I was spending the afternoon with a world of friends on Facebook at Jivamukti cafe, sipping tea and digging in my jaggery, when I received the call.
“I have a message for you from M.” She said. “It’s very important, are you ready?”
I was expecting the call from her husband, my best of friends and brother in the Gurdjieff Work. A discipline of working on oneself to achieve self-awareness and perhaps a higher state of consciousness.
I was visiting the city as their guest and we had been having late-night, clandestine discussions with him about looking up our old teacher after many years of absence. Together we had spent a decade meditating and going to groups together. Meeting our teacher every morning at six am, at one p.m., during lunch and on most nights too. we were deeply devoted, creating continuity and consciousness. We had become cornerstones of the work in NYC. It would be a seemingly monumental event for us to reappear after so long.
“Yes.” said I.
“Michael said to be at The Producers Studio at 6 o’clock on 44th street between 8th and 9th.”
“You might not want to, I don’t know”
“There is nothing that could stop me”
“I’m sorry if I am disturbing you”
“J., no, I’ve been expecting this call all day, thank you.”
Movements, or sacred dances, constituted an integral part of the Gurdjieff Work. Tonight they were being conducted in the “Theater District” of Manhattan. I walked from Union Square, up Broadway on that cold winters night, passing Christmas Shoppers and touristy holiday hoppers. On the second floor, past ensemble casts practicing their crafts, I found a small black door with my teachers name taped to it. The room was black, small, set up as a practice theater of a dozen seats. A young woman of her late twenties was setting 14 chairs in a circle. She moved with cat-like efficiency, consciously, aware of my presence but not disturbed by the obtuse stranger.
I did not break her beautiful silence. We sat. I prepared myself. Others came in one at a time. I noticed how they stomped unconsciously, not aware of their own presence. They were noisy and scattered in their minds, dropping bags, scraping chairs.
I had my back to the door, waiting, feeling for the presence of the one I so much respect and worship.
I felt him when he walked in. I remembered his routine, allowed him time to set his bags down, then turned in solemnity and looked into his eyes.
He had not been aware of my possible appearance.
He took a moment looking at me.
“Oh, Elet. What a surprise.” He said, though it probably wasn’t.
“Everyone” he said, “Take your hats off. This is one of the founding fathers of the group.” He was half serious perhaps, or perhaps we was prodding my ego to see if I would smile? bow? puff my chest with pride?
“Oh, Alex,” I replied, “I am only in preparation to someday, perhaps, be a candidate, to be a student.” I sat down.
I remembered from years past, how he used to remind us that a “group” was a big deal, it is not just a bunch of people together in a room, but a cohesive work-force, committed and diligent to a single aim, already with a certain amount of consciousness and applied effort. He would say, “We have the possibility of a possibility of becoming a group”, even years after we had been sitting together.
He sat and without unneeded words closed his eyes to meditate.
Spine comfortably erect, hands on my knees, focusing slightly on the breath without trying to alter it.
I assumed the position, without thought, that my physical being had been trained for during my decade of continuity. I drifted though fields of thoughts, through meadows of imaginative missives for several minutes. Soon I felt the physical presence of conscious energy take me like a warm salty wave in the Arabian Sea, flooding my senses, knocking me off my feet.
I allowed myself to drown, submerge, sucking it in to my lungs, my being. I drifted like the shadow of the moon on wave after wave, yet I sunk deeper and deeper.
I was home again after so many years.
So miraculous, so effortlessly, seemingly seamlessly normal.
It lasted 20 minutes.
“and we finish” he said.
We moved the chairs and Mr. M. and I took seats to watch the movements, which began with a single spoken word, “Begin.”
Mr. M. and I were witnesses, as mountains are witness to the movements of the earth, unmoving, completely attentive. The core of this corp has been practicing these movements for nine years.
I remembered back to Brooklyn, so many years ago, when the group was new and the movements were held at my place on Washington Ave. As we stood in hesitant rows in the first floor music room, Alex would plunk out a tune on the grand piano or on the violin. Right arm starts following the face of clock. Then in counter time the left arm would move. Taking a step forward on every 6th beat, then looking to the left through three quarters past, then right, then straight ahead.
It is too much for the mind, that’s the point. Consciousness doesn’t happen in the mind, it occurs in spite of it. I had to clear my thoughts, my “trying” to enable the “doing.” Left to it own intuition and rote memory my body followed perfectly. Marching, turning, moving, but so completely still. Breathing, feeling, effortless effort. Music without, music within. Then I would consider, “where am I, is this right?” and I would lose my place, get confused, fall out of sync. It is a lesson I have not forgotten when I use this body. When I use this being, I must recognize when it is time to use the thinking center and when it can be in the way of a greater knowing.
I now watched and feel them move, I could see Mr. S. was not conscious of his feet. I could see the intensity of Miss K., how she was present to the moment, the movement, the music flowing through her lithe limbs, aware and accepting as she allowed it to take her along it’s path like a swallow riding the currents of air high above us all. She led the others in other consciousness concentrating sequences and dervish dances of disjointed choreography, moving in all directions, while Alex, our maestro and teacher conducted and cajoled them with reminders to not jerk but feel the fluidity of movement, not think but feel the rest of the group. Stay together.
There was an energy generated in that small, black painted room. As arms moved like opposing clock faces and chanting murmured like a drone behind music,
“Father, I. Mother, am….”
The twirling dervishes created an eddy, filling the room, filling our hearts. The palpable remains difficult to carve into words.
The music ended. in silence again. we left.
Alex has been an elite maestro, conducting the finest classical performers in Europe, he has been guided by the most auspicious influences of the deepest sources, under the watchful guidance of Gurdjieff, delving in sacred music and dances led by Madam Jean deSalzman. What stories he must have tucked away. He continues to work on himself, even at 80, purposely dressing down, floppy hat and torn zebra-striped Nikes, like a poor person without a home. He plays a violin on the subway for change, shuffling from car to car, with his ratty, torn case. We once, as a group, gave him a brand new violin case for Christmas, he smiled appreciatively at our ignorance.
“Those with eyes, let them see.” Only those who looked past the displaced old man, could see the serious playfulness in his eyes. Maybe they would notice, if they looked consciously, the teetering geezer was playing a Stratovarius.
There is nothing that needs to be said between Alex and I. It is a look, a nod, all is understood. On the next Saturday morning when I appeared again, he asked, “Michael, will you be here on Monday?”
“I’m leaving for the airport immediately following the group.”
We sit. We always sit, never saying the word ‘meditation’ which carries on it’s back too many misconceptions. We developed our own language; ‘sitting’, ‘work’, ‘sleep’. All these words were given new definite meaning impervious to misinterpretation. With eyes closed I notice my one foot should move forward an inch to make my leg perfectly relaxed. My left thumb feels tight, I let the sensation subside. I can hear sirens and shouting, laughing from outside on 44th and 9th Ave. It is all music now, a sunny lilt to our silent dance.
Then it comes again. As if someone opens an oven door and I feel the wave of heat; consciousness energy. It cooks me from the inside and I start radiating out. It makes me buoyant.
Everything this day feels like I have never left. There is no inconsistency, no sense of interruption. With ego and mind and body quieted, time stops. I don’t know how long we sat. I wouldn’t care. I am where I am supposed to be. I belong here.
After the sitting Alex opens a discussion, asking for peoples experiences, real experiences, devoid of philosophizing and misinterpretations from this book or that.
The first old guy, disheveled and timid related how for the past week he had several occasions wherein generally he would become very stressed, yet he had been even-tempered and unfazed. “I had an appointment across town. I got there and found it was the wrong address. Instead of getting upset, I calmly turned around and went back home.”
Some people stress easier than others, I guess. That’s my normal day.
Alex replied that it was the result of many weeks of continuity, Disheveled Dude had gone to every meditation, and so is creating within him another presence that is not affected by what happens around him.”
The next guy was younger and looked warmly out of college. He related his experience from the movements two days before. “I was at first having trouble keeping up, thinking about which arm to move next, getting behind. Then you told us to not jerk, keep your body light. I tried to let go, stop thinking. I felt the group more. My arms became light, as if they were on puppet strings. Something moved them for me. I only remained open. It made my heart feel lighter. I saw it working on my vanity too. I stopped caring what I looked like going through the motions. Each movement became profound. I became aware of ‘I am'”.
“Bravo” Alex replied, “That was a true experience. With continuity we can bring ourselves back to ourselves. Be more contained within each moment.
I saw Madam deSalzman teach puppetry. They would dress all in black, one would take a string that controlled the puppets arm, another took the legs, someone else the other arm. They would pour their consciousness into moving this thing. The puppet became a living being. You could see it. Each movement became consciousness. We are the same as that puppet. When we apply consciousness to our arms, to our legs, they rise light and graceful, from a higher energy. Very good, very good.”
The next woman has been with Alex longer than myself. A little old Spanish woman, whom years ago never spoke, for she couldn’t speak English. Through the years Alex pushed her to speak more and learn more. Now I hear her speak like a woman determined and comfortable. “I was sitting alone last night and I lost track of the hour. I felt wave and wave come over me of energy. I sat there, I could not move, for two hours.”
“Very good” said Alex “Very good, I see you becoming ‘down to earth’ you know what that phrase means, down to earth?”
He says it again in Spanish.
“Years ago you would speak of all these imaginative things, the colored lights and so forth. Now you are serious, you have real experiences. Very good.”
The next guy I knew from before too, the stout and effeminate Mr. B. “I had the opposite experience than the others this week, I got to see how I am different on the inside than the outside. My sister-in-law called me to tell me that my sister is having open heart surgery. On the phone I kept a very caring tone, said nice comforting things. On the inside though, at the same time, I was snickering because my sister made the first trip in our race to outlive each other. I said nice things, but inside I was telling myself that I wished she wouldn’t die right now, because I don’t have the money to fly to Seattle right now, and that would be embarassing.”
Everyone laughed, including Alex.
Mr. B. continues. “15 years ago I came across your flier in the village advertising your lecture, it said, “let me work on myself, that I may bring less evil into the world.” I didn’t get it back then. Evil? I don’t do anything evil. But today, I got it. I understood. I am such a little brat, self absorbed and egocentric that I hurt the ones I love without a thought, without consciousness. This is what I saw today.”
“Two things,” Alex began, “One is that we are not aware of ourselves. How can we be aware of our effect on others if we are not aware of ourselves. We are not conscious, we are self-absorbed but we do not understand ourselves and so are amazed when we hurt other people.”
Alex paused in silence a moment.
He smiled, shaking his head, “‘Let me work on myself that I may bring less evil into the world.’ What do we bring to the world when we are always scattered. We must bring ourselves back to ourselves, contain ourselves, be a witness to all we do and say. When we can become more conscious of ourselves then we are automatically conscious of all others around us. The second thing; Gurdjieff always spoke about inner freedom. Doing whatever we have to do in that moment on the outside but remaining free within. You were doing what was needed in that moment, showing compassion on the phone, even when you were free to have this inner dialog. This is something, a new level. To be inwardly aware, free inside and play whatever part is needed outside.”
I have to admit that Mr. B.’s story pushed a button of pride within me. For, 15 years ago, it was I that created that flier and hung them everywhere. I like to think I remember the exact flier, the exact pole, that led Mr. B. to the meeting. It was an October day and J. and T. were with me as I walked around taping fliers in spots that I thought would lead “the right people” to the work. I wouldn’t always put them in obvious places, but allow only people whom already had open eyes to see the clue that would lead them further. I remember being conscious in the moment that I taped one to a pole on 5th Ave. I think that was the one. Later we went for Borscht on MacDougal Street.
“Let me work on myself that I might bring less evil into the world” was influenced my something I read of Gurdjieff’s at the time, but also what I was feeling on that day when Alex asked me to create something.
“I did that, If it wasn’t for me, B., you wouldn’t be here. I rock!” but this silliness was quickly replaced by the levity of the situation. My deepest desire is to be a vessel, to be of some use for positive change in someone, anyone, to be of use in some good way. Something I did, perhaps semi-consciously 15 years ago, had a small effect today. Thank you, thank you universe, for using me for just a moment. It almost brought a tear to my eye. As Mr. B. and Alex spoke, I too, was free on the inside – witnessing these different thoughts and emotions, but not being effected by them. Calmly watching, outside I sat hands on knees, eyes softly focused on whomever was speaking, sharing attention and compassion through my openness.
A young man with black horned rimmed glasses, black t-shirt and Williamsburg beard spoke, “I have begun to have compassion for my brother…”
“Wait” interjected Alex, “I didn’t hear the word relatively.”
Any higher emotion like compassion, trust, love that we aspire to we can only touch in a relative manner when compared to true universal consciousness.
Willy started anew, “Ok, I have noticed lately my lack of compassion with my brother. I have never been aware of it before. All our lives I have always made it a point to let him know when he was wrong, when I thought he was wrong. ‘Why did you do that? See what you did?’ I realize there is no need for that. It is my own ego, needing something. But the other day we were with the family and I saw myself doing this. I saw it before it happened. I watched it happen. I saw it’s continuation and effect, and could do nothing to stop it, but was a witness to it. I realized though, I have a choice. I could choose to remain contained and silent. Allow him room to be at peace. Deal with whatever on a different level, let things work out the way they will, with out me bringing more negativity to it. It made me sad a bit that this has been me my entire life.”
Alex looked into him with compassion, not his own, but drawing something from deeper, higher, focusing the energy from all around him for this look. “In this moment you had a real experience, something real changed with you. It’s not something you read from a book, It’s something you experienced and understand and now it cannot be changed. You see your present situation and you also recognize another possibility, that there is a possibility of a possibility to develop compassion within yourself with practice and awareness. After all, what is consciousness? Consciousness at it’s root is love, higher love. When we feel consciousness, we feel this love. We can see people differently when you are on a train and look at a man or a woman, you won’t look at them the same way, you will look at them in love. You will see everything through this conscious love. This is our purpose.”
“Is there a new exercise this week, something else I could work on?” Someone asked.
“Continue with what you have been doing,” Alex made a motion above his head as if he was counting telescoping pyramids above his head, “One, two, three, four,” as he counted up and up. “But, also, if you like, listen for the hum of energy in silence.”
With that he closed his eyes.
Again we sat, bringing our conscious awareness back into our being. With an exhale I relaxed my body and mind, lowering it into a warm pool. I did not have to think, am I sitting straight up? am I breathing correctly? My body knew and I needed not question. The pull was so strong that I had no choice but to fit into the space it created. Again, It was like sitting in a dark room and then opening a door in Goa. I felt the warm rush of heat, but not heat, I felt the bright light of the sun, but not the sun. I was completely relaxed but energized beyond compare. I smiled. I was home. Ten minutes went by with the universe churning, cars whirling and a group of searchers sitting in the eye.
“And we finish.” I looked into Alex’s eyes, he had been sitting next to me. He looked at me and his eyes smiled as mine did. I pulled on my coat, my backpack and left.
Even now, after days, I still feel that energy. I am aware. I am at peace. I could run a marathon, I could sleep, what ever is needed or wanted.
I am free.