Gurdjieffian Thought in the New Age

By James Westly

Table of Contents | More Practical Wisdom


In July of 1977 something happened to me. I haven't been the same since.

Sounds like a disease. When we hear someone make a statement like this, we assume the negative. In fact, what happened was that I found the thing I'd been searching for my entire life.

From my earliest remembrance I have possessed a sense, a knowing, that I would live during a time in the experience of humanity that would be extraordinary. I never had any kind of vision, no light being or angel visited me, I just knew. This knowing was the mainspring for a search that occupied the first thirty-five years of my life.

Sounds clear enough, even simple when stated in this manner, but it was anything but clear and simple. We all know that growing up in Twentieth Century America is a complex proposition. Having a vague knowing deep within made it even more confusing. I could not comfortably immerse myself into the patterns of ordinary existence. Whenever I attempted this, the drive to seek eventually made me uncomfortable and forced me to move in another direction, leaving behind whatever I'd established. It compelled me each time to start over again in this search, not knowing what it was I sought, a frequently frustrating experience.

I found I was not unified in my search. It was as if there were a multitude of people within me, many of whom were not at all interested in the search. They wanted different things, a good livihood, a relationship, a career, money, cars, houses, and much more. Yet,each time I reached out and acquired or attained the wants, needs and desires of some part of this inner multitude that demanded them, the result turned to dust in my hands. The thing of attainment did not possess the magic it seemed to have from afar. So I returned to the quest. It, more than anything else, was the only voice within me that was consistent and persistent. It never left me alone.

The places my search took me to comprise a fairly typical catalogue for many who began their adulthood in the early Sixties. Included were higher education (psychology and philosophy), psychedelic drugs, altered lifestyles, sexual freedom, communal living, physical adventure (fast cars, motorcycles, rock climbing, hang gliding, skiing, scuba diving) and meditation (Transcendental). Each deepened and enriched my experience of life, giving me little pieces to a puzzle I was not yet aware existed.

None, however, offered anything substantial enough to devote an entire life to.

By the time I'd reached my mid-thirties I was completely frustrated and depressed. Maybe the surface of life was all there was after all. Maybe there didn't exist any deeper meanings to life, that this knowing that had nagged me all my life was just naive nonsense. Maybe all there was to life was money, good sex, and an occasional vacation.

Retrospectively I can see I had reached a point of preparedness, that all that had gone before, although seemingly pointless, had brought me to a place in my internal life where I was now ready to receive a larger vision.

In the process of my search I had come across the idea of schools, mystery schools or esoteric schools, where initiates were trained in the ancient methods of personal development that were the gateway to a different experience of life. Oddly enough, there was a television series in the mid-seventies that depicted such a school as it might have existed in China during the late eighteen hundreds. The series was called Kung Fu. I began to yearn for a modern version.

The discovery of such a school is the life changing event I refer to in the beginning of this introduction. I found a small book entitled The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution by Peter Ouspensky, a Russian author. It was an introduction to a system of principles that had been given him by his teacher George Gurdjieff.

These principles gave practical tools for the attainment of a more enlightened, a more conscious way of living. So much of what I had read to this point had extolled the wonders of the path toward Enlightenment, but said little about our present circumstances. This little book, however, not only gave practical exercises on how to change one's state of consciousness, more importantly, it addressed the circumstances of ordinary people and what exactly it was that kept them in their ordinary lives. It was like a map showing the way to another level of existence.

At this point in my life a miracle of syncronicity occurred. Two weeks after finding this book I found a two line advertisement in the personal section of the classified ads a the local newspaper. "Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Centre, Now Accepting Students" it read, along with a phone number. I had found a school.

I made the call immediately, feeling the intensity that comes with the experience of meeting one's fate. Meetings were scheduled and I joined. It was a major turning point in my life. Within two years I left behind everything that my life had contained and found myself living in a cloistered community of people, all of whom were dedicated to their own personal evolution through the use of the system of ideas Ouspensky had outlined in his book. I found the puzzle the existence of which I had suspected, now what remained was to assemble it within myself.

The five years I spent in this community constitute a "Peak Experience". It would take a separate book to describe the intensity of experience and the rate of personal growth it facilitated. The focus was entirely inward, while simultaneously working intensely in the outer or physical world. The pace was very demanding, there was no place to hide. Each followed his or her own path, there being no set "course", or curriculum. My particular path required five years.

Near the end of this period I met and married a kindred spirit. We decided to leave the school and find our way in the world. The shock was staggering, like being born nude at the age of forty. We adapted, and eventually migrated to a southwestern city where we began teaching the principles of this system, known as The Fourth Way or The Work,that had become a deeply ingrained part of our inner lives.

Now, having facilitated The Work to a small group of intensely committed individuals for over nine years, I have come upon the necessity to restate these principles in the context of the 1990's. A new awareness movement is blossoming. Awareness seminars, Metaphysics, channels, holistic health, meditation techniques and much more are thriving all over our cultural landscape. As deeply indebted as I feel for The Work legacy left us by Peter Ouspensky and his teacher George Gurdjieff, I also feel that their writings were created for a reading public that no longer exists.

It is, therefore, my aim in writing this book to bring these eternal principles into this new awareness, in the hope that they will continue to be of benefit to greater numbers of people in their drive to awaken.

This is an age in which many are experiencing the opening of their hearts. So too, then, the task I have set myself here is to connect the seemingly intellectual principles of The Fourth Way with the emotional experience of life. The society in which we live is top heavy. We approach most things through our minds, having left behind, like some vestigial relic, our intuitive processes. The true aim of The Work is to establish a connection to the power of our emotional life, called by some the "eighteen inch gap". True understanding lies not in knowing, but in living what you know. It is my hope that this book will be of assistance in the creation of a true understanding in those who read it.

James Westly
Phoenix, Arizona

Chapter One: The Terror of the Situation

Practical Wisdom 1993-2001 James Westly

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