Oksanen, Reijo

The Gurdjieff Work

Apart from being the elixir for life, water is an ancient symbol of wisdom. Gurdjieff compared human life to a large river that flows into two separate streams before entering the vast ocean. He said that you can just swim with the stream or make efforts to jump over to the other stream. In the first river you are the slave of the Great Nature inside and outside yourself. In the second river you are free of the tyrant that makes you a slave. This tyrant is your own picture of yourself, your 'I'.'

An Exercise

Part 1 - Sensation. Sit on a chair with the palms of your hands resting on your knees. Your eyes relaxed and slightly open without focusing them on anything in particular. Straighten your back. You can sense the blood circulating in your body. Start by sensing your forehead and move slowly to sense the eyebrows, eyelids, your nose, mouth and chin. You may find some tensions while you do this, but you can relax by sensing more. Continue putting your attention into your left hand by sensing it going slowly down from the shoulder towards your hand and when there sense each finger one by one. Come up your hand without haste and continue the sensing with your right hand in the same way. Continue sensing the left side of your body going down slowly to finally arrive to the left foot and up agin without haste dot the same on the right side of your body. If you feel tense or want to repeat the whole exercise feel free to do so.

To be aware of the body is a basic exercise and can be used as an 'anchor'.

Part 2 - Attention. Now look at the second-hand of your wrist watch and follow its movement without straying away for two minutes. Your attention is likely to stay for some time and then go somewhere. When the attention is gone just start watching again and keep coming back this way. The sensation of any part of your body as in the first part of the exercise will help you. Two minutes is enough. Your associations, often called thoughts, start going on in your mind. Just watch them come and watch them go. If possible don't be carried away by them.

If you find the 'watching of the watch' too easy the chances are that you are not watching, but only thinking of it. However, if you know that you can hold your attention uninterrupted on the second-hand you can go on for about five minutes.

Part 3 - Discussion. Discuss your findings with one of your peers or in a group afterwards by telling what you experienced and listening (attentively) what your peers have to say.

Friendly advice: you are not competing with your peers in doing this exercise - only with yourself!


G. I. Gurdjieff was an extraordinary man. Born in 1866 in Alexandropol (Guymri) in Armenia from a Greek father and an Armenian mother he started looking for answers to the 'unexplainable phenomena' that he constantly came across. This led to many long travels in the middle and far East. With the men and women who were with him he formed a group called 'The Seekers after Truth'. The group and what they found is a legend that Gurdjieff wrote in his second book 'Meetings with Remarkable Men' (1), which was published in 1963, years after his death, and filmatized by Peter Brook in 1979 (2).

Gurdjieff started to share and teach what he had learned in Moscow and St. Petersburg around 1912 and during the Bolschevik revolution moved to Europe and settled in France near Paris in 1922. In 1924 he had a nearly fatal car crash, which changed his activity: he began to write and wrote until 1934 and produced three books. His main ideas can be found in his first book, called 'All & Everything' - 'Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson' (3). He continued teaching to the end of his life and produced many movements and the music to go with them only some weeks before he died in 1949.

The teaching has been transmitted directly from the teacher or 'group leader' to the pupil(s). In the early days Gurdjieff's strictly instructed that no notes were allowed to be made of his lectures or the movements, sacred dances and the music played to accompany them. However, P. D. Ouspensky did make notes in 1915-1918 and wrote them down to form 'The Fragments', that was shown to Gurdjieff after Ouspensky died and Gurdjieff accepted their publication as authentic. This book was published with the name 'In Search of the Miraculous' (4) and the popularity of Gurdjieff's ideas as a philosophy and psychology is mainly due to this work that has sold over 1 mill.

To-day there is a growing interest in serious studies of 'All & Everything', also in the academic world and some thesis in the universities in the US and UK have been submitted based on his work. A biography of Gurdjieff came out in 1991, written by James Moore (5). The Gurdjieff musical, 'Crazy Wisdom' (6) by John Maxwell Taylor was first performed in February 2002 in Enchita, California. Five new books have come out in the past few months, including Dr. Sophia Wellbeloved's 'Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts' (7) that invites for further studies and is based on the written material available to-day. For further literature please refer to the Gurdjieff Internet Guide's Books section and internet information in the Link Index.

Simultaneously with the further studies new attempts have been made to make the teaching more accessible to the people of our time. Gurdjieff used to say that he wanted to be known as 'a teacher of dancing'. The music and the movements are being collected and a recent CD-rom (8) made by Wim van Dullemen in Holland gives specific information on ten movements that can be studied even at home.
All & Everything Conference (9) is held yearly in the UK to promote further studies of the ideas.

Basic Ideas

People on earth have the possibility to become the 'Managing Directors' of the planet, but have badly neglected this task. Instead of working together with the surrounding nature and our own nature we have become alien to both. We live in hypnotic sleep, normally called our waking state and have only rare glimpses of any higher states of consciousness. As we are, we are identified with our functions of thinking, feeling and instict/moving. The result of this identification is that we are machines governed by outside influences that make the machine react blindly to impulses from the outside and the inside. We need to wake up to the 'terror of the situation'.

To see ourselves as we are we can start taking mental photographs and to observe what is happening. If we attempt to observe we soon find it to be much more difficult than we could have imagined. The difficulty is simply that we are 'attempting to lift the plank we are standing on', i.e. if I am not aware of myself, if I do not have attention, I do not even remember to observe myself. The 'trick' in self-observation is to 'remember myself' and if I can, then I can observe.

A sleeping man can wake up by chance, but normally he/she needs an alarm clock. One alarm clock is not sufficient as we get used to it and that is why we need someone to invent new alarm clocks. This person should also keep on disturbing our sleep continuously. This is why a teacher and a group can help as one of them may well be more awake than the others and try wake them up.

We do not have just one 'I', but consist of many different and contradictory 'I's'. Gurdjieff compares us to a Hackney carriage. Our thinking is like the driver, feelings like the horse and body like the carriage. Instead of just one passanger, who is the owner and master, we are hiring the space to anyone who comes and goes as they will. In the absence of a master the driver dreams of a better life and can not control the horse; the horse bites and kicks and goes where he wants; the carriage falls to pieces as it is not taken care of; there is no-on present to look after them.

Another way of looking at ourselves will show that we consist of two very different 'groups of persons'. Our Essence, which we were born with, and our Personality, which we have learned from our surroundings. Personality, so to say, is a fine collection of the passers by that we take in our Hackney carriage. Essence hardly enters, having been suppressed all his life and remained at the level of a little child. Our possibilities are in making the Personality passive to give the Essence room to grow.

Apart from psychology Gurdjieff also specified a cosmology based on the concepts Law of Three forces and the Law of Seven. These are both included in the Enneagram, that has in the last 30 years become a tool for analyzing personality and widely used for different purposes. The original idea is well described by A.G.E. Blake in his book 'The Intelligent Enneagram' (10).

Everything in the universe is eaten by something and eats something. This principle is called 'Reciprocal Feeding' and explained in 'All & Everything'. We humans have three kinds of food: 'bread' (ordinary food), air and impressions. Our awareness can expand to see that we are part of the whole, part of the universal feeding system; an exchange of substances. We can also become aware of our eating in a new way and try to eat more consciously (not to eat more but to eat more consciously). This has the effect of changing the whole of our metabolism. Gurdjieff used to say: 'when eat, then eat!' When receiving any of the three kinds of food, bread, air or impressions, we can be aware of it at many different levels of consciousness. At the level of self-awareness and self-remembering we are more alive: 'everything is more vidid' and we get more nourishment of all the three different kinds of food.

Bon Appetit!

(1) Meetings with Remarkable Men (All and Everything) ; G. I. Gurdjieff; ISBN: 0140190376;
(2) Meetings with Remarkable Men ; Film directed by Peter Brook; SBN: 0930407377
(3)Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson (All and Everything/First) ; G. I. Gurdjieff; ISBN: 0140194738
(4)In Search of the Miraculous (Harvest Book) - Fragments of an Unknown Teaching; P. D. Ouspensky; ISBN: 0156445085
(5) Gurdjieff: A Biography : The Anatomy of a Myth ; James Moore; ISBN: 1852304502
(6) Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Legend of Gurdjieff; John Maxwell Taylor; Worldtransformations.com
(7) Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts (Routledge Key Guides) ; Dr. Sophia Wellbeloved; ISBN: 0415248973
(8) The Art of the Sacred Movements; Wim van Dullemen; ISBN: 3-9808656-0-6; Gurdjieff-movements.net
(9) All & Everything Conference; http://www.allandeverything.net/
(10) The Intelligent Enneagram ; A.G.E. Blake; ISBN: 1570622132
(11) For further information visit Gurdjieff Internet Guide

This article is written for Catalysta.


Contemporary youth have access to vast amounts of information concerning people and events worldwide, however, the majority of this interaction is mediated by mass communication providers; only a fraction of their knowledge comes in the form of interpersonal exchange. Catalysta addresses this trend by joining high school and university students from around the world in a forum designed to strengthen the links between social, economic and environmental issues in current curricula, and prepare students worldwide for the "global era" in which they are growing up.
Traditional exchange programs have successfully connected students from around the world for years, but only small numbers are lucky enough to participate. Catalysta puts the Internet to work as a tool for connecting students, and considering one and other's perspective. Catalysta pursues the potential for empathy and personal awareness in relation to the exploration of social issues; the pursuit of peace, global warming, and globalization are sample topics. We are pleased to present the premiere term of Cataysta, 'Our Water'.
Catalysta’s Spring 2002 pilot semester at the Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, New York was a success. Catalysta premieres online in the Fall 2002 term. Four schools worldwide will participate. They will be selected from among schools in India, Italy, Kenya, the U.S., and the U.K.