Gurdjieff Movements as a tool for gradually taming the mind

The mind is like a two forked animal. At one side it protects the ego from traumatic experiences. At the other side it hinders personal growth. Many Eastern traditions focus on the negative side of the mind: the influence of the mind needs to be as small as possible. Western mystery traditions are more mind focused as they train the mind for energetic visualization purposes. The Gurdjieff Movements also use the mind as a tool to be in the here and now by means of techniques like for example divided attention and circular counting.

In this article I will explain how difficult it is to be in the here and now. That sometimes it is useful that the mind takes us somewhere else. But also that being too much somewhere else with your mind results in fantasy and a disconnection of reality. As our being is ultimately in reality this can be a problem. The trick is to be aware of your mind and to see when it takes you somewhere else. Then one can investigate why the mind wandered away.

The mind is great in the sense that when there are things with which you cannot cope, your fuses will blow and you will not be aware of certain, potentially, traumatic experiences. I saw an interesting example of this process by an eagle pushing a mountain goat from a cliff.

When the mind of the goat sees that the goat will fall to its death, it pulls the plug and shuts out. During the fall you see the goat become a lifeless puppet. In this case the mind protected the ego and the soul of the animal from great trauma.

In this truly traumatic example the mind has a positive role. But in our daily life the mind attributes the same principle for non-traumatic experiences as well. When you look at your life there are many things which you might not want to do. Your mind ‘helps’ you by finding excuses for not doing them and even when you do them your mind ‘helps’ you to wander off and ‘multitask’. In this case the mind is badly trained. Its protecting capacities are utilized for you to remain in the comfort zone of your ego. As a result the spiritual growth of your soul is effectively put to a standstill by your mind.

The Gurdjieff Movements recognize the function of the mind and it is designed to gradually tame it so it can work for you to realize your essence.

For example, I was dancing a difficult movement and I got the direct experience of how the mind supports the ego by avoiding the essence of the soul to appear. I did the practice for several minutes and I noticed my mind thinking about how long the exercise would still last. Next, I was thinking about some notes which I still had to make. Making contact with your essence is scary for your ego and mind. It is a new thing, it is change, outside of the box and exciting. Also, when the soul appears, the ego will disappear. When the change is too great the fuses of the mind will blow and progress is halted.

One first great thing of the Gurdjieff Movements is that it is physical and rooted in matter. As soon as the mind wanders off for just a second, the movement is corrupted. You know when your mind wanders off. It allows you to investigate why your mind was wandering off. Often it has to do the difficulty of the Movement and you remaining in your comfort zone. But it can also have to do with an experience in the past where your mind foresaw a traumatic experience and helped you by escaping the here and now. The Gurdjieff Movements will find these patterns and put them in the light for you to clean them. The result is that you will become more conscious and free.

A second great thing is that the Movements will gradually help you in this process. You start easy and simple with only one element. Later you will build up the Movement with more elements. The confronting power of the Movements will scare your ego and call your mind to interfere and help. But the mind will recognize that the Movements are no cliff jumping traumatic experiences. It is easy to say you your mind: ‘Hey! It is just a dance. Relax. Your defense mechanism does not need to kick in.’ When you have mastered one element, you can add a second element. Again the ego will revolt, but the mind will not block. In a step by step approach, the Gurdjieff Movements allow you to gradually remove your ego to the bare minimum and allow you to integrate your mind in your being.

The Gurdjieff Movements allow to master the mind and to remove the barriers of the ego. Instead of dropping the ego from a cliff to its doom, using the mind to escape reality, and as a result crippling oneself from functioning in reality, the Gurdjieff Movements gradually tame the mind and use it to make a safe stairway for the ego to come down to earth. With the proper management of the mind in the Gurdjieff Movements the mind becomes an integrated tool for spiritual development instead of a blocking factor.

Gurdjieff Movements: a tool for Self control and harmony, becoming archetypical and … attaining your cosmic soul! 

Most people think that they are in control of their body. If you want to stand up, you stand up without problems, right? However, in fact, most people are grossly overestimating their control of their body. And as a consequence they overstate the control of their Self. The ultimate price for this lack of control is the loss of your sacred potential. And the possibility to attain your soul.

I can hear you think: ‘WTF! What do you mean that I need to earn my soul?! And how would a stupid dance solve this?’. But please hear me out and allow me to explain in less than a 1000 words.

Let’s start with body control. For example, everyone is able to lift his right arm horizontal sideways. But are you also able to do this when moving other parts of your body as well? And if yes, to which degree? With this I mean: are you also able to lift your arm horizontal sideways on the 2nd measure of a total of 7 measures? Next, are you still able to do it when you also do a step sequence backward? Finally, are you also able to do the same when including a sequence of six different alternating head positions?

Some time ago, I had an interesting realization about the nature of the Gurdjieff Movements which is exactly about this: the degree to which you are able to control your body in action.

Gurdjieff Movements are a type of dance meditation where different parts of the body move on the music in different tempos. One can only master the Movements by a technique called divided attention. This means that you are both aware of your inner centre (body, emotions and mind) and your surroundings at the same moment. The different tempos of the different parts of the body give a glimpse of and a chance to connect with a higher cosmic reality.  

I got my realisation when I recorded a Gurdjieff Movement practice and I noticed that I made the similar mistakes in different configurations (combinations of feet, arm and head positions) of the Movement. I was surprised of this, because I felt that I was able to take the correct positions. I started making mistakes when adding the head sequence. This sequence consists of six measures with four different positions: up, down, left and right. When you look at the short clip of this practice below, you see that my right arm is too far back when looking left and down. Also my arm is too low when looking up and right. Although in rest mode I am perfectly able to put my right arm horizontal sideways, in action (the dance), I have difficulty with the proper execution of the movement.

This experience made me realize that although I think that I master the ability to put my right arm horizontal sideways, it differs of the context to which degree I am able to do so. When I only need to lift my arm, I manage perfectly. However when other elements are added, I start to struggle and make mistakes.

Why is it important to be in control of your Self? Many spiritual practices argue that the goal of mankind is to be free. Freedom comes with the ability of choice. And in order to be able to choose according to your Will, you should be able to be in control of your Self (roughly consisting of body, emotions and mind). This is the reason why many spiritual practices advocate some form of discipline in one way or the other. Gurdjieff Movements are designed to achieve complete total control and harmony over body, emotions and mind.

  • Remove the unnecessary and the archetypical appears

The idea of the Gurdjieff Movements is that by practicing them you will gradually achieve control of your Self. As a consequence you will exterminate all unnecessary activities in your Self (body, emotions and mind).  Removing unnecessary movements are a result of a clear sense of will and the outcome of this is that the movements become archetypical. By practising the Gurdjieff Movements you more and more align yourself with archetypical positions and energies and it is exactly because of this that Gurdjieff called them objective art. Archetypical movements raise your energy frequency and allow to tapping into cosmic energies. There are many different Gurdjieff Movements in order to be able to align to many different cosmic energies. Attaining your soul is then the successful and sustainable connecting your Self to these cosmic forces.  It is like achieving the alchemical stone of the wise.

This brings us to another quality of the Gurdjieff movements: its configurational and integrative approach. Many Movements consist of multiple elements (arms, legs, head, torso, etc.) which (can) have their own count, rhythm, energy and archetypical qualities. However, they all coexist at the same time in the Movement. They can be seen as planetary influences and because of this the Movements are also called cosmic dance. The combinations of the different elements have their own astrological quality.

  • Cosmic dance: as above, so below

And this is the final revelation of the Gurdjieff Movements: they are in fact astrological dances. The different rhythms of the different parts of the body represent astrological energies of the classical 7 planets of our solar system. This does not mean that in each Movement always all planetary energies are represented. Sometimes 3 elements of the body represent the sun and a 4th element represents Venus. But every planet has its own rhythm and movement and together they move in orbit around the sun. When planets meet or come in aspect different energy combinations are raised. And although some energies are more pleasant than others, there is always order. And this is what the Gurdjieff Movements teach us. First, as above, so below, our hearts are like suns with our limbs as planets dancing around us. Secondly, although there are many different energy configurations, there is always order. You only need to be atuned to these energies in order to be able to experience the order. Otherwise you perceive chaos.

With help of the Movements you learn the cosmic dance by aligning yourself with cosmic energies. By disciplining the movements of your Self, you train away your inefficiencies, become archetypical and slowly attune yourself to the energies of the universe. You experience the mystical experience of being a part of the cosmic soul. And because as above is so below, as a consequence you will have attained your soul.

Redefining magic with insights from ritual dance

I have been part of the Western Mystery Tradition for about 4.5 years. Alongside with this, I have also been practicing ritual dance in the form of Gurdjieff Movements for about 3 years. Intuitively I feel that there is a mutual benefit in the integration between the two practices. It is my opinion that that the Gurdjieff Movements have the same quality as the rituals in the Western Mystery Tradition. As a result I feel that the Gurdjieff Movements are an extension and integration of the Western Mystery Tradition wit the body. More and more I come to the belief that traditional magic might benefit from ritual dance in a couple of ways. I will elaborate on these benefits by redefining the definition of magic in this article.

Crowley defines magic as: ‘Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will’. Dion Fortune has a similar definition, although she removed the science part and includes changes in consciousness.

In my opinion science should be included in the definition in order to have a balanced definition of magic. In Kabalistic terms: if Art is Netzach, then Science is Hod. The path which connects these two on the Tree of Life is symbolized by the tarot card The Tower. This seems quite fitting. The Tower is the card of the destruction of the ego (will) which is needed to make space for something higher: the Will. But where could this come from?

The center of the horizontal line between Hod and Netzach (The Tower) is crossed by a vertical line between Yeshod and Tiphareth. This line is represented by the tarot card Temperance and, although they meet on the same place, paradoxically it is the inversion of the tarot card The Tower. Here, instead of destruction, seemingly opposite things are combined in an alchemical fusion. This card depicts an angel which could represent the higher self. This is the Will of the higher self we are looking for in our definition of magic.

temperance tree of life.jpg

A beautiful representation of the tarot card Temperance on the Tree of Life. The tarot card The Tower (red horizontal line) and Temperance (blue vertical line) meet at the crossing of the lines. Where the ego is shattered on the horizontal, the soul resurrects on the vertical.

The zodiac sign Sagitarius is attributed to Temperance. There is an insightful glyph where the bow of Sagitarius is fixed between Hod and Netzach on the path of The Tower. Its string however is pulled back to Yeshod (in the picture above Yeshod is the pool of water where the angel stands in). Yeshod, being the source of (sexual) power, gives the strength to destroy the ego, go beyond the veil of Paroketh and to land at Tiphareth. It is there where you can experience the so-called Tiphareth experience: the mythical experience of devotion to the great work. Here is the Will of our soul.

So in order to truly exercise our Will we need one more element: Power. Therefore, the enhanced definition of magic would be: ‘Magic is the Power, Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will’.

This enhanced definition in accordance with the definition of the Fourth Way as defined by Gurdjieff. He states that there are three traditional ways of spiritual development which essentially boil down to: power, heart and mind. Although these are valuable spiritual paths in their own rights, they are also essentially unbalanced as they focus on a single aspect of divinity. Gurdjieff argues that we should take a balanced approach and develop all three aspects simultaneously. Then a new force may arise. Gurdjieff calls this force the Watcher, but I would call it Will. This integrational approach most notably comes forward in his sacred dance practices (also called the Movements).

There are a couple of ways to see these three spiritual paths on the Tree of Life. Traditionally, Power might be Yeshod, Heart might be Tiphareth and Mind might be Chokmah. But alternatively we could also see these three approaches below the veil of Paroketh. Then Yeshod remains Power, Hod becomes Mind (Chokmah on a lower arc), and Netzach represents the Heart (Tiphareth on a lower arc). Seen this way, Gurdjieff’s Fourth way fits quite nicely with the enhanced definition of magic.

Looking at the Tree of Life from the perspective of the Movements give the following insights. Netzach can be seen as the art of dance. Hod can be seen in its strong mental aspects of exact movements (further challenged by circular counting). And Yeshod can be seen as the cultivation of power by means of Kundalini energy. When these 3 centers (body, head and heart) are combined in Movements, the experience of Beauty in Tiphareth can be attained.

Let’s continue this enquiry by asking ourselves: what are changes in consciousness exactly? In my view (and in accordance with the adagio as above so below) a change in consciousness should result both in a change of spirituality and in a change of behavior (matter).

One of the pitfalls of spirituality is its tendency to become dreamy and disconnected with reality. This occurs because of the failure to effectively ground Yeshod into Malkuth.

For this reason in the Western Mystery Tradition, rituals are used. Rituals are predefined recipes of symbolical actions (sometimes with physical attributes) which help to reach higher forms of consciousness.

But the involvement of the body in these rituals is quite limited. In the Gurdjieff Movements however the body is central. It is seen as our temple and grail. The degree to which we are able to direct our body to perform the Movements, is the degree to which we have mastered to execute our Will.

I have experienced myself how the Movements in fact are group rituals which have enabled me to reach a level of consciousness, which I am (currently) unable to attain in ‘normal’ rituals. I had been practicing a set of Movements intensely with a group for 10 days and every day I was able to go to an even deeper level into the Movements. In two hours of Movements I feel to achieve a similar result in increased consciousness as I would have in a complete day of meditation.

One other benefit of ritual dance is that its spiritual attainment has verifiable results. In sacred dance it is immediately clear if someone has mastered a certain level of development or if the person is present or not. It would show directly in his/her movements. I even suspect that for this reason ritual dances were used as advanced temple passwords at temples in the Far East.

In the Tree of Life, matter is represented by Malkuth. So in order to include our body into magic, we need to draw the string of the bow of Sagitarius back even further. The vertical line between Yeshod and Malkuth is represented by the tarot card The World. When looking at the different paths connecting the Sephiroth, there is a strong link with the three lowest paths (1): Moon (qoph), Judgment (shin), and The Universe (tau). The 3 letters spell the name bow. These three paths are forces, when combined, send the arrow of Temperance skyward toward Tiphareth. And although the letter Tau (which means cross) is attributed to it, it is also known as the universal dancer. Shiva, when depicted as Nataraj, has similarities with the classic Raider Waite depiction of The World. Summarized this path can be seen as a very passionate dance.

world shiva nataraj.png

The image of Nataraja (depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the cosmic ecstatic dance) has quite some similarities with the tarot card The World, which is also sometimes called ‘Universal dancer’.

As people with experience with spirituality will attest: it takes effort and passion in order to lift your consciousness from the level of matter to the spiritual realms. This effort is even greater when you want to raise your body consciousness as well. Ritual dance, however, is a great medium for achieving this.

After the integration of magic into matter (Malkuth), we can add the final element to the definition of magic. For this I changed the element ‘changes in consciousnesses’ from Dion Fortune’s definition to ‘changes in conscious behavior’. The definition of magic has thus become: ‘Magic is the Power, Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conscious behavior in conformity with Will’.

Finally, I like to end with a statement about Will. The Will of the soul has a different quality than the will of the ego. We all want to achieve certain things and some would use magic for this. The Will in Gurdjieff Movements however is not goal oriented, but process oriented. You don’t achieve a certain goal, but you train your executive capacity in order to be able to fulfill your long term life’s mission. Often you would not know what that is, but your mission would become clearer when continuing with the Movements. In this sense ritual dance is mythical, rather than magical.

In this article I have elaborated on the traditional definition of magic inspired by ritual dance. With the insights learned from ritual dance, I have added two elements to it: power and matter (conscious behavior). In my opinion, these two elements improve the current limitations to magic being: the pitfall to get lost in illusions, not having enough power, the tendency to focus on will instead of Will and the overemphasis on goals as opposed to improving spiritual capacity.

1 – The Qabalistic Tarot, Robert Wank, p. 180

Gurdjieff Movements vs automatismes

We leven in een wereld waar steeds meer is en steeds meer wordt geautomatiseerd. Deze wereld is dan ook steeds meer van alle gemakken voorzien. Echter, de mens wordt op deze manier een onbewuste eindgebruiker. Een slaaf. Omdat hij niet meer weet hoe dingen tot stand komen, verliest hij zijn kritisch vermogen en wordt dus onbewust.

De Gurdjieff Movements zijn in die zin bewustzijnsverhogend, omdat zij geen dans (eindproduct) leert. De Movements leren hoe je verschillende afzonderlijke bewegingen tegelijkertijd kunt uitvoeren (welke uiteindelijk tezamen een dans vormen). De Movements gaan om het proces in plaats van het doel. De Movements zijn erop ingericht om automatismen te voorkomen. Daarom leer je de Movements in stappen van een ledemaat per keer. Vervolgens worden meerdere ledematen samengevoegd in verschillende variaties in een dans. En wanneer je vervolgens alle ledematen in een dans hebt, wordt de volgorde van de passen omgegooid door bijvoorbeeld circular counting. Uiteindelijk ben je in staat om iedere ledemaat te dansen op het ritme wat jij wilt op hetzelfde moment. Dit is bewustzijn in beweging. Met de volgende paradox: want ook al dans je in een ritme en volgens bepaalde passen, toch is het in complete vrijheid. Want, met behulp van de Movements, heb jij de vaardigheid verworven om te kiezen welke bewegingen jij op een bepaald moment wilt maken.

“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”
― G.I. Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff amazing fitness result

Instead of my usual sunday morning ecstatic dance routine, I have been doing Gurdjieff movements this morning. What are these amazing movements! I also did a fitness test while performing meditative Gurdjieff Movement number 39. To my amazement my fitness result, while moving, was my second best result ever. Normally you would perform a fitness test in a resting position. So somehow this movement, while performing physical movements was in such a flow, that it had the same result as not moving!

The Essence of Gurdjieff Movements

A parable:
There was a man who lived in the mountains. He knew nothing about those who lived in the city. He liked to move and he danced on happy hardcore.
One day he entered the city. They were dancing ecstatically on some funky tunes. He said, ‘What is this for?’
They said, ‘Ecstatic dance, to integrate the body with the heart!’
He joined the dance and it was very good. He said, ‘What is it made of?’
They said, ‘Movements.’
Later they showed him whirling on mesmerizing Sufi music. He said, ‘What is this for?’
They said, ‘Sufi whirling, for integrating the body, heart and spirit!’
He joined the dance and said, ‘What is this dance made of?’
They said, ‘Movements.’
Finally, they showed him Gurdjieff Movements on the beautiful music composed by De Hartmann.
He said, ‘What is this for?’
They said, ‘Gurdjieff Movements integrating the body, heart, mind and spirit!’
He said, ‘What is this dance made of?’
They said, ‘Movements.’
He said, ‘I am master of all of these, for I perform the essence of all these: movements!’
Because of that view, he knew nothing of the delights of the world; they were lost to him.

– Adapted from The Essence of Torah from the Zohar

How Gurdjieff Movements is Teletubbies for adults

Teletubbies voor volwassenen en het geheim van de herhaling
Kleine kinderen hebben op de een of andere manier het vermogen om keer op keer hetzelfde te zien zonder dat het gaat vervelen. Mijn verklaring hiervoor is dat kinderen nog in het NU leven. Alles is voor hen telkens weer de eerste keer. Bij volwassenen is dat anders. Misschien omdat de ratio toe slaat? Misschien filteren wij herhaling uit ons systeem als zijnde niet belangrijk? Alleen dingen die anders zijn hoeven we in de gaten te houden, toch? Maar als gevolg verdwijnen we met onze ratio uit het NU naar het verleden of de toekomst. Dat is niet erg mindfull…. Sinds een jaar of zo dans ik de Gurdjieff Movements. Deze dansmeditatie staat bol van de herhaling. Echter deze is dusdanig onlogisch opgebouwd dat het brein de herhaling niet herkent. Sterker nog, de dans kan alleen maar gedanst worden wanneer het brein er voor de volle 100% bij is. De kunst van de Movements is om ze zo vaak mogelijk achter elkaar te herhalen en om er toch met je ratio bij te blijven. Zo kom je in een actieve meditatieve staat weer in het NU. Maar nu wel met je hoofd erbij. Gurdjieff Movements is dus eigenlijk Teletubbies voor volwassenen. 🙂

Paradox of flow

Paradox of flow
In the past I thought that flow was connected to an outer manifestation of flow. I defined making a circel wth your arms as flow and going up and down with your arm as staccato. Now I realise that flow comes from within. It is the intention to which you move. You can make a circle with your arms being tense and you can make a staccato movement which looks sharp without tension. The Gurdjieff Movements are all about non-tension Movements. But in order to practise this they are filled with many staccato movements! Movements in flow, without tension, are non-mechanical movements. These are conscious movements by your Will. The Movements are physical, emotional and intelletual challenges in order to remain in flow and attentive in all circumstances which life can demand from us.

  • myth of sisyphus – would he be able to carry the rocks in flow and without effort?