Principia Discordia > Think for Yourself, Schmuck!

Reality Safari: Gurdjieff

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As some of you know, I've been on an academic binge through 1900-1920s esotericism. There were a lot of these weird guru figures that emerged during this period. Crowley, Gardner, Meher Baba, Mme Blavatski, G.I.Gurdjieff, many others. Most of them attracted - let's face it - wealthy socialites from London, Paris, and New York. Their students would come study in some remote location (Russia, India, etc), then return home to show off these weird oriental ideas to their wealthy socialite friends.

If there are two scales, "wiseman" and "charlatan", most of these gurus registered somewhere on both scales. Crowley, for example, was high on both. Meher Baba, in contrast - probably not a charlatan. Blavatsky? 100% charlatan. (and by the time people discovered that her 'letters from the other side' were a hoax, she had already collected a bunch of "true believers" -- so, inexplicably, there are still theosophists today.)

This "spiritual awakening" from 1900-1920 planted the seeds that would later become the new age movement. So maybe what I'm doing is just the turbo-hipster version of alt-spirituality.

I'll state my goal in sincere terms: I have an aesthetic attraction to 1920s esotericism. I am also interested in exploring this stuff from the inside. I don't just want to read about it, I want to read the texts, discover the secrets, test things for myself. And I don't want to get into occult stuff, let's see what else is out there.


A "Bill Murray" Introduction to G. I. Gurdjieff

Here was my intro to Gurdjieff... I actually found him in an odd place: Bill Murray. You know how Bill Murray has this reputation for being this wandering trickster? His hobby seems to be surprising people, doing absurd in-the-moment things.. not as an expression of fame or ego, but because he wants to have fun, he wants to have real experiences. Well it turns out Murray is a huge G.I.Gurdjieff enthusiast, and it's likely Gurdjieff's philosophy informs Bill's lifestyle.

Check out this video:

Bill Murray gives a surprising and meaningful answer

Here, Murray talks about how his goal in life is to be "really here", to be conscious, to be present, to not be distracted by habitual thoughts or the little games we play throughout our day.

This is one of those 'grounding' videos that I will watch during a turbulent day and it calms me right down. I really recommend it.

Another video, The Philosophy of Bill Murray, gets into the intersection of Murray and Gurdjieff in more depth. I've queued it up to the right spot:

Check those out.

For a more in-depth intro to the Gurdjieff work, check out the thread You're Not Conscious.

For the Black Iron Prison Cabal - Gurdjieff also used the metaphor of a personal prison that we jail ourselves in. This will seem oddly familiar to you:

Revisiting the Reality Safari

A quick aside about the 'reality safari' - back in, I dunno, 2010 (?), I embarked on a crazy series of adventures where I tried to find the weirdest people I could, then hang out with them and blend in... then ask them who they thought were too weird, then go hang out with THEM. And so forth. Roger gave the Safari the slogan "Ad Fundum!" - latin for TO THE BOTTOM.

Well, it took me three stops to hit the bottom. I went from Trekkies to UFO people, to paranormal researchers who believed time traveling celts built a bunch of root cellars in Putnam County. On this adventure, I met some pathologically crazy people - dysfunctional, disconnected from reality... And this is where I called Safeword. I felt like I was a tourist in these spaces, and I started to feel like I was gawking at crazy people, consuming their weirdness as a form of personal entertainment. I got sketched out, I felt guilty, and then I quit the safari.

But Gurdjieff gatherings - these people aren't insane, they're just tuned into something very old and strange. This isn't about the crazy people, it's about the oddball thoughts from a place I've never explored.

Grab Your Safari Fez

It's April 2017. I've been reading about Gurdjieff for six months now. Fighting my way through his horrible book "Beezlebub's Tales to His Grandson". (this is harder to read than Godel Escher Bach... the book's impenetrability is probably one of the reasons the New Age movement never picked up Gurdjieff)

Much like when I discovered Discordianism in the late 90s, I asked myself "Are there really people out there doing this stuff? Or is this some dead joke I've found encased in amber?" Well the answer is yes, of course, it's 2017, people follow all sorts of shit. There are still theosophists for christsakes.

So WHO are the people still following this 1920s spiritual movement?  It turns out that there is a G.I.Gurdjieff foundation in NYC and it has like 300 or 400 members. I wanted to meet some.

So I reserved a seat for this event:

Maybe this will turn out to be a cult? I don’t know. Let’s find out.

The Event

I showed up at this esoteric bookshop in midtown manhattan, linked to the Theosophical Society of NYC. There is a little “lecture hall” next to the bookshop, which felt like a yoga room. The meeting was in there.

I’d say there were about 30 of us. The crowd ranged from age 30 to 60. The leaders of the meeting were ancient, definitely over 70 years old. There seemed to be a lot of Russians in the crowd.. which makes sense because Gurdjieff was Russian-Armenian, so they’d be more aware of him than NYC locals.

The gathering started with a live performance of some of the Gurdjieff-de Hartmann music, which is very beautiful. Here’s what it sounds like:

Then, one of the three leaders read a passage from a Gurdjieff book.

Then we had some Q&A.

The leaders of the meeting were not professional teachers, they’re just enthusiasts, so their answers were a bit meandering. Like I said, the gathering had a tranquil feeling kind of like a yoga class… when you asked a question, the person would think for 20 seconds and then answer.

Some of these questions were kind of frustrating - mainly because spirituality and consciousness is really tricky to discuss, so the questions (including my own) and answers were meandering and slightly unfocused.

The three old timers wanted us to know this:

-The Gurdjieff work points to a form of consciousness that is an “altered state of being”. They say that once you experience this state (and you can only experience it for short periods, nobody can stay in it for long), it transforms you and your perceptions. I think Gurdjieff hints at this with the title of his book “Life is only real, then, when ‘I Am’”.

-Becoming conscious is important, not just for us as individuals, but for all of us. The universe wants to become conscious. It can only do that through us. And we are collectively served, (by “We” I mean the whole human race is served) by having more consciousness within it. They tell us there is a purpose to life, something beyond even humanity… and that consciousness helps it along.

(I want to pause here and underscore how Modern that sounds… this is a pre-WWII system, so they are focused on these big unifying ideas like the ‘direction of history’.. I would be very curious to read if Gurdjieff had a reaction to postmodern philosophers like Camus and Sartre, who rejected ideas like universal meaning and purpose)

After the Q&A, we did some group movements.

I can imagine a slightly alternate universe in which people do this stuff instead of Yoga.

To explain the tip of the iceberg - Gurdjieff Movements are a form of group meditation. Gurdjieff studied Sufi and Tibetan temple dances and the way they affected consciousness. He distilled what he thought were the useful parts and wrapped them up in de Hartmann’s music.

The Gurdjieff Movements are a practical exercise in raising consciousness. They are supposed to make you aware of your body, aware of your thoughts, but also aware of the group movement, the group energy, the group experience, the group identity. I think the idea is to lose yourself in the movements and get a direct experience of a collective identity.

(quick aside - this is basically what Schopenhauer wrote about - the transcendent properties of art and dance)

I’m fascinated by the Gurdjieff movements. They’re dances, but they’re supposed to be private; they’re not performances. Luckily, it’s 2017, and everything is on youtube. Here’s a video that absolutely blows my mind, I love it.

We are told that there is a presentation coming up.. apparently the Movements will be ‘performed for the public’ for the first time since 1961. Before that, they hadn’t been performed since 1923. So the fact that there’s a presentation next month is a big deal. As soon as they post tickets for the event, they sell out in a flash - I’m staying tuned to the event page so I can get some when they’re posted.

So anyway, we did this ‘group work’, which was more or less doing a bunch of synchronized movements to this strange music.

Then there was some more Q&A, another reading, and we broke for refreshments.


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