a good engineer would do, I will conclude with a full assessment of the finished project.
But before I do this, I have to make one thing clear. The work I have done and that I describe in this testimony is not the result of self-will. Far from it; I had no self-will, other that the little will of my mind that for many years helped me to deal with my deep negation of life. But real self-will, the will the Teaching speaks of, I had not nor have I yet. I now know that I have to do much more work on myself in order to acquire real self-will (Thank God my work continues!). It was my darkness and my negation that showed me that I had no self-will. That is why I can say that the work I have done and that I describe in this testimony is the result of one thing and one thing only: A Need. It was this great need that motivated me to work on myself. It was my darkness and my deep negation of life that pushed me to work on myself.
I think this is a very important point for most of us in the Work. We must rely on our need because we cannot rely on our self-will. It is in great part the illusion that we have real self-will that impedes us from experiencing our nothingness, which is the imperative condition in the work for us. That is why Beelzebub’s Tales concludes with the theme of self-will and our lack of it. Mr. Gurdjieff uses a compelling and picturesque caricature of contemporary man to illustrate our lack of self-will. This caricature of contemporary man is the caricature of us all. It is presented in the language of “mentation by form” so it penetrates our essence in such a way that we may experience our lack of real self-will and consequently our nothingness.
And now to the assessment.
What are the results of my one year of inner work? Well, to begin with I no longer live in two mutually exclusive worlds. I no longer have to make use of my outer life as compensation for my inner life. My life now flows along one single current. My darkness and my anger are all gone. My negation is now more in correspondence with my affirmation.
In August a pure white dove suddenly appeared in the backyard of my house. This event caused a commotion among my family and among my two neighbors. The commotion was caused by the fact that the event in question had never happened in the twenty years that I have lived in this house. The dove was very thirsty and tried to drink the water from a small swimming pool we have in the backyard. Knowing that water in the pool is not drinkable I put fresh water in a container and placed near the white dove. She (I am assuming the dove to be female) drank with great gusto and then flew away. She reappeared the next day at about the same time. This time I used a larger container and she drank and then jumped into the water. After a thorough bathing in she flew to the roof of the garage and for three hours remained there bathing in the bright summer sun. She then left and never came back. I took this event as a sign from the Real World. The white dove represented the holy-reconciling. And the fact that she appeared in my house I took as a sign of the appearance of the holy-reconciling in my being, something I have been experiencing for some time now.
But if I were to be pressed to pinpoint exactly what my most important result is, I would have to say that this result ─an unexpected one I should add─ is the fact that I am returning to the simplicity and joy of my childhood. All of our childhood essence impulses are still in us, only buried by the consequences of years of living under abnormal conditions of life. I was fortunate to have had a good essence childhood in my hometown in central Cuba. I was unfortunate to have suffered the death of my beloved mother when I was ten years old. This tragic event and others that immediately followed, such as my ending up at a lonely and sad orphanage, plus the artificial mask I had to wear as a three-brained being of the planet Earth, completely buried my childhood essence impulses. It has been through the work on myself, my efforts and the help I received from Above, that I am returning to the simplicity and joy of my childhood. And now I have to learn to walk again. My dream of the birth of the spiritual child is being fulfilled.
The great hope that the Teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff brought to us is the fact that the data necessary for the awakening of the impulse of Conscience remains intact, stored in the depth of our being, in the region known as the subconscious. All is there and there is no need to create something new. With work and guidance, with the Method, we can penetrate our subconscious and retrieve the data necessary for the awakening of Conscience. Then, and only then, will we be in position to experience
……………….”that most beatific sacred being-impulse……, which, in accordance with the divine foresight of Great Nature, forms those data in us, from the result of the experiencing of which we can blissfully rest from the meritorious labors actualized by us for the purpose of self-perfection.” (B.T. p.357)
There is Great Hope for us in the Work.
This Teaching is a Great Positive.
© Will Mesa 2005