Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way
The 4th Way is a pragmatic spiritual path to achieving our highest human potential through the simultaneous development and integration of our intellectual, emotional and physical centers.
The term, “The Fourth Way” was coined by George Gurdjieff, an Armenian spiritual master and mystic who lived from 1872 to 1949. At the age of 20, he set out on a journey to answer the most basic–and important–question: why am I here, on Earth? His search led him to ancient monasteries and temples of learning, from Egypt to Central Asia, from India to Tibet. In his travels, he discovered Sufi monasteries, and understood that they had intimate knowledge of the truth he was seeking. 25 years after he set out on his quest, he reemerged in Russia, and began to share his rich learnings. He escaped Russia during the Russian revolution to France with a small group of his students. In France, Gurdjieff established an institute for the harmonious development of man. Gurdjieff’s students have continued to teach and expand upon his ideas and methods and small groups of seekers can be found around the world today.
Gurdjieff used the term “The Fourth Way” to describe his path and his methodologies, to differentiate it from those traditional ways he’d come across in his journey. The notion that self-discovery and the path to enlightenment could come exclusively from the body, or from our emotions, or from our cognition seemed, to Gurdjieff, to be incomplete. He felt that a Fourth Way was needed: a way of developing and then integrating the physical, the emotional, and the intellectual centers would prove more fruitful on our path to transformation. Gurdjieff knew long before it became known to popular science and culture that our personality is made up of multiple “selves”; our history, and our experiences have conditioned our minds, our feelings, and our bodies in a way that can limit us, if we are not aware of them. He understood that many people were “sleepwalking,” unconsciously moving through life without a sense of their authentic self.
Thus, the Fourth Way is a path that leads to an integrated self-awareness of our past adaptations, so that we may take charge of our relationship to the many facets of our conditioned personality and choose to act from our Essence, with Conscience.
The work of coming into an integrated self-awareness has come to be called the Work. All of those who endeavor to become more self-aware; to become more authentically themselves; to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways with themselves, others, and the world around them are invited to undertake the Work. For this reason, Gurdjieff’s methods and philosophies were developed so that the Work can and should be accessible to everyone with a sincere wish to discover their full humanity. He believed that the Work should take place in the context of our daily lives and interactions, rather than in isolation or withdrawal from life. In this day-to-day life, the way we relate to ourselves and one another harbors the possibility for deep insights about who we are, and the patterns that live within us. Investigating these daily occurrences, especially in times of turmoil, becomes ideal for the awakening process, in which the integrated Work can be most effective.
Gurdjieff and the Sacred Dances
The canon of Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way philosophy is not merely text; Gurdjieff also created what he called Sacred Dances–movements–to be accompanied by the music of Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann. These Dances–based on the sciences of movement and neurology–are intense vehicles for inner transformation. They demand an extraordinary amount of attention, divided simultaneously between the body, the heart, and the mind. The Movements are ideally done in groups. Choreographed for mathematical displacement, canons and moving figures, they require and develop a sense of being part of a moving whole. The movements are at once simple and complex, capable of eliciting the kind of existential tension, frustration, suffering, and joy that allow us to see our own reactions. The Movements are also ideal vehicles for developing a sense of presence in the body, for stretching our muscles of divided attention and for observing ourselves in challenging circumstances.
4th Way facilitators use the Movements as vehicles toward increased presence, with opportunity for self-observation and a place to share. We trust the Movements to provide appropriate work for all three centers and our own ability to observe and integrate the experience.
Effective 4th Way groups and facilitators provide work-food for all three centers; yet each person is responsible for their own development. Only I can observe myself. Only I can learn the specific way my automatic thoughts, feelings and behaviors have kept me from healing, growing and transforming. Only I can know what kind of Work my centers require at a given time.
Over the past 70 years since G.I. Gurdjieff’s death, 4th Way groups have developed patterns for work in community – over weekend, week-long or longer retreats – that provide group members fresh opportunities to work and learn together.
With many variations, the Work that is done at the Whidbey Akhaldans School includes activities for all centers that strengthen capacities of sensing and attention, that provoke reactions that are observable so as to be worked with, and that provide fresh ideas and insight.
As Gurdjieff described the Work:
The Work is not mystical
It does not direct your attention to that which is incapable of being understood
The Work is not a cult
We do not perform rituals and ceremonies for the sake of astounding ourselves, or to impress others.
The Work is not religious
We do not worship any mortally named enigma.
The Work is not a sect
We do not blindly or mechanically revere any human being.
The Work is not a club
It is not a collection of ordinary people held together by similar weaknesses & maladies.
The Work is not a contemporary fad
Its secret paths have been trod by a few since the dawn of the intellect.
The Work is not a popular pastime
Few feel its need, & even fewer can pay the price.
The Work is not a necessity
Life has yet to require that human beings realize their full potential.
What Then Is The Work?
It is more than all words, less than all dreams.
It is a terror to behold, a joy to experience.
It is the connecting threads of a great and secret circle
closing the gap ’twixt all and nothing’.
This Work is a proven path for those who seek deeper, more authentic self-understanding.