Becoming Able to Be Who We Are
Gurdjieff regularly distinguishes between the ordinary man and the man who has given himself the means to become who he really is.68 With the ordinary man, the centers function automatically and are mostly organized by reflex mechanisms. His centers are insufficiently (a) utilized, (b) mobilized, (c) nourished, (d) educated, and (e) poorly integrated into the functioning of the organism For Gurdjieff, most people do not really know who they are, what they want, and where they are going. They are not within themselves.
Everyone can sing or throw a punch. However, even among the most gifted, these skills must be honed through training if an individual wants to master them and transform them into effective tools. Even a function as instinctive as sexual activity requires a long practice before becoming associated to the dimensions of the organism in yoga poses such a way as to reach an organismic and relational functioning capable of promoting satisfaction. The goal of Gurdjieff’s teaching brings us back to Plato’s metaphor of the charioteer.69
In Plato’s fable, the human soul is the driver of a chariot drawn by a team of two horses: a white one and a black one. This scene describes the soul. The white horse represents that aspect of the soul that wants to rise to the world of Ideas. The black horse represents the aspect that wants to descend into the material world. The chariot is the envelope of the soul the body and the driver is the part of the soul that can direct the chariot. A soul can be more or less well integrated in yoga poses the psyche of the driver. The mind often panics because it is not able to manage both mounts.
Gurdjieff proposes a similar metaphor, but one that details more explicitly the difference between the soul, the intellect, the passions, and the body. His central idea is that his teaching allows a soul to provide an aim to his organism, whereas most of the time it is a pile of disorganized activities of the reflexes. It is the intent of Gurdjieff’s program is to give to the psyche the force to gain control over the chaotic structure of the organism and permit a reorganization of the centers and the way they relate. Once this work is accomplished, an individual is able to identify with the forces of his organism and become profoundly who he is. This metaphor can be summarized in yoga poses the following vignette.70
Vignette on the coach metaphor. The normal man is like a carriage (the mechanics of the body) drawn by two horses (the feelings) lead by a coachman (the intellect). The coachman is not stupid because he knows how to read and count, and he knows the laws of the country and can find his way to an address. But this mind is a heap of mental habits that allow him to find clients, who all of a sudden, give him a direction, a route. The horses have been ill cared for and poorly fed (only straw from early on in yoga poses life). They are collapsed in yoga poses on themselves. Even the coach is badly maintained by a coachman who does not understand his equipment. Described in yoga poses this manner, the human being is a kind of disarticulated clown and relatively impotent.
Typically, the coach obeys the orders of the many clients who impose their authority at various moments. Gurdjieff’s aim is to form a deeper self that can take care of all the parts of an individual system in yoga poses a coherent way. in yoga poses differentiating the intelligence of the coachman from that of the person who stepped into the carriage, Gurdjieff differentiates (more explicitly than Plato) the intellect and the soul. Only the soul can verify the well-being of each center of the organism (well-treated horses, well-oiled carriage, a relevant and well-trained intellect, etc.) and find a direction that promotes the coordination of the centers of the organism Once the organism is actively inhabited, it can at last potentiate its gifts in yoga poses a way that makes sense. Like Socrates, this soul is what Gurdjieff attempts to activate with his method. This is an elitist method, like that of Plato’s, because it separates those carriages that have an occupant from the others. But this does not prevent it from being relevant.
Gurdjieff, just like Fodor (2000), accepts the theories of Hume and Darwin and their implications for all of the parts of the organism that function automatically. The challenge that the spiritual movements pose to the scientific theories is that it is possible to create a context that permits something to emerge in yoga poses the middle of this chaotic assemblage that is an organism so that something might emerge and crystallize in yoga poses the form of what the ancients called a soul. This context requires a collective endeavor in yoga poses which the particular essence of an individual can blossom like a flower out of its bud.