Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gurdjieff: an introduction

A while back on Facebook, John Shirley posted that his book, Gurdjieff: an Introduction To His Life and Ideas, was available in a Kindle edition on Amazon.  Being a fan of Shirley's writing, I did not delay in clicking the link.  I expected to find a cyberpunk novel or perhaps more likely, a horror novel written as biography.  
I was about as incorrect as you could be.  John Shirley's book is actually a work of nonfiction about a man named George Gurdjieff.  This man was hitherto unknown to me, so I decided to do a bit of research.  Here's what I found.
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was mystic and a spiritualist.  He was born of combined Greek and Armenian heritage sometime in the late 19th Century (the exact year is unknown).  That Greek business made me sit up and take notice.  I've been steeped in Greek mysticism and superstition for over ten years now and I still don't fully understand it.  The more I read however, I rapidly saw that Gurdjieff's work was in an entirely different direction than what I've been experiencing.
Perhaps his most notable work is the notion of The Fourth Way.  Gurdjieff believed that the various religions of humanity had lost their connection to people as a whole.  They were instead, rote means of producing automatons.  Factories for churning out a populace unable to think for itself and therefore easily controlled.  What is more, most religions provide only spiritual development (if you're lucky.)  Gurdjieff's "Fourth Way" was intended to develop and harmonize a person physically, mentally, and spiritually in order to create a balance and harmony within yourself.  In following The Fourth Way, one does what is called "The Work,"  meaning working on one's self.  I am enamored with that idea, that it takes work to be saved as opposed to just checking in at a building every Sunday.  Gurdjieff taught that through enough work, one really would be able attain a higher level of consciousness and being.  
Here's something Gurdjieff focused on that I really like: he pointed out that the phrase, "The Kingdom of Heaven is Within" is a quote from The New Testament that had lost its true psychological meaning.  The kingdom of Heaven is within.  It's inside each one of us.  We have it within ourselves to create "heaven" and need not rely on any invisible force.
I must say, I'm both impressed by this man and embarrassed that I had not heard of him earlier.  I like free-thinkers and I always enjoy reading about alternative (that's a loaded term and I apologize, but I mean it by strict definition) views of spirituality and consciousness, so his work warrants further inspection.  We need this kind of critical thinking and awareness now more than ever.

Addendum: I am astounded at the wide range of people that have claimed Gurdjieff as an influence over the years.  Not just John Shirley, but Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, Kate Bush, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
To purchase John Shirley's book in either paperback or Kindle format, click here.

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