BOYHOOD WITH GURDJIEFF
IN SPEAKING OF his methods of self-development and proper growth, Gurdjieff would often emphasize the fact that there were many dangers that would inevitably be encountered in the process. One of the most frequent obstacles was that, at times, the performance of a particular exercise (he was referring to individual exercises prescribed by him for particular individuals) would produce a state of exhilaration or well-being. He said that while such a state of exhilaration was proper to the correct and serious performance of such exercises, one danger lay in our misconception of "results" or "progress"; it was necessary to remember that we should not expect results at all. If we did an exercise expecting a certain result, it was valueless. But, if we achieved a recognizable result, such as a feeling of genuine well-being, even though this was a proper, temporary, result, it did not in any sense mean that one had "achieved" anything permanent. It could mean that some progress was being made but it was then necessary to work that much harder in order to make such "results" a permanent part of oneself.
He referred, frequently, to a sort of riddle: a man, accompanied by three mutually hostile organisms, a lamb, a wolf, and a cabbage, arrives at the edge of a river which has to be crossed in a boat which can only carry two -- the man and one other -- "passengers" at a time. It is necessary to transport himself and his "companions" across the river without the possibility of one of them being able to attack or destroy the other. The important element in the story was that the general human tendency was to try to find a "short-cut", and the moral of the story was that there is no short-cut: that it is essential, always, to make the necessary number of trips to ensure the safety and well-being of all the passengers. He said that in the beginning, even though it would seem a waste of valuable time, it would frequently be necessary to make extra trips rather than to risk any possible danger. However, as one became accustomed to his exercises and methods, one should eventually be able to make only the exact number of trips required and still not endanger any passenger. It was also necessary to recognize the fact that in the case of the man, the lamb, the wolf and the cabbage it would be necessary to take some of the passengers on a return trip which would also seem a waste of time.
He used the same "riddle" as an example of the "centres" or "brains" of man; the man representing the "I" or the consciousness and the other three the physical, emotional, and mental centres. In addition to stressing the fact that the physical centre was the most developed of the three, he said that the mental centre was practically undeveloped, and that the emotional centre, which was partly developed -- but in all the wrong ways -- was completely "savage". He said that we responded to the needs of the body compulsively, which was proper as long as our bodily habits were good ones, since it was necessary to satisfy the needs of the body, or "machine", in the same sense that one would take proper care of a motor car since it was our only means of "transportation". With the emotional centre, since we knew almost nothing about it, the problem was much more difficult. Most of the errors of violence that were committed in the course of life were emotional, since we did not know how to use emotion properly in the course of our lives, and had only learned to form improper emotional habits from the moment we were born. He said that emotional "needs" existed that were just as compulsive as our physical needs such as hunger, sleep, sex, etc., but that we did not understand what they were and knew nothing at all about how to satisfy such emotional "cravings". One of the first steps was to understand that emotion was a kind of force within us. He frequently compared it to a balloon or to the reservoir of air that served to make a pipe-organ function. The pipes of the organ could be considered examples of various types of emotion, each pipe labelled differently: i.e., one pipe would be anger, another hate, another greed, another vanity, another jealousy, another pity, and so forth. One step towards the proper use of emotion was to be able to use the force or "air" in the reservoir in whichever of the pipes was proper or appropriate in a given situation, in much the same way as one consciously struck a certain note on an organ in order to produce a particular tone. If, for example, one felt -- for whatever reason -- anger, when anger was not appropriate to a particular circumstance or situation, instead of expressing anger, it should become possible for us to consciously divert that energy into whatever emotion was necessary or proper at the time. All existing emotions, all feelings, had purpose; there was a reason for their existence and a proper use for each one of them. But without consciousness or knowledge we used them blindly, compulsively and ignorantly, without any sort of control, producing the same effect in our emotional life as would have been produced, musically, by playing a pipe-organ as an animal might play it, without any knowledge, and without music -- simply at random. The great danger of uncontrolled emotions was that "shock" generally produced effects in oneself and in others, and the force of shock was emotional. If from lack of consciousness or knowledge, one felt -- mechanically -- anger, instead of, for instance, compassion, at a time when compassion was the proper emotion, only havoc and chaos could be produced.
Most of the problems in communication and understanding between individuals resulted from just such emotional shocks which were inappropriate, unexpected, and therefore usually harmful and destructive. One of the subtler dangers involved in this was that people frequently tried to use a "shortcut" to the use of proper emotions. While feeling anger, they would attempt to control this feeling and express a different emotion -- such as happiness, or love, or anything except anger. Since, whether we knew it or not, the simulated emotion did not convince other people emotionally, the result was that, in spite of the outward expression, the actual emotion or feeling would have been "recognized" as anger in any case, and having been sensed or felt in this way by another individual, in spite of not having been expressed honestly, it could be even more dangerous as it could only serve to arouse, although perhaps unconsciously, suspicion and hostility.