It’s about forty years since I first came seriously across something called The Fourth Way. Although when I go back even further in time I did read in the then brilliant Daily Express satirical column ‘By the Way by Beachcomber’ about a crackpot philosophy that was all the rage in certain quarters in the 1950’s. While at Grammar School I used to cut out with extreme care every Beachcomber article and stick them neatly in an exercise book. As a result I became entranced by anything crackpot, out of the ordinary, the neglected and derided. Beachcomber had the opposite effect on me to what I suppose it was intended to have.
My learned crackpottery got me from a very early age wondering what on earth I was doing there.
Anybody who regularly says to themselves There Must Be Something More to Life Than This is ready for The Fourth Way.
Since there is a fourth way, one might ask what are the other three ways?
Down the ages, a few people on odd occasions have had the desire to find out what the purpose of human life might be—there have been lots of theories and practices but precious little global agreement. At an early age, GIGurdjieff, one of the objects of Beachcomber’s scorn, asked, “What am I doing here?” meaning something like: just what is the purpose of human life on this planet? Why do we get ourselves involved in all the crazy things we choose to do with our time?
GIGurdjieff developed a typology that divided human beings into three basic sets: a completely functioning human-being achieves a balance between what Gurdjieff calls ‘Centres’:-
A pretty accurate division which only in the last few years we know to be based on the way the brain is constructed from the bottom up: the oldest part of the brain to do with physical mobility, the middle part of the brain to do with feelings & emotion and the top most recent development—the neo-cortex—to do with intellectual pursuits. Long before such a simplistic division was exploded in the 1990’s by technological advances in ways of exploring brain functions, Gurdjieff had a knack for getting people to self-explore in order to notice the interconnectedness of brain functions and the way they influenced behaviour.
The fact is that until they become aware of the possibility of behaving otherwise, people unwittingly operate in just one of the Centres to the relative exclusion of the others.
When it comes to looking for ‘the meaning of life’ people in the prison of their Centre will approach the search in a way that is characterised by their ‘type’:-
• Thinking types are constantly trying to figure things out, they require a religion of proof—YOGIS
• Emotional types need an emotional commitment to belief, faith, love—MONKS
• Those in the prison of their bodies look to mortification of the flesh, attention to rites & ceremonies—FAKIRS
These are the other three ways!
The way of the Yogi, the way of the Monk and the way of the Fakir. According to those who follow The Fourth Way each of the other three ways is limited because they focus on only one part of the functioning of a human being. Our brains are constructed in such a way that, when they are fully operational, we can step between a physical response to reality, an emotional grasp of possibilities and we can think things out and put them in order; we do not have to limit ourselves to the ‘reptile’ oldest part of the brain to live purely for physical sensation, nor do we have to take refuge in the ‘limbic’ system and simply feel what’s what, nor do we have to limit ourselves by logic and order, which is the function of the neo-cortex.
Balance requires integration
The Fourth Way is the way of integration. And, thankfully, it is the way of the ordinary person—to practise The Fourth Way you do not have to remove yourself from life as it is lived in meetings & offices & seminar rooms: you don’t have to get used to lying on a bed of nails, you don’t have to withdraw to a religious house, nor do you have to engage constantly in intellectual contortions.
Practitioners of The Fourth Way lead ordinary inconspicuous lives without ceremonial or special observances; they strive for a balance between Intellect, Emotion and Physical activity, making the most of each human faculty, and/or a blending, as appropriate for specific activities…
There are very practical ways of getting to a balance.
What stops us from achieving this?
We are asleep
This is a fundamental belief of Fourth Way adherents whose task is to wake up.
What can this mean? Even if we are professional insomniacs, we imagine we do know the difference between what happens, or what should happen, when we put our head on the pillow at night and what is happening as we read these words, for instance: at nightie-night sleep time the speed of brain-waves slows right down and we sink into dream and deep sleep.
What kind of an ‘awakening’ is it when we ‘wake up’ in the morning? Could such an awakening simply be an illusion: perhaps it is only to speed up the brain waves and imagine that we are therefore awake—vaguely aware of a different set of sense impressions than we were in a few moments before.
In fact, unless we take steps otherwise, during the course of a typical ‘waking day’—consider right now what it might be like to run your own typical waking day through your mind—we are sleep-walking. We imagine that we can make decisions—and we take pride in calling them ‘conscious decisions’. We imagine that we can play a real part in what we habitually refer to as our career, our family life, the progress of humanity.
But we can only imagine this
Our internal consideration of the possibilities is based on an imaginative reconstruction of what we assume is going on out there. We do not know what objective consciousness is—yet…
If we knew what real consciousness was we would know what it is to be constantly aware, in thought and feeling and physical understanding, of the sensation HOW STRANGE THAT I AM HERE—thinking this—take a look around you and go with the full force of the idea—can put you into ‘real consciousness’ for a few moments now. You can awake for a few moments as you take in the full force of its implications. What will life be like when you can extend that feeling into the whole of your being?
But just for now, as you’ll soon be noticing, the force of HOW STRANGE THAT I AM HERE dissolves and you resume customary ‘sleep’.
Q: What keeps us asleep?
What stops us from awakening?
Deep hypnotic sleep.
Gurdjieff quotes an Eastern tale which speaks about a very rich magician who had a great many sheep. But at the same time this magician was very mean. He did not want to hire shepherds, nor did he want to erect a fence around the pasture where his sheep were grazing. The sheep consequently often wandered into the forest, fell into ravines, and so on, and above all they ran away, for they knew that the magician wanted their flesh and skins and this they did not like. At last the magician found a remedy. He hypnotized his sheep and suggested to them first of all that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned, that, on the contrary, it would he very good for them and even pleasant; secondly he suggested that he was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place he suggested to them that if anything at all were going to happen to them it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it. Further the magician suggested to his sheep that they were not sheep at all; to some of them he suggested that they were lions, to others that they were eagles, to others that they were men, and to others that they were magicians. And after this all his cares and worries about the sheep came to an end. They never ran away again but quietly awaited the time when the magician would require their flesh and skins.
How close is this tale to an illustration of the human condition?
As compliant sheep believing that we are lions and eagles, magicians and important executives, touched in this moment now with immortality, we go about the world acquiring all the trappings of importance and significance, stacked up with words that seem to bear their own reality —mental accomplishments, physical prowess, relational smoothness, deep feelings for art and music and the finer things of life, football matches and rave-ups, allowed to cast a vote every five years for some idiot Magician or another. What ensures that we stay asleep is our profound identification with all the things for which down the years we have formed attachments. Our hypothetical single identity is splintered in possessions; each possession turns each Splintered-I of our supposed single identity into a seemingly ‘real’ existent: ‘I am a house-holder… I have a career… I have a spouse and children… I have a collection of antique cars… I care… I have a unique way of thinking… my hobby is stamp-collecting… I am a painter…’ It is without doubt the case that you are in one strong ‘I’, but you are asleep to what all the other I’s might be working on.
You could spend a few moments modifying and extending the list for yourself…
Catalogue your many I’s… Work out how some more Dominant-I’s exclude other possibilities… How Being-a-career-person-I gets in the way of Committed-to-family-I, for example.
Consider for a moment how your current sense of your own importance is horrifyingly violated by the idea that in order to regain a single identity it will be necessary to die to your long-cherished conception of yourself, to free yourself ‘from a thousand petty attachments and identifications’ (Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous) which hold you in the position you’re in. What will that involve? Your imaginative reconstruction of your role in the world, the ensuing sufferings which you rather stupidly unconsciously give way to, identification with things, people, ideas—these attachments ‘keep alive a thousand useless I’s’.
The alternative to applying oneself to this analysis is to continue to live mechanically asleep, thinking the same old thoughts, saying the same old things, going through the same old daily rituals, imaginatively submitting to the intense belief that your efforts will have some permanent and important effect on the course of events…
To die to yourself in order to awaken means ‘to realise one’s nothingness, to realise one’s complete and absolute mechanicalness and …helplessness. And it is not enough to realise it philosophically in words. It is necessary to realise it in clear, simple and concrete facts, in one’s own facts… [which may horrify]. So long as you are not horrified at yourself you know nothing about yourself… when you begin to know yourself you will see that you have nothing that is your own… your views, thoughts, convictions, tastes, habits, even faults and vices, all these are not your own, but have been formed through [mechanical] imitation or borrowed from somewhere ready-made.’ (In Search of the Miraculous)
This realisation helps us to accept our nothingness, as we really are. Never forget it; think about it all the time and begin to see actions and events in the world through the definite and certain framework of Nothingness. It will help us to die to ourselves; die to the I’s that run our mechanicalness and helplessness. At the very same time we are able to decide to continue to be an even more valued and valuable part of whatever we choose to spend our time doing for a living, as a provider, as carer, friend, partner and so on…
Only when you realise the SHOCK required to awaken can you understand the long & hard work required to awaken… Laying oneself open to the calculated shocks delivered by those who are already at least partially awakened. ‘To awaken means to be de-hypnotised…’ (In Search of the Miraculous)
What would Beachcomber think?
I wonder if Beachcomber took all this into account when he slagged off Gurdjieff? I wonder what he’d say if he knew what he’d started in me?