The Secret Dimension - Peter Brook - on Gurdjieff
"Although firmly rooted in a very ancient, lost tradition, Gurdjieff’s teaching is bitingly contemporary. It analyzes the human predicament with devastating precision. It shows how men and women are conditioned from earliest childhood, how they operate according to deep-rooted programs, living from cause to effect in an unbroken chain of reactions. These in turn produce a stream of sensations and images, which are never the reality they pretend to be, they are mere interpretations of a reality which they are doomed to mask by their constant flow.
Every phenomenon arises from a field of energies: every thought, every feeling, every movement of the body is the manifestation of a specific energy., and in the lopsided human being one energy, is constantly swelling up to swamp the other. This endless pitching and tossing between mind, feeling, and body produces a fluctuating series of impulses, each of which deceptively asserts itself as “me”: as one desire replaces another, there can be no continuity of intention, no true wish, only the chaotic pattern of contradiction in which we all live, in which the ego has the illusion of will power and independence. Gurdjieff calls this “the terror of the situation.”
His purpose is not to reassure: he is concerned only with an impartial expression of the truth. If we have the courage to listen, he introduces us to a science which is very far from the science we know.
Since the Renaissance, our own science has accurately pinpointed the detailed processes and mechanisms of the universe, from the infinitely large to the infinitely small, but has failed disastrously to introduce into its equations the dimension of living experience. it omits consciousness; it cannot capture the meaning of perception, nor the specific taste of thought. The highly abstract and purely mental system of mathematical symbols has no way of evoking the humanity of artistic experience nor the spirituality of religion.
As a result, we have two parallel interpretations of reality which can never meet: the scientific language of definition and the symbolic language of perception. So it seems that we are compelled to take sides, the scientist versus the humanist, and inescapably we are faced with the ancient duality, matter and spirit. For the scientist, the idea that there is a “something” that no one can touch, no one can see, and no instrument can detect is obviously repugnant: for him this can only be “mumbo-jumbo,” and we can understand how in his impatience he throws both metaphysics and spirituality into the same trash can of superstition. What he offers in exchange is a seemingly coherent view of the universe in which everything hangs together in a logical sequence of events, leading to the arrival of a lonely accident called man. In this image. the cosmos always ends up as an inexhaustible but senseless dynamo and all energy becomes blind, unfeeling power.
The idea that consciousness is an integral part of energy, and that the level of consciousness is inextricably linked to the frequency of vibration is nowhere to be found in contemporary science. The profound pertinence of Gurdjieff’s work is that it reveals fundamental laws which encompass the “complete field” that both scientists and artists have pursued through the ages. This enables every phenomenon to be situated in its relationship to others, according to the dimension that incorporates human experience: this dimension is perceptible, we recognize it, we speak of it, vet it remains undefined - we call it “quality”
Quality is a word much used and much devalued today - one could even say it has lost its quality - yet all our lives we live according to an intuitive sense of its meaning and it guides most of our attitudes and decisions. It has become fashionable to mistrust “value judgments,” yet we appreciate people, we respond to their presence, we sense their feelings, we admire their skills, we condemn their actions, whether in cooking, politics, art, or love,in terms of unwritten hierarchies of quality.
Nothing illustrates this better than the curious phenomenon called art, which transforms the very nature of our perceptions and opens in us a sense of wonder, even of awe. Certain frequencies of vibrations - colors, shapes, geometric figures, and above all proportions - evoke corresponding frequencies in us, each of which has a specific quality or flavor. There is, for instance, a proportion within the rectangle called the Golden Section that will invariably produce a sensation of harmony, and here as in many other geometrical figures the psychological experience is inseparable from its mathematical description.
Architecture has always observed and followed this marriage between feeling and proportion, and on a more intuitive level the painter and the sculptor are tirelessly correcting and refining their work so that its coarse outer crust can give way to the true inner feeling. A poet sifts within his thought pattern, giving attention to subtle intimations of sound and rhythm which are somewhere far behind the tumble of words with which his mind is filled. In this way, he creates a phrase that carries with it a new force, and the reader. in turn, can perceive his own feelings being intensified as their energy, is transformed by the impressions he receives from the poem. In each case the difference is one of quality and is the result not of accident but of a unique process.
Most art can be called subjective, because it stems from an individual and private source, but there have been moments in human history when great works have had an “objectivity” that has enabled them to become universal. speaking to all mankind from a level beyond personal experience. What is this level? To understand it, we must examine the source of our creative impulses.
In a confused way today we tend to explain all artistic and religious experiences in terms of psychological and cultural conditioning. To a large extent, this is easy to confirm, but not all of our impulses stem from this subjective conditioning. True quality has objective reality, and it is governed by exact laws: every phenomenon rises and falls, level by level, according to a natural scale of values. This is illustrated very precisely in music, where the passage of a sound from one note to another transforms its quality.
What Gurdjieff calls “objective science” uses the musical analogy to depict a universe composed of a chain of energies that stretches from the lowest octave to the highest: each energy is transformed as it rises or falls, taking on a coarser or finer nature according to its place in the scale. At each specific level, an energy corresponds to a degree of intelligence, and it is consciousness itself, fluctuating within a wide range of vibrations, that determines human experience. Gurdjieff does not speak only of energies capable of rising to new levels of intensity; he also affirms the reality of an absolute level of pure quality. From this source, energies descend to meet and interact with the energies we know. When this intermingling, of the pure with the gross takes place, it can change the meaning of our actions and the influence they bear on the world.
What we call ordinary life is played out within a field of energies whose limits are strictly circumscribed, and which, using the musical metaphor, rise and fall within a small number of scales. Thus the level of our awareness is low, our power of thought is limited, and these energies produce little vision. little purpose. Gurdjieff demonstrates that there are two exact points in every scale where an evolving movement comes to a stop, where there is an interval that can be bridged only by the introduction of a new vibration of precisely the necessary quality. Otherwise. as nothing in the universe can stay still, the rising energy will inevitably sink again to its starting point. This is an astonishing and radical notion: it implies that all energies, and consequently all human activities, can only rise up to a certain point on their own initiative, like the arrow shot into the into the sky which must at a certain point exhaust the impulse that launched it, so that it reaches its peak and curries downward toward the earth. However, if the crucial point where the first energy begins to fade can be accurately observed, at this point what Gurdjieff calls a “shock” can occur - which is the conscious introduction of a new impulse that will carry the rising movement across the incisible barrier and permit it to continue in its upward path. This imagee enables us to understand how it is that without this “shock” lives decay, enterprises and empires pass into decline, calculations are proved false, and heroic revolutions turn back on themselves and betray their great ideals. The same laws show that a certain force exactly applied could have prevented this return to zero, but the basic principle is seldom recognized. So we blame others and ourselves with bitterness and frustration.
If however. at the crucial moment, the energies that are in action can make contact with energies of a different order, a chance of quality takes place. This can lead to intense airtistic experiences and to social transformations, but the process does not end here. Intermingling with energies made finer by the intensity of their vibrations, consciousness rises to a higher scale that transcends art; this in turn can lead to spiritual awakening - and eventually to absolute purity, to the sacred - for the sacred can also be understood in terms of energy, but of a quality our instruments are incapable of recording.
In all esoteric traditions, there is a division between a higher level and a lower level, between the body and the spirit. Gurdjieff puts this division in a very different context. Man, he says, is not born with a ready-made soul; he is born incomplete. A soul is material like the body. matter is energy, and each human being can develop finer substances within the body by himself, through conscious efforts. But this is not easy, and neither pious intention nor grim determination is sufficient.
The transformation of a human being only begins when the sources in the body, which Gurdjieff names “centers,” from which stem movements, thoughts, and feelings, cease to produce spasmodic and erratic bursts of energy and begin to function harmoniously together.
Then, for the first time, a new quality appears, which Gurdjieff calls presence.” As the intensity of presence rises, the matrix of our reactions and desires, which we call the ego, gradually becomes elastic and transparent and in the center of our automatic structure of behavior a new space is formed in which a true individuality can arise.
However, we cannot transform ourselves alone. We are locked within the pattern of our conditioning, within our own rising and falling scale, and we are blocked by the same impassable intervals. We need help. A teacher is indispensable, and there are many that solicit our attention. There are teachers that aim at destroying the domination of the body, others that seek to raise the emotions to a state of ecstatic abandon, others that empty the mind. There are many where the simple presence of the teacher is sufficient to rais the pupils to a new inner state. Gurdjieff’s teaching works simultaneously on all the aspects of the psyche: on the mind, the feelings, and the body. It rejects the passivity that can come from naive dependence on the teacher.
Gurdjieff often uses the image of the actor as a metaphor for the fully developed human being.
He speaks of playing a role in life, fulﬁlling all the demands that changing situations present, entering into them completely while retaining inner freedom. This is exactly what a good actor is required to do. As the theater shows the movements of life in a specially concentrated and easily detectable form, it is an ideal laboratory in which ideas becomehuman and can be instantly veriﬁed.
A good actor never believes that he is the part he plays. A bad actor throws himself body and soul into his characterization—so much so that he
loses himself in it completely. Often he leaves the stage convinced he has given the best performance of his life, when it is clear to everyone around him that he has been exaggerated, artiﬁcial, and insincere. But he has no way of being aware of this, because he is deaf and blind: as there is no distance at all between himself and the image he projects, he has been swallowed up in what Gurdjieff calls “identiﬁcation.” The better the actor, on the other hand, the less he is identified with his role, and—in a seeming paradox—the less he is identiﬁed, the more deeply he can be involved. He is like a hand in a glove, separate yet inseparable; the role infuses every one of his
cells, yet it in no way imprisons him; within he is free and highly aware. A beginner can never achieve this liberty; he is prisoner of his clumsiness, his fears, his lack of understanding, and his wish to please. He has to practice, to exercise himself. and, although it is not expressed in these terms in every school of theater, whatever the style, the daily work is quite simply a pursuit of quality. This is recognized intuitively by everyone involved, and it reveals itself through yery ordinary down-to-earth words like “good”, “not so good”, “better”, “bad”. These may refer to bodily movements, at other times to feeling, to rhythm or to clarity of thought, but invariably it is “quality” that is recognized and the actor Intuitively stretches upward until a greater sensibility informs his organism. Then only can the role give a greater impression of truth. Truth may be indeﬁnable but it is something that every spectator recognizes at once.
For an audience. quality is the only criterion. As he performs, an actor all the time is radiating a current of energy that directly inﬂuences the quality of attention of those who watch. At certain rare, intense climaxes, actors and audience unite, the division between stage and auditorium dissolves and individual egos make no barrier to shared experience. When such moments of grace occur, there is a very special silence.
What is this silence? How can one define it? There are many silences. At the beginning of a performance, there is a rustling silence of a thousand people sitting together, each one partly attentive, partly caught up in the buzzing of his own thoughts and concerns. Then there are the levels of silence we cross, one after another, as our feelings are touched, feelings which we share more and more fully with those around us until we are bound together in one common emotion. Sometimes the quality of silence changes, it continues to
deepen. until it ﬁnally reaches the precious point where one could hear the drop of a pin, where the silence is both full and empty and on certain rare
occasions the audience, as one being, enters a void of great intensity and beauty. This experience shows us the precise nature of a rising and falling
scale of values——and helps us to understand that quality is real.
However, art, whatever its form, can only give us reﬂections of hidden realities in ﬂeeting and partial ways. It can never bring about a stable understanding. The true value of art lies not in what it is, but in what it suggests. It enables us to discover in ourselves new levels of awareness that mount to an ultimate field of consciousness in which all images are no more than vanishing shadows.
In ignoring the mystery of quality, we fail to perceive our living relationship with the cosmos, and this compels us to see human beings as an accident in an indifferent universe. Even if biologists and psychologists recognize that human beings possess an “emotional nature,” they are forced to explain it as an anguished reaction to meaninglessness. In this way, all that he creates, from huts to cathedrals, from cave paintings to great art and eventually religion, are seen as more and more sophisticated defenses against the fear of chaos.
Spiritual experience in no way denies primeval terror, but it reveals by direct experience another void. This void has no name; it too is all-encompassing, it is infinite and timeless, and from its absolute vibrancy, step by step, the finest of energies can flow into the world of time. Thus our possibility of experience is fed both from above and from below by what takes the appearance of two interlinked ﬁelds whose qualities are totally opposed; like two silences within one silence, the silence animated by consciousness and the dull silence of lead. In between the two rise and fall the scales of our existence.
This has always been known to us by intuition. It has often been expressed in seductive words or fascinating ideas, but it has meaning only it is turned into living experience. A change of quality does not occur by accident; a change of quality of being is the result of an exact process. It is this knowledge bridging the schism between science and humanity that Gurdjieff worked so determinedly to bring to contemporary man. It can lead us out of the icy world of mechanics and behaviorism into a universe where everything ﬁnds its place, once it is illuminated by the clarity of understanding. This understanding is not theory; it is vision, and vision is alive. It shows us the unending and inevitable movements toward and away from quality. There is a joy in quality found and a suffering in quality betrayed, and these two experiences become the motors that constantly renew our search.”
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