There I was dawdling through Sunday After the War (1944) by Henry Miller (1891-1980), various autobiographical writings randomly put together, when I was suddenly reminded of his connection with Gurdjieff. He had returned from Europe after ten years away from home which he finds greatly changed and spends a good deal of time in tears. Suddenly, a third of the way through the book the writing becomes a version of the Gurdjieff Big Idea beautifully rendered in Miller’s prose.
I come back to that little community, that dream world, in which I was raised. In microcosm it is a picture of that macrocosm which we call the world. To me it is a world asleep, a world in which the dream is imprisoned. If for a moment there is an awakening the dream, vaguely recalled, is speedily forgotten. This trance, which continues twenty-four hours of the day, is only slightly disturbed by wars and revolutions. Life goes on, as we say, but smothered, damped down, hidden away in the vegetative fibres of our being. Real awareness comes inter-mittently, in brief flashes of a second’s duration. The man who can hold it for a minute, relatively speaking, inevitably changes the whole trend of the world. In the span of ten or twenty thousand years a few widely isolated individuals have striven to break the deadlock, shatter the trance, as it were. Their efforts, if we look at the present state of the world superficially, seem to have been ineffectual. And yet the example which their lives afford us points conclusively to one thing, that the real drama of man on earth is concerned with Reality and not with the creation of civilizations which permit the great mass of men to snore more or less blissfully. A man who had the slightest awareness of what he was doing could not possibly put his finger to the trigger of a gun, much less cooperate in the making of such an instrument. A man who wanted to live would not waste even a fraction of a moment in the invention, creation and perpetuation of instruments of death. Men are more or less reconciled to the thought of death, but they also know that it is not necessary to kill one another. They know it inter-mittently, just as they know other things which they conveniently proceed to forget when there is danger of having their sleep disturbed. To live without killing is a thought which could electrify the world, if men were only capable of staying awake long enough to let the idea soak in. But man refuses to stay awake because if he did he would be obliged to become something other than he now is, and the thought of that is apparently too painful for him to endure. If man were to come to grips with his real nature, if he were to discover his real heritage, he would be come so exalted, or else so frightened, that he would find it impossible to go to sleep again. To live would be a perpetual challenge to create. But the very thought of a possible swift and endless metamorphosis terrifies him. He sleeps now, not comfortably to be sure, but certainly more and more obstinately, in the womb of a creation whose only need of verification is his own awakening. In this state of sublime suspense time and space have become meaningless concepts. Already they have merged to form another concept which, in his stupor, he is as yet unable to formulate or elucidate. But whatever the role that man is to play in it, the universe, of that we may be certain, is not asleep. Should man refuse to accept his role there are other planets, other stars, other suns waiting to go forward with the experiment. No matter how vast, how total, the failure of man here on earth, the work of man will be resumed elsewhere. War leaders talk of resuming operations on this front and that, but man’s front embraces the whole universe.
In our sleep we have discovered how to exterminate one another. To abandon this pleasant pursuit merely to sleep more soundly, more peacefully, would be of no value. We must awaken – or pass out of the picture. There is no alarm clock which man can invent to do the trick. To set the alarm is a joke. The clock itself is an evidence of wrong thinking. What does it matter what time you get up if it is only to walk in your sleep?
Now extinction seems like true bliss. The long trance has dulled us to everything which is alive and awake. Forward! cry the defenders of the great sleep. Forward to death! But on the last day the dead will be summoned from their graves: they will be made to take up the life eternal. To postpone the eternal is impossible. Everything else we may do or fail to do, but eternity has nothing to do with time, nor sleep, nor failure, nor death. Murder is postponement. And war is murder, whether it be glorified by the righteous or not. I speak of the things which are, not because they are of the moment but because they always have been and always will be. The life which every one dreams of, and which no one has the courage to lead, can have no existence in the present. The present is only a gateway between past and future. When we awaken we will dispense with the fiction of the bridge which never existed. We will pass from dream to reality with eyes wide open. We will get our bearings instantly, without the aid of instruments. We will not need to fly around the earth in order to find the paradise which is at our feet. When we stop killing – not only actually, but in our hearts – we will begin to live, and not until then.
I believe that it is now possible for me to have my being anywhere on earth. I regard the entire world as my home. I inhabit the earth, not a particular portion of it labelled America, France, Germany or Russia. I owe allegiance to mankind, not to a particular country, race or people… I am here on earth to work out my own private destiny. My destiny is linked with that of every other living creature inhabiting this planet – perhaps with those on other planets too, who knows? I refuse to jeopardize my destiny by regarding life within the narrow rules which are now laid down to circumscribe it. I dissent from the current view of things as regards murder, as regards religion, as regards society, as regards our well-being. I will try to live my life in accordance with the vision I have of things eternal. I say ‘Peace to you all!’ and if you don’t find it, it’s because you haven’t looked for it.