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An interview with Ian MacFarlane
Q: You were interviewed by Reijo for this site back in 2004, I believe. Let me start by asking how your online group is progressing? Are there, for example, three lines of Work? And also on the progress you're making locally.
A: Well yes, I did an interview in approximately 2004 as you say, and so you're asking about my online group. I'm not sure what that has to do with the other interview, but it was mentioned in the other interview so yes, okay. Yes, I continue to run an online group, there is maybe about 25 people in the group, but of course, as in many groups, not all of them are active all the time. I have a core of about 10 people who are more regular contributors to my online group and many of them have been with me over the past four or five years. There are people that come and go for a month or two - there's been a number of those over the time as well, for whatever reason they do not find the online format appealing to them, or whatever. But there is a core of people, and once a week, every Monday, a Work programme is posted, with the suggestion that people Work with whatever exercises are in the Work programme for the week and then they can respond on the forums, asking questions, making any observations, suggesting any variations to the exercise and so on and so forth. We also have forums for our chapter-by-chapter discussion of Beelzebub's Tales; for the discussion of dreams that members have; for the discussion of Key Work concepts; as well as a general Work discussion forum. So yes, my online group has been going quite well. I have no plans at this time to form a local group.
In terms of, are there three lines of Work? That depends what you mean by three lines of Work, that's the typical thing. We try to Work obviously with the mental side because it's an online group and there's a lot of intellectual input on there. Getting to the third line of Work, yes, does my group do third line Work? Well, that's an interesting question because if you really think about it, how many Gurdjieff groups anywhere engage in the third line of Work? It depends on what you mean by third line of work as well: Work for the Work, my online group and many other groups I've been in tend to be very self-contained and don't really interact with the outside world that much. I've heard of some groups that would go and do voluntary work at, say, an old age home. They would go and visit old people, or help do cleaning as a charitable effort, and so on. But the online group as a whole is not engaged in that kind of Work unless people on their own want to go off and do that. Is third line Work really part of being in a group?
Because we're not geographically based, organizing group Third Line Work is problematic.
Q: There are people who say it is impossible to achieve any meaningful results through interaction online. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
A: Yes, well I would obviously disagree since I do run an online group, and you yourself said, some of these questions are coming from other people who are in your online group on Facebook.
I have been involved in and seen other online groups going on, and certainly some of them don't seem to be accomplishing very much, other than being a platform for people with big egos who think they know everything and want to cram it down other people's throats. I think something can be achieved through Working in an online group, it certainly allows people who are spread out over the world and who may never have any other chance to participate with others in the Work except in this medium. There's not a Gurdjieff group in every town and city and village of the world, so it is not always easy for people to disrupt their personal lives and their livelihood to move to become a member of a Gurdjieff group. So, I think Working online and putting out the exercises and giving people a chance to respond back, albeit mostly in writing, I think it can have a beneficial effect on many people, for many people. In this day and age, so much of what we do is conducted online or through cellphones and instant messaging, and so on and so forth - there has to be some way to make use of these technological innovations, to participate in the Work. To say that the Work shouldn't be conveyed through technological means is ridiculous.
Gurdjieff himself embraced new technology, as is evidenced by the availability of the recordings of him playing the harmonium. Gurdjieff also used electro therapy devices, which were very fashionable in the 20s and 30s, in his "healing" practices. Where did Gurdjieff ever say that Oral Transmission was the only true way to transmit the Work? If he had felt that way, he would never have written three books about the Work, and called them All and Everything.
Q: It seems that online, the interaction is different. Without actually being in people's presence, several things happen. People can, intentionally or unintentionally, adopt say, a more erudite, eloquent persona. It also seems to me that people are quicker to take offence, and be vitriolic, online. In your experience, it is possible to get past this kind of thing, and if so, how?
A: Oh gosh, well, I think one has to develop some sort of power or skill in diplomacy, basically. Observing one's emotions and not letting oneself get carried away and get irate or angry at people. Again, it is an opportunity to not express negative emotions, which is a big thing in the Work, and which in some of these groups, some people seem to forget that that was part of the Work. You know, simply just being polite and civil to people. Yes, sometimes it is hard when some people don't respond well when you try to be polite back to them. So it can be problematic and arguments can go on for months in online groups. I don't know if there is anyway to stop it. I mean, arguments go on in real groups as well.
Q: You're also heavily involved in the annual All & Everything Conference related to the book of the same name by G. I. Gurdjieff. What, for you, have been the best things to come from this? And the worst?
A: The All & Everything Conference for me was a kind of a revelation, an eye-opening experience to the Work. I'd never come across a group of people from so many different traditions, or lineages, of the Work, working together in one place, and trying to set aside their various differences in order to allow and present a platform where they all had the opportunity, if they chose to, to present a paper on what they felt the Work was about. So, the thing that I found most helpful about it was the ability of these people to Work together for, sort of a higher purpose, so to say. In a sense, the Conference is an opportunity for people to engage in the third line of Work, because they're not doing it for any particular group, they just doing it for the Work as a whole, because that is what is represented at the Conference, well hopefully, that anyone can come to the Conference, anyone can present a paper, and that will be recorded and published in the annual Proceedings and, so that part of it, the openness, and the willingness to look beyond the narrow sectarian lines was very nice.
Now you're asking me about the worst part of it; well I'm not sure there is a worst part of it, as we were talking about in the previous questions about people's negative emotions getting in the way. There are certainly situations like that that happen as well, at the Conference. Conflicts come up between people having different views on what the Work is supposedly meant to be, and how it is supposed to be conducted and so on. One of the, what shall we say, guidelines that is followed in the Conference is that no inner Work is taught at the Conference. So it is not a Work Group - the Conference is not a Work Group, deliberately so; because we don't have any inner Work given out. Mainly because that would, in many cases probably, cause a lot of disruption among these people because a lot of groups are very protective of the exercises they give out and so on. The Conference is mainly an intellectual exercise in talking about and examining the ideas of Gurdjieff, primarily as presented through his writings. The focus is on his books, and an intellectual discussion of those theories and ideas that are in the books, although we do have various pianists who come and play, so there is a bit of scope for bringing in the emotional side of things. So, that's my thoughts on this, the good and bad of the Conference. I think it's a good thing and I certainly put my efforts behind it to help keep it going.
Q: What is the most constructive example of cross-fertilisation between the so-called lineages of the Work that has resulted from this?
A: That's a good question [LAUGHS]. I'm not sure I could speak about this as, what I believe you said, cross-fertilisation. I'm not sure I could speak in terms of the particular understanding of what the quote 'true Work' would be, I don't think that anything has happened like that. People still have their own differences of ideas. What has come from the Conference, I think, is a willingness to be more open to the world, the public at large, what shall I say, they've advertised their presence a bit more, through having seminars in their own areas…There was a time when finding a Gurdjieff group was a very hard thing to do, because they didn't advertise in the newspaper, many of them don't have a phone number in the book, so it was a word of mouth thing. The Conference has helped to bring the existence of these groups into the public eye a lot more, and as well, this is what the Gurdjieff Internet Guide website that this will be on, Reijo himself, with the bringing of that website, also helped to expand the presence, the knowledge of the Gurdjieff Work through the medium of the Internet in a much wider sense than would have been possible without that. So in last ten years or so, the Gurdjieff Work has been opened up publicly through things like the Conference and Gurdjieff Internet Guide, and one of the recent ones is ‘What is the Work’, its kind of like a Facebook thing but it is on another website [www.whatisthework.ning.com]. There's many people there as well, bringing the Work and discussing the Work and there are exercises being given out online and videos of Movements are available, and recordings of the music are becoming available everywhere, and so the Conference is sort of a part of this wider opening out of people in the Work, and this opening out is really what I would consider to be efforts that people are making towards third line of Work. Because you have to hire a website to get out there, you have to go and rent a hotel to have a conference, and so on and so forth. I think that modern technology has opened out many opportunities for the Work that weren't available 20 or 50 years ago. So that’s my opinion.
Q: How do you view the emergence of 'orthodoxy' in the Work? What do you perceive is happening at present?
A: [LAUGHS] Is that your question? The question of Gurdjieff orthodoxy. Was there an orthodoxy ever in the beginning? I mean, Gurdjieff did himself change tactics and methods, as one can see, there are many differences between what is written in In Search of the Miraculous and what is written in Beelzebub's Tales, so is there an orthodoxy? Any orthodoxy, of course, would have to come from Gurdjieff's 'final teaching'. There are different schools that have emerged after Gurdjieff died, certainly the Foundation. If there's any orthodoxy, I suppose, one would have to say that Mme de Salzmann was the one that tried to create an orthodoxy through setting up the Foundations, but recently, some of this has been fragmenting, and there have been some Foundation groups going off on their own. So there are problems trying to maintain orthodoxy, and as Gurdjieff himself said about religions splitting up into different sects or different denominations, you know, it's according to law, so to speak. So orthodoxy implies dogma. Is there a Gurdjieff dogma, one could also ask. And orthodoxy, dogma, these are all things that are sort of fixed pat answers to all your questions. How do I Work on myself? Here's the answer: you do this and this and this. It's like a ritual, you have to behave in a certain way when you come to meetings, you have to sit in a certain way, and really, answers are the mothers of dogma, so to speak. Whenever people say 'we have all the answers' they have crystallised into a fixed form of beliefs and behaviours, and I really think people in the Work need to Work against becoming crystallised in that way, so it's probably a good thing there are so many different factions or lineages, because it actually works against the formation of fixed dogma or a fixed orthodoxy, or a crystallisation of the ideas, and it allows more things to grow and for other questions to be asked, and to sort of look over new horizons, or look at new mountains to climb, and so on. So if there is a new orthodoxy forming, then I'm not sure that I would think that would be a good thing. Although certainly, one can cite phrases such as "perennial wisdom", which is an old phrase. There are certain things in spirituality, in spiritual teachings down through the ages, what one might call a common thread, a river of truth, or something, which one might call that an orthodoxy or a dogma. The perennial dogma or the perennial orthodoxy, the mystical strain in all religions and many of these other things like the Fourth Way that have come out, philosophy, anthroposophy, and all of these other things that came out. They were many people around Gurdjieff's time developing their own little groups, like Steiner and there are many common threads and beliefs in all of these groups. So, okay, that’s about all I'll say on that.
Q: In that context, how can I keep the Work alive in me without falling down either side of blind adherence or equally blind rebellion?
A: Well, I think that again is a personal thing. How can you keep the Work alive? I don’t know if there is an answer to that question. That's a question each one of us has to ask ourselves. How do I keep the Work alive for myself?
Q: Could you give our readers an idea of neologism as in these ideas, and perhaps, a way to approach a study of it?
A: Oh well, you could look for a definition in a dictionary if you wanted to. Well, yes, Gurdjieff did create many neologisms, as we all know, which is why this question is being asked, I suppose. How does one study that? It would help if one was a linguist and knew many languages. Certainly, many of Gurdjieff’s neologisms combine parts of words of different languages, and for myself, being only an English speaker and not knowing any other languages, except maybe a smattering of French I learned when I was in school in Canada. It's probably quite hard to study in a sense, which is why it helps to interact with people in other groups or from other parts of the world in the Work, because they may have an insight into what some of these neologisms might mean, because they understand some of the word roots that are used. So here again, the Internet is one way of studying neologisms, because it allows you access to people all over the world who may have different points of view on what these words mean. So I don't know if that's what you’re getting at in studying neologisms. Obviously I think that everyone who's read Beelzebub's Tales thinks about them: what can this and that mean, and so on. I don't know if I have a definite approach to them, apart from looking for various Work roots, which I do, trying to piece those word roots together to come up with some idea of what he might be getting at with the use of the word. I mean, one could bring all sorts of…one could even try to analyse them mathematically if one wanted to. In one sense, though, when Gurdjieff does use a neologism, he's certainly calling your attention to certain concepts. It's like a big sign saying here's this strange word, I'm talking about something using this new, strange word, and it's obviously a concept you should look at further. He's waving a flag - there's something here, you should look at this. So yes, keep looking at them, asking questions, pondering on them, and so on.
Q: I've read, and listened to, a paper you wrote on the second conscious shock. Imagine you met someone completely new to these ideas, how would you describe the second conscious shock to them?
A: Well, as Gurdjieff always liked to do, he liked to…this is what we get, at least from Beelzebub's Tales, and other things in his life… he liked to appeal to popular wisdom, and so in Beelzebub's Tales, he had Mullah Nasr Eddin, with his witty little jokes and asides on all the time, describing things. One I remember from Gurdjieff is "when it rains, the streets get wet", common wisdom, commonsense. So, if I met a stranger and was trying to describe the second conscious shock in a simple way, I might say something like this: we’ve all heard that when you get angry, count to ten before you say anything. We've all heard that. I would add, being in the Work, sense your left foot at the same time, or we have an exercise called the Ten Bone Exercise. When someone makes you mad, or whatever negative emotion, instead of reacting right away, count to ten and sense each of the major ten bones in your body. And then, if you still feel like getting angry….Go ahead, whatever. So that's my simple explanation. Really, it’s self-restraint, but you’re taking the energy from the anger and not expressing it directly, but you’re using it to make this mental effort to count to ten and sense your body, and possibly, to observe the emotion of anger that you’re feeling and just to see that emotion for what it really is. So you’re engaging also at the same time, in a three-centred activity. You’re engaging all of your three centres—mental, emotional and physical—in that act of not expressing that negative anger, so you’re entering into what Gurdjieff called in Beelzebub’s Tales a state of All-Brains-Balanced-Being-Perception.
Of course, in the above example one can substitute for anger any negative emotion, or consequence of the organ Kundabuffer, of which Gurdjieff presented a whole list in Beelzebub’s Tales. There are also many negative states or I’s that we manifest that are not always properly classified as negative emotions—depression, ennui, jealousy, impatience … and on and on.
What I have just said is the first half of the equation, as laid out in the enneagram. The enneagram has 2 parts or sides—142 and 857. Each of these sides is a Harnel Miatznel as Gurdjieff called it in Beelzebub’s Tales. So we have to take the result, the reconciling force, generated from the first 142 and apply it as the input to the second part, the 587. This second part is what leads to the completion of the octave and to the coating or creating of so-called higher bodies, or, to put it another way, to creating higher states of consciousness.
Q: Given the above, you have said of your teacher, Paul Beidler, that the main thrust of his teaching was based on the transformation of our denying forces by intentional suffering. If you like, to actively go towards that which makes us suffer and bear it willingly, gladly even, for our own benefit, and for a greater benefit. His methods, you say, allow for a wide range of creative adaptability in this. Could you give an example of this adaptability to show how it might help us move towards intentionally bearing our suffering?
A: Hmm. If you get angry with someone, you could repeat the alphabet instead of counting to ten. You could sense your left ear at the same time, instead of what I mentioned previously. That’s adaptability. That’s just a quick example, there you go.
Gurdjieff also placed a great emphasis on the transformation of our denying forces. It’s mentioned in Ouspensky, in Beelzebub’s Tales and in Life is Real.
Q: Our society, with all its comforts, conveniences and isolation, seems designed to minimise our suffering. As someone said, to make everything ‘roses, roses’. Now, if there are objective benefits to suffering intentionally—even gladly—how can we Work to increase our capacity to do this in our times?
A: How can we Work to increase our capacity, in our times? I’m not sure our times are really any different to any other times in that sense. Sorry, it’s a little hard to answer this. How can I put this? It’s like going back to his question of the third line of Work. I’m not sure that one can give advice or counsel or suggestions on that, other than to deliberately go out of one’s way to put oneself in a difficult situation. That of course is more properly called Voluntary suffering and is different from Intentional Suffering, but it is a start. If someone doesn’t experience any of the various sufferings, mentioned earlier, in their daily life, then they are living a very sheltered life.
Another thing might be to… since everything is so easy for us, may be, not focusing on ourselves so much, and our comfort so much, and maybe, seek out a moment of doing something unpleasant, or refraining from indulging in some of these easy things. Wash the dishes once in a while instead of using the dishwasher. And another thing, of course, with all of this ease, in one sense it tends to fragment us from other people. So another thing might be to try to increase our sense of unity with the world around us, instead of seeing it as a whole array of different things to get, just try to embrace the world as one whole, instead of seeing it as some sort of plethora of options. Just try to feel your oneness with everything, so to speak. I don’t know if that really answers that question or not.
Q: The practices related to the first and second conscious shocks purportedly lead to the creation, or coating, of higher being bodies. How would you describe these bodies? What do they do? What are they for?
A: [LAUGHS] That’s the theory, I suppose you’d call it. These so-called higher bodies. How would I describe them? They might just be metaphors for different states of consciousness. They might not actually be bodies as we think of a physical body being a container and if we think of the Kesdjan body as being another container of some sort that’s less material and may survive death as well. Then within the Kesdjan body, Gurdjieff speaks of the possibility of the Highest-Being-Body-Soul, which supposedly, could attain immortality within the solar system, or something like this. But all this talk of higher bodies could well be just another form of neologism, or a metaphor for another state of consciousness. There is no proof that any of these higher bodies actually exist. These are all theories, and yes, you find theories like this in other traditions, and so on and so forth. So really, all this talk about developing higher bodies is theoretical. If one conceives of them as actual physical objects, there’s no proof of that. If one takes the psychological descriptions of some of these higher bodies, though, one can observe those characteristics, those properties, those behaviours in oneself. For example, developing conscience might be considered to be a part of the growth of the Kesdjan body. So if one experiences moments of conscience or remorse and so on, or a moment of seeing something clearly having an ‘ah-ha moment’ and understanding, these might be considered qualities that one might ascribe to a higher being body. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a higher being body, but you may just be developing your own consciousness and calling it a higher being body is just a convenient handle or terminology. Like putting an x on a map. I mean we have to distinguish between the map and the territory. The higher bodies talked about in the books are a map, but what is important, is that we live and walk ourselves physically today in the present, on the territory, and not in this little map. So you can’t see a Kesdjan body in me, you can’t see it in yourself, if either of us had one or didn’t have one. Now I know there are people who would dispute that comment, but as I said, the territory, the actual psychological, emotional, physical feelings, experiences, emotions that we have are the territory, and they may or may not be referring to some actual physical higher body. So my opinion on higher bodies is that they may or may not exist, I don’t know. But there are certainly qualities ascribed to them that are worth experiencing and developing, and when I die I will find out whether there is a higher body there to survive or not. That’s my answer on that. [INTERVIEWER LAUGHS]
Q: What’s your view of the idea that as ‘grand children’ or ‘great grand children’ that there are no longer any teachers in this tradition? Do you see Paul Beidler’s Triad system as its replacement? What are its disadvantages, and how can they be best overcome?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say there are no teachers any more. Well, it depends. From the teacher’s point of view, a person might consider themselves a teacher. But from the student’s point of view they might not consider that person a teacher. Certainly, we are in a different situation in our world now than we were, and in the past, the only way to get these teachings was to find a teacher and become part of a school. In our day and age, with the Internet and satellites beaming information all over the world and having access on our computers to almost every book that’s been written, we have immediate access to all of this knowledge without recourse to seeking a teacher. I think one of the big things these days is that people need to learn to share what they have learned with each other much more than relying on an authority figure to dictate to them what they should believe, and this I think is one of the advantages of the Triad system you have brought up. Because this allows—again the Triad system operates within the context of a group, whether that’s an online group or a real group—and it allows people to Work together to consider what other people in the group might need.
So I would suggest that the idea of a Teacher is an outmoded idea from a past age. What we need now is for Sharers, people who will share what they have learned with others, without bringing their ego into it and expecting to be seen as “special” or “advanced” and accorded a special status as a “Teacher”. The Work needs to become more democratic and less autocratic or heirarchical.
Maybe we need to backtrack on the explanation because people reading this interview may not have heard of that before. The group we were in with Paul Beidler met twice a week, on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings. Those meetings, of course, needed to have a plan: a meditation, some physical work, maybe the preparation of a meal, on an ongoing weekly basis. So each week, each meeting was conducted and planned by a different Triad made up of members of the group. So if there were 21 people in the group, there would be seven Triads. So over a period of seven weeks, each of these people would be involved in their triad, planning a meeting, and they would have to take into account the location, what exercises that they were going to practice, what exercises they were going to suggest to use in the intervening week, and so on. So rather than relying on ‘teachers’ to every week lay down a plan of Work, the Triads had an opportunity to get experience in being “as if” in a teaching role. They were like apprentice teachers if you want to put it that way, they were putting into practice, and helping others put into practice, what they had learned from Mr. Beidler, who was the teacher, so to speak, or the main person who was sharing what he’d learned from his time with Gurdjieff and other teachers, and so on. He was sharing what he learned with us, and by having people in the Triads, he was teaching them how to direct their inner Work, coming from their own self out rather than imposed from the top down. Instead of a pyramid organisation, this was much like a computer network, where every node is connected with every other node. So this is one of the things that lies behind “well there are no more teachers, we have to share everything” because we live now in a networked world. Your computer, my computer, we’re talking, we can connect with anyone else in the world simultaneously through conferencing. We’re in a situation now where we can share all the information back and forth almost immediately. We’re not dependent on a hierarchical top-down, military-style paradigm of running groups where the people at the top never get seen by people at the bottom. Sometimes, the people who are seen as the main teachers of many groups are isolated by a layer of acolytes between them and the so-called neophytes and I think we need to get beyond this hierarchical, one-person-at-the-top, trickling down of the teaching, and we need to get more networked and sharing and Working together as individuals rather than marching behind a leader. The triads teach us how to direct our own Work. [This requires] a greater trust between all nodes of the network. Our inner Work needs to be self-directed. When you’re on your own, we live our own lives, we can’t always have a teacher who is telling us what we should do or what exercises to do in any given moment. We need to have a repertoire of responses to what life gives us. A repertoire of inner Work we can engage in. I mean, nothing worthwhile is easy, and relying on a teacher can sometimes be a very easy way out, so you can go to a meeting once a week and pretend you’re Working. But unless you learn to employ these techniques in your life on a moment-by-moment basis if need be, then you need some time to practise doing that, and this is one of the things that the Triads did allow for people in them, because the Triad would have to sit down and have its own little meeting amongst the three of them and come up with an inner Work programme for a week. So without relying on an outside source, they were there, they created their Triad, and of course, a Triad is a whole of three balanced forces, supposedly. So yes, I think the Triad system could actually be a good model for many groups to put into practice. I think they could well benefit from such a practice. Certainly, you asked earlier about how one could increase one’s efforts. Well, being on a Triad, that’s the kind of a thing where you have to increase your efforts.