This 13 week study work group, taking place at the start of the 2018 New Year, January 1 – Easter April 1, grows out of Cynthia’s challenge to take a deep dive into Fourth Way ideas and practices. Knowing that Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales for His Grandson is a heavy lift, we are aiming for a “softer and gentler” approach to Fourth Way inner practices via Maurice Nicoll’s five-volume Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
This was what started me on my own Fourth Way journey. While on a five day silent retreat in a Franciscan hermitage, I had daily contact with one of the Franciscan brothers. Every day I came to his office to check in, and noticed this set of commentaries in his library. I took volume two back to my own cabin, and it literally exploded within me. I asked him where I could find others in my area that are working in this way, and it ultimately led me to a local group where I have been active in Fourth Way Work for the past twelve years. I have gone through these volumes two times already, and next year want to go through them again — only this time, not privately, but with many of my friends in the Wisdom School network. These commentaries are ultimately what led me to find Cynthia and the Fourth Way community at Claymont where Cynthia has done a number of Fourth Way Wisdom Schools.
While working with Fourth Way practices, I wanted to know how to integrate that Work into my own Christian framework and understanding. Everybody kept saying, you’ve got to talk to Cynthia, but every time I tried to sign up for a Wisdom School, it was already full. In desperation, I sheepishly caught her after a talk at Shalem in Washington DC, and asked, “If I do all the grunt work and hosting, will you come to a Wisdom School at Claymont in the Washington DC area?” She graciously accepted, and I knew I was “in” because now I was the one organizing the school!
In Love is Stronger than Death, Cynthia recounts her relationship to “Rafe” — Brother Raphael Robin — the hermit monk who so profoundly influenced her life. Cynthia writes:
“Like me, Rafe was fascinated by G. I. Gurdjieff, that early twentieth-century spiritual genius who had laid out a path of inner transformation frequently referred to as the “Fourth Way.” When Rafe finally won permission to join an experimental Trappist community in North Carolina, he bumped into a copy of P.D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous. Later, after he arrived in Colorado, someone gave him the five-volume set of Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, which he read from every day, along with his Bible; these became the twin cornerstones of his spiritual work. Most of Rafe’s library up at the hermitage (in addition to his Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare) consisted of books by Gurdjieff and Gurdjieff ‘s three most prodigious disciples, P. D. Ouspensky, Maurice Nicoll, and J. G. Bennett. In a self-taught fusion of Fourth Way ideas and Christian apophatic mysticism, his deepest wish was “to have enough being to be nothing.”
I propose that we create the same study conditions as Rafe’s hermitage — weekly readings from the Bible (Gospel and Psalms) using the Ecumenical Lectionary and Nicoll’s Commentaries, with an added spice of one of Thomas’ Logion. Nicoll’s Commentaries are transcripts of the talks he gave to a weekly Work Group that he led in Britain from 1941 through 1953. Unlike P. D. Ouspensky’s book, his is not a systematic and ordered treatment of the Work ideas, but short commentaries that were given to meet the ongoing needs of the group he led. The Gurdjieff Society of Washington DC, encouraged by Mr. Hugh Ripman, produced a topical index to Nicoll’s commentaries. I propose that in this round of Fourth Way Wisdom work, we use that index to topically explore “Self-Remembering”, one of the foundation Fourth Way inner work practices.
You want me to read the Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky? Sounds kind of boring!”
I do not claim that these commentaries will explode in you as they did in me. In fact, most of the friends that I have shared these commentaries with have simply shrugged and returned them to me. Remember, this is the 1940’s and 1950’s when Nicoll wrote these commentaries, so there are lots of offensive “man” this and “he” that — so you will have to do your own re-writing in your head as you read. So that you will get an idea of what you are getting into., you can preview a PDF version of Nicoll’s Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Volume 1.
“Thirteen weeks is a long time. What exactly are we going to do?”
My hope is to create an online Fourth Way Wisdom Work group. A Work group is more than a study group. A study group reads and studies. A Work group practices and applies Fourth Way ideas and practices in daily life. The study portion of each week will take about an hour’s commitment. If you sign up, your intention is to read the weekly reading starting January 1 and going through the end of March. The practice will be that sometime during the week you post into the discussion group for that week: what parts of the reading “grabbed you” and your reflections about that. You may want to comment on another class member’s post, or just take the time to read what others have posted.
The real Work, though, is how you apply that insight into your daily life. Is there an inner practice that the reading invites you to? Most of the time, we will forget the reading and just go on with your life. Noting our forgetfulness and sleep is a big deal. For many of us, our first act of waking up is seeing our own sleep! Most of the time it just goes on without our awareness. But hopefully, something will sound within you, and you will come back to yourself, and the inner practice that you resolved to follow that week. Noting those practices and how you worked with them during the week could be part of the reflection as you start the next weeks study.
We are engaging this way as an experiment, to see whether we can work together in an online environment in a way that produces practical fruit in our life. We may want to make adjustments as we go along. And we may want to continue past the thirteen weeks.
So that’s the deal. Feel free to call or email me if you have questions. I can’t wait to start! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone me at 202.531.7572.
In the Work,