One Saturday late 2018 in Vancouver, I accompanied my friend Tammy to her weekly gathering of what she referred to as ‘Class’. She very much wanted me to join her because this group was super important to her. For me it was the second time I visited her, after a beautiful summer together on the Sunshine Coast, North of Vancouver.
One Saturday late 2018 in Vancouver, I accompanied my friend Tammy to her weekly gathering of what she referred to as 'Class'. She very much wanted me to join her because this group was super important to her. For me it was the second time I visited her, after a beautiful summer together on the Sunshine Coast, North of Vancouver.
We were fully in the process of getting to know each other more deeply and I was naturally curious about al her activities and interests. Class turned out to be run by Geri de Stephano Webre. It is mostly based on the teachings of Gurdieff, an European mystic who’s name vaguely rang a bell.
For reasons still unknown to me ‘Class’ officially goes by the name OYS, which stands for One Year Seminar. While Tammy attends that for years now. Anyways, I decided to join class as a part of my commitment to be Tammy’s sparring partner in our mutual co development. Since I tried to fit in Class, I struggled to synthesize my understanding of existence with those teachings
Gurdieff’s work is known as the Work. So that was not very informative either. It stands for one’s choice to rise above the limited causality of every day life and reach a more observant perspective of ones own existence while actively trying to get rid of old patterns and blocks that hinder this liberation.
That was around beginning March 2021. So now I want to summarize what I currently understand about ‘it’.
It being existence, mostly focused on human existence and particularly experienced as my personal existence.
Another title for the Work is The Fourth Way. I assumed this ‘way’ was yet another approach to life and living as taught by Gurdieff. But the introduction of the book quickly trashes that assumption.
The three other ways are
1. The way of the fakir. The fakir masters his bodily functions.
2. The way of the monk. The monk masters the quality of the heart.
3. The way of the yogi. The yogi is the master of his mind.
So one either masters think, feeling or doing.
Gurdieff’s Fourth Way is about mastering all those functional centres, plus rising above them, and aligning their energies. All this to rise above the limitations of our current self awareness. It is because of this fourth added observation function that it is called the fourth way. Gurdieff speaks about ‘waking up’. So It is not a way around the other three!
For me, while getting aquainted with this, it was quite an exercise to understand was was meant and to synthesize this with my own learnings.
The somewhat archaic and ambiguous terminology made it difficult for me to get a handle on the concepts. So I was extremely happy to find that my own insights about the distinction between thinking, feeling and doing completely aligned with the three centres as discussed in Class.
I discovered this three-way distinction myself in 1980 when I saw that good information needed to contain three essential qualities: The information had to be understandable, attractive and executable. This resonates with the rational, emotional and practical functions that are represented by the three centres mentioned in the Fourth Way.
Even more interesting is the resonance with the book of the Dutch psychologist Piet Vroon, The Tears Of The Crocodile, published in 1989. It introduced the concept of the layered brain. The layering is an artifact of the sudden evolutionary adaptions to survival challenges. Three layers loosely correlate to an instinctive reptile brain, an emotion driven mammal brain and then the reasoning neocortex, that distincts us as humans.
For my hypothesis of who I am, I combined those and more views to one vision.
Gurdjieff speaks of thinking, feeling and moving as the three centres. To me they more refer to Piet Vroon’s brain layers, the instinctive brain (brain stem and cerebellum) that rules the bodily reflexes. This primitive brain resembles the reptile brain. The neocortex that does the deliberate reasoning, which seems to distinguish us as humans with a specific talent for consciousness. All the lobes in between roughly do the feeling and sensing. They are associated with the mammal stage in evolution.
These three centres are reflected in de body as a whole: the head does the thinking, the heart is the feeling centre and the lower part moves. As noted Gurdjieff added a fourth way, self observation. The resulting four ways or centres totally align with the layerdness of the brain and with our body image and with the psychological layering of states of consciousness. Our deliberate thinking is seen as aware or conscious functioning. Our emotional function is more subconscious while our movements can be totally unconscious. (Note that all of these views are very simplified representations of the complex reality.) And then there is the superconscious status of self observation. A very interesting concept, because is comes very natural to us, yet is is totally a imaginary state that has no ground in reality.
Since then this understanding had become widely accepted as an explanation of our different qualities.
The three different functions of our human survival system are not naturally aligned. According to biologists they represent sequential evolutionary results from our survival. The earliest parts are associated with the reptile brain. It is all about the very primal survival functions, like eat, sleep and procreate if things go well. It has no sense of time, only living in the moment, no other memories other then bodily engrained conditioning, like habits or trauma´s.