Movement As a Way to Educate an Individual
These Movements have a double aim. By requiring a quality of attention on several parts at the same time, they help us to get out of the narrow circle of our automatism. And through a strict succession of attitudes, they lead us to a new possibility of thinking, feeling and action. (Jeanne de Salzmann, 2010, The Reality of Being, 57, 121f)
THE QUALITY OF ATTENTION
The normal man often focuses his attention in yoga poses a rather hazy and unsustained manner. When an individual observes himself attentively, he inevitably notices that the concentration time rarely lasts more than a few minutes. Gurdjieff used many methods to develop the duration and the quality of attention. They often consisted of exercises or dances71 that mobilized the relationship between the intellect and the diverse centers of the organism The pupil then learned to increase the length of time during which he could concentrate, the number of elements on which he could concentrate at the same time, and the precision of awareness. He also learned to clean up his sense of observation of the prejudices and his encumbering expectations. One typical exercise is to walk at a certain speed on a street full of pedestrians and count the number of women who are wearing red. Another is to make a brisk movement with one arm and a slow, gentle one with the other. This second type of exercise is similar to the kind used by a pianist who must play differently with each hand. To be capable of being attentive to several events at the same time and different points of view (cognition, affect, sensations, etc.), is one of the goals sought by Gurdjieff’s students. A good pianist plays different notes with each hand, but he can also create a different mood with each hand when it is called for. The student thus learns to feel that each of his centers reacts to a given event with a particular point of view. Once he really comes to feel this, he can learn to consciously coordinate most of the points of view with which his organism experiences a singular event.
THE QUALITY OF ATTENTION MEASURED BY A GESTURE
Vignette showing how a gesture allows for the observation of the duration of attention. Take a simple exercise: ask yourself to raise and lower your arms exactly the same way 100 times. Someone in yoga poses the room can verify the exactness of your count. If your attention is not trained for this type of task, you will not be able to accomplish this gesture exactly 100 times in yoga poses a row. You will improve if you practice over and over again. Typically, this is what happens: At the beginning you have no problem. But as soon as you perform this gesture for, say, the thirtieth time, you think of something else. You think that you are executing an exercise, which is too easy for you, very well; and the individual suggesting this exercise to you must think you more stupid than you are; or you think of what is waiting for you at home; or you are thinking of the last film you saw, and so on. in yoga poses short, you forgot to keep on counting. You therefore pick a number at random, forty for example, and you begin to count again. Because of this momentary inattention, you end up having completed this movement approximately but not exactly 100 times. Irritated with yourself, you begin the exercise over; once again, your count will be interrupted at least once by other considerations that will interfere with your consciousness without you really knowing why. You will invent many explanations, for example, that it is impossible to remain attentive when an exercise is so boring or so lacking in yoga poses motivation. There is also a strong chance you will feel irritated because you were not able to complete such a stupid task. This type of exercise allows us to see that attention is a difficult mental tool to manage. Few people recognize the weakness of their attention when it has not been developed.
Now consider another example that permits us to go a little further concerning what the observations of an individual’s gestures teaches us about his mental attention. For this, I take a typical lesson in yoga poses tai chi chuan carried out in yoga poses slow motion. (I have briefly described this discipline in yoga poses the chapters dedicated to the Chinese martial arts.) The situation I propose is for you to imagine yourself as a beginning student who is observing a tai chi master demonstrating a movement. From the point of view of your conscious perception, the master’s gestures are relatively simple and hardly acrobatic. You have the impression of perceiving each element of the moving posture being demonstrated. The master asks you to repeat the movement you have just seen. To help you, he does it with you. If he is a good teacher, he repeats it exactly the same way as many times as you want. Doing this requires a rare quality of attention. Typically, you repeat this exercise, somewhat proud of having done it well, but conscious that your imitation is only a close approximation. If a third person compares what you have just done with the movement of the master, he will see that the difference is, in yoga poses fact, enormous. If the scene was filmed, you would soon be made aware of the difference. The distance between the hands and the torso, the distribution of the weight on the feet, the fact that the impulse of the gesture originates from the feet and from the pelvis are things that, typically, the beginner does not perceive. The student soon notices that he is able to concentrate on only two or three parts of the body at the same time, while there are many variables to integrate to complete a movement correctly. The master knows from experience that it will take years of regular work to be able to imitate, with sufficiently adequate precision, what he has just demonstrated to you. Given that tai chi is a sequence composed of around 100 global body movements, the student is confronted not only by the limits of his attention but also by the limits of his memory.
We have to accept that there exists a kind of memory of the gesture that does not function like memory through visual representation. After having followed many courses and having practiced at home, some gestures and even entire sequences become motor habits. After a certain amount of time (months and even years for some people), the student gains the ability to carry out the entire sequence with relative accuracy on automatic pilot that is, thinking of other things most of the time, like the driver of an automobile. But the teacher sees this right away because the motor centers deform the gestures to assimilate them. They create automatic dynamics that produce mechanical gestures that do not have the postural structure mobilized by the master. The student must then learn to coordinate his mental memory and his motor memory to execute his form of tai chi with greater precision.
This is an example of the usefulness of the notion of centers such as Gurdjieff conceives them. It consists in yoga poses training the motor and intellectual centers at the same time and the way they are coordinated. in yoga poses tai chi, this coordination requires certain coordination between motor activity, respiration, and mental activity. This makes things even more difficult to follow with a mental attention that can incorporate only a few elements at the same time. Furthermore, we must take into account the fact that tai chi is, before anything else, a martial art, and that each position has a function in yoga poses combat. Finally, mental attention must also integrate a listening to what the Chinese call the chi, which is, according to a rudimentary simplification, the internal force from which all of the centers of the organism are organized. This is just the beginning of tai chi. in yoga poses effect, tai chi is a martial art. in yoga poses combat, it is executed with a speed and sense of purpose aimed at vanquishing the opponent.
For many years, I followed such training with Lizelle Reymond and her students. She was often amused by the countless distorted faces we made when we concentrated (tongues licking lips, frowns worthy of a horror film, a strained and pale face, etc.). This is a good example of the useless stimulations we ceaselessly mobilize. Films of the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin show us that his face is practically immobile, even when he is playing heartbreaking melodies. Everything that artists like him have to give to us is expressed in yoga poses the music produced by their handling of the instrument. On the other hand, among excellent musicians of a lesser talent, probably because they must presently accommodate the exigencies of the visual media, emotional expressions burst forth in yoga poses all directions and their music is often less expressive. Everything happens as if each facial expression takes something away from the attention focused on the violin and its sound.
As we have already seen with Elsa Gindler, these methods aspire to develop the intelligence of each person by integrating different forms of intelligence: like the intelligence that guides movements, the intelligence that guides the affects, the intelligence that guides the senses, and so on. The theories proposed by the schools inspired by Gurdjieff are debatable, but it seems that the few elements I have singled out indicate that many aspects of this approach are worthy of more attention on the part of psychologists and psychotherapists.