To Montaigne, who invented the essay form and the word, an essay simply meant to try, and though it has become something more formal over time, I cannot help feeling that all I have done here is to try. These essays are hardly a complete picture of the inner work they describe, but they are something more modern: they are episodic. One of my early readers told me that what she liked about them was that ‘they made light bulbs go on in her head.’ I cannot think of a recommendation that pleases me more.
In a sense all writers write the book that they want to read. I imagined something like these essays when I was quite young, nineteen or twenty, but only came to write them in my relative old age. What I imagined was a mysticism that was descriptive and pragmatic, and didn’t rely on religious language. A little while later I read In Search of the Miraculous. Ouspensky’s book was close to what I envisioned, though, in my youthful arrogance, I thought his book would have been more to my liking if it had had more description of his inner world with less of an emphasis on knowledge. At the time I was unschooled in the craft of writing and had no understanding of how difficult a task it is to bring an inner world to life on the page.
The term Conscious Evolution, which best summons up the whole of this work, means pretty much what it sounds like: new powers and perceptions that are brought about by inner efforts, efforts consciously evoked that lead to a transformation of self or change of being. We don’t wait for evolution to overtake us, we practice methods that change us from the inside. When you hear people that are part of the Gurdjieff movement speak about the work, it is this they are talking about.
So why Gurdjieff? A friend in Paris, who has read many of these essays before they were published online, sometimes complained that they are ‘too denominational.’ What she means by this is that I could make them more accessible to a wider audience if I used everyday language instead of terms like higher centers or identification or octave or triad. Though I understand her criticism, I can’t help feeling that the use of the language of Gurdjieff/Ouspensky has more benefits than it does disadvantages. There are a few points here. One is that many of these terms, like identification, have become part of the contemporary vocabulary, at least in popular spiritual circles. The second is that if I use these terms, which were important to me, then perhaps a few other people will begin to understand that they reveal more than they hide. The third is that with most terms I would simply be trying to reproduce the work that Ouspensky did so well a hundred years ago. In other words why start over when I can, as my teacher said, stand on the shoulders of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff?
From the beginning of my involvement in the work, I was interested in the principles behind the concepts that I was trying to practice. For instance, when people hear about the practice of external consideration, they often equate it with love or kindness or with the golden rule of Jesus. These are fine interpretations, but for me, the principle behind external consideration is that it is divided attention in relation to people. What external consideration needs is a capacity to keep a part of your attention on yourself and a part on the person that stands before you. If you can understand this principle, its practice becomes something that is free from the Gurdjieff tradition, it becomes an esoteric principle that is relevant in any tradition or religion.
The practice described in these essays is my practice; in other words, it is my experience. I cannot see how it could be any other way. I also cannot say, like Montaigne or Walt Whitman, that I am my book; I have not been able to create something so encompassing. Ouspensky defined self-knowledge as the study of our limitations, and these essays have stretched the limits of my being both as an artist and as a man. That said, it is impossible for me to know to what extent the experience and understanding I describe have been given. Perhaps it fair to say that in writing these essays I have attempted to fix the understanding that is contained within them. And this, for me, has been the greatest motivating force to write them.