Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Influence of Gurdjieff on the Muzoracle

Today I received a letter asking about the connection between the ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff and the Muzoracle; specifically, I was asked about which texts I would recommend to learn more about his influence on the system. This is not the first inquiry I’ve had along these lines. Honestly, I’ve been reticent about answering them. My experiences with Gurdjieff’s teachings have been so rich, so multi-faceted, and so interconnected, I haven’t known where to start; and I’ve been apprehensive about selling those experiences – and the work itself – short.

First, let me say that Gurdjieff’s cosmological ideas – and it is his cosmology that figures most overtly in the Muzoracle – do not and are not meant to exist in a vacuum. The cosmological ideas are thoroughly intertwined with other sorts of ideas: psychological ones, philosophical ones, alchemical ones. More importantly, the ideas as a whole function as only one part of the much larger endeavor that is “the work”; it is in the context of the other aspects of the work – the subtle forms of self-observation, the sacred dances, the music, the meditations, and above all the working with others of like intent – that the ideas bloom.

It is said that over time the combination of study and practical work can lead to a kind of inner restructuring. Personally, I believe it has for me. It’s not like I’m a different person than when I began – it’s more like I see more of the person that I am and have been. That’s not always pretty: what I see most is one set of pathologies giving way to another, precluding anything essential coming to the fore. In the process, though, I’m also gaining a sense of what that essence is: somewhere in midst of this magnificent, somnambulant machine I am. And this fleeting sense and occasional appearance of a deeply present self, a self with a place in this world, engenders hope; and that is a most precious thing. 

It is from a broad and subtle experience, then, that the Gurdjieff work enters the Muzoracle. That being said, that experience is relatively limited: I am a novice in this work, an undisciplined greenhorn. I am compelled to reiterate here as well that the Muzoracle is first and foremost a musical project; that it is, esotericism aside, simply another song that Jeff wrote. To answer the question at hand literally, Gurdjieff’s influence on the Muzoracle is via my subjective experience as a novitiate, artistically applied.

Recommended Reading. In terms of learning more about the Gurdjieffian laws and concepts that the Muzoracle touches upon, I know of a few good places to start. First is certainly P.D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous – that’s where I started. It’s a chronicle of the work presented in the way that Gurdjieff himself presented it to his students, and it articulates many of the principles that found their way into the Muzoracle, such as the Law of Three, the Law of Seven, and the Ray of Creation – for a start. The depth of information in this book seems to go on forever: I’ve been working with it for decades, and I'm still always finding things I haven’t seen.

As far as the writings of Gurdjieff himself, his second book, Meetings With Remarkable Men, is probably the best place to start; the film version of the book is a great introduction to the music and movement that is such an integral part of the work. My favorite biography of Gurdjieff is James Moore’s – it chronicles the great drama of events in Gurdjieff’s life without overshadowing what he was trying to teach. Many of the students of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky had student groups of their own, and were prolific; I was initially attracted to the writings of Maurice Nicoll, and still find much inspiration there. There’s an excellent collection of essays written by various luminaries in the work called Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and his Teaching, edited by Jacob Needleman and George Baker.